To leave Delhi, we joined the throng of other Western tourists and took an early train to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Everyone has seen pictures, but these don't do justice to the layout of the complex - the symmetry of the first giant courtyard, all stone and gravel and earth, the red sandstone walls with the heat pouring off, and the way that as you walk through the baking hot archway suddenly there are gardens beneath you and there is a cool whiteness with water and green grass, and the pinkish-white Taj Mahal seeming to float in a milky-blue sky on the horizon line.
Like I said, there is no way a photograph could capture all this, so I took the obligatory shot, taken through a lull in the crowds.
In Agra, we were reunited with Raj, our driver from Delhi, and he took us on to Karauli, a lovely little town where we stayed in the Bhanwar Vilas Palace. This place has History. In the 1930s, the local royal family decided to move out of the 600-700-year-old palace, so built themselves a small* out-of-town place which the family now run as a hotel/guesthouse - as well as being local MPs, providing a free school and medical centre for the town, overseeing the restoration work at the palace, managing the conservation of the nearby wildlife sanctuary, organising a co-operative of needlework and other handicrafts amongst the local women, and of course generally managing the estate and farm which is the source of most of the food we ate. When we arrived, the son of the current Maharaja, a direct descendant of Lord Krishna, was directing the eviction of a mongoose from the dining room. I somehow felt that I would like this place.
|Peacock moulting season!|
*"Small" as in "Downton Abbey in India" small. It easily absorbed a couple of coachloads of Austrians while we were there, and we hardly saw them.