Monday, 25 November 2013


Leaving the flat plains of Delhi behind, we next journeyed towards Agra with the goal (of course!) of visiting the Taj Mahal.  We had been warned that the one and only thing worth seeing there was the Taj - or as a friend succinctly put it, "Agra's a bit of a shithole, really". Consequently, we decided not to stay in Agra, but instead to rough it here in the gorgeous Laxmi Vilas Palace hotel.

Here are some photos just to make you sick.  It was cheap as chips too....

The dining room

A corner of our room
However, we don't believe in doing things the easy way and, en route, the Shah decided he wanted to stop at a place called Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh which is supposed to be the repository of family records as well as being the birthplace of Krishna and thus, very holy.

So there we are, bowling along the dusty road towards our destination - actually with no bleedin' idea at all of where we were going - we just trusted the driver with our lives - when said driver pulls into the side of the road.  In the middle of nowhere.

There was a little old bloke standing there who just hops into the passenger seat and starts chatting away to the driver in rapid-fire Hindi.  Eventually, the driver jerks a thumb at the new guy and says the word "guide".  Oh, okay then.

Shortly afterwards we were dropped off and told that the driver would meet us back in the same place a couple of hours later.  A couple of hours?  Let me tell you, we were well off the beaten track.  It was hot, it was humid, it was foetid. And one other thing.  While we never had a language problem in India, there was definitely an accent problem.  This little old guy closely resembled Popeye and had fewer teeth.  Well, actually none.  I caught about one word in 20. The Shah did slightly better by virtue of babbling in a mixture of native dialects but jeez, it was hard work.  First stop was the Govinda Dev Temple just up a side street.  

Photo credit - Wikitravel because mine was rubbish.
Built in 1590, it was an impressive sight but the guide told us that the top four storeys had been lopped off it during some unrest centuries previously. To reach it, we walked up a steep hill, the Shah hissing at me to mind where I stepped.  Open sewers ran down either side of the street and I am quite serious when I say that I can no longer look a pork chop in the eye having watched the wild pigs snacking on the sewer contents.  Yup, really.

Naturally we were asked to remove our shoes before entering.  Today, the temple is deserted by all except someone to guard your footwear against the only other residents - hundreds of monkeys. I was wearing new shoes that day and it was an utter joy to wade barefoot, ankle deep in monkey piss, then to put my nice new sabots back on...

The culprits.

After this, we were led through winding streets, past many elderly ladies begging piteously (this place is a Mecca for widows apparently) through another temple and out into a garden where, we were told, Krishna had played as a boy.  Our guide insisted on leading us all round it, barefoot once again.  Suddenly I noticed the Shah snorting with laughter and gesticulating at the bushes.  Glancing to my left, I saw a bunch of monkeys shamelessly erm, making little monkeys.  Popeye couldn't understand what we found so funny. Eventually, we were led into an audience with a Guru and asked to sit on the floor at his feet while he coughed all over us and ranted on for a bit. Then came the demands for money.  24,000 Rupees please.  The Shah laughed hysterically.  I think we got away with giving the old scoundrel 1000 Rupees which is round about ten quid.  In return, we were given some greasy biscuits which had been "blessed".  Right.  Thanks for that.  We wept with laughter later when we remembered Sanjeev Bhaskar's Guru in the TV series Goodness Gracious Me.  Like this....

So - on to the Taj.  this was actually the following day because we had decided to see it at dawn - highly recommended and second only to seeing it at the full moon, apparently.  A 4.30a.m. start *groan* meant we were well on the road to Agra by 5a.m. and reached the Taj by 6a.m. when the gates opened.

I have no adequate words to describe the eerie, ethereal beauty of the Taj Mahal looming out of the mist in the chill of the early morning.
This the first sight you get:-
It really makes you catch your breath

It is the most extraordinary place as long as you can ignore all the fat-bottomed tourists vying for a place on the bench in order to have their "Diana" shot.  Quite, quite beautiful and an astonishing piece of architecture and technical wizardry.

Unfortunately, I stood in some camel shit on the way out whilst trying to dodge yet another of the ubiquitous monkeys.  But there you go.  If there's one thing we learned in India, it's that you have to be able to take the rough with the smooth!

Last word from the Taj.  Whatever you do, do not put your leg in the Wazoo Tank....

Monday, 18 November 2013

Delhi Belly

Oh dear - it is a long time since I put shellac to keyboard, isn't it? Sorry chums - to those of you who may think I've dropped off the face of the planet and those who really don't give a f.... Apologies too to all those blog owners whose writings I normally read and comment on - something else that has been let slide. It's just that, since we got back from India, life has been like an explosion in a WTF factory (credit here to Aunty Gwen, from whom I have nicked this fine phraseology).
So, although we got home a couple of weeks ago, I have only just found time to bore you with the holiday snaps enlighten you with tales of our fascinating travels.

It has only taken me approximately 20 years of sustained nagging to get the Shah to agree to go to the land of his forebears.  'Why is that, CQ?' I hear you cry. 'Surely the Shah feels right at home on the sub-continent?'  Does he hell as like! (whoops - northern roots showing there).  The Shah is, as I like to tell anyone who will listen, a confirmed coconut.*  In fact he spent the entire holiday referring to his countrymen as "them".  QED.

Anyway, enough of him.  We decided to eschew his home state of Gujarat and instead do the 'Golden Triangle' which takes in the three most famous areas of India - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and hold onto your hats chumlets, because you are going to hear about them all.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

So - we arrived in Delhi at dead of night.  Luckily we had arranged for a driver to meet us and take us to our hotel.  Unluckily, we couldn't find him and he couldn't find us.  Eventually, a couple of phone calls sorted this out.  The next day we had hired a guide and another driver to show us the sights.  This was probably a bit of a misjudgement because we were absolutely knackered after a 9 hour flight  and only lasted half a day in the heat and humidity before requesting to be taken back to the hotel so we could crash out.  We did manage to see some brilliant sights though:-

The amazing Red Fort 17th C home of Shah Jahan

This where the Shah used to sit to commune with his subjects

The extraordinary Qutub Minar

The names Bhond - Jamez Bhond
I should explain here that the Shah is striking a pose in the manner of a poor man's James Bond as that is what all young Indian men appear to do when having their photo taken.  It was quite bizarre.  We saw a bunch of them outside the Lotus Temple posing in such a manner that the Shah felt compelled to mutter "fack me, it's Charlie's Angels".  Sadly, we weren't quick enough to catch them on camera.

And here is the Lotus Temple. Dedicated to the Baha'i faith.

Lodi Gardens

where even the squirrels are strange...

Plenty of space yet...Notice that only Dad gets to wear a helmet.
Every lorry had 'Horn Please' painted on the back in highly colourful style.  An instruction all other drivers were only too happy to comply with!

The traffic (which I wrote about last time) was the worst we had ever encountered.  Unbelievably noisy and heavy with no regard for road rules but, oddly no road rage either.  Maybe they got it all out of their systems by incessant use of the horn?

I think I found the suspicious person.....

                                                            I suggest the 'Soundhy Harad', Shah

Delhi was great and really interesting but we were keen to move on after three days and head off to see Agra and the Taj Mahal.  Well, it would have been rude not to.

*Coconut - a pejorative term I like to use for the Shah (one of many) indicating that he is brown on the outside and white on the inside.