Saturday, 8 January 2011

Delhi to Agra and Taj Mahal

After breakfast we were met promptly at 9am by our driver who earned his money today taking us along the road to Agra. This is only 205 km but took 6 hrs. Much of the time we were stuck in slow moving traffic.
Q. Which side of the road do you drive on at home?
Ans. In the UK it is on the left and in Spain on the right.
“That’s OK then, because here it is optional!”
It appears that here the majority of people drive on the left: a leftover from the British Raj. However today on a dual carriageway (main trunk road, but by no means a motorway) we hit a traffic jam and 60% of the cars did a U turn and left the wrong way down our carriageway….. or drove off the side down a 2 foot drop to join the service road which ran parallel to us. The two lane carriage way had four lanes of traffic, all jostling for position only millimetres apart. Add to this the constant beeb beeb toot toot beeb toot honk honk, which appears to be the normal way of saying “look out, I’m coming through whether you like it or not”, even across red lights that have been red for a full minute. The white/yellow lines and zebra crossings on the road are “purely for decoration”. We passed a lorry which had crossed the central reservation…. In the fog? ….. overloaded rickshaws, tuc tucs, camel and buffalo trucks as well as luxury Mercs and ramshackle buses. Despite all this we managed to get to Agra unscathed, had a “comfort break” in a bazaar for good measure and arrived an hour and a half late.  This meant that our guide had to give us a whistle stop tour of the Taj Mahal. Somehow (maybe he is well known for it) he managed to just walk us past very long queues right up to security check and then again right into the actual mausoleum. No one so much as blinked, not the guards, nor the 500 people or so we had “queue jumped”.  We spent only about an hour and a half here before being taken to a marble shop / factory outlet, where table tops are made by skilled craftsmen in front of you and you are invited to view their creations. All very beautiful and way above our budget, even for a chopping board sized slab.  It goes without saying that the Taj Mahal is stunning. As the photos show the workmanship is so accurate with black onyx inlaid into white marble and a selection of other semi-precious stones to add other colours. Originally it had precious stones also, but these have been looted over the years. It took over 20,000 craftsmen 22 years to complete and to get the stones to the top they built a mud ramp, one and a half kilometres long. The dome has two skins, just like St Paul’s in London has now. Photos here or the full pack by clicking on "Today's Chosen Image".

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