Monday, November 21, 2005

India - Day 8

Today we flew to Delhi, then took a tourist bus to Agra. The estimate was that it would take us 3 hours to get there from the airport, but it ended up being more like 5 1/2. There was a lot of time to just sit and observe the daily lives of the people in both the city and rural areas. The traffic in Delhi was very heavy, and there seemed to be a lot more smoke and air pollution there.
We had heard about the cows in Delhi, and finally got to see them firsthand. They are all over the place. I read a news article that said there are about 40,000 of them. A lot of rural people can't afford to feed them, so they let them roam around the city where they feed on garbage. Apparently they have a new program going on where they take some kind of air gun and shoot a computer chip into the cow's stomach so they can monitor who the cow belongs to. I'm not sure how effective that would be but I guess anything's worth a try. You can read about it here.

There is so much garbage everywhere. You see piles of it on the side of the road, and often there will be cows and pigs and people rooting through it. We also saw a lot of little kids playing in it. Sometimes you see it on fire, but mostly it is just sitting there rotting away.

On the way out of Delhi, we noticed a lot of people living in tents and under tarps on the side of the road. In one area, there were a lot of monkeys running around too. There were also a lot of stray dogs on the streets that look very underfed.

We made a pit stop about halfway on our journey at a hotel that had washrooms. Outside the hotel, there was a man and his daughter dressed up in some kind of fancy looking outfits. The man had an interesting looking musical instrument, and when we got off the bus he immediately started playing it, and the little girl started dancing for money. At first I thought it was kind of cute. But then I felt sorry for the little girl, that she had to do this instead of playing or going to school.

Along the highway to Agra, we saw quite a large number of small mosques. It seemed that every little town had one, and around 1 o'clock you could see all the men gather to say their prayers. With all the prayers each day, I wondered how anybody gets any work done. I found it quite fascinating to watch.

We saw a lot of agricultural activities going on as well. We would often see groups of women in the fields cutting and baling what looked liked some kind of grass. I was later told by an Indian friend that it was probably sugar cane. There seemed to be a lot more smoke in these areas too, and I guessed that they were probably burning the stubble after the cane was cut.

Another thing we noticed was that people would often just squat by the side of the road to go to the bathroom. And anywhere you would see a stone wall or fence there was usually some guy peeing on it. We joked about how in Jerusalem they have the wailing wall but in India it's the peeing wall!

The city of Agra was a bit disappointing. It was very dirty and smoky, and seemed very overcrowded. The area around the Taj Mahal seemed particularly dirty and smoky and we noticed a lot of people cooking food on open fires, which may have contributed to it. I couldn't tell what they were burning, but it smelled pretty bad. I had a sore throat for the entire time we were in Agra from breathing all the smoke. One morning I even woke up with what felt like smoker's cough.

The hotel Amarvillas in Agra was fabulous. It is such a shame that it is surrounded by so much of a contrast. It felt strange to be staying in such opulance when outside the walls of the hotel there was so much poverty. The view of the Taj Mahal from the hotel was great, but at times it was quite difficult to see it through all the haze. It was only 600 metres away, yet there were times when we could hardly see it. There is definitely something magical about being there though.

In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner with the members of our group who were left. I think there were about 10 of us. The best part was that when we opened the menus, they had something besides Indian food. Not that we didn't like the Indian food, but it is a little hard on the stomach when you have it for every meal and are not used to all the spices. We had a fun time and some great conversation.

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