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Friday 26th November - Agra
By Claire
Monday, 29th November 2004 11:12

The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, so instead we took a taxi to a place called Sikandara, the tomb of a man called Akbar, a great ruler in the 1600s. It was a lovely place, very calm this morning too, and the marble was cool and refreshing. There were plenty of huge marble monuments, towers and domes, and I don't know enough about Moghul architecture to describe it - it's better just to look at the pictures. There were long, twisty-horned deer, tiny chipmonks that looked like Jango, monkeys and green parrots all over the place, some great, long walkways and some good photo opportunities. One elderly man started talking to us about the building, but we had no intention of paying him - a group of men chased him away from us so that they could take photos of us. I didn't mind except that a couple of the lads put their arms round us, something they would never have done with an Indian woman, and it just emphasised the point that even by dressing modestly and behaving properly, there's not a lot I can do to avoid being thought of as a prostitute. But the lads seemed harmless enough, and they were all polite.

Part of the mausoleum was the room housing Akbar's tomb, and we had to go barefoot down a long dark corridor to get it. A man inside had a torch and he shone it at the tomb, the ceiling and the lamp, sang a note that echoed really, really wonderfully in the chamber, and then held out his had for whatever money we wanted to give him. We'd made the mistake of standing too close to him to excape, but he didn't get much.

We went back to the taxi and carried on to Fatehpur Sikri. The road was full of men walking their bears, which was a novel change of scenery for us. They all had small black, shaggy bears which were tied up in chains, and the men were waving sticks at the bears to get them to stand up on their back legs. I don't think the bears were too impressed with this, and neither were the drivers of oncoming vehicles who had to swerve sharply to avoid the animals dancing in the road. The street of bears continued for about ten miles, and eventually we came to Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient, abandoned city built by the Akbar whose tomb we'd just visited. It was supposed to be an idylic retreat from the bustle of Agra, but only 20 years after it was built they discovered that there wasn't enough water in the area and it was abandoned - it's been left for about four hundred years. The touts here were very annoying and they all wanted to be our guide. The taxi driver didn't help by stopping for them all at the side of the road and not driving away as soon as we'd said no - he even tried to convince us to take one. We just like to see things at our own pace, explore slowly and not be rushed through two or three places and then have money demanded from us. Once we were on our own, though, they came in crowds to attract our attention. Many of them just started walking with us and talking, in the hope that we would give in, a few said they wanted no money and one of them told us we should take a photo here when that was exactly what we were doing, and then demanded money for the advice. We greeted every approach with a wave of the hand, a 'no thank you' and no eye contact, and when that didn't work I resorted to the shout of 'leave us alone!' which usually drew enough attention to embarras the guy. We actually had a great day of gorgeous pink and peach sandstone edifices, carvings and walkways, though. I took on the role of tour guide because we both think that most of them make it all up, and pointed out to Mikey the intricate carvings done by blind workmen and the pools that reflected the image of God in a full moon. He wasn't so sure about the alcoves for the television sets though,, even when I pointed out the channels for the areial wires and ancient power points. We ended up in the lovely giant mosque at the end of the city. The guides here had changed their tactics, saying that they weren't guides, just poor student-boys, but we managed to escape them all.

The taxi reversed out of the carpark and straight into a goat. The goat seemed unperturbed by this intrusion into its fence-eating, which was a good thing. My definition of a successful Indian taxi-ride has to change though, to a journey where nothing is seriously hurt in an incident involving our vehicle.

In Agra we checked our email, had supper and wrote diaries for most of the evening. We're off to see the Taj Mahal tomorrow morning.

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