FROM DELHI TO AGRA 12/7/12 - 12/8/12
It was a fascinating day of religious experiences. In one day, we visited a Hindu temple, a Baha’i temple, a Jain temple, and the ruins of a mosque. The inside of the massive Akshardham temple was so ornately decorated that it was hard to fathom. In a way, not being able to take pictures gave us a chance to really look at the building, not just through the camera’s lens. The Baha’i temple was a monumental modern building with structural grace and lovely natural lighting. I was also rather fascinated with and impressed with the philosophy of the religion. It teaches everyone to accept all previous religions as important and relevant to their time, and encourages people to use the temple as a space for anyone to meditate and connect with god(s) in whatever way they see fit. Even though I was there to admire human ingenuity in design, I could feel this was a special spiritual place. An atmosphere of quiet peace and respect is something that all the religions sites we visited had in common. Our visit to Qutb Minar later that day gave us a chance to admire another example of human ingenuity, only this one from nearly 1000 years ago.
The first really interesting thing I learned today was that young couples who are not really allowed to show affection in public go to places like Akbar’s tomb to hide among the myriad of arches and columns. There they can be alone, away from the prying eyes of their family and peers, only to do something so simple as hold each other’s hand. It’s ironic that a building designed for death has given life, unintentionally, to the feelings and affections of so many young relationships. It made me realize how lucky I am to never have to worry about something I thought was so simple and always took for granted. The other thing that struck me today was just how poverty stricken the city of Agra is. I had seen some heart wrenching poverty in Mumbai and Delhi, but it hadn’t quite prepared me for what seems like a city of beggars with pockets of super-high-end hotels and beautiful stone monuments. As we drove from one gorgeous tomb to the next, we passed by mounds of garbage and filth that had clearly been built up over time. Stray dogs, cows, and donkeys could be seen rummaging through these piles looking for food. People were freely peeing on the side of the road, in full view of hundreds of motorists and pedestrians, and at every red light, a tap on the window would bring me face to face with a woman holding a baby or a man standing on one leg and a crutch. I suppose the frenzy of tourists around the famous Taj Mahal attracts these unfortunate souls from all over the country. After all, if I were a beggar, I would also want to go to where I could find the most guilt-ridden Westerners too. Even seeing all that horror, however, could not diminish the sense of wonder I got from my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. I keep saying that it’s increasingly rare that I see something that takes my breath away and holds my gaze for hours. I’m so happy to say that the famous Taj gave me another of those rare moments of my life that I have come to cherish so much. It made it that much more special to be able share that moment with my Dad on his birthday. Not even the harassment of starving children (even after I gave them some money) could ruin that moment for me.