21 February 2020

If weddings were banned in India, the economy would collapse. They generate giant waves of work for caterers, musicians, animal keepers, astrologers, holy persons, tailors, drivers, turban fitters, planners, photographers, venue operators and transport services. 

Most marriages are still arranged by parents. They used to be paid for by the bride’s family but now the crippling costs are shared with the groom’s family. Our first guide in Delhi, Gotam, barked out staccato information to us as we moved about because he was continually distracted by his mobile phone. The reason? He was trying to organise his wedding on the run. He told us he had to decide on a band (mostly comprising brass instruments and deafening drums) costing between A$600 for an outfit that was only roughly in tune, to the best band in Delhi that would set him back A$2000. The photographer was asking A$1800 for a combination of still and video shots. Gotam had to hire a dressed-up white horse for an outrageous sum even though it only had to carry him about 200 metres. He recalled his friend who put his young nephew on the horse and rode in a car beside it because he was frightened of falling off. Most of the official clobber is hired because of costs. It is only meant to be worn once and discarded anyway.

Gotam was only counting on a small wedding of about 500 people (they have to be invited in family groups) but a wealthy wedding can have thousands, with exotic animals like elephants and camels accompanying the horse-mounted groom on a noisy tour around the city. In addition to the wedding ceremony several lead-up parties have to be thrown too. It seems that nobody elopes or jumps the sexual gun before matrimony. It’s pay up or remain abstainately single.

While the Taj Mahal is a unique building it is not quite as unique as most people think. It follows a pattern of Mughal architecture that was established well before and after the Taj was built. Our Delhi tour yesterday revealed at least two other mausoleums that are in the same style as the Taj. One was Nawab Safdarjung’s tomb. Built in 1754 (The Taj Mahal was built in 1631) it looks like a smaller copy – but made from yellow Jaipur sandstone without the intricate inlays of the Taj. It too has a reflection pond, symmetrical gardens and four gates. Also like the Taj, one of its sides is all the same. Both this tomb and the other nearly-Taj are accessed by such high-rise steps that many unathletic people just take a look, shrug, and walk away.

Nawab Safdarjung’s tomb

The ‘other’ Taj was even more lookalike in structure. It is Humayun’s tomb. He was the second Mughal emperor and his final resting place was built 80 years before the Taj Mahal. The concept was a reverse of the Taj in that it was built by a wife to honour her husband who cashed in his chips at 48. If the government had painted it white (over the red local sandstone) they could have saved Donald Trump going to Agra. Humayun’s tomb is a UNESCO world heritage site, along with its symmetrical gardens and grand gates. Where the Taj gets is magic is probably in its marble whiteness and scale. Humayun is 50 metres high whereas the Taj is 80 metres. Humayun has no minarets against the Taj’s four balancing ‘bedposts’. 

Another Taj lookalike, this is Humayun’s tomb

Indian guides all have their own interpretations of history and facts about the country. Language also plays a part in misleading the listener. An early guide told us there were 565 states in India with a corresponding number of families with royal blood. Yesterday Gotam got it right with 29 states and only about 25 royal families headed by revered maharajas (not allowed to be referred to as kings) who generally have money, cultured British accents, but no political clout. Another example: at the Gandhi memorial, Gotam told us that, following Hindu custom, Gandhi’s body was cremated at this site (he had been shot by a fellow Hindu in 1948, aged 78, for trying to settle differences between Hindus and Muslims) and the ashes taken away to be tipped into the Ganges. We overheard an opposing guide telling his group that Gandhi’s remains were still at the site in a box beneath an eternal flame. Incidentally, I had to ask Gotam about the Ganges becoming polluted with ashes and body parts that hadn’t burned too well. He said that the designated tipping places were strictly controlled, and the bits were sieved out and used to make electricity. Just how, he couldn’t say.

We visited the enormous Delhi Red Fort built by Shar Jahan in 1639. It took a nifty nine years to finish, including the obligatory moat with imported crocodiles. It was more a walled city, housing the royal family, grand meeting buildings, staff and military quarters. There was also a mosque to save the finnicky young prince from going outside to pray with the commoners. When the Brits colonised India the viceroy said: “now look here, we need a bit of jolly old British architecture inside the fort for our chaps to sit and tell these local fellows what for.” And so up went a long London-looking three storey building inside the fort grounds for the chaps.

Rather than walk the congested trading streets of old Delhi we were advised to take a rickshaw. We chose a battery powered one rather than make some poor bugger pedal us along. I thought that walking may have been more enjoyable until we got into the thick of it. Agra’s market streets had nothing on this. There was fruit, vegetables and flowers being sold on the roadway, people delivering, people buying, buffalos pulling carts, motorbikes, dogs, muddy puddles, overhead electric wires in a tangle like a kid’s fishing line, and everybody yelling.

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One bag short of a load.

Hotel Toaster Report

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The Skinnyminie Infuriator at work.

The Shangri-La Eros Hotel offers one of the grandest breakfasts I’ve ever seen, catering for European and Asian tastes. Yet when it comes to toasters, all it has is single Skinnymini Infuriator. This model gets its name from the dimensions which only takes in one slice of bread multiplied the length of time to toast – and even then, it needs two passes. This is a picture of the Sknnyminie Infuriator with a typical infuriatee.