Friday, February 13

Paula: Our drive today from Delhi to Agra was 210 km and took us about five hours. We were looking forward to seeing some open countryside, since we knew that this area is known for its agriculture. However, the initial part of the road between Delhi and Agra was crowded with traffic and people everywhere. Villages along the route were congested with open markets and people. The major road, like the roads in downtown Delhi, were shared by bikes carrying huge loads, carts pulled by donkeys and camels, buses, trucks and small vehicles crammed with local residents. Even pedestrians, goats and cows walked along the highway. As in Delhi, everyone weaved through the road at high speeds with no apparent lanes or rules. We saw several accidents and couldn't believe there weren't more. Our driver, Rajan, uses the horn constantly and drives aggressively (taking advantage of the size of our mini-bus). However, he never losses his cool and always looks calm.

As we left Delhi, we were again struck by the number of people living on the streets and doing small jobs. We saw washers doing laundry and hanging the clothing out to dry on the fences of major roadways. We saw men on their hands and knees sweeping the streets with small hand brooms. We saw men and women doing small construction projects, often moving gravel and stones in large baskets on their heads. As we got further from Delhi, we saw people collecting cow dung and making pies to dry in the sun and then sell as fire starter. We saw people collecting bundles of sticks for firewood and herding small groups of goats. Utpal told us that these odd jobs are often the only jobs available for the thousands of transit people who come to Delhi from small villages looking for work. They live on the roadsides unable to find affordable housing. The government has tried to provide shelter but is finding that this is only encouraging the migration of more people into the city.

We did see some farms along the way in the providence of Haryan. The corps growing are mostly grains, mustard, and vegetables. Apparently, the past two years tremendous production has lead to a surplus. We also learned that diamonds and other precious jewels provide India with its greatest source of income.

Just before getting to Agra, we stopped to see the tomb of Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors during the 16th and 17th centuries. The sandstone and marble tomb blends Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian motifs and styles.

We arrived in Agra around 2:30pm and immediately stopped for lunch. Utpal helped us order another wonderful traditional meal. The kids especially enjoy wiping their plates clean with the delicious fresh Indian breads. Today we tried three different kinds of bread: nan, roti and pratha. Another tradition we enjoy is ending the meal with a handful of rock sugar and anise.

After lunch we made our way through the crowded city of Agra. Agra is also quite large with over 1.5 million residents. The two major sites in Agra are the famous Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. These monuments were built and occupied by the great Mughal emperors of the 16th and 17th centuries including Babur, Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. This huge red sandstone fort was protected on one side by the Yamuna River and on the other three sides by double walls and a crocodile-filled moat. We enjoyed touring the fort and the many buildings and palace within the walls. We were fascinated by the beautiful stonework and surreal air surrounding the site which included views of the Taj Mahal in the distance. Monkeys climbed along the tops of the fort walls and parrots swooped and squawked.

Our last stop of the day was a craft store that specializes in manufacturing inlaid marble. Marble, especially with inlayed stone and jewels is a specialty of the area and part of the wonder of the Taj Mahal. We learned about how the marble was fabricated and designed. The products were beautiful and we made a small purchase to remind us of our stay here in India.

We look forward to seeing the Taj Mahal tomorrow and after viewing this famous wonder will head to the village of Saiwar where we'll be visiting an S.O.S Children's Village.












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