November 13th, 2004

India

Akbar's Tomb, Sikandra, Uttar Pradesh

About 15 km. west of Agra sits the tomb of Akbar, the 3rd Mughal emperor. Same basic plan as other tombs in northern India. Gates. Garden. Plaza. Pretty ornate, and a lot of attention paid to harmonics. Sound harmonics. In the room containing the cenotaph sounds at certain frequencies bounce around forever. One man makes a living from baksheesh just to stand there and hum at the best frequency. Some of the outside chambers work similarly. Stand at one column facing away, and someone standing at another column will hear you as if you are speaking right into their ear.

India

Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

The Taj Mahal is by far the most beautiful man-made structure I have ever seen. Alone, it is almost worth making the trip to India. Pictures do not do it justice, and words even less. See it.

The site is crowded. Plus hawkers galore. It's run by the Archeological Survey of India (A.S.I.). I've noticed that A.S.I. sites in particular seem poorly run, and the hawkers here have taken up the slack. In contrast to the City Palace in Jaipur or Mehrengarh in Jodhpur, where there are fewer hawkers. A.S.I. sites have little in the way of museum shops or facilities, and they do things like make you park far away so rickshaws can make a buck getting you closer.

The Taj follows other memorials. Large garden. Raised plaza. Memorial in building atop plaza. The difference with the Taj is the working of the building itself. Exquisite marble inlay work. Outside are black marble inlays of Q'uran verses. Inside it's flowers and other types of unlay. Marble railings with ornate latticework carved from single pieces of marble. If you make a mistake you start over with a new piece of marble. The building is symmetrical. A mosque faces west on one side of the Taj. A similar building faces east, though it is not used as a mosque for it's east-facing ways.

Shah Jahan built it in memory of his wife Mumtaz. He apparently intended to build a black marble version for himself across the Yamuna river with a marble bridge connecting the two. Across the river you can see the beginnings of work on his own memorial, though it's just brick walls. Shah Jahan was deposed by his son, who did not want to spend money on the second Taj. He imprisoned Shah Jahan in Agra Fort, within sight of the Taj. Obviously, the second Taj was never built.

India

Diwali & the Taj Mahal

I spent most of yesterday with a co-worker's cousin Amit and then later with co-workers of Amit's from I.B.M. for lunch, dinner, and Diwali fun. Diwali is huge. Lights like Christmas. Candles everywhere. Beautiful rangulis. And fireworks. I thought neighborhoods in the U.S. were loud with fireworks during Independence Day celebrations. Nuh-uh. Not even close to Delhi during Diwali. Holy crap it was loud last night. The night sounded like what I imagine a war zone would.

Spending time with them was great. More when the paper journal gets transcribed.

I've settled down a bit from the other day. India doesn't exactly scare me. Still have serious issues though. Tipping is pretty much expected almost everywhere. Between not knowing what's expected in which situations, not knowing how much is normal, not being able to convert dollars to rupees in my head, and the fact that pretty much no one will give change (so that I have smaller bills to leave tips) to foreigners, I'm up shit creek without a paddle. I am also really not enjoying the fact that I am a mark in Indian's eyes. By and large, most Indians are not trying to get into my wallet, but in a country of 1 billion people, it only takes a small percentage of persistent hawkers before there's enough to get really irritating. For instance, the second I step outside my hotel, a pack of taxi drivers, auto-rickshaw drivers, and rickshaw wallahs decend on me. Fuck, just let me walk the block to the corner in peace. In the parking lot of the Taj Mahal, the t-shirt and post-card sellers got into a shoving match over who got the rights to me. Fucking irritating.

Now that the Taj Mahal is mentioned, I saw it today. Absolutely beautiful. Would have been even more beautiful if not for the crush of people inside. Try to admire the beauty of the marble inlay work inside and get overwhelmed with the stench and press of hundreds of unwashed sweaty people. From outside though, it's definitely gorgeous. You can go look at pictures. Nothing will impress on you the beauty of this mausoleum until you actually go there. Nothing.

India

Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Two days in one entry. Yesterday I spent Diwali with Amit Nanavati, Kartik's cousin. I didn't get back to the hotel until late, thus no entry yesterday.

At 10 a.m. yesterday, Sitaram (my driver) and I tried to go to about 4 different places in Delhi. Unfortunately, they were all closed for Diwali. I did see embassy row however. I gave up and returned to the hotel. There I wrote postcards for an hour or so.

At 1 p.m. I went to Amit's in Vasant Kunj colony. That's pronounced Vuh-sunt Koonj. Colonies in Delhi are something like neighborhoods, though not quite the same. Haven't quite figured it out though. On the way there I got to see my first Indian shanty-town.

Side note, the video on MTV India rightnow with a bunch of hot Indian women in schoolgirl outfits has me… excited.

At Amit's, we mostly hung out and talked all afternoon. His wife made a late lunch, which was delicious. They kepton insisting that I eat more, but were surprised that I could eat and like Indian food. I still don'thave the hang of eating using naan and my fingers though.

Once itgot dark, they turnon the Diwali lights and lit candles made by pouring oil into small pottery bowls and dipping rolled cotton into them for wicks. The the fire works startedin the neighborhood.

Amit took me with his family to a Diwali party help by a co-workers. By the time we arrived, Delhi was a war zone of crackers. Constant, loud explosions. The party hosts expressed dismay that I didn't eat more. I was still full from Amit's, but I did my best to eat some of everything. I was also invited on a 3 day hike inthe Himalayas (pronounced Him-all-ya) with several of them, but I don't get back to Delhi before they go.

This short description does not do the evening justice. I had the time of my life.