Friday, September 05, 2008

Agra: The Unknown Wonders of the World

In India, there’s a VIP gate for everything. Even the Taj Mahal. Standing in a long queue on a hot summer afternoon, isn’t exactly a Delhiite’s dream of a relaxed weekend. Not to mention a VIP gate is a Delhiite’s birth right.

So when a 6-7 year old cherubic smile asked, “Saab, VIP gate se Taj dekhoge?” we knew we had an irresistible offer. Clad in a dirty yellow t-shirt and green shorts with an old pair of snickers, it was Imtiaz, as we later came to know. We agreed.

Imtiaz led us past the serpentine queues of regular tourists, turned right as we came up to the Taj walls and entered a lane.

It was like walking into a time wrap. Shops on my right led to hotels with an exclusive view of the Taj from the second and third floors where the windows are deliberately carved to look medieval. Ditto for the doors. It’s all about the package. The older you look the more exclusive you are. Even the old man who sat playing his flute drew more listeners than his younger counterpart. The older looking hotels boasted of rooftop view of the Taj with special honeymoon package on full-moon nights! The electric, telephone and Cable TV wires drew long shadows that moved when the pigeons fluttered. We kept walking.

Imtiaz knew his way by heart. Time to time he looked back to make sure his entourage didn’t loose sight of him and then continued without lowering his pace. He had a lot of friends in the locality. Every house he passed called out to him from different ages. Some were of his age. Others, older. He kept waving. Muttering or shouting ‘salam-alekum’ depending on his closeness with the person.

Suddenly he broke his track, turned left and vanished into the wall. We hurried forward and found a small opening. A gate!

As our eyes followed the flight of stairs, we managed to catch a last glimpse of sneakers clad legs just before it disappeared out of sight. We looked at each other and began to ascend. The staircase went up straight without any break or turn and came to an end in a sea of sunlight. We were standing on the threshold of another lane!

I have never seen a staircase connecting two streets!!! What would you call this? The eight wonder of the world. The lane in front of us was much less crowded than the one we just came through. Though not without its share of ISD booths, FOREX dealers and travel agents. We followed Imtiaz.

After winding through for about 10 minutes, a huge marble wall appeared out of the blue. We had seen it before. Even the gate, its security, and the ticket and baggage counter – everything was identical. And the queue??? Nowhere to be seen. It took us 4 minute 40 seconds to collect our tickets and deposit our mobiles.

Imtiaz spread his palm. I gave him his share of 150 rupees. He smiled. ‘Salaam Saab. Yaad rakhiyega hame,’ were his parting words. I looked back and saw him approaching a candy floss man. VIPs really make the world go round. 

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