The picturesque and travel writing.
The pursuit of the picturesque is truly over. You might discover a little known temple or a magnificent ruin - a perfect place for a picnic - but rest assured on your next visit there will be a tourist bus and a mass of people. Contemplating architecture in silent solitude is a thing of the past.
Right: The picturesque at its height: 'Portugal and Madeira', by Sacheverell Sitwell .
Travel and genre writers such as Robert Byron 'The Road to Oxiana', Bruce Chatwin 'In Patagonia', Patrick Leigh-Fermor 'Mani' and Roderick Cameron 'Shadows of India' never had to contend with the vast changes of contemporary life.
Rory Cameron - a writer and aesthete with impeccable taste - was a friend whose book 'Shadows from India' , and the photographs he took, made me long for India before I first went.
A writer, historian and journalist William Dalrymple (an admirer of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Bruce Chatwin) wrote 'Nine Lives, In Search of the Sacred in Modern India', preceded by the scintillating and charming Gita Mehta's 'A River Sutra' - an enchanting novel on similar themes.
On a recent trip to India I re-read 'Nine Lives' and, more to the point, The Age of Kali, 'Indian Travels and Encounters' [published in 1998]. This fascinating book is as relevant today as it was fourteen years ago in its perception of modern India - no holds barred - a must for any traveller to the subcontinent - do not be alarmed, change is inevitable - it is travel writing up-to-date.
India has changed hugely and so much the better. An Asian economic giant, its success means new roads, a growing and prosperous middle class and endeavours to alleviate poverty are increasing as a result.
In contrast to my last three visits when there were a few stragglers and ill-kept gardens - now very well maintained - and no picnics or lolling about on the lawns, the crowds are now regimented, the paths packed with people, shoulder to shoulder, chatting good-naturedly and taking photographs - the poses are highly professional [thanks to the movies and T.V.], vast numbers in festive mood but to enter the mausoleum is to be in Dante's Inferno.
The Taj from a distance is magical - with a light fog, the brilliant white marble changing to gold, the proportions seem impeccable, it has a refinement and purity of line like no other building.
New hotels have made sure that all their rooms have a view of this magnificent architectural phenomenon. At The Oberoi Amarvilas - a most comfortable and luxurious hotel - the garden has a swimming pool at its centre, made of stone. It is ambitious and a Disneyland interpretation of a Moghul garden. http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_amarvilas/index.asp
The Statue of a do-gooder gentleman
on the banks of the River Jumna at Agra