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Agraaaaaa and Jaipuuuuurrrr

This blog entry is currently under the second draft atop a laptop in a strop

sunny 32 °C

Entry coming soon by Andrew Lancashire Esq

AGRA (Agr-errrr!) and Jaipurrrrrr!

Welcome to the long awaited blog that I (Andy) have written. Now I know that Annie is developing a little bit of a fan club back in the UK, however, I have been busy with Town Planning duties, which perhaps if I publish, we would not have as many readers. The following events happened about just over two weeks ago, prior to Diwali – so arriving in Agra was about the 19th October.

Agra is the home of the most famous building in the world and it is where Annie and I decided to stay for three nights. The train journey from Delhi was about 5 hours following a one hour delay and unfortunately this journey was the scene of which Delhi bely was to once again rear its ugly head into my bowels. There is no worse place to visit than a speeding train with a hole in the floor – trust me...

Moving on – we arrived in Agra to a horde of rickshaw wallahs wanting to take us to their hotel. Apparently, they make upto 5% on budding tourist who opt for the hotels on offer. However, we held firm and asked for a specific location then spent the next hour comparing hotels and prices. Agra itself is small city (perhaps half a million) but it looks like something from the dark ages, with modest commerce, and restaurants for the masses of tourists whom are there for only one or two reasons – the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

Our hotel was basic and I spent the next day watching films on HBO due to my illness, but felt much better the next day and we got our tickets for the Taj. The Taj Mahal which most of you will know, was built in memory of Shah Jehan's second wife Mumataz and is in my opinion the most beautiful building ever built by mankind. The pure white marbel, intricate details, four symetical towers, bulbous domes make it a real treat for the eye, which set against a backdrop of blue sky make it a worthy tomb – I wonder what the first wife got? It wasnt actually that busy inside the complex, and we moseyed around for a few hours. I sat on the 'Princess Diana bench' and made a silly pose whilst Annie beat of queues of people trying to take photos of her – so just like a normal day in India.

Now on recommendation from Stephen Thornton we headed out on local bus to Fatehpur Sikri, the short lived capital, and now abandoned ancient settlement. In an email suggestion, Dad assured us that we would need at least one and a half day's to fully explore this archaeological site. Now, experienced as I am with my Dad's archaeological estimates (a thirsty day in Pompei comes quickly to mind) I think me and Andrew did the correct amount of time at the site in about three to four hours. This time scale is somewhere between American tour bus visitors and the avid historian in woolly cardigan. (Annie – She has again wrestled the computer off me.)

(bloody el, back to Annie Author) - By now me and Andrew have become quite the experts at refusing would be tour guides with a quick rendition of 'No Limit' by Two Unlimited (with a slight lyric correction to 'No no, no no no no, no no no no, no no NO NO TOUR GUIDE!'). However, this does hold its complications when you enter a site and realise you don't really know what you are looking at. However, Andrew worked hard to fill the gap that a local tour guide left us when armed with his lonely planet and best Indian accent he became my personal tour guide and led me round the monument pointing out all the best Jain decorative carvings (hope your impressed Dad!). This provided amusement for all in the vicinity and saved us somewhere in the region of 50 – 6000 ruppees (prices are highly negotiable in Rajastan it appears!). Therefore we now present;

Annie and Andrew's No Nonsense Travel Guide
Edition One Fatehpur Sikri
(N.B. Content may not be entirely historically accurate and authors will not be held liable for any offence caused or misunderstanding as a result of this travel guide).

Fatehur Sirkri is located 40km North of Agra and was the short lived capital of the Mughal Empire (1571-1585). The settlement was the brainchild of Mur protagonist and all round eccentric Emperor Akbar. In Akbar's excitement to build up his new location in lightning speed so that he could get to the interior design (Akbar was a big fan of Changing Rooms and Handy Andy), he forgot one important thing and built his complex in an area with massive water shortages. Silly Akbar! Therefore when Akbar popped his clogs, all his minions packed their bags and set up in an all together more sensible location near the local spring where they could have a decent shower and avoid the frustration of Akbar's frequent hose pipe bans.

However, for his life time his minions humoured the old eccentric and Fatehpur Sikri is a monument to this. Akbar built himself a reet big mosque and this remains open to all. Tolerant guy that he was, there is a huge mix of styles in the décor and engravings. Fre to enter and thronging today with would be bracelet sellers and people eating chappati the courtyard and tombs are well woth a visit (although it remains unclear where everyone gets the chappatis they are eating from). Be prepared, Andrew was slightly put out when he discovered he was required to pay 10 rupees for the rent of his Muslim head cover. However, the one they gave him was unique and slightly resembled a plastic cullinder and how often to you get to wear one of those in public? Everyone elses head covers were slightly less eccentric. If Akbar would have had plastic in his time, we like to think that the cullinder inspired effort would have been his personal preference.

The main beauty of the site is the palaces. Now as we have established, Akbar was no stranger to a bit of excess in his life and his love life was no exception to this decadence. Now it is unclear how many wives Akbar had, but we know he liked three a fair bit more than the others, and those three got a palace each.

Akbar was a man who liked to cover his bases. Therefore, just to be on the safe side he made sure that his preferred wives were all of a different religion, one Hindu, one Christian and one Muslim.

The Hindu wife was the preferred wife. She exercised regularly, was really good at Ludo (of which Akbar was a huge fan) and always let Akbar be in control of the TV remote. As such, she was rewarded with the biggest palace. The gift of a massive courtyard, rooms with vaulted ceilings and balconies meant that the Hindu wife was not short of space.

Now after viewing this spectacle, me and Andrew found ourselves feeling a bit sorry for Mariam, Akbar's Christian wife. Now Mariam's palace was more luxury apartment than palace complex and a wee bit short changed. Akbar, dismissing Mariam's love for Christianity, also got inspired by Lawrence Lewellen Bowen's new 'Hindu Collection' and went about drawing Shiva all over the walls of Mariam's space. Silly Akbar! Poor Mariam!

However, even Mariam was doing alright in comparison with the Turkish Muslim wife who was afforded minimal floor space in her abode. Sure the carving was beautiful and it makes a lovely visit, but sleeping in a four foot space must have been a bit difficult and would have brought about a lot of resentment towards the other wives in their posh pads. We can only deduce from the small space she was given that the Turkish wife was terrible at Ludo! That can always put a strain on any relationship.

At least our Turkish wife managed to survive Akbar's other punishments; being forced into being a living Ludo piece like the slave girls or being trampled by charging elephants along with convicted criminals.

All in all Fatehpur Sikri makes a great day out and we became strangely attached to Akbar by the end of our visit. Perhaps history would have been different and the settlement would be up there today with New York or Hong Kong if Akbar had only appointed a certain Barnoldswick based, sustainably minded and water orientated planning consultant... who knows.

Thanks for that interlude about Faterpur Sikri Annie. However all you need know is that is was abandoned and along came Agra Fort, and the Taj. Now Agra may have water but if you look at the state of it (the river), you would rather drink your own piss, or perhaps just buy bottled water!

Next city on the tour is Jaipur – the Pink City. We took a daytime train to Jaipiur (6hours - 400km) and was very comfortable. All through our trip we have been guided by the Lonely Planet India book but we had lost the part about Jaipur so we followed a couple to the their hotel (Merlin and Catherine – from Berlin and Poulton) which was lovely and chilled out and full of other western tourist. We met a Manchester fellow who gave us his section of Jaipur from his lonely planet book. You can always count on a Manc geezer.. ps: Man Utd 1-6 Citeh!!!! come on!!

I can see the attraction with Jaipur. Its a growing city, easy to navigate, plenty of forts, museums, temples and notable buildings, all painted pink. The city really is buzzing because the city is so compact and tightly developed unlike Delhi which is spread out across a vast area.

It is the start of Dewali (24th Oct) and all of the buildings and streets are decorated with lights, candles, gold and silver leaf etc (Dewali; the festival of lights – good triumphing over evil, and a party for Goddess Laxhmi). The atmosphere is magical, people with families, shopping, buying presents, smiling, laughing and being happy. Its a shame we aren’t staying here longer because the main squares are being set up for a massive festival for the 26th October).

Whilst we were in Jaipur we visited the Amber fort – and what a formidable and grand place it is. Set on the hillside, surrounded by lakes and valleys, the fort is more a series of palaces and gardens. We were promised Elephants by the Lonely Planet, but they must have been hired out for Devali events – so we walked to the top with our own legs. If you were fortunate enough to have money in the Mughal empire period, it was even more difficult to protect your assets and family. The Mughals were certainly cultured and educated, they could also build very effective defensive structures, as evidenced at so many places throughout India.

England have been playing a one day international series with India at Cricket. We are currently getting slaughtered 4 -0 (its very hard not to know the score – everyone is a cricket fanatic), soon to be 5-0 because we are playing shite. The young Indians cant resist it when they find out our nationality to gloat and point four fingers in our faces.

Leaving Jaipur was not as easy peasy, lovely jubly (as the Indians say) as we expected. However, we are hear to tell the tale as Annie describes in the last blog entry.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:10 Archived in India

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