Rivaling the Sydney Opera House for architectural beauty the Taj Mahal definitely doesn’t disappoint it’s thousands of visitors. Starting at first light, then all throughout the day, they’re herded through check points, with a search for weapons, food, chewing gum and anything else that might be considered harmful to this amazing white marble memorial to Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz. Even shoe covers are issued to the daily masses as a way to preserve the precious marble from further degradation. People posing, cameras clicking, guides chattering, touts touting, It’s a sea of global travelers, though most have not come to see India – they’re here for one night only, to snap the Taj Mahal then be on their way to the next wonder of the world.
On Fridays the monument is closed for cleaning & the government is trying to reduce pollution further by converting all the transport vehicles to natural gas. There is no industry allowed to operate within a specific radius of the city but still a hazy smog hangs over the city much as it does elsewhere in India. Efforts are being made for change but there’s a long way to go before the country could ever be considered clean and green. In areas that used to be lush with grass and trees, salty ground water, pollution and forest removal have led to what is now a virtual dust bowl.
The Red Fort, although impressive simply because of its size, did not show the splendour of the Taj but was still worthy of a visit. Hawkers everywhere were selling the usual array of junky souvenirs. “You buy, very cheap 500 rupees, my family make, very precious. Okay, for you today my first customer only 100 rupees.” You have to admire their persistence, but it’s heads down and no eye contact if I want to stay sane. The FN is carrying enough crap and even so much as a hand beaten nose ring is likely to see the bike collapse under the weight.
More importantly is that I managed to buy a couple of spare tubes, though they’re not quite the right size and the quality is questionable but they may make all the difference in an emergency. Yesterday morning the tyre was flat but after pumping up again it’s remained firm so I figure the tube might have burst last week because I let the pressure get too low. There’s so much to think about each day and maintenance has to be my number one priority if I’m to make it to Belgium. Well, that and dodging goats on the freeway, overloaded camels, tuk tuks that have taken paint off my bike and all manner of things that don’t belong in traffic. The last time I saw a street sweeper on the freeway was in Mexico – it’s still a risky career move, but at least here they wear reflective jackets…that’s progress!