I was on a train for twenty two hours to get here. It didn’t feel that long, in a dirty but comfortable sleeper car, dozing and not eating, chugging along as the train wobbled over the tracks through rural India. It gets cold at night. We met two wonderful Hare Krishna women from Mauritius, who gave us banana chips and were so very very kind. We got danced on by a begging eunuch, and I didn’t give him/her enough money. We disembarked with a man who sat across from us, found out the proper price for a rickshaw, and he helped us to haggle for a correct one. The man who drove our rickshaw gave us an epic speech from the bottom of his heart about how he would never cheat us because he was an ambassador of his city. I paid him extra because I was so impressed with his sincerity. Our hotel had no problems–a slight hitch because the room was more upscale than anticipated, but it changed from 8 dollars to 12–so it’s not a big deal. Its a beautiful, comfortable place with a garden restaurant.
It is the final day of Navaratri today, and the streets are full of processing Durga statues. As we walked home from our day of sight seeing, we were painted with pink and green powder–powder that will never come out of our clothes, but feels authentic and wild. I love it. It smells like chemicals and gunpowder. It smells like power and devotion.
We saw the sun rise at the Taj. It is extremely impressive. White columns, perfectly inlaid jewels, the entire Quran written word by word across its walls–all perfectly symetrical–no mistakes at all. The men were pushy and disgusting–and not once did I call them out for “Un-Islamic behavior.” (I asked if they were Muslim men first.) I thought that would bring on mass giggles, but in fact it actually worked. Telling a man angrily to lower his eyes in the presence of a religious woman had some sway. The second time I yelled I just flat out said “Would you do that to your mother?” And he walked away quite shamefully.
At Agra fort, however, we had a guide. The fort is amazing. I’m short on time so it is not possible to describe how intricate, varying and remarkable the place was. I saw the place were Jahanara lived, one of the women in my Sufi paper, and the place where her father was imprisoned by his son–to do nothing but stare at the reflection of his Taj Mahal in the face of a diamond. That was the punishment given to him by his stern, conservative son, Aurengzeb, who took the throne after many agreed that Shah Jahan had spent too much money and run the country into the ground–in spending excessive funds on the Taj Mahal.
The guide kept the horny men with cell phone cameras away, but it felt safer for families to approach. We took photos with old couples and babies, and families who introduced the entire extended group. Many were also tourists. The fort had within it multiple palaces and resting places for the kings, queens, and princesses. It had an intricate water system, and some rooms were even air conditioned and heated. Unlike the Taj, which is all white marble, the fort varied in style depending on who had built the rooms. It was magnificent.
We’re going to the Taj again tomorrow for sunset, and then we have no other real plans. The train leaves early on Tuesday, and we should be home in time for work on Wednesday. What a magnificent time… I am so glad someone convinced me to come here. I wasn’t planning on it at all.