Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Taj Mahal experience!

If Delhi symbolises a fast paced metropolis, Agra is a city/town that is not in any hurry! Mainly centered around the Taj Mahal, Agra being a mandatory stop for most International tourists touring India, chances are that every second person you bump into is masquerading as a tourist guide. While tourist guides help, I feel it is best to take an audio tour as and when provided by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as most tourist guides, especially the ones catering to Indian tourists lack necessary knowledge and only seek to rush through the visit in order to take you shopping at a place that offers them commission! 

Taj Mahal is best seen at sun rise, when it is relatively less crowded and the crimson hues are faintly reflected in the white. Luckily we were put up close to the Taj Mahal so as to enable multiple visits to the monument and thus enjoyed a wholesome experience of the splendour and beauty of the Taj Mahal. As you walk past the security check, through the red sandstone gateway, and catch the first glimpse of the white marbled edifice... for a brief moment you stand mesmerised and transported into another world... until you are shaken out of your reverie... by the thronging crowds, the tour guide with his broken English and questionable knowledge and the haggling photographers all trying to get their day’s worth from what you had hoped to be one of life’s memorable experiences......and not to mention.. screaming and squabbling kids!
It’s only after we went again the next morning at sunrise without any attachments of tour guide, photographers and kids,  did we get to soak in the sublime beauty of the Taj Mahal! 😊

Anyway, though our Taj Mahal experience with the kids would rank lower than that of our experience sans the kids in terms of our best travel memories,  the overall tour around Mughal era architecture like Taj Mahal, or the light and sound at Agra fort, or the Panch Mahal of Fatehpur Sikri did impress upon Abhay the majesty  and scale of the Mughal era. He did enjoy the Taj Mahal visit and though his memory of this visit may get hazier as the years go by, nevertheless the glorious sight of the most famous monument of India will always be etched in his mind like it was for me, ever since I had first seen Taj Mahal with my parents during less crowded and much simpler times! 

Who knows... decades later as Abhay travels to Agra to show his kids the Taj Mahal...he may laugh over how irritated his mother was or how cranky his little sister was during his previous visit as a twelve year old! 

Now,  Abhay may be able to remember his visit to the Taj Mahal, but what about his three old sister who will in most probabilities have no recollection of the same? Simple... you read a book about it! What are the chances that you plan a visit to a historic monument with your three year old and there’s a wonderful children’s book revolving around the very same place and that too for very young children! Tulika’s “Pooni at the Taj Mahal” by Manjula Padmanabhan is just what I wanted and a book that we carried along during our trip. More like a sequel to “Where’s that Cat?” by the same author where a little girl, Minnie can’t let go of her pet cat, Pooni who seems to have wandered away. Similarly, during Minnie’s trip to the Taj Mahal with her parents, she carries her pet hidden in her back pack. But just they enter the Taj Mahal, Minnie finds her bag empty and the reader is given a peek into where Pooni runs off. Minnie is inconsolable and despite assurances by her parents to find Pooni as soon as they finish the tour, she remains desolate and disinterested with the exquisite marble carvings! Just like all kids... she couldn’t be least bothered about what engages the adults!! So what happens to Pooni..? Does Minnie finally reunite with Poonie? Read on to find a charming little story to enthrall your little one on a tour like this! Beautiful illustrations that present an authentic setting of the Taj Mahal area, realistic portrayal of flustered parents, annoyed tour guide and the tantrums that kids love to throw in crowded public places just when you wish them to leave you to enjoy the surroundings!! Since we had read this book as a prelude to our Taj Mahal visit, our little Minnie was also on the look out for Pooni at the Taj Mahal!! 😊

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

When in Delhi....

We are in the capital city of Delhi as a part of the almost-golden-triangle tour of Delhi and Agra minus Jaipur. Our travel is however slightly marred by a family bereavement that didn’t allow for a last minute cancellation owing to which we had to go ahead with the trip anyways. Despite such downers, including the reported high pollution levels this season, the massive metropolis of Delhi being the seat of Government of India, with its majestic Mughal-era monuments, vibrant cultural mix, it’s bustling shopping centres,  chockablock traffic ridden roads and the loud and couldn’t care less attitude of Delhi-ites didn’t cease to fascinate us, particularly Abhay who was in awe with the historical monuments such as the Qutub Minar and the imposing Red Fort.  Our mornings began with a walk in Delhi’s “Jantar Mantar “ which to our great fortune was located just opposite our hotel and followed by touring around the usual must-see-spots of the capital, like the  India Gate, Lotus temple, Qutub Minar, Red fort, Jumma Masjid, which also felt like a trip down memory lane for me as I distinctly remembered tagging along with my parents as a nine year old visiting these very places! Of course, if Appu ghar was the highlight of my Delhi trip back in the eighties... “Madame Tussaud’s Wax museum” seems to be the current favourite, especially Abhay’s favourite where he got to pose next to his favourite football stars! 

Of course, balancing the diverse inter-generational interests is always a challenge in any travel. While you may be interested in catching the light and sound show at a historic monument, your twelve year old may want to hit the pool in the hotel, or you wish you could listen intently to the tourist guide’s take on a particular historical aspect of Red fort interiors, but it’s a hard ask when you have to watch over your little one following the squirrels in the lawn 😊

Anyway, since the raison detre of the Delhi-Agra trip was Abhay’s history syllabus this year that dealt with Delhi Sultanate and Mughal history, we picked up “When in Delhi” a Katha publication by Mamta Nainy and art by Jayanto. A one of a kind travel book for the young, and narrated through the perspective of Ruchi or Fifee, short for Fidgety Feet, as she likes to call herself and her pet friend Lattoo, this book seeks to introduce what Delhi is, was and best represents while giving the reader a brief introduction to some of Delhi’s well known tourist sites, with a dash of history and fun facts and essential information as to timings, how to get there and the nearest metro station. Accompanied by comic style illustrations of what really goes on amidst many of the attractions, this book beautifully captures the diversity of Delhi and can certainly serve as a children’s home grown lonely planet guide to Delhi. Don’t forget to pick up your copy... when in Delhi!!!