Friday, July 25, 2008

Journey's End...

I hope you have enjoyed accompanying me on my trip to India. Feel free to email me with any questions you may have.....
Goodbye until my next trip.....

Going home...

July 20, 2008-(Sunday)- New Delhi, India

On my final day in India I went shopping. I was looking for a musical instrument to bring home for my son Joel. I found one, haggled about the price, and left happy. Since I still had several hours before my flight, I went to my last site, the Indian National Museum. The art work was beautiful and I was surprised to find out that Indian civilization precedes the Egyptians ! Why we never learned anything about this culture in school or college is beyond me. I took many pictures, then it was time to go. I went back to the flat, packed, and headed for the airport.

The Taj Mahal....

July 19, 2008-(Saturday)- New Delhi & Agra, India

I got up relatively early to get ready to go to Agra. Jassie, one of the CCS drivers was picking me up at 9:30am. He was punctual, and off we went. The ride to Agra was memorable. Jassie speaks English well and I asked him many questions. From talking to him I found out that life in New Delhi is profoundly different than in a small community like Palumpur. In Delhi, arranged marriages are rare. The public school system, while still behind the U.S., is relatively good. Finally, the caste system is not strongly adhered to. In essence, Delhi is on its way to being a modern city. Some Indians are happy about it, some are not. In Delhi, I didn’t see trash all over the streets. As a matter of fact, there was a truck with the logo Delhi Trash Management on it. There were trash cans around the city. This is progress. One thing I must remember though is that Delhi is the capital of India, so it might be the exception rather than the rule. Another thing I learned from Jassie is that the Indian government is very corrupt. He told me for example that there were actual “traffic police” in Delhi. I asked him what the rules and penalties were and he said that it depended upon whether or not you were a government official. He explained that there was some special legislative session going on Monday, and that many officials were coming to the city. We were able to see the special cars with flags showing the different political parties. I asked him which party he belonged to and he said “none, because they are all corrupt”. Everyone in the government takes bribes. If you get caught for a traffic violation, you can simply bribe the officer. If you don’t have money to bribe him, you get a fine or go to jail. Most government jobs work this way. I know that there is some corruption in the U.S. government, but I don’t believe it is as bad as here in India. Don’t I WISH I could bribe the police when speeding. I actually started thinking about the fact that we are NOT free here in America. Not only do we have a million taxes, but we have laws for EVERYTHING! In India, there are hardly any traffic laws, or if there are, no one obeys them. In Dharmasala and Palumpur there were no speed limits on the roads. They don’t need special permits to build houses, chop down a tree, or have a pet. We need government approval for Everything! We have government agencies that inspect government agencies! How “free” are we? Sure we have great roads, utilities, and state and city resources, but do we have a choice of which ones we want to pay for? The answer is NO! I could be wrong, but I think if the citizens of Palumpur wanted to eliminate trash from the streets, they could vote on it, invest the money as a tax, and it would happen. The problem is that at this point they have been living with the garbage for so long that they don’t see any reason to invest their money in cleaning it up. Still, it’s their choice—at least I think that is how their system works. I am appalled at how spoiled we are as Americans, how we expect the government to do EVERYTHING for us. We expect it because the government HAS done so much for us, too much in fact. The more I learn, the more I am glad to be a libertarian. Ok, enough, I’ll get off my soap box.

On the way to Agra, we passed through several small cities. I took many pictures. I also saw camels in the streets! The camels were pulling carts. I have to say I was completely taken by surprise! I want to ride a camel, and Jassie told me that I could ride one to the Taj from the parking area for about 50 rupees. Wow, what a trip ! Then, just when I thought I’d seen it all, there was an elephant in the middle of traffic ! I’ve seen so many different animals on this trip you’d think I’d gone to the zoo !

The 4 hour drive to Agra passed quickly. When we finally arrived, Jassie dropped me off in the parking area and I found a Camel cart to take me to the Taj area. I paid the cart owner a little extra to allow me to ride the actual camel. He acted surprised that I wanted to do this, but he let me. Let me say first that riding a camel is no easy matter. As a matter of fact, it is a bit painful. And camels are slow, at least mine was. After a short ride we were at the Taj entrance. The fee was 750 rupees for foreigners, and 2 rupees for Indians. I wonder how they knew I wasn’t Indian. LOL. Anyway, I walked in the gate thinking I’d see the Taj right away. Instead there were all these other beautiful buildings which were the entrance, like the hallway to the Taj…. What can I say, words just can’t describe the beauty of the buildings. Then I turned the corner and it just took my breath away…. There was the Taj Mahal l was so impressed that it looked exactly like the pictures on the internet! It was unreal ! The marble work was amazing. One interesting thing is that it is another TOMB. It seems like such a pity that this incredible building wasn’t used for anything other than to house a coffin.

  • The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, that was built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal (also "the Taj") is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage." While the white domed marble and tile mausoleum is most familiar, Taj Mahal is an integrated symmetric complex of structures that was completed around 1648. Ustad Ahmad Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer of the Taj Mahal The focus of the Taj Mahal is the white marble tomb, which stands on a square plinth consisting of a symmetrical building with an iwan, an arch-shaped doorway, topped by a large dome. Like most Mughal tombs, basic elements are Persian in origin. The base structure is a large, multi-chambered structure. The base is essentially a cube with chamfered edges and is roughly 55 meters on each side (see floor plan, right). On the long sides, a massive pishtaq, or vaulted archway, frames the iwan with a similar arch-shaped balcony. On either side of the main arch, additional pishtaqs are stacked above and below. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on chamfered corner areas as well. The design is completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets, one at each corner of the plinth, facing the chamfered corners, frame the tomb. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; their actual graves are at a lower level. The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is its most spectacular feature. Its height is about the same size as the base of the building, about 35 meters, and is accentuated as it sits on a cylindrical "drum" of about 7 metres high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome (also called an amrud or guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design, which serves to accentuate its height as well. The shape of the dome is emphasised by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners. The chattri domes replicate the onion shape of the main dome. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial, which mixes traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The main dome is crowned by a gilded spire or finial. The finial, made of gold until the early 1800s, is now made of bronze. The finial provides a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The finial is topped by a moon, a typical Islamic motif, whose horns point heavenward. Because of its placement on the main spire, the horns of moon and finial point combine to create a trident shape, reminiscent of traditional Hindu symbols of Shiva. At the corners of the plinth stand minarets, the four large towers each more than 40 meters tall. The minarets display the Taj Mahal's penchant for symmetry. These towers are designed as working minarets, a traditional element of mosques as a place for a muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The minaret chattris share the same finishing touches, a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. Each of the minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth, so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many such tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb. The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest to be found in Mughal architecture. As the surface area changes, a large pishtaq has more area than a smaller one, and the decorations are refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying paint or stucco, or by stone inlays or carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs. The calligraphy found in Taj Mahal are of florid thuluth script, created by Persian calligrapher Amanat Khan, who signed several of the panels. The calligraphy is made by jasper inlaid in white marble panels, and the work found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is extremely detailed and delicate. Higher panels are written slightly larger to reduce the skewing effect when viewing from below. Throughout the complex, passages from the Qur'an are used as decorative elements. Recent scholarship suggests that Amanat Khan chose the passages as well. As one enters through Taj Mahal Gate, the calligraphy reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you. Abstract forms are used especially in the plinth, minarets, gateway, mosque, jawab, and to a lesser extent, on the surfaces of the tomb. The domes and vaults of sandstone buildings are worked with tracery of incised painting to create elaborate geometric forms. On most joining areas, herringbone inlays define the space between adjoining elements. White inlays are used in sandstone buildings and dark or black inlays on the white marbles. Mortared areas of marble buildings have been stained or painted dark and thus creating geometric patterns of considerable complexity. Floors and walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in tessellation patterns. Vegetative motifs are found at the lower walls of the tomb. They are white marble dados that have been sculpted with realistic bas relief depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has been polished to emphasize the exquisite detailing of these carvings. The dado frames and archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra dura inlays of highly stylized, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. The inlay stones are yellow marble, jasper and jade, leveled and polished to the surface of the walls. The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal steps far beyond traditional decorative elements. Here the inlay work is not pietra dura, but lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones. The inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face, though only the south garden-facing door is used. The interior walls are about 25 meters high and topped by a "false" interior dome decorated with a sun motif. Eight pishtaq arches define the space at ground level. As with the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq about midway up the wall. The four central upper arches form balconies or viewing areas and each balcony's exterior window has an intricate screen or jali cut from marble. In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters through roof openings covered by chattris at the corners. Each chamber wall has been highly decorated with dado bas relief, intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy panels, reflecting in miniature detail the design elements seen throughout the exterior of the complex. The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels. Each panel has been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid with semiprecious stones in extremely delicate detail, forming twining vines, fruits and flowers. Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves and hence Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are laid in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal's cenotaph is placed at the precise center of the inner chamber with a rectangular marble base of 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters. Both the base and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious gems. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz. On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest a writing tablet. Shah Jahan's cenotaph is beside Mumtaz's to the western side. It is the only visible asymmetric element in the entire complex. His cenotaph is bigger than his wife's, but reflects the same elements: a larger casket on slightly taller base, again decorated with astonishing precision with lapidary and calligraphy that identifies Shah Jahan. On the lid of this casket is a traditional sculpture of a small pen box. The pen box and writing tablet were traditional Mughal funerary icons decorating men's and women's caskets respectively. Ninety Nine Names of God are to be found as calligraphic inscriptions on the sides of the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, in the crypt including "O Noble, O Magnificent, O Majestic, O Unique, O Eternal, O Glorious... ". The tomb of Shah Jahan bears a calligraphic inscription that reads; "He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri." The complex is set around a large 300-meter square charbagh, a Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and gateway, with a reflecting pool on North-South axis reflects the image of the Taj Mahal. Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and fountains. The raised marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar, in reference to "Tank of Abundance" promised to Muhammad. The charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor Babur. It symbolizes four flowing rivers of Paradise and reflects the gardens of Paradise derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning 'walled garden'. In mystic Islamic texts of Mughal period, paradise is described as an ideal garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east. Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion in the center. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, instead is located at the end of the garden. With the discovery of Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna, Archaeological Survey of India interprets that the Yamuna itself was incorporated into the garden's design and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise. The similarity in layout of the garden and its architectural features such as fountains, brick and marble walkways, and geometric brick-lined flowerbeds with Shalimar's suggest that the garden may have been designed by the same engineer, Ali Mardan. Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including roses, daffodils, and fruit trees in abundance. As the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden declined as well. When the British took over the management of Taj Mahal, they changed the landscaping to resemble that of lawns of London. The Taj Mahal complex is bounded by crenellated red sandstone walls on three sides with river-facing side open. Outside these walls are several additional mausoleums, including those of Shah Jahan's other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz's favorite servant. These structures, composed primarily of red sandstone, are typical of the smaller Mughal tombs of the era. The garden-facing inner sides of the wall are fronted by columned arcades, a feature typical of Hindu temples later incorporated into Mughal mosques. The wall is interspersed with domed kiosks (chattris), and small buildings that may have been viewing areas or watch towers like the Music House, which is now used as a museum. The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure built primarily of marble and is reminiscent of Mughal architecture of earlier emperors. Its archways mirror the shape of tomb's archways, and its pishtaq arches incorporate calligraphy that decorates the tomb. It utilizes bas-relief and pietra dura (inlaid) decorations with floral motifs. The vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric designs, like those found in the other sandstone buildings of the complex. At the far end of the complex, there are two grand red sandstone buildings that are open to the sides of the tomb. Their backs parallel western and eastern walls, and these two buildings are precise mirror images of each other. The western building is a mosque and its opposite is the jawab (answer) whose primary purpose was architectural balance and may have been used as a guesthouse. The distinctions between these two buildings include the lack of mihrab, a niche in a mosque's wall facing Mecca, in the jawab and that the floors of jawab have a geometric design, while the mosque floor was laid with outlines of 569 prayer rugs in black marble. The mosque's basic design is similar to others built by Shah Jahan, particularly to his Masjid-Jahan Numa, or Jama Masjid of Delhi, a long hall surmounted by three domes. The Mughal mosques of this period divide the sanctuary hall into three areas with a main sanctuary and slightly smaller sanctuaries on either side. At the Taj Mahal, each sanctuary opens onto an enormous vaulting dome. These outlying buildings were completed in 1643. The Taj Mahal was built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for the land. An area of roughly three acres was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage and leveled at 50 meters above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and rubble as the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle. According to the legend, Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants overnight. A fifteen kilometer tamped-earth ramp was built to transport marble and materials to the construction site. Teams of twenty or thirty oxen were strained to pull blocks on specially constructed wagons. An elaborate post-and-beam pulley system was used to raise the blocks into desired position. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a large storage tank and raised to large distribution tank. It was passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the complex. The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete. The remaining parts of the complex took an additional 10 years and were completed in order of minarets, mosque and jawab and gateway. Since the complex was built in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on "completion". For example, the mausoleum itself was essentially complete by 1643, but work continued on the rest of the complex. Estimates of the cost of the construction of Taj Mahal vary due to difficulties in estimating construction costs across time. The total cost of construction has been estimated to be about 32 million Rupees at that time which now runs into trillions of Dollars if converted to present currency rates. The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials during the construction. The translucent white marble was brought from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. A labor force of twenty thousand workers was recruited across northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayer from southern India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, another who carved only marble flowers were part of the thirty-seven men who formed the creative unit.

After touring the complex and taking numerous pictures, I relaxed on the way back to Delhi.

Touring Delhi-- continued...

I looked around for a taxi, but my guide said he had a taxi. I learned that this meant that he had a friend who had a taxi. He took me over to a rickshaw driven by a man I thought to be about 60. He was smoking and had a horrible cough. Once I got into his rickshaw I knew I’d made a mistake. While the other rickshaws and cars moved quickly along the road, mine puttered along seemingly on its last legs. Nevertheless, we got to the Temple gate safely

While I was there I asked a man who was taking photos of his family if he would take a picture of me with my camera. He said yes, and took a few. While I was posing, his family moved in and wanted to be in my pictures! Of course I said it was fine. Then the man took some pictures of his family and me with his camera. I guess they were really fascinated by me, but I don’t know why. After the pictures one of the older women in the group asked me where I was from and if I was single. I said yes, I’m single and from America. She elbowed one of the younger men in the group saying “she single, she single”, and laughing….

I thought I was in for a marriage proposal. We all laughed and I said goodbye and went on my way. Next stop--- India Gate!

When we arrived at the India Gate I was enthralled. Here was the same icon I saw on the internet weeks ago. I couldn’t believe I was actually here! Once there I met some girls from Minnesota, who took some pictures for me. Even though I’ve been in India for 4 weeks, I couldn’t help but pause and think about the fact that here I was in INDIA, at the India Gate. I looked around a bit more as saw some boys “swimming” in the fountain near the gate memorial. The boys were in their underwear. No girls of course. I was surprised that since this was a government square that no one told them to get out of the fountain. I took a few more “snaps” (the word they use here to mean photos or pictures) then it was on to the next attraction— It was getting late, and I was soaked in sweat. I was tired and wanted to get back to the flat, but I knew I had to keep going and see as much as I could since this was my last day in Delhi. Next destination, Purana Qila.

We puttered over to the next monument, and on the way I took many pictures of the people on the streets. It was very interesting. India is full of sights, sounds, and smells that I’ve never experienced before. Then we arrived at Purana Qila.

· Purana Qila, literally 'old fort' stands on an ancient mound. Excavations near its eastern wall reveal that the site has been continuously occupied since 1000 BC. It is also believed to be the place where Indraprastha, the Pandava capital mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, once stood. Purana Qila and its environs flourished as the sixth city of Delhi. It was here that Humayun, the second Mughal emperor began to construct his city, Dinpanah (Asylum of Faith), four years after his father Babur established the Mughal dynasty in 1526. However, Humayun's reign was short-lived and, in 1540 he was dispossessed of his fledgling empire by the Afghan chieftain, Sher Shah Suri who ruled from 1540 to 1545. When Sher Shah took possession of the citadel, he strengthened its fortifications, added several new structures and renamed it Shergarh. After his death, his successors were defeated by Humayun who recaptured his domains in 1555. Today, of the many palaces, barracks and houses that once existed only Sher Shah's mosque and the building said to be Humayun's library remain. The Yamuna once flowed on the fort's eastern side and formed a natural moat. The present entrance, an imposing red sandstone gate on the western wall called the Bara Darwaza (Main Gate) is one of the three principal gates of Shergarh. Its double-story facade, surmounted by chhatris and approached by a steep ramp, still displays traces of tiles and carved foliage. Humayun's Gate, on the southern wall, has an inscription bearing Sher Shah's name and the date 950 AH (1543-4 AD). To the north, the Taliqi Darwaza (Forbidden Gate) has carved reliefs and across the road is the red sandstone Lal Darwaza (Red Gate) or Sher Shah Gate, one of the entrances to the township that grew around the fort.

At this place I also met and talked with several people. I talked to Indian families traveling on holiday, people from Ireland, Germany, England, the U.S., and many other places. I felt at once like a part of a global community. I even met some other volunteers from the U.S. who were volunteering with another organization. The whole time I was alone because the “clique” of volunteers I came with ordered their own taxi and made their plans for touring the city and didn’t invite me. By this point I didn’t care. I was actually enjoying doing this on my own. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I would want to travel around like this with more than one or two other people. A big group is cumbersome and there are too many questions of who wants to do what. 3, or at the most, 4, is a good number. I have to admit, I stopped at one point and thought to myself “here I am traveling around Delhi, alone, and having a great time! I’m enjoying my own company and meeting new people. I don’t have to argue with anyone or apologize when I have to stop and find a toilet. Maybe I can travel the world alone.” I felt so confident and sure of myself. It felt good. I felt a wholeness that I cannot describe.

The ruins at Purana Qila were, like all the monuments thus far, incredible. Like in Peru, I touched the stones of the buildings and wondered who cut and placed them there so many, many, years ago. Who were they? What were they like? Did they have families?, hopes?, dreams? I pondered this for a bit and then realized I had just seen something I haven’t seen in a while, a palm tree. Part of the monument had a lane of palms leading to the main building. It was a trace of home and I began to think of all the things I missed about Florida. Soon I would be home and this whole adventure would feel like a dream.

On to the next stop, Humayun’s Tomb….

· This tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal. The construction of Humayun's tomb was taken up by the grief-stricken wife of Humayun, Hamida Banu, also known as Bega Begam in 1565. Legend has it that the design of the Taj was inspired from this tomb's. In pure architectural sense, this building is probably superior and much more beautiful that the stunning Taj. Sacrilege? But really, the only thing this building lacks is the showy marble.
The complex took nine years to complete and the tomb itself is a dazzling landmark in the evolution of Mughal architecture in India. Hamida Begum is said to have spent one and a half million rupees on it and you just have to see it to know that every penny was worth it. The plan of the building is simply brilliant and very mathematical. The tomb is set bang in the middle of large square-patterned typically imperial Mughal-style garden which is neatly divided into sub-squares by paved lanes. There fourth side of the tomb is not walled; simply because the river was supposed to make up for the wall, but it flows there no more. The high arches and double dome that became so associated with Mughal architecture make their debut here. The place is studded with fountains which were extremely popular in those days – a Mughal might have been poor in many things, but never in fountains. The intricate and delicately beautiful latticework on the tomb remained the trademark of Mughal architecture down through the ages.

This complex was incredible. Sad that such a beautiful structure was just a place for bones to be stored. This would have made a beautiful palace in my opinion, or even a village or market or temple, or something useful. I took many pictures.

It was close to 6pm when we made our way to the last stop, the Lotus Temple.

  • The Bahá'í House of Worship in Delhi, India, popularly known as the Lotus Temple, is a Bahá'í House of Worship and also a prominent attraction in Delhi. It was completed in 1986 and serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent. It has won numerous architectural awards and been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. Inspired by the lotus flower, its design is composed of 27 free-standing marble clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. The architect was an Iranian, who now lives in Canada, named Fariborz Sahba. The major part of the funds needed to buy this land was donated by Ardishír Rustampúr of Hyderabad, who gave his entire life savings for this purpose in 1953. Nine doors open onto a central hall, capable of holding up to 2,500 people. Slightly more than 40 meters tall[3], its surface shining white marble, the temple at times seems to float above its 26 acre (105,000 m²; 10.5 ha) nine surrounding ponds. The site is in the village of Bahapur, in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Since its inauguration to public worship in December 1986, the Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi has, as of late 2002, attracted more than 50 million visitors, making it one of the most visited buildings in the world. [4] Its numbers of visitors during those years surpassed those of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. On Hindu holy days, it has drawn as many as 150,000 people; it welcomes four million visitors each year (about 13,000 every day or 9 every minute).

This temple is a modern structure built by the Bahia faith. It is a beautiful and elegant modern work of architecture. In reading some of the information in the museum, I found that this faith is interested in finding common ground for all religions. It proclaims unity and compassion for all people of all races. I like that. The more I learn about religions of the world, the more I realize what we have in common rather than what separates us. Peace for all humanity—imagine that! Inside the temple it was peaceful and quiet. No crosses, no statues, nothing but a small podium where a speaker talks during worship services, and wooden benches, simple, yet elegant. I paused for a moment and prayed. I felt at peace….. now it was time to go….

I got back to the flat, and the cook had prepared dinner for me. It was delicious. I felt a bit guilty that he had to cook for me alone, but I was paying for this after all, and it is his job. I ate, took a cold shower, and went to sleep. Tomorrow I go to Agra to see one of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal !

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Touring old Delhi--playing tourist....

July 18, 2008-(Friday)- New Delhi, India

Today, since I have the whole day in Delhi with no planned activities, I decided to get a taxi to take me to some of the famous sites. My first driver was a Seek, a very nice man who frequently drives for CCS. The first stop was Lal Qila, The Red Fort.

· The largest of old Delhi's monuments is the Lal Quila, or the Red Fort, the thick red sandstone walls of which, bulging with turrets and bastions, have withstood the vagaries of time, and nature. The Lal Quila rises above a wide dry moat, in the northeast corner of the original city of Shahjahanabad. Its walls extend up to two kilometers, and vary in height from 18 metres on the river side to 33 metres on the city side. Mughal Emperor Shahjahan started the construction of the massive fort in 1638, and work was completed in 1648. The fort sports all the obvious trappings, befitting a vital centre of Mughal government: halls of public and private audience, domed and arched marble palaces, plush private apartments, a mosque, and elaborately designed gardens. Even today, the fort remains an impressive testimony to Mughal grandeur, despite being attacked by the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah in 1739, and by the British soldiers, during the war of independence in 1857. Entrance to the fort is through the imposing Lahore Gate, which as its name suggests faces Lahore, now in Pakistan. This gate has a special significance for India, since the first war of independence, and has been the venue of many an important speech, delivered by freedom fighters and national leaders of India. The main entrance opens on to the Chatta Chowk, a covered street flanked with arched cells, that used to house Delhi's most skilful jewelers, carpet makers, weavers and goldsmiths. This arcade was also known as the Meena Bazaar, the shopping centre for the ladies of the court. Just beyond the Chhata Chowk, is the heart of the fort called Naubat Khana, or the Drum House. Musicians used to play for the emperor from the Naubat Khana, and the arrival of princes and royalty was heralded from here. The Fort also houses the Diwan-i-Amor the Hall of Public Audiences, where the Emperor would sit and hear complaints of the common folk. His alcove in the wall was marble-panelled, and was set with precious stones, many of which were looted, after the Mutiny of 1857. The Diwan-i-Khas is the hall of private audiences, where the Emperor held private meetings. This hall is made of marble, and its centre-piece used to be the Peacock Throne, which was carried away to Iran by Nadir Shah in 1739. Today, the Diwan-i-Khas is only a pale shadow of its original glory, yet the famous Persian couplet inscribed on its wall reminds us of its former magnificence: "If on earth be an eden on bliss, it is this, it is this, none but this." The other attractions enclosed within this monument are the hammams or the Royal Baths, the Shahi Burj, which used to be Shahjahan's private working area, and the Moti Masjid or the Pearl Mosque, built by Aurangzeb for his personal use. The Rang Mahalor the 'Palace of Colors' housed the Emperor's wives and mistresses. This palace was crowned with gilded turrets, delicately painted and decorated with intricate mosaics of mirrors, and a ceiling overlaid with gold and silver, that was wonderfully reflected in a central pool in the marble floor. Even today, the Lal Quila is an eloquent reminder of the glory of the Mughal era, and its magnificence simply leaves one awestruck. It is still a calm haven of peace, which helps one to break away, from the frantic pace of life outside the walls of the Fort, and transports the visitor to another realm of existence.

I took many pictures here, and all I can say is that the structure is incredible ! At first I was surprised at how many Indians were there, but then I realized that this would be the equivalent of Americans visiting Washington, D.C. Inside the Fort museum there were many exhibits of old swords, and other military items. I wondered where they were found, and who last used them so many, many years ago. If only they knew their possessions would be in a museum someday. I wonder if some of my possessions will make it to a museum in a couple hundred years…

It is SO much hotter here in Delhi, than in Palumpur. I can’t describe how hot it is! The only thing I can say is that I took a shower using only the cold water tap, and even THAT water was warm ! I kept drinking water, and didn’t have to pee ! I sweated the water out !

After the Red Fort, I looked for the next site, which was Jama Masjid, a Moslem Mosque. I made the mistake of asking someone where it was and a man came to me and said he was a guide. I told him I didn’t want a guide, only directions as I knew the Mosque was within walking distance. He was insistent and kept following me. Then he said he didn’t want any money, he would do it free. Although I knew he would want money in the end, I let him show me around a bit as I knew I could give him a few rupees at the end and he would be happy. First, I told him I needed to find a bank. I needed to get a cash advance off my Visa card. I have NO idea where my Bank of America, temporary card is. I didn’t get my new card in the mail before I had to leave for India. I didn’t have a PIN number for my Visa card as I never use it for cash, but the Visa help line said that I should be able to get cash at any bank with my card and my passport. My guide showed me the bank, and I went in. I was again taken aback. No computers, only paper forms everywhere. The crazy thing is that even the paper looked ancient. I wish I had taken a picture of it, but thought that would seem strange and put me under suspicion of something. How can they run a bank in today’s world without computers? At some point, computers must be used as they have an ATM system! Anyways, after “talking” with several people I was advised that no bank in India would give me money off a credit card. I would have to talk with Capital One about this! I needed a PIN number. I had my guide get me to a phone where I called Visa and they told me to call back in 2 hours as their computers were updating. Can I say FRUSTRATED, and a bit scared! I didn’t want to be in Delhi for 3 days without access to money. I wanted to take a taxi to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj Mahal ! When I came out of the bank, my “guide”, was there waiting. (I’d hoped he’d gone away.) He asked if I wanted to go to the market and go shopping, I said a loud “NO”, I just want to see the Mosque. He took me through a lot of back streets, very, very, narrow streets, and I was getting a bit nervous. Fortunately, the streets were filled with people, children, and shoppers, so at least I could scream if anything happened. I stopped him and said, “where are you taking me? I want to go to the mosque, which is only a short distance from the Fort”. He said that he was taking me through Old Delhi, which was a short cut and where I could see streets and houses over 500 years old. The man was true to his word. As we were walking the narrow streets I saw tiny, tiny, stone houses and shops which were obviously very old. We walked down one street which he said was the marriage street. This was because all the shops sold wedding items. Everything was red and gold. In India, Brides wear Red on their wedding day, not white. Weddings are a HUGE celebration here as 99% of marriages are for life. Even a poor family will have over 100 people at the wedding which lasts 5 days! The actual ceremony doesn’t last 5 days, the time includes the groom getting together with his male friends and family, the bride’s preparation, the actual ceremony, the reception, etc.

Finally we made it to the mosque. There were steep steps going up to it. I had to leave my shoes outside and wear a makeshift skirt (they gave this to westerners at the entrance) in order to enter the mosque as my ankles and calves were showing – I was wearing Capri’s. As I was walking up the steps, some school girls came over and asked me for my autograph !!!! this is NO joke ! I tried to explain to them that I was not anyone famous, but once they found out I was from America, they insisted. I signed my name in their book, then they wanted me to take a picture of them. I did, but I felt weird about it. Here is some information about the Mosque:

· The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama Masjid of Delhi, is the principal mosque of Old Delhi in India. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, and completed in the year 1656 AD, it is one of the largest and best-known mosques in India. It is also at the beginning of a very busy and popular street/center in Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk. Masjid-i-Jahan Numa means "the mosque commanding a view of the world", and the name Jama Masjid is a reference to the weekly congregation observed on Friday (the yaum al-jum`a) at the mosque. The courtyard of the mosque can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers. The mosque also houses several relics in a closet in the north gate, including a copy of the Qur'an written on deer skin.

Inside, again I was struck by the beautiful architecture. I saw the Moslem women all in black with only their eyes showing. I can only imagine how hot they felt, I was dripping with sweat. I understand modesty, but to not be able to even show one’s face ! This seems crazy to me.

After taking MORE pictures, I went to get a taxi to take me to my next destination, the Jhandewala Deviji Temple.

To be continued….

short notes for today

July 17, 2008-(Thursday)- Palumpur, India

Like every day since I arrived in Palumpur, I awakened to the sound of singing birds. As this is my last day, I tried to savor it. I drank Chai for the last time. I ate mangos, and scrambled Indian-spiced eggs.

The last day with the kids at Gyan Deep was great. We rigged up a make-shift video and the kids loved it. They were able to see for the first time, parts of the world that they only had labels for. Shri took pictures of each student and told me that he is going to put together a web page for the school. How cool is that? If this doesn’t motivate the teachers and principal, I don’t know what will! I will continue to see what I can do as far as getting a grant for them. When I started saying good-bye, the kids were coming over to get pictures and hugs. It was difficult. I gave them all copies of my address and told them to write to me. As I was walking down the hill, one boy stopped me and gave me a letter he’d wrote to me. In the letter he said that he wants to be a doctor. Could I send him some books? He would also like pictures of the ocean as he has never seen it and heard me talk about it. In my heart I promised myself that I would definitely get some books sent to him. Who knows, maybe I will return to India for his graduation from Medical school ! At the house I grabbed some lunch and brought my luggage downstairs. I said good bye to my new friends and the staff. There was a long, hot, drive to the Dharmasala airport, a 2 hour plane ride, and we were back in Delhi where my adventure had begun.

Summer Camp

July 16, 2008-(Wednesday)- Palumpur, India

Today was WONDERFUL ! We gave the kids the map of the world which didn’t have the labels on it. We wanted to see if they remembered much from yesterday. A few remembered the continents, which was a start. The problem is that they knew the names of the continents, but they didn’t know where they were! I couldn’t believe that some of them couldn’t find India on the map ! They also had no idea how big the world is! We brought a globe, and showed them that the globe was the same as the flat map that we had given them. A few didn’t realize that the earth is a sphere! I have to say I was shocked. Again, once we started showing and labeling things on the map, they asked for more. When the 40 minutes were over, they didn’t want to leave! I felt so happy and excited. This is the joy of being a teacher! It was incredible to see the faces of the kids and hear them laughing and asking question upon question. After the classes were over for the day, Usha told us that the kids had gone to her class and said that they loved our class and that they learned a lot. This was great. Shri and Brian figured out how to rig up a video presentation on the Seven Wonders of the World. We are going to incorporate this into our lesson as the Taj Mahal is on the list. I am so excited, I can’t wait to see the kids’ faces when we bring the world into their classroom! I can’t help but think of all that would be available to them with just a projector, a computer, and an internet connection. The world would be theirs for the taking. I am so frustrated that I can’t do more, but I am happy for what I am able to do.

After lunch, I went to the tailor’s to pick up my new PJs. They came out perfectly. Then I went back to the house to take a little nap. After about 1 hour, Gee-too called me and told me it was time to go to the dentist to get my crown put on. Dr. Singh was wonderful. The crown fit perfectly and as I looked in the mirror, you could hardly tell the crown from the other teeth. I talked to Dr. Singh for a while. It was his family who donated the land for Gyan Deep. His family also owns the Tea plantation we visited. Dr. Singh has developed a non-profit organization and wants to help more schools like Gyan Deep. We talked a bit about it and I hope that someday I can come back to India and help out with the educational system here. I feel so torn because I want to help India, but when I was in Peru, I wanted to help Peru. Next summer me and Joel and Rachael will hopefully go to Costa Rica. There are so many who need help, but I know I can’t help them all.

Once back from the dentist, I went to see Pooja. I think I am finally getting immune to the sound of honking horns. Here in India it is nothing personal when someone honks at you. They are not angry, you have done nothing wrong, they simply want you to know that they are coming up behind you. It is a matter of notification, not anger. This is so different than in the U.S. I wonder how I will react to horns when I get home again. When I arrived at Pooja’s house she was so happy to see me. One thing I noticed was that she was wearing the same outfit from the other day. She showed me around her little home. It has 4 rooms; One main room which has a bed and chairs, table, and TV. Then there’s the kitchen, another bedroom for her parents, and lastly a small room with a refrigerator, her bed which she shares with her grandmother and brother, and other household odds & ends. I noticed the complete absence of toys in the house. I asked Pooja about this and she showed me her doll. This was her ONLY toy! The doll was on a shelf in the main room where apparently the family kept their prized possessions. There was a picture of her grandmother and Uncle at the Taj Mahal, some other family trinkets, and all this was in a glass case. Her mom and dad asked me for tea, and I had tea with them. I was astonished and humbled at how these people who had so little were so willing to share with me, who was for all important purposes, a stranger. I gave Pooja and Vicrown a few American coins and explained to them how the U.S. money system works. I made sure Pooja had my address, and got up to leave. Pooja insisted on walking me back to the house. It was a nice walk. She told me that someday she wants to be a scientist who works with the planets. I told her that I might see her on Mars someday when she is all grown up. When we got to the house I ran upstairs to get the picture of Joel and Rachael as she wanted a picture of them. I grabbed one of the bags I’d bought in Amritsar and some tea I’d bought and gave them to her for her family. She had tears in her eyes as did I. Then she hugged me and we said good-bye. When I walked back into the house, Juggy told me that he wasn’t able to change my flight to Delhi, and that I was going to have to leave tomorrow! I was so disappointed. I ran upstairs to pack. Brandy and AJ chatted with me while I tried to fit my belongings into the suitcases. Even though am leaving most of the clothes I’d brought with me, my luggage is full of souvenirs. I picked out the cortas, pants, and dupatas that weren’t my favorites, and quietly gave them to the cleaning girls who were cleaning our rooms. I knew only too well how little they earned and how few clothes they owned. I will be sad to leave India, but I do think it is time to go home. I feel like I have 2 lives; one here and one in Jacksonville. Soon it will be time to go back to bills, cooking, Wal-Mart, kids, etc. I wonder how much of a shock it will be once I am home.

The New Group

July 15, 2008-(Tuesday)- Palumpur, India

Today was our first day of summer camp with the kids at Gyan Deep. I really had a lot of fun and the new group of volunteers is so nice, I made friends immediately. My roommate is Tatiana. She is from Guatemala, but her husband is an American of German descent. He has a corporate job in China, so now she is living in China. All I can say is WOW !

I was so surprised in the class today. We were teaching the kids geography, and we asked them to name the continents. I couldn’t believe that they couldn’t even name the continents ! These are 9th graders and up ! I couldn’t help but think how small their world is. When I was in 4th or 5th grade I remember seeing a map of the world and thinking “I want to go to all those places!”. I felt so sad for them because I knew that most of them would never leave Palumpur. For these children who have never been taught to ask questions, we opened the world up to them. Once they realized that they wouldn’t get punished for guessing, they asked a million questions! I was so excited! Here we were, making a small, but significant difference! After school was over, Shri, Brian, Mifa, and I thought about how we could teach them more and put together a miniature “smart classroom”. I am having so much fun with the new volunteers that I don’t want to leave. I asked Juggy if I can fly to Delhi on Friday instead of Thursday. He said he didn’t think it would be a problem. This will give me an extra day with my new friends and with the kids at Gyan Deep. I wish this group were here earlier. They are so much friendlier than the group I came with. After lunch, we took several hours coming up with ideas for tomorrow. We printed up a blank map of the world and thought we would see if they could label even a few countries, like India. China and Pakistan. It was getting close to 7:30pm, so I called Pooja’s father to make sure they were going to meet me at the hotel for dinner. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it because they had a death in the family. Even though it wasn’t a close family member, the family had to attend the service. I was sad that I wasn’t going to get to see Pooja, but I told her that I would stop by tomorrow. After that I just ate dinner with the other volunteers. Then we played Apples to Apples, and had a blast. By 10:30, I was exhausted and went to bed… It was nice to have a roommate. Tatiana and I talked for a while before I fell asleep.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

July 14, 2008-(Monday)- Palumpur, India

Today we went to the school only for an hour or so. Since the regular school year is over, we will be starting a summer camp for the kids tomorrow. Today we went to just drop off a few things. After this I was dropped off at Dr. Singh’s so that he could remove the temporary crown and make a mold for the new one. His office looked like any other office in the U.S. except for the fact that he didn’t have 8 different rooms, a television in the ceiling, or any computer appointment system. All the basic dental equipment was there. I was concerned there would be pain, but there wasn’t any because the tooth was already dead. It took about ½ hour and then he took the mold with the same sticky stuff they use in the states…. and off I went. I made my way to the market to bring the tailor some more material… to make really soft PJ’s for me! At 3pm we left for Dharmasala to attend the opening of the new school for disabled children. We got there around 4:45 and it was raining. The ceremony was supposed to begin at 5:30, so we had some time to kill. I got to talk to Seth’s mom and she gave me a tour of the building. Then some of the other CCS volunteers from Dharmasala arrived and I hung out with them. It wasn’t long before the new volunteers arrived and I got to meet them. What a great bunch of people. What a difference from the childish group I came with. Included in the group were 2 families. One was a mother daughter group (Beth & daughter gabby). The other was a whole family, Dad- Shri Rom, Usha, and son AJ. The latter are originally from India, but wanted to expose their son to Indian culture since he was born and raised in the U.S.

The ceremony began late because the mayor was late arriving. Because of this I missed my meeting with Dietland and Rootie. Instead, I rode back to Palumpur with some of the new group. I had fun talking to them. One thing I did realize is that I am in a totally different socio-economic level from most of these volunteers. Shri Rom is an executive for Intel, his wife Usha has a PhD in biochemistry and works for a pharmaceutical company. Miffa’s parents are wealthy and she has attended boarding schools and her parents gave her this trip for Christmas! Most of the young people who came with this group have parents who are paying their trip expenses and a few of them are going to some really interesting colleges. One lives in the U.S. and is going to do a semester in London! I have to say that I am envious in the best way. Not only do I envy their ease in having funds to travel, but the fact that they are able to travel at such a young age. I’ve just begun traveling last year at 42. In my view, they are so very, very, lucky…. but this is all relative. After all I am spending time with children who may never even travel out of Palumpur. I must be grateful for the opportunities I have.