and the Taj Mahal
13.03.2016 - 14.03.2016
Sunday 13 March
Up, packed and breakfast......Aloo Ghobi....the most divine potato curry with puri ( deep fried chapatis......kinda), and by now the girls are quite accepting of me and my coffee pumper! The locals think it's quite the contraption, and generally a few guys appear to see it in action!
Yay! We meet our driver, Saheed, who is ( unfortunately for him!) going to be escorting us around India for the next 10 days. Such a lovely, gentle guy.
Judy decided to call her mobile on the off chance someone answered. They did. 30 minutes later he arrived at the hotel to a reward! Every cent she had was still in her wallet. The receptionist said this was very rare, to get it back. I asked wasn't it good karma to return it to its rightful owner ? He replied, no, it was good luck to find it! We put it out to the universe, and the universe delivered. Good karma.
In the bus and off we go to Agra. A big drive. The highways are crazy, cars, trucks, totally blinged out with tassels, flowers, streamers, crazy horns and colourful decorations. They make our trucks look terribly boring! I'm thinking of buying some bling and giving the Suncity Plumbing trucks a new look! I'm sure Mick will let me!
Many times you just learn to accept it. Swerving within an inch of an oncoming vehicle, roads that are two lanes wide with 4 lanes of vehicles! Definitely wakes you up!
Camels pulling carts, an elephant walking up the freeway, families crammed into cars, all waving at us, smiling, happy people. Ladies in the most colourful saris, children curious about us, babies with kohl under their eyes ( they believe that putting black kohl under their eyes makes their eyes bigger). Drop toilets, highway side chai, laughs and experiences. India really awakens your senses, in every way.
In the bus we all get to know each other a bit better. Life stories, jokes and we learn a few Jo-isms.......Jo Rowan, not me! We have a new saying, " as ra as rocking horse shit!"..... Jo has some amazing sayings and a great vibrant personality! We also discover the many many names for a vejutsha! Yes, some things may need to remain our secret!
We arrived at our hotel, the Lighthouse Hotel to wifi that only worked in the hallway. Imagine 7 ladies, all seated on the floor in the hallways trying to contact loved ones and catch up on life at home!
We headed to Agra Fort. Wow, they really knew how to build forts here! This place was amazing- there really aren't the adjectives to describe these places, their size, the decorative paintwork, the decals, details and history. We try to sneak photos of strangers in saris, they try to sneak photos of us. We are back to not knowing who is more enamoured with who! We pose for pics, they pose for pics. Total strangers, but again, warmth in their smiles, understanding in their eyes, love fills their hearts.
We have given Saheed a challenge. One, that when we told him, elicited a swear word! Judy, Christine and I bought 1 litre of Hendricks gin each at Singapore. We needed tonic water. You'd think, being called Indian Tonic Water, it would be easy to find. Wrong! We visited approximately 8 shops, each one suggesting he try another. We would eagerly watch Saheed from the bus, and he'd turn around and shake his head. We were very close to giving up. But Saheed could not be defeated........at the 9th we struck gold! 22 cans later ( their total stock!) we all laughed and celebrated! Mission accomplished!
For dinner, we had planned to go to Sheroes Hangout. Sheroes being the female version of heroes. Sheroes Hangout is a restaurant run entirely by women, victims of a shameful crime of being acid attacked. They showed us a short video that tells each of their stories-7 ladies. One lady burnt by her mother for refusing to sleep with her. One girl burnt by her husband as her mother in law wasn't happy that she had given birth to a girl child. A girl attacked by a passing bike riders passenger throwing acid on her. Shameful stories, horrific burns and disfigurement, eyes melted, faces melted. Unimaginable pain. One girl said she felt hot, then horrendous pain as he skin started dripping on to her foot. Some perpetrators jailed, some not.
But these girls, warriors, survivors, decided to open s restaurant to empower themselves. No more hiding behind the sanctity of their front doors. No more shame. They decided to live, to show their attackers that they could overcome their looks and be productive members of society. To raise awareness of this despicable crime. To forgive, and fill their hearts with love. And in turn, your heart is filled with love with them.
Such an emotional evening. Hate, blame and sympathy were initial reactions. Then, along with them, you start to calm down and feel love and acceptance. And these women, these sheroes, truly, make you realise what love and life is about. The importance of belonging. These women sure do belong. Dolly, our waitress, taught me more about acceptance and love that night, that I think I've learned in a lifetime. Upon turning home, I am going to work out a way to fundraise for Sheroes Hangout.
Day 2- Monday- 14 March
Up early for a 6am departure for the Taj Mahal. Tickets purchased and off we go. The best time to see it is early before the crowds are too maddening. "Crowd" is a totally different concept in India! A crows here is probably the population of Geraldton in one city block.
You enter through one of 3 gates, and each one is majestic. Walking through a huge archway, filled, yet again, with amazing decoration and art, and then.....you see it. The majestic Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. And rightly so. The ponds leading up to the temple itself are beautiful. As far as crowds go, it isn't too ad, but still, you feel the need to elbow people out of the way! The bench. The bench seat made famous by Princess Diana sitting at it for a photo........well, clearly we were born to sit there too! The cameras were going crazy, video out, at times I'd get confused as to whether to film or photograph. Beauty in every turn, each section reveals itself and yet again, it's beauty brings tears to my eyes. A serenity overcomes you. Something far greater than you exists and I basked in the glow of appreciation that in ,y lifetime, I'm getting to experience this in real life.
After the Taj, it's back for breakfast .....eggs! The first time I've had eggs, hard boiled but amazingly yummy!
We leave for a trip to the Taj Ganj Welcome School. Naim and his wife, Bryanah run this local school. They teach English to the children. It is a free school open to all. They survive purely on donations. As soon as we entered the children rushed at us, eager for photo, saying "hello!" . They were excited, as were we! They were so bright and happy! Some shy, some cheeky, all adorable! We enjoyed chai tea upstairs with Naims family, his mother and father, his grandmother, his 4 children and some of his sisters. Such a lovely welcoming family! Naim runs some of Nevermind Adventure motorbike tours, we were all openly welcomed into their home. A beautiful home, with two rooms and a small area as a kitchen. Even with language as a barrier, language isn't needed as we greet each other, smile and hug. We are invited to go there that evening for dinner. Naims wife will cook, his sisters will do henna on is and dress us up in saris!
We return later and have the most amazing night. Naims sisters speak good English. Funnily enough, one is quite bossy and soon we are being told to sit down, keep still, give me your hands.....don't move! We are having henna. The art they do on our hands and feet are incredible. Henna goes on like clay, dried and then peels off. Let me just say you know you've got hairs on your arms when it is coming off hours later! ( our hotel room looked like it had housed a plague of mice.....little black strips everywhere!)
Sari time, let me say, leave your inhibitions outside the door! We are stripped and dressed! No care for our feelings......hehe
Then we go outside to the oohs and aahs of the family! Proud, I think, that we had embraced their ways. We sat on the floor, on a beautiful rug, and proceeded to eat the most amazing food! Of course, it takes some getting used to that they won't eat until after we leave! We hug, thank our hosts and retest to the bus, and back to the hotel. Local children follow us through the alleyways back to the bus, saying hello, laughing and posing for pictures! Another amazing day in India.