Students on a Train (to the Taj Mahal)

Monday got an early beginning. We started out up at 4:00 (ish) and left the hotel before 5:15 to catch a 6:00AM train to Agra. The train ride was over two hours long, but we were in a “first class” type car with air conditioning and reserved seating, so it was not an unpleasant experience, which included a vegetarian breakfast of Upma Vada (the vegetarian option…I wanted something local)

When we arrived in Agra (smaller city…only about 3,000,000 people) we had a quick de-train and then caught the bus to a hotel where we were able to utilize a clean, western-style bathroom before heading to the Taj Mahal. (For eastern bathrooms, see the video in this post).2014-10-06 10.10.30

We spent almost two hours at the Taj, and got quite a bit of the history down. That it was built by a grieving husband for his favorite (he had quite a few) wife at her request as a testimony to love was different. A lot of the huge buildings among the wonders (see the link for various groupings of the “seven wonders”) are testaments to military defense or to gods of world religious, but this one was a mausoleum to a dead wife. Agra is called the city of love, and the Taj is a testimony of the love of a very rich man to his favorite wife.

The architecture was beautiful. The amazingness of it only grew at the time there went on and as we got closer to it. The artistry in the carvings makes the Arabic letters look all the same size from a distance, but it is a well-designed optical illusion for just that appearance.

It was a little more humid today, and that made things uncomfortable, but we walked a little less (about half as much according to my UP band) but it was not overly taxing and we survived.

After the Taj Mahal we visited a shop run by descendants of the original marble craftsmen and were able to see the way that the marble engravings and embossings were done with the jewels. It was quite interesting and I left with a sample of the marble work that was budget consistent. The white Indian marble is one of the hardest building materials in the world, and is more durable than almost anything else available, even in vastly shifting temperature climates.

We then dined on a fine buffet of Indian food where once again I was struck with the detail of the spicing of the food. I am a big lover of meat, but the Indian cooks have learned to spice vegetarian meals in a way that brings out so much flavor that it’s surprising how good it is. There was a fantastic red curry with chicken and some spicy lentils in a dish that were my two favorites.

After lunch we toured the Agra fort (also huge), and spent just a little time there. It had gotten quite a bit hotter in the afternoon sun and so many of us were getting uncomfortable and even a little irritable after the short night’s sleep. Thankfully the ride back to New Delhi was in an air conditioned bus with more than a little elbow room. Most of us, me included, fell asleep on the bus for part of the 2+ hour ride back to New Delhi.

My three “interesting” things for Monday:

  1. The train ride gave us a view into the extreme poverty of huge chunks of India. We passed more than one village where people lived in conditions that were not as clean as a trash landfill in the United States. At one point we passed a huge field with dozens of people defecating their morning “movement” out in the open with no shame whatsoever The living conditions ranged from tents to brick apartments, but the people there lived in conditions that make the “poor” in the U.S. appear to be rich by comparison. It was an enlightening experience and I can’t forget it even as I write tonight, and my family and I will spend some time talking through those conditions in a couple of weeks when we review my pictures and talk about the trip. Needless to say it moved me and I’m saddened by the plight of the people in that condition.
  2. I was struck with the detail level of the artistry in the marble shop. I included a picture in the post of some of the pieces they made. There will also be more pictures posted in my public Facebook feed if you’re interested. It’s amazing to think that 500 years have gone by since the original Taj Mahal was made and the technology for that creative effort is similar today as it was then.2014-10-06 12.05.44
  3. I saw a cart being pulled by a Camel. Lots of horses (no cows), some people, but this was my first camel-pulled-cart experience.

It was an emotionally charged day and I had a good time having dinner with some of the team that needed the interaction, and a still late night to bed while I processed here for you folks.

Let me know if you have any questions about my Indian trip….I won’t get to them until tomorrow, but I’m glad to interact on this. Today was a day I won’t soon forget, and I’m already thinking about how what I love and know could change the world because of this trip.

Tonight is the 4th night away from my wife (which has happened before) but tomorrow I won’t be going home so as of tomorrow night I’m in new territory (first time over four nights away in almost 20 years).

And now, like the rest of my classmates, I need rest. Tomorrow we ‘ll visit a food producer here in New Delhi and then some shopping and a more relaxed day. But today was long, full, mind-bending, and tiring.  And that’s why this is such a long post.

Now…..sleep.

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