Agra, India

Today marked our first pre-dawn wake-up call, and first public train experience; of which, over the course of the fortnight ahead, there would be many, many more. I don’t remember much about either; I was pretty much unconscious throughout the period between the alarm and boarding the train, and I was borderline catatonic during the three hour train journey from Delhi to Agra. By the time we’d arrived, the awake part of me had joined the party.

Here’s a teaser shot to get you in the mood:

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Agra is obviously best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. But before we were to enjoy a guided visit to this icon of Mughal architecture, we took baby steps and visited the Baby Taj. This mausoleum was built before the Taj Mahal by Queen Nur Jahan for her father. As with most of the sites in India, this would be an architect’s wet dream – lots of intricate detail in the marble structure, complete with embedded precious stones. It costs 110 rupees to visit the Baby T; definitely worth throwing in a quid to see it.

Agra Fort, the Taj’s less famous sister monument, was next on the agenda. The red sandstone and white marble Mughal fort is pretty impressive in its own right – but our tour guide went on a bit (that’s a nice way of putting it), and he wasn’t the easiest to understand. In the blistering heat, there’s only so much you can hear about Mughals before you melt into a sticky pile of… blargh.

A tuk-tuk from the hotel to the Baby Taj, to Agra Fort, and back to the hotel again was only 500 rupees. Between three of us… yeah, cheap as chips.

Then it was time for the big boy.

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As a wannabe writer I should probably try to explain what it’s like using language but words will fail me so – here – have some photos instead.

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Yes, I did get a warm fuzzy feeling. And not just because it was 30—whatever—degrees. Walking through the gates to see the spectacle for the first time is definitely up there as one of my ‘wow moments’.

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Dear Island

Dear Island,
I’m writing this now – without any intention of pressing ‘send’ – in the somewhat deluded hope that, at some stage in the future, I will stumble across these words and share them with you. In my mind’s eye, you’re smiling as I read out this confession (well, more a sort of one-sided dry smile / borderline sneer) and your eyes are darting around in a way that suggests you always knew I was that little bit crazy. But you’ve grown to love me for it anyway.
I hope we’re on a sofa; not actively snuggling, but cosy never-the-less (I don’t think you and I are the snuggy-bunny sorts). That being said, I’m probably still finding any excuse to paw your upper arms; I did enjoy the way they wrapped around my body.
Since the island, you’ve taken a while remembering who you are; but you’re getting there now and, even though you’ll never be the same as the man I met all those moons ago, you’ve still got that sparkle in your eyes. And, without a shadow of a doubt, I know our future will be full of laughter. If we have one.
It’s strange. I’m not the type to fall in love at first sight. (Well, I was when I was twenty-one but the best part of a decade has taught me a thing or two about love. And about falling. As such, I’m a little… well, I’m no longer the type…). But with you. The minute I met you, I felt so content in my own skin. You called me a penis in the space of fifteen minutes and you told me to shut up before the second drink. That was it. Mind made. I want you.
Wanted.
Past tense.
I wanted you in my life.
I knew about the island, of course. Perhaps that’s why I wanted you so badly – because I couldn’t have you. Freud said a shitload about that but now’s not the time.
It’s a year, not a lifetime, I used to think. If we’re meant to be, we will. And I sent out a silent plea when you looked into my eyes for that last time; don’t forget my name. But by the time I was done choking on my thoughts, you’d already kissed my forehead and had turned away. That was the morning I watched you disappear.
I should have told you.
So I’ll tell you now.
No, not ‘I love you’. I hardly know you.
How about –
I can imagine waking up next to you every morning.
I can imagine loving you.
If you’re here – know that I always knew you would be.
If you’re not  –

Delhi, India

Hello: Namaste

Thank you: [sounds like] San-knee-wad

No: [sounds like] Nah-hee.

Generic greeting: Ram-ram. (They’ll LOVE you if you say this).

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Day 1:

The air is sticky and smells sweet. There are cars everywhere; none of which pay any attention to each other or to the white lines dividing the roads into lanes. It’s like they’re there just for decoration. They do love their horns – the city seems to thrive on chaos.

There have been a few blatant stares from men in passing cars. They look at me like I’m some sort of legend; a mythical creature.

Sounds weird but the busses and trucks out here are so pretty. Like great big works of art on wheels.

So far I’ve seen a pig and a cow; both just chilling by the size of the road. And I’ve only just left the airport. New Delhi is mental. Neon everywhere. It’s like all the hotels are trying to outdo each other in looking as tacky as possible.

I’m at the hotel now. Nobody knows what’s going on. I’m in a room I’m not supposed to be in so they’re moving me tomorrow. At least I think that’s what the men at reception were trying to say / shout. I can’t really understand anyone and I’m woozy from the flight.

Just popped a sleeping pill and hidden all the money I have. Probably not the smartest move since I can barely remember my name. Fingers crossed I can find the cash in the morning

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Day 2:

Oh my god, I love this place! Today’s been such a good day – and now I’m at Maa Bhagwati, about to eat Malai Kofta and some bread type thing that I can’t pronounce. Getting here on foot was pretty much impossible; more so because of my total lack of direction as opposed to the cows that kept getting in the way, but they weren’t helping. So I admitted defeat and got a tuk-tuk and paid him 30 rupees (about 30p).

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This place is the essence of chaos. I LOVE it. So far I’ve seen a cow pulling a cart, a man painting a dog, and an unattended pig wandering around the bazaars. Everything is spicy and they have curry for breakfast! I’m in heaven. Oh and that might become literal if I’m not careful – there have been a few close calls with the tuk-tuks.

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(Curry for breakfast, mmm)

I feel a bit like where-celebrity-meets-zoo-animal. Hands keep ‘accidentally’ finding their way to my bottom. There’s definite cuppage going on. Don’t think I’ve ever been groped so much – and I’m from Essex so that’s saying something. In retrospect, packing John Frieda Go Blonder Lightening Shampoo was a mistake.

Talking about mistakes… my little friend, Mr Kumar, definitely wanted more than friendship. I cancelled our night (as per counsel from best friend back home who said something like – ‘please don’t get kidnapped before the tour starts’) and he sent two very long messages; one which said something like ‘pleeeeeeeease come out, I want to make memories with you’, and the other which said; ‘I’ll give you a full body massage’. Erm no.

Anyway. I’ve just had dinner – it was lush. So, so tasty. Malai Kofta (some kind of cheese curry thing) was 160 rupees, and Lachledar Parantha Butter Roti was 18rupees. Dinner was basically £2. I could move here.

So what did I get up to today?

  • I went on the Free (meaning pay what you think is fair) Fusion walking tour of Delhi and I was the only tourist so I had the tour guide all to myself. She was lovely and she took me all around Delhi, and helped me try some local dishes as we meandered around the backstreets. Chai tea was only 10p!!
  • I went to the spice market and got felt up a lot.
  • I wandered around Connaught Place and met ‘my little friend’. All went well until talk of a full body massage and making ‘memories’. That’s not what I call it.
  • I got lost on the way to Maa Bhagwati but eventually found it and had a party in my mouth.

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Day 3:

Wow, what a day. I went on an absolutely AMAZING tour: Old Delhi Bazaar Walk and Haveli Visit. It was honestly one of the best tours I’ve ever been on – and that’s saying something because I go on city walks pretty much everywhere I travel.

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Dhruv is such a dude; so knowledgeable, friendly, passionate and it feels like you’re hanging with an Indian celebrity; everyone knows and respects him. He revealed a side of Delhi that not many people are lucky enough to see. In the space of a few hours, we upgraded from being mere tourists to becoming part of the local community. Up on a rooftop, we watched the locals race their pigeons, and then we flew kites with our neighbours on another side of town. We ate a traditional Delhi breakfast – and washed it down with some silver. As you do. Oh and a leaf thing with rose petals. (Delhi delicacies). Market-sellers invited us to sit next to them to get a taste of trading life on the roadsides. Then we had a homemade lunch at Dhruv’s own Haveli – a beautiful, traditional home in the heart of the city. It truly was an incredible experience.

After lunch, it was time to hoist on the backpack and cross town to meet the G Adventure tour group. My tuk-tuk got held up in a protest / riot which was… bracing. But I got there eventually and was delighted to meet my fellow travel buddies; what a lovely bunch! We’re up early and off to Agra tomorrow to say a cheeky hello to the Taj Mahal… so best get some beauty sleep.

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