Sunday, June 29, 2008

Last Day in India

June 29, 2008

We rose early this morning at sunrise, around 5:15 a.m. and through the steam of our window we could see the Taj Mahal in the early morning glow. Last night we arrived at our hotel in Agra after a 5 hour drive. We were greeted by men in turbans and who took us through a beautiful stone carved courtyard with lit pools and small fountains, beautiful Moghul style architecture. We enjoyed a delicious traditional Indian dinner while listening to a woman playing the sitar and a man playing some small hand drums, sitting on colorful Indian pillows. It was a wonderful welcome to Agra.

As we entered the gates of the Taj and then turned through the courtyard to see the Taj up close and personal, I have to say it was overwhelming. It truly is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world. There is so much attention to detail, from elaborate inlay of semiprecious stones in the white marble,to the onyx and marble patterns set in the red sandstone surrounding structure and mosque, the symmetry of design and the tricks used to create straight lines for the minarets- they made the top of the minarets wider so that perspective would not make them appear smaller but straight all the way up.

It was breathtaking and a photographers dream. You couldn’t help take hundreds of photos. It is too bad that the emperor that built the Taj was taken as a prisoner by his son, who stole the throne from him after killing off his brothers. He had planned to build a large mausoleum for himself out of black onyx and connecting it to the Taj Mahal with a silver bridge! We walked the area and were awe struck by the grandeur- it exceeded all expectations. It backed up to a wide river, where you could see people bathing and had a good view of the surrounding area. It didn’t register from the photos I had always seen, that the Taj is placed up on a large pedestal, essentially. It makes it look like it sits in the sky; there is nothing that detracts from its beauty.

The inlay is world renown and the art has been kept by the descendants of the original craftsman. The Taj took 20,000 workers 12 years to build. You get it when you see it. The art has been preserved for centuries being passed down from family to family. There is still a village right outside the gates of the Taj that is filled with these inlay craftsman. There are only 250 people now that know how to do the work that was done on the Taj. The fact that no pieces have fallen out, the glue they have made is a trade secret that no one knows outside this village. They still make their living through this detailed, precise work. They do their work in their individual homes. It is a cooperative and they share the earnings amongst themselves, since some one does the design, someone does the carving into the marble and then others do the intricate cuts of the semi-precious stones, someone glues and someone sands.

After we returned to the hotel to eat breakfast, swim in the pool and repack, we headed to one of their cooperatives, where patrons can see them working and where you can purchase their art.

It was fascinating to see them take so much time shaping the tiniest petal of a flower, which is just one of 12 small pieces in an inlay flower that is less than a ½ inch. We looked around their showroom and saw the most intricate inlay work I have ever seen, it had thousands of semiprecious stones, all cut and set in onyx- it was $15,000, which sounds crazy but you could see the time and effort that went into it. The man said that the plate took10 months of nonstop work from one man. Fun to look and admire, but more like museum pieces and prices.

We toured The Red Fort. This was the huge palace of the Moghuls, the ruling emperors that were responsible for so much of the fantastic architecture of India and who ruled up until the English. Inside the Red Fort were some intricately inlayed rooms with the same beautiful detail of the Taj-built from the remaining the stone of the Taj. Here’s where the emperor was imprisoned when his son took over the county. When he was imprisoned he only asked that he would have a room where he would have a view of the Taj. It had a beautiful balcony that looked out over the river at the Taj. After being imprisoned for 8 years in this room, he died here. His remains were left by his son and later his daughter came and collected his remains and placed them beside his favorite wife inside the tomb inside the Taj, where they are today.

Before we left Agra, the girls really wanted to get a Henna tattoo. We went into the small local town and found some artists that set up on the side of the street. For $5 Kendall and Syd both had their feet done and Nate got an elaborate design on his arm- watch out Ski Utah, Nate has gone native!

We are headed back on our 5 ½ hour drive to Delhi to catch our midnight flight. Again we watch the rolling movie of sights and sounds as we drive down the road.

As we leave the exquisiteness of the Taj and reenter the streets of Delhi, we are reminded of what we experienced this past week, as children come up and beg. We are told by our guides to ignore them, but after what we have felt this week towards those that have begged, it is hard, especially when they are so aggressive. I have put my arm around some, Syd frantically tried to get some food from the car to give these two small kids that were begging in the middle of the crazy traffic, who couldn’t be more than 8 years old- it was so distressing. The question is, what would Padma want us to do? She believes that if we just continue to give to them for free, they are the same off a couple hours later. We should love and show them respect and help them help themselves, so we tried to purchase items from those selling things on the road, better than just giving a hand out, and we tried to acknowledge them all.

It is so hard to see the suffering all around us and the beautiful children begging.. We have tried to show compassion, but what can you do when there are millions of them? I think what Padma and Becky would approve of, and what Christ would want us to do is, to show them all love and respect and if you can't do for all of them, do what you can for some. I have been taught and I believe that the greatest commandment is to love one another, if we do this with our heart and our actions, we will see change in ourselves, in others and in our world.

Thank you for letting us share our experiences this week through this blog. We are grateful.

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