On Day two, Estrella and I stepped off the Shatabadi Express at Agra Cantonement Station in a relative state of blissful calm after our cups of Assam tea and Indian breakfast. This state of zen lasted a matter of seconds before being shattered by the blasting sound of horns and the crowd who instantly surrounded us like, well flies to... you know. "Where you going? Where you going?" The crowd demanded to know. Estrella and I looked at each other in mild bemusement and what with it being just gone 8 am in the morning I answered truthfully. "This way." I pointed to the prepaid autorickshaw booth directly ahead of me. This was a major discovery of the day. In its simplicity and honesty, my answer left all the drivers completely frozen in their state of confusion.
Another major discovery of the day was my status. It's not that I objected to paying ten times more than an Indian. I accept that there is a disparity of resources around the globe and I happen to live in the land where paying 14€ t0 see a 'Wonder of the World' is reasonable. It wasn't even the fact that although it said clearly on our ticket that we should get a bottle of water and 'shoe covers' that we then had to go back and ask for them. It was the fact that I had to ask in big bold letters for a 'foreigner' ticket.
Maybe it's because I was at a formative age during the height of Political Correctness, or maybe it's because I have lived the last eleven years of my life in this state and have never felt it to be an issue, but I found it kind of ... wrong. I suppose in a way it signaled to me an attitude: it seemed to underline a curious aspect of the national psyche. There was even a special term for Indians who have tried greener grass: Non-resident Indians (NRI's). I'm not sure if I've put my finger on what that word meant to me, but I think it's something to do with it being an ex British colony. I've felt it in Mauritius and Belize. No two places deal with it in quite the same way, but let's face it, neither Belize or Mauritius gained their Independence amidst such a sea of blood as the disasterous partition of India and Pakistan (the consequences of which are still being felt today). The fact is that in one word; 'Indian', the whole of their history seemed to be encapsulated and in the words 'Foreigner' and 'NRI' we were firmly given our part in that history. Yet I also realise that this interpretation is my own.
In actual fact I never felt unwelcome. Far from it, a day trip to Agra is to be plunged straight into the country's tales of passionate romance, deception and rivalry. From Shah Jahan who was driven by the death of his second wife Mumtaz to build a tomb of exquisite beauty, to Agra Fort where Jahan's conniving and power hungry son imprisoned him. Is the Baby Taj (Itimad-Ud-Daulah) any match for the Taj Mahal's devotional beauty?
We finished off the day on the Taj Express where we made our final discovery: seat numbers. They are kind of optional, but with a shrug of the shoulders and a blank expression anything can be sorted out with the minimum of hassle.
The photos show the south gate through Taj Ganj, the Taj Mahal, Itimad-Ud-Daulah and the Palace at Agra Fort.