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India2018: Agra

Travels through India with Terrell Neuage and Narda Biemond. India 2018 itinerary   Previous blog: Delhi

Wednesday 24/01/2018 Agra

We were up at five am after not sleeping well all night from waking up constantly to be sure we were awake at five am. We had our phone alarms on (my wake-up ring tone is a Dylan song ‘She belongs to me’ and Narda is enough to drown out a freight train) plus the hotel was to bang on our door but we were up before then. Still we worry.

We got a tuk tuk to the train station that even at 6:30 am was crowded with zillions of people all over.

We had a nice chat with a couple of police people while we waited. They helped us get on to the correct carriage, which in our case was first class seats for the two plus hours. See  below.

The train seats were comfortable – not Amtrak comfortable but Indian good. Our first train on this three-month trip. We got breakfast served (cornflakes, milk, coffee, and a hot meal of eggs and something which we declined as we had breakfast at the train station. An uneventful couple of hours with some reading done. Shambhu, our tuk tuk driver for the next three days greeted us with our names on a sign and we settled into Hotel Sheela near the Taj Mahal and after eating at the hotel we slept. The hotel is quite basic, we had booked the basic room for $23 USD for two nights, but apparently it was too basic for us uptown folks (no hot showers, and small) so for $53 USD we got a hot shower and a larger room for two nights. We thought the beds in India were going to be too hard, so we brought a couple of blow-up mattress and a pump which puts our luggage over weight for internal flights. The beds so far are good, thick foam, after two stays we gave them away to Shambhu.

With Delhi we were tossing out blogs a day, videos, photos galore, now we are too busy to do any such thing. Or we were, I am writing this on the night train to Jaipur, with Narda, and everyone else in our carriage asleep. When we get there I will be stuffed, but then I should sleep, Narda will be reading her Kindle for the rest of the night. The last couple of days have tested every fibre of this seventy-year old and I am sure Narda-the-younger feels exhausted also. Of course, she has been asleep for the past three hours on the berth above me. And this morning I woke her at eight am, so we could get out the door; such is the life of an old person.

We did the Taj Mahal thing Wednesday morning, a very foggy morning – barely saw it. An hour later when sun decided to shine and chase away the fog we got a couple of photos. It is somewhat impressive, the fact that it has lasted so long is a testament to something.

I have always liked cows, from living on a dairy farm in Australia to not eating them since my parents may have slipped something onto my plate in the early 1950s and throughout the early 1960s that may have had cow chunks in it, cows have been an interesting topic of observation for me. My email image of the past ten years has been with me walking alongside a cow in Goa.  In Delhi, Agra, and now Jaipur I have had many photo ops with cows. So many in fact that Narda has put me on a cow-band. I will include a couple here just to remind myself of these days.

We met our tuk tuk driver in the afternoon and went to a carpet weaving place.

Shambhu was recommended to us by Narda’s work colleague, Brother Rob. He has been using his services and those of his family for a period of about 30 years as he made frequent trips back to India. This family of tuk tuk drivers has become very special to Rob, and he has many great stories to tell.

We visited Shambhu’s village. One of our favourite visits, ‘the real India’ he said. The video below is a bit blurry, something I blame on very poor internet for uploading but it does give an idea of this village. Shambhu is getting married in a month and he explained the process to us. His brother arranged a girl from the same class; in his case the ‘shoemaker class’. They meet at McDonalds. He asked if she like him and with an affirmative she asked if he like her, and thus began their romance. They met one-another’s families and when we met Shambhu he was in the process of building his new home; an add-on room to his brother’s home. There will be no floors, outside of what the earth provides, he has the bricks and has started digging out the sandy soil for a foundation. They have a well for water for their area, provided by Brother Robert, who brings students from his school in Australia. It will cost some 50,000 rupees to build his new home; about $776 USD. Shambhu is working hard with this tuk tuk business to raise the money. If he can not build his house in the next two months he will lose his bride as her father wants her provided for. She is 19, he is 25. He is also raising funds for the marriage. I forget how much it is but it is supposed to be a three day affair with a horse and bands and lots of celebration. Travel gives us such a different view of life-styles. Narda and I met on the internet, from the day we physically met at the end of 2000 until now we have rarely been apart. My marriage proposal was one night when, in the middle of the night, not even knowing whether Narda was awake or not, I said, ‘let’s do this thing’. That was it. I could not even use the word marriage for a long time. We did the deed with family present at the end of a pier, and I called it ‘JettyDay’. At the time I didn’t have a car, I was a single-parent, a few bucks in my pocket, and I didn’t even give her a ring. What a contrast to an Indian hitch.

The class thing takes awhile to get one’s mind around, but we have heard people mention it wherever we go. People will tell us on first meeting, ‘I am of the Brahmin Class’ which I believe is a priest class and they feel they are at the top of the heap. It seems strange to identify with birth as the totality of one’s place in life. Of course, it is easy for me as a white male from a western culture (with my duel citizenship of USA and Australia) to say one can achieve whatever they wish. I sure have. I realise I need to get over myself and understand how society has limited people by race, gender, place of birth, belief systems. I always thought by now, 2018, the world would be more homogenous. Maybe religion would be replaced by doctrines of love without doctrines. We would treat each other equally. I think it is getting worse. America First as well as anyone else who proclaims themselves first is putting us back into the class systems. Everyone is to get in the back of the line. I must be careful when I think a tuk tuk driver is over-charging me 150 instead of 100 rupees ($2.33 instead of $1.55 USD). A cup of coffee in most shops in Australia is about $4 (204 rupees), a beer in a pub starts at $8 (408 rupees). Our daily budget for food in India is $20 USD (sorry about switching between USD and Australian Dollar) for the two of us which is about one meal if we are doing it on the cheap in Australia. We feel good about ourselves giving a beggar a twenty rupee note until we realise we just gave away 30-cents. India is tough on a western consciousness.

Narda even played a bit of cricket with the children.

Shambhu and his sisters made us a meal. We were concerned about getting to the train on time. He kept saying we would be there on time, and he did do it. Was I feeling uneasy being waited and eating a meal surrounded by about twenty children. I said feed them first and we were told there was plenty for them. What I saw didn’t seem like it. The meal was cooked in their kitchen, a small open fire on the ground with a few vegetables. Letting go is such a difficult thing. Perhaps this is what I will learn in three months of being in India.

We were told that the school situation was good for people with money, they could send their children to a private school. Public school was a different story. Teachers are paid a salary. They do not show up, except a couple of times a year when there is an inspection. When we were there on what should have been a school day, children were all over the place. We went up to the roof and 360 degrees around us there were children on the rooftops waving to us. We did not share a language but they were smiling and we all laughed together. Narda taught them a song – see the clip below.

Village visit =

Shambhu took us to the local market with everyone smiling and saying it was OK for me to take their photo. We didn’t buy anything, no one seemed to worry. Around historic sites it is a different story with so many people asking for money, selling tours, trinkets, pity. What would I do in their situation? I have had my hardships, tragedies, failures, and success in life but nothing compares to the stories we get and the situations we see. I feel I get beggar fatigue. But I feel somewhat good about animal life in India. I am sure I will go on about this too many times. Unlike cultures of animal-eaters (goody-two-shoes vegetarian for decades me gets a bit judgemental in this space) the animals in India receive more respect. Cows are holy. They wander everywhere. Nutritionally their life is crap as they forge for themselves among the garbage, but they get to live their lives, hangout with each other. The calf is not separated from the mother at birth so we can steal the milk, pigs and chickens are not forced to live in such totally unnatural conditions where they can barely move, let alone socialize, so we can slaughter them to get fat on.

We had no intentions on purchasing a carpet – what would we do with an expensive new rug in our home that we are trying to get rid of stuff from? We watched how rugs were handwoven, months of works, and such an array of amazing colours. Then we thought of our home back in Adelaide. A bit dated, needing new style, something different than our Chinese collections of things dotted around, then we remembered how we have no second thought of replacing a camera or computer for a thousand dollars every few years; phones, television, constant car/caravan servicing, etc. A handwoven carpet should last for a long time. We were told it also would help several families.

This is the carpet we bought. We will now need to redecorate our lounge; oh wait, the house, the next day we bought three more: two for our bedroom and one for the hall. We need new curtains, we will paint the lounge when we get home, maybe even some new furniture. It is amazing what one can do a month after saying no more spending on the house.

the two for our bedroom: handwoven months of work,

And the one for our lounge;

And the one for our hallway (in the middle)

We were told this took five months and three-months of work to make. That is about how much we had to work to make the money to pay for it (not really – but they were not Walmart rugs.

Carpet – here is a video we took of them making a carpet:

We went to a music store where we were given a sitar concert and Narda was taught how to play a sitar in a few lessons. Of course, they wanted us to buy one but we didn’t.

We went to a marble shop and saw how marble pieces were inserted into tables and things. Tuk tuk drivers get a small commission for taking tourists to places like this. There is no pressure to buy anything; we did go nuts at the carpet place, but other places we just look and make it clear for the start we are not buying. They are happy to show their wares and the tuk tuk driver gets something and we learn from everyone we meet and there is always my ever-present camera taking photos or video. I made a rather uninteresting video which can be seen here Marble factory

Agra Fort video

Agra Fort is in the city of Agra. It was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. Compared to the Red Fort in Delhi it is much more spectualar. The fort in Delhi was going through a reconstruction cycle but even without that the Agra one is bigger and better. It was India Tourism Day so we got to have our photo taken with some foreigners. Narda got them all to do a round of “Aussie Aussie Aussie” and them to say “oi oi oi”. I did not get my camera up in time to record it so just imagine it.

Video Clips are HERE

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