Previous posts on our trip to India:
-An Introduction to India
-Speaking to India’s Future Leaders
-Varanasi (Dark, Deceived, Disgusting)
-That Moment When a Dream Comes True
Sunday, June 23
This morning we visited the Amber Fort, another UNESCO site that reminded me partly of the Great Wall of China and partly of Machu Picchu. It was a massive fort with palaces on top of a small mountain range in Jaipur. We rode an elephant to the top as the walk was quite steep.
Next we visited the astronomical park outside of the royal palace along with touring the royal palace itself where the current maharaja lives with his wife, daughter, and grandson. The common people love the ruling family as they are wise and kind. The former maharaja was a huge man, as wide as he was tall, weighing in at 250 kilos, over 500 pounds. In the museum was a display of some of the royal garments from the past few centuries, and the robe of this “abnormal” man—as Ahmed described him—was the size of a tent.
On the drive back to the hotel, we talked again about the differences between America and India: entrance fees to museums and parks–he was intrigued by our description of the Opryland Hotel–public education, and police–they are not anyway near as corrupt in America as they are in India. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ll take the American system of government and justice over pretty much what any other country in the world has.
Before dinner we stopped at a jewelry store. I bought some bangles back in Ongole, but when I tried them on for our Taj Mahal visit, they were too small. I couldn’t get them past my wrist. Thankfully they only cost about $2, but this meant I was now in the market for a new bangle. I was immediately drawn to a gold bangle with a few semi-precious stones. I was expecting the price to be $50, maybe $75 on the high end. It was $1,600. The cheapest item in the store was more than we wanted to spend so we said thank you and left.
Ahmed took us to a nice restaurant and we chatted more about marriage. Ahmed is number four of five children. His older sister and two older brothers are married. He is next in line, but wants to wait a few more years. However, until he marries, his younger brother cannot marry. Much like in biblical times, younger children should not marry ahead of their older siblings. Ahmed told us of a girl who once proposed to him and how he gingerly declined. As we were finishing the meal, he got a call from his supervisor. A noble family, relatives of India’s royalty, the maharaja, invited us to dinner. (Remember, this was after we just finished dinner, we were now being invited to dinner.)
We were greeted like and by royalty with garlands of jasmine and red dots on our foreheads. Their house was on top of the markets across the street from the royal palace we visited earlier in the day. We were taken to the roof top for a spectacular night view of the city, palace, and mountains as well as the “super moon” on display in all its glory.
Our host explained that they had to turn their country palace into a hotel to generate income so they only had this home in the city now. We then sat through an hour’s worth of viewing wedding photo albums as well as a photo album of pictures of their family’s visits with visiting dignitaries and royalty around the world including Prince Charles and Princess Diana. During this time we were served sodas and delicious, non-spicy minced mutton kabobs. We assumed the family knew we actually just finished dinner, but then we heard those fateful words, “Let us know when you are ready for dinner.”
More love torture. Can you really say no when it’s royalty who’s inviting you to their table? Matthew and I looked at each other with smiles on our faces and horror in our eyes as we began dinner number two at 10:00 p.m., and the menu included chicken, lamb, lentil and corn soup, potatoes in a spinach sauce, cheese in a tomato sauce, chapathi, vegetable biryani, and dessert. I wish we had gotten some photos of our time together, but they didn’t offer, and it felt rude to ask.
As we forced ourselves to gorge yet again, we continued chatting about the early monsoons and how Americans view India. I realized most people I know actually know very little about India. They see it as some exotic land half-way around the world or as the voice on the other end of that tech help phone call. Until we came, I thought much the same thing. After three weeks here, India is so much more. We’ve truly experienced both ends of the spectrum, dining with the poorest of the poor in tribal communities to dining with royalty and a little in between. We can’t say we’ve seen it all, but we have had some pretty incredible experiences.
Random thoughts for the day:
•I saw a commercial advertising Snickers as 100% vegetarian. I wonder what the non-vegetarian version tastes like.
Monday, June 24
As we drove back to Delhi this morning, I thought about being that much closer to home. Once in Delhi, we toured the new city, seeing several sites and monuments that I don’t remember anything about. I’m at that point where I just don’t care enough to try to keep things straight. I imagine I feel like a foreigner walking through Washington, D.C. trying to remember which presidents and wars are for which memorials and monuments–there are so many!
We did visit a Sikh temple, and that I won’t forget. We had to take off our shoes and walk through a community foot washing pool. We also had to wear coverings on our heads. Since we didn’t have anything for our heads we had to pull some out from a community bin. Visions of hookworm and lice danced through my head. How many other strangers had worn this head covering and when was it last cleaned? Upon entering the temple, I had an overwhelming feeling of oppression. My heart felt physically heavy and I wanted to cry. I held it together, though, but I didn’t feel “right” until we got to our hotel and I could wash my feet. Once again, I am just so thankful for the free redemption, forgiveness and eternal salvation offered through Christ.
Random thoughts for the day:
•Another example of this land of contrasts: men can urinate openly on the streets, but women cannot bare their shoulders or legs.
Tuesday, June 25
Our first stop this morning was India’s largest mosque which meant another place we had to take off our shoes. I also had to “cover up.” This meant a rather freaky old Muslim man who didn’t look too thrilled at my presence finding a robe that looked like a muu muu and tying it around me. I was just a little conspicuous as a white lady wearing a bright, ugly robe amongst a sea of Muslim Indian men in white robes. I also wondered how many thousands of sweaty, unbathed women had worn this garment before me and when it was last laundered?
The bare feet, the robe, and humidity nearing 100% made me feel nasty. The pavement was super hot, and with all the pigeons it felt like I was meandering through Trafalger Square barefoot. Then a bird crapped on the cap of my water bottle making the experience that much more golden. The icing on the cake was when Ahmed wiped the bird s— of the bottle with the sleeve of my robe. More visions of hookworm and poop-borne diseases flittered through my head. The poor, poor women to wear this next.
We took a short bicycle rickshaw ride through the old town of Delhi and saw more of how the locals live. The narrow streets filled with vegetable and fruit vendors, the incredible and probably very dangerous way the electric wires intertwine through the streets . . . all of it was fascinating.
Next up was the Red Fort in Delhi. You would have thought I was a celebrity the way people were asking to take pictures with me. Ahmed said Indians think it is good luck to have their photo taken with a foreigner; they even put the pictures up on their refrigerators. There was a group of young guys pretending to take photos of their friends with me in the background, but they were a little too obvious. I kept moving and turning around, frustrating their efforts. They should have just asked.
Finally we visited the Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s final resting place, at least for some of his ashes. Being a Hindu, most of his ashes were dumped in the Ganges, the rest were in this memorial surrounded by a huge, lush, serene park.
Ahmed brought us back to the hotel, and we said our good byes. He was a fantastic guide, and I would most definitely recommend out tour company, Comfort Tours of India, to anyone planning a trip like this. Even Ahmed, who works with many different tour companies, said this company was one of the best. We are now back at the hotel for the afternoon watching movies. We need to checkout just after midnight for our 6:00 a.m. flight to Amman, Jordan, and then to Chicago.
Random thoughts for the day:
•Regardless of whether we are gone for five days or three weeks, the last 24 hours are always filled with an eager anticipation of home and seeing my boys again.
•We need to fly business/first class more often, especially on international flights. I can get used the premier lounges, buffets, seats that recline 180 degrees, and pampering.
•I am so very, very blessed.