drive to Jaipur

… curious faces…

As I had said before, travel in India is not easy.  The bus that I took from Agra to Jaipur was an all day long affair.  I checked with my hotel as to the cost of the ticket and I was told that it was two dollars.  Later, on the bus, I talked with several other travellers and they were shocked at how much I was overcharged.  Apparently the actual cost of the ticket was only a dollar and my hotel charged me a 100% commission.  I was only in India for a few weeks, the cost seemed minimal to me.  Many travelers I have met are on a serious “budget” and actually survive on US $5 per day.  Yes, that’s including food, hotel, touring, and transport.  India is indeed affordable.

As I shrugged off the “overcharge” of my ticket, I remembered back to a conversation that I had just outside the Taj Mahal.  I met an Italian doctor who works in London.  He was traveling with a mate from London and the two men were touring around India.  The doctor had just finished a 6 month “Doctors without Borders” tour in India.  He explained his philosophy on paying too much in other countries.  A taxi cab ride in India may cost 15 or 20 cents but when a taxi cab driver charges a westerner a dollar, and that person pays because its easier to pay than to haggle over eighty five cents, he says that this is a huge dis-service to Indians.  Now, the taxi cab driver will ignore locals because he wants the big western tip.  Locals become angry at tourists and the practice also inflates the cost of taxi cabs for everyone.  Additionally, the perceived value of goods is warped and the tourist’s visit is disruptive to the area being visited.  He explained that in his opinion, tourists should always strive to pay (and tip) the same rate as the locals.

So, I thought about my $1 dollar overcharge on the bus fare.  Hmm…  well, I’ll try to get the “local’s price” in the future…

I took the above photo early in the bus ride; by the time the bus arrived in Jaipur, it was standing room only.  The bus was completely filled with local Indian people; most had not appeared to have bathed in months.  The boy below was clothed only in a t-shirt and was stark naked from the waist down.  He seemed genuinely curious about me and stared for about 15 minutes.  I was happy to entertain him but was constantly worried that he would decide to use the toilet as he stood talking to me as I had seen on the street so many times.  He was young and I was not completely sure that he was toilet trained yet and the thought of him “slipping” had me on edge.

Later in the bus ride, the top luggage areas filled full of people until I had a pair of unwashed feet in my face.  I shot a photo of Rainer (the nice German fellow I met on this ride) to give to him later.  The two Indian men in the top photo were “standing room only” as the bus completely filled up.  The bus was hot, it was smelly, it was uncomfortable.  At each stop I struggled to shoot photos out of the window as a blur of Indian people, culture, sights, sounds, and smells rushed past my senses.

I saw all sorts of animals including buffalo, camel, elephant, and of course, so many cows…

Even though the following photo is a bit blurred because the bus was moving so quickly, it still captures the beautiful colors of the Indian women’s clothing.  The traditional clothing was always so bright and vibrant and provided such a strong color contrast to the grey and tan of the dirt roads and buildings.

A few times along the day-long bus ride we stopped at little markets to pick up and drop off passengers.  Not wanting to leave my luggage, I negotiated out of the open window to buy bottled water, bananas and nuts.

It was a treat to be able to see the local people as they went about their lives raising children, selling their wares, or bringing food back from the market.  The people who I met on the bus were friendly and curious.  Those that could speak English asked where I was from, how long was I travelling, where was my wife? and why didn’t I have any children?  They often translated for those who did not speak English.  Rainer and his girlfriend chatted with some other locals, with me, and with some other westerners on the bus.  Despite the heat and smells, it was  a grand adventure and we were having a splendid time.

As we neared the state of Rajastan, hills seemed to grow from the horizon and soon we were snaking our way through mountain passes.  The Raj, or people of Rajastan have a fierce reputation as warriors and maintained autonomy from the Mughals for many centuries.  Even in the current Indian government they maintain a strong sense of autonomy.  As we entered the state, the mountain fortresses on each hilltop attested to the warlike resolve of these people.  I was quite excited to see these fortifications and I wanted to explore all of them.  In looking at them, it seemed that they were just “some old buildings” to the locals looking by how dilapidated they appeared and the level of modern buildings and telephone wires that sprung up around them.


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the Taj Mahal

Once I finally cleared the queue outside and was able to make it into the Taj complex I worked my way towards one of the gates (below).

View of the Taj Mahal was blocked by the tall wall that ran from gate to gate so that it could not be seen at all until you walked through the gate.

Along with all of the other tourists, I peered through the dark gate to see the glowing white Taj Mahal as it peeked through the tunnel.  The way it was hidden from view until you came through the gateway was quite clever.  As I (and the rest of the tourists) passed through the gate and the Taj came into full view I could hear audible “oohs” and “aaahs,” as we all gazed upon the magical beauty of this amazing building.

Once clear of the main gate the Taj came into full view and I paused to take some photos.  The grounds were green and manicured to perfection; beautiful fountains ran from the entrance gate to the front of it and the beauty of the place was really something else.  I was truly awe-struck by the beauty of it.  As I walked closer I enjoyed the view of the Taj as well as its reflection in the beautiful fountains that surrounded it.

Looking back from the Taj Mahal towards the entrance gate, I shot the photo below that shows the courtyard and fountains.  Looking towards the right I took the second photo of the west gate as the sun began to set behind it.

Regarded as the most beautiful Moghul building, the Taj Mahal incorporates Persian, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles.  It is actually a crypt for the body of Mumtaz Mahal, the late wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.  It’s construction was begun in 1632 and completed in 1658.  When Mumtaz Mahal died bearing their 14th child, Shah Jahan was grief-stricken and directed the Taj to be build in her honor.  Her sarcophagus lays inside where today, curious tourists go inside and ignore the signs and guards warnings not to take photos.  There were so many flash photos going off that the room was almost continually illuminated.  Later, after his death, he was interred next to her so that both the Emperor and Empress now rest inside of the beautiful white domed building.

He had intended to build an exact copy of the building on the other side of the river, but in black marble and have his own body placed inside.  In this way, he and his wife’s crypts would look across the river to each other through the ages.  His son thought that these plans were too extravagant and had his father imprisoned in the Red Fort forever ending the Emperor’s plans to build a second Taj.  In proper Islamic style, the Taj is surrounded by 4 minarets, each standing more than 120′ tall.

I was most impressed with the decorative inlays on the Taj.  The fine white marble was cut and beautiful jade, yellow marble, and jasper were inlaid creating a fine trim as I have ever seen.

Along the edges of the building, Suras (versus) of the Koran are inlaid in the same manner as the decorative designs and flowers.

The beautiful Arabic calligraphy (seen running vertically in the left side of the photo below) that was inlaid represent these Suras from the Koran:

Surah 91 – The Sun
Surah 112 – The Purity of Faith
Surah 89 – Daybreak
Surah 93 – Morning Light
Surah 95 – The Fig
Surah 94 – The Solace
Surah 36 – Ya Sin
Surah 81 – The Folding Up
Surah 82 – The Cleaving Asunder
Surah 84 – The Rending Asunder
Surah 98 – The Evidence
Surah 67 – Dominion
Surah 48 – Victory
Surah 77 – Those Sent Forth
Surah 39 – The Crowds

After spending hours gazing at the beauty of the Taj Mahal, the guards notified everyone that it was closing.  We all took our leisure as we slowly walked towards the exit.  I stopped repeatedly to look back and gaze at it as the sun set and it glowed in the dim light of dusk.  I rested my camera on one of the fountain steps and captured this photo before I finally departed.


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