The night before had been a little late. While having a kingfisher beer in the hotel we heard some fireworks, so beers down and out we all went to investigate. And I’m glad we did. We watched a bridegroom slowly pass by on a white horse, surrounded by friends and family playing loud music and setting off fireworks. We were invited to join in, and were all pretty much on the verge of being swept up in this very slow parade and becoming wedding guests ourselves.
A morning of travel, which to be honest was something I was not looking forward to. How wrong I was.
We left Agra by our mini bus, in thick fog. Indian drivers are different, I might even say the worst in the world, or the most skilled – not sure. (In Delhi we saw a Milan School of Motoring, which gives you an insight into their driving aspirations). Arriving at Agra station, we ran the gamut of beggars, taxi drivers and hawkers and got on our first class train – yet another moment to reflect on the lucky life we have.
First class is defined differently in India. Upon first glance there is little first class about it. As you settle into your seat, you could be returning to the 1970’s. But those seats could stand up against the best seats on a private jet. A large bottle of water is presented to you, along with food and snacks being delivered every half hour along the way. I know too well that there were passengers on a different part of the train having a very different experience.
I take a couple of hours to practice my Hindu.
Our train pulled into Lilitpur. Further south, the air is warm. We grabbed our rucksacks and walked over to three 4×4 jeeps. Wondering why they weren’t normal cars disappeared once we left the little town. An hour or two of the worst roads in the history of roads awaited us. We followed mopeds, driven by men with two or three passengers, usually with a lady in a sarhi perching side saddle on the back. How they do not fall off is anybody’s guess (superglue?) We pass buses with people hanging off them.
As we travelled these busy dusty tracks I saw a different India. The technicolor one.
I don’t think many tourists come here. Villages consist of three or four mud huts and little kiosks selling chai. People are walking everywhere (unless there is a bike or moped available). The women are beautifully dressed in the most elaborate and gorgeous sarhis. Kids are running around everywhere, excited to see our jeeps.
Not one person looks sad or miserable. Even though I don’t see many shoes on feet. Like Delhi and the porters at Agra station, many people carry their wares and shopping on their heads.
We pass a massive Dam and continue through a village that is built around a dirt track. It was simple, basic needs were met and life was happening as normal. But everyone looks a lot happier than those I see each day in London.
Chanderi is a UNICEF World Heritage site, yet no-one comes here. Our jeeps arrive at the one hotel in town and we check in. Our guide, who we call Mr. Chanderi, is a local historian. He takes us on an orientation of the place. We visit a medieval mosque, buildings, gates and through the town. We visited a Jain temple and at sunset, an incredible swimming pool built for a royal family long since departed.
The most notable thing for me was the friendliness of everyone. We were warned before we came here that we would get a taste of what it is to be like to be a film star, being followed around and watched and asked for a photo at every opportunity (no one has a camera so you have to take the photo and then show them). The warning was an understatement. It is, however, very safe here and there are no hawkers selling you things. Instead, the townsfolk are more interested in practicing saying ‘hello’.
That evening we all went to Mr. Chanderi’s home. When we arrived, his children were all lined up, bowed and said ‘hello’. We were all given homemade marigold garlands to wear around our necks. We had taken gifts for the children and Mrs. Chanderi from Agra. My Hindu went out of the window when Mr. Chanderi told me that they were Muslim, so after a quick lesson, a greeting of ‘Abad’ was used, while saluting with my right hand, palm open, forehead to heart.
Mrs. Chanderi and her daughters had been cooking ALL day. We walked through the courtyard and onto the roof where a table had been set and dinner was served for us all. The dinner was excellent, although Mrs. Chanderi and daughters did not eat with us. Instead she spent the evening cooking out lunch for tomorrow. Such kindness.
Mr and Mrs Chanderi showed us around their spotlessly clean home. It was lovely and immaculate. There was a massive loom in the one room, which Mrs Chanderi makes silk sarhis.
We said our thank yous and returned back to the hotel, got chased by a bull in the market and had a beer in the garden outside of our hotel. An early night.