Coming to you from an (almost) lockdowned Malaysia, at a time when it’s least likely that anyone will be interested in my trip to India almost a year ago. But here it is, the long awaited Part 2…
Agra (Uttar Pradesh)
Let me be honest first about Agra in general – it was very dirty. If you can imagine what a quite underdeveloped, busy, hot city with a barely functioning sewage system and cows doing as they please all over the place might smell like, well, you can imagine the scent of Agra. It was quite shocking for the city boasting India’s most famous attraction, but even the street where we stayed right beside the Taj Mahal was “squiffy”, as my mummy would say.
But I don’t regret going here. The Taj Mahal really is magnificent and beautiful. I was really amazed when I saw it for the first time, because it’s one of those things that is almost a figment of your imagination until you see it, and it actually looks like it does in pictures (except bigger and better). Unlike pretty much everything else around it, it’s pristine and glowing. I said magnificent already, but I’ll say it again. Magnificent!
A few more positive things that I’d like to say about Agra is that people were really nice, the food was good (but this was basically true everywhere we went in India), and they have some quirky rooftop bars. Not swanky rooftop bars. Haphazard little things on relatively small buildings about 4 storeys high where you can sometimes see the Taj and always hear the chaos of the streets below. One night we were sitting on one of these and saw a little boy on a roof a few streets over, just sitting there. I thought he was too far away to notice us among all the other rooftops and sights, but then he gave us an adorable little wave and it made my night.
Jaipur was very hot, humid, and overall pretty fun. It is famous for shopping and I really did love the markets. I read that you simply must haggle with the traders. If you show any interest in an item at all, expect the hard sell. I soon realised that having a general browse like I might do at home isn’t really possible, because when you genuinely don’t want something and try to walk away, the price reduces drastically and the pressure to buy is amped up. But always a fan of a bargain, I enjoyed playing the game, pretending not to want a pair of colourful Rajasthani slippers with actual bells on (as if I wouldn’t want these) and now can occasionally be seen and heard wearing them around Kuala Lumpur.
Jaipur is also full of very grand old buildings, forts and temples. We visited Nahargarh Fort up on the hills, the Hawa Mahal (an old pink stone palace) and sat by the lake at the Jal Mahal (palace in the middle of a lake). We initially planned to do more, but it was very hot, around 45 degrees centigrade, and humid. And I was growing impatient with the constant unwanted attention from locals taking photographs of us, with or without speaking to us or acknowledging that we were not just inanimate objects that had been placed in the city for peoples’ amusement. It wasn’t everyone, but it was a lot. I can understand children being innocently interested in some foreign looking people, or locals being generally welcoming and friendly of course, but I don’t think following someone around taking pictures of them because they look different is cool behaviour from fully grown adults. So if you ever see photos of me looking like a sweaty version of the unimpressed-sideways-glancing emoji, they’re probably from Jaipur.
In summary, India…wow. What a place! This was a trip that I’ll never forget and I’m so glad I had the chance to explore this country a little bit. It can be quite a stressful place to be and was undoubtedly a culture shock for me, but I would like to go back. Thankfully there’s quite a large population of Malaysians who are Indian or Indian-origin so I can keep enjoying the delicious food, for now.