Wednesday, February 23, 2011


It is difficult to describe India as it is a very complex nation. 
So the following may seem somewhat disjointed.

We arrived in Agra at a military airport.  There are two million
military types in the country and the military accounts for 20%
of the national budget. I think the basis for this can be
summarized in one word -- Pakistan.  The military has no problem
attracting enlisted men but it is difficult to recruit officers.
Apparently, the private sector is more attractive.

When we left the military base, we were discharged onto the most
congested streets that one can imagine.  It was Saturday night and
people, animals, and vehicles were everywhere.  It looked like
total chaos to me.  Our bus driver had to manuever his large
vehicle through that sea of humanity, animal, and machine.

I was totally unimpressed with the infrastructure in Agra.  The
streets and highways were particularly abysmal.  Just image a
city of 2.5 million in the United States that has no overpasses
or controlled access highways.  Well, that is exactly what you
have in Agra.  i did not see gridlock but it was a slow go most
of the time.  The contrast would be the great highways that we
saw in Chengdu, China.

Everyone has heard about the sacred cows of India.  Well, it did
not take us too long to see one standing in the middle of the road.
They just wander around the city anywhere they wish.  They can
not be killed.  Hindus do not eat beef.  But there are other sacred
animals - water buffalo, donkeys, and monkeys.  I have already
posted a photo of the monkeys roaming the grounds at the Taj
Mahal. The monkeys can be quite aggresive and are generally
avoided by the locals.  We heard two local animal jokes.  The
residents put bars on their windows to keep the monkeys out.  The
local joke is that "We live behind bars and the monkeys roam free."
Also, there are no zoos in India.  You can see all the animals right
on the street.

It is the wedding season in India and there were many wedding parties
apparent on the streets.  The local custom is that the groom must be
arrive on a white horse and we saw numrous ones waiting for their
mounts.  The ones who have never ridden a horse before can be quite
nervous.  I suggested to our guide that the grooms had another reason
to be nervous as well.

We were deposited at our wonderful hotel, the Oberoi Amarvilas.  This
is a walled compound in the midst of a sea of chaos.  It almost
seems like a sanctuary.  I have posted two photos of this
hotel and they give you the flavor of its opulence.  I am sure that
there is a website for this place if someone has a hankering to see
more.  And did I say that the interior of the lobby has a rotunda that
reminds me of the US Capitol. Each room has a view of the Taj Mahal.
It was named by Travel & Lesiure magazine as the number two hotel in
Asia and number five in the world.  I have no quarrel with that

We visited the Taj Mahal at sunrise on the following morning.  As you
can see from the posted photos, it was rather hazy that morning.  We
all have post card images of the Taj Mahal in our minds but that is
not the day to day reality.  It is every bit as beautiful as it is
reputed to be.  But like so many of the places we have visited, it
is crawling with humanity. That was especially the situation when
we returned after breakfast.

The Taj Mahal took twenty two years and twenty thousand workmen to
build.  It was built around 1630.  Just think about what was happening
in the US around that time.  We were lucky to have log cabins.
Anyway it was built by the grand pooh bah of the country to honor
his "favorite" wife who died while giving birth to their fourteenth
child.  Both he and his wife are in the crypt at the center of the
building.  The Taj Mahal is contructed of local white granite.  The
more subtle beauty of the place is the inlay that is shown in one of
the posted photographs.  More about the inlay later.

In the afternoon, we visited the village of Kachhpura, a largely
agricultural village just outside Agra.  Despite their extreme poverty,
the villagers seemed to be happy and definitety friendly people.
There was a welcoming party of young ladies who placed marigold leis
around our necks and appied the red dot to the forehead.  We
observed some of the international aid efforts to provide indoor
plumbings and clean water.  The kids were the friendliest.  They had seen
tourists before as they wanted us to take their picture and then
show them the image.  I will post a photo of these engaging children.

The great majority of marriages in India are arranged by the
families, sometimes when the children are quite young.  We
talked to one of our guides about this process. He said arranged
marraiges were more likely to work than "love" marriages because
the arranged  couples have the support of the families.
The caste system was also explained to us.  I think there are four
levels and movement or marriage between the castes is not allowed.
It makes no difference how successful you are or how much money
you make.  I told the guide just how unAmerican the caste system

There are McDonalds in India.  But no Big Macs since the Hindus
do not eat beef.  They sell some kind of veggie burger and lots
of chicken.

Even though the Indians do not eat beef, they milk the cows and
water buffalo.  Also, the dung is greatly prized as a fuel.  I
will post a photo of a lady in the village carrying a load of dung.

I was talking about the beautiful inlay on the Taj Mahal.  The inlay
actually consists of putting jewels into the marble to form patterns
or designs. All is done by hand. In about three months, we will have
proof in our house of the quality of their workmanship.  Deb went off
shopping and came back with news that we had purchased a 48" x 24"
green marble table with inlay.  Since I had purchased the carved
moai on Easter Island, I had to keep my mouth shut,  Actually, I saw
the table later in the day and it is quite beautiful.

As I am writing this post, we are back on our 757 for the eight hour
flight between Agra and Tanzania.  We are staying in a tent tonight
and will be watching wild life on the Serengeti Plain for the next
two days.  I understand there is no internet in our camp.  So this
will probably be posted when we get to Jordan.

Of course, we were orignally scheduled to visit Egypt instead of
Jordan.  But in light of current events in the Arab countries, I do
not disagree with the changed itenerary.  We can always return to see the
Sphinx and the pyramids.

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