It was with a start that we woke up to the ringing of the bedside phone this morning as we answered our 6.30am wake-up call. It was already light outside, so we washed and dressed and packed our cases once again, leaving them outside our door before we went to the garden terrace in the dining room for our breakfast. The sun was shining and the morning was already quite warm.
The breakfast buffet selection consisted of traditional Indian dishes as well as the more ‘usual’ stuff you’d see, i.e. cereal, croissants, cold meats and cheese etc. I got a selection of different items including some of the breakfast ham; I planned to feed it to the stray cats if I saw them. 🙂
After we were fed and watered we returned to room 315, collected our hand-luggage, settled our bar bill and checked out at reception and went outside to await the bus.
This morning our first visit was to be to the Jama Masjid mosque in the city, which is the largest and grandest mosque in India. The bus battled its way through the frenetic Sunday morning traffic in streets that were thronging with people shopping at the roadside markets. It was interesting to see that nearly everyone we saw was male – where were all the women? The pedestrians, cyclists and motorists vyed for their place in the dusty roads and the air was alive with an incessant din of the blare of vehicle horns, the cries of the vendors selling their wares and the babble of thousands of voices. We were fascinated to see children playing in the roads among the cars when the traffic lights were on red; as soon as they changed the kids stepped back off the roads to await their chance at the next lights change.
As we neared the mosque Vikram came round on the bus and handed out paper foot covers as you are not allowed to wear your shoes in the mosque, so you either had to go barefoot or wear these covers. Men had to cover their legs if wearing shorts (and were given a sort of ‘sarong’ to wrap round their waists) while women had to don a long garment that covered their arms and (in my case as I am only 5′ tall) dragged on the ground. Trevor wasn’t bothered about going into the mosque so he said he’d stay outside and guard my shoes.
We walked up quite a few steps to get to the gate of the mosque and it afforded us a good view of the city, complete with its bustling roads and dilapidated shop fronts. Once inside, we crossed a large square and Vikram explained a little about the Islamic faith and how its adherants are required to pray five times a day; he told us that during Ramadan the square and building became packed with over 25,000 worshippers and he showed us some photos of this event. We were allowed into the interior which was dim and cool and smelt pleasantly of incense.
I liked it in the mosque and the courtyard; it was peaceful and relaxing under an unblemished blue sky; I could have sat out in the square a bit longer but it was time for us to board the bus once again for the next leg of our excursion.
We continued on our way until we came to Raj Ghat, which was a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, situated at the site where his funeral pyre took place. It is a marble memorial where flowers could be placed, and an eternal flame burned. Gandhi was the eminent leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India and was revered among the people of India; it was perhaps ironic that he was assassinated in 1948, the year after India gained its independence. He was murdered by three bullets fired by Nathuram Godse at 5:17 pm on 30 January 1948, whilst on his way to a prayer meeting. Godse and his co-conspirator were tried and executed in 1949.
After our visit to the memorial we walked back to the bus, all the time being accosted by the numerous street vendors selling postcards, fridge magnets, jewellery, novelties and all sorts of other nameless tat. They were quite persistent and would wave their wares quite literally in your face, following you all the way back to the bus and even banging on the bus windows if you boarded the vehicle without buying anything.
In these cases, our guides Peter and Vikram had a much better idea; they would invite one or two of the hawkers into the entrance of the bus, then they would hold up the goods for everyone to see and quote a price. This way, those of us who wanted to buy could do so without feeling pressurised into it; in fact it’s probably fair to say that the vendors made more sales that way than from their cajoling and annoying sales techniques. 🙂
Our next stop was to the India Gate, a large arched gate established in 1921 (unveiled in 1931) which was build to remember all Indians who gave their lives during the First World War from 1914 to 1921. At the top of the gate is the word “INDIA” and below it the inscription:
“TO THE DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMIES WHO FELL HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR-EAST AND IN SACRED MEMORY ALSO OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA OR THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER AND DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR”
As always on these sorts of holidays we packed a lot into the day, and our next visit was to Qutab Minar. Qutab Minar is a soaring, 73 metre-high tower of victory, built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom. The tower has five distinct storeys, each marked by a projecting balcony and tapers from a 15m diameter at the base to just 2.5 m at the top. The first three storeys are made of red sandstone; the fourth and fifth storeys are of marble and sandstone. At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India.
It was very hot in the courtyard and several of us sought refuge from the sun in the cool interiors of the temple buildings.
We were ready for our lunch when we got back on the bus and, after a short journey, we stopped at a restaurant for a welcome beer and a bite to eat. As we’d been eating Indian dishes for our meals since our arrival, we decided to settle for a sandwich this time, which we washed down with a freezing cold bottle of Kingfisher beer. Then it was time to continue our journey onto Agra via the expressway, the Indian version of our motorways back home.
The grubby, crowded, potholed roads thinned out as we made our way to the expressway and the driver was able to put his foot down. At least here there was a semblance of some sort of rules of the road. Some of us dozed, read or looked out of the window while Harry, who was on the bus to help the driver and to look after us, came round with his basket of cold drinks, and we took the chance to each purchase another Kingfisher. 🙂
Evetually we arrived at the Trident Hotel, Agra. Once again it was very smart; we were allocated room 114 on the ground floor next to the pool; the room was cool, spacious and immaculately clean and would be our base for the next two nights. We had an hour to shower and change before dinner.
Dinner was, as usual, an Indian feast and we enjoyed a selection of the different dishes accompanied by a particularly delicious naan bread which was thin, crispy and hot – it was nicer than the naan that we get at our local takeaway back home!
We were quite tired after dinner, so we had a couple of drinks in the hotel bar before making our way back to room 114 and settling down for the night.
Amongst other delights we had the Taj Mahal to look forward to tomorrow.