Great expectations

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

I knew how it would be at the Taj Mahal.

I’d be sitting elegantly on a bench (à la Princess Di but without the tears); enjoying the spectacle of the the world’s most romantic building under clear blue skies; wearing a floaty little number and carrying at least half a stone less in weight.  Oh and it would be Christmas.

When we first planned our round-world trip we had in mind that we’d spend a week in Kerala, a week in Goa and Karnataka then hotfoot it across the desert landscape of Rajasthan before arriving in Agra at roughly the same time as Santa Claus. Our progress has been much slower than expected. This is in part because we have preferred to linger in some of the amazing places we’ve found; in part because we entirely underestimated the size of this country and in part because we failed to appreciate the need to book the overnight interstate trains at least a couple of weeks in advance. So ewe arrived at the Taj Mahal, on the fourth of January – almost two weeks late.

As for the weight loss, I had been assured that ‘Delhi belly’ would provide me with at least one period of enforced foodlessness during our stay but, despite the temptation to ask street vendors to add “that nice green prawn” or a “ladle full of dirty dish water” to my plate, I’ve stayed thankfully healthy.

I’d also anticipated that a more active lifestyle and a lack of palatable alcohol would aid gradual slimming. But the cooking has been so delicious here I haven’t stopped eating. I’ve taken every opportunity to pour over the Indian bestseller “How To Lose Your Weight Without Losing Your Mind” (which promises you can eat as many pakoras and popadoms you like without piling on the pounds) but my belt is barely a notch tighter.

The floaty little number proved impractical.  The sad fact is, we arrived at the Taj Mahal in the depth of the north India winter, so I was forced to don every every item of attire from my backpack with the exception of my dive mask (although, given the thick fog that enveloped Agra on the day of our visit, even that might have helped).

So Princess Di I was not. But the Taj Mahal was both spectacular and romantic. The simple shape of the building is undoubtedly beautiful, the workmanship inspiring, and the central mausoleum – with the dual coffins of Shah Jahan and his one true love – moving.  The grounds and river behind offer an unexpected respite from the clamour of touts and souvenir sellers outside. We lingered a while, posed for the obligatory photos in hats and gloves and commented optimistically on the emergence of a small patch of blue in an otherwise uniformly grey sky.

Did I enjoy my time at the Taj Mahal?  Certainly.  Almost as much as I enjoyed making my way out of there and into one of Agra’s abundant cafes for a steaming mug of chai.

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