Today started very early with a pick up for the trip to Agra at 6:00 AM. We rented a car and driver for the trip and it took us 4 hours to get there. The trip there was full of small surprises and excitement. First, we saw beautiful green rice fields everywhere. Visualize the corn fields of Iowa and then substitute rice paddies. Brown scrub dirt everywhere, except for these lush green sprouts growing in small rectangular plots. I first thought it was winter wheat coming up it was so vibrantly colored.
The second surprise was Devika herself. The driver stopped when we entered Uttar Pradesh and paid an entry levy or something. This made Devika suspicious and even more so when the driver came back with 50 less rupees than he should have had for us. I always knew Devika was a strong woman and does not tolerate dishonesty or conniving. She questioned the driver and he said that was all they gave him. So, she jumps out of the car, grabs the receipt and stalks off to the little office the road officials were sitting in. She must have had the look of someone not willing to put up with any crap because they gave her 50 rupees back to her without so much as an explanation of why they were so blatantly cheating people.
The third surprise was breakfast at McDonalds. We were driving through Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna and home to many oil refineries, when I spotted the McDonalds out the side window. While they did not have a breakfast menu, they serve lunch 12 hours a day! I had a veggie sandwich on the famous sesame seed bun with lettuce and mayo. It was very tasty and was made from carrots, peas and whatever other secrets McDonalds added. I do believe they could sell these in the U.S.
How to describe the Taj Mahal? Of all the monuments and sites of India, this is one definitely worth seeing. It is an engineering feat of excellence with perfect symmetry, illusions in the arches and Koran writings and inlaid semi-precious stones in the marble. The Taj Mahal was built as a tomb for one of the rulers as a testament to his undying love to her. She died after 18 years of marriage and giving birth to 14 children. Go figure. He was obsessed with the project and upon its completion cut off the hands of all 20,000 workers to help to build it so they could not replicate the work. It is the best maintained public heritage site I visited and the gardens were beautiful as well.
We also visited the palace and fort in Agra. The British pretty well finished decimating the place and turned it into an armory. So much history lost.
On our back home, we stopped in a city outside of Delhi to visit some relatives of Devikas that she has not seen in many years. I was tired and not feeling like it, but it was worth the time we spent. The level of excitement flowing out of her aunts and their family was energizing. To say they were thrilled by the visit is a gross understatement and after a short visit they sent us off with a box of sweets and dried fruits for the rest of the ride home.
One site was consistent with what we have seen in other parts of India. The towns springing up and literally littering the roadside between the big cities is unbelievable. India is a country under construction. Everywhere things are in some state of growing and that brings along all kinds of issues with services to the area. In some areas it looked like they started to build and stopped and started somewhere else down the road. It is an interesting view of the rapidly changing face of India. Over half the population is under the age of 30. In one generation they shall be forever changed in housing, dress and family obligations.