Days 22-24: With monkeys, drums and peacocks to Agra and the Taj Mahal

Day 22: Monday March 13
Monday was a difficult day. We had to walk 28 kilometers before ourfirst meal – from Dholpur all the way to the Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh border. There, just over the border in Uttar Pradesh, we stopped for rest and to cook a meal outside a small government building.
The lunch was something special – dal barti. We had to fight for it, though – a band of about six or seven monkeys, adults and babies, surrounded us while the food was still being prepared and people had to wave sticks and chase them away to save our ingredients. Eventually the monkeys got away with nothing but a few carrots and a couple of rotis.
monkeys at lunch at UP border.JPG
After the monkey business, a bit of horseplay
Sathyu wearing a Che towel
Jagarnath carrying the FC United umbrella
We continued on in the direction of Agra until we couldn’t walk any more. We had walked 38 kilometers by the time the day was over.
Green graves of Muslim holy men
There was a nearly full moon that rose in the east as the sun sank below the horizon across from it. We found a very old empty building by the side of the road. It was actually a very beautiful building, with mottled reddish-brown walls, columns and arches inside and out, and a rooftop that circled around a wide open atrium below. People slept on the roof and underneath as well. After dinner a huge impromptu drumming and singing circle erupted in the atrium under the open sky, and everyone on the roof lined the edges, looking down and clapping along. Then sleep, for a few hours.
Day 23, Tueday March 14
Early morning on the 14th, before Agra
Approaching Agra was a long and slow process. At about about 10 in the morning we stopped a chai stand for a rest. When the chai maker learned about the padyatra and the nature of our journey, he made everyone chai for free. We ended up getting stranded there for about 20 minutes by another in the long series of sudden rainstorms we have encountered this week.
We were surrounded by peacocks for much of the walk to Agra. Some trees had as many as four or five peacocks perched in their branches, letting out their very loud and strange peacock sound, which is a like a mix between a cat’s meow and a human child’s whine. [Has also been compared to an old bus screeching to a halt, Ed]
marching into Agra.JPG
We arrived in Agra at about noon. Agra is a huge city, so we found ourselves walking through it for several kilometers before we were in the centre. It was then that we were greeted by several people from Amnesty International India who had organised a number of things for our arrival. Vasudha Sondhi, Amnesty International’s membership coordinator in Delhi, got together a local team of Amnesty International activists in Agra.
joined by Amnesty Int'l.JPG
Together, Arun Kumar Dixit, Sumit Nagpal, and Naresh Kumar Paras arranged for our food and accommodation, getting press and television to cover our entry into the city, getting welcomed with a garland of flowers for every person on the padyatra, and organised a press conference and speech panel presentation that was inaugurated by the Commissioner of Agra.
Irfan bhai receiving recognition
Lilabai speaks at the conference
Several Senior Advocates and judges came to listen to short speeches by several padyatris and to join in solidarity. All of it was a great success.
Day 24, Wednesday March 15 – Agra
Today everyone is celebrating Holi. Holi is a Hindu holiday known for partying in the streets, bonfires, and people throwing colored liquid and powders over each other. Before every padyatri had even awoken, some were returning from the street covered in bright yellow, purple, and green powders. Within an hour or two, every one of us had at least one coloured stripe down the center of our foreheads, and many were completely smeared with four or five colours. Outside on the street, there wasn’t anyone who passed by the front gate who wasn’t completely soaked and coloured.
crowd gathers around us in Agra as we sing.JPG
Upstairs, we celebrated on our own. A few people drummed and shook bells while everyone sang and clapped in a circle in which each person on the padyatra was coerced into doing solo dances as everyone sat on the floor watching. It was probably the most playful few hours on the whole padyatra up to this point.
Gulab-bai, who can barely walk
Jagarnath dancing
Naseef and Islam
Naval Singh lets rip
Everyone was laughing and having a ball, even though we were all extremely hungry. We couldn’t get any food because all businesses in the whole city were closed for the chaos and fun of Holi. We ended up not eating until after 3 p.m.
In the late afternoon, most of the padyatris decided to visit the Taj Mahal. Only a few people on the padyatra had ever seen or been to the Taj Mahal before, so it was an exciting visit. No one was disappointed. The beauty of it was overwhelming.
taj mahal 1.JPG
We spent about two hours slowly walking in and around the central building and over the many little paths between the reflections in the pools. After the stress, and feverish chaos of the last leg of our journey, the calm and peace of the Taj Mahal was a welcome treat. The whole complex almost forces anyone in its presence to take a deep breath and relax. We stayed to watch the entire sunset before slowly filing away.
taj mahal group photo.JPG
We are quickly closing the gap between us and Delhi. We have only 200 kilometers left. We plan to arrive in Delhi on the 25th of March, rest on the 26th, and walk the last leg of the journey to the Prime Minister’s residence on the 27th. Internet access (and the frequency of these blog and photo posts) should become more and more frequently available as we approach Delhi, so keep checking back here for more.
Older entries from beginning of the march
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