Elena and I had spent our final evening in Agra looking into a hotel near the airpot in Delhi for our departure. As we returned to our room we could see through the open gate to the street beyond. People were marching and yelling in the street. A riot. The people were in full swing revolution. They were ready to storm the gates, drag us from our rooms and execute us. At least, that’s what I continued to tell myself as I tossed and turned throughout the night. We would later find out from Marena and Gary that it was in fact some kind of celebration for a successful election vote in the local politics.
An empty toll road carried us back to Delhi. Farms, huts, temples, and trees faded into the fog. We stopped at a service station for another exceptionally bizarre experience. Elena and I went to buy a piece of chocolate cake. We paid the man and as I awaited my change he gave me a tiny chocolate bar. I mean, I was only waiting for five rupees, but a chocolate bar? I don’t even know what it might have been worth. Hopefully more than the cash equivalent . Meaningless shapes began to form on the horizon. Growing larger and more visible through the haze. Construction sites, half finished office blocks, housing complexes rise from the dirt.
Our final day in India. The one day where we apparently have enough to squeeze in to justify leaving the hotel an hour earlier than we were accustomed to. No complaints from me. It was my request that the red fort be our first point of call. It could have been spectacular. It could have been grand. These huge red sandstone walls disappearing into the fog. Quintessentially Medieval, too exotic to be European. Our way in was through the Lahori Gate, imposing and majestic. The national flag rippled in the wind. It was an impressive start. Just inside the inner gate was a bazaar that would have once held riches from all over the Eurasian continent for the pleasure of the royal family that’s now home to the same-old best sellers we’d seen in each of the other cities. It was early, most places were closed or in the process of setting up for the day. Nobody heckled us, not once is anyone talked into buying more scarves.
We’re in. A solitary building awaits us. It looks like another gate. carved arches, short towers. Arabic, Persian, Mughal. The last shimmer of hope that this will provide a worthy distraction from the bleak reality of the surrounding city. The fort becomes a palace. The military mark beyond the walls is an old British garrison. An efficient, if inelegant use of the space. The palace could have been spectacular, the intricately designed buildings were either under construction or being salvaged for building materials. It’s difficult to know for sure. This was not a big issue in the palace’s once glorious past. The grounds were cooled by a vast system of fountains and canals. Today all of them are dry. I’m not upset by this, that would be quite ridiculous. Water is a rare, valuable resource. It certainly should not be wasted on the whims of a foreigner. That said I can hardly hide my disappointment. You can picture the gardens here being far more beautiful than those of the Taj Mahal if only the water was running and the pools were full. It was easy to walk away from the fort without feeling a need to push on any further.
There was a little visit to the military museum on the way out which could have been easily avoided. It did provide some much needed comic relief, it was for the most part a collection of weapons. One spear came with a mannequin’s hands and head to show how you might hold it. The English translations were littered with errors. The main draw for us came right at the end. The last glass fronted box, lights flickering. In the middle, towards the back sits a drum. If there was any doubt as to what this last artefact was, everything was made clear by the bold black on white text stating “Old Drum.” We were done here. It was on to the next potentially final sight of our journey through India’s tourist triangle.
We’d all had a look at pictures on Google images the night before at what we were all knowledgeably referring to as that other temple thing. We saw the domed roof of Akshardham from a distance, we’d found ourselves in for a real treat here. It looked spectacular. As we got closer, it became apparent that we weren’t going to be allowed to take any photographic equipment in, including mobile phones. It wasn’t even the kind of thing you could take in on the sly as there were full body frisks awaiting us on the way in. It looked to me like it was a huge complex constructed of terracotta. All the signs suggested it was red sandstone, but it definitely looked a lot more like garden pottery. The idols sculpted from the stone were incredible, there was so much detail. It was difficult to know for sure if they were carved by hand or laser cut. Rumour suggests that everything is hand crafted which is an incredible feat.
I have to tip my hat to New Delhi. Not everything here worth seeing is old. There are quite obviously some people here who have something to offer the world and with this temple they have absolutely delivered. It’s only been open to the public for ten years, construction having started in 2010. I can guarantee that if cameras were allowed I think a lot more people would be talking about it. I don’t have a picture, and I definitely don’t have 1000 words to do it justice. One of the highlights for Elena and I was at the base of the main structure. A tribute to elephants depicting stories and proverbs. One of the elephants had seven trunks. I can’t imagine why. Inside the temple were ceilings with such impressive detailing that some areas appeared to almost fall up. At it’s very centre a giant golden buddha. Is this the east’s answer to the Sistine chapel? I don’t know, I haven’t seen very much of the east. Four hundred years from now when the Taj Mahal has collapsed in on it’s rotting foundation this will be what draws people to India.
After a final lunch together as a group Elena and I were driven by some of Jagdeep’s friends, Kavinder and Parvinder, to our hotel at the airport. It was an excellent way to end our trip. Parvinder spoke excellent English and I think he took a lot of pleasure in chatting with us. He’s a teacher in a government school for the poor. They lure the children in off the streets with a free meal as they try and teach them what they can. Hearing what Parvinder had to say, his thoughts on his own country was enlightening. People are trying to do things to change this country for the better. This is a country that faces a long, up-hill struggle to overcome many of it’s problems, one of which seems to be the educated, informed people leaving and here is man who has stayed to help make it a better place. India needs people like Parvinder to stay, to believe in it. Necessary changes need to be embraced for the benefit of the generations that will follow. I don’t know where to begin, or what needs to be done first, there’s probably a very long list or at least from my experience it certainly looks that way. We said goodbye to our new friends, found our room, climbed on to perhaps the most comfortable mattress in the world and made ready for another, shorter, adventure in Singapore.