From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

However the photos below are only of the sublime. India is an assault on your senses in every way. Vibrant colours, the smell of spices and amazing things to see. The country is alive and all life occurs on the street in front of you. It's also chaotic, crazy and stressful. We have heard other travellers describe India as a "marmite" country, you either love it or hate it. I don't think this is quite accurate, I think you can both love it and hate it and you can move between these emotions many times in the space of a day. One thing there is no avoiding it. In India you learn to expect the unexpected. Hearing a trumpeting sound we looked out of our window to see, as you would expect, an elephant wandering down the city street. In a traffic jam the camels jostle with the trucks for space, just as you would expect. Clearly there is nothing unusual with men walking naked down the road fanning themselves with a peacock fan, just another pilgrim. Traffic driving the wrong way down the dual carriage way flashing their lights, oh yes that means get out of the way I am coming through. And as for the cows they are everywhere in the streets, we are so used to them now that we also feed them our banana skins and vegetable peels. I could add many more examples but you would start to think I was making it up. It's all just another day in India. But we are getting used to it and whilst we get stressed at times are appreciating the lovely things to see and do. We have met many people who have been delightful, helpful and interesting to talk to, yes there are those that are just trying to sell us things or rip us off but I think I have the measure to an extent of them. I know the going price for a kilo of bananas and have learnt to just walk away when quoted a crazy foreigner price. We really enjoyed the solitude of the desert and whilst Pushkar was only a small town we were back in the hustle and bustle of India. This ramped up another notch as we approached Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan , with a population of over 3 million. The traffic got heavier and heavier and at each junction on the highway where there were traffic lights there were 6 lanes of traffic squeezed into 3 lanes. Space is just such a crime it has to be filled! The inevitable happened a car overtaking us swerved in too early and hit the front corner of the truck. Fortunately we only had minor damage, our headlight protective grille had been knocked off. His damage was a bit more significant, a badly dented rear wing, well you shouldn't pick a fight with a 10 tonne truck. Amazingly he was proclaiming his innocence. It's at times like this that you just lose it. After Gilly gave him a good talking too, I leapt out told him to move his ******* car out of my way or I would drive over it. He leapt back into his car and sped off. As sure an admission of guilt as any, as normally it's always the foreigners fault and they have to pay. After the ridiculous crash we spent the next day exploring some of the sublime sights of Jaipur, the Pink City. Jaipur was founded in the 17th century when Jai Singh II moved the capital of his state from Amber (more about that later) to Jaipur. As a rich state a grand city was built and we spent the day visiting it's beautiful sights as well as wandering through the crowded maze of streets and alleyways. The Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) is Jaipur's most distinctive landmark and it looked as though it had been cleaned up a lot since Gilly and I were last there in 1999. From there we headed to the Jantar Mantar which is an ancient observatory used to view the planets and the stars. We were impressed that the massive sundial correctly showed the time to the minute. From there we headed to the Royal Palace a complex of gardens and courtyards and reception rooms. The current "Maharaja" still lives in a part of the impressive grand palace. We finished a lovely day enjoying the sublime sights with a superb Indian meal. As we returned to our hotel it was time to move back to the ridiculous. As we entered our hotel smoke was billowing in the corridors. On investigation we found that some of the staff had decided to light a fire indoors (it's a little cool in the evening) to cook on. As the fire was only just starting smoke was billowing around, even in our third floor corridor the smoke was acrid. Gilly went down to tell them to stop and to move the fire out of the building. Despite been very apologetic it transpired they only moved the fire further from where we could see but still inside, as smoke was still pouring out. We decided enough was enough, packed our stuff, demanded a refund for the night and moved back into the truck parked by the side of the busy road. It might have been noisy but it felt a lot safer and anyway we are much happier sleeping in the truck. The following morning we were up early and drove the short distance to Amber, time to enjoy another sublime palace. Amber is a stunning fort/palace which was the former State capital before it moved to Jaipur. The setting is magnificent and the palace is dramatic against the hillside. Inside it is no less impressive with some amazing gateways and buildings built from marble. Immediately above it set on the ridge of the hill was the large Jaigarh fort. As we need to exercise before heading to Nepal to hike we walked up the steep slope before wandering around the fort and enjoying the view. It was an easy drive along good roads to Fatephur Sikri, the short lived capital of the Mughal Empire during the reign of Emperor Akbar. The palace and pavilions are a World Heritage Site and we spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around and admiring the magnificent monument and the intricate carvings on the buildings. Unfortunately the capital was short lived due to water shortages and it was only used for about 15 years but it was magnificently preserved. Right next door is the massive Jama Masijd, an immense mosque. We arrived on the massive courtyard just as the late afternoon call to prayer was resonating from the minarets. It was a very relaxed atmosphere in the square with a mixture of worshippers and sightseers and locals just hanging out. We exited the square through the spectacular 54 metre high Victory Gate. From Fatephur Sikri it's only a short drive to Agra, home to one of the most sublime monuments of all. First we had to battle through the traffic and again expect the unexpected. The main road marked on the map turns out to run right through the market. With people shaking their heads as we eased through we slowly found our way to a hotel that allowed overlanders to camp. Little did we know that we should have come by some of the roads that on the map looked like minor roads but led around the more congested parts. It was good to get there though and have a base for a few days to enjoy the city. Of course there is ONE main reason to come to Agra so that evening we headed to a rooftop restaurant where with beer in hand, some curry and nan bread we could gaze over the sublime Taj Mahal. Whilst we wanted to see it much closer that would have to wait, it's closed on a Friday. So with a day to kill we instead headed to the mighty Mughal fort at Agra. From here we got to enjoy some more great views of the Taj as well as the magnificent walled city of Agra Fort, another World Heritage site. Dinner that evening was much more simple. A humble kebab stall but that description does not do justice to the most succulent chicken tandoori and chicken tikka that we feasted on together with butter roti fresh from the tandoor oven. Mmm. The next morning we were up before dawn in the forlorn hope of beating the crowds to see what many people consider as the most beautiful building in the world. When we arrived there were already crowds queuing up but the girls (ladies queue separately) from men were quickly through. There peering out of the mist was the Taj Mahal. Lots of far better writers have described it than me ("a teardrop on the cheek of eternity" or Kipling wrote "the embodiment of all things pure") but it is something special and lives up to the hype. We spent hours looking at it from different angles and admiring the intricate marble work, the carvings and the flowers inlaid with precious stones. Inside the mausoleum are the tombs of Mumatz Mahal who it was built for and her husband Emperor Shah Jahan who ordered its construction. The ultimate memorial to love. Although I happened to mention to Gilly that she wouldn't be getting something so grand. I will leave the description to the photos. Definitely the most sublime of sights. From Agra we headed to about 50kms south of Delhi. The truck has an appointment with the MAN garage there. Nothing urgent but a number of bits of work that could do with doing. Let's hope the work is also sublime and does not lend itself to the ridiculous.

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