Delhi to Agra

Day 2 of my Indian adventure started with a quick breakfast of coffee and toast. We checked out of our Delhi hotel and awaited our transport. It consisted of a 20 seater bus with driver and helper. With bags loaded into the bus – I remembered to tip this time! – we set off into old Delhi.

Our first stop was Jama Masjid (the great mosque) built in 1656 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It took 5,000 workmen six years to build and is the largest mosque in India. The huge square courtyard can accommodate up to 20,000 for occasions such as Friday prayers. It was a foggy day in Delhi so we declined the opportunity to climb the minaret. This is supposed to give great views of the city but with the fog there wouldn’t have been much to see. We removed shoes whilst entering the mosque. This to be a common theme over the next few days and it was common for our shoes to be “minded” by someone in exchange for a tip.

In the courtyard of the biggest Mosque in India

In the courtyard of the biggest Mosque in India

The Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid

After leaving the mosque we walked through the streets of Old Delhi heading for Chandni Chowk one of India’s most vibrant centres of commerce and religious activity. It was early in the morning and many shops had not yet opened. The usual opening time is 10am. I paused at a stall where an Indian gentleman had just ordered breakfast. We stood aghast at a street where electrical cables hung above us in a chaotic spaghetti of danger.

Breakfast in Old Delhi

Breakfast in Old Delhi

Check out the electrical cables!

Check out the electrical cables!

Having reached Chandni Chowk we visited a Sikh temple. The Sikh holy site of Gurdwara SisGanj stands at the site where the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded in 1675 on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to accept Islam. To enter the temple we had to remove shoes and socks and wear headscarves. We sat in silence for a few minutes watching Sikhs at worship.

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Inside the Sikh temple

We watched lunch preparations underway in the temple kitchens. Some of the girls helped with making chapatis. Apparently lunch is provided free to the worshippers within the temple.

Now that's a big pan!

Now that’s a big pan!

Making chapatis

Making chapatis

After leaving the temple we retraced our steps back to the Jama Masjid where the bus was waiting. Many of the shops which were shut when we passed earlier were now trading. There were lots of jewelry shops with no doubt many bargains to be had.

It was now time to leave Delhi as we had a 5 hour journey ahead of us to reach Agra which is around 210km south of Delhi. It was a good journey with most of the road being a relatively new toll motorway. We passed a number of new residential and office developments in the Noida area. One of the places we passed was the Indian Formula 1 circuit at Buddh. Much of the scenery along the way was agricultural. North India is very green at this time of year. There were many workers out in the fields and little sign of mechanisation.

Having made good time to reach Agra we visited the Itmad-Ud-Daulash tomb which is also known as the Baby Taj. It was built by Empress Noor Jahan, the beloved wife of Prince Saleem’or Jahangir, in the memory of her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg, who was the Prime-Minister of the Mughal Court. The Baby Taj was started in 1622 and took 6 years to build. It is if particular interest as it is a forerunner of the Taj Mahal and many of the designs within it are also present within the Taj. The tomb is a combination of white marble, coloured mosaic, stone inlay and lattice work. I found it absolutely captivating and loved the symmetry of the design. It was a wonderful way to spend time at the end of a long journey. Compared to the fog (or smog?) in Delhi it was clear in Agra.

The baby Taj

The baby Taj

Sandstone entrance gate at the Baby Taj

Sandstone entrance gate at the Baby Taj

Me at the Baby Taj

Me at the Baby Taj

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After leaving the Baby Taj we headed for our hotel. We got stuck in a traffic jam on the way. Traffic coming on the opposite direction moved onto our side of the road to try and avoid the gridlock. It was absolutely fascinating watching from the bus. Tuk tuks rammed full with an improbable number of people. I saw a family of five (mum, dad and 3 kids) on a motor bike! The young girls on our bus got plenty of attention from a number of the Indian guys stuck in the traffic jam. Eventually the traffic started to move and we got to our hotel.

Family on a motorbike. Mum head away behind Dad for this shot

Family on a motorbike. Mum hid away behind Dad for this shot

A very full Tuk Tuk

A very full Tuk Tuk

In the evening we went out to a local restaurant and enjoyed a meal sat outside. There were a number of Indian weddings going on in Agra. It’s peak season for weddings there. We saw a wedding procession go past involving a marching band and the groom.

After getting back to the hotel I had a drink in the bar but then retired to my room. Tomorrow was an early start and I was going to see the Taj Mahal!

Book Review – SHUNT The Story of James Hunt by Tom Rubython

Probably not the next blog that my followers were expecting…. Much earlier in this trip, back in Australia, I referenced the amount of reading material I had brought with me. By the time I arrive in India I need to have significantly reduced the weight of my luggage. So now I have arrived in Krabi in Thailand, the most relaxing place I could possibly imagine, it has given me the opportunity to catch up on some reading…

When I left Manchester back in mid November I spent a lot of the flight over to Australia reading SHUNT – The Story of James Hunt. I finally finished it this week – nearly two months later. It’s an epic amounting to 624 pages. Last week sitting by my hotel pool in Bangkok the American guy next to me, on seeing the size of this book, asked if I had heard of the Kindle Fire!!!

So why the interest in James Hunt? Well I have always had a fascination in him but not totally sure why. Is it because we share the same surname? It is because I remember when I was a young kid growing up watching Formula 1 and the rivalry he had with Niki Lauda? Or is it that he was an incredibly complex character? Was the fascination rekindled by the recent film “Rush” which chronicled Hunt and Lauda duelling for the Formula 1 title in 1976. I am not a Formula 1 fan. I rarely watch it on the tv. It definitely held more of an interest for me in my youth when it seemed less predictable and had amazing characters.

So to the book. Yes it’s long. At times I found it hard going. I think the editing could have been tighter – I found a number of contradictions, errors and repetitions along the way. Perhaps it could have been a little shorter. But I doubt for anyone wanting to get a real insight into James Hunt there is anything better out there.

Hunt was undoubtedly a complicated and often troubled individual. Bernie Ecclestone summed him up as “He had more facets than a diamond, which, combined with an irresistible charm, made him the most remarkable character in Formula One ever”

James Hunt died in 1993. I can’t believe its over 20 years ago. At the time of his death he was working as a Formula 1 co-commentator, alongside Murray Walker, for the BBC. He died after a massive heart attack. His heart muscles had been fatally weakened by hard drinking, smoking and recreational drug use. At the time of his death it is said he was at his happiest. He had largely gone on the straight and narrow, stopped womanising, and had a steady girlfriend called Helen Dyson. One of the saddest aspects of the story is that James had proposed marriage to Helen just before his untimely death. She is quoted as saying “I shrieked with joy when he proposed to me over the phone, and I accepted. It was the last time I ever spoke to him”,

The book is filled with some amazing stories, some of which are shocking, but nevertheless are important to understand the real James Hunt.

Some that stuck with me were…

Hunt was a womaniser. He was not faithful to any of the women that he had long term relationships with. He married his first wife, Suzy Miller, in 1974. Soon after the marriage he realised he had made a mistake and it was with considerable relief in 1976 when he discovered that Miller had begun an affair with Richard Burton whom she subsequently married.

Hunt had a lifelong fascination with budgerigars. Following his retirement from Formula 1 he took up this passion and began breeding prize budgies. There was a rather bizarre incident on a visit to a budgerigar show in Doncaster in 1989. After the show when one of Hunt’s budgies won first prize he and some of his budgerigar enthusiast friends decided to go out to a nightclub. Hunt often dressed very casually. Often he would wear jeans and no shoes for formal events and because of who he was normally got away with it. So James turned up to the nightclub wearing jeans and trainers. He was refused entry because of the club’s dress policy. An argument ensued with the doorman. A cup of coffee which the doorman was holding was flicked over him by Hunt. It could have been an accident or deliberate. The police were called and Hunt was arrested and taken to Doncaster police station. Goodness knows what the police thought about about an ex Formula 1 world champion being in Doncaster attending a budgerigar show! Well after a couple of hours he was released and not charged as the CCTV evidence was inconclusive. Hunt made a point of going to the night club to apologise. Many ¬†years later, after Hunt’s death, the CCTV footage was shown on a Channel 4 documentary about him. This caused much anguish to Hunt’s family.

After his retirement from Formula 1 Hunt began a career commentating on Formula 1 alongside Murray Walker. The two of them to begin with didn’t get on particularly well. Walker thought that Hunt was there to replace him. Over time the relationship much improved and Walker gave a very moving tribute to Hunt in a celebration of his life held 3 months after his death. Shortly before his BBC debut Hunt had a skiing accident and had his leg in plaster. At his first broadcast, in Monaco, he arrived worse for wear from drink and deeply upset Murray by resting his plaster cast on Walker’s lap for the full two hours of the broadcast. Despite all this, Hunt put on a brilliant performance in front of the microphone. Typically he would arrive for these commentaries with seconds to spare and holding a bottle of rose wine.

Several more stories I could recite but are probably not suitable for a family blog. If you want to know more buy the book or to avoid the space issues I have download it! I will be donating my copy to the library in the lounge in my Krabi hotel.

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