The Unexpected Things I Learn

As I returned to the parking lot in search of Ramesh, I was once again accosted by vendors. I had enjoyed my visit to Fatephur Sikri and was ready to move on. While I scoured the lot for our van, the hawkers just wouldn’t go away, so this time I tried a different tack. I replied in Italian. I don’t speak Italian very well, but given that they all speak English, I was hopeful that a few words in Italian would turn them away.

This is how I learned that they speak Italian, too. In fact, they speak it better than I do, and one kindly directed me toward the bus full of Italian tourists. This was clearly going the wrong direction

The ultimate goal for the day was to go from Agra to Jaipur, a drive that takes about four hours, so we broke it up by stopping at the ruins of Fatephur Sikri about an hour west of of Agra.

Getting to the site from the parking lot is a somewhat opaque process, as such things often seem to be in India. After parking, we all climbed on board a bus that would takes us to the ticket booth. But there were no signs explaining this, so once on board the group of us looked around uncertainly, wondering if we were doing something wrong. Finally, the bus pulled away, and after arrival at the site we all paid 10 Rupees (14 cents) to exit.

Fatephur Sikri was briefly the capital of the Mughal Empire in the late 16th century. The emperor had it constructed here after a Sufi saint predicted the birth of a royal heir.

Unfortunately, the region suffered water shortages so was eventually abandoned.

Most of the city lies in piles of rubble around the spectacularly preserved remains of the palace. Its red sandstone columns look like they are of hewn lumber. It is almost haunting.

The mosque next door is still in use, and is breathtaking.

Time on the road driving from place to place can be interesting, because you see a lot of the countryside. Cows, for example, are ubiquitous everywhere I’ve been here. They can be found any place, often grazing on the median, or standing at the edge of the road and munching the verge. Or just standing in the middle of a lane and doing nothing. Traffic just flows around them seamlessly. Hitting one would be much worse than hitting a deer. As we draw closer to Jaipur I’m also seeing goats and camels, although neither of those is free-ranging it the way the cows do. Oh and monkeys. I saw a few in Delhi, but definitely more now.

I learned something else today – one of those cultural connections that comes by accident but feels really important. Somewhere on the road from Agra to Jaipur, well past Fatephur Sikri, Ramesh suggested we stop for lunch. As we were finishing up, I intended to ask the waiter for both bills, wondering on some level if this would violate an unwritten protocol. The waiter, however, preempted that by asking me who would be paying. Once I affirmed that I would cover everything he looked relieved.

“We always ask you first,” he explained. “If you won’t pay, then we have to ask your driver.” And with this a somewhat pained expression crossed his face. Clearly this would not have been a good scenario.

I get the sense that there are defined protocols, and I’m trying not to foul all of them up. Some of them would probably seriously violate my principles on some level, and I’m not upset if I’m missing those. In this case, however, my principles seem to align with the protocols.

At that restaurant I also discovered chaas, a yogurt drink, although the waiter referred to it as buttermilk. It can be sweet or salted, and in the latter respect reminds me of ayran in Turkey. In this case it was salted and flavored with charred cumin. It was delicious, although the bits of charred cumin at the top were initially off-putting. I should have taken a photo at the time (so here’s one from tomorrow!). This discovery, however, was entirely unexpected, and in its own way made my day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s