I slept well in my mini dungeon.
They should probably turn it into a real dungeon and market it that way. They can probably sell it better on airbnb as “Stay in a historical dungeon if you are in Agra”. That could have been a better marketing strategy and a more truthful one!
The Wake up Message
In that dungeon, I woke up hearing a loud shout in the aisle. I checked my phone and it was 6 in the morning and there it was! A message from the Indian railway. It loosely rephrased as something like this ” Your train has been cancelled and the inconvenience caused is deeply regretted”. In my half awake state I couldn’t really figure out which train got cancelled, because I had booked quite a few trains for this trip.
It wasn’t a nice message to wake up with. If you are going with the signs of life, I probably would have a very bad day ahead! But I decided to go back to sleep and deal with all the life’s problems later.
The Food Scene
After another couple of hours of sleep, I got up, got ready and went out for breakfast. I went to the similar area where I had my first meal in Agra, near the railway station. In this area, there are many small shops which looked quite busy. When you travel, the rule of thumb is to go to the place where most of the people go to eat.
On the previous day when I went to one of these places, a little shack and I had ordered an alu matar and roti.
The guys who were running the place were quiet laid back, chilled out people. After getting my order, the guy calls out loud “Oye.. Chottooo” and the other guy who was a bit away from the shop on the street looked towards him and came to the shop slowly after a couple of minutes whenever he felt like coming. He was the guy who needed to make the curries! But once he came, he was very quick to make the curry. Comparing to the time he took to come, he took lesser time to prepare the curry, which is basically heating up the already prepared gravy and adding a few more ingredients to it.
The guy who took the order came and kept the curry on my table first. Then he went to make the roti. All the time he was hanging around there, chewing his tobacco and doing nothing else. All of a sudden, he got active and started preparing the roti. While he went to prepare the roti, I could actually hear the squeaking noise of a rat and later I could see a small one scurrying away.
Well, they have a pet friendly environment for sure, great! Well I went against the rule of thumb that day as there were not many people eating in that place, other than me!
Finally the roti also joined the curry on the table. Finally I was ready to eat the food. And it was really good. I kind of liked the north Indian spicy curries over my south Indian counterparts. I think it is because of the hotness, spiciness and the flavours.
A Busy Shop
This morning, I went to a shop which was a couple of shops next to the previous one. This place looked like the most popular breakfast place in that area. People were kept on coming and going, standing all around the place and eating. So without hesitation, I went there to eat. What interested me more wasn’t the taste of the food but the trust upon which the whole show was being conducted. There were three guys in the shop. One guy was onto making this small piece of circular bread, other guy was doing the deep frying and the third guy was giving food and collecting money. The third guy seemed to be the owner.
This guy was giving people food as they were requesting and collecting money simultaneously. Basically he wasn’t keeping track of how many breads or how many plates he was giving out and he was trusting people to tell him the exact amount of plates they had eaten. It was also quite possible for someone to silently walk away after eating the food. There was nobody to keep watch for that too.
This is one thing that travelling will teach you; to trust people. Yes, you will get cheated, scammed and mugged. But there are much more kindness in this world than such bad incidents. If we focus on the bad side, probably we will see only a bad world.
Kindness is alive
Talking of kindness, one can actually see random acts of kindness at work at this place. At this people one can find quite a few less fortunate people hanging around looking for money and food. Some of the people who come to this place would buy them food once they finish eating. Someone would buy them water. I felt that it was a good place to start one’s day.
Then you would see some cows roaming around to show another contrast of this place. These stray cows were looking better than some of the people on the streets. Probably it is a speciality in this region, because I only saw cows and bulls of this size in Madurai which they were specially raised for jellikkettu, an Indian version of bull chase.
New Home for the day
Walking amidst the contrasts and contradictions, I went back to my dungeon to check out and go to my next hotel in Agra, to pamper myself after a couple of days of stinginess. This new place was almost a kilometre away from Taj Mahal and on the way to one of the entrance gates of Taj.
After checking in, I found a place to eat and then I decided to walk towards the Taj casually. Going inside and visiting wasn’t in my plan, as I heard from my cab driver that the Taj was closed that day.
While I was walking towards the Taj Mahal, I could see a lot of local people walking in the same direction. I was wondering why were they going to Taj Mahal when it is closed. But I soon understood that, they did have a valid reason for doing it!
It was FREE entry that day!
I couldn’t really figure out the reason for the free entry. Some rickshaw guy said it was Shahjahan’s birthday which I checked on google and found to be wrong. A security guy said, it was due to annual cleaning for three days. I couldn’t confirm it on anywhere. But that seemed to be a better answer.
I think most people didn’t know that, it was completely free of cost to go inside the Taj Mahal that day. So that was the perfect day to visit Taj Mahal! Very less crowded than usual, free entry and one could go as much times as they wanted. Since I wasn’t carrying my camera, I just did a casual round and came back to my room which was just 10 minutes walk from the Taj.
I decided to chill for a while and to go back again when the sun was a little less harsh. Later in the evening I went again to see the Grand Taj Mahal in the evening light. Entry was smooth, there was only a security check. And there I was, again inside the Taj Mahal.
A friend of mine, during her first visit said, Taj Mahal is grand, beautiful, magnificent and all that, but it is not very moving. I also felt in the similar lines. Yes, Taj Mahal is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. I took a few minutes contemplating why do I feel that way.
For many people, visiting Taj Mahal is ticking one more item off from their travel bucket list. Some people feel, they should visit it with their loved ones since it is a symbol of love. Some people just want to get THAT picture of Taj Mahal in their social media. So I think Taj Mahal is more of a customary visit.
Then I should need to find a good reason why so much of people come to visit Taj. I sat there looking at the Taj for some time.
Then I saw it. The perfection. The perfection in Grand scale. The perfect symmetry. The perfect carving and curves. There was this grand white marble perfection standing tall in front of me, making the people around into dwarfs. Some of the very skilled such dwarfs only made this wonder, by their hands and tools, one marble piece at a time! And I understood why this is a Wonder!
May be due to the never ending stream of people on a usual day, maybe due to the hustle and bustle and voices and noises of this place from the crowd, maybe due to the picture taking madness going around, maybe due to the selfie frenzy, this place might not feel as magnificent as it should have been felt.
Or it could be due to the familiarity we have with this world wonder through numerous pictures we have seen from almost all imaginable angles, before we actually pay a visit, this wonder fail to move our soul and make us say wow. Maybe all those people who made us way too familiar with this world wonder should say, the inconvenience cause is deeply regretted, but you should go and visit by yourself anyway.
Signing off from Taj Mahal after enjoying more than a couple of free entry for the day, getting a rare entry on this special day into the real graves which are beneath the imitation graves and leaving as one of the last people to leave from this man made perfection. This day couldn’t have any better!
What do you think of Taj Mahal?!