4th October 2016
We were up at 0500hrs to get to the Taj Mahal before sun rise.
Bleary eyed we slumped in our seat’s as the bus trundled through the deserted streets arriving at the West Gate (there are three entrances) in near total darkness.
As we made our way through the manicured gardens, just visible in the gloom the first call to prayer sounded appropriately enchanting, like a musical score written for exactly that moment.
We met our new guide whilst Romi went off to buy the tickets.
We were ushered into lines, women in one row, men in the other, separated by a rail of rusting scaffold poles that left its Liver coloured markings on our clothes and skin as we brushed against it. Reminiscent of the queueing lines at Disney we stood patiently waiting for the gates to open.
India’s love of bureaucracy, procedures and form filling wasn’t going to miss a captive audience and our ticket, so recently purchased now had to be checked by a guy who clipped it, leaving a ‘Hanging Chad’ (remember GW Bush) as evidence that we were entitled to be in the queue.
Not satisfied with that, another guy quickly followed up, checking that the ticket had a suitable Hanging Chad and then he stamped the ticket with a rubber ring which he wore on his middle finger. This he regularly loaded with fresh red ink from a pad, clutched in his other hand.
Finally, a third guy checked that the Hanging Chad was in place, that the red stamp was in order and gave each ticket a secret Tear in a critical position, thus signifying the authenticity of our entry rights.
Utterly Brilliant and completely wasted.
India, to it’s credit doesn’t look to reduce manpower when ever possible. It doesn’t introduce system’s and procedures designed specifically to cut the work force, unlike the West where that is the great money saving tool.
Here they actively promote over employment. They create positions for no other reason than to give some one a job. They don’t have one person doing a job if they can get six to do it, thus creating employment for thousands of people, putting money into the hands of ordinary people.
Our special Taj Mahal guide is ex military, employed several days a month to explain the history of the Taj to visitors in a monotone delivery that has very little punctuation and almost no passion.
Our bus driver has a conductor who sits perched on the left hand side of the cab. his role is to put the step down when the bus stops, so we, the passengers can step down safely.
This means there are three Indian staff on the bus with us, Romi, the driver (who wears and invisible neck brace which stops him looking left or right at major road junctions) and the conductor.
And Transport for London (TFL) want ‘driver only’ trains?
At long last the huge wooden studded gates were pulled back and we were allowed to proceed, to the security check. Full body scan, frisk and search of any bags or camera cases.
However, once we went through the next set of gates we could see the the Taj like a ghost in the morning mist. All the inconveniences disappeared as the spectacle of marble and sunlight become clear.
It was truly amazing.
Our early start meant there were almost no other people around and we could pose for photographs in the most sought after spots with ease.
We spent a few hours walking round, looking at the Taj from different angle even going inside to see the tomb at its centre but nothing compared to that first vision, reflected in the water of the ponds.
It was and in some respects had to be an anti-climax after the ‘gob smacking’ first encounter.
As the heat of the day intensified more of our group congregated at the Rv point and we eventually reached critical mass, forcing our exit back to the bus.
After a short ride we piled out of the bus & into a Cafe for a welcomed Breakfast before returning to our Hotel.
The plans for the rest of the day included a visit to the Red Fort and the Baby Taj but that all seemed too much of a good thing so I stayed behind and caught up on some sleep, took a swim in the pool behind the Hotel, trying not to swallow any of the water or get it in my eyes as there was a scum of debris, feathers on the surface and bird droppings pitted the surrounding area.
My last encounter with a similar pool in Marrakech left me with an eye infection for weeks.
By late afternoon the Gang returned.
Jaki flopped on the bed and immediately fell asleep.
Exhausted by the Heat and yet another Meal (this time Lunch) she had to be levered off the bed to get ready for our evening meal at theMaya Hotel and Restaurant where we sat outside on the balcony with 5 other large groups, all from G Adventures.
This place is popular with Tourists as the food is fantastic. The Chicken Tikka was large pieces of marinated chicken on a metal spike about 2 foot long which is dropped into a large ceramic open topped tandoori oven to cook. It was fantastic, tender but still juicy.
With plenty of beers, Nan Breads, lime pickle and a yoghurt and mint sauce,I can see why.
The down side?
It was hot, relying purely on fans hung from the ceiling (that dripped condensation) to circulate the air. It was noisy, the conversation of 50+ people wasn’t able to drown out the sound of horns honking on the road below and the sad looking musicians playing sitar and drums right behind me was a constant distraction.
It was also the most expensive to date,1600 Rupees including drinks Vat (14%) and service charge.
But, I enjoyed every second of it.
On the way back to the Hotel the coach stopped at a road side Cafe where they were dispensing hot milk (lassie) into clay jugs which are drunk greedily by an avid clientele. Sadly, or perhaps fortuitously, they had run out so we were unable to sample this local delicasy. Instead The gang loaded up on over priced essentials. Pringles, Kinder eggs and chocolate.
What a day. What an experience and, what next?