Touchdown India

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Nov 16, 2004


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Monday, October 18, 2004

:: New Delhi ::

I arrived in New Delhi late Friday night. As my plane approached the runway, I looked through my window and saw lights aglow amongst full vegetation. It struck me that the lights didn't appear in any particular pattern as to indicate there were planned roads or an organized transportation method. The view suggested more clusters of lights, which made me think what I was looking at might be the line that distinguishes New Delhi from Old Delhi. I would soon find out what this foreign land has to offer.

After making it out of baggage claim and customs, which was a breeze in a wheelchair, I arrived outside surrounded by the night air. Instantly, I felt the culture shock. It literally took my breath away! Massive amounts of carbon dioxide filled the air and tarred my pink little lungs. After I caught my breath, I noticed the people adorned with huge smiles and red dots on their foreheads, unfamiliar sights and sounds so loud and frenetic that I was instantly energized by the differences that eveloped me.

Planning isn't my forte but I was immensely grateful that I gone to the trouble to arrange a driver to get to my hotel before I left the States. As I was wheeled through the maze of porters holding up signs for their potential clients, I saw my name. Yeh, he actually showed up! His sign was pink and it read, "Welcome, Mr. Andrea Turner". I smiled and said, "Namaste, I'm Andrea Turner". He said, "You are not a man. Lucky me! I am Amit. Velcome to Vndia!"

Sitting in the backseat of the hotel car, I couldn't believe where I was...In-dia! Some 10,000 miles from home. The streets, buildings, and people are like nothing I've ever seen. Well, maybe on Discovery Channel but up close and personal has no substitute. My adrenaline kept me up most of the night as I soak in the view from my hotel room, which is a five-star resort that provided every comfort imaginable. This room alone was worth the 24-hour journey.

That night, I booked a tour to Agra (I got the last seat available) to see the Taj Mahal Saturday morning at 6.30am. This was incredibly early considering I hadn't sleep more than four hours the night before but this was my only chance to see this crowing beauty of love and devotion.

:: Agra ::

The tour group was varied with 25 people mostly business travelers trying to sneak in a pleasure trip before returning home. Many shared their distributed work environment stories. It was almost like a mini support group therapy session. I found I was not alone in my little victories or the struggles I share in creating collaborative team environment oceans away from each other.

The bus was old yet comfortable. It may have had shocks but you couldn't tell with the road being so torn up. Trucks have signs on their bumpers that read, "Blow horn" to make some sense out of all the driving madness. Signage, street signals, organization of any time is missing. Horns tell you if you're doing the right thing or not. Apparently, nobody is because the honking never stops!! This constant noise rests heavy on the diesel-fumed air. For many of us, this chaos created a migraine in milli-seconds. Agra is 3.5 hours from New Delhi. It was going to be a long day.

At the half-way point we stopped for breakfast. After eating naan (bread), egg white omelets, and curried potatoes we all chased down various painkillers with our trusty bottled water to relieve our heads and sinuses. This was my first taste of homesickness as I longed for my California strict-emission-state air!

Our next stop was the mausoleum of Sikandra, Sultan of Delhi, who was responsible for moving the capital to Agra in 1504 so he could keep a check on the warring factions of his empire. All of these stops are plagued with beggars pleading for you to buy a postcard, jewelry, trinkets of all kinds, or to feed them. It doesn't help that our bus says TOURIST on top of it either. This disparity is heartbreaking. We were instructed to ignore the beggars completely. Even a smile to simply recognize their human existence would encourage them to never let you go. I refused that warning at first and thanked the beggars but offered a firm "no-thank you". This was a huge mistake. They practically crawled in after me on the bus. If it wasn't for our tour guide who blocked the doorway, I'm certain they'd be sharing my hotel room with me. Okay, so I learned the hard way that you can't be nice, or you'd go broke trying to right the wrong of poverty that is so pervasive throughout this country.

Arriving in Agra was very exciting. The city is not only known for its famous Taj Mahal but also for its universities and for once being the capital of India under Moghul rule. Many scholars study here before leaving for American technology jobs. We were warned it is an intense city even for the seasoned Indian traveler. The streets are tenuous dirt roads lined with camels and mules carrying goods to and fro, filthy water and open sewers are ubiquitous, power outages routine and appalling traffic pollution an environmental disaster. Auto-rickshaws, three-wheeler taxis called "autos", are everywhere and are so small and thin that you hope the wind doesn't knock them over. These drivers are notoriously anarchic so one must be sure of the fare before stepping inside. Bicyclists are everywhere with their fenders dented and wheels crooked from too many close calls. Street vendors have make-shift stoves on wooden crates and will make you curry or fresh fruit (we all passed on the fruit cocktail with Immodium chaser). Stores consist of old torn down brick buildings without doors that have only a counter with maybe 12 items for sale. Everything looks incredibly dirty and contaminated to American standards but as a stranger in a strange land, I'm loving the experience.

Back to the pollution. It's a huge problem as evident being my third day with a sinus headache. Fortunately, it is a growing concern with archaeologists who wish to preserver the Taj Mahal. Agra passed a law that vehicles could not come within 50kms of the Taj Mahal since pollution was starting rear its ugly head on the Taj. The marble is starting to get undeniably sullen and yellow in parts. Empty casings betray lost precious stones. Still, to the untrained eye, this tomb is almost perfect.

To get there you have to park and take an electric bus into the site. Recently, the fee for entry was 15Rs (approx $.25) but the city raised it to 750Rs (approx $17), which is supposed to help with restoration efforts. Over 20 million visitors pass through the Taj Mahal daily. That's a lot of rupees! Critics of the plan say that the city is corrupt and the Taj Mahal will never see the money put to use. The city kicked out all factories to help with the problem. The tourist revenue now drives most of Agra's economy.

As many of you know, the Taj Mahal (means Crown Palace) was built by Shah Jahan upon a dying request from his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, (she died after giving birth to their fourteenth child), is strikingly beautiful. It's not only the tomb that's magnificent but its monochromatic backdrop of the sky lends itself to a create a perfect canvas of uninterrupted space to display the white marble spires of traditional Islamic architecture. This particular marble is translucent; its vast marble surfaces fall into shadow or reflect the sun, its color changes, from soft gray and yellow to pearly cream and dazzling white. In the light of a full moon, it glows like a beacon much like the love the Shah felt for his wife. Inlaid in the marble are precious stones, which adorn the walls with scripted Sanskrit scriptures that read proportionally from bottom to top. The artisans skewed the size of the letters on the top to appear bigger than the bottom letters so that the reading was consistent in size.

This is a monument of painstakingly perfect detail. It took 23 years to construct this tomb and 40 million rupees. It is the only building in the world that is perfectly symmetrical down to the percentage point of 100%. The Shah wanted to build the exact same tomb but in black marble just opposite of the Taj across the Yamuna River as a mirror of himself back to his beloved. Eventually, his devote and austere son interned him in Agra Fort for being incredibly insane for thinking such an idea and overtook his throne. When the Shah died he ruined the Taj Mahal's perfection by requesting his tomb be set besides his beloved wife's tomb, which was placed in the center. His tomb is placed on her right creating an asymmetrical imbalanced. The plan of the tomb was intended as a reproduction of God's throne. Given the emperor's remains are inside the inevitable conclusion is that, aside from being and extravagant romantic, he possessed the opinion that his importance knew no bounds.

Most notable part of the visit was how many times my photo was taken at the Taj Mahal by Indian men and women who wanted a snapshot taken with me and their son and/or daughter in my arms. I am a complete stranger to them and yet they want me to hold their babies for a photo opportunity. Indian people are extremely warm and friendly offering smiles but not always conversation. After a while, I must admit, the attention felt a little like a freak show. The Indian girls in the photo above were most welcoming and sweet. They had fun seeing themselves on my digital camera.

Next stop was the Agra Fort, the former stronghold of the Moghul Empire. It is said the Shah spent his time gazing wistfully at the Taj Mahal from across the river. While the Taj Mahal is feminine symbol of architecture, the Agra Fort is totally masculine with its half-moon redstone foundation set as the majestic citadel.

Afterwards, we visited the marble factory that was designed and produced the inlaid stones in the Taj Mahal. Several generations later sons and grandsons are replicating the handiwork of their forefathers' craft. We got the major hard sell and were followed around until we all eventually broke down and bought something. I admire the beauty of the handiwork but marble isn't my taste. I did buy a soap dish that will look nice on my porcelain bathroom sink. I was struck by how many people it took to ring up my order. First there was the guy who followed me around until I found somehing that suited me. He then gave my piece to the second guy to ring it up. The thrid man picked up the cashier slip and handed it to fourth man to review. The fith man handed me my slip while the sixth man wraped my dish up in paper. The seventh man handed me my dish. Everyone who wants a job can have a job in India. It's that simple. I read that it's the wealthy's duty to provide work for servants or their stinginess is frowned upon.

Riding back to New Delhi and our bus broke down. The driver fixed the engine with a piece of YARN! Magically, it worked and hours later we arrived back at our hotels totally exhausted with our black lung coughs but thrilled he was so resourceful. Maybe yarn is their version of duct tape, which I find quitre useful in solving many problems as well.

Tomorrow I fly to Hyderabad to start working with my colleagues many of whom I will be meeting for the first time after collaborating for almost 2-years. I feel like I've been on vacation all this time and now, still jet lagged, must shift into work mode and be somewhat useful. This should be interesting...

Check out the photos above. I also updated my Paris log if you'd like to see photos from the City of Lights, too.

Andrea
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Comments

zeevi,shilbir@yahoo.com on

nice piece of writing ,maam.u must hav enjoyed ur trip to Delhi ,if not,thn i m sorry on behalf of all delhi walaas.God bless u nd hav a nice future

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