The ship delivered us to the coastal city of Cochin. We stayed just long enough to catch an early morning flight to Delhi, the capital city. Delhi is named for seven “delhis,” or cities built on this spot dating back to 300 B.C. The British didn’t like what they found and built a New Delhi during their colonization.
We didn’t stop but drove past impressive buildings and monuments. It was kind of like driving past the mall in Washington, DC. Most notably was a memorial to the Indians who lost their lives fighting in the World Wars. There are over 15,000 names etched into the inner walls.
Our guide explained about the traffic jams: status for an Indian family is to buy a “big house” and a car. If an Indian drives a scooter, the locals commiserate and ask what terrible thing happened. In response, the government has gone to an even-odd license plate system. If the last number of your license plate is odd, you can drive on days when the date is odd, etc. Still, the traffic sucks. To drive here, you must have three “good”s: Good horn, good brakes, and good luck!
There were cranes and lurking high rises everywhere, but some were stopped in mid-building. It seems there were too many ambitious plans, and they now have a Florida-like condo recession.
Our ride to Agra treated us to opulence…They made my day and stopped at a golf club for lunch. Marble floors and a very high level of service. I asked about the possibility of visiting the pro shop and the manager personally arranged a Toyota to drive me there. I felt really bad when I couldn’t buy anything because they only took plastic and I was armed with Yankee Dollars. They offered to drive me back again !!! Anyway, this Greg Norman design is the first course in India to be built with real estate development around it. Condos, homes, businesses…How many of these do we have in Florida alone???
The rest of the way to Agra was up a “Superhiway,” with plans for more of these developments we passed a formula one racetrack along the way.
Most of the land is red clay and flat. It is used for three crop rotations each year, which include wheat, potatoes, mustard, and barley. Water is stored in the ground from the monsoons for irrigation. We were here just after the wheat had been harvested. They also cut out the clay, dried it by burning charcoal, and made bricks. The technology seemed pretty sophisticated and we saw few dwellings.
That all change when we got to Agra. It is a small city by India standards…only 1.5 million!!! We drove down their version of Broadway, past the spice, rice, and goods markets, and the scene could have easily been in Cambodia or Myanmar. . . .until the cattle and water buffalo lumbered down the avenue, apparently on heir own enlightened course.
Finally, this land is quirky. If anyone notices something odd or illogical, they say ” It’s only India…”
Jerusalem is for spirituality;
The Taj Mahal is for love.
The next morning, we got up very early and watched the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Translated this means the Crown of Palaces. Most of you know the history, so I will be brief. It was built by Shah Jahan after the death of his beloved wife, Murtaz Mahal. She made two requests before she died: Do not marry again because we had enough children (10 I believe) and build a grand palace to honor me. Shah Jahan was the Ruler Of the Mughal Empire, and his palace was in Agra. He built the Taj Mahal on a riverbank nearby in 22 years with the help of 20,000 workers In other words, the Taj Mahal is the Shah’s expression of love to his beloved wife.
I am not going to describe the Taj to you because mere words do not do it justice. The marble is very porous and hard…it changes color with the location and position of the sun. There are exquisite designs carved into the marble with inlaid semi-precious stones. Everything is symmetrical and the carvings weave into flowers or hearts or geometric designs. The lattice work around the tombs would make Michelangelo proud. It was truly an honor to spend a brief moment of our presence in this hallowed place.
The first photo above is the entrance gate. On the top are 11 small domes. Together with the 11 on the other side, they represent the 22 years of work to complete the Taj. The second photo is an attempt to pass on the detail of the marble carving and stone inlays.
It’s Just India!
We were driving back to Delhi after concluding our visit to the Taj Mahal, and our driver misses the exit for the rest stop. He then backs the bus an eighth of a mile, and who notices if he uses a little of the highway to do it. Then, when we leave, he goes out the entrance rather than the exit, which necessitates a u turn to correct our path onto the expressway. Who cares if it takes three lanes with traffic approaching!! Hey, it’s India!!
In the afternoon, Lela and I opted to visit the Agra Fort A fort in India is usually comprised of both a military defensive fortification AND a palace. The Agra Fort, at the time, was the Capital of the Mughal Empire. It was quite a fort. It was built on the banks of a river, had a sandstone wall completely surrounding the palace, and was surrounded by two moats. I think they would have needed General Patton’s tanks to take it.
The amazing part was the palace. The Shah who built the Taj lived here while it was being built. He had great views of the project. I could easily imagine the Shah gazing out over the river from his marble residence with his telescope. If he didn’t like something, he would send a dire note with a messenger. If he liked the progress, perhaps he visited the harem.
We also visited the market area. You can see the mosque and the stand where the Shah presided He loved to look down upon his subjects.
Cows in India
I’m sure most of you have heard stories about the cows that roam the streets of India’s cities. They are considered sacred because they provide the country with milk. In other words, cows are a maternal representation. Despite appearing to wander, we were told that the cows all belong to someone and that they know where their home is. They are sort of like Jordan’s camels…You better not hit one with your Tuk Tuk. It doesn’t matter who walked or drove in front of who, if you hurt a cow, you are responsible.
Because of this reverence, the people here do not eat beef. Even the Muslims, out of respect, follow this life path. Despite their history, our guide presented a picture, within India, of coexistence between their two great religions and peoples.
Mughal Ruins at Fatehpur Sikri
A little background: The Mughals were an invading force from Persia, or contemporary Iran, that conquered India in the 15th century and ruled for around 250 years. Please don’t hold me to great scrutiny on these numbers, but the locations are correct. Anyway, most invading hordes looted India and left. The Mughals stayed and, in their brief reign, built a series of capitals in Agra and Delhi. This city and fort were built by the grandfather of the Shah who later built the Taj, and it is located about 90 car minutes away from Agra on the top of a knoll. This seems important for defense, but it also provided a steady breeze and beautiful vantages of the countryside. Since the temperature was 100, I was especially observant of the breeze.
This was only the capital for 16 years. It was abandoned because the emperor went off to fight more wars, and because of an inconsistent water supply. The ruins you see in the photos demonstrate the incredible ability of the Mughals to build grand vistas in a brief time. Their fort was surrounded by a wall and the palace was built with the same red sandstone that is the compliment to the Indian marble at the Taj Mahal. 150,000 people lived surrounding the fort. The palace actually had a summer palace on one side and a winter palace on the other…more ventilation during the summer. Once again, the carvings into the stone were amazing.
A couple notes of interest: this trip was an option. Of the 50 or so travelers who left the ship to see Agra, I was the only one who chose to see this heritage site. Most others went to the Agra Fort, and later to the marble factory (shopping). Lela and I went to the Fort in the afternoon instead of the air conditioned product showroom. Soooo, I had my own personal guide and Toyota Forerunner in the morning, and Lela and I got the same treatment in the afternoon. A nice luxury.
Also, as my guide, Raj, and I are walking the palace ruins, a young Indian woman comes up to me and asks if she can take my picture with her father. Raj said he recognized their accents as being from west central India. I was stunned that anyone would actually want my photo, and said “Sure.” They came back 15 minutes later and asked if I could be in a photo with Mom too. Raj said that it was probably Dad’s idea initially, and it would give them something to show and talk about when they returned home. They asked where I was from and if we had this kind of heat in the USA. I mentioned Texas and summer in Florida… Later I kicked myself for not asking for my own photo. Anyway, maybe it was that I was twice the size of Dad, or maybe it was my pink shirt and Maui Jim shades, or maybe it was my world-famous K State hat that, I am sure, you have read about. Whatever it was, it was a kick…
One more quick note…Most Indians learn three languages. Their national language is Hindi, but most have a local dialect. And English is spoken by the vast majority as well.
More Tales of Driving in India
If you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere…I think I mentioned this before…You need three types of “good” to drive in India: A good horn, good brakes, and good luck. Driving here is all about possession…”Possession is 9/10ths of the law.” Everyone pushes to possess the space. If you get to the center of the intersection first, you have right of way. It is a real competition.
Coming back into Delhi, we took an alternative route to avoid the traffic. We found ourselves on an expressway with six lanes…except, “this is India,” so they somehow managed to make nine lanes out of it. There are no shoulders to roads in India, only more lanes to possess. Sometimes, an old man will be riding a bicycle in the midst of this honking throng. A horn, “in India,” just alerts everyone that “I’m going for possession of the driving space so get out of my way.”
There is an accident in India every minute, and a fatality every four minutes. If all the airplane phobics came here for a month, they’d leave feeling that air travel was the Garden of Eden.
Sunset at the Taj Mahal
After beginning at the Taj at sunrise, and visiting the ancient capital city and lovely fort of the Mughal Empire, we were privileged to return to the Taj Mahal for sunset. We had already heard the history and taken the precursory photos, so this was an opportunity to witness the effects of declining sun on the marble, and simply enjoy the fact that we were HERE. There was an nice surprise…In the morning, the reflection pools had been empty, so I got to play with taking reflection photos.
Our guide, who had a 20 letter name, and had been given the name “Gary,” in college, was a hopeless romantic. So he took a different kind of reflection photo using Lela’s glasses.
So we had a little fun, but mostly I felt rewarded and thankful. It is a tremendous effort to get here, and I felt very lucky to have had the opportunity.
I lingered at leaving and took a lot of looks back, never wanting to forget the majesty that we had to leave behind. Only once have I felt the same majesty: Gazing at the Teton Range under a full moon which illuminated the snow on the mountains, while Hale Bopp made its way across the night sky halfway, in perspective, between the moon and the mountains.
Mumbai and Elephanta Caves
Well, we finally joined the ship again, which means that we outlasted India’s domestic airlines and road system. Today, we cruised into the port of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Mumbai is actually an archipelago of six island that was home to a series of fishing villages, until it was colonized by the Portuguese. In the 1600s, King Philip married a Portuguese princess. He received Tangiers and these six islands as part of a dowry. He turned it over to the East India Trading Company, which began a series of land reclamation projects which were just recently completed. Contemporary Mumbai now looks like the peninsula of San Francisco with a nice deep harbor instead of a bay. We were told that 12 million people live in Mumbai, but the extended area is home to over 20 million…Over half live in slums.
We didn’t see much of the city. After all our recent travel, we weren’t really up for a bus into congested streets. So we opted for a nice, easy day of taking a harbor cruise to Elephanta Island, a few kilometers off shore, to view cave carvings dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva that were completed in the 5th century. My calm day was interrupted by the reality that the caves were at the top of the island. Up we went to the top of the steps to see a series of caves that were badly damaged but still impressive. It turns out that the Portuguese were the ISIS of the 16th century. They used the caves as target practice.
One other perk of today was the viewing of the India Gate that was completed by the Raj in the early 1900s.
And now, off to Arabia . . .