Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day 3 - The Day of Epic Contrasts

4:30 AM Class 42 woke up early to catch the first train from Delhi to Agra.  The station introduced us to a different set of personal space rules and an accompanying set of challenging smells.  The country side was cloaked in fog and the short field of vision seemed similar to the Tule fog of the Central Valley.  On the edges of the wheat fields there were tent villages and trash everywhere.   We could see some of the field and track workers act out a normalcy that was shocking to us when they would defecate alongside the tracks as we passed.  Later we learned there is one toilet for every 500 people and that half of the population--600 million people—urinate and defecate in the open. 
Arriving in Agra, we experienced our first “exciting” bus ride where cars, buses, motorcycles, trucks, sacred cows, stray dogs, and walking people moved in 5 or 6 lanes down the two lane highway. Honking from all directions during the entire ride. And always and every there is honking. One of the more interesting observations was the mass of drying cow manure discs dumped from buckets alongside the roads and on top of homes that would later be used for home heat and cooking fuel.  Our noon time ride would reveal the open areas of the drying fields were used for dozens of cricket games by men without any other tasks to do.  After about an hour we arrived at our first of many 16th century red sandstone Moghul forts Fatehpur Sikri.  Raj (our guide) escorted us through very aggressive vendors and beggars into the fort and shared the history of Emperor Akbar (1569).  The emperor had 3 wives (one Turkish Muslim, one Christian, and one Hindu) for whom he built each a private home and courtyard.
After another entertaining ride back into Agra and lunch, our bus passed interspersed nice Western hotels and hobble homes built with dissimilar bricks and used pieces of tin and tarp on our way to the gates of the Taj Mahal. Built by Moghul Emperor Shahjahan in 1630 as a shrine mausoleum for his Queen Mumtaz Mahal and truly one of the world’s wonders, its sheer beauty, size, and grandeur were exacerbated by it dichotomy and  the apparent contentment with garbage, filth, chaos and poverty outside its walls.  Inside, it was amazing to see the European, Asian, Indian and Western modern families as if we had never noticed any difference outside the walls.
The day was passing quickly and our next stop took us to one of Mother Theresa’s ashrams.  It is difficult to share our experience without photos as we agreed not to put any images of children on the internet, but as we walked through the home of 200 residents and 9 staff we saw women, children, and men who were so outcast and unloved they could not even survive on the normal small sustenance we saw in the public.  The sisters cared and clothed each of their residents for $96/year, but more importantly they spoke with them, touched and loved them where in society many of them were deformed and outcast members of the untouchable caste.  It was amazing to see the children, many with severe disability, light up when they would grab our hands or hug us and invite us to the playground.  It was equally amazing to see each of the class members equally light up and feel the happiness as if the children were sharing more with us than we were with them.

"Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love."  Mother Teresa

Our touring finished with the fort of Agra , which left us perplexed about how these grand monuments of beauty and productivity can sit amidst a society of hapless energy.  Passing through the gardens we had one more view of the Taj Mahal and the river as the sun began to set against it. 

At the train station, Dr. Sabol’s knot tricks made us many new friends.  We even learned a new trick to share from a man on the platform who felt compelled to share his own rope trick with us.  Another two hour train ride took us back to New Delhi by 10pm where we ended our trip at midnight.

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