We finally made it to Agra… at 2 a.m. 2 a.m. That is not because there was traffic on NH1 or because there was traffic on the Yamuna Expressway. It’s entirely because it took us 4 hours to get into and out of Delhi on the way to Agra. 4 freakin’ hours. Four hours of honking, trying to move a few feet forward on their “expressways” … sigh. Never plan to drive “through” Delhi on a Friday evening. Ever. Just don’t do it if you can avoid it. It didn’t help that we were given misdirections at a gas station about how to access the Yamuna Expressway so we had to double back for about an hour on those same “highways”. Sigh.
Part of the issue is that trucks begin lining the sides of the highway around mid afternoon. They are not allowed into Delhi until night so they line the sides of the highway, reducing the number of useable lanes and wait until they can enter the city. Also, they were constructing an addition to the metro which also reduces the number of lanes. Then you have drivers crowding into two lanes, trying to make five lanes out of them somehow, which ends in a traffic jam of unbelievable proportions. Unbelievable unless you’re there and you experience it first hand. Imagine half of the population of Canada suddenly decide to take a drive in Toronto – then you maybe can imagine it.
The hotel in Agra was nice. Very, very nice. Well worth the money though my upgraded Taj view room really didn’t have much of a view of the Taj Mahal. Probably because Agra was belted in with fog the entire time I was there. Seriously, so much fog. London… Saint John… y’all think you know fog but come see the rolling Death Fog that exists in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in the winters. Y’all have no idea about the fog.
You can see almost all of Agra in a day, which we did. First we had breakfast in the restaurant (pure veg thankfully) at the hotel and then headed off to our first stop – the Baby Taj or the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah (a title meaning “Pillar of the State”). This is a transition between the Mughal architecture that you see in Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi which is primarily sandstone with marble accents and the Taj Mahal, which is primarily marble.
It was virtually empty, which is a shame. It’s really beautiful and if you get to Agra, it really is worth a visit here. The architecture is amazing and it’s far less crowded than the Taj Mahal.
The Tomb was commissioned by Nur Jahan who was the wife of Emperor Jahangir (not a good man as you’ll know if you’ve read the posts containing Sikh history). Nevertheless you have to admire the work of their architects and craftsmen. The tomb was for her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who was in exile at the time the tomb was commissioned. He was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan.
Many of Nur Jahan’s relatives are entombed in this place, which follows the Mughal architectural rules of symmetry. The only non-symmetrical part of the whole place is that the tombs of her mother and father are side by each. This same non-symmetry is found in the Taj Mahal with the bodies of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.
There are intricate marble inlays inside the tomb. The inlays use semi precious stones like lapiz lazuli, cornelian, jasper and onyx to create beautiful decorations. Light is also permitted into the tomb through intricately carved marble lattices.
Many of the sights in Agra were being worked on heavily while I was there. That is because the following day many of these sights would be shut down for a tour by Barack Obama (if you don’t live on this planet and already know who he is, that’s the President of the United States). The whole place. I had no idea and it made me ever so grateful that I arrived in Agra when I did. 2 a.m. or not, fog or not, exhausted or not.
The tomb overlooks the Yamuna River (seen in some of the pictures) which is the same river that runs through Delhi. The marble from this tomb comes all the way from Rajasthan, some 150 km away and would have been brought here by ox cart as there was no large navigable river to transport the stone from quarries in Rajasthan. Think about that for a minute. Huge pieces of marble stone being brought slowly along hard roads for 150 km.
Like all Mughal era tombs, this one is perfectly symmetrical except for the tombs mentioned above. There are eight gardens in total, each in perfect symmetry, four gates and four entrances, four towers and four water ways leading to the tomb. The water was brought here by a series of tanks and now water is only present here during the rainy season.
On to the corrupt police officer. After we left the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, later in the day when we were headed for the Agra Fort, we were pulled over by a police officer. Jagdeep told me he would be just a few minutes and took his registration and other vehicle papers with him. The officer told him that he had to have a special permit to drive a foreigner around. I learned later that this is not actually the truth because Jagdeep isn’t actually running a taxi service or a tour company or providing the services of a tour guide. Nevertheless he demanded an exorbitant amount of Rs. 4000, to be put in an envelope and handed to him among the vehicle papers. Otherwise, the vehicle would be impounded immediately. Rs. 4000 because he had a pale woman in his car. Ridiculous. The envelope slipped away from the vehicle papers and went straight into the officer’s pocket too. No ticket. No receipt. Corruption.
To put this in perspective, the maid who works at the host unit’s house earns about Rs. 500 a month for her work there. Even if this cop only took one such bribe a day, and works a typically for India 6 days a week, he is making Rs. 1.25 million on top of his salary as a police officer.
Having worked with so many police in my job I can say, piss on that guy. That guy is part of why people who come to Canada from places like India and Vietnam don’t have a lot of trust in police. At home, an officer caught doing things like that is out of a job and probably in a prison cell in the end. This guy? Not a thing will happen to him and he’ll remain on the streets of Agra ready to steal from the next guy and the next guy and the next guy. Nice going. Hopefully he’s too smart to try to stop one of the President’s entourage in this way. Geezuz.
I was warned before I came here that the Punjabi police are corrupt. I was warned and I know from reading a lot of material that the Punjabi police have had a lot of issues in the past with corruption, false cases, disappearances and the like. But I’ve been here a while now and I’ve had dealings with the Punjab police and not one time have I had a negative experience. Not one time. They have been polite and business like always. Maybe Punjab is turning it around, maybe not but the guy in Uttar Pradesh was very open about what he was doing and not shy at all about doing it which tells me it’s a very regular, normalized part of life in Agra.
So, be prepared if you come to Agra. No doubt that guy is still out there abusing his power to rob the honest, working man. I asked Jagdeep how often that happens. He’s never experienced anything like it in Punjab either, only Uttar Pradesh. That’s saying something.
Anyhow rant over. I’ve got some more writing to catch up with and a trip to Kashmir that has to be adjusted for snowfall… sigh.
Until next time all when we’ll continue with the Agra sights,
Peace and love all,