Our ex-pat illustrator turns his pen - and brushes - on the chaos of the sub-continent
I am travelling into the Indian interior, from Mumbai to New Delhi – some 700 miles, courtesy of Jet Air. The flight is full in this, the world’s smallest 737, replete with screaming two-year-olds seated strategically throughout the aircraft.
I had arrived in Mumbai on Thursday and been billeted at the Taj Lands End in Bandra. The Bandra district is home to most Bollywood stars and I felt quite at home in this massive hotel with simple and vast regency interiors.
Throughout my time in India, I had been assiduously following sundry ‘Advice to Travellers’; drinking only bottled water, keeping toothbrush in a sealable polythene bag and avoiding salads and fruit, which for me is never a chore. The Indian experience so far was strictly metropolitan; two grand restaurants, the latter serving exquisite seafood and on my first evening I went to a disco. Given my paranoia in relation to diet and diarrhoea I was concerned about the name of the venue; the club called ‘Poison’.
My host told me, “Poison is one of the most famous night spots of Mumbai, and probably one of the very few places that is likely to be active on a Thursday night. However, being more of a lounge/night club, they do not serve dinner."
He continued, "We have made sufficient provisions for appetizers... But I just thought I would point this out so that everyone can prepare accordingly.”
It was hip-hop night, excellent music and I was familiar with most of the records played (the benefit of having two teenage daughters). By the time I left at 12:30am the queue of well dressed, highly attractive young people, waiting to gain entry had wrapped itself around several residential streets.
At 09:00am on Saturday morning, I emerged from the hotel lobby out into 30-degree heat to make a picture of the Rock View Hotel, the vista onto which I look each morning from my room. The hotel was one of ten locations bombed one Friday in 1996. The bombed out rooms stared back at me everyday as I looked out of my hotel bedroom. I later learnt that an internecine dispute had prevented the Rock View from being redeveloped.
Sunday morning meant marathon sightseeing in Delhi and in the afternoon we embarked on the 210km drive to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, a name that adorns the front of a thousand take-aways and restaurants and one of the seven wonders of the world.
In Delhi King George V commissioned the British architect Edwin Lutyens to lay out out the central administrative area of the city – so very different from designing large houses in the Home Counties of England. At the heart Lutyens placed the impressive Rashtrapati Bhawan, formerly the Viceroy's House and the arresting India Gate. He collaborated with fellow architect Herbert Baker to create an impressive body of Edwardian architecture topped out with distinctly Moorish features. It is now known as the LBZ in Delhi – the Lutyens Baker Zone.
Our Toyota people carrier cut its way through the crowded Chandni Chowk market area and getting out we clambered up the almost sheer flight of steps to the Jama Masjid Mosque. Jama Masjid was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and is one of the largest and best-known mosques in India. Leaving our shoes at the courtyard door I donned a wrap to cover my bare legs. The building, in local red sandstone rises impressively from its central courtyard and in the heat it burns the soles of bare feet as the whole site appears to hover above Delhi.
Agra, 200km south of Delhi: at 06:15am on Sunday we visited the Taj Mahal. The Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Building work began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1653. Of all things in India this is a place one simply must see. As the sun rises on this marble jewel box, its rays catching each semi-precious stone inlaid into the building. One by one each stone glistens as the sun ascends into the daytime sky.
The Taj Mahal combines elements of Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. Soon after the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahān was deposed and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort by his son. Our guide told us that he spent the remainder of his days gazing through the window at the Taj Mahal. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried his father in the Taj Mahal next to his wife.
The position of his tomb is the only disruption to the otherwise perfect symmetry of this wonderful place surrounded by myths.
Tim Baynes, is a senior executive with the BBC. He has recorded his impressions of more than 20 years of travel with sketches and observations from Istanbul to New York to Tokyo. His book, Drawing from Experience, is available from his website.
For further illuminations on Tim and his travels read his interview here, The World According to Tim Baynes.