Apr. 20th, 2010 12:33 pm
marjorieinchina: (Default)
[personal profile] marjorieinchina
Hello friends! I'm sorry I've been so absent in this space, and I hope some of you are still reading. I've been all in a tizzy about deciding on an MFA program, which together with teaching has kept me rather preoccupied all the time. But I have decided I will be in St. Paul to start an MFA in the fall, and I have my lesson plan set for the week, and I am going to pick up the thread of my travelogue where I left it off lo those many weeks ago.

So! When last we saw Our Heroine, she was on a bus from Jaipur to Delhi. We got to Delhi late in the evening and were greeted by Sam's parents' driver, who brought us to Sam's parents' house. The next day (Tuesday) was India's Republic Day, and we basically spent it at the house, watching the parade on TV and making plans for the next week. (My paper journal reminds me that we also watched Nigella Lawson on TV.) On Wednesday we went shopping at a number of markets, which were very crowded and characteristically Indian, and I bought some clothes for vanishingly small amounts of money. (Thanks are due to Sam for haggling for me.) I kind of wanted to take pictures, but didn't want to stop in the crowd with a camera in my hands. Then we went to an incredibly strange dance performance, where we spotted a number of people who had been at the Jaipur Lit Fest.

On Thursday, I went to Agra and the Taj Mahal! Got up painfully early and got on a bus that had, surprisingly, only one other foreigner on it. There followed a very long drive through the fog, with a brief, surreal stop for breakfast.

Where we had breakfast.

The first stop was the Agra Red Fort. When we got there our tour guide materialized at the front of the bus and led us in. It was kind of a whirlwind to get through but I did have time to take pictures, and it was very beautiful. It was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century and had a harem, marketplace, throne room, and cunning self-watering garden. The courtyards were what I really liked, the open breezy spaces laid out in graceful patterns and flanked by arches. The history, mostly, went right over my head. I didn't realize until going to India how little I knew about Indian history. There was a random dead Englishman interred on one of the courtyards, but we did not go look at his tomb.

Red Fort

Mom wants to see more pictures of me on the blog.


From the fort we went to a craft center, where we saw some craftsmen doing marble inlay of the sort that the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal both have, and had lunch, and then it was on to the Taj Mahal.

Here is some news: the Taj Mahal is gorgeous! The whole thing is just perfectly laid out, with a slow approach and fountains along the walkways, and the marble, when we took off our shoes to go inside, was cool and slightly bumpy under my feet. The tomb room was crowded but dark and still, with pigeons fluttering around the high ceiling, and there was something about the labyrinth of other rooms that was very calming.




If it was worth the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal, it was certainly worth the bus ride to see it, but I wasn't thrilled to add to our riding time by going, after that, to Mathura, site of Krishna's birth. There was a whole temple complex there, which we reached from the bus by walking down a dirt road while little boys tried to sell us flimsy books of postcards. we had to go through a security check and weren't allowed to bring anything but a wallet--no phone, no camera, no purse. We saw a lot of rooms with people drumming and singing and devotees kneeling and bowing and ringing bells, sort of run-skipping through all the rooms to make sure not to get behind the group. Again...there's just so much I don't know about India. A few weeks' study of Hinduism in my high school World Religions class was a whole lot better than nothing, but when you're inside a place like this you realize just what depth of history and culture and belief you're dealing with.

After that there was just the bus ride back to Delhi, about three hours. The man sitting next to me asked for me e-mail address, which I didn't give him ("I'm going back to China!" I said, as if that were an answer, and put my headphones back on). Got back to Delhi and dropped into bed.

Friday morning, Sam and I watched a DVD of Three Idiots, which was (still is?) the big hit film sweeping India; it was mostly in Hindi, with no subtitles, and Sam did a simultaneous translation for me, which means I ignored her later comments in the visit about her supposedly terrible Hindi. In the afternoon we went to see a different Red Fort, this one within Delhi, which was vast--both broad and tall--and carried an unmistakable air of faded grandeur. A lot of the buildings inside the fort used to have the same kind of inlays as the Taj Mahal, before they were carted away by the British or other invaders, along with the Peacock Throne. We couldn't get tea at the tea house, so instead we went to a rickety little building outside the fort to drink glass bottles of pop and talk about the boundaries of Western civilization.


I confess I was charmed by the coolers of pop. Yes, I called it pop.

Saturday morning, I went to the temple with Sam's grandmother, who always goes there on Saturdays for reasons having to do with Saturn and people's horoscopes. One of the distinctive things about Hindu temples is that when you make a sacrifice, you always get something back. We were given a spoonful each of big sugar crystals, some rosebuds, water to put on our heads. It's important to have many gods, Sam's grandmother told me, so there's something suitable for everybody.

From the temple we went on to the Qutb Minar, where I left my bag outside as directed and stupidly forgot to take out my camera. So I tried desperately to fix everything in my memory, at one point laughing aloud at how various and overwhelming it all was. Pictures taken by other people can be found here.

We went back to the apartment for lunch and then I went back out. I kind of wanted to see Gandhi's house, but it was the anniversary of his death and Sam advised against it. We decided on Humayun's Tomb instead, so after a while I got back in the car, this time with Sam's mom, and the driver dropped her off to run some errands and then took me to the tomb and we both went through. He didn't really speak English (or he just didn't decide to talk to me) so we just walked through quietly and took lots of pictures. When they say "Humayun's tomb" they really mean "Humayun's posthumous palace complex"--the place included gardens and multiple buildings, which had beautiful latticework in the windows.




Things you can tell about me from the above picture:
1) I was feeling drab in my traveling clothes compared to all the people around me, and as a result wore my relatively nice clothes and a shawl a lot despite its not being cold outside.
2) My contacts had been giving me problems and I needed to shade my eyes all the time. I was wearing glasses this day but took them off for the picture; they're in my left hand.
3) The driver included more of the ground and less of the building behind me than I had in mind, but I didn't want to bother trying to explain this and so this is the picture that was kept.

The next day we flew to Bangalore, which I will tell you about soon!

More photos can be found on my Flickr page. The Delhi photos start with this one.
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July 2010


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