Tuesday, March 20, 2012

incredibly, India: Day 2, part 1

From Day 1- browsing at Dilli Haat
Before I begin my recounting of day 2, let me start with how day 1 ended. With a shower. Because I am a night shower-er. I just like getting in bed and feeling clean. Anywho. I get in the shower and begin testing all of Anusree’s shampoos. Just kidding, Anu! But I start washing my hair, and going through the normal shower rituals. Until icy water begins to flow in abundance from the showerhead. Now, I have been in the shower all of 53 seconds when this happens. Needless to say, I am not ok with this. My fingers and toes are starting to turn blue. I urgently call out to Anu, “Um, the water is REALLY cold.” And she says, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, if you turn the water pressure high, the hot water runs out fast.” Great. I can barely move my fingers because they’re frozen and I’m shivering. Long story short, I had to go get into another shower that was in another bathroom in another bedroom. Wearing only a towel and having shampoo in my hair (I’ll give you a moment to laugh; it’s ok). Good thing no one else was upstairs. I've never been so appreciative of a hot shower.

Another thing I learned over this first night is that Nikka likes the covers. She may be small, but girl can steal covers like it’s her job. Though how she could use all that cover by herself is beyond me. I slept with just Anu the next night. I learned my lesson.

About an hour in, the sun started peeking above the horizon. Oh, and
that's not early morning foggy dew-- it's smog.
So, back to Day 2. We got up before the crack of dawn, got dressed in warm clothing and ate a little breakfast before heading out.Well, I dressed in warm clothing. Meaning a turtleneck. But it turned out to be really warm. Go figure. To start the day, we meant to leave at 6:30, but the driver we’d hired had trouble finding Anu’s house, so it was more like 7am. We piled into the backseat and got cozy with blankets and pillows. I wanted to stay awake to look at the sights we were passing on the drive, but it was dark, so I wasn't getting much.

There was a lot of dozing on this drive, with a few interesting pictures scattered in there, but other than a stop for gas and a stop at a rest stop where we ordered masala chai, it was uneventful.

We passed these two gentleman on the drive.
Something that I found interesting was that there are specific rest stops for tourists. They have walls that surround the restrooms and the shop and parking lot. We made separate stops for the driver-- I guess they aren't allowed to use these facilities. The tourist facilities have restrooms where you tip the ladies who are inside handing out paper towels (I don't know about the men's rooms, since I obviously didn't go in there), and browse shops that are filled with items that are targeted at tourists. With Anu's inside information, it was helpful to know we could find everything at cheaper prices elsewhere.
Eventually, we started getting close to the Taj Mahal (eep!). This icon was really the only sight that I had prior knowledge of before coming to India (hello, ignorance), so I was excited to get this tourist thing going.

The Red Fort
We passed the Red Fort on the way to the Taj and it was beautiful. The Red Fort is also in Agra, and apparently, you can see the Taj from the Red Fort. It was so named because (I'm assuming) of the red stone that was used to build it. There was also a Red Fort in Delhi, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Not to be confused, this was the Red Fort that we did NOT enter.
The cow.
In my excitement, I had my lens sticking out the window, snapping pictures of anything and everything (trust me, I had over 600 pictures in 3 days), when the driver made a turn and started driving through a herd of cows. Cows roam freely in India, so this was not unusal. I just wasn't expecting it, and nearly got cow nose juice on my camera. Needless to say, I got a very detailed shot of this cow. He (or she) could use it for their profile picture.

Here is where we got dropped off. Do you see the Taj? No? We didn't either.

The women, waiting.
Our driver dropped us off after the cow encounter, and we headed towards the Taj. We got a ride on a bike rickshaw and we were off! Until we got dropped off... on the opposite side from the entrance. I actually think we could have entered from that way, but Anu knows best. And we got to see a little more of daily life around the Taj. So we walked around, purchased our tickets, breezed through the short "foreigner women" line (guess February isn't a popular time for tourists) and headed in.

Nikka and I started taking pictures at the gate to the Taj and I think Anu was a little puzzled. She was probably thinking something along the lines of "guys, this is just the gate... the Taj is INSIDE." Eventually we went in, and saw it. The famed Taj Mahal. It was grand, beautiful and a testament to creative ingenuity and an emperor's love for his favorite wife.

The Taj Mahal, taken by yours truly, because I stood here!

Proof that she was there, looking straight at the Taj

We walked all around the Taj and up into the mausoleum. What was majestic from afar was intricate and meticulously crafted up close. There was detailed carving and inlaid stone everywhere. We had to wear coverings over our shoes or go barefoot to actually enter the Taj-- they wanted to keep it clean and shiny.
A detail shot of the inlaid stone-- designs like these covered the building. There were not only flowers, but inlaid Arabic script flowing up and down windows and columns. I believe it was from the Quran.

A view from the side as we walked around to enter
the Taj
There were a couple instances where people asked to take pictures with me (because I am clearly a foreigner), but eventually I just had to learn to say no. It was actually a little uncomfortable-- I'm not really anybody famous and it was a little awkward. This happened a few times, so I tried to be gracious but keep it short. I wonder why they wanted a picture with me. Is it the idealized conception of the west? Was it their impression that movie stars are often white? Was it because they had never seen a non-Indian in person and wanted proof? Was I a spectacle to them? I'm not unaccustomed to being stared at-- growing up as white looking child in a foreigner-sparse part of China made me accustomed to that, but going to places like India and the Philippines (which both have western colonization in their histories) and evoking a similar response intrigues me. I don't feel any ill will towards them, but I am curious about their perspective.

There was another set of these buildings and they
flanked the Taj- I wonder if there are or were living
spaces here.
As magnificent as the Taj Mahal was, I was struck by the building itself-- it centered on the mausoleum. Both the emperor and the wife for whom he built this palace were entombed there. There were no other rooms; all alcoves and nooks surrounded this tomb-- there were no living quarters at all. I know that the emperor built this for his wife after she passed away in childbirth and it is a symbol of great love in India, but I was saddened by this. Though the world knows, she never knew the length that he went to build this for her. Did he tell her how much he loved her when she was alive? Did she know?

The Taj, while it is now a national treasure and source of tourist income, never housed families. The emperor couldn't take it with him when he died to show her. How did it make his other wives feel to see him build this for one woman? Was building this structure an expression of how they felt about death? The afterlife? For me, it was a reminder of how temporal this world is-- how, no matter what we do, build or accomplish, we will one day die. And this makes me think-- I don't want to leave an elaborate and beautiful tomb behind me. Something to think about.

Any way. We took many pictures, and got some pictures taken and printed by a local vendor. I can't seem to find mine at the moment :( but hopefully they will turn up somewhere. I'll keep you posted if they pop up. 

Courtesy of Anusree :)
And here is where the intermission comes in. I know I have only covered the first part of this day, but I didn't want to overload on pictures or words; neither did I want to leave out details, because I want to be able to look back and remember as well. I spent a whole post talking about my first half day in India, so I thought this would be fitting as well.

Through my words and pictures, hopefully you'll see what I saw in this incredible India. 
Stay tuned for the rest of Day 2!

1 comment:

  1. Thankfully Anu was a hospitable guide/protector and soul-sister in this out-of-your-world adventure. Sounds like you were at peace all along the oddities of th'trip simply because you trusted your 'guide-and-friend'... without question. I'd been a little (did I say, 'little') bent-out-of-shape at the constant requests for pics with 'th'foreigner'... The second half of the day has got t'be filled with more 'new, first-time-in-your-life' experiences... waiting patiently... thanks for your down-to-earthness transparency :)