Last year in July 2012, my american friend Jackie and I decided to travel to Delhi and Agra. So we planned meticulously and decided to visit in December. Jackie had an ambitious plan to travel to 7 countries before New year. She wished to see the Taj Mahal and I suggested Delhi too, since she had a week. She set sail in November from Lyon, France and traveled to Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich, Mumbai, Chicago, Paris. With this, we started off our journey on the 15th of december to Delhi. Reached on 16th morning and a very kind youngster who was a fellow passenger gave us directions to Mandi House, our temporary stay during the trip.
We roamed nearby areas like India Gate, India Habitat Center, Lodhi Colony, INA colony and Sarojini Nagar Market till almost 8pm. I remember being surrounded by women and young girls at the market and the rick back to our hotel. It seemed so safe. The myth that girls don’t step out of 7 pm in Delhi seemed false. Next day, i.e. 17th, we visited Janpath, and Connaught Place on foot. The best part of our two day stay was we were roaming everywhere on foot, armed with a City map, a guidebook and the many metro maps I had printed prior to our visit. Lunch at QBA and lots of shopping marked our day. While walking through CP, some men did try to use their English skills on us, seeing there was a firang girl. However, we tackled them confidently and had no further trouble. We had to leave for Agra the next morning, so we hurried back quite early around 7.30 pm, rested for a while, coz our feet ached terribly from all that walking.
We awoke early on 18th morning, my alarm ringing since 5 am. I was so afraid we both would oversleep owing to the warmth of the bed, that I set up at least three alarms. Fortunately, I awoke at the first bell itself. Our train to Agra was at 7 am from Hazrat Nizamuddin station. On the Hotel manager’s suggestion, we left early at 6.15 am and reached at 6.40 am. The climate was pleasant and the rick ride was nice because of no traffic at that early hour. Once there, the train was slightly late by 10 mins and we comfortably boarded our seats. The Taj Express took 3.5 hours to reach Agra Cantonment station. We alighted and were followed by a man who showed us his Tourist Guide license- government approved et all, and kept telling us of his fees. I politely declined him, but then he started asking us about our hotel details. To shut him up, I told him we had a car receiving us. He still stood there and only left once the car came. Good that I had already called the hotel manager from the train and arranged for a car to take us to the hotel. It was about 2 km from the station but was a smooth ride owing to the good roads. The location was amid a residential colony, a detail that made me feel safe. Also, we could see the Taj from the rooftop; it was a mere 1.5 km away. Everything went smoothly. It was a budget hotel and the other occupants were all foreigners. It was modestly done up and was comfortable for a 2 day stay.
Our first day in Agra, i.e. 18th started with a visit to the Taj. We hired a taxi service, paid in cash for an entire day. It seemed quite reasonable, was arranged by the hotel itself and would be with us for the day. The driver seemed good too, he could barely speak English, so I spoke in Hindi, and not much conversation ensued. We reached Taj and on entering the complex, all Trinket sellers swarmed around us like bees, loudly showcasing their wares. We cut through them all, was easy, not much difficult and walked the entire road to the main entrance where the ticket house is located. Men in small golf cars kept telling us it was a long walk and we must take a ride and reach there. A firm NO ensured that we walked calmly.
After buying the tickets, one has to go through security checkpoints, which drags for a long distance. For Indians, the line was long and moved so slowly that I spent a good 20 mins standing in the queue, while Jackie cleared the row in minutes and waited for me on the other side. The TAJ MAHAL is an architect’s delight and we both lost ourselves for 3 hours in its mesmerizing beauty. Meanwhile, our driver who was waiting outside the complex called the hotel manager reporting that he had lost us in the complex. The hotel manager’s worried phone call to me, made both of us laugh hard. Though, we did tell him that architects get excited about such monuments. I am not sure he believed us, because his response was how could someone spend hours looking at at building! We skipped lunch for we spent the entire afternoon at Taj and our next destination, the Agra Fort closed at 6 pm. So we hurried and reached there by five. A very quick tour accompanied by a guide, since we ran out of time to be reading details from the book. It turned out to be good. We could catch the TAJ in a beautiful light from the fort too. It got so dark by the time we came out of the fort that the only thing to do was grab dinner and sleep early. We asked the driver for a good Indian restaurant and he drove us to one, which had a basement entry. Now, I am generally wary of basements and especially when I am in unknown places. It was a giant basement room, with a pantry and waiters at a corner and tables arranged in aisles, and completely EMPTY! It scared me so much that I told Jackie to get out of their as soon as possible. The driver and the restaurant manager didn’t understand why and kept asking me to take a seat. I refused and told the driver for a better place. He then drove us to a theme restaurant, named Indiana which had a small boy dancing in front with his father playing music, to welcome guests. It was warm, comfortable and most important, people were seated inside. THAT relieved me so much. Hot food- steaming rice and Rogan Josh uplifted our spirits, followed by an aromatic cup of tea. The service was excellent and the elderly man who waited on us even took a look at some allergy I had developed on my hand resulting in a severe stinging sensation. We spent two hours relaxing, eating at a slow pace and just taking in the warm ambiance. We returned back to the hotel room and had a look at internet for more updates on a news article I had seen in a Hindi newspaper in the morning, while on the train. It was about a school girl raped and thrown out of a moving bus in Delhi. Later, while browsing through channels like BBC, it came to light that it was a 23 year old girl and that she was gang-raped and thrown on the road. I felt indignant and the myth that I thought was busted came back in the form of a gruesome reality.
The next morning on 19th, we booked another taxi service for Fatehpur Sikri. The new driver was a chatty and young 21 year old fellow. It was a great hour long ride, mainly because of the driver’s wit and his enthusiasm for giving us information about Agra and the regional politics and social life. He said he felt nice to talk to us because people who usually travel avoid talking to him since he is a driver. He told us about his family, and his dream of educating his sister in a university in Mumbai. The city of dreams, he said. It felt so nice, talking to a youngster from a small semi-urban town harbor ambitions for an education and a better life for his sister; he himself had dropped out of school to support his family by driving a cab. Now he enjoyed visiting new places, and looking at different cultures within Indian cities. I instantly thought, THIS is the youngster who deserves a good life, he strives hard for providing his family, his younger siblings with better chances than he got. He also told us to remember him the next time we would come to Agra and to travel in his taxi.
We visited Fatehpur complex and Sikri which is close to each other. Another guide gave us interesting anecdotes about bollywood movies filmed on location than the actual history of the place. On our way back, we visited this beautiful Mausoleum dedicated to ItImad Ud-Daulah, referred as a ‘Jewel box’ for its exquisite inlay work encrusted with semi-preciuos stones. Our train back to Delhi was at 6.55 pm and we reached a well one hour ahead of the departure time. The return journey was cold and we shivered, tightly wrapping ourselves in shawls we had packed in anticipation of the weather. Upon arrival at 10 pm, I asked a man about conveyance facilities to Mandi House from Hazrat Nizamuddin station. He kindly told us to book a pre-paid Rickshaw located just outside the station. I am glad we followed his advice because it turned out to be safe and a cheap ride too. I only remember eating some rice and returning to our room, snuggling under the blankets; for all these days I just did not feel the cold. We slept till 8 am the next morning.
20th december was our fifth day of the trip, and third in Delhi. We visited Qutub Minar, in the morning then Safdarjung’s tomb, had a quiet lunch at Lodhi garden, reached the Lotus Temple at 6 pm by which it was closed, returned to Khan Market and met Jackie’s friend for dinner at The Big Chill. Took a metro at 10.30 pm, with not a soul in the ladies coach and safely arrived at Mandi House.
The last day of four trip, 21st dec, we set sail early, visiting Jantar Mantar in the brilliant sunshine. Took a bus to Red Fort which was unfortunately closed because of a presidential visit. We seized that opportunity and set off in a cycle rickshaw towards Shakti-Sthal. The morning walk with trees lined up on both sides of the road is still fresh in my mind. Paid a visit to Veer Bhumi and Raj Ghat, in the sombre afternoon and hurried back for our departure to Mumbai, back home.
I can surely say that the trip was different than from visiting other cities like Kolkata or Pondicherry. In Delhi and Agra, we tried to mix in the crowd, of course, that’s easier said than done, because the women and girls in Delhi carry themselves so well, and well, me, I felt at odd angles while using the metro lines. Now I laugh it off, but my Mumbai Local Train travel experience hardly gave me any upper hand or more confidence while juggling the routes.
7 days in the capital and another city famed for being notorious to women- not sure I’ll visit Delhi again in the near future.
The Nirbhaya case not only has sown bitter seeds towards the capital but my anger spits out towards every male who treats, thinks and continues to dominate women as a commodity. So many articles have been published, social thinkers have condemned the incident, judiciary called it ‘rarest of the rare’, but are things improving or have they or will they ever? A newly married couple were butchered by the girl’s family for violating the same-gotra norm in Garnawathi, Haryana in september. How long is this to happen? How many aeons should we be spectators to such cruel killings? A former sarpanch of the village went as far as to say that, “the age of marriage should be reduced from 18 to 14. This will solve a lot of problems. The girl’s father should have got her married instead of sending her to the city to study.” He further said, had any of his four daughters done what the couple did, he would have meted out the same sort of “punishment” to them. Where in the world are we going to stuff women with this psyche and attitude? Repression and ownership, these two have effectively managed to kill womanhood. Do men forget that they come out of a woman’s womb? Why celebrate navratri and other so- called festivals ‘celebrating the Adi Shakti – the divine power of women?’ They mean nothing in our country plagued with killing, raping and torturing girls and women, no matter their age, social status or any other aspect. In fact, Women just don’t exist in our nation. A male friend’s reaction after the Shakti Mills case was, “Women must start carrying guns now for their self- protection.” I answered him, ‘Why don’t men start behaving instead? Then, we wouldn’t have to carry guns.” Such conversations are utterly meaningless and hold no importance. These increasing crimes against women are only leading to more conservatism in the society.
Sometimes, I feel our planet would be better off without men. And, why not? At least we won’t have to carry pepper sprays in our bags anymore.