A Blur of All Things Love
Today will most likely be my last day with internet connection until I am back in Delhi on the 22nd.
I have fallen in love with India. It’s getting pretty serious.
I am so grateful that time has slowed down here. I’ve been here for 3 days and it feels like weeks. We had the best tour guide possible in Agra, his name was Prashant. He was a lovely man, born and raised in Agra and very knowledgeable. He made a point to wake us up at 5 AM for the Taj Mahal to beat the crowds and have time in the mausoleum alone so that he could show us the incredible inlay work of the marble. These stones are smaller than the size of you pinky fingernail, nay, smaller than half that size. And they are all made by hand and put together by one family who has passed the trade down through generations of sons and father. This building is breathtaking. The grounds themselves are dumbfounding. The sheer size, detail, greenery, and symmetry of the place is mesmerizing.
Palatial is an understatement.
When I spoke of Baby Taj in my last post, I was speaking of a small replica of the Taj which was actually begun and finished a few years before the Taj Mahal. They are both grave sites for the wives of important Mugal rulers. The Baby Taj had a beautiful view of the river behind it and the Agra (Red) Fort across the river.
Agra Fort was the home of the Mugal family that ruled India back in the 1500–1600’s (if I remember the tour guide correctly). It is GIGANTIC. We toured a good couple of acres of the fort, after which we were informed that we had only seen 2%. The fort goes down seven layers. It had 3 moats-one for eater and crocodiles, one land moat for tigers, and one more land moat for an Indiana Jones-esque gigantic boulder and hot oil. Some seriously medieval shit. The red sandstone and the marble overlay and intricate inlay work were once again awe-inspiring. This whole place feels like a crazy see-saw balanced with royalty and poverty.
Which gets me to my next subject-the streets of India. The places I have fallen in love with and feel alive in.
The craftsmanship of a revered jewelry maker of carpet designer, work which takes months and years and is considered an expertise, is rewarded with the measly sum of 300 rupees per day…$4.50. The tip expected for my AMAZING tour guide, who worked diligently with us for 2 full days? 1000 rupees…$15. That’s not from each individual person-that’s the total tip expected from a group of 8 people. Yes, visiting India is wonderful because it’s inexpensive. But the people I have just spoken of are considered well off. They dress nicely and have comfortable lives. That means that the people on the streets, with babies and children running around naked among dogs, cattle, goats and traffic…Who knows what they’re living off of. On our way to the Taj Mahal, we passed slum-like neighborhoods that were tucked in between commercial areas and tourist infested resorts. I would look through the bushes and see innovative tent villages. Privacy doesn’t exist here. People wash themselves on the streets and in the rivers. People sleep on the sidewalks and carts they attach to their bicycles. The people of India accept the hardships of this life as what is necessary to get things done. I love them and respect them for this.
The hardest part are the beggars. Handicapped humans, women with babies, men clearly stricken with serious disease, they all come and ask you for money. We were told to just ignore them. No “No thank you”, no offering of measly bills. It seems mean but it truly is the best way. If you give them even a smile, they will follow you for miles. If another beggar sees one beggar with hope among a tourist, they will pursue a profit too. They will ultimately bombard you. For physical safety it is best to walk away. It’s hard, especially when the children run through traffic to come to your car window and smile. I find myself not being able to look them in the eye. I can’t distinguish whether the reason is shame or unbearable sadness for the social structure in place.
Don’t get me wrong guys, this is hard stuff. But people here in India smile from their souls. I have never seen eyes so bright.
We went to a cafe in Agra yesterday called “Sheroes”. It is purely donation based and managed by women who are victims of acid attacks. We watched a documentary of their stories and hugged the women and took pictures. Through everything they’ve been through, their eyes shine like stars and their smiles crease the sides of their faces as far as they can reach. This is what truly represents India-hope and optimism through the darkest moments of human nature.
My heart is so full here. And like I said, I am only 3 days in. See you guys in a week and a half. Ta-ta for now.