Peacocks no longer call on the way to Agra.
Instead, there is the buzz of sleek sedans zipping past each other on the super-fast, six-lane Yamuna Expressway. Garishly emblazoned tourist buses block the middle lane. Tractor-trailers trundle their produce from one ancient village to another. Agra is no longer a destination, but a four-hour distraction from Delhi, reports The Hindu.
“People prefer to make a quick trip from Delhi and get back after a dekko at the country’s most famous monument, the incomparable Taj Mahal,” says a tour operator.
“We call it the accident expressway,” proclaims Sahadev, the driver of our hired taxi. The skeletons of cars have been left on the median like colourful dragonflies. The concrete surface is flecked with fly ash from thermal power stations that cause automobile tyres to explode unless they are properly maintained.
We halt at the midway points. We are in cow belt country but the refreshments are of global brands, offering coffee and doughnuts. There are also kiosks selling kullad chai, sweet and hot from slow-fired clay cups. The owners lounge in crackling white kurta-pyjamas, reinforcing the idea of the aspirational society of the nouveau U.P. farmer-turned-entrepreneur.
The Yamuna Express is a red light warning of the Disneyfication of India’s iconic cultural landmark.
It is not just the peacocks that have left, but also the foreign tourists. There has been a fall of some 50,000 international visitors this year. According to some forecasts, the number is likely to double.