The Best of India: the “Golden Backslash”

Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal.

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Complete with a stray dog, for that extra Indian feeling.

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There’s no debating this, it is a beautiful building, even partially covered in scaffolds. It was also built by a smart architect, Ustad Ahmad Lhauri. The dome was very difficult and expensive to build with 17th century technology. So the 4 minarets are slightly crooked, leaning 3 degrees outwards. The idea is that in case of a massive earthquake, they would probably not fall on the dome.

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The fountains only run when dignitaries visit. You would think that with 8 million paying visitors a year, they could afford to run the pumps all day, but no.

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The huge amount of stone inlaying might explain why it took 20,000 workers 20 years to complete the building.

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Yes, this is Arabic writing. In case you didn’t know, the man who ordered the construction was Shah Jahan, a Mugal Emperor. The Mugal Empire was a Persian speaking, Muslim empire that ruled various parts of what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. It lasted about 300 years and completely disappeared with the establishment of the British Raj. Jahan also built the Red Fort in Delhi and his rule is considered the zenith of Mugal art and architecture.

Because the Mugal didn’t have a constitution, when an emperor died, the princes fought for the title, through political intrigues and military conquests. With Jahan, it didn’t happen like that. He fell seriously ill, but eventually made a complete recovery. However, by then his son had taken the title away from him. He spent the last 8 years of his life in jail (a very nice jail mind you).

If you dream of visiting the Taj Mahal because of the romantic story that it was built as a testament to his love for his deceased wife, you might be disappointed. In fact, it was, but she was wife #2, of 4. Plus a harem full of concubines. Michelle and I wondered what extremely kinky acts she was the only one willing to perform in order to warrant that honour.

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I don’t think I ever saw a picture of Michelle and I with such forced smiles. I swear we didn’t do it on purpose. This is the only vacation we ever took where we would wake up every day and say: “Only 4 days left”.

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Even the gates to the Taj Mahal could be attractions on their own.

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Those are the East and West gates, with the South gate hidden by the main building. No gate on the north, because the river is there. This is the view from a park across the river.

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People go to see the Taj at sunset. Perhaps it was because of the atmospheric conditions, but the view was nothing special. Visiting the building early is really worth it though; it gets crazy packed in the afternoon.

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The Taj is located in Agra. This is the Agra’s Red Fort.

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If I understood correctly, it was used as a royal residence. Much of the interior is very intricately decorated.

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This room or a similar one is where Jahan was jailed, so I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a nice jail. But still, the door was locked.

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The parking garage. In the small alcoves, you park your horses and in the big ones you park your elephants. Seriously.

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Our car and driver service was not the cheapest, but it had the reputation of not taking you on unwanted shopping trips, a typical scam by which drivers earn commissions. He didn’t, but a guide for the day apparently was included with our rental in Agra, and he asked if we wanted to visit some sort of marble workshop. We said yes and were taken to see these two actors, while the manager explained how long and tedious their work was, to produce just a single piece of inlaid marble whatever.

Then we walked in the next room, a store which contained more marble objects that the two guys could craft if they worked 24 hours a day and lived to be 1,000 years old. I mean how gullible can people be? In any case, although they were obviously made somewhere else with more modern equipment, the marble pieces were nice, some even spectacular, and Michelle bought a few small things.

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Small section of a castle known as Shabistan-i-iqbal, on the road from Agra to Jaipur.

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It had a very complicated sign for a small pay toilet.

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We then stopped in an ultra touristy restaurant along the highway. There, you could order eggs in an “omlat”, “poaj” or “scamboiled”. And they had both “Corn Flaks” and “Corn Flage”. A tourist restaurant, in a country with English as an official language. And people have smartphones. I think the owner was simply an idiot. His restaurant was very close to the major attraction that is the castle. And from the restaurant there was a view of the castle. He could even have called it Castleview Restaurant. But he called it Lakeview Restaurant, despite the complete and total absence any kind of lake anywhere close. I would never willingly eat in this kind of place, but this was not done willingly.

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Those are all tourist busses and cars. The parking is full and the cars are beginning to block a lane of the highway. As it turns out, the highway was blocked further down by protesters. We waited for 4 hours and headed back to Agra. I discussed going through small roads with my driver, but he explained that this could be dangerous. On the highway you are not alone and the police and army may not be too far. If you get caught by protesters in a village, they can just kill you. At least 30 people were killed by the protesters during the week.

The Jat people are traditionally farmers. They practice a slightly different form of Hinduism and have never really been clearly defined in the caste system. This is a gross oversimplification, but today as a group they are not very educated, but are financially OK and wield considerable political clout in some regions. The reason of their protest is that they want to be classified LOWER in the caste system. They want to be considered as an OBC, or “Other Backward Class”. This would give them access to affirmative action programs by which they can get government jobs or university positions before more qualified candidates of a non-designated group.

The protests were pretty bad. There were the dead people as I mentioned, and an estimated $5 billion in economic impact. Cars and train stations were set ablaze, rails were destroyed, stranding a million commuters, and a major water canal was even destroyed, leaving much of Delhi without running water for several days, until it could be repaired.

Even if we could have made it to Jaipur, there was a significant risk of getting stuck there and missing our flights from Delhi. Were we willing to miss seeing Jaipur in order to avoid this risk? Hum, let’s be clear, I was willing to miss Jaipur in exchange for a free bag of peanuts. So yes. We headed for Delhi, spent the day in nice suburban shopping malls, and walked into a big international hotel right next to the airport, without a reservation. We booked it for two nights and were able to secure an extremely advantageous rate. Advantageous for the hotel, of course. We thanked and tipped our driver and just hung around the hotel until it was time to fly home.

And that is how the Golden Triangle, Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Delhi, became the Golden Backslash, Delhi-Agra-Delhi. By far, far, the worst, most depressing and unpleasant trip Michelle and I ever took together.

If you never read my first India post, you may not know that the main reason I hated travelling there is because of the atrocious, backward situation of women. Most public places feel creepy and rapey because there are only dudes around. No big surprise that the bar of a business hotel was men-only…

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…and Michelle! With zero fuck given. See you Rapistan, we’re never coming back!

PS: Please keep sending all those Indian engineers to Canada. We like them.

#India

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