Sitting around in Agra

Four months or so since i’ve left Melbourne and I begin to understand the attraction of travel as a lifestyle. The secret it seems is in its indolence. With five months in India still stretching before me, time does not feel like a constraint. A day or a week can slip by. There is no rush to see anything or to leave a place if it is comfortable enough. It is easy to do nothing all day except take in a sight or two and look for somewhere cheap and nice to eat. After all, I do not have a must-see list and besides a yoga/meditation retreat at some point, nothing I want to do.

I cant help feeling that this lazy travel we are doing is self-indulgent, that worse still I am frittering away this wealth of free time and that I should be doing something constructive although I am not sure as to what that should be. Maybe that is the problem, that I have lost sight of whatever goals I may have had on starting this journey.

Anyway, Agra is an easy place to spend time, much easier than I had expected. We have found a nice room with a window looking out onto the monument itself. Just as well as it cost 1.5 days travel budget to visit (750 rupees) and I would not otherwise see it more than that one time.  Which would be a pity as the Taj Mahal in the evening is different from that in the morning.

The other thing is that Agra is by far the most prosperous town we have yet visited in India. Until now, I’d nearly given up on anything more than broken roads, filth everywhere, deteriorating piled up bits of red-brick that are called buildings, impossible traffic and urchins asking for money, schoolpens and chocolate. These things are all in Agra but alleviated by completed roads with actual lines on the side, autorickshaws and buses on compressed natural gas so that there is little pollution, brand-new condominiums for the middle-class and suburbs of swanky homes. More importantly, the people are not so desperately poor.

The thing that gets me about the poverty I have seen here so far is not so much that people have so little but what little they have seems to be so poorly utilised and that includes health and hygiene. The bits of Laos I remember travelling through were easily as poor as the poor parts of India – they were subsistence farmers as well but they took pride in their villages, in the dwellings and surroundings and in their children. Their homes were simple but clean, their surroundings likewise and their children though small from poor diet had the well-scrubbed appearence of the cared-for.

Thinking about it now, this lack of care, of completion, seems to extend beyond the desperately poor in India. Looking at the Taj Mahal and its perfect workmanship and design and then comparing it to Agra, it is too easy to see that while Agra is better than the town and villages I have seen so far in India, it falls far far short from what is used to be. It is almost impossible for me to reconcile the Taj Mahal with the surrounding town, to believe that this is the people and the culture that built it.

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