India: The First Few Cities

Trip Start Mar 02, 2003
Trip End Jul 04, 2005

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Tuesday, November 9, 2004

As an introduction, my trip to India was the most incredible experience I have ever had. I travelled with six of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers for just over two weeks starting in Delhi, then to Agra and the Taj Mahal, and then finally the state of Rajasthan bordering on Pakistan. We travelled almost 5000 kilometers in the two weeks we were there and visited an incredible variety of cities and places - I saw things that I never knew were possible, ate food that was rich and spicy, and smelled things that were incredibly pleasant as well as absolutely vile.

The first couple days we spent in Delhi, the capital. Home to 13 million people, Delhi is a sensory overload. We arrived very late at night, and even so there were many cars and trucks on the road. One of the first things we noticed as we drove through the nighttime streets were the large numbers of homeless sleeping on the side of the road. At first I thought they were just piles of rags, but as I saw more and more of them, I realized that these were human beings literally sleeping on the sidewalks right by the side of very busy streets. The next morning as we left our hotel we saw the same people rolling up their sleeping areas and getting ready for their days. Later through the trip we saw whole families that live like this; women cooking over open fires and children playing naked near the side of the road. Sad and amazing at the same time.

In Delhi we visited RajGhat where Gandhi is buried. What a humbling place. Very basic and yet beautiful. We also visited a couple forts and the largest mosque in India(I met a couple Polish women who I helped at the mosque! cool!). Overall, although Delhi was cool, I think we were all happy to leave and go to a smaller city, Agra.

We were only in Agra for a few hours to see the Taj Mahal. The drive there gave us our first taste of India outside the capital city. As we were stopped at one of the toll stations we saw bears with pierced noses being paraded around by their handlers who kept tapping on the car windows trying to get our attention. It was very sad, and frankly made me sick... although I've seen very similar treatment of animals here in Ukraine on Khreshtayk. The tapping would also continue throughout our trip regardless of time or place. Usually it was beggars asking for money, but often it was also street sellers peddling some sort of touristy stuff.

The Taj Mahal was breath-taking. It was the most expensive place we visited with an entry price of 750 rupees (around $15) but it was worth it. I don't think anyone could leave India without visiting this perfect architectural masterpiece. We wandered around its grounds for a long time and marvelled at the semi-precious stones inlaid into its walls, the beautiful symmetrical gardens, as well as the gorgeous mosques to either side of the Taj itself. I also heard some Russian being spoken while we were there which was a really odd thing to hear.

And then we continued onto Ranthambore...
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