Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Vacationing in Delhi-Agra

A very happy New Year to everybody. As promised, my first post this year is going to be about our trip to Delhi and Agra. The trip was short and we didn't go to very many different places. However, it was also one of the best trips we have ever been on.

Vacations for my mother and I started on the 20th of December. We went to Kolkata two day before daddy to get on with the job of furnishing our new flat in Kolkata little by little. The Volvo ride was comfortable, but there was tremendous fog almost the entire way. It looked like a solid wall of dull grey, and visibility was not more than a few feet. It was not too small a miracle that the driver managed to bring us safely to Kolkata in scheduled time driving at 140 km/h under such conditions! Anyway, we did reach home unscathed, and spent the first two days furniture shopping. Dad arrived on the 22nd.  We stayed in our flat for two more days, during which Rashmidi and Sayanda, Abhirupda (who happens to live ten minutes away from our flat, in the main bazaar area) and dad’s old friend Mr. Subhasis Graham Mukherjee paid us visits. It was lovely meeting them, especially Sayanda and Rashmidi. And Rashmidi, the doll you gifted us is exquisite. Someday, you’ll have to teach me how to make them (she made it herself, and I’ll be putting up a picture of it as soon as possible), though I doubt I’ll ever be able to make them as well as you do.

We boarded the Rajdhani Express from Sealdah the next day and it started on time. If only we had known that we would have to stay cooped up for eight hours more than the official time! That night was a very comfortable, happy night. I had boarded the Rajdhani after a gap of four years, and I was really enjoying watching the scene outside the window while the train moved at its best speed. We had a side berth, and I had managed to fight my mother off it, so I had all the privacy I wanted in my cosy little nook. I woke at about 6 o’ clock next morning to find that the train had crossed Kanpur on time. I went back to sleep and woke again at about nine. By that time the train was moving like a snail and kept stopping for long periods in the middle of nowhere! We knew then we would be late, but didn’t think it would be eight hours late! I had P.G. Wodehouse’s “The Code of the Woosters” to entertain me, but at one point even Jeeves was failing to keep me occupied. So one can imagine our relief when we finally arrived at Delhi station to be welcomed by Saikatda, Subhadipda, Akashda and Arundhatidi!

We stayed that night at Arundhatidi and Akashda’s place. We were meeting Arundhatidi for the first time, and all of us were a little worried about how it would turn out. But Arundhatidi blew away all our concern and made us feel at home at once. They were the perfect hosts, and we spent a very enjoyable evening there. Next morning we had to wake up really early, at five-thirty, because our hired car was to come at seven to take us to Agra. Poor Arundhatidi and Akashda also had to wake up for our sake. As someone who herself hates waking up so early, I completely empathize with how they must have felt, especially Arundhatidi who said that, like me, she prefers working late into the night and waking up late in the day.

The drive to Agra was very enjoyable. As a rule, I do not fancy car rides much, but I loved this one. The road was fantastic; in fact, at one point I started wondering aloud whether we still really were in India or not! Then, after a blissful three-hour ride, we were in Agra, crawling through the bazaar towards our home stay. Saikatda jokingly said that now we were certainly back to our motherland again!

Before going to the home stay, we visited Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb. It was bitterly cold, and I kept shivering violently while I video-recorded the compound. The homestay was delightful. We were warmly welcomed by the owner and guided to our room. By a lucky surprise, we found a smaller bedroom attached to our own, so Saikatda too could stay with us. Then I discovered that I had made a perfectly moronic blunder. I had forgotten to bring the keys to the suitcases! Thankfully, our car’s driver, Iqbal Singhji, was able to break the small locks on the suitcases later in the evening, so we were saved from too much trouble.

The first day in Agra we visited the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Both were exquisite, though frankly speaking, I was much more awe-struck by the virile splendour of the fort (and next day, of Fatehpur Sikri) than of the Taj. It was gorgeous, one cannot deny that. But then, the day was foggy, and there was a terrible crowd, so we saw more of human beings of all possible colours, shapes and sizes than of the grand Mughal architecture. The next day we went to Fatehpur Sikri. Throughout our tour of the place, I kept mentally going back to the days when the emperors and the saints actually walked there. There were a group of Sufi singers who were singing praises to Khwaja Salim Chisti in front of his Dargah in Fatehpur, and the haunting notes of their songs aided to my already colourful imagination, and soon I was all but away in another century of elephant chariots and oil lamps under every archway…

We returned to Delhi on the 28th. On our way back, we visited Sikandra (Akbar’s tomb), and Mathura. Visiting Sikandra had a very sobering effect on me. The place has the kind of quiet grandeur that makes you feel that you need to bow down before the greatest of the Mughals, the Shahenshah of India, who is resting there. Mathura was a typical Indian holy city: dirty, crowded, ugly and with far too many restrictions. It was my mother’s enthusiasm that had caused us to go there, but even she got irritated with all the security measures (they do not allow ladies’ hand bags inside the temple premises, and mom would never let go of her bag!) and we came back without entering any of the temples.

In Delhi, our hotel room was beautiful. It wasn’t huge, but it had a very big “honeymoon mirror”, which enhanced the sense of space. But since it was exactly opposite to our bed, I had to wake up each morning with the very unwelcoming sight of my after-bed hair!

We stayed in Delhi for nearly three days. The first evening we didn’t go anywhere, just rested. Akashda had come to visit, and he and daddy went out for a short drive. Saikatda headed back to his hostel, and that night I missed him very much, I had gotten so used to having him around. The next day was my birthday, and it went very well indeed. Akashda and Arundhatidi had come over, and Saikatda too (he kept coming all that distance from his hostel every day, poor fellow). That day we went to Purana Qila and Humayun’s Tomb. I liked both places very much, though Humayun’s tomb came with the added pleasure of having a huge garden to walk about in. Akashda says he likes to visit the place often, and if I ever live in Delhi, it will probably become one of my favourite haunts too. Next we went to Delhi Haat, where we had Dal Bati Choorma for lunch, and then to Sarojini Bazaar, where I bought a long-yearned pair of boots for myself. After returning to the hotel, we, daddy, Saikatda and I had red wine as my birthday treat (the others had opted out), and then it was time for them to leave. A lovely day had come to an end all too soon.

We started 30th with a historical walk down Chandni Chawk guided by Akashda. We had nihari at Karim’s, and then went back to the hotel.  Around noon we were joined by Aranida and Dipanwitadi. We had two cars with us, and mom, Dipanwitadi and I went with Akashda in his car. I must say I really loved being driven around by him, because Akashda with his calm smile and priceless jokes kept us so well entertained. I do hope he’ll be taking me around again in the future. After going to the IIT for Saikatda to keep his rucksack, we went to Baha’i Temple where we were joined by Subhadipda. We didn’t enter the temple because as in the Taj, the crowd was overwhelming. From there we went to Tughlaqabad. The ruins were beautiful, and given a chance I would have spent all day there. From there we came back to the hotel, stopping for some time in Janpath for shopping.

Our train was on the 31st, and if truth be told, I had actually been hoping that it would be at least a little late, because I was enjoying myself so much. But Rajdhani did itself proud that day by leaving exactly on time and bringing us to Durgapur only half an hour late. Ah well…

This trip has been a huge pleasure, and mostly because of all the dadas and didis who came over to be with us. Saikatda, the trip to Agra (the entire trip, to be fair) would never have been as pleasurable if you hadn’t been with us. Akashda, Arundhatidi, Dipanwitadi, Aranida, Subhadipda – thank you for being with us. It was all of you together who made the trip the beautiful memory that it will always be. I hope we have many more such vacations with all of you in the future.