Thursday, 7 July 2011

Marathon - Day 8, Part 2

After visiting the Taj Mahal, it was still so early when we got back to the hotel we were able to catch the breakfast buffet before we set off on our long journey to Jaipur, 230kms away.

We checked out of the hotel around 10.30 ish and hit the road again. About an hour out of Agra, we stopped at our next sight Fatephur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri is a walled city (which is now deserted) that was built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar (Akbar the Great who also built Agra Fort and Sikandra). Popular legend has it that since Akbar was without an heir for a long time, he made a pilgrimage to the renowned Sufi saint, Sheik Salim Chisti, to seek his blessings and he was told that his Hindu wife would give him a son. When a son (Jahangir) was in fact born, Akbar built the new capital to mark his birth.

The city comprises of a series of palaces, public buildings including  Diwan-i-Am (the Hall of Public Audience) and one of the largest mosques in India, The Jama Masjid, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and room for an entire population. The city remained his residence for about 15 years but it was later abandoned due to the lack of easy accessible water.

When we arrived at the car park, we were met by our guide Nazir who led us to a bus that took us 2km up the mountains to Fatephur Sikri.

When we got off the bus, we were surrounded by men and children who were very aggressively trying to sell us bracelets, necklaces and souvenirs. We were rushed to the ticket office and inside the large main gate by Nazir, luckily as this area was government owned; the sellers couldn’t follow us inside.

Inside there were buildings, walls and gates made from elaborately carved red sandstone that were surrounded by sunken pools and gardens. After seeing the beauty of the Taj Mahal earlier though, I found it quite hard to get enthusiastic about it, it was impressive but it just didn’t compare to the Taj.

Hmm, nice green water.

Inside the Diwan-i-Am (the Hall of Public Audience)

Green gardens.

Red sandstone buildings.

After walking around and being told about the history and given explanations of what each building was used for, we exited and walked out of the main gate towards the Jama Masjid.

Jamir Masjid was a short walk away but it was made unbearable because once again we were hounded by dodgy looking street sellers who kept shoving their wares into our faces and wouldn't take ‘no’ for an answer! Unfortunately this time, as the Mosque was a public place, the sellers could follow us in, hound us more and they were getting more aggressive each time we refused to buy from them. We were also getting surrounded by children who I'm sure were trying to pick our pockets. Our guide didn't seem to help us and acted as if all the treatment we were getting was accepted and normal, which made me feel that we were very exposed and alone. Eventually, the attention did seem to die down a bit but we were still surrounded by children.

We were then encouraged by Nazir to wash our hands and he asked a young boy to pour water over our hands. After seeing him do it first and not wanting to offend or be abused anymore, we did the same. At the time, I was holding a bottle of water and Nazir offered to hold it for me as the boy poured water onto my hands. Nazir gave the bottle back to me but it seemed different. I’m sure there was slightly less water in it and all the paint was rubbing off the label which was now made of a different type of plastic. Even though the bottle was the same make, I was convinced that he’d swapped the bottle with one of the children’s bottle that they were holding. I couldn’t be sure that the water was okay to drink so I made sure I didn’t drink any of it.

We were then led to an old man who was sitting on the floor under the arched veranda that surrounded the courtyard of the Mosque. Apparently in the mosque, people were encouraged to buy a decorative sheet from this man, and offer it to the shrine inside, then tie a small length of red wool to the one of the carved marble screens and make a wish. We asked the man who the money went to and what happened to the sheets after they’d been offered but he couldn’t tell us a straight answer, neither could our guide Nazir. The sheets started off at 500 rupees each however he only had sheets that cost 1000 rupees each left and it all felt a bit like a con. We felt that it was a lot of money and we couldn’t be sure that our money was going to go to a good cause. Also what was to stop them taking the sheets back off the shrine and reselling them?

We politely refused to take part in the ritual and the attitude and behaviour of Nazir seemed to change dramatically. He was angry and wasn’t interested in showing us around properly, he even stopped talking to us. He marched us quickly to the shrine, around the courtyard and then back out of the Mosque where he stormed off towards the bus and left us to get hounded again by the sellers. This time they were even more aggressive and pushing me as I was trying to get my shoes on. Tom did have to shout at a couple of them to leave me alone. It was all a bit scary.

The shrine where the the sheets were laid and in the background
 you can see the screen with red wool wishes tied to it.

Once we were down near the car park, we were ushered into a small souvenir shop by Nazir and the door was promptly closed behind us! Again, we were made to feel extremely uncomfortable by our guide and were bullied into buying something by him and the scary shop keepers. Even when my mum and dad had given in and bought a small set of coasters, they still weren’t satisfied and were trying to get us to buy more! It was very worrying but eventually we managed to make our excuses, get out and walk very quickly to the safety of our car and Sanjay the driver.

We couldn’t have driven away from that place fast enough for me! It was horrible. It was the most unsafe I’d felt throughout my whole stay in India. I wouldn’t recommend that place to anyone, which is a shame because some of the buildings were actually quite nice to see, but the atmosphere of the place was just horrendous.

I compared my water bottle with a bottle that my mum had in the car, it should’ve been identical, but it was completely different. Our guide Nazir had definitely switched bottles!

It was a long drive to Jaipur and we had another scary experience when we arrived. We were stopped at traffic lights when a man walked up to the car and got Sanjay to open his window. He said something angrily to him in Hindi and then literally stuck his whole head and arms in through the window, pointing at my dad and shouted ‘Where are you going!’ in a really sinister croaky voice! We were all a bit shocked and confused as to what was going on but luckily, at that moment, the traffic lights changed and we quickly speed off. I still don’t know what it was all about and Sanjay couldn’t speak good enough English to explain to us.

We arrived at our hotel Sarovar Portico and were greeted by a huge friendly doorman dressed in traditional Indian clothing who had a huge long moustache that he rolled up and clipped with hair grips to either side of his face. We later found out that it was 12 inches long on one side and 11 on the other!

Mega Moustache!

After the afternoon we’d had, it was so nice to see a smiling face and feel safe in a really nice comfortable hotel. We spent the rest of the evening in the bar/restaurant and had an early night as we were all so tired from being up so early. What a day!

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