The Road to Agra

It’s not just the streets in India that are dirty. It is the air. The dust is everywhere and at the end of the day my hair feels like a well used floor mop (those of you who feel inclined to comment on that statement are requested not to). If I wipe my hair with a towel, it leaves the towel with dirty brown and reddish streaks. I try not to think about what it is doing to the clothes I am wearing let alone my lungs.
Joginder’s bedroom suffers the same fate. At the end of each day it is covered in dust and he has to wash the outside of it every evening. But today is a special day. Joginder has decided to spend the day cleaning the inside of his bedroom. Unfortunately it is also the day he is driving us to Agra.
He is doing 60 miles per hour while negotiating the trucks, motorbikes and cows, when he suddenly
rummages around on the floor underneath his seat and produces a large and rather grimy duster. He gives it a shake and then proceeds to vigourously wipe down the dash board. He starts on the top, carefully cleaning all the way to the windscreen, into the corners and then moves down to the instrument panel, but finds that the steering wheel gets in the way.
Problem solving is one of Joginder’s talents and he quickly realises that he has to go through the steering wheel rather than round it. For the next several minutes he drives with one hand on the wheel and the other through it polishing the glass. If he had to swerve suddenly he would do serious damage to his arm. As he concentrates more and more on the the cleaning he pays less attention to his driving and our speed gets slower and slower
When he has got the instrument panel gleaming he switches his attention to the gear stick and then to the sides of his seat. Finally and rather dangerously he starts wiping the front of his seat and the floor. This requires him to bend forward into a position where it is virtually impossible to see out of the windscreen.
The cars behind start blowing their horns, Joginder sits up and realises that we are crawling along at walking speed. He returns his attention to the driving and we pick up speed again. We assume that he has come to his senses and will stop cleaning, but we are wrong. He moves on to the radio. He removes the outer housing and places it on the seat next to him. Then he attempts to pull out the entire radio. It is not an easy operation and requires two hands. But fortunately Joginder can drive with his knees, cleverly gripping the steering wheel between them. It is a neat party trick but one that inspires very little confidence in his passengers – which would be us. We are terrified.

He continues driving like this while he holds the radio in one hand and dusts it with the other. He examines the radio, blows on it and dusts it again, all the time paying virtually no attention to the road.
We spend most of our time with our eyes closed, which is a particularly useless and rather stupid reaction, but at least we can’t see what’s going on. Finally he finishes cleaning the front of the bedroom.
I have a terrible feeling that he will turn and start cleaning around the back seats, perhaps asking us to climb into the luggage area, but he decides that might be a little risky and finally puts the duster away and settles down to his main job, which is driving us safely to Agra in, what must be said, is a sparklingly clean bedroom.

We are on a good four lane divided highway and the driving is boring. Joginder suddenly brightens. There is what appears to be a rest area up ahead. A slip road leaves the main road and returns to it a couple of hundred yards later. There are cars and trucks parked along it. Joginder pulls off and tells us this is the red light district. There is a line of huts along the road, each one containing a bed with two or three women sitting on it. Joginder explains that they are all for hire and will cost anywhere from 200 to 500 rupees ($3.20 – $8.00) depending on what we want. He grins and says that we can have very young girls if that is what we would like. Joginder has been on the road with us for almost four weeks and he is clearly ready for a little “relaxation”. We finally realise why Joginder chose this particular day to clean his bedroom.
He is willing us to say that we would like to stop, and if we did it is clear that we would not have a driver or a car for an hour or so. We tell him to keep driving. He does so very slowly and with great reluctance, his eyes still firmly focused on the selection of women and not on the road. After we pass the huts there is an open grassy area with a few wooden beds and considerably less attractive women sitting around. Joginder expains that this is where we can get really cheap girls, obviously thinking that we turned down the delights of the girls in the huts because they were too expensive, and hoping that this bargain basement of whores will be too much for us to resist and we will ask him to stop.
When we finally persuade Joginder that none of the delightful women on display is quite what we are looking for, he drives on dejectedly. He asks if we have places like this in America.
I say “no, we just have regular truck stops”
But he appears to mishear the word ‘truck’, and grins from ear to ear

We continue with our virginity still intact. At a certain point the road suddenly and dramatically changes. It narrows to a regular two lane road in exceedingly bad condition. Traffic reduces to a crawl as it tries to negotiate the potholes, and the broken and cracked pavement. Even Joginder has to slow down. We are surprised as this is the main road from Jaipur to Agra. But Joginder explains that we have just left the state of Rajasthan and entered the state of Uttar Pradesh. UP, as it is known, is the home of Agra, the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. It has a huge income from tourists and should be trying to impress them with how they put the tourist dollar to good use. But all that money invites corruption, and corruption has wholeheartedly accepted the invitation. The money disappears and the state of Uttar Pradesh suffers

Finally, we arrive in Agra. The roads are the worst we have seen, and are lined with huge areas of abject poverty. The traffic, grime, filth and dirt are appalling. Huge areas of trash line the sides of the road and are being picked over by cows, dogs, goats, pigeons, monkeys and people. Men are urinating at the side of the road and occasionally squatting with their trousers round their ankles.
How can this be the home of the world’s most beautiful building? Five million people visit the Taj Mahal every year, and bring a huge income to the city, but none of it finds its way back to the local people.

It is a very sad comment on the country and the politicians.
India should be ashamed.

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