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And Then There Were Three...


sunny 32 °C

Yes, another view of the Taj.

October 28


Today was the "long day" that Manu had mentioned. It was lengthened considerably by the mother of all traffic jams as we entered Agra at the end of the day. Agra as in Agra-vating. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop was a world-famous bird sanctuary that, sadly, had seen better days. The near-drought that weak monsoons have caused means that few of the migrating birds have come. We did see baboons, jackals, egrets, owls, mother and baby deer, mother and baby wild boar, and many others, so Anica still enjoyed it. The tour of the sanctuary was done by bicycle rickshaw, pedalled by elderly Sikh gentlemen (was it a requirement for the job?), who narrated in thick accents. Manu rode circles around us on a bicycle they provided him, as each rickshaw only had room for two people.

The afternoon stop was much more impressive, and one I'd been looking forward to. We toured Fatehpur Sikri, the famous capital built by Moghul emperor Akbar on the advice of a mystic. Akbar had followed the advice and been rewarded with a male heir. As a capital, Fatephur Sikri, high on a hill, is impressive, and it was built in just 13 years.

Inside of the palace gate at Fatehpur Sikri

Unfortunately, it wasn't in use for much longer than that. Lack of water, and the pull of Agra on Akbar's successors, made Fatehpur Sikri a ghost city. It's an incredible blend of Hindu and Muslim, and also Christian and Jainist elements in its architecture. This was Akbar's goal: to fuse all the faiths. He had a favourite wife from each religion, and their palaces are quite distinct from one another. There are whimsical touches on the grounds, such as a life-size checkerboard, where Akbar used to move dancing girls around as human playing pieces. In general, Fatehpur Sikri was wonderfully eccentric and impressive.

Rob and Anica standing on a platform formerly used by court musicians at Fatehpur Sikri

Eventually, we arrived at our hotel after driving through a good portion of Agra. I realized that this, the city of the Taj Mahal, the capital of the Mogul emperor, and a city of over a million people, is crippled by filth. Every few feet we saw men peeing on walls. The dirt coated the streets and sidewalks to the point that some roads don't even look paved. The sun tried its best, but didn't exactly shine, so much as peer, through the haze of pollution. What a contrast to the city's landmarks and history.

October 29


Today we visited the Taj Mahal before breakfast. We were there just after 6 AM, as the sun was just coming up on its east face. Despite the fact that this is acknowledged as the best time of day to see the Taj, it's too early for many, so the crowds weren't huge. And yes, it is beautiful, perfect. Yes, it is worth getting there early to watch the sun draw out the whiteness, bit by bit. And, for me, having not had breakfast or coffee, the lightheadness really added to the awe I was feeling.

We approached the Taj through a park, coming in a sort of side entrance, which meant we bypassed the supposed hordes of beggars and hawkers at the front entrance. It made for a peaceful introduction to the grounds. At no point can you see the Taj Mahal itself until you pass through the large gate. There, like many, we paused to take a picture framed by the shape of the gate's opening. I never realized how impressive the gate was, or how perfectly symmetrical everything was, including the large, beautiful mosque on one side of the Taj Mahal, and its twin on the other, built only to preserve the symmetry.

Is it the mosque, or its symmetrical twin?

I never realized there is no paint anywhere, that every decoration we saw was done with inlaid semi-precious jewels. Incredible.

An example of the "pietra dore," or Italian technique of inlaying semi-precious stones into marble

When eventually we moved behind the Taj, and looked across the river, we saw how little water was in it. You almost couldn't get a boat down the river, it's so dry. That means the only place to see the Taj Mahal is from its own grounds, or from a distance, through the haze, from the Red Fort.

In the afternoon, we were on our own, without Manu (!), and decided to see the Red Fort, or Agra Fort, as its also called. This was used as the hall of public audience, palace, "harem," jail, etc. by a succession of Mughal emperors, for much longer than Fatehpur Sikri was. I'm glad we decided to visit, because again, it was simply grand, and so much to see. You can see where Shah Jahan remodelled parts of the palace from red sandstone to white marble, experimenting in what would lead to the Taj Mahal. Talk about home renovation! Anica was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to have their picture taken with her. Apparently she's a novelty even for Indian tourists. We had to say no on her behalf a few times because it just got to be too much.

Part of the grounds of the Red Fort, Agra

October 30 - November 1


Days of transitions, days of goodbyes. Starting with a goodbye breakfast with Manu on October 30th. We offered (sincerely, in case you're reading this, Manu) that if he's ever in Canada he could stay with us. Manu really made our tour experience enjoyable. It could have been really awkward, being the only family, but he was so gracious and unassuming, and good-natured that I think we got along great. Anica had an older brother for a while!

And then there were four. We saw a lot of Delhi, actually, including the beautiful, modern Lotus Temple of the Ba'hai faith.

Ba'hai faith "Lotus" temple, Delhi

We started taking the subway, which, despite the pushy crowds, is one of the newest and cleanest things about Delhi. We shopped a lot with James, mainly in the Connaught Place area. These are a series of New Delhi circle-streets, radiating out from the centre, as planned and built by the British, where there's a park. Under that park is the Palika Bazaar. Yes, underground. As in sketchy. But, we spent hours haggling for cheap, pirated DVDs and other electronics. We also did some birthday shopping for Anica, making a great effort to get to a "real" shopping mall, only to be disappointed by the best Delhi had to offer (nothing like the shopping malls of Bangkok or KL). The stores around Connaught Place (i.e. the ones above the ground) are much better, particularly the many English-language bookstores.

We also had the unlikely treat of meeting up with another family doing a "big world trip." Rachel and Chris, and their two daughters, are on a mirror image version of our own year-long trip and we intersected in Delhi. Despite a long day they'd had, they made the effort to meet up with us for dinner. The kids had a great time, and we traded stories and tips. They're from the U.K., and Jenn had "met" Rachel on-line. We now subscribe to each other's blogs here at travellerspoint.

Then it was November 1, and time to say goodbye to Poppa/Dad/James. It was absolutely amazing being able to travel to Thailand, Cambodia and India with Anica's grandfather! All day, after he left Anica said she was still looking for him, expecting him to be beside or behind us.

So, and then there were three again. A weird feeling. Jenn was really looking forward to Goa. Although we'd got a lot out of Delhi, even spending a morning at the National Museum on our last day there, it was not a city we wanted to live in, or even stay in too long. The longer you stay, the more you see of the child beggars, even naked toddlers already trained to beg, and the more you either harden or despair. Or, as we did, talk about it with our own child.

Posted by jennrob 22:25 Archived in India

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Julia would like to know "Where are the photos of Anica?" What did she write about India? " Ah, the beggers, the caste system, the dirt and filt of India. They contrast to the beauty of the Taj MAhal. The "towers" are built so they will fall away from the main buliding. The designs are done so as you gaze up they do not diminish in size. I
Once again your account of area surpasses what I remember, or ever knew of the history. India almost seems mystic, the religions, the spicy food, the charm of the "British India" the romance of the Silk Road, and the vast geograpphy. Since I only say Delhi, Agra, Kargil and Kashmir did I really see India at all?

by Mum 2

Once again Rob, your account of your travels paints a poignant, detailed and sometimes emotional story. The pictures are stunning and the descriptive words really make it very real for us. Was the Taj Mahal as big as it seems? What does Anica make of all the poverty?
Love to you all.

by JBRobinson


Anica's entries are coming. Internet access in India is not at all as reliable as it was in SE Asia (understatement of the year) and as a result we're having to do most of our posts from cafes. Rob has already typed up Anica's entries and as soon as we get a connection with our laptop, we'll post them.

As for seeing India, I'm not sure you could see it even with a year or two years or longer. It's a country of such diversity and such contrasts. People say you either love it or hate it, but I'm not sure that's true. I think I've already ping-ponged between those two extremes a dozen times during the first four weeks :P

By the way, there's a postcard on its way. Just mailed yesterday so no telling when it'll get there. *hugs*

by jennrob


The Taj is definitely as impressive as you hope it will be. Or at least it was for us. Anica declared it incredibly beautiful, although she was really glad we ditched our tour guide (the local one, not Manu) when we saw it.

She's dealing well with the poverty. She realizes how incredibly lucky we are to have been born in Canada. For the most part, she also sees that parents love their children and family is family no matter where you live and what you have and that's a good lesson. But on the other hand, we've also seen children drugged by their parents and/or taught to beg from the moment they could stand. It's really rough at times and you have to harden yourself against it a bit to make it through.

  • hugs*

by jennrob

Dear Jenn, Rob & Anica,
Once again you have painted an amazing picture with words for us. India really is a country of contrasts. Hopefully, the time in Goa has been a good respite for you all.
Looking forward to your next entry.
Love& Hugs,
N&G, M&D, H&D

by hdbutters

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