27 Mar 2005
Agra (approximate pop. 1.5million) lies about 150kms south east of Delhi. Agra’s monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Agra fort are more of household names around the world than the city’s name proper.
Our group of 40 was allocated two 32-seater buses and two tour guides (Singh and Gopal) to make the journey to Agra from Jaipur. This bus ride gave us an opportunity to appreciate the scenery of this part of the country. The land is a vast semi arid plain with few shrubs mostly acacia plant. Large fields of cereals such as wheat and millet were seen throughout the journey. It was common to see caravans of camels hauling huge bundles along the highway. In villages along the road, we saw pancake-like piles of dried cow dung that is used in this area in place of unavailable firewood.
In answering a question (in the bus) on the difference between Hinduism and Sikhism, Singh had this to say, “The founder of Sikhism was in disagreement with certain practices of Hinduism such as idolatry worship, caste system and other complicated Hindu rituals. In the view of the Sikhism founder, Hindu priests were manipulating religion to exploit the masses”. “Thus Sikhs retained most ‘good’ aspects of Hinduism and borrowed other ‘good’ aspects of Islam to constitute their religion”.
On the way to Agra, we briefly made a stop over at the abandoned imperial city of Fatehpur Sikri (40 kms to Agra). The impressive 54metres high Buland Darwaza (largest gateway in the world) is a testimony to the architectural prowess of the defunct empire of emperor Akbar.
We arrived Agra shortly before nightfall and went straight to visit the Agra fort. With a circumference of about 2.4 kilometres and fortified double walls measuring about 21 metres high, the four-century old Agra fort is visited daily by tens of thousands of people. (See photo of Agra Fort at this link)
As we drove from the fort to the hotel we saw colourful groups of people preparing for wedding ceremonies as is custom here to arrange marriage ceremonies on a specific ‘day of luck’. We later checked in at the Clarks Shiraz hotel in the evening of March 12.
Of the 79 TV stations I browsed on the television set in my room, only about five (including a Christian evangelical and a sports station) were broadcasting in English. The rest were broadcasting in Indian languages.
As we headed for the Taj Mahal monument the following day, our guide Singh, explained to us how we can properly greet people in India. “Place your left palm on the right palm with each finger being a mirror image of the other. Bring the joined palms towards you with the two thumbs touching the chest. Bend the upper trunk of the body forward in a bowing position and say ‘Namaskaar’. The degree of bowing demonstrates the degree of respect and the warmth of the greeting should come from the heart.”
Meanwhile as our visit progressed, I started to view the guided shopping esp. that arranged by Gopal with suspect as I began to realize that we ended up buying things at higher than normal prices at each shop that he stopped with our bus. In my later findings in Dehli, it was clear that the tour guides were possibly taking commissions from the purchases we made from the shop owners hence the inflated prices.
The climax of our stay in Agra came when we visited Taj Mahal in the morning of March 13. The Taj Mahal is simply a jewel. It is the embodiment of beauty, architectural excellence and splendour. According to the publication Glorious Cities, Delhi Agra & Jaipur “It is believed that nearly 20000 people worked incessantly for almost 22 years (1631-1653) to bring this project to a fine fruition.” Materials and precious stones were obtained even from far away places like Burma, China, Persia, Bagdad and Europe. It is said that about 20,000 locals and over two thousand foreigners visit this monument daily. Foreigners pay about 18 U.S. dollars and Indians less than 50 cents entry fees into this ‘edifice of love’ said to be constructed by emperor Shah Jahan in honour of his beloved wife.
(See photo of the Taj Mahal at this link)
At the end of our Taj visit, we rode on horse-driven coaches from the outskirts of the premises to where our buses were packed. We later paid a visit to a factory that makes marble-based products. We were shown an audio-visual documentary on the process of obtaining marble from the earth and transforming it into useable form. Most of the artistic work on the finished products is done by people with family skills handed to them from one generation to the other. After attending a magic show at the basement of our hotel in the evening, we packed our bags ready for the next trip to Delhi via Bhiwadi the following day.
Copyrightã2005 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]