Even at 5.30 am, Delhi’s Nizamudin Station is a kaleidoscope of colour. A maddening cacophony of sounds seething with waves of human movement on an extraordinary scale.
It’s as if all 26 states that comprise india had sent representatives in equal proportion to catch trains back to their respective home states, thus providing us with a unique picture of just how diverse the country is: Where race, cast, religion, gender and language are knotted together like a richly woven carpet.
The dry haze overhead grows thinker as millions rise with the sun, stirring up the dust from countless unmade and crumbling roads.
I’m afforded a lesson or two in white privilege that challenges a few of my assumptions. As the only Europeans on display we stand out. Suddenly Im the other, “Porter Sir?” “Taxi Sir?” Rickshaw drivers, touts, beggars, a couple of glad handlers working an angle, along with the plain curious surround us. Some stare openly, its hard to know what they may be thinking, while one or two of the brave amongst them come forward seeking to have their photograph taken with us.
India is an astonishing place, it’s like nowhere else on Earth. Any description of mine won’t do justice to the rolling spectacle of ceaseless activity. Its confounding and a little overwhelming? I can’t really describe india, you have to experience it, taste it, feel it enter your body and move through you. Perhaps I shouldn’t have had (I knew I shouldn’t have had) that dodgy dosa!
“Chai, chai, chai” sang the call of the tea vendor as he swayed down the third class carriage of the Taj Express. I was grateful for a cup of that sweet delicious cardamon flavoured marsala tea The crowded rickety 2and a half hour train ride allowed me a little time for reflection, it’s been a whirlwind few days.
In Delhi, through our hotel we had organised an English speaking driver, Mr Pinky to take us on a tour of the city’s official attractions. The India Gate monument, the impressive Red Fort, Jama Masijd Mosque, Mahatma Gandhi’s Gardens and Humayuns Tomb. The pride of India is embodied in these architectural and historically significance structures, layers of culture stretching back many thousands of years, while the sites themselves are laid out in beautiful gardens. Price of admission is purposefully kept low for indian nationals and foreigners pay a price 10 or 20 times as much, which is still reasonable and comparable to would one might expect to pay back home.
“You want number one quality gems, suits or saris?” Poor Mr pinky did his best to have us visit one of his friend’s shops, sometimes things are lost in translation. We were emphatic, No Shopping. We did tip him a little extra by way of compensation though.
The unofficial sites were sensational, if confronting. I resisted the urge to photograph some things, as I think it’s intrusive, also any comments I make may be taken out of context, so I would rather say that the full gamut of human experience is on display, not as some perverse tourist attraction but as a fact of life.
As we disembarked at Agra railway station we ran the gauntlet of those seeking our business. Most have a great elevator speech or 10 second pitch. We settled on Mr Ali “I am but an old Grandfather yet honest and a good driver.” The tuk tuk drive around Agra city was marvellous: Monkeys, goats, horses, donkeys, pigs, camels, buffalo and sacred cows. A mish mash of colour, sights and sounds had my head swimming.
We toured Agra Fort, the Tomb of il Timed I’d Daulab and took in the sonic views of the Taj Mahal from vantage points across the Yamuna River. Tomorrow we shall explore the Tal in more detail.
Right now I’m exhausted, relaxing in the rooftop restaurant at the inexpensive Sai Palace Hotel watching the sunset over the Taj, as cheeky monkeys scamper across the rooftops and sacred cows wanderer soulfully along the alleyways to the incessant tooting of cars.