Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Agra Pharmacy
IWFS Delhi Agra and Jaipur Day Five - Friday 3rd March 2017 

Excursion to Fatehpur Sikri
8.30am | Casual
"After breakfast, we depart for the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri – a city in the Agra District of Uttar Pradesh, India, founded in 1569 by the Emperor Akbar. This city, well known for the red sandstone buildings that adorn its centre, served as the capital of the Mughal Empire during 1571 to 1585."

I seem to recall a cool morning of grey and light rain and looking from the room onto a wooded area full of birds and squirrels and feeling quite pacified by it all. Think I sat with a Cafe 21 coffee (our standby instant sachet packed brought from Malaysia) and took it all in whilst Lenglui showered and did make up. Very pleasant way to greet the new day.

Packed all for the day and went to breakfast. which was pretty meagre and thin compared to previous experience. Dry toast, coffee, some grim looking eggs (I think) and other totally forgettables. I stuck with coffee and bananas and dried toast with butter and jam. Stick with the safe and the staples - didn't fancy a dose of the Delhi belly on the bus and this breakfast fare did not totally inspire confidence against such a possibility.

Toilets at Fatehpur Sikri - not unpleasant
We all piled onto the bus for a one hour ish drive to our destination for the day. The photos recall a request for an early stop at a Pharmacy by Joyless and Dippy (what a surprise…) to stock up on some apparently necessary bits. Which I thought was quite courageous - chomping down on foreign manufactured meds; bit like drinking the water to my mind and something to be avoided. I seem to recall handing Joyless a bandage for Dippy's arm from my backpack first aid kit somewhere during one of the bus trips. Don't recall a thank you. So it goes. Always look to be the bigger person. 

Inside the Fatehpur Sikri
We arrived at the Fatehpur Sikri and got dropped off near the entrance to get divvied up into smaller groups for the tours. Some of us naturally headed to the washroom, figuring it might be some time before we saw another.  I seem to remember getting told it was a huge complex in its day and we drove past the outer walls on the way back which were indeed a fair distance from the central complex. Must have been most impressive in its day. 

Well kept gardens and walkways
From Wikipedia: Fatehpur Sikri is a town in the Agra District of Uttar Pradesh, India. The city itself was founded as the capital of Mughal Empire in 1571 by Emperor Akbar, who served in this role from 1571 to 1585, after which Akbar abandoned it due to a campaign in the Punjab. It was later completely abandoned in 1610. The name of the city derives from the village called Sikri which occupied the spot before. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) excavation from 1999-2000 indicated that there was a habitation here before Akbar built his capital. It was also a much-loved place of Babur who called it Shukri (meaning "thanks") for its beautiful lake of water. He used it both for relaxation and for watering his armies. The khanqah of Sheikh Salim existed earlier at this place. Akbar's son Jahangir was born at the village of Sikri in 1569 at which point Akbar constructed a religious compound to commemorate the Sheikh who had predicted the birth. After Jahangir's second birthday, he began the construction of a walled city and imperial palace. The city came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri, the "City of Victory", after Akbar's victorious Gujarat campaign in 1573.

Sunshine and shade
I bought the book about the place but frankly have not yet got arsed enough to read about it. Old buildings don't quite do it for me. They are mostly about the dead and how they lived in the heat and slavery of being bounden to the Mughal or whoever was cracking the whip at the time. Good to serve as a memory of not wishing to return to such servitude, but the romance of how life was lived in the past has always left me cold. Give me life and the living! Give me what can be rather than what was! Having said this, there was some lovely stonework gone into the construction of the complex. Lots of space for living and serving and getting served. The pilgrims meandered around and took the photos and listened to the guide. I found a workers gang on the far side laying some foundation for some addition to the complex. Now THIS was probably how it was centuries ago - labouring under the sun to build something for future generations to ogle at and wonder what it is all for…

Little Piggies!!
Returning to the bus, got greeted by a dozen or so little piglets that were running quite wild and free behind the toilet section. Also a couple of obligatory dogs lolling in the shade. A final pee before back on the bus and back to the "stunning Oberoi Villas for an international themed lunch." Which felt similar to the one we had had the day before (I think - don't remember much about it). They still could not find my notebook. Bastard. 

Took some photos, some nice ones of Lenglui. Can't remember much about the food or wine - too long ago and still pissed about my missing notebook.

Buffet lunch at Oberoi Amarvilas
Lenglui at the Buffet
Yum yum!!
Red Fort/Agra Fort Tour 2.30pm | Casual
"This tour will take us to this 11th century UNESCO World Heritage site, that was once home to the Mughal Dynasty. Agra Fort is a beautiful red stone fortress which wraps around a former imperial city of Mughal rulers. Behind its walls, you will find several stunning palaces and mosques."

Red Fort. Of course.
Well, and yes, and again hot in the sun and cool in the shade. Quite an impressive walk through the gate and up the cobblestones, then along through pretty gardens into the fort complex itself. The red sandstone brick does make for an impressive mass of impassive wall against the hordes of whoever might want to throw themselves at it for conquering purposes. But apart from that, again I don't remember much about it. Maybe also getting a bit tired of all the touristing and in need of a day off to recharge. Maybe.

We took the photos and ambled around the lots of rooms where the old idle rich pleasured themselves, The one memory was seeing the Taj Mahal from a distance and seeing it surrounded by…   nothing. It rose out of the ground, a silver white temple surrounded by dark murky earth and bush. An oddly strange sight, all that wealth and prestige in the apparent middle of nowhere. 
Inside the Red Fort complex

Think someone said this was the Harem...
The Taj Mahal, oddly isolated
Visit To ‘M/S Kohinoor Jewellers’, Museum Of Zari Exclusive Panels
"We will visit ‘M/s Kohinoor Jewellers’ and the museum of Zari exclusive panels. Kohinoor Jewellers is home to the Good Shepherd, an embroidery masterpiece which took 18 years to complete."

En route back to Agra, we got unloaded at a pretty non descript doorway which led into the Koh I Noor jewellery store. Whether they are related to the famous diamond itself was not made clear, but there were some stunning visuals on display. From the website www.kohinoorjewellers.com: Launched by (Late) Mr. Brij Gopal Mathur in 1862, Kohinoor Jewellers claim to draw "inspiration from the antiquity of the Indus Valley civilization or the great Himalayan mountain range and is also a truly global collection with influences of impressionism and modern art."

Inside the Kohinoor showroom
Entrance to Oberoi Amarvilas
The flagship 3-storey store of Kohinoor Jewellers in Agra "is not just an experiential store but also a museum. Exhibiting an alluring selection of needle and thread, three-dimensional handcrafted embroidery and precious artifacts that are passionately preserved and showcased to connoisseurs from all over the world. The Kohinoor Museum in an extravaganza of art with sound and light presentation and is a must-see for all those with an eye for tasteful art and heritage." 

The museum was some wonderful theatre and showcased some seriously stunning embroidery pieces. Peacocks, sheep with Jesus, and a huge Taj Mahal were unveiled from behind a glass partition in a darkened viewing room. Photos don't do it justice. 

We got a private viewing of some of the apparently more famous works before being shuttled back to the showroom for a final attempt to get sold on some bling and then back on the bus for return to the hotel and a get dressed for dinner. Certainly well worth a stop if en route from Delhi to Agra - just make sure to keep the ladies away from the bling. Though Lenglui was surprisingly restrained on this blingfest and bought nothing. I asked if she was feeling all right and she morosely said "nothing to buy…" 

Entrance to Oberoi Amarvilas
Between here and dinner, my memory got burned with an image beyond description. I was chatting with one of the fellow pilgrims en route back to the room when one of the doors opened and I got a sight of Joyless dressed in nothing more than some purple sheer wrap around her mid section that barely covered the sagging chest and belly and asking what time was the dinner tonight. And looking like she had come directly out of the shower to find out. Lord, I can see it still - a face once fair but now ragged and ravaged by time, baggy eyes shining with the dim fire of lost purpose and growing dementia - clearly had forgotten that I was the focal point of her ire the previous day. And the shapeless purple mass - a dead spit for Ursula from The Little Mermaid. I think I said Yes to her question and the door closed with what I surmise was a smile. Me and the pilgrim looked at each other, in disbelief and shock at what had just transpired. "Did we just see that?" I asked. He nodded. In some strange grim silence we walked on down the hall to our separate doors, knowing that somehow we would be forever connected by this… it is beyond a name. Scarred am I, as is he. 

Jag getting turbanned
Dinner at The Oberoi Amarvilas
7.00pm | Smart Casual (Return to hotel by 10.30pm)
"With stunning views of the Taj Mahal, and being one of the best hotels in India and the world, we return to the Oberoi Amarvilas for another stunning dinner, but this time the menu will feature coastal Indian cuisine."

At dinner we found that our friend had sorted out his overstaying and was happy and grateful for the support he had received from our hosts and organisers. Still true - it isn't what you know, is always who. A delightful walk through the stonework of the Oberoi to our Champagne reception and more small talk whilst sipping the fizz in the darkling night.  

Dinner found us sat on the same table and with the same people as I recall - so it goes, but usually I understand it is normal to mix it up a bit. Maybe just got overlooked. Either that or I have pissed off someone senior somewhere along the way. So it goes. Supposedly Coastal cuisine, it was more curry and breads and all very tasty. Though I cannot distinguish any of the individual dishes, except that those with yoghurt were smoother and creamier. Naturally. The endless Garlic Naan to soak up the curry was delightful. The wines all pleasant and plentiful, though again the reds a bit too powerful for the curries. I recall seeing a number of half to three quarter full bottles of the delightfully full bodied St Francis Zinfandel remaining near the table and figuring to souvenir a couple for Jaipur. Also as a memory of Lenglul and I having visited this vineyard circa 2004. Waste not, want not. It would prove a tasty addition to the room service we would order in the Jaipur Hilton. There were more Turban opportunities, which I declined on this occasion - they do cause headaches and the booze does enough of this on its own without any help from anything way too tightly wound around the skull. 

Rajiv Kehr getting a gong from Yvonne, Hotel Manager looking hopeful for similar...
And that was it. Rajiv got gonged by Yvonne for his organising of the Festival, a couple of speeches followed, more chit chat around the table and then pile back on the bus and back to our hotel. I do recall singing "What A Wonderful World" on the bus back to our hotel and getting warm praise from everyone. Joyless made a particular point to commend my "luvley voice you 'ave" - I just smiled Sphinx like through it all. On arrival, there was a beautiful red Mustang parked outside the reception which got new friend Richard and me off on a chorus of Mustang Sally (he remembered it from the movie The Commitments [he is of Irish descent] whilst I knew it from earlier Wilson Pickett) and got a couple of photos. Back to the room, packed the souvenired bottles into the wine bags for the journey on the morrow and fell into bed. Good night.


Chefs and Dessert
The Wines and Sommeliers
Mustang Sally, dunka dunka doombahb...dunka dunka doombahb...
Take me to Delhi...

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