It is the age of Instagram. It is the age of travel-influencing and always discovering new locations and corners. It is the age of ditch-this-pick-that. It is the age of attending to unique locations and uncharted territory first. It is the age of avoiding the crowds greater than ever—extra so due to the pandemic. If, in the present day, I ask you to take a long-weekend journey to Agra, town of the Taj Mahal, will not you snigger silently and name me an untutored traveller with opinions unworthy of anyone’s time?
In case you do, it will be the largest philosophical paradox ever. And the largest error of your life. Permit me to elucidate: earlier this yr, I took a visit to the exact same metropolis whose historic sheen by no means appears to uninteresting away. Driving from Delhi, we received cruising on the Yamuna Expressway, and in just below three hours, pulled up at Ekaa Villa, Agra’s first, and thus far, solely boutique resort. Our hosts, a few enterprising younger males captivated with their commerce, apologised for the development work occurring throughout the street and pushed the gates open.
We shortly settled down at Ekaa, a uniquely experiential boutique providing barely a five-minute drive away from the best-known resident of the previous Mughal capital. Thoughtfully crafted and stylishly crafted, Ekaa introduced its arrival into our lives for that weekend immediately. Lunch—a steamy affair on all counts—kicked off our maiden Agra expertise, with kadhi chawal the centrepiece. The perimeters—achaars and chutneys—had been from host Udit Hooda’s house-garden, and the wheat used within the healthful rotis that delivered bliss in each chew, got here from a girls’s collective in Jharkhand.
Having feasted thus within the coronary heart of a metropolis that has identified royalty and at a spot that looks like a gourmand’s den, because the solar ready to plunge beneath the horizon, we went for the Secret Taj expertise. An Ekaa particular, the brief tour whisked us away to a tila-top by means of the dusty night of the Taj Reserve Forest, for an unique excessive tea. Our hosts, with the assistance of a workers member, had a desk laid out on the edge of what’s a slightly low precipice. Was this the identical Agra whose warmth and dirt Babur had complained about in his memoirs?
Our gaze issued from increased up, the place we stood near a mazaar, and ricocheted off the snacks desk on to the silhouette of the Taj Mahal. Its domes and minars, oblivious of our surreptitious non-public viewing session, canoodled blithely with the departing solar. Because the sundown reached its crescendo and the sky grew flushed, tea and snacks had been served. Stretched out on deck-style chairs, we sipped pleasant espresso and polished off desi snacks—bakery-style biscuits, choti kachoriyaan, gulab jamun and samosey and the indispensable, urban-gathering and office-party staple dhokla; petha and dal moth from the home of Gopal Das Pethe Wale had been supplied, too, inevitably.
With regards to Agra, the Taj Mahal can by no means be off the desk. Be that as it might, Ekaa prides itself on delivering a singular Agra expertise that bypasses town’s most illustrious movie star. In additional methods than one, our hosts’ enthusiasm appeared like an earnest endeavour in direction of carving an identification for town paying homage to the opposite cultural strongholds of Uttar Pradesh—Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Prayagraj and the like. The flavour bombs churned out within the Ekaa kitchen are a testomony to that actual fact.
Which is how dinners, set to reside Indian classical music, reveal a tasteful coming collectively of town’s historic splendour and on a regular basis culinary finesse. I’m a agency believer in the truth that north Indian delicacies nonetheless has quite a bit to deliver to the smorgasbord of Indian gastronomy, and the choices of the thali right here—paneer ki sabzi, pulao, makhaane ki kheer, multigrain rotis, tangy chaat and evanescent gajar ka halwa—make you come dwelling to Agra. There’s nothing fancy tried right here however the deftness and curation of substances, to not neglect sufficient emphasis on bringing out numerous flavours and textures with managed spice ranges, deliver the northern plains proper onto your palate. How else would you not miss consuming Mughlai sitting within the coronary heart of a former Mughal capital?
I’m a sucker for nice atmosphere, and the mix of the brand new and the previous right here when it comes to stylistic and architectural components was a deal with to the attention. The cypress tree, signifying sustainable contemporaneity and a throwback to town’s Mughal historical past, is a recurrent motif right here. Deep, wealthy colors and classic patterns just like the chessboard ground of the lobby present pleasing accents, as do the stylised ceiling panels and moodily formed headboards.
Ekaa could be Agra’s first boutique resort on paper, however the care taken of the customer right here is in keeping with a singular, villa really feel. There’s sufficient privateness for travellers of all types but in addition conviviality by means of the stylishly accomplished lobby and eating space the place the communal aesthetic of the hostel is summoned fairly effortlessly. The hosts, engrossing conversationalists, perceive the place and its tradition just like the again of their hand, and have curated experiences for journey lovers, gourmands, tradition aficionados and shutter-happy travellers. We had been handled to an exhilarating Chambal Safari—an expertise I by no means thought I may have on a go to to Agra. The following day, we had been taken for a street-food stroll within the Chaat Gali and the most effective breakfast run of my life as I gorged on heavenly bedhai and kadaahi doodh on the Pushpak Mishthaan Bhandaar.
After which there are little touches right here and there, like selfmade ladoos and pinniyaan that had been lavished upon us (can I neglect the artisanal espresso and petha and dal moth within the in-room pantry?) which might be sufficient to maintain you coming again to Agra simply to remain right here.
Oh, and get your furry pals, too. They’re pet-friendly.