Thursday, 29 January 2009

Day 23 & 24-India Pt 2

Jan 22 & 23
THE BEST WAY to travel between Delhi & Agra is by the Shatabdi Express. It runs from the New Delhi Station at 6.15am everyday and arrives at Agra in 2 hours. The return train leaves Agra at 8.15pm every evening and reaches Delhi just before bedtime.

It is an express train and there is therefore no way anyone can cling onto the train without being flung towards the moon.

1st Class seats cost about 1600 rupees both ways and the fare includes a stalk of rose, breakfast, masala tea and a bottle of mineral water for the morning ride PLUS dinner (huge meal of at least 8 dishes), tea, ice-cream and the ubiquitous mineral water again when you return. Fantastic deal and truly the next best thing to the Orient Express!

ALTHOUGH if you are travelling from Gurgaon in the morning, it means waking at 4am, (groggy and grouchy) so that you can taxi to New Delhi (book the night before), do a quick check-in into The Park (hotel interiors designed by Terence Conran and very charming) and then taxi to the station to hopefully catch the 6.15 express.

EVEN THEN, you mustn't do it any other way. For there is nothing like watching the wintry morning landscapes of rural India through your 1st Class window with a cup of assam tea in your hand while speedily chug-a-chugging towards Agra.

We had only 1 day at Agra. So it was just Fatehpur Sikri and Taj Mahal for sights cos they are the essential destinations for my dollhouse project and then the rest of the afternoon shopping at the Kinari Bazaar.


Before I go on, let me 1st provide my sources of information.

To your left is a most reliable source which I found only right at the end of my tour of the city. This guidebook, published as part of the World Heritage Series, can be bought at a real bargain price of 60 rupees at the exit(?) gate.

To your right is our guide (NOT the man with the white cap). Some of his stories did not at all gel and are in fact contradicted by the guidebook. Guide came with an "autorickshaw" our taxi driver insisted we had to take in order to reach the palace because cars were no longer allowed beyond a certain distance (true). He also said Guide's rate of 350 rupees was very cheap (not true).

SuZ thinks Fatehpuh Sikri is more of a must-see than Taj Mahal. I think they are both must-see if you have never been to either but I agree with her that this site is the worthier of the 2 if you fancy a 2nd visit. Her renderings of my palace were in fact from her recollections of this place as she was there with my other sis a few years ago.

This town is completely built in red sandstone and is accorded , as you already know, the status of world heritage site. By the way, India has many heritage sites but it is said that Fatehpur Sikri presents the best example of the culmination of Hindu and Muslim architecture with Mughal splendour. It is so well preserved , it feels as if Akbar and his entourage had just left the day before.

What fascinates me even more is the character behind the architecture. Emperor Akbar who was of warrior descent (lethal combo of Genghis Khan and Timur, both great conquerors) took 15 years to build Fatehpuh Sikri but only stayed there for 14. Perhaps, like his father, Akbar was only "happiest living in a tent pitched amidst a pleasant garden" for he never returned after that.
Pic on left was, accordingly to Guide, the pleasure bedroom Akbar used in the summer. The bed was the elevated part because according to Guide, the floor was filled with rose water to cool the place down. Pic on right shows the door to a secret tunnel leading to the harem. This was apparently to facilitate the comings and goings of Akbar's queens and concubines so that nobody else knew who was sharing his bed for that evening, or so Guide claimed. When asked how Akbar reached his bed since there were no steps, Guide mumbled something about stones on the floor but we could find no signs of them.

Akbar the Great was also a thinker and may even be regarded by some (like me) as a visionary. Rather controversially, he founded a "consensual religion" known as Divine Monotheism in order to unite people of different religions. As a show to his people that this could work, he had 3 Queens (according to Guide, guidebook and the rest of the world says he had "various" queens and definitely more than 4) of different faiths. There was a Hindu and the only queen who bore him sons, a Christian from Goa and a Muslim from Turkey. Now the Guide claimed, because the Hindu queen bore him sons, she got this (click on pic below to appreciate effect):

whilst the other 2 got these:

The guidebook says "Nay" and I say "nonsense" cos all the queens together with 300 over concubines lived in The Haram Sara (1st pic) or the Imperial Harem.

The following are other interesting snippets by Guide:

1.Diamonds, rubies and other jewels were used to adorn these walls but are there no more because the European conquerors took them for their royal crowns!! (Probably true)

2. There were many areas that were barricaded. In this instance of a locked stairway leading to the upper levels of the Haram Sara, it was because a pair of young lovers, met with parental objections, had committed suicide in the "queen's bedroom" !! (It is more likely that too many young lovers were scratching their names or phone numbers on the walls.)

3. In the courtyard where there were squares drawn on the floor, the most beautiful slave girls were used as pieces for a board game to entertain Akbar and his queens. (SuZ has quite cleverly suggested that I use a "marble" chessboard for the courtyard of my palace and maybe my dancing girls can be placed there to re-create this decadent past-time.)

4. Guide also said Akbar and his concubines played hide and seek frequently, along the corridors and behind the pillars!! (Unverifiable)

The ceiling of the summer palace is very low (less than 6 ft) because Akbar was no taller than 4 ft and no one above that height was allowed in here. Ok, Guide didn't really say that but the low ceiling worries me. I don't think I will follow this height for the scale of my palace or my dolls will be hunchbacks in their rooms.

The one down side to Fatehpur Sikri, apart from not very reliable guides, is the hordes of touts. Everyone is trying to sell you something. Even the gardener tried to sell tiny packets of seeds to us!! Sometimes though, you get treasures like the elephant carving on your left. This is a 2.5" square sandstone and the man who sold it to SuZ for 50 rups claimed he made it himself (that's what they all say). SuZ bought it on condition that she be allowed to take a picture of him which I may post later if this page has not imploded by then. SuZ has decided that this shall be the 1st stone for my palace. I will definitely give it a prominent space.


What more can I say about this magnificent mausoleum that has not already been said ad nauseum. Even pictures of it from all angles have been posted so I won't add to it. There is one though which SuZ took, of the view from the palace which I may add later. I think the view is worth sharing because it was a full 20 minutes before I reluctantly left it.

No interesting snippets cos we didn't want a guide although one came free with the entrance fee.

4th and last day, Delhi

This post has gone way longer than I had intended so if you haven't left or fallen asleep, this is what I bought from one of Delhi's bazaar for my palace:

Miniature Paintings for walls of my rooms:
1st Set-Court Series (7.5" by 5")

2nd Set-Courtesan Series (6.5" by 4")

Books -Needless to say, India is the place to go for rare books on India

The 2nd book shown here is actually the Hindi version of what I bought, Maharani, the sequel to the Maharaja. Stories of their lives as recounted by Diwan Jarmani Dass who lived and partied amongst them a long long time ago. The English version of Maharani is so rare that I can't even find a picture of it on Google.

I am glad this post is over. Arghhh.. I forgot Kinari Bazaar...another day perhaps...or not.


Sumaiya Mehreen said...

You should definitely start a travel blog. I vastly enjoyed reading your post. I am so excited about the elephant carving. Would you put it at the entrance of the palace? I love checkerboard floors ... my Garfield's floors are checkered. :D

San said...

Mwah, thing about posting, apart from keeping a record, is receiving feedback.Thank you. You have made my day.

No idea where I am to put the elephant yet but the good news is, my brother is starting to work on the plans again :).

Sumaiya Mehreen said...

by the way...i love the paintings!

on my blog, you had asked whether or not Kiva Atkinson makes Indian food. I have seen a set of Indian food on her website. She can probably make anything you want her to...I love her work because she picks very exotic and unusual items to recreate ...

San said...

Will definitely check her out!

Pubdoll said...

I love reading your stories of your Indian journey! I especially liked the one with the beautiful slave girls as board game pieces!
Really nice "first stone" and the paintings are gorgeous!

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