Saturday, 22 August 2009

Last tales of the Taj - Part II

The "lovely lake with its distant islands of palm trees and marble palaces" in Udaipur

India has long been one of my favourite destinations, as my regular readers will have realised! It has an astounding beauty and a magic that is hard to describe if you have not seen it for yourself, but it is also a harsh and unforgiving destination, as we discovered last week when my son got ill and we faced the reality of getting him better and back home!

So for the second half of "Last tales of the Taj", I thought I'd follow in the footsteps of Marianne North, the intrepid botanical painter and explorer, who visited India in 1877. She saw the Taj and wrote:

"The ground all around the city (Agra) was pure dust - one ate it, breathed it, drank it, slept in it - but the place was so glorious that one forgot the dust entirely. I went that same afternoon to the Taj, and found it bigger and grander even than I had imagined; its marble so pure and polished that no amount of dust could defile it; the building is so cleverly raised on its high terrace, half-hidden by gardens on one side, and washed on the other by the great river Jumna."

And she continued: "the garden was a dream of beauty", but "I was very ill, and found it of no use fighting longer with the dry heat of Agra".

And how true these words proved to be for us also. The heat and dust of Agra choked us; we loved the Taj with its pure white marble, but within hours of arriving, my son (pictured above at the Taj) was ill. We will never know whether it was the heat or the dust, or whether he was overwhelmed by the sight of the Taj, but at least he can say he saw it!

After several days of rest in Jaipur, where I agree with Marianne North that "the gardens are lovely with the stony hills in the background", we were able to move on in Rajasthan, following further in her footsteps with a visit to Chittaurgarh, which she calls "Chitor", with its stunning hilltop temple complex, approached by a winding road that passes through the old city gates. Well worth a detour for and from the temples, you can see the modern town below.

Chitor is filled with monkeys, who gather at your feet waiting to be fed, but don't turn your back on them, because they will happily steal from your rucksack and they are not the charming little animals that you imagine if you have food in there - they will bite! The pictures here show a figure in one of the temples (above left) and one of the many ghats in the complex (above right), with visitors enjoying the view over the water.

And from here, we moved on to Udaipur, which Marianne North describes as "a city glittering like a group of pearls, with the marble palace above it, and the lake behind, surrounded by bare mountains." She goes on to describe the "lovely lake... with its distant islands of palm trees and marble palaces, and its nearer orangery surrounded by white marble arches with exquisite tracery. Still nearer, palaces, gardens and gates, all reflected in the still blue waters, and over all the pale salmon-coloured hills, with their lilac shadows, so faint, yet so pure in colour."

Everything she writes about the city is correct, even today, and no trip to India would be complete without a visit to Udaipur, with its magnificent lakes and palaces. It is the jewel in the crown of Rajasthan and no short visit would do this destination justice because you need several days to explore the palaces, gardens and bazaars. We were there for a week and still didn't finish our sightseeing, but we will definitely return. I should also add that my son has made a full recovery, for those of you who were wondering - he loves India too and was able to enjoy Udaipur with me once he was better.

Marianne North travelled all over the world and her India voyage is just one of many journeys documented in a fabulous book: "The Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North" (Published in collaboration with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). A collection of more than 800 of her paintings, including those that she completed on her India trip, can be seen in the gallery that bears her name at The Royal Botanic Gardens in London - definitely worth a visit!


  1. This is another really wonderful post although I do hope your son is ok. I would love to visit India and must read more of Marianne North as well as continue to follow your own postings :-)

  2. I love the glimpse of the lake through the arch in the first photo. India has been on my wish list of destinations for quite some time. How lovely to have this virtual tour, through your photos and narrative.

    I hope your son is fully recovered!

  3. I have been so enjoying your pictures of India and the Taj Mahal. An amazing place to visit and so beautiful. It must blow ones mind to see it up close.

  4. It really does look exotic, even the lighting.

    Lovely photos.

  5. What a wonderful trip you have shared with all of us. Thanks so much!

  6. Majestic, Magnificient and Magical. That's how I describe the Taj after I've read your post.

  7. How sad that your son fell ill . That must've really strained your stay in India. The heat in Delhi (I've never been to Agra) and the dry interiors of the country, is a bit too much to bear for even an Indian like me so I can just imagine how it must've affected your family.
    I'm glad he's okay now. Maybe next time you should visit the coastal part of India ... like Mumbai ;)

  8. I don't know if you believe in past lives, but maybe you have a wonderful one in India, long time past!