Megan McCormick’s Veiled Journeys: Delhi, India

Megan McCormick’s Veiled Journeys

Delhi, India

by Mr. A_B

Part 1: Jaipur to Delhi

mccormick_delhi_p01City Palace Jaipur

The new Shatabdi express is among the new maglev trains set around the high speed track connecting the metropolitan centres of Western India around Punyanagari-Bombay-Ahmedabad, Northern India around Jaipur-Delhi-Agra, Eastern India around Calcutta-Dhaka-Bhubaneshwar and Southern India around Madras-Puduchery. My train will be heading through the scenic hills of the Sahyadri and over the scenic Aravallis before reaching Jaipur.

In this leg of my journey I intend to start off at Jaipur. Once there I plan to spend two days in the city before heading to Delhi itself the next night where I will stay for two more days during which I will visit the Taj Mahal and Agra fort at Agra.

Keeping to my promise of experiencing the full veiling traditions of India, I will remain veiled in this leg of my journey as well. It is worth noting though, unlike in other cities in India, Jaipur has compulsory modesty rules applicable in the city. What this means is that in addition to being veiled and gagged at all times when out of your home, it is also compulsory to excercise some form of arm restraint. While foreign tourists are exempt, it is still advisable to keep to the rules of the city to avoid any unnecessary harassment.

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Mangala veiled Pune style

The Maratha railways recognizes gender segregation and there are separate cabins for single female travellers, single male travellers, and family cabins for couples or families travelling in the train. Group bookings are also reserved in separate cabins. I shared mine with 3 other fellow travellers each heading to Jaipur. Swathi, from Cochin, Mangala, though originally from Jaipur, was returning from Bombay Free State, and Samantha, a British woman who works for a multi-national company, posted in Delhi. All save for Mangala, were travelling to Delhi, she was travelling to Jaipur. Each of us took off our veils and gags one by one and started chatting. Mangala had a lot of interesting things to share about her home city and promised to show me around.

The time was spent talking about Jaipur and Delhi and places to see and the culture of the cities and admiring the scenery passing by the window. More fellow travellers joined us as the train made its stops along the province of Gujarat and other cities in Maharashtra. Soon the cabin had over 50 passengers.

Not more than 8 hours had passed since we started the journey from Punyanagari that we reached Jaipur. The next morning we plan to visit the famous City Palace and the Hawa Mahal, two most recognizable landmarks of Jaipur.

I’ll be staying at a three star heritage hotel run and managed by the state government.

Next day:

The evening passed pleasantly and I had the chance to entertain myself with a traditional dance show by travelling performers.

Mangala came to pick me up in her car along with her husband. It should be noted, that Jaipur-Delhi-Agra have recently implemented a new conservative law requiring a male companion at all times outdoors, in addition of course, to the mandatory veiling and bondage restrictions. Mangala wore an armbinder for arm restraint and a traditional ghunghat which seems to be the norm among Rajasthani women. Rajasthan unlike the Maharashtra seems to be a much more reserved society and not just now, but since a very long time. Mangala’s husband Rajesh hails from an affluent family in the jewellery business serving a global clientèle.

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Mangala in her traditional Rajasthani sari

I myself had to dress accordingly. Mangala helped me wear my sari in a Rajasthani style with a ghunghat covering over my face, over the usual Punyanagari style veil. While I thought the ballgag would suffice, Mangala tells me that it is usually safer to add another layer of gag. So she took a large strip of white tape with bengal glue and placed it over my ballgag covering from ear to ear. The hand restrictions were more difficult though, and I decided to go light on it for now with a scarf tie around my wrists. With this I was ready to travel outdoors and experience the beauty and grandeur of Jaipur.

Megan getting gagged and veiled Rajasthani style

mccormick_delhi_p05Hawa Mahal

Our first stop was the Hawa Mahal, a brilliant red sandstone structure which was made for the women of the royal household to view processions down below the streets while hidden from public view, thus protecting their modesty. Rajesh was telling us about its history and architecture while we drove there. It was built in 1798 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, and designed by Lal Chand Ustad in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god. Its unique five-storey exterior is also akin to the honeycomb of the beehive with its 953 small windows called jharokhas that are decorated with intricate latticework. The original intention of the lattice was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen, since they had to observe strict “purdah”. Besides this, the lattice also provides cool air caused by the Venturi effect (doctor breeze) through the intricate pattern and thereby air conditioning the whole area during the high temperatures in summers.

From the tops of the palace, one can get a splendid view of the city of Jaipur, also called the “Pink city” for the pinkish coloration of the orange paint on most of the buildings in the old city. It was a fantastic view and a remarkable experience and this was only the start of experiencing the magic of Jaipur. The City Palace I’m told would be much more exciting and a far greater beauty than even the Hawa Mahal.

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Inside the City Palace

The City Palace, Jaipur, which includes the Chandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces and other buildings, is a palace complex in Jaipur, the capital of the Rajasthan state, India. It was the seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur, the head of the Kachwaha Rajput clan. The Chandra Mahal palace now houses a museum but the greatest part of it is still a royal residence. The palace complex, which is located northeast of the centre of the grid patterned Jaipur city, incorporates an impressive and vast array of courtyards, gardens and buildings. The palace was built between 1729 and 1732, initially by Sawai Jai Singh II, the ruler of Amber.

The palace houses a museum of the royal family as well as a temple devoted to the Krishna, called the Govindji temple. Unfortunately, non-Hindus are not allowed in the inner sanctum. We travelled through the fort and palace complex, saw the beautiful terrace garden on the impressive seven-storied Chandra Mahal and the magnificently styled gates, especially the Peacock gate.

Rest and an invite:

We travelled the Amber Fort and Hawa Mahal extensively. We explored well into the afternoon. The heat in the city was harsh but the scarves and ghunghat came in handy. Dipping the scarves in water was quite a useful trick. We decided to take some rest and ate at a vegetarian restaurant nearby. Mangala and I sat at the area reserved for women where we could take off our bonds and veils freely. That’s another thing to remember when travelling to Jaipur-Delhi-Agra, the gender segregations. All restaurants have to observe gender segregation in Jaipur.

Mangala explained to me about her family and their ancestral home. The history of their family dates back to the late 16th century as gem traders and the mansion is one of the more famous old ‘havelis’ of Jaipur. The description of the house had me excited and I was thrilled when she invited me over for dinner. I was however, made aware to follow particular customs of the house, including remaining veiled at all times and observing ‘voice and arm modesty’ . It would be a new experience for me in this journey, and would be interesting to see the lives the people live from their point of view.

The haveli:

Mangala and I travalled to the haveli with her husband at night. I was dressed for the occasion just as Mangala had advised. In their house all women must adhere to rules of modesty and guests are not exempted from this. Mangala helped me with the bindings, it seems they are very particular about which bondage measures to put on. So Mangala had brought a spare arm binder from her house for me to wear. With some help from her I was fully dressed for the occasion. I had to wear a sari this time too with a ghunghat covering over my head pulled down till my chest. Beneath that I had to cover up in the same way as a Punyanagari girl with two dupattas (one layer over the eyes for the eye veil and another wrapped on that in typical Punyanagari fashion) and be ballgagged and tape gagged over it. Not a very comfortable dress I must admit, but with the ornate sari and the ghunghat, I wouldn’t complain a thing about the elegance of the looks. Mangala was dressed similarly.

The haveli itself is located around 16 km North West on the outskirts of the city. It was a neat and stout building, made in typical Rajasthani style. Its walls made with the same saffron colored sandstone that characterizes most of the old architecture of Jaipur. When there I was given a taste of typical Rajasthani hospitality. Mangala’s mother-in-law and the rest of the family stood in wait for me at the portico of their mansion. The traditional mode of greeting a new guest is by performing ‘aarti’ which involves rotating a lamp on a plate in front of the guest as a mark of respect. At the end of the aarti flower petals were sprinkled on me.

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Traditional Rajasthani Dance of “Ghoomar”

I was guided to the main hallway by Mangala’s husband, Ravi. I was told then, that there would be a small show by dancers called by the house just for me. The cloth of the ghunghat was thin enough to see through and though my vision was blurred I could make out the fantastic show placed before me. I am told these dancers are from among the nomadic tribes who have roamed the deserts of Rajasthan for millennia and are in fact linked to gypsies in the west. The skill and style of the dancer was fantastic, and the performance overall was brilliant.

After the show, Mangala and her maids helped us to our chambers. The women of the family had a separate quarter for themselves and they had their own individual rooms where they live secluded from the rest of the household. Over here, we were free to unveil and untie our hands. Mangala told me about the lifestyle of the women of the family, which I was so curious to here.

“Our family the Sekhawatis hold modesty in high esteem as it is part of the honor of our house. I was originally from a more liberal household, while I did veil as is customary for all women in India, I never took bondage measures too seriously. It took me as a bit of a shock when the marriage was arranged for me with a conservative house like this. I give all thanks to my husband and wonderful mother-in-law for helping me adjust. Now I can’t imagine life without these restrictions. Usually at the home we are free to remain ungagged and untied as long as we keep to the women’s quarters, but if there are guests we are expected to slip into the right garb to present ourselves modestly. What that usually implies is, arm binding and a double layered gag. Of course, we’re veiled much like I was just moments ago, with a dupatta veil and a ghunghat covering over it. Most of the times though we’re not in this ornate saris and wear salwar suit and use a third dupatta to cover as a ghunghat.”

The mother-in-law joined us later on, and the maids brought tea and biscuits. They were both highly educated and articulate women, which for a westerner like me was an odd sight considering the conservative environment they had to live in. She had more or less the same story to share, she too hailed from a more liberal background from an elite marathi business family and had to train to get into bondage. Her restrictions however, are easier on account of her standing as an elder of the house and a mother. She is required to gag herself but not bind her hands. No woman, not even the eldest of the family must be seen speaking before male guests. While they are bound in body, I was pleasantly surprised to note that they were free in mind. Both women had an important role in the business of the family and were managers in the company.

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Megan tries out the bondage gear

Mangala proceeded to show her the bondage gear they wear at the house. In her closet there were about 3 types of arm binders and a somewhat queer looking mask. I was told that these days the “Ukranian gag” which is used widely on Christians in the Ukraine is finding popularity among more conservative sections of Indian society. Mangala tried it on herself to show how it worked, and offered me to try it. The gag covered from the bridge of the nose to the edge of the lower jaw and covered the whole lower face. Inside was a phallic shaped protrusion hindering speech. I wouldn’t say it was the most comfortable gag, but its velvet inner covering at least made it bearable. Later that night dinner was served in the woman’s quarters and we had signing and recitation put up for me as well.

Mangala later on dropped me to my hotel and suggested an outing in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow I intend to see the better known Amer fort and take one of the famous elephant rides there.

Amer fort and an elephant ride:

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Amer Fort elephants

The Amer fort is the most visited fort in Western India and lies at the outskirts of the city. The Amer Fort, as it stands now, was built over the remnants of this earlier structure during the reign of Raja Man Singh, the Kacchwaha King of Amber.The structure was fully expanded by his descendant, Jai Singh I. Even later, Amer Fort underwent improvements and additions by successive rulers over the next 150 years, until the Kachwahas shifted their capital to Jaipur during the time of Sawai Jai Singh II, in 1727.

Many of the ancient structures of the medieval period of the Meenas have been either destroyed or replaced. However, the 16th century impressive edifice of the Amer Fort and the palace complex within it built by the Rajput Maharajas are very well preserved. The fort had lovely late medieval Rajasthani architecture and a brilliantly planned lay out. The gardens were gorgeous. But the most attractive aspect of the fort structure is the gorgeous glasswork on the walls like the murals on the arches like the Ganesh Pol Entrance. The mirrored walls of the famed “sheesh mahal” *( literally glass room ) was another sight to behold. Most interesting however, was the ‘magic flower’ fresco carved on the base of a pillar of the sheesh mahal which showed seven unique designs.

While the sights were interesting, nothing excited me more than the elephant ride. As a kid I always held a romantic notion of riding an elephant, high above everyone else and looking down on the world from there. In truth, the ride wasn’t as ‘glorious’, it was a bit bumpy, but quite fun. We rested later near the sitting area at the palace gardens. This would be my last day in Jaipur and tomorrow I would be heading to Delhi. Mangala suggested some places to see and the contact of a friend and associate of her’s as well who could help me out over there. That day we treated at Mangala’s favorite restaurant in the city which served authentic Rajput food. This was food for the royals. Richly flavored with pungent spices and thick gravy with fine rice.

To Delhi:

The state transport busses ply at regular intervals between Delhi and Jaipur and I was told this is the most comfortable and convenient means to travel between the two cities. Since Jaipur-Delhi-Agra are integrated into one urban agglomeration road transport is very well developed. A usual bus journey takes no more than 4 hours on the highway. I was now donned in the same attire that I had arrived in from Punyanagari. A salwar, with a dupatta veil covering my eyes, and another layer over that. It felt quite relieving to be able to use my hands freely again. But the experience here would prepare me for more restricting customs elsewhere in my journey. I am grateful for Mangala for all her assistance and advise.

Delhi has two sectors, the old city and the new city known now as Hastinapur. The Old city has the bulk of remaining Mughal architecture including the famed Red Fort and the infamous Chandni Chowk and other attractions. The new city is more flashy and built in the image of the glory of the Maratha Empire. It is after all the Judicial Capital of India and is home to the Supreme Court. Over there I will experience a taste of Muslim culture in India, and gain more fascinating insights into this wonderful country.

Part 2: Delhi and Agra

Arrival at Delhi:

mccormick_delhi_p10Jaipur Agra expressway

The bus for Delhi actually arrived earlier than usual. Through this trip I’m really stunned at how well the roadways have developed in India, and most of it in the last fifteen years alone ! The bus that brought us to Delhi travelled on average at nearly a hundred kilometers per hour, but not once could I remember feeling the slightest bump.

I had the good luck to get a window seat in my bus, that way I could enjoy the fascinating Rajasthani scenery that we passed by. I saw dry deserts and rocky hills become fertile fields as we came near Delhi. Then as evening approached, the bright lights of New Delhi, Hastinapur, came up across the horizon. The Central terminus of Hastinapur, was a chic and ultra modern, though not quite as grand as its counterpart in Punyanagari.

I will be staying at Hastinapur but travelling to Old Delhi and Agra. On my agenda, are the three ‘gems’ of Mughal architecture, the Red Fort and Jama Masjid of Delhi and the Taj Mahal at Agra.

Day 1 : (preparations)

Now a very important thing to remember for anyone who is travelling to India, are segregation laws. Muslim areas are segregated from non-muslim areas within the territories of the Maratha empire, within the Indian sub-continent and in its overseas territories and have different laws imposed on them. Till recently, cities like Old Delhi which have a muslim majority suffered from the ill effects of ghettoization and isolation. Crime was rife and poverty was rampant. That was until recently when the ghettoes were opened up and cities like Old Delhi were opened for tourism.

Because of the segregation laws, Old Delhi and Agra have two parallel laws. Sharia law is imposed here but only for muslims. Non-muslims aren’t bound by any laws .. except ! Except laws pertaining to modesty. Not only that, but that there is a specific requirement that women should be veiled precisely in the Saudi tradition, that is with a niqab abaya and hijab. The only alternative that is permissible is an Afghan burqa or an Irani chador and ruband. It goes without saying of course, that bondage is a required addition with ‘mandatory voice and arm modesty measures’.

I had travelled most of Western India so far, without having to undergo a very dramatic change in my wardrobe and the modesty measures I adopted in Punyanagari were enough at least to get me accepted through Rajasthan, here however, I would have to adopt a completely new getup. I did not have the necessary clothes, so I enlisted the help of my pen pal, Maya. Though not a muslim herself, her work takes her into Old Delhi quite often and she has to have the necessary wardrobe for the job. She got me familiarized with the dress code there. First came the abaya, then the hijab, and then finally, the niqab, but before any of that came the typical bondage measures.

mccormick_delhi_p11Megan wearing niqab and abaya, mouth gagged

Like Rajasthan, the hands have to be bound as part of the modesty measures in Old Delhi. Maya put on her clothes for me as a demonstration before I got to wearing it. First off, she put on a muzzle gag which looked a bit scary at first. The gag had a panel with a ball attached to it for gagging and straps which could be locked behind the head. After that, she slipped on her abaya, then draped and wrapped the hijab in place. She was very skilful and neat with the hijab.

Finally, she tied on a three piece niqab which had one layer that could cover over the eyes and two others covering over the face. This would be the same kind of niqab I would wear. At the end came the modesty measures for her hands. Since she needs her hands to work, she uses a pair of custom made handcuffs with a foot long chain and soft leather straps for the cuffs. It allows for very limited mobility for her hands but does not render them completely useless.

I went through the ritual to be dressed up just right, with a muzzle gag on, then abaya, hijab and niqab. Since I didn’t need my hands as much as Maya’s she decided a full body harness for me which tied my hands behind my backs and secured my upper body with leather straps. Dressed like this, I was now ready to enter Old Delhi, but there was another requirement. No woman can travel without a male companion in the old quarters, so Maya’s brother would come with us today on this tour.

Into Old Delhi:

Old Delhi was witness to bloodshed in the latter part of the 19th century as Monarchist forces conducted purges on the muslim populations of the Indian sub-continent. As a consequence, many wonderful Mughal structures were completely ruined and the city itself was nearly reduced to rubble. The city slowly revived but without much of its grandeur. Only in the 1950s did the old structures of the city start being restored under the guidance of a heritage commission tasked to preserve places of significance in the empire. Among the places restored by this project was the infamous Chandni Chowk.

Sunday morning textile market, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India, Asia

Chandni Chowk market

The Chandni Chowk was the old market place of Delhi and resident to many of Delhi’s traders and artisans. This area was singled out for repression during the period of the purges, but reconstructed first by families of muslim settlers from elsewhere in India who made it their refuge, and then by the heritage commission restoring and rebuilding old mosques and temples. During its early phase, Chandni Chowk degenerated into a den of gambling, drug peddling and prostitution, but after its revival, it caters to more legitimate business interests. Not all businesses however, are totally legitimate. Among the popular trades over here are ‘second hand’ imitation watch making. Maya and I just bought ourselves a fake rolex for no more than $20.

Throughout the bazaar we saw exactly a dozen women. Everywhere we looked, we could only find men around us, some dressed in traditional islamic garb and others in modern western clothing but everyone wearing a skull cap and sporting a beard. Maya’s brother later explained to me that most muslims enforce seclusion for women and disallow them from going outdoors. Among the few who do venture out, are always strictly dressed in accordance with modesty rules for Old Delhi. I remember seeing two Gandhari couples, where the women were dressed in the traditional Afghani burqas. The others we saw were dressed in the same garb we were in, that is the Arabic niqab and abaya, but there was something more to them.

When I noticed they walked more slowly than us, I later asked Maya why it was so. She explained that our own bonds were actually comparatively light, most muslim women endure much tighter bondage that prevents them from moving freely, the objective aside from discouraging them to venture outside, was to make them completely dependent on the men when outside. She also explained to me that they were partially blinded by an underscarf !

As interesting as Chandni Chowk was , however, it wasn’t our main destination. We passed through the archaic bazaar till we came to our first destination. The Red fort.

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Red Fort

The Red fort was one of three gems of Mughal Architecture, built during the sixteenth century, under the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great. The architectural style synthesizes certain Indian elements within the framework of Persian architecture. The construction of the fort began in 1638 under the rule of the second Great Mughal, Emperor Shah Jahan. Its design is credited to Ustad Ahmad Khan Lahauri, who also designed the Taj Mahal. The fort was at one time the center of the old city, once known as Shahjahanabad.

The Red Fort once encompassed a much large area up to the banks of the Yamuna river, however after the revolution of 1871 and the purges large parts of the fort were destroyed by contending forces. Through the 18th and 19th centuries the fort changed many hands, between the Mughals, the Persians, the Marathas, the Sikhs and British. The fort was never officially used after 1871, and fell to decay and misuse till its restoration by the Heritage commission in 1956. After a massive restoration work, some of the fort’s original grandeur has been restored but much remains.

A museum was added later on as a memorial for the victims of the republican revolution of 1871. Maya, her brother and I toured through the main gardens and courtyards of the fort. The most interesting of the places we saw were the diwan-i-am and the diwani-i-khas where the Mughal emperor would hold court and pass judgment on matters presented before him. Both these structures are beautified with exquisite filigree work. We also saw the other attractions the fort had to offer like the Moti mahal and Rang Mahal, the latter housed the emperor’s wives. While I walked through there under my veils, I couldn’t help imagine a Mughal begum in her exquisite mughal clothing seated sensuously under her veils, pleasuring herself in the imperial harem. I must admit, it was quite an enticing thought.

I recall spending around two hours at the Red Fort travelling through the various courtyards and rooms of the fort and palace. Till now, I can’t remember ever tiring this easily under the veils and bonds, not in Pune nor even in Rajasthan, but here in Delhi under the pressure of the heat and the heavy veiling I had to sit down for rests often. Thankfully, there were many resting spots around the fort. I requested Maya to take off my harness for a while, before moving on ahead. Maya too decided to sit down and rest for a while. She admits it can get tiring this way if travelling for too long. For the rest of our trip, we decided that I should take up a simpler hand tie with a scarf binding on my wrists with my hands in front of me.

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Jama Masjid

Our next stop was the Jama Masjid. The second jewel of Mughal architecture in Old Delhi built around the same time as the Red Fort. Taj Mahal, at Agra and the Red Fort in New Delhi, which stands opposite the Jama Masjid.

The Jama Masjid was completed in 1656 AD (1066 AH), with three great gates, four towers and two 40 m-high minarets constructed of strips of red sandstone and white marble. About 25,000 people can pray here at a time. The mosque has a vast paved rectangular courtyard, which is nearly 75 m by 66 m. The whole of the western chamber is a big hall standing on 260 pillars all carved from Hindu and Jain traditions. The central courtyard is accessible from the East. The Eastern side entrance leads to another enclosure containing the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmed Shah.

These two places took up our time in Old Delhi for today. Tomorrow we would travel to Agra and see the crowning jewel of Mughal architecture in India, the Taj Mahal.

To Agra:

After a day of travelling and experiencing Old Delhi, I chilled out at Maya’s place and we talked about her work and about Old Delhi. It was hard enough for me to just walk around with the bonds I had to wear, to think what the average muslim woman must endure was quite unnerving, yet they still do it. Maya explained, “Most muslims are very conservative about how they appear out of their homes. Going out is discouraged for women, but no one can stay indoors forever. So as a further discouragement they are made to wear very restricting garments. Over time, the women have grown used to it and accepted it.”

It sounded strange to me how women could simply “accept” such submission. The more I learnt about the muslims of India the more curious I became. Maya herself told that she has grown to enjoy the muslim garb as well and at times would simply like to dress up with a niqab and abaya at home. Though not forbidden, the garb is not seen with good eyes by non-muslims in India. We discussed our plans for tomorrow and our visit to Agra, which like Old Delhi is a Muslim majority town. Though rules are somewhat more relaxed there, it is still compulsory to dress under strict modesty including voice and arm modesty.

We left early in the morning for Agra, dressed in simple Punyanagari style. Neither me nor Maya wanted to be restrained so early in the morning. It is advisable to leave early when going to Agra for the Taj, mostly because the crowds become too much to bear towards the day. It is a two and half hour drive by car from Delhi to Agra and it would take another twenty minutes to reach the Taj.

Once we had reached Agra, we had to stop to change into the necessary attire i.e the niqab, abaya and hijab.

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Taj Mahal

In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire’s period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess, died during the birth of their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan’s grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian architecture and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including; the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand),Humayun’s Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan’s own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, and buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.

After the 18th century, the Mughal empire grew weak and rival lords and kings conducted bold raids into the Mughal heartland. The Taj was attacked several times in the 18th century by Jat kings of Bharatpur who looted the structure of the Taj for precious stones and silver. The final fall came in the late 19th century when the structure was raided by monarchist forces who demolished the outer structures of the Taj and completely defaced the arch of the Taj of semi-precious stones.

The structure as it stands at present is heavily reconstructed and restored at great expense by the heritage commission. The monument falls within the Agra ghetto area but has been declared as a special zone under central administration. Up to a million tourists from within the Maratha empire and beyond come here through the year to gaze upon its awe inspiring beauty. When I walked through the main gate, it felt so surreal, when walking up to the fantastic white marble structure it was like, walking up to heaven.

For this part of the trip, I decided to dress light, after my experience at Old Delhi, while it wasn’t necessary to be in bondage at in islamic garb inside the Taj (and many weren’t), we decided to be dressed that way anyways since we would have to pass through Agra town. The only bondage measures I kept from Old Delhi was the muzzle, but for my arm restraints I decided to imitate Maya’s with a simple wrist cuff. With these it was far less hassling to roam around the Taj than it was at Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort.

It is advisable to dress lightly under the abaya, wear light cotton clothes or short western clothing if you plan to travel in summer or spring time, because the heat in North India is terrible. In winter, the temperatures drop down to around five degrees centigrade and fog occurs regularly, so bear that in mind when travelling here. Pack warm clothes for the winter.

Back in Delhi:

We drove back to Delhi in the evening after exploring the Taj and Agra. The town wasn’t much, but the handicraft of the region is famous across the world. We bought some nice souvenirs to take back home, a marble cup holder and a stone lamp.

As I had planned it originally, Agra was supposed to be the last stop in the trip around Delhi, the next morning I would catch the Lahore express to Gandhara. Then Maya requested that I stay back for the morning at least, so that I could explore a bit of New Delhi/Hastinapur. She insisted that no trip to Delhi is complete without experiencing the new city with its own fair share of architectural delights.

Hastinapur was built by the British and the Marathas, on the ruins of Old Delhi. There are three phases of development of the city, the British phase beginning with ‘Lutyen’s Delhi’, the elite administrative area of the city where the Supreme Court is located. This area was developed when the city was still under British administration between 1871 and 1925. At that time, ‘New Delhi’ as the British called it would act as the regional capital for its Asiatic colonies. The stately governor’s palace was constructed and the rest of the city was built around it including the Supreme Court. The architectural style incorporates Indian and British themes.

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The Supreme Court

The new city contrasted a lot with the old city, though Delhi came under a conservative governor, the restrictions upon women have not perturbed them from leaving their homes and doing work, much like Punyanagari. The women are mostly veiled in the same style as Punyanagari, the only compulsory bondage measure is for gags for which no particular gag has been prescribed.

I roamed around dressed much like I was at Punyanagari, with my much more comfortable ballgag. Maya took me to a famous restaurant specializing in frontier cuisine called Bukhara. It is said that this was the restaurant that invented the tandoori chicken that is so famous all over the world. The owner is a migrant from the frontier region of Gandhara and so specialized in the cuisine of his homeland. Ever since it first opened ship in Delhi, it has grown in popularity to become the city’s premier restaurant.

After the delicious lunch Maya arranged for, we went out for some shopping in one of Hastinapur’s mega malls. The malls here are at least as good as Punyanagari, all the best brands from across the world are here not to mention the mall experience. We shopped for hours and ended with a relaxing walk at the Haus Khas village. I was grateful to Maya for showing me around her city and for the whole experience.

Delhi and Agra were very interesting cities and this felt like a fitting end to this leg of my journey from Jaipur to Agra. I shifted my original morning time booking at the Lahore express to the evening train which left at 7 in the evening. It would take me across the Khyber pass to the city of Kabul.

It is said that Gandhara is where India both begins and ends. This is where I will find another face of the Maratha empire and I can’t wait to experience it.

Follow me on soon as I travel to Kabul, the capital of the Gandhara province.

Back to Megan McCormick’s Veiled Journeys introduction…

Back to the Maratha Empire menu…

 

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