[As an aside, I’m writing this blog in the hotel room while Marsha and a few other tour friends went to a real 3-hour Bollywood movie at a local theater, near the hotel…. On return she said she “survived” it. The reviews did say that “if you go expecting Einstein you’ll be disappointed.” I wouldn’t expect Einstein, but I wouldn’t go anyway.]
We take off early again for another long bus ride to Agra, an old and polluted city, but it claims the Taj Mahal. And, poverty rears it’s ugly head there as strongly or more than anywhere.
People are very upset since the government recently changed the poverty level to; less than 34 Rupees per day (about $.70 US). Anything more than that and you are not considered poor. Here you are poor if you can’t get one meal a day. 320 million Indians go hungry daily.
We have some local newspapers for the bus ride. There is an article on population statics that is mind-blowing: 72% of infants are born anemic. 52% of married women are anemic. There is not even one hospital bed per 1,000 population. 33% of Indians live in less space than US prisoners. It goes on and on. Back to the journey.
This is a pretty large one, looking to be in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, Hindus believe the harder the journey, the more the fulfillment. Interesting considering that once the Temple is reached only a simple bow is necessary as a “ceremony”. Some of the Gods here have black faces as they are depicted in the South of India.
A young family on a journey stopped in for a blessing by the local Holy Man. See the forehead lines. Lines, spots, dots, squiggles; it seems the Holy Men like a little creativity…or it’s something we’ve yet to find out.
As we approach Agra we proceed through the oldest mountain range in the world. Partly because of its age it contains some of the hardest, whitest, most translucent marble in the world. It’s the stuff the Taj Mahal is made of as you shall see. We pass many shops like the above that feature carvings from the marble and sandstone of the area.
Repeat for goats, one cow, old ladies, or a power-crazed local official. At one point we were coming around a curve in the road near a local town. A new car was parked smack in the middle of the road near a small store. Our helper got out to ask to have the car moved. The local hot-shot gave him the cold shoulder and made us wait nearly 10-minutes. No one seemed to get upset…except us tourists.
As we passed the rural villages we began coming to this kind of sight regularly. Here we have cow dung patties and cow dung “buildings” drying in the sun for use as fuel, especially for cooking. Talk about sustainable energy. This is what the fancily dressed women have created. The dung has good quantities of undigested straw to help in kindling and burning. It is surprisingly clean, odor-free fuel. You also see it stacked on roofs everywhere.
We start to see chimneys blowing black smoke on a regular basis. We see the piles of hand-molded (one at a time) brick drying in the sun. This is what many of the farmers do after the harvest. Not surprisingly most of the structures now are brick.
Before Agra we stop at this Mughal walled city that was the Mughal capital for 14 years in the 16th Century. A true mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture and styles. Unfortunately, lack of water forced the abandonment of the city that was then plundered. The site is preserved beautifully now.
Inspired by Gujarat buildings.
An open sandstone pavillion where Akbar’s queens caught the evening breezes. Truly a shame this city had to be abandoned. But, who’s to tell a ruler that he’s making a bad choice in location — as most believed at the time.
We arrive in Agra late in the hot afternoon. (Just to let you know we are in an unusually hot time period in Northern India. Our daytime temperatures have been in the low 100s. But, surprisingly, it hasn’t put a damper on any of our sightseeing or excursions. At the end of the month the tourist and travel season is over…just too damned hot).
We arrive at our incongruously grand Radisson hotel. Some get a glimpse of the Taj, just down the road, before the vicious sun crashes. We wait for its return.