The fabulous Taj Mahal

Finally in April this year, I got to visit the stunning white marble edifice that is the Taj Mahal.

Can you believe, I’d been to India four times in my twenties, and failed to get there?  Unfortunately, I’d somehow had my plane ticket home swiped out of my bag – lucky it wasn’t my passport!  Back then, there was no internet booking to confirm you were on a flight, and so, the day my friends went to Agra, I spent all day queuing in the Air India offices for a new ticket.  Oh boy, was THAT ever fun! I think it got to 6 or 7 hours. Anyways….

Early in the morning we met our tour group (more on that later), and were driven to Delhi Station to get our train to Agra. There are quite a few trains each day, and you can easily do it as a day tour. However, we had accommodation in Agra so we could relax afterwards.

First we visited a fort, from where you could see the Taj at a distance…but it was all such a tease! We were all kicking to get to the real thing. And then…there we were. With this towering monument of a man’s love for his wife in front of us. Sometimes photo-taking gets in the way of truly experiencing a moment, and so, I just stood for a few moments taking it all in.

I have to admit, despite its beauty, it did not elicit awe in me as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap had. I did not feel a hush of spiritual awakening, or whatever other wafty stuff you hear from some people. But it is still VERY impressive, and very beautiful.

And then it was time to head into the fray. Join the other tourists/pilgrims on their quest to capture the ineffable. Take photos. Lots of ‘em.

 

At first we just took pictures of each other, and the spectacular architecture.

 

 

We hadn’t got very far when a wizened little old man in white dhoti and turban popped up, grabbed my camera and started motioning for us to pose. It did occur momentarily that he might run off with the camera…but there is enough security in the complex to make a getaway difficult, and, well, he wasn’t running anywhere.

He pointed at us to stand here, there, pushed us hither and thither, even moved our arms into acceptable poses or pushed us to sit down, all the while clicking away. Without stopping to focus, I might add. Or even get the shot straight. Ah well, we still got a lot of shots we otherwise wouldn’t, including those darned novelty poses, like these:

 

You get the idea. When we’d had enough Dom got out 100 rupees to give the guy, but he said “TWO hundred rupees!” Even 100 is a lot, given how hard a rickshaw driver has to work to earn that, so we knew we weren’t ripping him off. We just walked away with his cries of “200 rupees” ringing in our ears.

So we whiled away the afternoon strolling around, seeing the various parts of the complex.  It is a large complex, so take time to navigate it.

I particularly enjoyed gazing at the river behind it, along with the little temple and jetty next to it – very peaceful.  And seeing lots of monkeys sunning themselves on the guardrails, grooming themselves and each other.

 

The shadows grew longer as the late afternoon sun hung low on the horizon, and all too soon it would be time to rejoin the group. Just a few more late arvo snaps then.

There was something eerie about the empty plaza as the guards shoo’d all the tourists out. I almost expected to see a little de Chirico train in silhouette on the horizon (little art-history buff’s joke there, heh).

 

As we exited the main gate and walked past the many tourist stalls, we were assaulted by spruikers loudly encouraging us into their shops. I managed to resist. But boy, are they pushy in tourist towns! After a regroup and cup of chai it was time to return to our hotel and get ready for dinner. With another 12 days on tour, a good night’s sleep would be essential.

Next up – Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur in Rajasthan.

Salwar Kameez outfit with quiff updo

Ok, have let the blog slide again (even missing my 48th birthday last week!), but this is the week of getting back into it. Having seen the fabulous “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” on the weekend, I’m inspired to share my Rajasthani adventures, including Jaipur and Udaipur as seen in the movie.

Today, I thought I’d show how it’s possible to wear Indian gear back at home, depending on the occasion.  I wore one of my fave salwar kameez tops with a skirt underneath instead of the pants, to Black Cherry club last month.  The photos also show off my exotic new metallic teal wallpaper, more of which will be seen in an upcoming interiors style post. Take a look.

Salwar, Indian clothing

teal, feather, Indian, salwar

Feather jacket: Sly
Skirt: Topshop
Platform shoes: RMK shoes

Wallpaper: Harlequin, design Oriana.

As for my hair, I did a massive quiff-updo by using one of those hair donuts, which I bought in Japan. Here are some close-ups:

vintage hair, teal quiff teal vintage hair quiff

I simply backcombed my hair and sprayed it a bit to get some stiffness, then wrapped around the donut. At the back of my head I used another donut, put my hair in a ponytail and likewise wrapped the hair around it (although normally you’d pull the ponytail through it first). OK, so it wasn’t perfect in execution, as seen below from the back (and EEK! that elastic!), but it looked good from the side.  Neat and simple.

 

The actual product used was called an “Odango Cushion” which you can buy at Tokyu Hands, Okadaya and various beauty and chemist shops. In Australia, try Priceline for similar.

hair donut 

Have you used one of these hair donuts to build a style? If your hair is fine, they’re great. Have you worn clothing from another culture back at home – maybe an Ao Dai from Vietnam, or something tribal perhaps, in line with current trends?

The Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb, Old Delhi

Well it’s about time I continue on with the Delhi sights, isn’t it? Our very first afternoon in India, we headed off to explore The Red Fort, or Lal Qila.

The red sandstone walls of the fort rise up to 33 metres above the bustle of Old Delhi and are an impressive sight.  Built in 1638, The Red Fort  is one of many built throughout northern India to keep out invaders. We would, in time, become a little fort-ed out, especially when on guided tours, but we were still fresh and eager on this our first day.

Obligatory couple shot in front of the magnificent complex:

The fort was once circled by a moat, now filled with verdant grass and noisy cicadas in lieu of water and crocodiles. The entry, however, remains as grand as ever:

Red Fort, Delhi Red Fort Delhi

Entry and exit is through the Lahore Gate, and once inside you sashay past a cornucopia of bazaar stalls selling tourist trinkets, before setting eyes on the architecture.  This sign below shows you the various halls, gardens, masjids and pavilions that can be explored once fully inside:

Red Fort in garden

First you walk towards the Hall of Public Audiences or Diwan- I-Am, also constructed of red sandstone.  The Hall of Private Audiences, or Diwan-I-Khas, is made of beautiful white marble, and gives a sense of serenity as you pass through its pillared portico.  It was also marvellously cool and offered respite from the heat. (No, hubby Dom didn’t wear Indian garb as I did).

Red Fort Diwan-i-Khas

You can easily see the Mughal style, not only in the graceful archways and onion domes, but also in the delicate designs inlaid in the marble of the interior halls.  In Islam it is not allowed to use human form, and so geometric and other patterns are designed, using inspiration from nature, such as flowers and stars. Unfortunately my poor photography does not do the designs justice.

One of the things we most enjoyed, apart from the beautiful design work, was just seeing people having a rest in the gardens. We too decided to sit for a while on the grass, and even cool our feet in the puddle that one of the dripping hoses made in the lawn. Just a simple pleasure on a hot day, that made us feel at one with the others.  Large gothic ravens also stepped gingerly on the grass, sipping at the pools of water, as did the friendly temple dogs:

Another little pleasure was seeing the mega-cute little squirrels that we saw everywhere, including here. They’d just scurry along the grass and climb up the trees, their little bushy tails aquiver.  Leaving the complex by a path that would take us to Chandni Chowk, we looked back to see the sun light up the marble brilliant white.

The next day we travelled south to see another unmissable sight,  Humayun’s Tomb. It is quite a way from the centre of town and the quickest way to get there is to take the metro to Nizamuddin station.  The tomb combines red sandstone and white marble, and can easily be seen as the forerunner of the Taj Mahal in Agra that would come later.

Isa Khan, the architect of the Taj Mahal, was also buried here, and his tomb is an example of Lodi architecture, being octagonal in shape. (You can also just make out my salwar kameez outfit).

And how about a shot of me in action, taking a photo in the gardens, and Dom with gardens and gleaming white Sikh temple beyond (another day, another rock t-shirt!)

After this visit we went to Nizamuddin, near the darga, to have a look for Karim’s – a great Mughal restaurant. Alas, we’d just missed the lunch cutoff time of 3pm – so promptly had lunch at the restaurant right opposite the darga. Absolutely delish!  To round off the day, we went to another suburb in the south Delhi area.  Having heard from my friend the night before that Lajpat Nagar was good for buying ladies fashions, we then high-tailed it there, being close by.  But I think that buying spree can wait for another post!

The Fashionate Traveller in India

Where do  I start with the awesomeness of India? The sub-continent is a kaleidoscope of sensory stimulation and wonder, exotic and infuriating, welcoming and alienating, rich in culture and heart.

Those who’ve read previously will know that I have already been 4 times in my twenties..but that was 22 years ago! How would it feel to return? How would my husband react? In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my experiences  – and a gazillion photos – of my recent trip to Delhi, Agra and many cities in Rajasthan.

Of course, being style & fashion conscious, I had to buy some gorgeous salwar kameez to wear while I was there, and there’ll be a few pics  of those too. I love being inspired by the fashion of other cultures…and I adore the beadwork, metallic embroidery and general dreaminess of female Indian clothing.

The ladies of Rajasthan inspired me with their in-your-face sense of  colour as they clashed hues and pattern extravagantly, almost violently. Even the poorer rural women doing farming or labouring work displayed a joyous exuberance in their everyday dress.

My heart also went out to the many street dogs and puppies of India, more than I ever remember seeing before. It is sad that so many exist and have to fend for themselves on the streets, but interacting with them reminded me that dogs are dogs wherever they are, and  enjoy mucking around with a friendly human. So there are a few street-dog stories and pics coming too.

That’s it for now, as I have MASSES of photos to edit and organise. Stay tuned for my Indian adventures throughout May (and the odd Singaporean one too).

Have you ever been to India? What was your experience?