Ajay picks me up from Radoli House and we head out early to travel to the next point to India’s Golden Triangle: Agra.
The night before the trip, I decided to read up a bit more on what else was worth seeing. There was one place in particular that piqued my interest: The Abhaneri Step Wells. I asked Ajay if it was possible to pass by for it.
“Sure, no problem”.
He wasn’t that familiar with the route but since I decided to get a data plan that day (Globe Telecoms has an unlidata plan in India), using Google Maps we were able to find it easily. Turns out it’s a short ten minute detour from our main route.
The Abhaneri made many step wells, the Chand Baori Step Well being the most famous of them all. Believe it or not, the main purpose of this step well is to collect rain water! For some reason this location conjured images of the prison in The Dark Knight Rises.
You don’t need to stay long at Abhaneri. It’s not a big place. Just stay a bit, take a few photos and you’re good to go.
I did however, made an interesting meet up at the Step Wells. I noticed an American group come in and saw one of them looking deep into the walls and took a few shots of him. I offered to take his photo and requested if he could take my photo if he didn’t mind.
He took my picture first. The moment I got back the camera he gave me a somber look and asked “So how’s everything back home?”. He immediately knew that I was from the Philippines, and we talked about Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan a bit .
It turns out he was Karl Grobl, famous for his photographic world tours. He’s visited the Philippines many times to run tours (just as he was there in India, with a group) and he’ll be back to Pampanga for Holy Week next year. I told him we should do something together when he drops by Manila, and he agrees. We took a few more photos and we parted ways.
Right next door to the Chand Bouri was the Harshat Mata Temple, the goddess of joy and happiness. This seemed different from the other architecture I’ve seen. Instead of grand and soaring, this was humble and quiet, yet still imposing.
After a loooong drive from Abhaneri we eventually got to the outskirts of Agra, where we met my second guide, Navid.
Navid brought me to the incredible Fatehpur Sikri. This was THE crown achievement of Emperor Akbar, the greatest of the many Mughal (Mongol) emperor who ruled much of India, and this was once the capital. My gosh, what they can do with red sandstone! The place was definitely an architectural wonder.
Next door was a major mosque called Jama Masjid. Unlike the “museum like’ feel of the Fatehpur SIkri, this was a living place. This was an active mosque after all, and many were here to pray, or to enjoy the scenery, as if they were inside a park.
Inside the Jama Masqid was the Tomb of Salim Chishti. Salim Chishti, a saint in the Mughal tradition foretold that Emperor Akbar would have a son, after many years of not bearing children, and thus Akbar built a memorial . There was a ceremony there that I was able to bear witness to.
Afterwards we went to the Red Fort. The Red Fort was a major stronghold in Agra province. Strong enough that when the British came to India, they used it as a base of operations. It really felt like a fortress, and it’s actually still being used as such until this day, by the Indian Armed Forces. Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) was also incarcerated here for a time, when his son took over.
And so the day was done and we headed to my hotel. Another great day in India.
Tomorrow: I’m in Agra, and although there’s a lot to see here, there is one sight here that eclipses everything else…
The biggest must see in whole of India, the Taj Mahal.
Let’s see if it lives to the hype.