We got plenty of sun and sand on the island in July, so now it's back to the "grind", eh? Hehe! Life on the road can be hard sometimes. We flew back to Calcutta (Kolkata) on July 27th and have been on the move since. We immediately went to the train station to catch an overnight train to Varanasi to see the Ganges, then to Agra for the highly anticipated Taj Mahal, and then on to Amritsar to hang out with the Sikhs at their holy Golden Temple in the Punjab region.
Once we landed in Kolkata, we bee-lined across the country in just one week, stopping in Varanasi and Agra, and ended up in Amritsar. This cross country trip cost us each less than $25 on the train, sleeper class! (Disclaimer: Basic, no luxury. NO luxury at all!)
Here is India's Waste Management at it's best in Varanasi. Trash collector and his trash cart.
Holy ladies in deep discussion as they stroll down the street. (In Hindu, cows are sacred and so they roam the streets freely. Actually, jail time for hitting a cow!)
She thinks, "I'd race this guy to my left, but he's not worth it. I'd rather race a Honda motorbike"
We took an auto-rickshaw tour of Varanasi. Tauru and the driver are strolling up to a temple at Benares University.
Typical Indian street - a rickshaw in front of an auto-rickshaw.
And then, of course, you can ride an elephant to work...
Look who's blocking traffic...
Limes for sale!
Entering a Buddhist temple...
And hanging out with the Dalai Lama!
(The Beijing Olympics start 08/08/08 at 8pm Beijing time - we really hope Tibet gets a lot of news coverage! As well as everyone else who needs it....)
Entering another temple - beautiful sarees, the traditional Indian garb for women. This temple is in Sarnath where the Budha, after being Enlightened, came here for his first sermon.
Tauru's new best friend as they walk toward the stupa of Enlightenment, or something like that, in Sarnath..
Buddhist monks praying at the stupa in Sarnath, just 30 minutes from Varanasi.
Time for dinner - "No, Tauru, you can't eat that steak! This is India!"
Here is a local "thali" shop. For 20 rupees, or about 50 cents, you get rice, lentil soup, two kinds of curried veggies, and chipattis, plus refills! See Christi in the background (left)?
Her thoughts, "Thank Vishnu that Tauru didn't eat poor Esther. Whoever invented thali is a genius."
We took an overnight train from Varanasi to Agra, but naturally didn't get much sleep. When we got into town, we found out that entrance to the Taj Mahal was free for three days for a Muslim festival, but today was the last day. After that, it's nearly $20/person admission! So we went directly to the Taj without even bothering to check into a room or shower.
Approaching the gate of the much-awaited Taj Mahal... I can't wait!
There it is! This is the single most famous icon of India!
Here's a video of the Taj.
Back in the 17th century, emporer Shah Jahan arranged for this giant moseleum to be built for his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in child birth. He was devastated after her death. The construction of this lasted about 20 years with hands from about 20,000 people and bankrupt the country. His son usurped the throne and imprisoned him at the Agra Fort, where he could view his monument to his wife for the rest of his life. He was eventually burried in the basement of the Taj next to his wife.
"It's raining!" Actually, that is an understatement...
Tauru bathes with the locals in the rain spout.
Scrub-a-dub-dub! (Thank goodness, he was really smelly from the train!)
"Christi, do you have any soap on you?" he asked.
"Oh yeah, I'm clean. Who needs a shower?"
Now Tauru is investigating the intricate designs in the marble.
The flowers are actually made from imported semi-precious stones cut and inlaid into the marble. Really amazing.
Intricate carvings and marble inlay designs.
The western minaret in front of the Taj. There are four on these. The western gate is an important Muslim holy place. The identically constructed eastern gate may have been used to house travelers.
In front of the Taj Mahal. Who's cleaner? Tauru? Christi? Or the Taj?
"Well, there it is! Okay, I'm done! Done! Enough of this place. Let's eat! Let's go find Esther."
And a cow, of course. "No, Tauru, her steaks are sacrilicious."
Since this was the third day of the Muslim festival, they started parading green (color of Islam) banners around the streets. Marching bands were playing too. They all eventually ended up at the Taj Mahal before sundown.
So, we went back too. After all, it was free! Plus, we heard they were giving out free mutton biryani! Look at that mass of people! Yikes, get in line for the mutton.
Gals. Just hanging out and chatting. Love the sarees!
So the following day we checked out the Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was confined after his son kicked him out of power. It was first built as a military structure, then used as a palace, and eventually the Brits hung out here when India was a British colony.
Turns out, the most exciting thing about the fort is the view of the Taj Mahal... This was probably the same view Shah Jahan had in his final days imprisoned here.
Pretty amazing. That river used to be so big it came up to the walls of the fort. With global warming, it will again.
And there it is again.
Legend has it that the Shah was going to build an identical Taj in black marble across the river to use as his own mosoleum. I guess that didn't pan out...
More of the fort -- but of course, the Taj in the background. Did we say we were done with the Taj?
Moats are so cool. This one used to have crocodiles in it. They've since gotten jobs.
Beautiful gardens with fountains in the middle. This part of the fort is where the herram lived. Not a bad prison...
Okay, enough of this fort...
A free rickshaw ride home! Oh wait, there's a catch...
NOTE: Tauru here is pretending to be VIP.
We had to go to lots of shops and pretend we were interested in buying marble and jewelry to gain our drivers commission for bringing us there. The big government shop gave them 50 rupees ($1.16), so we checked out the Kashmiri rugs. Nice - but I don't really think a $1200 carpet is something I need in my backpack right now!