A prison, nonetheless

Agra, India. Today we visited Agra Fort, built by the Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1573 on the site of an ancient fortification. A large part of it is still in use by the Indian Army, picking up where the Brits left off, who took over the fort at some point and, sadly, destroyed many of its buildings to put up their barracks.

The parts of the fort that we were able to see, including sections of the palace, caused us to remark again about the beauty and artistry of the design of this era. While much earlier than say Versailles, this palatial architecture exudes a grace and serenity that its contemporaneous Western extravagances seem to lack. (Though the monkeys roaming the grounds had a few ungracious things to say about some of the tourists.)

But it’s one story of this fort that gives it extreme poignance and romance. It was here that Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son for eight years, and where he spent the last years of his life until he died in 1666. While his private apartments were of the finest quality, he was still unable to leave.

But he was able to constantly see his amazing creation, the Tah Mahal, which seems to draw tantalizingly close and then recede, depending on where you stand. Was that to be a form of torture, or was it a kindness from his son? Who knows. But what amazing views he had.

The halls and the various courtyard speak to a very gracious life, richly ornamented and well-planned for cooling and relaxing. Another residence that would have been quite comfortable, even in the 16th century.

It is a very popular tourist site for Indians, and we were among the few foreigners here today. That meant that I – for some reason, no interest in Don – was asked to be in many family pictures. One family with eight kids had each of them pose separately with me. Yes, all the girls are beautiful and all the boys are very handsome, as I tell their parents. Here is my favorite little princess of the day.

We are now very attuned to the architectural language of medieval India. And we find it quite entrancing.

Don’s Food Corner

It was a scorching hot day and taking in one sight, the fort, was plenty enough — except for lunch. We had a specific restaurant in mind that is on the top of the list of all the guide books – A Pinch of Spice. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be good, just as a high Trip-Advisor rating doesn’t always mean much. But today at Pinch of Spice, it had everything we were looking for: a very extensive “multinational” menu, good prices, big portions, fast service and clean, modern surroundings.

Jo ordered from the Chinese offerings. It was some type of generic-looking chicken dish that turned out to be very spicy.

I went for a local favorite — butter chicken or murgh makhani. This is not a traditional dish. Instead, it was invented in the late 1940s in Delhi and incorporates a lot of cream and butter into a mild tomato sauce. I believe in the U.K. it’s known as tikka masala in Indian restaurants there. Well, it’s a winner. Boneless chicken swimming around in a delightful, albeit not so complicated, light curry. Now, you see butter chicken on almost every restaurant menu in Indian, but I had avoided it until now because of its non-traditional origin. But I think I got what is very close to the original recipe. (I’m going to add this to my repertoire. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser.) We also had some desserts to offset the heat of the lunch!

Interestingly, the restaurant was packed at 2:00, with very few Westerners, despite its ubiquitous guidebook recommendations.

P.S. Have we ever mentioned how much we hate towel art – in any country?

P.P.S. Tomorrow is a travel day, so not much news from the Agra airport to be expected.

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