Still a lot of rural landscape, made of rice paddies on either side of the NH21 that will take us to Uttar Pradesh and Agra.
A very good surprise: where we were expecting traffic jams, checkpoints, truck bans, and having to park miles away from the Taj Mahal, traffic will be normal (for India), rather nice police officers, and the possibility of parking 1km from the west entrance of the site, all for free! It’s 5pm on the dot, the sun is less high and less strong, time to start the visit of one of the Seven Wonders of the world! But only for part of the tribe: already seen by Loïc 15 years ago, little interest for Ntyalé, so it is with the two big ones that I walk up the 800m of the pedestrian alley which lead to the wickets at the entrance, while the other two remain to watch over our parking spot. Again, we are pleasantly surprised not to have a monstrous queue and to be able to quickly buy the (very expensive) ticket (1300 rupees), after avoiding some pseudo-guides. The differentiated tariff policy between Indians, Asian countries and other foreigners is still in place (as is often the case in tourist sites in India), with a ratio of 1:20; fortunately, children do not pay!
We (well, especially me) will not be disappointed with the trip. The red bricks of the rampart and the beautiful facades of the pavilions surrounding the inner courtyard (Jilaukhana) contrast with the green trees, shrubs and perfect lawns. Then, in the alignment of the wings of the immense door giving access to the main gardens (Darwaza-i rauza), the magnificent mausoleum and its 4 minarets in white marble appear, at the end of the perfectly smooth body of water, like a jewel placed on its case.
Visitors are numerous, but we are probably far from the crowd during the high tourist season, so we take advantage of it: unavoidable breaks in the gardens, in front of the mausoleum, not to mention the Guest Pavilion and the mosque that surrounds it. The perfect opportunity to immortalize one of those rare moments shared with the three of us.
The sun reflects a beautiful light on the river Yamuna, and it will already have disappeared when we join the rest of the group and start looking for a place for the night.
A whole expedition: after having tried the parking lot facing the fort, we will follow the « tourist police » that make it a point of ensuring our safety, leading us to the west gate (an air of déjà-vu) then to the east gate of the site, before ending up…in the yard of their headquarters. Well, at least we will not be disturbed!
New view of the Taj Mahal, from another angle, but in a much more peaceful atmosphere (and also moister after a heavy downpour): the Mehtab Bagh, large garden located on the other side of the river (on the banks of which one can unfortunately see beautiful dumps), and with ruins, some of which are perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal.
We ignore the fort to continue our route to Varanasi via Lucknow, which we will reach after having probably taken one of the most deserted and expensive sections of the country. This big city, full of barracks and army installations, will be a nice architectural surprise, and we will take the time to go for a late afternoon tour to Dr. Ambdekar Park, an imposing construction stretching over almost 45 hectares, but will have to leave aside historical and more religious sites like Bara Imambra and Chhota Immabra.
Less charming: we found the heat, humidity and poor air quality that accentuate heat pains in children!
Come on, another 300 kms to Varanasi, that we will not be able to cover during the day. With our first hitchhiker on board since the beginning of the journey, we will try to avoid the tolls: a waste of time, everything leaving the main road seems to be made of tracks surrounded by pretty rice fields, just wide enough for our passage. After a few complicated intersections, we finally leave the schoolchildren alone on their bikes and tractors. A u-turn later, the passage through the Toll Gate is unavoidable!
Stopped for the night at the entrance of a village, we will be woken up the next day by the early morning voices of children turning timidly around the truck. They will be joined a little later by women of all ages, a little behind, except Kayan, who will not hesitate to climb to stir our potatoes during cooking, before inviting us in her home. Low houses, yards of wet sandy soil, shelter made of bamboo and palm leaves, large leafy trees, buffaloes in their stables, rice fields, fields of okra and eggplants all around, all spared by plastic pollution: Indian rural life in all simplicity and very pleasant moments despite our exchanges limited by their knowledge of English, and ours in Hindi.
Finally, on the outskirts of Varanasi, we will take a not-so-kind stop by the police traffic: no entry for heavy vehicles before midnight! It’s okay, it’s already past 8pm, which gives us the time to eat and lay down in the meantime. Mission accomplished a few hours later: after Agra, here we are again very well positioned in the center to visit one of the holiest cities in India!