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India 2017 part 3: More Delhi & Other Stories

July 26, 2017

Before I take you to Agra, dear Reader, and introduce you to my elephants, there are other Indian adventures to share.

After having my spirit lifted at Central Baptist Church, we sallied forth into the mêlée in search of historical sites to see.  We walked to and admired the Red Fort.  It’s a big imposing structure, truth in advertising.

The next destination, Humayun’s Tomb, was too far to walk in 40°C, so Craig found us a bus “stop” ~more where people stop and wait for it rather than the other way around.  So as it passed by, we jumped on with a clot of others.  A polite young man moved his satchel so I might have the seat next to him.  He was on his phone.  And so was I!  He was trying to sneak me into his selfie.  So I looked him straight in the eye through the camera, even smiled knowingly, and he did not flinch.  I nearly laughed out loud.  I’d dearly love to know what the caption said.  Looking around the bus, I realized that Craig and I were quite obviously the only non-Indian passengers.  As Americans, we are so concerned about ‘manners’ and inclusivity and “don’t point” and being the giant-melting-pot-experiment that it’s fun to be recognized ~in an appreciative way~ for being different.  In Southeast Asia, where I am taller than any woman and Craig towers over nearly everyone, strangers run up to us and take pictures of the round-eyed, white giants completely without self-consciousness.  Sometimes mothers ask to stand their children next to him for the photo just because we are the most interesting thing they’ve seen today.  Or possibly all week.  The little kids are so tickled just by seeing us in their neighborhood.  It reminds me how profoundly fortunate I am to be able to travel, that people of all colors, shapes, and sizes are just people to me because I’ve seen our astonishing variety of outsides . . . and insides. . . and know that you can’t know much about the one just by looking at the other.

But we are still on the bus!  And it’s time to step off.  But, clearly, it isn’t going to stop.  I could feel the eyes of other passengers on my back as I timed my leap.  Movies played in my head of a brilliantly executed dive-and-roll.  I am not a stunt-person; I am a late-forty-something former quasi-athlete in an aquatic sport.  I should keep to my feet.  So, just as if it were an airport people mover (in 5th gear), with a deep breath I walked off that moving bus.  Someone on the street with a big surprised smile clapped for me.

Humayun’s Tomb is only part of larger grounds, with other tombs and a mosque in a lovely park setting.  It’s really a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city where people seem to come to sit on the grass in the shade, have a little picnic.  I recommend it.

Another recommended visit is the Jantar Mantar Observatory in Jaipur.  Go during the day.  This is not, as I supposed, a star-gazing, telescopey sort of a place.  The reason to visit first thing in the morning eventually became clear.  Without the patient explanation from the guide, I would take the space to be an amazing sculpture garden.  However, all those steep and curvy sculptures tell time, track the sun, and point to the planets.  There was some very heavy geometry going on here in the early 18th century.  I enjoyed trying to understand it all.  I’m afraid the guide, or least the rest of our group, wished I didn’t and would just go take pictures.

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You will forgive me blowing right past our visit to the Taj Mahal, but it’s so well known and documented that I don’t have much to add.  Except, while I was cooling my heels until it was time to meet up with the group to depart, a guard approached me as I was looking down from one terrace to another, watching monkeys playing in a fountain.  I ran through a quick checklist of everything I might be doing wrong: outdoors, no formal dress code; haven’t broached any barricades; not eating anything.  Nope, I’m good.  So, what does he want?  Oh, he’s just bored.  I think it was really my hat.

Transportation around towns was often by auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk if you’ve been to Thailand, so-called for the sound of their two-stroke engines), each seating no more, often slightly less, than two people.  One night, our guide had acquired several to convey us back to the hotel, each taking the route its driver thought best.  So, when ours choked and died on a dark but busy street (tuk -tuk, not the driver), we were alone.  He tried several times to get it going again.  No joy.  So, then he rummaged around somewhere and pulled out an unidentifiable gadget, inserted it confidently into some orifice of the machine, and tuk-tuk-tuk, we were on our way again.

The tour included several train rides, which I enjoyed immensely and prepared me to strike off on my own later.  Rides of more than a couple of hours include a meal which is fine for eating.  I had the vegetarian option, of course.  And tea service!  With a personal pot for each passenger.  Vermintino and I did share.

On the way to Orchha, we stopped at a community collective, Taragram, to see their paper making facilities.  I’ve smelled industrial paper mills before and was dubious.  But it was unexpectedly fascinating and beautiful.  They recycle old cloth to make excellent, “special occasion” papers for diplomas etc.  If I had had a way to get some of those big delicious sheets home without bending, folding, or spindling . . . <sigh> I must be satisfied with my little purple notebook with elephant on, for special art.

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For this next vignette I regret not taking a video or even a photo, but I was stunned with delight to observe several dozen businessmen, there for a conference, circling together in the hotel swimming pool to make their own whirlpool/lazy river.  Just imagine.  Our guide commented that many Indians live in such arid places that a swimming pool is very much a novelty.  A good pool should dunk our inner child and draw it out to play.

This may have been my favorite day of the whole tour.  In the afternoon, Vandana Dubey and her husband came to our hotel.  Having separated ourselves, boys and girls, they provided (and wrapped us all into) traditional dress of the region.  She applied henna for the girls, which allowed plenty of time for the boys, in their simpler attire, to sit around the pool like maharajas drinking beer.  We were all very satisfied.  Then there was a spate of posing and photography (we’re still on her Facebook page!).  After that, we all went to Vandana’s house, met her family, observed her wonderful cooking demonstration, then thoroughly enjoyed everything we had watched her prepare.  She is building her business, so anyone passing near Orchha, please contact her to book a cultural experience like we had.

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Maharajas for a night

Sari not sorry

Vandana’s sister in the Dubey kitchen

Vandana cooks

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