May 30, 2011

Life in India - Trip to Agra

I think it has been a whopping three weeks since I wrote much of anything on this blog. So sorry to everyone who has been trying to keep up via the blog! I've tried to update facebook fairly often but even then, I'm struggling to post things because I have been all over the place lately.

So, first things first - you need to hear and see the trip to Agra!

Jai Gurudev temple on the road to Agra

We left Gurgaon around 6:30am on Saturday morning and almost immediately started the trip to Agra. The drive itself took about four and a half hours and we arrived in Agra at about 11:30am. Just like most of my rides around Gurgaon, my eyes stayed peeled open on the ride to Agra - we drove through so many villages along the way, I didn't want to miss anything. We saw temples, colleges, city life, camels, cows - all while driving 90-100 kmph in Indian traffic!

Highway sign pointing us in the right direction

Traffic jam!

Auto rickshaw repair stop

Statues of gods ready for purchase

Another traffic jam, this time with bulls (or cows or water buffalo - whatever they are!)

When we arrived in Agra, all I could think about was finally seeing the Taj Mahal. The drive was definitely worth it. Trust me when I say that pictures don't really capture the beauty of this place. Inside, it's not that fascinating since there is no electricity and it's quite dark. But the outside is beautiful up close and far away. Even the idea of being at the Taj Mahal - this place that was built over 400 years ago and took 22 years to build in total - left me mostly speechless :-)

The entrance gate to the main attraction. It was very beautiful on its own!

As you walk towards the entrance, the anticipation increases...

Almost in full sight...

There it is!!

A view back at the entrance gate from a platform that holds the Lady Diana bench

SHADE! Sweet relief from the heat

One of the two buildings that flank the Taj Mahal

The interesting part, for me, about the Taj Mahal is the amount of work that went into building this place. Not only is it almost entirely symmetrical in every way, every single fleck of color in that white marble is in-laid by hand with gemstones. The Arabic that surrounds most of the arches of the building were created with pieces of black onyx

Our director, Mark, hired a tour guide for the trip around Agra and after visiting the Taj Mahal, the tour guide took us to a nice restaurant for lunch, followed by a few stops at some shops that create similar artwork found in the Taj. The first shop dealt with marble artwork in-laid with gemstones and jewels. The amount of time and hard work that goes into the smallest item is incredible. The coaster below includes more than 40 individual pieces of gemstones that are cut to size manually by the men who do this trade for a living. One 4 foot diameter table with probably about 50-75 of these flowers on it will take a team of men about 8-9 months to complete. One table top - three men - 9 months of work. Incredible!

After lunch and all the handicraft shops, we stopped by Agra's Red Fort. Unfortunately, I had quite a headache from the heat and sun so I stayed in the van with Fima while the other 3 people in our group went inside Red Fort. It didn't take long for Agra's most needy people to approach the van and ask for money; in less than one hour, we likely saw 6-8 different kids or women. This is the most difficult thing to see in India, by far. I have acclimated to the cows, the pigs, the trash, the crowds, the lack of English in most places, the spicy foods but these faces - I'm not sure I have ever felt so helpless in my life. But...that is a post all of its own.

Once the visit to Red Fort was finished, we made our way out of Agra and back to Gurgaon. I thought riding in a car with an Indian driver during the day was nerve-racking; night rides are terrifying! I trust these guys - it's their job to drive everywhere - but it doesn't keep me from getting carsick or jumpy when we drive just a little too close to a family of five on one motorcycle.

That's right - a family of FIVE on ONE motorcycle. You won't believe it unless you see it. In one instance, the mother sat on the very back with her infant bouncing in one arm as she held onto the bike with her other hand. I couldn't help but think about all of the side airbags and expensive carseats and helmets that are abundantly available in the U.S. And yet, this is normal everyday life for millions of people here. It makes the cramped car rides in my dad's single cab truck with the whole family seem like a cakewalk.

 Kids playing cricket - if there's an empty field, people are playing cricket!

So, that's it for Agra and the Taj Mahal. I hope you enjoy the pictures! I will follow up this post with another about the many visits I've made to Delhi in the last few weeks.

Love you all!


Michelle Bratcher said...

I love reading this! Thx so much for sharing!! Are you gonna post anything new?

Angela Thill said...

I hope so! Very soon...I'm trying to be very picky about how I write my next post :-) I have so many other stories to tell!