We visited two other sites in Agra. The first was Chini-Ka-Rauza, the mausoleum of Shah Jahan’s chief minister and poet, which sits on the eastern side of the Yamuna River.
Most of the exterior blue tiles have gone which is a shame as it must have looked spectacular when it was intact. Still, it was very quiet and worth a quick stop. Once again there was a group of men sitting by the entrance, waiting to ‘guide’ you around. Since shoes have to come off a man sits at the entrance and neatly stacks them for you. Both these people want money, the usual minor annoyance.
Thousands upon thousands of cow pats, all drying out in the sun
To be honest I was more interested in what was going on at the mouth of the river, just down from this mausoleum. Between it and the river were thousands upon thousands of cow pats, all drying out in the sun. Next to them were buffalo, either tethered to posts of roaming by the shore of the river. Dirty children ran amok as their mothers scooped up the fresh dung, patted them into disks, and lay them out to dry.
I insisted our rickshaw driver take us down this road. He was hesitant and shouted at the children when they ran along side, so scared was he of running them over. Or touching them. I think these people were dalits – or ‘untouchables’ – which would explain his attitude. I had fun photographing the kids in the mid afternoon sun.
The real treat of the afternoon, however, was the Baby Taj or, to give it its correct title, Itimad-ud-Daulah.
This mausoleum was built by Nur Jahan, wife of Jehangir, for her father, Mizra Ghiyas Beg, Jehangir’s wazir.
Whilst the Taj Mahal blew me away with its magnificent presence and imposing beauty, the Baby Taj is more ornate, with intensely intricate latticework and naive paintings.
Not that the two should be compared because they are both well worth a visit. Because the Baby Taj is overshadowed by her bigger sister there are far less visitors. If you end up in Agra, don’t miss this place, it’s a wonderful monument.
In the evening we wandered down the dark streets in to town and found the Jaimal Bar (LP got it right this time) which did the most incredible tandoori paneer and dum aloo.
The French Have No Taste
We ate in the hotel on our first night, based upon the recommendation of the LP. Alas, they got it wrong again; the food was some of the worst, plainest pile of crap we have eaten since being in India. Brown, tasteless gloop. I had a word with the manager afterwards and he explained that they have had to temper their dishes to cater for western tastes. How sad, eh? We later found out that French tourists, even if they are staying in other hotels, come to the Tourist Rest House for their evening meal. So there we have it. The French. This great culinary nation, who have no taste for curry, have brow-beaten this hotelier into removing all spices and flavours from his recipes in order to cater to their sensitive palettes. Can this really be true?
Agra town at night is quite interesting. Vendors work late and are happy for tourists to poke their noses through the doorway. On the last night, after another tasty dinner at our favourite bar, we caught sight of a huge Hindu wedding procession, with brass bands and carts and horses holding up the traffic. The groom sat in a ridiculous chariot, complete with swirling lights and flashing strobes. We fell asleep in our hotel to a symphony of fireworks.
I haven’t said much about the hotel for one very good reason, it was rubbish. If you want to know where not to stay in Agra – despite what it says in the Lonely Planet – read Liz’s review of the Tourist Rest House here on Tripadvisor.
Before we leave Agra we thought we’d offer up a slideshow of the Baby Taj and the Untouchable Cow Pat People.
Indian trainstations are living, breathing, organic entities. Despite an extremely efficient train infrastructure the stations are always teaming with waiting, delayed or lost passengers, seemingly living whole lives on the platforms.
Waiting at the station for our delayed train to Jodhpur opened our eyes to a new level of begging, the kind that fulfils the stereotype of Indian poverty. What started off as a pleasant wait on a bustling platform turned into a David Lynch nightmare: limbless young men dragged themselves around the floor, looking up with desperate eyes, and young mothers – no more than fourteen years old – held their hands out with their skinny offspring tucked under their arm.
What does one do when faced with this shocking scene? The child clearly needed medical attention but should we have given him money?
Out of the corner of my eye I spied a young boy of eight, dressed in a single garment that hung loosely from his shoulders to his knees, tapping Liz’s knee for attention. His older sister kept him protectively under her arm as he did so. His tapping was persistent and so I had to look up from my book, catch his eye and say ‘no’. Still he tapped and so I repeated ‘no’. Eventually he got the message and forlornly left. As he did so I caught sight of his right arm; from the elbow down he was covered in three degree burns. His forearm was an horrific mash of crisp black skin and bright crimson flesh. It was either treated with a lotion or it was weeping during the healing process. The only time I have ever seen anything as gruesome as this was in a zombie movie.
How could a child be carrying such a torturous wound? The line between good flesh and bad was so distinct it could have been drawn with a ruler. If it had been a fire accident the burns would have been more sporadic. I can only conclude that this child’s beggarmaster had thrust his arm in a vat of acid or something similar. It’s the only explanation I can think of because I cannot believe the wounds were self-inflicted through accident or intent.
Coincidentally I happened to be reading a poignant scene in Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, where a beggar explains the tricks of The Beggarmaster.
“Beggarmaster has to be very imaginative. If all beggars have the same injury, public gets used to it and feels no pity. Public likes to see variety. Some wounds are so common, they don’t work any more. For example, putting out a baby’s eyes will not automatically earn money. Blind beggars are everywhere. But blind, with eyeballs missing, face showing empty sockets, plus nose chopped off – now anyone will give money for that.”
What does one do when faced with this shocking scene? The child clearly needed medical attention but should we have given him money? Where would it have gone? On medical costs? Probably in the pocket of his “Beggarmaster.”
When we boarded the train we found some senior Indians in our seats. Tired and a little irritable at our delay we ordered them off our reserved spots. This necessitated much kerfuffle, lifting of seats and dragging of suitcases. One of them, sitting in my seat eating his packed lunch, requested that I wait for a few minutes. I was in no mood to be accommodating and insisted he move. We were, we realised later, a little unreasonable.
It seems that no matter what time of day, the seats, which double up as beds, are kept in their horizontal position; everyone lies down throughout their journey. After settling ourselves down we had a quick chat with the oldies. They’d arranged with the ticket inspector to find five berths together so they could lie down. Turns out they’d been on the train from Agra since 5am and were tired. We felt a bit guilty rushing them along but we caught up with them later and they explained that they had been at the same wedding we had seen going on in Agra. They were tired but clearly elated with the celebrations.
Liz and I had opposing single seats with a great view of the passing countryside, which seemed to consist mainly of Khejri trees spread across hundreds of miles of flat plains. A tea wallah, followed by a lunch wallah, allowed us to fill our boots with sustenance.
The following little slideshow gives you a glimpse of life at the trainstation.