Sunday, January 4, 2009

globetrotting: greetings from agra

The Accidental Wisconsinite is alive and well and blogging from an Internet cafe-cum-convenience (department in indian english) store in beautiful foggy Agra. Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, from the bit we've seen of it seems to be the Wisconsin Dells of India. Our budget resort hotel -- Hotel Sheela -- is a nice little respite from the insanity that is Delhi, so no complaints--especially since we switched to a "hot water" room this morning.

Please excuse any spelling and grammar errors, it's COLD here and Indian structures aren't built for such nonsense. I am convinced I have some sort of cold miser curse as most vacations I've taken seem to subject my destinations to unseasonably frigid weather. I just want to be warm and toasty!

Oh, and also my travel companion pointed out that there's a little mouse running through the room we're typing in. eek.

So what have I been up to? Besides being cold and queasy about wildlife?

For starters, being thrilled that I decided to take this trip.

I don't know if India has yet "completely changed my life, man." But it's definitely given my a new outlook on the current US economic situation. Yes people are having to foreclose on their house. But what? They move into a smaller house or apartment? They eat out less? Slums and shanty towns are not popping up outside of our cities. There are no straw huts in the fields. There is no raw sewage running in our streets and waterways (well the latter at times when the MMSD has flooding issues). Jason and I have been discussing how it's going to be difficult to hear people complain when we get back home. But at least I have grounds in the future if I ever a spoiled child to say "You know, in India...."

As you've probably heard this is a country of chaos and constant surprise. The New Delhi train station is total bedlam. I feel like I got training to be a Brew City Bruiser roller derby girl after pushing and shoving my way to the 2 p.m. Agra train yesterday. The train left an hour late, although some tout tried to convince that the train was indefinitely delayed and we should follow him. Luckily we're getting really wise to scammers, especially Jason who has two weeks on me.

Jason pretty much has to deal with anything anyway, since I'm a woman and apparently not worth speaking to. I'm offended, yeah, but it's also kind of nice to "check out" for a little bit. Jason is super-offended by this treatment. The funny thing is, I'd probably be a lot harsher to the scammers anyway, so they're lucky their cultural misogyny prevents them from dealing directly with me.

In addition to reflecting (a lot), we've also you know, like seen some historic stuff.

My first day (after a four hour sleep and a four hour toss/turn), we took in parts of Delhi. There's been this awful fog here, so our views were a bit obstructed, but it didn't lessen the impact of the architectural glory. Jason had discovered the wonders of hiring a personal auto rickshaw-wallah for the day, so we arranged with a guy for 500RS. We began at the Red Fort, built and held for centuries for various regimes of India's invaders, and now a symbol for India's independence. The vastness of the fort was a lot to take in. There was also an Indian military museum which had an odd assortment of ancient and modern weapons. A bit disconcerting for two admirers of Gandhi.

Following the Red Fort, we went to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the world. Apparently it holds 25,000 people. Out of cultural respect I did cover my head with my pashmina when I went in, but was surprised at the westerner women who did not. This was my first time in a mosque and being that it was almost the size of St. Peter's and there were several clerics actively praying inside, I was impressed by the holiness of the place as well as the physical structure. As much as it may haunt on film, there's nothing like hearing the singing prayers from the Koran echoing through the arches of a gigantic mosque. Despite the fog, we also paid the Rs100 to climb to the top of one of the minarets. Quite the hike, but worth the view. On our way down one of the workers (?) passed us huffing and puffing and asked "You been to India before? Good exercise, no?"

All the climbing made us hungry and we asked the rickshaw-wallah to take us to a good but cheap restaurant. He took us to "Splash Bar and Restaurant" chock full of westerners. I'm sure he got a nice commission, and the food really wasn't half bad (I owe a food blog later). After lunch we headed over to Humayan's Tomb, which is considered a nice warmup to the Taj. we were a bit rushed on our visit here, but wow, we can't wait to see the Taj if this is a cheap comparison. The pristine grounds were a lovely respite from our gritty neighborhood as well.

Unfortunately my jet leg began to set in at the tomb, so a lot of the experience is blurred. I tried a quick nap upon returning to the hotel, but to no avail. At 4:30 it was time to take a taxi out to my friends' sister's house for dinner. And have the taxi-wallah become desperately lost in the vast suburbs of Delhi. I will explain all in another blog, but my time is running out here and we must go see an abandoned city outside of Agra today. Tomorrow the Taj!

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