On our first day in Delhi we met our tour guide Ahmer Khan, who was to be our guide for the two days we spent in the city. Ahmer is a writer and freelance tour guide. During our time together we talked history, literature, politics, Islam, and the tour he had before us; a 3-day cycle tour through the mountains in the north. He loves taking tourists off the beaten track, both in place and in story telling, which is what I enjoyed most about his company. The insights he gave about his city can’t be found in any book.
We first went to the beautiful Qutub Minar, which is an ancient minaret built in the 1200s. Being a UNESCO heritage site and therefore a popular tourist destination, the entire site was made accessible with ramps and kerb cuts all over the place – the first time I had actually seen this during my time in India. I’m from little New Zealand, where heritage sites are less than 100 years old. I couldn’t quite understand that I was standing in a place where some of the greatest minds in human history have been standing, innovating and designing for thousands of years.
We woke up early to drive three hours to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Both sites blew my mind with their ingenuity and the stories behind them. But I don’t believe there is any structure in the world quite like the Taj Mahal. It is truly one of those places that you have to see with your own eyes to believe it. As you walk through the gateway, it appears in all its majesty and perfection. The entire complex is completely symmetrical. Even the four pillars were designed with purpose; facing outwards so that a potential earthquake wouldn’t cause them to fall inwards and crush the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.
Our guide in Agra was Gulshan Munghni. Born and raised in Agra, the history and beauty of his city is everything to him. He made absolute sure that we didn’t leave without experiencing everything there is to see in Agra. I truly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the city’s rich history without the level of detail he gave in his stories.
In both Agra Fort and Taj Mahal, there are people lined up at the entrance whose jobs it is to push people in wheelchairs around the site. As they saw me coming, they flipped a coin to decide who will be my chauffeur before I even realised what was going on. Each person has their own price and in both places we paid 400 rupees ($NZD9) to take me around, take photos and some fun banter.
India blew my mind. I never in a million years thought I would feel so comfortable in a place that for someone using a wheelchair is so inaccessible. I was exhausted, but I was home.