So taking on from where I left off in Part 1, this one's about Agra and Jaipur... and a few other things.
Agra - Shah Jahan's view of the Taj from his prison cell
Agra: Agra was the next stop on my holiday. On the way to Agra is Akbar’s resting place, the Sikandra Fort. The fort is built with a grandeur befitting the great ruler of Mughal India. A fine specimen of architecture, this is also one of the better-maintained of the monuments he built. In the lawns surrounding the fort, monkeys and peacocks and deer roam freely, in what can only be described as a breathtaking sight. I have never seen so many peacocks together! It is not hard to imagine how it would have been when Akbar had walked the courtyards there or held darbar in those lawns.
No visit to Agra is complete without a mention of the Taj Mahal. Just as its beauty is alluring, so disappointing is the town that the Taj calls its home. Dirty and most tourist-unfriendly is Agra city, my lasting impression of Agra is of the feeling of being ripped off on any transaction you make, be it a tourist guide or a handicrafts seller. Stay at a nice hotel and you will easily forget the disorganized and dirty town you see as you go around in your car. The Taj itself is home to a number of pickpockets, unlicensed guides and street vendors, all promising to sell you the Taj in all sizes for a price tag of Rs.5 to Rs. 5,00,000. But cross the gates and behold the beauty in white marble and you are left speechless. No amount of photographs in magazines or documentaries on the Discovery channels will prepare you for the sheer breathtaking edifice that the Taj is. A good guide will tell you little bits of history and details of architecture that will make the monument all the more spectacular. But even without it, when you enter the inner chamber where Shah Jahan is purported to be buried alongside his beloved Mumtaz, you can’t help feel envy for a woman who was so loved. The Taj is best viewed early in the morning before the marble floors get hot. The Agra fort is another must-see in Agra. Here’s where you’ll feel sorry for Shah Jahan as you visit the chamber where his son kept him captive, his only solace being the distant view of the Taj Mahal that he could see through the holes that were gouged patterns on the wall. Here he died, after spending 12 years in captivity. His body was rowed across the Yamuna and taken to the Taj where he was buried.
Jaipur: From Agra we made our last stop at Jaipur. Undoubtedly the best part of our entire vacation, Jaipur was everything that Agra was not. Clean, friendly and very pro-tourist, Jaipur was an absolute delight. At Jaipur are the Sawai Man Singh Palace and fort, the museum and the Jantar Mantar. And don’t forget the shopping. There’s lots you can shop here, right from Jaipur block printed clothing to silver jewellery to handicrafts. A not-to-miss is the area of the Bazaar that seats the men and women who will henna beautiful and intricate patterns onto your palms. Rajasthani food was delightful, especially the sweets! The only downside of Jaipur was the hot sun that had me tanned about two shades.
I celebrated my birthday over the weekend when I was in Bangalore with my family. Bangalore has got to be my favourite Indian city after Chennai. I love visiting Bangalore but it's always great to be back home because it helps me appreciate Chennai's traffic more. Bangalore is infamous for bad infrastructure which pretty much translates to bad traffic jams on the roads. That apart, Bangalore has a pulse and culture that's unparalleled. Did I mention that Bangalore also has the best pubs? Anyone who knows me will know that I will not write about Bangalore without talking about the Legends of Rock pub. Great music, period. That's enough reason to go there.
Being my last birthday at home for some time to come, my birthday gift was a good time at the pub topped off with some lip smacking dinner. Thankfully, this time there were no talks about growing old(er), since everyone was too busy with all the work we had to do in Bangalore. When I returned, it dawned on me that I have very little time before I have to go. It sucks.