Friday, March 29, 2002

India - Back in San Francisco

Hey All,

Well, I’m back in San Francisco after a manic week of touring India and London.

Our trip to the North was jam packed and quite frankly, it’s all becoming blurred together. Forts, palaces, temples and mosques. Everything seems to be carved of sandstone and marble and have a story behind it.

The good thing about being on a tour bus is that you get from one place to the other with no messing around, the bad thing is that you are an easy target for the hawkers, “Hello, what country? 100 rupee, only 100. Okay 50 rupee. 10 rupee, 10. 10 rupee… hello.”

Delhi is a huge city filled with people and traffic and huge paved roads. The only difference is there really are cows just walking around, grazing on the median. For those of you who live in SF, imagine that cows are walking around on the median on Van Ness instead of homeless people with cardboard signs. Occasionally have one sleeping in the lane of traffic and you’ve got the picture.

We were touring one mosque in Delhi when our guide said it was time to go. He told us that one of the security guards said the Imam (spiritual leader) was on his was to the mosque to give a speech. He asked our guide where we were from and he casually replied Russia before getting us all to leave. As the bus drove away, we saw the Imam walking along, surrounded by security guards headed towards the mosque. Our guide said he gives quite “fiery” speeches and it was best if we got going… that’s really the closest we came to any drama.

We only spent a morning in Agra and it was mainly to see the Taj Mahal. Contrary to newspaper reports from December, it was not camouflaged. It looks just like it does in all the pictures you’ve seen and being there was another surreal experience. Kind of like going to Machu Picchu in Peru. You’ve seen so many pictures of it, it’s hard to believe you’re really there. Perhaps having to get up at 4:00am to catch the train and being disoriented added to the mystical quality but it was quite impressive. Unfortunately for Tom in our group, I fear his biggest memory will be of being stung by wasps. There are big… and I mean BIG wasp nests hanging from various parts of the building. It’s all well and good until they start flying around your head.

On the inside are replicated tombs of Shah Jahan (who had the Taj Mahal built) and his wife Mumtaz, who it was built for. Inlaid with precious gems, it’s quite a site to see. However, there were many people who had no interest in that but instead, laid on the floor, trying to peel up the grating that covered the staircase down to the tombs where the real coffins were. The people on the floor kept getting whistled at by the guards and would move away only for a moment before getting back on the floor and peeling up the grating.

On to Jaipur in the afternoon, the journey there provided the biggest contrast between north and south. Instead of wall to wall palm trees and crows, there were open fields with women in saris walking along with bundles of sticks on their heads twice as wide as they were. Men stood at the side of the roads grazing sheep, discs of cow dung were stacked in all sorts of decorative manner drying to be used for fuel and camels stood in front of storefronts ready to pull a cart full of goods down the road. It did seem more like pictures you’ve seen of Pakistan or Afghanistan than the tropical India of the south.

At one fort, a woman was walking around under a veil with a tote bag that said “Attack Force Taliban”. I chose to observe and leave, though someone in our group stayed back to try and get a picture.

I’ve got about 14 rolls of film to develop and then sort through before everyone is tortured with, “here’s a bucket of sand, here’s another bucked of sand…”

I’m looking forward to seeing and/or talking to everyone soon but right now I’ve got about 7

tons of laundry calling my name.


No comments: