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July 2016


Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

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Our whirlwind weekend to Delhi ended over a week ago and it already feels like a lifetime ago. We are so busy all the time and pushed to mental and physical capacity that even in the ten minutes I’ve had free, I just can’t seem to make myself do anything requiring brain power. I feel like I’m getting stupider and stupider here and the delirious giggles are off the charts, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll sleep for 48 hours when I’m back in the states and I’ll wake up smart! Maybe…

But back to Delhi. We get one free weekend while we’re on assignment over here and ten of us decided it was our chance to see the Taj Mahal. We rushed home after work on Friday and crammed into rickshaws, making it to the airport just in time for our flight to be delayed and for us to wait for a couple hours. And I had the pleasure of using a hole in the ground toilet and getting acquainted with an ice cold bidet. (Dammit Alina, stop forgetting to carry around toilet paper!) A few hours later and we landed in Delhi and took the most hilarious rickshaw through torrential rain and flooded streets, getting soaked, getting ripped off and getting dropped off at the wrong hotel. So back on the road across town to our actual hotel and we finally got checked in around 2am. Enough time to shower and meet our tour guide in the lobby at 2:45am. We spent the next three hours en route to Agra and trying to sleep in the oddest positions. Side note: I’ve learned I sleep quite well sitting in a chair and draping my torso over my legs and letting my arms and head hang down.

We arrived to the Taj Mahal around 6am to meet our tour guide and spent the better part of four hours exploring the buildings and grounds. I don’t know what I expected going into this Trip, but nothing prepares you to see the Taj Mahal. It’s breathtaking! The structure was commissioned in 1632 by the emperor, Shah Jahan, as a final resting place and testament of his love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. No detail was spared and the amount of optical illusions the mausoleum plays on you is impressive. My favorite part was the intricate carvings and the inlayed patterns of gemstones. When you shine a light on them, they illuminate in the most brilliant colors and you feel like you’re on the inside of a kaleidoscope.


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The second half of our day (well morning) was spent at the Agra Fort, which was just as impressive as the Taj Mahal in my opinion. I loved getting lost in the maze of rooms and willing the walls to tell their secrets. The emperor was imprisoned here by his son where he lived out his final days, looking out at the Taj Mahal and his love down the river.


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Between the two tours we stopped for lunch where I had the pleasure of another squatty potty and averting my eyes from the poor man who had to clean it. Sorry! We also stopped at a factory collective of stoneworkers that use the same techniques used to make the gemstone inlays at the Taj Mahal. Totally a money trap, but I walked away with a beautiful elephant I plan on using as a bookend. Oh and monkeys!!! Monkeys were everywhere! We saw two elephants from the car too, but that doesn’t really count I guess.


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Back in the van for more delirious giggles and weird napping positions and car games. I cannot tell you how heavenly it was to return home to our hotel room. Air conditioning and warm showers and giant plush beds and wifi! Six of us snuggled into the beds and ordered room service and lots of drinks and watched cheesy 80s style Bollywood movies. Nine pm, down to three of us and we headed out to explore the Delhi nightlife. We ended up at Lord of the Drink and laugh all you want but it was so fun! The inside looks like this sleek cigar lounge/speakeasy with a DJ and dancing and the rooftop was breezy and mellow with a band playing what seemed like Spanish guitar but in Hindi. We chilled with lots of sangria, gin and tonics and shisa – watermelon and mint to be exact and it was the best hookah I’ve ever tried – before stumbling home for some much much much needed sleep.


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Related posts

A Beautiful Tragedy

The poverty and lack of infrastructure in India is impossible to ignore. You are reminded of it with every little child tugging on your arm for money, the endless stretches of shantytowns, the dilapidated buildings, the empty atms, and the sheer dirtiness and lawlessness of the streets. India has 33% of the worlds poorest and no government aid for them.

It feels bizarre to come into so much poverty and stand on the other side of it as a carefree consumer. I’m here for six weeks and oh look how cheap the clothing is. I’ll buy it! And look how quaint the rickshaws are. I’ll ride them! Yes to this and yes to that and more more more before returning to my plush job and my plush life. I feel guilty how lucky I am. I deserve much of what I have because I’m a hard worker and ambitious and compassionate but I also owe a lot of my life to luck. How lucky that I was born a white female to a middle class family in the United States in the current century. How lucky that I was able to go to any university that I pleased and that my dream school accepted me. How lucky am I that despite my health problems, I have access to the top doctors and have a supporting and loving family. How lucky that I have always been taught that I can do and be anything I can imagine. It’s all happenstance that I am standing here so privileged and disconnected from the struggles of these people.

And yet with all my privilege, I feel helpless to provide for these people and ease their struggle. Poverty surrounds you and it takes everything you’ve got to not pet the street dogs who may or may not have rabies and to not help the four year old beggar who’s “pimp” watches nearby. It’s a reality that makes the beauty of India tragic and it’s something I’ve yet to reconcile with myself. With every new adventure and happy moment, I also feel sad and hopeless. People were not kidding when they said India would be an emotional journey.

Xo Alina

Related posts
Taj Mahal and Agra Fort
July 13, 2016
First Observations About India
June 30, 2016
Laxmi Road
June 27, 2016