November 14th, 2004


Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Fell asleep last night so I didn't get to complete my entry with the day's events. At 8 a.m., I checked out of the hotelin what was amadhouse of French and German tourists. Driving by, Sitaram counted 4 busses of them checking out at the same time.

On the way out of Delhi, he stopped at the Bahá'í House of Worship. We waited outside for a bit, because we didn't know before arrive that the temple did not open until 9:30 a.m. While walking in, two Indians wanted to take their picture with me. I also caught a gaggle of adolescent girls take sly glances at me and nervously giggling when I caught them. I need to stop the next person who does this and ask what they find fascinating about my appearance. I am certainly not the only westerner they have seen.

The drive to Agra took about 4 hours. The distance between Delhi and Agra measures only about 120 miles. However India does not have a freeway system. We frequently slowed for cows, auto-rickshaws, people crossing, slow moving tourist busses, trucks, and probably ten other things I forget. We also stopped twice for slow queues at toll booths (Rs. 35) and once at the Haryana-Uttar Pradeshborder where the driver disappeared for 15 minutes to pay tax.

While waiting for him the local tourist attack brigade swooped in. In Delhi, I saw a bit of thie performing animal racket. At India Gate both snake charmers and monkey handlers tried to get me to pay for performances and pictures. The monkeys looked poorly kept. At the tax plaza, handlers introduced a new poorly kept animal, dancing sloth bears. These bears looked absolutely miserable. They train them to dance by beating on their front paws. I've steadfastly refused to pay for such performances or pictures.

It's time to mention the incredible poverty I've seen here in India. I particularly noticed this on the New Delhi-Agra drive. At worst, I saw thousands of corrugated and thatch hut shanty-town houses. More normal are red-brick adobe apartments in shamblingdisrepair. All over-crowded. Transportation for the masses consists of walking, overcrowded busses in disrepair, auto-rickshaws with up to 10 people packed in, and worse.

Again in Agra, the guide steered me in to a commission racket place. This time the goods were marble inlay work. And this time I consented to purchase overpriced goods. Although I'm sure the guide will be disappointed in his commission because I only bought some coasters. The salesman was much lesshigh pressure than in Delhi. When I came to India, I expected to buy some overpriced souvenires. Still, my guideline is not too expensive, and it has to be something I would use. I didn't want a Persion rug, nor can I use a marble tabletop. A set of coasters, not so bad.


Itimad-ul-Daulah, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

This is the tombfor Mirza Ghiyes Veg, was was the wazir for the Mughal emporor Jehangir. In the grand scheme of things not as important asany of the emperors' tombs. What is important though, is that this is the first Mughal tomb built from marble with that same design elements that later were used at the Taj Mahal. Such as the marble inlay work. Itimad sits across the river from downtown Agra.

There exists a bridge designed for autos somewhat north of Itimad. However, just 1 km south is a converted railroad bridge. After driving through Agra's alleys, the driver pulled onto this bridge. It was crowded with bicycles, auto-rickshaws, pedicabs, pedestrians. And shockingly, other cars. I couldnot see two cars fitting side by side, yet somehow he (and they) did it.

Another thing to note: one of the beggars at the gate of Itimad had scales all over his face and head. Beggars here have the truly horrific down pat. From polio victims walking on hands and knees to a blind man with no arms, and others with impossibly twisted limbs. I've never seen such things, even on television. Most beggars though are just extremely dirty little girls with ratty hair andmothers hovering nearby to put the extra arm on reluctant donors.


Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh

Agra Fort was built by Akbar, and I think was the capital of the Mughal empire for awhile. Before Akbar moved it to Fatehpur Sikri. Shah Jahan was imprisoned in Agra Fort after his son overthrew him. From here he could see the Taj Mahal he built. The fort is impressive. A moat channeled water from the Yamuna river, though these days the moat is a 30 foot deep mess of weeds. Some very beautiful gardens inside. Byond that though, the place would be inhospitable for modern people.

Trans India didn't set me up with a guide for today, and it turned out to be much more pleasant. A bunch of guides ply the street outside the entrance. Apparently there is a queue for them. Two of them got into a discussion over me. At the end, the one who picked me up walked away and I wound up with the second one. He turned out to be pretty informed and a decent guy. At the end of the tour, I found out the deal. He promised the other guide half of his take if he could cut in line. As it was near the end of the day and he hadn't got to the head of the line, he had no income yet. So splitting his fee was better than nothing. I paid him Rs. 500 (about $11) for about an hour's worth of work.

I had wanted to go to a temple that's been in the process of being built for about 100 years now, but it turns out to be 20 km away. And not really enough time.