A Hobbit's Tale by Wilbo Vaggins

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, September 7, 2008

The last two weekends should require a chore of recapping, but it needs to get done before the street-sweepers get to my head.

Jaipur and Agra were a tourist trip from our weekly grind. Pocketed up in an air-conditioned bus, we were farted out into various beautiful temples, palaces, and mosques bum-rushed by hagglers, hawkers, and beggars--hungry for the white-man's pocket.

After checking into the hotel and inhaling a fairly bland lunch provided by the staff, we headed through the "Pink City." Our tour guide wore gold rimmed Ray-bans with gold chains, rings and bracelets to match. Our first stop was the Amber Palace where I bought some golden Rajasthani shoes and some sweet dancing puppets. Call me a sucker, I think they're kick ass.

We stumbled across a man charming his python in a basket with his discordant horn--a much anticipated sight for the India trek as a whole. I wandered around, as in many tourist spots, catching glimpses of the tour guides ramble--attempting to register and piece together dates and epigraphs carved in stone--gazing into my warped reflections in enormous silver basins. Weary from a long bus ride, I headed back with the group feeling somewhat taken on the price of the shoes, but satisfied, as I had acquired some memorabilia for the walls back in Delhi. That night we crashed a dance party hosted by some businessmen with a blinking, multicolored dance floor. Unfortunately they closed off the bar to us, but I ended up in an awkward dance-off with one of the men anyways--prancing around like the usual fool.

The next day, we woke up early, at the absurd hour of six, but I didn't mind because one of the few goals for my trip was about to be fulfilled. We rode on the backs of elephants up to a sand-blasted fort on top of a hill. Our feet dangling over the side, smiles plastered on our faces, we went trigger happy with the digital cameras--most of mine came out lop-sided in the teetering back and forth of each elephant step.

The fort that we hopped off at was a wonderful place to explore. Indian women walked in and out of corridors balancing steel bowls of cement and stone on their heads. We walked up steps through towers and then down into old prisons, peering through the intricately stone-carved windows at the walls that once barricaded the fort--creeping up to the peaks of hills and then out of sight. Most of us spent our walk down the hill fighting the temptations of trinket peddlers. I ended up scathed, with the a red and gold Rajasthani turban awkwardly propped on my head. I suppose I needed something to match the shoes. That afternoon we spent at the largest sun dial in the world, called Jantar Mantar, I believe. Although quarantined off by some petty chains we scrambled around the giant triangle implanted in the land pretending to know how to read the thing. For the most part it was over-cast, but in the brief spurts of sun-light I think we found it to be fairly accurate, maybe about fifteen minutes off.

After that, we hit the market. Inlets in the large pink building flared out colorful textiles and walls full of shoes. I made out with some t-shirts, a key chain, a black and white photograph of a group of us, and some sandals.

The next day we headed to Agra to see the world famous Taj Mahal. The gargantuan tomb was ethereal--as they like to say in travel books, it seemed to "float on the land" as though plopped there by some extra terrestrials or other supernatural force. As with any monument, I first captured the perspective shot--as to appear picking up the monument by its central spire. After pictures grew tiresome, I headed for the inside--neck broken backward and jaw hanging in awe. Inside the building itself a lamp was hung, trencased in a stone veil that hung from a long chain hooked hundreds of feet up from the central rafters--casting a pale blue light across the tomb of Sha-jahan and the ancient Urdu scriptures carved in the walls. While strolling around the outside of the tomb with shoes removed I felt rather elated with my cold feet against the cool marble--a heavenly sort of place. They say that's what Shah-jehan modeled it after--a throne fit for a god.

We strolled out of the palace at sunset, walking backwards--nabbing our last glimpse of the Taj. Wisps of pink clouds made the white towers stand out in a near fluorescent blue-white against the purple sky. We shuffled back to the bus as night fell, dodging hawkers on the way, hopped back onto the bus, and headed back to the hotel for a night swim in the pool and a bit of sleep.

The next day we headed home, killed time with a new-fangled version of twenty questions and stopped through another fort only to gather some rain in our clothes.

This past weekend, I went to Amritsar, the town that houses the center of Sikh worship--the Golden Temple. I headed on my first train in India up through the beautiful green countryside with Summer, Kelly, Lucy, and Jill. We could get up at anytime and hang out of the doors, watching the countryside blaze by below our feet. I met a group of high school water polo players who liked to grab my arms and laugh as if I were on the team. We got in a little too late for a stay at the temple itself, so we rented out this funky seventies place with mirrors on the wall and one bed. A little bit of an awkward sleep, but I luckily managed to grab the edge.

The temple itself was surrounded by a large pool and everywhere Sikhs bustled around, a sea of multi-colored turbans. Some had large beards and carried the traditional sword and dagger around their waste and over there shoulder. I, myself picked up an orange bandana to cover my head. In the morning, I initially broke off from the group and did a bit of wandering on my own. Stood in one of the biggest lines I've ever been in for the temple itself--giant bamboo poles separated out about six or seven queue's--all stuffed with Sikhs. After about an hour and a half of literally no agency over the movement of my body, I made it into the temple itself. At the alter people fought to push for the front, so they could place there heads against the marble and place a donation before the massive holy book--which when opened, must been about six feet across. The entire building was golden--even the fans, although I hear it was just painted, it did shine as though it were real. That afternoon we checked into the temple for a free stay that night.

For the evening we drove up to the Pakistan border to see the daily ceremony that occurs there everyday at sunset. For the former half, women and men were segregated out for a little dance party and then everyone was cleared out and the soldiers came out for the most fierce marching I've ever seen. (Although I did find it quite comical myself) They wore these Trojan-esque red head-dresses and nearly kicked themselves in the head as they stomped in front of the border. The flags were raised, crossing in front of the setting sun, and a man in a white t-shirt walked quickly back and forth, chanting "Hindustan!" and then "Zindabad." (long live India) They didn't look as happy on the other side. The tension between these two nations, pitted against each other by whatever governing elite is never so apparent as it was there. That night we ran into some other students from the EAP group who had decided to visit the temple as well and went for the customary ten dips in the holy pool (which was warm and probably not the healthiest water). Then we headed to the kitchen that serves food for free to thousands of people everyday. The cooking process was done entirely on volunteer by Sikhs and others who came to stay. We managed to have them show us how they make massive vats of Chai everyday and got to taste some ourselves. We worked in the dish-line for a bit, wrestling with endless loads of metal dishes and silverware lined up alongside these long tanks. A rather utopian sort of place, he way everything gets done, that is despite the by who kept splashing me while I tried to wash dishes... It was about one in the morning then and the sides of the large pool had filled up with bodies. Everyone snoring on the marble, only to be awoken by the 'awakening of the book' at dawn for another day of hard labor or praying or whatever else. For me it was a train ride home, more cramped than the ride there, but a relatively short ride nonetheless. A family and a bunch of others who had purchased standing tickets had us sitting four or five to a bench. I managed to breathe out the window for the majority of the trip, but if I stood up there was a good chance my seat wouldn't be there when I got back. Made it back to Delhi right after the Metro closed and grabbed a taxi home.

Yesterday Andrew, Heather, and I went to Lodi Gardens where they had some large domed buildings made of stone, one of those Chi sand gardens and banzai tree exhibit. We then headed over to Chadni Chowk in old Delhi where we found steak kababs outside of a Muslim mosque called Jama Masjid. Yes, we found beef and it was divine, and only three rupee a plate. Then we went to a light show at a place called the Red Fort where they gave a brief history of India from the Muslim's perspective with surround sound-effects included. After that we shot off some bottle rockets that Andrew and I had purchased. We let some kids light off a few and I think most of them were better at lighting a match than I was. That was last night--and oh yeah, I got bike and I've been riding it around the suicide streets of Delhi, dodging cows, goats, dogs, pigs, people, three-wheeled cycles, and the most ridiculous buses I've ever seen. That's my everyday though, and maybe I'll go into that deeper on another entry. Until then. I miss you and all and burritos even more. So send me some refried beans and tortillas please! (Some salsa might be good too.) And since no one really says 'Namaste' here I'll just drive away like a rickshaw driver would.
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