It is hard to believe that we’ve already been back from our Delhi trip for two days! It was a whirlwind tour of Delhi/Agra that drove us straight into the whirling dervish of playing hosts to the Northwestern study abroad team. (Basically, we got off our train, showered, and the group arrived home for breakfast!!) JP and the group traveled today to see three interesting sites- Shrevanabelagola, Belur, and Halebidu- but I had to stay home. I love this particular trip, but it involves a full day of driving, and a steep climb up a rock face, which I’m not really up to right now. I managed to catch a nasty cold during our last day in Delhi, and had to make the tough decision to use today as a day of rest and recuperation. We also have a day trip to Mysore planned for Saturday, and I am really hoping to be ready for that one.
What to say about Delhi and Agra? Well, our train ride there was a bit of a trial. My pregnant body wasn’t exactly rejoicing over the 36-hour train ride, but at least we had AC and food provided. As one of our students remarked last summer about a similar train, these luxury trains are like riding the “Fatty Express.” It seems like you’ve just finished eating one snack or meal, and they are bringing round the next!!
We arrived in Delhi in the morning, found our hotel, and met up with the two students and WCOI’s recording technician who joined us for the sight-seeing. That first day involved general touring around Delhi. Delhi is drastically hotter and more humid than Bangalore, so we truly sweat our way around the city, alternatively oo-ing and ahh-ing at the sites and trying not to be too perturbed by the chaotic traffic. We were thankful for our experienced, yet kamakazi-style driver. He took us to see the Indira Gandhi Memorial and home-turned museum, Safardjung’s Tomb, the Qutb Minar, the Gandhi Memorial, and the India Gate. My favorites were Safardjung’s Tomb and the Qutb Minar because of their picturesque beauty– lots of inspiring architecture, and beautiful use of colorful stonework. I also enjoyed the India Gate because of the ripe Indian experience of people people everywhere- eating, hawking, and gawking. It was a sticky, tiring, and inspiring day, and we collapsed into bed at an early hour to be ready for the early departure for Agra the next morning.
Colored stones among the ruins by Qutb Minar
The rain began early the next morning, before our trip to Agra even began. We saw plenty of flooding, and even drove through a bit of it ourselves. By the time we arrived at the Agra Fort, the rain had slowed to more of a drizzle, which still made for difficult (and disappointing) picture-taking, but decent viewing and exploring. We got our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort. After a lunch of buttery biryani and Pepsi, we made our way to the Taj Mahal. As any decent pregnant and traveling lady would, I had my knapsack filled with gum and snacks, not even thinking that food might not be allowed in… So first things first, the guard had a high ol’ time pulling each item out individually, holding them up, inspecting them, and laying them in a pile which I had to then take to a locker room to be stored for later. After that, we were allowed to proceed.
The Taj Mahal rightly deserves to be called one of the seven wonders of the world. I have seen all kinds of beauty and wonder throughout my India travels, but nothing compares with the Taj Mahal on a scale of beauty and majesty. It was no longer raining, but the sky was gray and the walkways were slick. The Taj Mahal, gleaming white and glorious seemed brought to life by the vibrant colors of the thronging Indian tourists. I would have loved to be there on a sunnier, blue-skied day, but then it was about as hot and humid as I could stand it already. We took it all in, gazed, posed, and enjoyed.
Flooding en route to Agra
A view of the magnificent Taj Mahal (one of our many photos…we’ll have to add more later)
Finally, our agenda in Agra included the Bulund Darwaza in the whimsical town of Fatehpur Sikri. Again, very pretty. Lots of red sandstone, and cool architecture. A bit pushy in the the realm of guides wanting/insisting on giving tours and vendors hawking their wares, but very neat sites to see. All of this made for good but long day, and it was very late when we plopped on our pillows that night.
Not much was planned for the next day, which was good because it rained off and on all day. We spent a lot of time changing plans along the way, and struggling with transportation. I managed to have my first City Bus ride in India that day, as well as a handful of auto rides. We visited an up-scale market area, and had some top-quality Chinese food (at a restaurant that I believe might have the nicest bathroom I’ve ever used in India… I kind of wished I had to go twice while I was there!!) followed by gelato at another nearby shop. At this point it was time to head back to the hotel, where we were storing all our our suitcases in one small, non-AC room. While resting on the bed and looking at a cute little cookbook that I had purchased, I first saw a cockroach run across the floor. I decided not to freak out. After another five minutes, I saw a rat scamper across the room. I only freaked out a little. I knew it was almost time to go. As we were about to go looking for autos that would take us to the train station (an annoying endeavor in and of itself because these drivers were incredibly stubborn and demanded exorbitant prices) it began to POUR. Eventually JP found enough autos to get everyone to their respective train station, and then rain stopped on the way.
I have to mention that as we made our way to our train platform, I experienced the usual stares, and the normal concerns that I might drop my bag in some unknown sketchy liquid. In the crowds, I returned a few pushes and elbows with elbows and pushes of my own. Then we had to make our way down a some stairs, and there I was greeted with a funny, happy little moment. There was a whole pile of chirping cardboard boxes. Actually, I thought that the station must have birds in the rafters, but I was wrong. There where whole boxes full of baby chicks that also made their way to Bangalore on the train with us, though I don’t think their accommodations were nearly as luxurious!
Our train ride back did actually seem cleaner, and more luxurious. The toilets were amazingly pristine, and even had toilet seat covers in the western style toilets!! I’ve never seen anything like it. Our 36 hours back seemed to go a lot faster than our trip north, and I can hardly believe that we’re now in phase three of the trip.
It is getting to be my bedtime, so I’ll sign off now. Hope you’re all doing well!!