Next destination was the Taj Mahal. How can you go to Delhi and not see the Taj? Well you can but I wanted to see it because I had heard a lot of people talk about it. So we went to Agra. We picked the wrong day. It was raining incessantly since morning and we kept going on only in the hope that it would stop soon; but it showed no signs of slowing down. So I struck up a hard bargain (so I want to believe!) with a street seller and bought an umbrella for a hundred rupees. Later I found out that you could get it for fifty. But if there is anything you must learn to be able to survive in India, it is having absolutely no regrets about a bad bargain. You will always find a better bargain somewhere else. :)
The umbrella was of no use in the harsh rain. So by the time we moved inside through the queue, I was half drenched anyway. The Taj Mahal has a wonderful shock element in its architecture. You see nothing but red sandstone all around for a long time during your walk towards the Taj. In the modern times, you are also distracted by the million procedures that you must submit to before you are finally let in through the gate. You walk through almost a kilometre of red sandstone that is so characteristic of other structures around Delhi and you enter a dark, narrow gate. Suddenly, you see the Taj. Marble white, a complete contrast to everything you have been used to looking at. It does not grab your attention ever again as it does in that moment. Its magnificence, its grandeur and its pristine beauty makes you blank for a moment and even though you always think of Shahjahan when you say Taj Mahal, in that moment of shock and awe your heart goes out only to the artists who created it. That, I think is the true joy of looking at the monument. It has been built so beautifully that it forces you to think of the unknown hands that came together to create it, and not the emperor who commissioned them using his wealth and power.
The next stop was Fatehpur Sikri. But before that, I went into a government owned “handicraft emporium” and bought a whole new set of clothes. The rain at the Taj had completely drenched me. As I walked out of the changing room, I thought I heard a faint applause from the shopkeepers. :D
The fort at Fatehpur Sikri was built by Akbar in the honor of the sufi saint Salim Chisti, who prophesied the birth of Akbar’s son Jehangir. Right in the middle of the courtyard of the fort is a beautiful dargah. It is a common belief that if you wish for something and tie a thread to a filigree wall inside the dargah, your wish is granted. The guides were constantly pestering us to get our wishes granted at a small fee. But we flatly refused. Each wall that surrounds the dargah is made of marble and has a different pattern. These walls are carved so intricately that sometimes it is hard to believe that it is marble and not lace! As I was walking out, I heard the most magical voice outside the dargah. A sufi singer was singing outside. His band consisted of a simple harmonium and another person playing the tabla. The rhythm was accentuated by bystanders clapping in the typical qawalli style. I waited there for about twenty minutes listening to him. Listening to a beautiful sufi song outside a magnificent dargah! What more could you really wish for? Maybe it is true. Maybe you get what you want, even without tying a thread!
On our last day in Delhi, we mustered up courage and went back to Galee Parathewali. I asked the shopkeepers if they could just pan fry my paratha instead of deep frying it in ghee and they gladly obliged. I had a mulee (radish) paratha and bits of karela (bitter gourd) and bhindi (okra beans) parathas. I survived on that for the rest of the day without even thinking of food. :)
We spent that day wandering around inside the Lal Quila (Red Fort). It is another magnificent structure with many innovative architectural elements. But the most enticing part of Lal Quila was the gardens with huge Bakul trees. It is a shame that you can’t sing, write, touch or photograph fragrance. The experience of sitting under a Bakul tree on a hot summer day cannot be expressed, no matter how hard one tries. The shade embraces you gently and the breeze brings the sweet fragrance of flowers and cools you down. After your nap, you find little stars of bakul blossoms all over your hair and face. It also took me back to my days with my grandmother when we used to spend early mornings picking up bakul and parijat flowers.
I walked back one last time through the markets of old Delhi. Every city has a personality of its own but what can I say about Delhi? I think I am in love. :)