Some years ago I saw a photo of a customer service representative working at his computer outside at the base of a pole with multiple wires hanging down in haphazard fashion. It was the contrast between the modern aspect of the international service a computer permits with the antiquated electrical supply. And we thought the worse thing about customer service from India was the accent!
Within minutes of our arrival at the first Delhi hotel, Lisa and I hit the street heading to a fabric store we had heard about. We made a quick stop at an ATM a few blocks from our hotel and that is where I noticed that the wiring from that long remembered photo was not unusual.
On the last day, as the bus drove the long hours from Jaipur back to Delhi I noticed some electrical distribution lines that also were considerably different from the lines we have in the US.
In a country with a huge population and an aging infrastructure, there is a lot involved in the new Prime Minister’s promise to bring electricity to everyone in India. Good luck, Narendra Modi!
Throughout our trip to India I heard again and again about the shortage of water. We were told not to drink the tap water even in the Western hotels. The water was safe, we were told, but the pipes were decaying and the water contained all kinds of “minerals” that would be unhealthy. In other words, the infrastructure of even the modernized areas of the large cities is getting old.
Water cisterns on top of buildings get regular deliveries of trucked in water. The city of Fatephur Sikri where the new center of government had to be abandoned after only ten years because of the lack of water gets its water trucked in. Water tables are falling, making farming resort back to dry methods; the Green Revolution was not the answer to feed the nation because of the lack of available water.
Meanwhile, the elections for the new government are now over and we wait for the count. The nation is clamoring for a change, hoping replacing the longtime Ghandi leadership will result in wonderful improvements.
I think back to our own experience when Barack Obama offered the concept of change and won handily. We were all so hopeful, and look what has been happening here in our own country over the past six years. We seem to be more divisive, more argumentative, more angry over everything.
There was a sense of calm in India. It could be as a short time visitor I was insulated and did not truly understand any unrest I may have witnessed, but I got the impression that the religious practices there give the people a feeling about life that is different than what we have. With the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of reincarnation, there is a surety that this lifetime is only one of many. Perhaps this provides a sense of calm facing what we would consider considerable frustration.
My visit to the Muslim family in Agra also provided some insight. As we left and headed back to the market area I asked our guides where that family was in the spectrum of lower and middle class. For sure it would be poverty here in the US. He said it was lower middle class. I’ve reconsidered all I saw in their home that day. Despite the lack of personal space, no television or computer or other toys typically found in our homes, the tiny kitchen space, they appeared to be clean, well fed and all had places to sleep. The fact that an extended family was living together in what we would consider a small space is a cultural difference not really related to economic status.
We Americans are used to so much more. Out attachment to television and movies shows us products and lifestyles of the rich and famous, causing us to want more, to expect more, to demand more. We want what we want and we want it now. Deferred gratification is something that has been forgotten.
Perhaps the Indians know better that to acquire more they must work. Because they do work. Oh sure, we saw some people with their hands out. But we saw more, many many more people hawking their wares. Annoying bunch of people. But they were working. So were the people who were sweeping the pavement. The people cutting the grass. All the many many people doing what we consider menial labor so they could earn a living.
So, I started writing this blog thinking that if the new Indian government does not make some improvements there will be trouble. Particularly, I am concerned about water shortages in India.
But now, as I wind this short essay down, I am more concerned about us here in the US. We have so much and we do not know how to live with less. And yet, that day is coming. We all feel it.
About 17 years ago my coworkers in the Vanderbilt Laser Sight Center presented me with a gift certificate to a local spa for my birthday. It took me almost a full year to work up the courage to redeem it and when I went into work the next day I demanded a raise so I could enjoy massages on a regular basis. That didn’t happen but they gave me another gift certificate for the next birthday and after that I managed to squeak out the funds from my budget.
I was going through a rough time in my life. My husband Dave had been diagnosed with brain cancer and I was slowly losing him. Sam was a baby and Dave had charged me with the instruction to keep life as normal as possible. Balancing the needs of a small child, a dying husband, work and my own health was a challenge and the monthly massage was the only time that was ME ME ME. I treasured it.
And so, massage has remained a part of my health regimen ever since. I have been fortunate to find practitioners who had great hands and wonderful technique wherever I have lived.
When travelling it can be tempting to take advantage of the spa, especially when prices are so much lower than here in the States. On the India trip several people who were part of the SmarTours group enjoyed massages at our first hotel in Delhi and told about the experience in glowing terms. So when Lisa and I checked into the next hotel in Agra and learned we could have an in-room massage for about $20, we scheduled one each!
It had been a long hot day so we each jumped in the shower to present less sweaty bodies. The husband and wife team arrived as I was just finishing, and laughingly told us it was not necessary to be clean. That should have given us a clue we were in for a slightly different experience.
My massage therapist here in Oregon no longer works at a spa but comes to our house with his portable table. Lisa and I were surprised they didn’t carry anything….and they at first suggested we would lie on the floor. They grabbed the towels from our bathroom and spread them on the beds, though and soon the massages started.
There are several schools of massage and the one I am most familiar with is Swedish Deep Tissue. The technique, Indian Ayurvedic, seemed to involve a lot of short fast strokes that were only on the surface. I have no idea if there are long term benefits of this method but other than getting very lubed up with the massage oil, I can’t say there was any “ahhhhhhh” feeling after.
In fact, after they left the room, Lisa and I looked at each other and laughed for about ten minutes. The joke was on us, but we were only out about $50 total.
Take a look at the people of India……their faces, their pride…their lives.
Street food vendor in Agra market
Volunteer in Delhi Sikh Temple kitchen preparing food for 1100 people a day
School girls leaving Ghandi shrine in Delhi
Snake charmer in Amber Fort in Jaipur
Little girl who started following us in Jaipur
Craftsman in Agra inserting semi-precious stones into marble
School boys, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Sikhs at Temple in Delhi
Doorman, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Jaipur woman, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Receiving the blessing, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Guard at Unknown Soldier, India Gate, Delhi
kids on a team, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Shop by the road, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Street food vendor, courtesy of Nancy Leung
On a motorcycle, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Climbing up, courtesy of Nancy Leung (I think this is the winner of the being ready at the right time prize!!)
Wedding guests, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Groom, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Little girl, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Sweeper, Amber Palace
Roadside hangout, courtesy of Nancy Leung
Philosophical discussion, Sikh Temple, Delhi
Mother and son at wedding
Nancy Leung and her husband Richard on an elephant at Amber Fort, Jaiput
With special thanks to Nancy Leung who was on the SmarTours trip with her husband Michael. Her superior camera and eye captured many of the shots here and as noted in other places in my blog. After spending hours editing, she graciously shared them with all of us, to use as we would like.
As highly populated as India is with dense urban areas, it is primarily a rural country. While driving between cities, several types of birds were noticed. These egrets found a safe haven near a farm area.
We spotted our first monkeys when we drove into Delhi. Arvind laughed at our excited reaction and assured us we would have a chance to see more monkeys later. On our drive back to Delhi he had the driver stop at an area where monkeys were being relocated from the city.
He told us that the vendor offering bananas and other foods for the animals gave a whole new meaning to the term “monkey business.”
Lisa purchased some feed to entice some of the monkeys closer, but they remained pretty elusive.
There we also saw a nilgai, a native antelope of India.
I heard peacocks in several areas but it was Nancy Leung, with her superior camera, who caught sight of this one near the Birla Temple in Jaipur.
Her camera also captured these parrots at the Taj Mahal.
The bus also reacted with enthusiasm when we noticed our first camel. The area west of Jaipur is desert so there were more in that region that further east, but we noticed them working everywhere.
And the elephants!!! We got to ride some up the hill at the Amber Fort (more on that later) in Jaipur, but that is a nice touch at a tourist area. Government regulations limit the elephants to four trips up the hill per day. The handlers then ride them into town to find other locations where tourists might want a short ride or photo opportunity. We saw most elephants just as a part of everyday working life along the roadways.
When I was quite young we stopped at Fort Ticonderoga in New York State on one of our family vacations. A colonial era fort, Ticonderoga stayed in my memory as one of my favorite places so much that I had my family stop there about five years ago. Somehow, it had shrunk and my kids were not impressed.
Well, travelfans, do I have a fort for you!!! Imagine, if you will, the Amber Fort of Jaipur, high on a ridge overlooking the valley. Built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, this palace has it all: amazing architectural details and wonderful stairways and corridors that beckon you on and on.
But first, let me set the tone.You should stop first by the lake and visit with the snake charmer. For a small fee you, too, can blow on the nasally sounding flute and keep a close eye on the cobra. Then climb aboard one of the wonderfully decorated elephants
source: Nancy Leung SmarTours
and ride in leisure up up up the climbing roadway to the Sun Gate.
source: Nancy Leung SmarTours
Try to ignore the vendor running alongside enticing you with an ever declining price for the elephant bedspread he is hawking. Tell him it is made poorly and you have no interest, tossing it back to him continuously as the elephant takes you higher and higher. Remember to ignore the vendor to take in the view of the gardensand the fortress wall climbing the opposite hillside. When you enter the courtyard and he is losing hope, pay the man 10% of his originally stated price and tuck the blanket away, to be used later to sew custom made bags for people who want one that has an essence of this trip.
And then look around the courtyard.
source: Nancy Leung SmarTours
And start exploring. So much to see. The stairs beckoning you upwards to the plaza.
The mosaics all over the place, in the walls, in the ceilings….everywhere.
Remind yourself that this all was built in 1592, well over 400 years ago. Enjoy the colors
and the carvings. Everywhere, more detailing.
Every ceiling different. And the passageways….follow this one…then that one.
Ask someone who works there how to get back to the courtyard where Arvind asked everyone to meet in 20 minutes before moving to another section of the fort.
Meet up with the group in time and maintain your good standing. And then go again. See another section…it is a huge place.
Peek out of windows to view other places inside the fort and the surrounding countryside.
And then down another passageway
through another gate
source: Nancy Leung SmarTours
and still more to see with huge cooking pots.
and then out beyond the outer gate past more vendors and then a jeep ride back to the bus.
Amber Fort……put it on your list of places to visit, but only if you like to explore. You DO like to explore, don’t you!!
We noticed a lot of stray dogs that appeared to be calm and very quiet. Could be they were malnourished, but compared to stray dogs in the United States, the temperament was remarkably different. We wondered if living in a society where animals are treated with kindness (in other words, no one yelling or throwing rocks at strays there) there is no reason for the dogs to act aggressively.
I rode the bus with my camera open, finger on the shutter ready to press, aperture set to sports mode trying to freeze the frame in something close to a sharp focus. This shot of a barber shop as we passed on the highway from Jaipur to Delhi gave us a glimpse of real life.
Many small parcels of land are lined with stone walls to identify private ownership. Many were fallow, appearing to be not have been used for farming or forage for quite some time.
We use 2x4s; they use saplings with the bark removed, to provide support for construction projects.
ROADSIDE TEA SHOP
I can imagine that many of these do not do huge business, but it is the kind of place where everyone knows your name.
Many trucks had a posy of flowers affixed to the rear view mirror on the driver’s side. This is only one small part of the decoration of most trucks, which are appreciated greatly as helping the family earn a living.
The last day we were in India, driving from Jaipur to Delhi for 6 hours, was the hottest. I noticed first one and then another places were young boys were splashing water from the community cistern. I finally got one picture where a bucket splash was not enough!
Tall smokestacks belching black smoke indicate that the bricks are drying in the kiln.
An optional tour one evening in Jaipur, enjoyed by about half the SmarTours group, was to the Birla Hindu temple built a few years ago by a well-to-d0 family. Designed to show how Hinduism encompasses both Islam and Buddhism with their symbolic rooflines, the white marble structure is surrounded with a white plaza. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, Arvind told us the ceremony we would witness takes place after sundown. It usually takes about 10 minutes and includes a chant that is repeated several times. Arvind did warn us that the chanting could go on for a half hour or even longer, but it was a short ceremony after all.
He told us that symbolically he leaves his troubles outside on the steps leading up to the entrance, to be picked up again upon exiting. He told us that the chanting makes him feel very calm.
Arvind made sure we were positioned at the very front of the open room. People filed in behind us and what happened next was interesting. As soon as the curtains opened and the ceremony began, the crowd pushed forward, as if eager to be as close as possible.
source: Lisa Garmat after the ceremony and people left the temple, from outside
The ceremony actually began when the curtains were still closed. The priests sounded a conch shell, and the tones reminded my of the shofar blown in a Jewish Temple at the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur. The curtains opened and before us were two statutes of Vishnu and Lakshmi, beautifully dressed in bright colors. The chanting began, one priest ringing some bells, as done in the Episcopal mass to draw attention to an important prayer, and the other priest slowly making a circular motion with a candelabra. Candles are lit in Christianity and Judaism as well.
In a few minutes, the chanting ended, the curtains remained open. The crowd circled around behind the curtained area to receive a blessing from the priests in the form of a spicy sweet mixture to eat, one more symbolic similarity to Christianity.
Once again, we are more alike than different. Love one another.
He is running the treasury down, supporting a pet project, spending way too much money on that instead of running the government and taking care of the programs that will help the people.
Well, I think this proves it is a perennial issue with leaders because specifically, I am talking about the Emperor Akbar (1556-1605). As for the Emperor, there was no room for discussion in that kind of government; what he decided was done, regardless of cost. At least we have a voice, no matter how much it may seem to be muzzled at times.
Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, sits 35 kilometers from Agra on a low hill of the Vindhya mountain range. Before Akbar, the site of the future city had already been the site of an important battle won by Akbar’s grandfather. In gratitude he named the area Shukri, which means “thanks”. In Akbar’s time the site was occupied by a small village of stonecutters and was the home of Shaikh Salim Chishti, a Muslim astrologer and Sufi Saint.
In 1568 Akbar visited the Shaikh to ask for the birth of an heir which was promised soon. Sure enough, Akbar’s wife gave birth to a boy on August 30, 1569. In gratitude, Akbar named the boy Salim after the astrologer, and, two years later decided to move the capital there.
As a strategic location protecting inland routes, Fatehpur Sikri was completed in 1573 but served as the seat of government for only ten years.
The first planned cities of the Moghuls, the throne room has an intricate carved red stone platform.
Although only the palace and mosque sections of the expansive city remain, the architectural details throughout the complex are eye catching.
The city has a series of rain water channels and large pools to capture any precipitation.However, it turned out there was not enough water available in the area to support the court and all the services it needed there. The Emperor was soon distracted by an invasion of Afghans to the north and the Mughal capital was moved to Delhi in 1586.
Excavations of the ancient city started in 1892 and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Today the buildings and grounds that are preserved are a small portion of the extensive city that existed in 1585.