Today I travelled to New Delhi from Jaipur via Agra. My friend and I wanted to visit the thousand-year old step well called Chand Baori and – of course – the Taj Mahal. After breakfast we checked out from the hotel at Jaipur and headed out front to meet the car and driver we had hired. We set off at 10 am and arrived at Chand Baori at about 1145 am. First we visited the Harshshat Mata temple in the same village and then headed to the step well.
Up until today, I had not been much troubled by people hassling me in the street. That was probably because we had a professional guide with us in Jaipur and he had waved them off. At the step well we declined the services of a pleasant young chap outside and headed straight in. A wilier older "guide" simply started to provide the service unbidden. He wasn't very good at it, but I reasoned that the economy of refusing to pay his modest fee was not worth the grief of getting rid of him. I concentrated on my photography and he spoke mostly with my friend. When we were done, we paid him a modest sum and headed back to the car – where once we were underway my friend realised that her iPhone was missing.
We tried calling it in case she had dropped it in our car somewhere, but it had already been switched off – presumably to prevent the use of the "Find my iPhone" location feature. She set it to wipe its data on next connecting to the internet and cancelled her SIM. She recalled that our "guide" had bumped into her clumsily at one point and we realised that it must have been him who had stolen it. It was an old and damaged phone she'd just been using for India. Her brand new Pixel was safe so, sadder, wiser and determined to be less generous with beggars and service pests, we continued to Agra.
I reckon the first time I heard there was a place called India was when, as a boy, my grandmother produced an old Viewmaster 3D viewer with slides of famous monuments from around the world. The Eiffel Tower for France, the tower of Big Ben for England and – of course – the Taj Mahal for India. We've all seen it many times in photographs and films and I was braced for disappointment. As a photographer I was also apprehensive that I wouldn't be able to find an interesting new perspective on one of the most pictured monuments in the world.
The fact is, it's just as magnificent as every cliché says. The general shape cannot surprise anyone now but the context is attractive, the other buildings in the complex are appealing and the architectural details of the Taj itself are elegant. If you haven't been, I can't spare you the expense by telling you it's not worth it. It just is. Sorry.
We spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the exterior before returning to our car and continuing to New Delhi where we will spend our last day tomorrow before I fly back to London on Friday