Well, we definitely know we are in India!
Yes, it’s confronting – an assault on all fronts – but the people are immediately friendly. They are curious, intrigued and happy to converse. A group of school children coming out the school gates in Delhi are eager to say “hello” in English. Everyone seems happy to go out of their way to solve your question or your wish.
We are getting used to being on a tour with two very personable guides who speak great English and a great bunch of like-minded Kiwis, all around our age and all ready to ride. It’s fun for us to be in a group for the camaraderie and someone else to talk to. It doesn’t take long to get to know everyone as bikers seem to have a commonality.
We jump in a van and head towards Agra – where the Taj Mahal is. Along the way there is lot’s of dirt as everything is very dry and dusty. They are waiting on the monsoon season to begin – and it’s late. Some rice fields are being irrigated but essentially they are dry and barren.
We stop for lunch at a restaurant in a small town where to be honest most people I know would not venture! The lunch is simply amazing with four different types of dahl, three types of breads, a lovely potato dish, fluffy rice with spinach and fresh sliced vegetables with lime. Some of us haven’t had breakfast so the table of food is inhaled – the cleanliness check just goes out the window. The reality is you have to immerse yourself and trust the culture. We have always loved Indian food so quite frankly, we’re in seventh heaven!
We head into Agra where an arranged guide takes us through the Taj Mahal and quite astoundingly there are very few people. Even our guide is shocked as over most weekends there are around 90,000 tourists per day. We all manage to get some of the iconic shots with no-one else in them!
The Taj is amazing, and as usual I am humbled by the incredible workmanship. The four outer minarets have been designed to lean outwards – so that if they were to tumble, they wouldn’t fall on the main structure. The white marble came from Rajasthan shipped by thousands of elephants. The inlaid stones came from Belgium, Afghanistan and Africa along the Silk Road.
Agra Fort is next – a massive walled-city which housed the Mughal emperors before the capital moved to Delhi.
The walls are seventy feet high with two moats – the first had crocodiles in it and the second had leopards! Most of this structure is local red sandstone but there is still lots of marble and semi-precious stones – the same kind of inlay work as the Taj. The temperature soars into the 40’s as we wander through with a guide and I find it amusing that one of our party, Graeme, has to interpret our guide’s English!
We finish up the day with a late lunch at this incredible air-conditioned oasis of a restaurant where the food is just sublime. The standout dish is the butter chicken but we all enjoy the kofta made with soft cheese and dried fruits inside it. We order lachha paratha as we had it yesterday – a shallow-fried flat-bread pleated in various strips and layers – seriously one of the best gifts to the culinary world.
The competition is on to get a photo with the most people on a bike – my record stands with six.
“To step outside your comfort zone could be the most rewarding experience of your life” Lee O’Connor