We had an 8:30 departure time set from Pardada Pardadi, and I am proud to say that we were on the bus and ready to go 15 minutes early. It felt strange pulling out of the gate for the final time, as this school was really the central focus of our visit. It is also the place where we probably learned the most about India and its people, developing, with help from Sam Singh, an understanding of the caste system and how the work Sam is doing enables the girls of the “Kanjar” caste, “the Untouchables,” to pursue an education.

Sam Singh inviting us to a Pardada Pardadi reunion this summer. (MG)

And we were off for our four four and a half five six six and a half hour bus ride to Agra, where we were to see the Taj Mahal. Distance-wise, four hours would have been enough time, but one has to factor in how slowly one goes through the villages and small towns. Dodging cows and scooters and carts and dogs and rickshaws and people, the pace is slow and the beeping is constant. We stopped at a service area when we were on the highway. Nurse Gilda ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which apparently was one of the best ever…so if you’re ever traveling from Anupshahr to Agra… Karan, the young man who had been our guide in Delhi joined us and took us to a restaurant for lunch once we’d arrived in Agra. Supriya called and suggested that we go to Agra Fort today and then visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise tomorrow. So, after lunch, and after the rain had cleared, we headed toward the fort.

Well, “fort” is perhaps not the word I would use to describe what is really a palace — and a beautiful one, at that. It must suffer, however, from being the younger sister to the Taj Mahal. Not only is it located nearby, one has striking views of the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort. And, the fort is a work of art in its own right. Replete with detailed carvings, inlay, green spaces, and a wonderful contrast of sandstone structure and white marble — based on the preferences of the two kings who had a hand in building it, the fort offered nice texture and color for the eye to appreciate.

Inside the fort. (MG)
Red sandstone and contrasting green. (MG)

The fort also featured women wearing the most dazzling saris I had yet to see. The colors and styles were varied and seemed to jump out from the surroundings. Color has been a quality that seems to be a very important part of the Indian culture. Wherever we go, we see the commonplace brightened by the addition of flowers, streamers, ribbons, and banners. Something as mundane as a dump truck is painted with typical Indian designs and are then draped in flowers and bright garlands.

Truck with colorful painting and tassels hanging off back. (MG)

Just as the rain started up again, we jumped on our bus and headed to our hotel. Well, “hotel” is perhaps not the word I would use to describe what really is a palace. The Jaypee Palace is a very high-end hotel to which I hope the girls will not become too accustomed, as we are only here for one night. They seemed pretty happy to be staying in such a magnificent place. Dinner was an amazing buffet of Indian food, pasta, a bread smorgasbord, vegetables, fruits, cheeses…quite an array of choices. With my stomach being a little sensitive the past day or so, I wisely bypassed the entrées and went straight for the almond ice cream. I am pretty sure that Nurse Gilda approved of my chosen cure.

There is a outdoor pool that some of the kids will be checking out — others will be happy to be in the lap of luxury, taking hot showers, perhaps catching a Bollywood film before turning in (Do you hear me, girls? Turning in! Going to bed!). We do have a 6:00 a.m. departure time for the Taj Mahal!

Today portended to be mostly a travel day, but we managed to fit in a wonderful visit to the fort, learn from a knowledgeable tour guide, and grab a sneak peak at the Taj Mahal. Not a bad day, all in all!

Originally published at chathamhallcombined.wordpress.com on March 15, 2015.

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