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11/02/2011

Agra, Delhi, Mumbai!

Sorry I haven't been up in a while! I have been running around India like crazy, and now I am back in Hyderabad for 19 more days before I head home to the US. Sounds crazy, and it's starting to get really, well, real, that this is ending. I'm going to write this post about my trip to Agra and Delhi with my parents. They came to visit, and we had so much fun. Here goes...

I met my parents in Delhi late Thursday night after a full day of class. I got some McDonald’s, called a cab, and got to the airport a full three hours early (oooops). So I ate my spicy chicken sandwich really slowly to compensate. And then watched cricket. After a while, it started to fill up, and this man sat down next to me. After probably 20 minutes of watching cricket silently together, he leaned his torso away from me. And farted. Really loud. Right onto me. Bahahaha. I sort of just pretended it didn’t happen. I figured that was the best approach.

Anyway, Mom and Dad were arriving in Delhi an hour before me (their plane was delayed, but still earlier), and I was anxiously waiting to get on the plane. Our boarding time came and went, and then our departure time. We boarded about 45 minutes after we were scheduled for take-off. As per usual in India, no explanation was offered, and Mom and Dad didn’t have phones, so I just hoped they heard on the other end the plane would be late. They didn’t, but I did manage to find Mom right away after collecting my bag, so that was good. Dad had sent some people in after me, and I didn’t see them, but supposedly, I was being paged over the PA system in the airport. I’ve sort of always wanted that to happen, so that was neat. Even though I didn’t hear it.

We went to the pre-paid taxi stand (an invention that Mom and Dad introduced me to – AWESOME) and got a taxi to the hotel we were staying at right near Connaught Place in New Delhi called Le Meridien. It was AWESOME. This is a picture I took from our floor (the 15th) down to the interior lobby.

The hotel, as you can see, was quite striking, and the bed was so comfy! The first morning we were there, it was super hazy outside, (lots of pollution in Delhi) but we headed out on the metro (Delhi has a great subway system!). We bought our tokens and then had a little trouble getting through the gate, and had to ask for directions a few times, but everyone was really friendly. We ended up at the Lotus Temple, which is the Bahai’i temple in Asia. Sad that I went inside this one before I went inside the one in Evanston. All of the petals of the lotus are supposed to represent something, but I can’t remember what. It was gorgeous, though, and very peaceful inside. Sort of like being in a hollowed-out, high ceilinged object. That was a terrible description, but you get what I mean. There were a couple school groups there, and we had to take off our shoes to go in. When we got inside, we sat in the pew for a few minutes, and then left. This is what the temple looked like from the outside (up close and from far away).

On our way to the Temple, we caught a rickshaw for a few Rupees for the last kilometer, and that was the first time I’d encountered an auto driver who wanted to essentially rent himself out to us for the day. However, he also mandated that we see his store. We objected and exited the rickshaw, unaware that this is apparently the custom in Delhi.

We took the next rickshaw we saw to the Raj Ghat, or the place where Gandhiji was assassinated. We checked our shoes in so they wouldn’t get stolen while we walked around. The monument reminded me a lot of the FDR memorial in DC. There was a small sort of shrine to Gandhi in the middle, and the walls around were inscribed with Gandhi quotes in different languages, most of them Indian, and even one in Spanish, but strangely none in English. The language on the right in the one below is Hindi, one of the major languages of India. Gandhi has done some things I don’t know that I necessarily agree with, but the man definitely had a way with words. All of the quotes I could understand were really beautiful.

Into another rickshaw, we headed to the India Gate, a symbol of national unity, and a war memorial built before India was even independent from the British, which didn’t happen until 1947. There wasn’t a lot to see there apart from the Gate itself, unless you count the cute, tiny little school kids with their huge backpacks obviously on a field trip, or the vultures in the tree to the right of the Gate, which was a little creepy.

I was really happy to see Mom and Dad, and I think they were happy to see me too. Dad’s happiness manifested in being in 98% of the pictures of me that I have from this weekend, so you will notice a recurring theme :)

After the India Gate, we toured Embassy Row, which was super anticlimactic. It was just a wide road with all the Embassies on it, which was cool, but they are all hidden behind big walls, obviously, so we mostly looked at the signs. We saw Russia, Poland, Norway, Japan, the US, and strangely, Sudan. What?!? Is there a large Sudanese population in India that I don’t know about? I did snag a picture of me in front of the gate in front of the Prime Minister’s house. AWESOME.

Also, a lot of the cars in Delhi, including the taxis, were really old fashioned. This is one of the cooler ones I saw, but the cabs were all green and black and yellow, and the same make.

Lunch was at this really, really, really nice place in Lodi Park. It was outside, and I had the best salmon I have had in a long time. Also, I discovered that if goat cheese, radish, lettuce, and dressing are all in the same bite, it tastes good. This is the restaurant we ate at (Lodi Park Restaurant).

After lunch, we went to the Supreme Court building because I wanted to see the Museum there. This turned out to be a futile exercise, but it was REALLY cool to see the Supreme Court of India! There was a bomb ordeal there a couple weeks ago, and I sort of wanted to see what all the fuss was about, but everything looked all normal again. We also tried visiting the Indira Gandhi museum for Zoe, but the line was obscenely long. So we gave up on that. But I took a picture in front anyway to prove I was there. Note the staring child :)

The next day, we got up nice and early to hit the Red Fort and the Chandi Chowk market before hopping on the train to Agra. The Fort was HUGE (the outer walls looked really imposing) and it housed troops until not too long ago when it was turned over to the IAS for opening up to the public. In a proud moment, I got the Indian citizen ticket because I am a student at HCU. That was really cool. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make me feel like not such an outsider everywhere I go here.

We went to the market afterward. It was huge, and the paths were really narrow and I am really glad Mom and Dad got to experience the full Indian market experience while they were here. I got a couple suits for when I celebrate Diwali with Anshu’s family (I leave for Mumbai tomorrow night). They are gorgeous, and I am really excited to wear them! Mom has pictures, but I don’t have them yet. We also met a man with one leg who was really helpful at first, but then he kept following us around, and I didn’t really like that. These are pictures of two of the first streets we saw in the market.

I stopped being able to take pictures – the streets got too narrow, and the vendors progressively more aggressive. The men we bought my suits from were funny, and I think Mom and Dad really liked being able to sit down in a shop and see some of the clothes, and the process we go through to buy things here. I admit, I do sort of miss having fixed prices. I know I overpay for almost everything, but I never know by how much.

We didn’t go to the Masjid, the largest in India, because we went to the one in Hyderabad, and we hadn’t heard super positive things from the people I talked to about their experiences visiting.

We got on the train to Agra that night after dinner at the hotel (when I asked for the best way to get to the train station, the man at the front desk said “Find a rickshaw and get in it.” Duh. Thank you Mr. Front Desk).

I really dislike train stations in India, especially when I am the most knowledgeable person in the group. People harass you constantly for buying things, or porters, or just because they want to know where you are going, and there isn’t a way to escape them. I really don’t like that and I sort of lost my temper after having to stand in a tight line at the ticket counter with a bunch of pushing and staring Indian men (sorry, Dad. I sort of took it out on him before I regained my cool). The 1AC train car wasn’t as nice as we were hoping, and the ride was about three hours long. There was a guy about my age in our compartment, but when the officer came to check tickets, he kicked him out in a whirlwind of Hindi. I took Dramamine before the train, so I slept pretty much the whole way there.

Another pre-paid taxi when we got there, and we got to our hotel, supposedly 800 meters from the Taj Mahal. This was a slight exaggeration as we discovered later, but the walk was nice. Even though we got in very late, we woke up at 5:30am to get to the Taj for sunrise. It was hazy, so not as beautiful as it would have been on a clear day, but it wasn’t too hot, and not very crowded. We waited in line outside for a little while, and to our surprise, the women’s line moved faster than the men’s and we got in before Dad. We were standing behind some nice Spanish ladies, and we exchanged a few words when a monkey appeared on the roof above us in the security line. I think pictures will do a better job than words, so maybe just take a look at those :) The last thing I will say is that in true Adam form, we checked out audio guides, so that’s what the headphones are in some pictures.

We were going to go see the Agra Fort, but decided instead to read by the pool. So that was a good decision. We made it back to the hotel before breakfast ended, ate, and then relaxed the rest of the afternoon. In hindsight, this was a great plan, because if we’d walked around anymore, the events of that evening might have been much worse.

Basically, long story short, we hop on a train back to Delhi, and the majority of the staff/police officers working at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (voted the 4th best in the world – by who, I wonder) are totally unhelpful, and served to make it nearly impossible to check into the airport hotel Dad had booked for us. 90 minutes later, Mom was switching her things from one bag to another in the middle of the terminal because we were told we had to check in to get to the hotel, even though our flights were not until the next morning. There was a line of French soldiers coming home from somewhere next to us, and when the men from the hotel finally came down to inform us that contrary to their previous written statement, they could not take me to the hotel because I was a domestic and not an international flight, Dad lost it. There were some angry words spoken, the conclusion of which was the men assuring we would get a refund, and telling us that there wasn’t really anything else they could do for us. This left us to sleep on the benches in the airport, because Mom and Dad didn’t want to leave me by myself to go to the room on their last night with me.

In ironic protest, I took a picture of myself and Dad next to this false sign in the airport.

In three weeks, I will be back at the Delhi airport, waiting for a flight back home to Chicago. Feels pretty surreal!

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There are many places to see in India. Nice information and good pictures about the lotus temple , Raj Ghat. Thanks for sharing

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