The departure was gladdened by the arrival of today's bodyguard - Captain Nemo. Hurrah. My favourite. He exudes an air of regal security wherever he goes.
Our delayed departure meant we encountered an increased volume of traffic. I am becoming accustomed to the 'Whacky Races' scenario of dodging between cars, tuk-tuks and cows but today's journey had an extra element. The development of the Delhi Metro has had a negative impact on traffic flow. Imagine the M62 on a busy day. Add several hundred bikes, motor-bikes, tuk-tuks, goats, cows and pedestrians. Now funnel five lanes into one and you have a picture of the first part of our journey.
Once we hit the new toll super highway, it was a different story. There was less traffic than the A9 on a sleepy, Scottish Sunday. Their fields were as flat as Lincolnshire and there was little to see apart from the odd patch of sweetcorn or small, thatched hut. My companions were all asleep.
To amuse myself, I took an interest in the quaint, polite roadside notices. My favourite had to be :- A tree only hits in self-defence. Don't drink and drive.'
This was closely followed by:- Over-speeding will invite prosecution.'
After two hours of travel, we arrived on the edge of Agra. A man on the pavement flagged us down, muttered something to Captain Nemo and hopped in. I assumed he was a random hitchhiker until he started giving us instructions on our conduct at the Taj Mahal. Then I realised he was our guide.
The streets of Agra narrowed. The air was hot and dusty. Main and side streets bustled with activity. There was even a mobile disco with large HMV speakers. At least I think that's what it was. Answers on a postcard please.
I started a new game - Spot the Camel. I had not expected seeing an even-toed ungulate plodding along. (If you are impressed by my vocabulary there, let me tell you a story. I Googled the word camel. However, I had forgotten to save my blog! I lost my story, so the version you are reading is Round Two. And the word 'ungulate' will be forever etched on my brain.
But, back to the trip. Our guide explained that we could travel no further in our car. He supplied a large tuk-tuk - for a small fee. He reinforced that we were not allowed to take batteries, chargers or food with us. I hoped that an old Jaffa sweet was not lurking at the bottom oft bag. Would they punish me severely for one chocolate sweet from New Zealand?
He asked once more if we had any contraband. We shook our heads, which almost shook off as we rattled and rolled the short distance to the entry and the security centre. My bag passed with flying colours. Phew! A was not so lucky. The strict security lady took an instant dislike to her tiny camera stand which belonged to her even tinier camera. No amount of begging or persuasion would let this innocent item through. The stand was confiscated and left all alone in a little room until our return. All together now - Awwwwww
The mid-day sun beat down mercilessly on us (What's that saying about mad dogs??). We took shelter under the shade of a tree while our guide told us the story of the Taj Mahal. For those who don't know, it was built as a memorial to the 3rd wife of the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan. She died giving birth to their 14th child. Before she died, she made him promise never to marry again and to look after their children. In her honour he found the finest architect and workmen to build this tomb in her honour.
Finally, we moved through the sandstone arch and everyone gasped at the sight of the magnificent white, marble construction which twinkled in the sunlight.
The moment I had practised for weeks was upon us. OK it wasn't on THE bench. That had such a long queue, so we selected one close by. I sat down. Argh!! Blister plasters for my bottom please. Trying not to look pained, I moved my legs to the left, tilted my head and smiled shyly.
For one brief moment in time, I was a princess, captured forever through the eye of the camera. I thought of my handsome Hubby and wished that he would see my eternal love reaching out to his open arms ...........help - sick bags required. This is too much for the readers.
We posed singly, in groups, with cameras, iPods and phones clicking away. One passing stranger must have thought we were celebrities as he stopped and added our smiling faces to his collection.
To rest our face muscles, we strolled along the walkway to the centre section containing the tombs. Our guide issued us with standard dusters to cover our shoes. The cleaner was obviously on holiday and we had been designated to polish the floors.
Inside we marvelled at the inlaid gemstones and jasper script. Every pattern and word had a purpose. What an amazing piece of design and architecture. Even the four external pillars were built at a slight angle so that they could never fall on the central part. Well remembered A. Two gold stars for that.
Our main tour over A had to pay homage and show some observance to her own religion. Donning her Sunderland top, she posed once more while I hovered in the shade. (That did read hovered not hoovered as our cleaning duties ended five minutes earlier when we popped our dusters in the bin.)
In our final photo shoot we positioned our fingers to make it appear we were picking the Taj up. Even Captain Nemo joined in the fun. What a star.
Some of us took the four-legged transport back to the car park. It was a bit of a struggle but with a little help I managed to clamber into my seat. Clinging on with one hand like grim death, I waved regally with the other - for the benefit of the cameras of course.
I thought our day was over but our guide decided to take us on two Tenerife type blanket tours. This involved watching craftsmen at work then being blinded by the art of salesmanship. I almost fell for the patter until A saved me from bankruptcy. The beautiful marble topped coffee table was not £15 but £150. A swift exit there then.
The bags in the next shop were pretty but we didn't linger long. Mrs S was on a mission. She would not be swayed. Our final walk of the day took us down narrow, darkening passageways. I stayed close to Captain Nemo for fear of kidnap. We arrived at our destination - a small shop containing a treasure trove of goodies. Mrs S carefully picked her way through the items, eliminating them until she had her perfect selection. I thought the owner would not move on his prices. He was not capitulating. Then his knees started to buckle under the pressure. I knew the game as over. He could not resist. Her tactics had brought success and victory! With a smile on her face, we headed homewards, saying 'Goodnight' to the lumbering oxen who strayed close by.
What a wonderful day!!
Quote of the Day
A: What sort of dog was John Major?
N: An Alsatian
A: Oh! I thought he was a German Shepherd
Don't you just love her x x