I landed at around 10am, still dressed in the Canadian tuxedo I had worn to work the day before. I had one bag with me, hanging off one shoulder, full of what my friends call “Bastard shirts” – hideously glorious short sleeved Hawaiian-style tops. I also had toothpaste and some cotton buds so I was ready to party.
My driver (and yes, I feel like a total wanker saying that), Manish, was waiting for me in the arrivals hall. We went out to his car and started out on the worst buddy road trip movie of all time. He told me about his family and asked why I wasn’t married. I kept my sunglasses on to avoid eye contact and his questions. Driving around Delhi is like letting a toddler play Scaletrix.
In Agra, he left me with Naseem, my guide for the Taj Mahal. Naseem convinced me to jump the queue for tickets and then jump the queue for security. We approached the Taj and I was pleased that it was just as awe-inspiring as I had hoped it would be.
“Look at those arseholes” I said, pointing out a row of people with their hands outstretched like cranes, trying to get the shot that made them look like they were pinching the top of the tomb. Obviously, Naseem made me strike the same pose.
We then jumped that massive queue you can see in the background to go inside. People glared at me. The maddest thing about it is how balanced everything was. The place was perfect and white and the symmetry was too much for my eyes.
Inside, the rooms were hexagonal. Naseem mentioned something about milk and honey but I just thought of A A Milne so have no idea what he meant. He took a cool photo of me which has PPP (potential profile pic) written all over it.
I felt very white. To assist me in my whiteness, people queued up and asked to have photos with me. Understandably, my ego loved it. Look how much this small boy appreciates me. Do you appreciate me like this?
We took a series of awkward photos and then I headed off, telling them to make sure they told everyone they knew what a total rock star from Mars I am.
On the way out, Naseem made me stand in particular spots so I could see the Taj from a distance against the entry gate. There’s an optical illusion where it looks like it walks towards you as you walk away. I was reminded of a Magic Eye puzzle.
Manish picked me up and told me he wanted to show me some of the marble cutters who still worked with the same tools used on the Taj, 500 years later. I was taken into a workshop and this older guy with a moustache (there are a lot of great moustaches in India) took me through the process while two kids beside him handmade these intricate designs of precious stones cut on a lathe and set into flower shapes in slabs of marble. I was then taken into the back room where there were stacks of these beautiful marble plates and tables and elephants. They served me chai and the guy kept going on about how great marble is and how hard they work.
He is proper into this marble I thought to myself. Then he started trying to get me to commit to buying a £200 marble chopping board that he said they could Fedex to me when I said I didn’t have room and wasn’t carting that around. It had gone from a history lesson to a sales call. We debated it back and forth until instead of spending the cost of my return flight on a plate, I bought a wee wooden Ganesh for a fiver. Everyone was happy. I skipped back to the car and Manish drove me back to Delhi where I was staying at the Royal Plaza, a hotel so swanky that they locked the minibar before I arrived. I had to smash open a couple of off license Kingfishers on the bathroom unit. I slept like a corpse.