Thursday, December 27, 2007

[Travelphabet] Archaic Agra

Stolen from Travelphabet:

The first thing you notice about Agra is it's inaccessibility. It is situated about an hour's drive from Mathura, 2 days stinky train ride away from Mumbai, 4 hours away from Delhi, and has no airports to speak of. Funny, how the mighty have fallen.

From the capital of the Indian Empire from Burma to Iran, it has plummeted to greater depths than the heights it was capable of scaling. It threatened to be a world centre of civilisation, culture, art, crafts, literature, and learning, but never delivered on it's promise. The truth is Agra was manufactured out of a nothingness that doubled as a military advantage. The Indian Army will smile when you say that as they flaunt their cantonment.

But vast numbers of tourists from across the globe, and across our great nation journey their way, braving some of the worst roads, and even coarser tongues to behold the greatest monument ever erected, now falling prey to that other great monument of modernity.. pollution on the yamuna. It is so easy to miss the river altogether, as you marvel at the yellowed marble, you gaze mesmerisingly at the chipped statues, and the intricately damaged carving in the windows, and the grinning guards as they escort you to the fake mummified remains of Mumtaz and Shahjahan. Yes, it is tragic.

And when you have seen the decaying vegetation in the gardens of the non-working fountains, and the tottering gates at the entrance to the great halls, and the hastily scribbled graffiti that proclaim Nasir's undying love for Anjali, and those telephone numbers that will offer you physical gratification instantly on connection, and all those lewd lyrics that would put the great Akbar's bards to shame, you wonder what other great monuments are left to sully in this once-venerated city.

And you are beseeched by agents, and agents of agents, and their rickshaw wallahs, and tanga-wallahs, and the carpet shops, and the jewellery shops, and the artifacts, and the stone shops, and the overpriced handicrafts stores, and you have survived the crowds in the only Pizza Hut that is brave enough to open in Agra, and still serve decent pizza, you are faced with the problem of time. How much more time can I spend here, without reaching for my wallet every 15 minutes?

And so you decide to head for the hotel you booked on the internet.. the proudly Victorian hotel that screams its Anglicised name at you from the Hotel Website Bookings Page - "5 star facilities at 3 star price"; "Newly renovated hotel with old English charm"; "self operated travel agency"; "doctor on call"; "24 hours room service"; "Suites available".... You step through the arches of what was probably once the outhouse of a middle level British government servant, as you glance at the badly trimmed lawns, and avoid the lethal spray of the sprinkler, that seems to be suffering from an overdose of steroids. You walk through the hallway, that reeks of that old mouldy smell that comes from damp, unwashed, fading carpets, and from dust webs that stare down from their vantage point in the corner of the ceiling.

But the real reason you should visit Agra, is not in the city itself but about 50 kms away (about 30 miles), Akbar's walled city of Fatehpur Sikri. It is an amazing amalgamation of unsurpassed military strategy, and artistic brilliance, never before seen. This was the seat of the Mughal Empire, and the sheer magnitude of the city built to be self sufficient for a year or more in case of a seige, takes your breath away. The Indian government has done a commendable job of keeping graffiti artists and other assholes-that-be at bay by cordoning off certain sections of the city that are accessible only to the Archaeological Survey of India. Even after the mahals and the rooms have been stripped of all their grandeur, treasures, and their tapestries and furnishings, you can still sense the power that these rooms were witness to, and it is a surreal feeling to stand on top of the ramparts that command a view of the open plains upto Rajasthan.

And so I say, in this highly incomplete and extremely subjective prognosis, Visit Agra for Fatehpur Sikri. The carpets you get fleeced for while buying are just a bonus.




elusive said...

long time!
shall read your new posts once i get the time. am kinda decorating my blog. so am adding your blog-link as a fav on my blog.

p.s. do i get any revenue?

elusive said...

u didnt talk about the heat and how being in agra helps u experience being in an oven without actually doing it.
The heat sucks. I felt like someone was tearing my skin apart and getting into it.yea u could blame me for visiting the place at the wrong time.