Romancing through Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho and Orchha

#1 Aug 31st, 2009, 12:13
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  • moneysh is offline
#1
Although we make a point by going for a long drive each year to celebrate our marriage anniversary, but my passion for driving in mountainous terrain and quest for going deep and far turns every possible romantic trip into arduous thrill-ride. Besides, being from a joint family, either I or my wife ends up with one of our parents or siblings to tag along on our tour. So, sometimes back when we were planning our annual trip, we explicitly decided to refrain from going to any road towards hills and asking anybody for company, even customarily.

As I've mentioned above, my passion for driving always takes me to mountains and even after driving more than four thousand kilometres in Himachal and Uttrakhand, I never ventured towards Agra, which is barely 230 kilometres from Delhi. At occasions, I felt a bit ashamed of my 'never seen Taj Mahal' status (They say, the world can easily be divided into to categories of people, those who've seen it and those who have not.). Hence, going towards Agra emerged as a natural choice for our journey and we decided to start towards 'that side'.

Although I was comfortable with the idea of going 'alone', my wife felt a little mortified after telling everybody in the family about the 'planned trip' and deliberately abstaining from asking them to join. To add to her guilt, she spilled hot tea on her left foot just half an hour before our departure on the morning of a Saturday in the month of September and she somehow felt that it is some kind of penalty for seeking sinful pleasure of 'going all alone'.

Anyway, with a lot of reluctance and burden we started. Reluctance, because something inside me was telling me that the true pleasure of driving is in turning steering right-n-left-n-right on mountainous roads. I think it is 'turning steering right-n-left-n-right' that all little boys do while driving imaginary cars and that gets set in their psyche as pleasure of driving, rather than keeping the steering straight with a foot a little bit hard pressed, as driving is on highways is. The 'burden' was there to make this trip successful whereas we were personally sure that the trip in the same hot and humid weather, same landscape and almost same type ‘monuments’ as our city is at the best going to be ‘so so’.

Saturday

After a good experience of driving far away mountains, Agra seemed so near and so local that I didn’t bother to do any homework regarding route. When we were loading the luggage in the car, a friendly neighbour suggested us to take 'Taj Expressway via Greater Noida' to avoid Mathura Road which is famous for its traffic jams. We followed his advice verbatim and hit a road head after going ahead for about forty-five kilometres on the suggested road. The only viable option left at that moment was going back about forty kilometres and taking Mathura road from Sarita Vihar. Although my wife, already dispirited by burning sensation on her foot and guilty consciousness, considered it a bad portent and once suggested returning back to home but, correctly judging my already bad mood, she kept mum. After losing about two hours and eighty kilometres to a friendly advice, we were back on the right track. The journey towards Agra remained largely uneventful as we were a bit tense and remained silent. Due to daze that results after about two hundred Kms drive on a straight road in the middle of a hot day, I drove through a crossing without paying any attention to the sign ‘Turn Right for Taj Mahal’ after Akhbar’s Tomb near Agra.

“We were supposed to turn Right.” We were already two hundred meters ahead of the crossing and I had realized my mistake by the time, when my wife made me aware that this mistake has not gone unnoticed.

“Yeah, I know. We’d take the next turn.” I was not sure whether I had just missed ‘the only turn’ or not, but I said confidently, unsuccessfully trying to hide the embarrassment for the mistake and annoyance for its recognition. But, luckily the ‘Turn Right for Taj Mahal’ sign was also there in front of 'Gurudwara Guru Ki Taal' on the next turn which was about two kilometers ahead of the previous missed opportunity. We took this turn and entered the Agra City to find that there even slightest hint towards the way to ‘Taj Mahal’ was absent (although, I don’t know why, I always felt that every road in Agra goes in that direction.). Within a few minutes, casual directions by passersby landed us in a very congested lane of some ‘Anaj Mandi’ (Wholesale grain market) where moving ahead seemed impossible due to a truck, a few bullock carts, a few more cycle rickshaws, lot of stray animals and sheer throng of people. This was the first occasion in my life when I realized that typical male obsession of ‘not (never/never ever/don’t even think of it) asking for directions’ can land one in a more embarrassing and silly situation than just plain ‘asking for directions like a fool’. Anyway, I somehow pulled out by taking a few 'assisted by everybody on the road' turns and managed reached a road (I think it was Dayal Bagh Road) with a bit more breathing space. Near the next crossing, I slowed a little more to keep pace with a rickshaw puller and was about to ask the ‘way to Taj Mahal’ from him when whistle of a policeman coupled with angry waving of baton from the middle of the road forced me to take left turn. This turn took us to the very spot near 'Gurudwara Guru Ki Taal' from where we had turned towards ‘the Taj Mahal’ about one and a half hours back. Although, I consider myself as one of the ‘patient types’, the events of the day were a bit too much for me and I decided to take a break for cold drink and some ‘deep breathing exercise’ (Thank you, Baba Ramdev.). I stopped by a tea stall for cold drinks from where I took detailed directions from an ‘intelligent looking’ guy, who, judging my agitation over my being 'misdirected' by others, suggested us to stay on the highway and take right turn near 'Water Works' and go straight to Taj Mahal. I reconfirmed the directions from a comparatively less 'intelligent looking’ guy after the first ‘intelligent looking’ guy left the stall.

“Now you drive. It’s just five kilometers.” I ordered my wife which she readily followed. She drove very patiently through a three-kilometer jam on the highway and turned towards Pandit Kalicharan Tiwari Road.

“Taj Mahal jana hai? (Going towards Taj Mahal?)” Asked one shoddy looking man after we had just finished parking the car near Taj Mahal.

“Aur Kahan? (Where else?)” I gave him a cold stare and asked back.

“Taj Mahal to aaj public ki entry band hai. (Today, the Taj Mahal is closed for public.)” He confidently declared, draining us of our remaining courage. Everything had gone so wrong since morning that we had immediately believed him.

“Kyon? (Why?)” I asked.

“Woh aaj Bulgaria a Rashtrapati aya hai. (Today, President of Bulgaria is visiting the place.)”, he declared.

“Chalo sir, nazdik hi hamara hotel hai, kal subah aath bajay number lagwa doonga, jyada line main nahin lagana padega. Subah ke time Taj ka alag hi maja hai. (Come on sir, my hotel is nearby [stay there for the night]. I’d fix everything in the night so that you would not be required to wait in the queue, tomorrow morning.)” We were in a state of confusion when the ‘good guide’ guy, after recognizing us as a potential client (read murga or bakra or aasami or whatever you think appropriate), started pursuing us with pamphlets of hotels.

“Five Star or Three Star?” He asked.

“Woh hum baad main dekhenge. Achha tum apne kaam karo. Hum dekh lenge. (Okay now, you do your own job. We’d manage by ourselves.)” I tried to ward him off but whosoever has encountered with 'such types' knows that these nuts are very hard to crack.

“Sasta bhi hai, Teen-Char hazar tak chalega. (I’ve got cheep rooms also, would a room upto four thousand is okay.)” After being convinced about entrapping us, he tried to gauge the depth of our pocket.

“Okay, you wait. At first, we want something to eat.” I looked towards a small cluster of kiosks behind parking area and said but he was in no mood to give up.

“Sir, late hojaiga, ……all the hotels are full, ……Saturday hai, ……Dilli say challis bus ayaa hai. Nobody has been allowed since morning, everybody is staying here for night. …. yahan kuchh khane ko nahin milega.” He kept on saying all sorts of things while we were walking towards the cluster of tea stalls but we paid no attention. We settled over a plastic table and ordered tea, but he pulled one more chair and literally tried to push pamphlet of a hotel in my hand.

“You wait besides car; we’d talk to you later but if you continue to pester us like this than there’d be no deal. Understood?” Although, looking at the perseverance on his face, I had prepared myself for heated long argument, but, probably judging my 'pented-up frustration' and anger he made a quick retreat.

"Achha Saab, aap to gussa ho gaye. Aap kuch kha lo main kar ke paas wait karta hoon. (Cool down sir, you finish your meal I'm waiting besides the car. )" he left us saying this.

After having sugar syrup like tea and potato wafers I went behind the cluster of shops, following directions towards 'Public conveniences' when "Taj Mahal --> (two-hundred meters)" written on the rickety wooden board that caught my attention. I don’t know why, but this sign infused some 'hope' in otherwise hopeless day and I immediately decided to go at least to the entrance of Taj Mahal.

"Welll….., we've already paid for the parking….. We're sitting in the car since morning…… I think we should walk a bit …….." I hesitantly proposed the plan to my wife after returning to our table.

"Okay." She readily agreed.

After a five minute walk through a green patch we were in front of a small queue of people who were buying 'entry tickets' for Taj Mahal.

"Taj Mahal kya public ke liye khula hai? (Is Taj Mahal open for general public?)" I shyly asked a security guard standing near queue.

"Haan. Band Kyun Hoga? (Yes [of course], why it is supposed to be closed?" He declared.

Buying tickets and security check took just five minutes and we were in front of 'Taj Mahal' …. 'The Taj Mahal'.

I must admit that I had always been skeptical about Taj Mahal and used to say that it is just another Mughal era building (like about a dozen odd scattered here and there in Delhi) with generous use of white marble, but mere glimpse of it from the entrance arc gate was enough to ward off all the skepticism. It's detailing and precision and sheer enormity is just awesome. Frankly no photograph I've ever seen of 'Taj Mahal' made me realize that it is so big.

"Wow…." was the word that simultaneously came out of our mouth when we reached the platform and got a perfect unhindered view of it ….err…'The Taj Mahal'. I was amazed to see that none of the thousands of photographs of Taj Mahal and no word in any article about Taj Mahal that I had seen in thirty-eight years of my existence had neared the experience of one glimpse of the 'real thing'.

“Let’s click some photos.” It was my wife who brought me out of the reverie; her bubbly disposition was back on her face. We spent about an hour in the complex and returned to parking area taking a tonga. I took a sigh of relief by finding that ‘hotel agent’ guy was nowhere near our car, but as soon as we got out of parking area a motorcyclist who was coming from opposite direction took 'U-turn', overtook us and authoritatively waved us to stop.

“Kya baat hai? (What’s the matter?)” I asked him when he came near.

“Sir, Nashta karne me bahut der laga di…… main to aapki wait kar raha tha? (Sir, what took you so long….. I was waiting for you?)” I recognized him when he removed his helmet. The guy was probably returning after settling another 'client' in some hotel.

“Taj Mahal entry Kyon band hai? (Why is entry to Taj Mahal is not allowed today?)” Although a wave of anger ran through my spine after seeing him, but I didn’t want to spoil my, by then, good mood so, containing my anger, I shot this question at him. [Later, I learnt that this scam of luring unsuspecting 'day-trip' tourists to nearby hotels by convincing them that they would not be able to see Taj Mahal is rampant in the area.]

“Woh aaj Bulgaria a Rashtrapati aya hai. (Today, President of Bulgaria is visiting the place.)”, he declared.

“Par mai to Taj Mahal Dekh Aaya. Array, main hi to Bulgaria a Rashtrapati hoon……., pehachana nahin. (But, I succeeded in visiting the Taj Mahal. Don’t you recognize me, it’s me who is the President of Bulgaria.)” I declared laughingly, waving the entrance tickets to Taj Mahal in front of his face. The expressions that came to his face after this were the most astonishing thing that I remember about that day, after of course, The Taj Mahal. Within half an hour we were in a clean small hotel at nearby Miyan Nazir Road. The air conditioned room that was allotted to us was on the top floor of the hotel even offered a very good view of dome of Taj Mahal.

Watch this space for the onwards journey to Gwalior, Khajuraho, Orchha and back.
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Last edited by moneysh; Sep 1st, 2009 at 18:25..
#2 Aug 31st, 2009, 12:52
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  • EOS is offline
#2
Quote:
Originally Posted by moneysh View Post Anyway, with a lot of reluctance and burden we started. Reluctance, because something inside me was telling me that the true pleasure of driving is in turning steering right-n-left-n-right on mountainous roads. I think it is 'turning steering right-n-left-n-right' that all little boys do while driving imaginary cars and that gets set in their psyche as pleasure of driving, rather than keeping the steering straight with a foot a little bit hard pressed, as driving is on highways is.
...right-n-left-n-right....
I call this our BASIC INSTINCTS.. nothing like hill driving..!

keep going ...enjoyed the post a lot...
#3 Sep 2nd, 2009, 16:56
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#3

Gwalior

Sunday

Although, by Saturday evening we were so fed up with the events of the day that we had decided to abort the 'mission' after visiting Taj Mahal, but visit to Taj Mahal, good food and a good night's sleep had rejuvenating effect on us and we proceeded towards Gwalior at about eight-thirty in the morning after finishing our breakfast. The landscape changed dramatically after getting out of Agra on this route and deserted dry and rocky land took place of green-fields on both sides of the road. The journey remained largely uneventful and we reached Dhaulpur by eleven-thirty. After crossing mighty Chambal River we were on a highway that cuts through infamous 'Beehars (Barren land) of Chambal' that were once abode to many a famous brigands. The landscape is throughout covered with numerous deep ravines that are carved in soft soil by floods of Chambal river. A mere glance of the landscape gives you an idea that these are probably the best natural places to play hide and seek, if, of course, you're hiding. Thoroughly enjoying the drive through Beehars on a good (toll) road we reached Gwalior by one-thirty. I had expected that Gwalior, being tourist town (I actually felt so.) would be having plenty choice of hotels but actually mid-range hotels are very less in the town and these are scattered. It took us about an hour to zero in suitable hotel near Railway Station. Accommodation is expensive in Gwalior and none of the hotels (at least six odd that I tried) quoted rates for air-conditioned rooms below fifteen hundred per night (compare it to eight-hundred a night air-conditioned room with [partial] view of Taj in Agra].

After having our lunch we proceeded towards Jai Vilas Palace to see all the treasures of royal family. The Silver Train, The Grand Chandeliers, The Collection of Cars, The Gatling Gun and Family Trees,…. everything was there to remind me a chapter of one of books of our school curriculum (I'm not sure now which subject or which standard but I'm pretty sure that had read almost all the things about the exhibits of the Palace in one of my school books). After Jai Vilas Palace, we went to the Gwalior Fort. The drive to the Gwalior Fort is fantastic with sculptures of jain Deities carved along the rocky walls at the side of the road going towards the Fort. But inside the walls, the Grand Gwalior Fort is very poorly maintained by ASI and I was appalled to see heaps of garbage, stray animals and street-food vendors within Fort walls. Besides, inner roads and structures of the Fort are also very poorly maintained. Barring two or three buildings, one of which is ASI Office, every other structure was accessible after passing thigh high wild grass and was in a crumbling state. To add to its woes, a very high (Doordarshan, I think, but I'm not sure) antenna has been erected within the Fort walls. The antenna seems totally out of place and spoils the view of the Fort, both from inside and outside.

Anyway, overall experience of Gwalior was just as expected. The other things worth mentioning about Gwalior are its 'wheat Roties'. Yes, humble roties, but these were so tasteful that these were able to cover over cooked Paneer-Masala and tasteless daal makhanito make a meal really tasty. I realized that the premium I was paying each month to the local grocer for 'real MP wheat-floor' was in vain, for I had never ever experienced the same good taste in home made roties that I experienced in two odd meals at two different restaurants.
#4 Nov 10th, 2009, 10:41
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#4

Remaining Part

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Remaining Part of travelogue is at http://www.indiamike.com/india/madhy...juraho-t89377/
#5 Nov 10th, 2009, 21:49
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#5
I had read the second part earlier, but how does it matter really. With your wonderful story-telling, it's a very interesting reading.
#6 Nov 11th, 2009, 15:50
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  • NowInBangalore is offline
#6
Moneysh, enjoyed reading your write-ups. Which is this 'clean small hotel at nearby Miyan Nazir Road'?
#7 Nov 17th, 2009, 16:44
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#7
Quote:
Originally Posted by mousourik View Post I had read the second part earlier, but how does it matter really. With your wonderful story-telling, it's a very interesting reading.
Hi mousourik,

Many many thanks for the encouragement. Please also check my Lahaul-Spiti travelogue at http://www.indiamike.com/india/himac...-spiti-t84177/.
#8 Dec 2nd, 2010, 07:14
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#8
Thanks for this Moneysh. I really enjoyed reading it. You have a great talent for writing.

Did you ever get to Khajuraho and Orchha?
#9 Dec 2nd, 2010, 12:25
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#9
Quote:
Originally Posted by SouthAfricanInLondon View Post Thanks for this Moneysh. I really enjoyed reading it. You have a great talent for writing.

Did you ever get to Khajuraho and Orchha?
First of all, thanks for encouraging words. My post about Khajuraho and Orchha is at http://www.indiamike.com/india/madhy...juraho-t89377/. Waiting for comments about that.

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