two days worth of exploring to share. Yikes, I'm letting my curiosity roam far ahead of my writing.
yesterday was a hindu language lesson, which means that our afternoons are free. i think in total, i might have picked up on like 5 solid hindu phrases and words. beyond that, i'm useless. i do have this handy book of notes i took on all the words and their meanings though, so that's a cheat sheet of sorts i suppose.
during the remainder of the day, i packed it as tightly as possible. i had my first (real) coffee since arriving in india and i think i would have cried real tears of joy if i wasn't perpetually dehydrated. i also had my first experience with the indian atm, and i must say, by attempt 6 i was a pro.
our house dad, rocky, picked us up from the market where the coffee cafe was, "no, no! you do not walk, it is too hot!!". after arriving back at the house, i went with other friends to the mall. we were shopping in particular for a traditional indian suit for one of the boys, and after we dropped 2,000 rupees on a "designer" garb, wound up at a pizza hut. and by wound up, i mean it was as intentional as possible. i pride myself on my international food pallet, but man, by meal 17 of curry, your body does start craving american food. needless to say, the five of us feasted at the little pizza hut and even found a way to take some home for snacks.
by the time we arrived back at the homestay, it was dark. the following morning we were supposed to wake up at 2am to make it to the taj mahal by sunrise, and we all got it in our heads that it would be a good idea to stay up rather than sleep at all.
so as the weak filed off to bed one by one, I stayed up talking. at 1:15am we started getting ready in our saris and traditional indian wear. we all took the excuse to get dressed up and embrace the local culture. go big or go home when you go to the taj mahal, am i right?
my custom made sari is what dreams are sewn of. Taking the advice of the locals, we opted for the two piece sari to stay cooler in the excruciating heat. We all had different fabric and styles. Each was very beautiful in its on right, though I was very partial to my own.
With a four hour ride to Agra beginning at 1:30 am, our sleepy bodies anxiously improvised, turning our neighbors in the seats next to us into pillows.
An hour into 4 hour taxi ride to the taj, our cab jerked to the side of the road. And by jerked, I literally mean we swerved harder than I've ever swerved. At this point, the bad driving completely does not phase me. Slowly, taxis with our other volunteers followed in suit. 5 minutes of waiting turned into 2 hours as we learned that one of our taxis full of volunteers had been in a wreck. I'm telling you, indian driving is the scariest thing ever.
Sadly, any hope of us arriving in time to see the taj by sunrise was gone. I will say the downside to this is that a day that was supposed to be so majestic started a little sour before it even began. We were all cranky from our lack of sleep, uncomfy in our traditional garbs, and sick of sitting in a car.
On the flip side, i will say that you do see crazy funny things when you're parked on the indian highway at 3 and 4am (read: local sleepwalker stumbling roadside). by the time our taxis finally resumed driving, it was nearly 5 am. Ugh.
To make our moods worse- it took us another 4 hours to get to the taj because of traffic. the remainder of the ride was filled with bad tempers, unsuccessful naps and frequent road bumps. Road mountains would also be an accurate description. But I'll be optimistic here.
while the day had been very unpredictable, I was hell bent on making sure my american food streak continued. I ate away my bad mood with an american feast of eggs, toast, and chai tea. Ok, maybe Chai tea isn't american. Oh well. After breakfast grub, our tour guide met us at the front of the restaurant and lead us to the bus stop where we boarded another bus and embarked on the oddly short ride to the entrance of the taj.
the entire morning, men were commenting that my two friends and i looked like bollywood stars. (Psht, flatter me please! #india.) i was told that i resembled snow white, which, 1. lol. right, ok. and 2. is the actual way to my heart (#favoriteprincess). long story short: saris poses this strange inexplicable power to make you feel like the most beautiful person alive.
After going through security to the Taj and begging them to let me keep my water (mission accomplished), I found myself super confused. Where I was standing was nothing at all like the pictures I had seen. It was a brown courtyard, for crying out loud!!!! Turns out, the entrance of the taj was originally the maintenance keepers quarters, which explained the brown stone that is very common of indian architecture.
maybe they try to underwhelm you when you come in, because when you turn the corner and go through the archway into the taj courtyards, there are no words. holy moly it is stunning. i have never seen something so infinitely wondrous. i literally cannot explain this place. you have to go see it for yourself. like, no, seriously, open a few tabs of airline tickets and start arranging vacation days with work or school.
our tour guide told us so much about the structure. So here's the story of the Taj: it was built for the king's third wife, which was his favorite of his 9(?) wives. she had 14 children, and they were very in love. she made him promise that if anything were to happen and she died before he did that he would uphold her three wished: one, for him never to marry another wife; two, for him to take wonderful care of their children; and three, for him to build her a beautiful memorial. his condition in response was that he would be buried next to her (which, he was. Que tears).
The wife was the king's good luck charm during war - anytime she was with him at battle, they were victorious. In what would be her last war, the wife was pregnant, and due to complications during delivery, passed away mid battle. the king, being the adoring and mourning husband he was, honored her three wishes (that's the understatement of the year) and built her the most beautiful memorial in the world- the taj mahal.
it's funny because the taj workers treat the taj mahal as though it is the queen herself. for example, whenever they clean the marble on the outside, they do not use cleaning products, rather, they use mud. this is because the queen would have used mud in the form of a facial to clean her skin, so the taj should therefore also be cleaned with mud. i'm not kidding you at all. i heard that straight from the source.
a photographer followed me and my two friends around the taj, and we also attracted swarms of people wanting the coveted "american" selfie. 6 days in, and the exotic factor has worn off and it is more of a nuisance than anything. we eventually started having to tell people no or just ignore them because they are ruthless in their selfie quest.
after the taj tour, we visited a marble craft shop that does marble detailing and work with the taj. the process is mesmerizing and the actual products are just gorgeous. i did buy some gifts here... hi mom, hi dad, about that credit card bill.. :))
lunch was at a buffet with indian food. my american food stream did come to an end, sadly, though I kept is quasi western with a good ole pepsi. by lunch time, the excitement of the saris had worn off, and we were all just itchy, hot, and ready to go to bed. plus some of us hadn't slept in over 24 hours (cough cough me). It goes without saying that the 5 hour ride back to delhi went by remarkably fast. i slept most of the way home, though at the mercy of the horrible roads. I'd be jolted awake only to have a window batter my face. Shout out to my driver's strange dedication to making his car fly over speed bumps.
another fun story- we literally got stuck behind an actual elephant on the way back. i get it, i'm from alabama- getting stuck behind weird things happens. it's always awkward explaining to out-of-state friends that yes, getting stuck behind a tractor is completely ok. but getting stuck behind an elephant? that's a new low.
i remembered to take a picture after the fact, but here's photo proof of the elephant after we managed to pass it!
i was almost too tired to eat dinner, but food always gets me in the end. the shower, on the other hand, has been put off until tomorrow morning which is just as disgusting as it sounds. i'm looking forward to sleeping for a while tonight.
tomorrow i pack for my placement. i will be oriented into slum teaching upon my arrival, as my travel week ended today. right now, all i can think about is that iced coffee and sleep... these 4:30am posts are becoming much too normal.... *sigh*