Sunday, December 9, 2007

A day in Agra

We set out for Agra today, and like the tourists that we are, our destinations were the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Johan once again defied natural laws to squeeze through tight traffic.

We learned that the Indian term for high-beam headlights is "dippers," and they're used (in conjunction with much horn-beeping) to indicate that someone needs to get out of your way so you can pass, weave, dart, or otherwise snake your way around them. "Use horn" and "use dippers at night" was painted on the bumper of almost every truck we saw.

After the noise and excitement of the ride, the Taj was an oasis of peace. It was more beautiful than we could've imagined. The shimmering white facade grew more detailed the closer we came, until we could see the inlaid jade and carnelian floral designs (which looked merely black from further away), and many other semi-precious stones. Shah Jahan must have loved his wife Mumtaz very much (if you can overlook the other 4,999 he kept over at the fort!).

The outlying buildings were fascinating too. To our left was a mosque, to the right a guesthouse. There was a little museum about how the Taj was built, including ivory portraits of the Shah and his bride.

The sheer scale of the Agra Fort was staggering. It was truly a fortress, housing multiple castles, courtyards, and facilities all surrounded by thick red sandstone walls. It was interesting to see portions of the fort built during different eras, and compare the styles and materials.

On an atmospheric note, our time in both Agra and Delhi has been filled with the scent of wood fires. December and January are the coldest months here, so people on the roadsides, in the country, and in the cities keep warm by huddling around fires -- we even smelled wood smoke on the ground floor of the airport when we arrived.

Another bit of Indian life: Johan told us that November, December and January are the busiest months for weddings in India. This month, in Delhi alone, there were 20,000 marriages performed in a single day! The cool weather allows for food safety for the wedding feasts, which often take place on four separate days.

One difficult thing to deal with has been people asking for money or food outside the tourist sites. I know all the guide books say not to give anything, but I couldn't help it, and gave my bottle of water and granola bar to a girl and a mother with a baby. I am a soft touch, and not cut out for saying no constantly.

The other reality we have seen is people living just a few feet from the roadside, in ramshackle huts built of whatever is available. In the city, that means aluminum, cardboard and plywood; in the country, that means thatch roofs and wooden or bamboo walls. Some dwellings have a lightbulb or a TV, while others provide fewer comforts. Most have only one or two walls, and are open to the street.

We saw so many homes like these as we drove. God knows each person who lives in them, He knows their stories, and He loves them all dearly. It is humbling to think of all that we have, when so many have so little. It leaves us wondering about Anya Rashi's birth parents and their circumstances. They must have cared greatly about her future to have placed her at a baby home where they knew she would receive such loving care.

On a much lighter note -- Aaron and Nathan: we saw lots of monkeys today! They were scavenging for food. We also saw two pigs, countless goats being herded beside the busy roads, and more camels. You'll be happy to know that the Taj Mahal was as amazing as it sounds on your India story tapes, and we were thinking of you the whole time.


Joel and Jenn said...

What an amazing country you are in! Seems like you are seeing such extremes from poverty to the Taj Mahal. I love your detailed descriptions of everything. It is true - you do have such soft hearts which is evident by you giving your water and granola bar away and also by the love you have for a little girl that you've never met. We continue to pray for you all - I hope tomorrow at the embassy goes well.
Jenn Johnson and all

Renee said...

Excellent writing! I'm glad you made it safely. Enjoying reading about the sight seeing and looking forward to adventures to Anya!

Karen, Mark, and Will said...

We went out for Indian buffet yesterday after my dress rehearsal - I couldn't help but think of you. Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers! We are glad to know that you arrived safely and have the opportunity to explore some of India's history.

I particularly like the picture of the marketplace with Lay's potato chips prominently displayed. It was like that in Senegal, too - sort of feels like the "Which of these things is not like the others?" game...

Blessings to you!
Karen et al

JeannieJQ said...

Wow, your camera sure has great resolution - it is fantastic to be able to enlarge the pictures and see all that detail.. I'm impressed. :-)

This is just great. It's almost like being there. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

Blessings from above to you and yours.

Al said...

Peter & Nancy~ we love your updates- know we are keeping you & yours daily in our prayers

love deb & al

The Labontes said...

I'm so jealous of your trip to Agra :) Someday. . .

TWO MORE DAYS! I cannot wait for you guys to meet her!

Hugs from Maine,

Beth said...

So exciting to read about your adventures! I can't wait for the entry where you say that you have Anya Rashi in your arms. Love the pictures. Prayers going with you every step of the way!

Julie & Patrick said...

I am so glad you are venturing out and enjoying the countryside. It brings a rush of memories back.

Best of luck with the remainder of the trip!

(Devi's mom)