Agra has several other facets to it as well. That evening, while having dinner with a couple of local acquaintances at a small but tastefully decorated restaurant that served delicious Mughlai food, we discussed the pros and cons of life in Agra.
Road on the way to Fatehpur Sikri
Agra, the medieval city on the banks of the River Yamuna, overpopulated with approximately 1.3 million, does not have enough clean water and sanitation is inadequate. Roads are often crowded and one can see clouds of pollution. It is a city where one can become a victim of tourist scams. Sadly this is the state of the same city that houses the architectural masterpieces like the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and the Fatehpur Sikri.
On the way to Fatehpur Sikri
I also brought up the topic that many steer clear of. Whilst they admit that there is a bit of communal tension hanging in the air, they however, try not to let them affect their everyday life. I, on my part, said what I could to stress on the need of the hour for more peace and better communal harmony and how every single citizen ought to feel responsible to achieve that. At the end of the discussion, I got the feeling that the whole world may be rapturous about the Taj Mahal but not all the people of Agra are!
Outside the Agra Red Fort
Nevertheless, Agra has its own beautiful cultural variety and ethnicity. The Taj Mahotsav (Taj Festival) is a cultural festival held every year in the month of February at Shilpgram, near the Taj Mahal. It is, after all, a place where the legendary musician Tansen is said to have performed at the Anup Talao of the Fatehpur Sikri. Decorated elephants and camels, drum beaters, folk artists and master craftsmen showcase the rich heritage of Agra – all done to recreate a scene that is reminiscent of the Mughal era.
In the area towards the entrance of the Taj Mahal
Agra's climate is sub-tropical and prone to extremes. Summers are extremely hot and the maximum temperature can be as high as 45°C (113°F) while winters are cold and foggy and can go as low as 2°C (35.6°F). Who could vouch for this better than me when I actually experienced both the limits during my trips to Agra in those two seasons!
Near the Buland Darwaza
After dinner, I ventured to one of the popular shopping areas of Agra, the Sadar Bazar in the Agra Cantonment. It was a good hour’s walk in the busy street in that area, and it being a Sunday, I was told that the crowd that day was more than on weekdays. Shortly thereafter, I was willing to taste bits of local delicacies displayed in the shops including a variety of the famous Agra Paetas (a sweet made from pumpkin). I found the saffron Paetas the most delectable.
Agra has both modern shopping complexes and traditional market areas. One can purchase all items from antique souvenirs, to rugs, leather items, gemstones, jewellery, ethnic clothing, to handicrafts from the state emporiums as well. The travel to Agra is incomplete to many without buying at least a small marble replica of the Taj Mahal. Even though I do not usually shop during my travels, that evening I ended up buying, firstly, a cute pair of shoes for me, and then another 10-inch pair, that was so intricately designed and beautifully decorated, for my little niece.
Then someone suggested a movie and of course, I was game for it. By the time we reached the nearest multiplex cinema, there was a delay of almost half hour, however ended up watching Aa Ja Nachele. After that it was a late night ride back to the hotel through the almost freezing and misty weather that made me grit my teeth and shiver like a helpless goose caught up in a raging hurricane!
I must have fallen asleep almost immediately after reaching Mansingh Palace, for the next thing I remember was waking up to my alarm ringing. It was morning and I had to get ready and rush to catch the 8:15 a.m. Shatabdi Express to Gwalior.
See you in Gwalior soon.