Day 9 : Mathura, Vrindravan – Temples

I woke up early on Saturday morning so I could go to Mathura (the birthplace of Lord Krishna) and Vindravan (where Krishna grew up) – after all, he is my namesake.

The odd aspect of these places is that the cities are quite slum-like, despite their spiritual and religious significance.  Kesava Deo Temple, the temple at the location of Krishna, was well guarded. Due to utter a few stupid Hindu and Muslim fanatics significant religious sites require 24 hour security.
The temple was actually quite simple – nothing too large or pompous. There have been a couple places that I have found very peaceful and calming – this was definitely one of them.
I felt comfortable but a little odd too – I can’t recall the last time I went to any place of religious or spiritual significance without my parents. Usually they led the way with what to do, but this time I had to figure it out on my own.
I then proceeded to Vindravan. After driving this SUV through streets intended only for pedestrians for nearly an hour, we had still not found the temple I wanted to see (there are 15 or more). Eventually, I told Manoj not to worry, and we should just continue on to Delhi. He insisted he would keep looking, so I just went with it. Eventually he took me to the Hari Krishna temple. I am sure it can be imagined, but a majority of the devotees/worshipers were Caucasian which I thought was really cool. Overall, the temple was a site to see – despite the chaos there was something very calming about it. The one difference between Hindu temples, and Mosques and Churches is that the temples are chaotic: there are 101 things going (It’s fun! Very few rules…)
I arrived in Delhi by mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 7 & 8: Agra — Traveling like Royalty

 

I made an early start on Thursday since I wanted to visit the Amber Fort in Jaipur before heading off for Agra. The fort is set high above Jaipur. On the ride up we were stopped in traffic. A gentlemen, around my height and age, said, “Tour, Sir? Very important for Amber Fort.” I quickly said, “No, no.” and looked forward. He continued to follow me at the window, trying to convince me of the importance of the tour. For nearly 30 meters he ran in line with my window as we ascended the mountain – eventually, he ran into a bike and most likely bruised himself up a bit and stopped.

The fort was impressive; however Indian archeological sites of interest have a tendency of not being tourist friendly with respect to maps and history. Tour guides are usually needed, but I was in a hurry.

From Jaipur we drove straight to Agra. We arrived at the Jaypee Palace, my family-friend’s property in Agra. Within the first 30 minutes of being at the hotel, I am greeted by the head managers and the VP of the hotel. They have set up my itinerary for the next two-days and have arranged for one of the managers to accompany me to all the sites.

Anil, a manager from the Jaypee Palace, would accompany everywhere I went over the next two days.  I was hesitant about the idea, but there wasn’t really an option, as they had made all the arrangements for tours, a car, refreshments in the car (just in case I wanted something), meals, etc.

I arrived in Agra by 3PM and we head off to the Taj Mahal by 5PM. Anil bought me a refreshment and told me to wait for him as he bought the tickets. I was utterly confused but my family-friends seemingly took care of everything; I simply had to breathe, walk, and enjoy the sites.

Everyone told me the Taj was magnificent and words cannot describe it.  I just stood there and starred – the only other thing I have starred at similarly are the Swiss mountain ranges. According to Lonely Planet, Rabindranath Tagore attempted to sum up the Taj’s beauty: “a teardrop on the face of eternity.” Perhaps that is a better description? Beats me – just go see itJ

***

The following day we set off for Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort. They – Jaypee Palace management – had packed refreshments in a cooler in case I were to get thirsty. To say the least, I was traveling comfortably.

Anil could speak English quite well, so we chatted quite a bit about the changes in India. What bothered me during the journeys was how he attempted to cater to my every need: “Sir, does the temperature in the car suit you?” or “Sir, could I get you a refreshment” or “Sir, would you like to an Autorickshaw or horse and carriage” The whole concept of “Sir” when someone is older than me has been difficult for me to get used.

During Akbar’s reign of the Mughal Empire, Fatephur Sikri  was the capital. Eventually, they vacated the area because of the lack of water. The palace was magnificent and worth seeing. The most interesting aspect is Akbar’s palace because the architecture meshes Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. Akbar had three wives – one Muslim, one Christian, and one Hindu (and 300 concubines). Given all the conflicts that exist today amongst religions, I think it is awesome to see the representation of all the religions in architecture from long ago.

Day 6: Jaipur — Poverty and Massages

Despite a late start for Jaipur, I arrived by 2PM. Luckily, Mr. T was no longer with me, so I was not slowed down further. Manog, my driver, knows the streets of every City we pass through. I suppose he must do this Golden Triangle journey quite often for NRIs (Non Resident Indians).

Jaipur, “the pink city” is colorful and crazier than Delhi. While entering the City, we passed camels, cows, elephants, monkeys, stray dogs, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, pushcarts, and pedestrians peacefully using the unlined roads to get to their destinations. I was awed.

My hotel booking was at the local Holiday Inn. At the main entrance a guard stood stoically, when

I reached the door, he saluted me, stomped his foot down, smiled and then opened the door. I awkwardly saluted him, and proceeded to the check-in counter.

The clerk asks, “How many of you are there?” I hesitated, because I am confused, “Umm one, I mean two. Actually…I am not sure” In this brief two-second stint, I am sure this clerk thinks I am a fool. But, I am wondering where my driver is supposed to sleep. I quickly called my family-friends in Delhi; however, they did not pick-up. I told the clerk there would be two people staying so I could be on the safe side.

In Jaipur I saw three key sights: City Palace, Jantar Mantar, and Hawa Mahal.  The City palace is still owned by the former Maharajas family; thus, only 25% of the palace is open to tourists. The palace was pompous, as expected, but really didn’t have too much more to offer. Jantar Mantar, contains large astrological measurement devices (e.g., the largest sundial in the world). Hawa Mahal was a building created so that women of the palace could safely view the City and see what is going on.

After running around for a good 4-5 hours, I was pretty tired. I skimmed through my guidebook and found a Kerala Ayurveda Kendra (massage place) – it sounded interesting and Lonely Planet recommended it. We had to drive through the traffic infested City to get there.

At one point, we were stuck for nearly 20 minutes: I was sitting peacefully, recollecting the day’s events. I heard a tapping on the window, a Young Girl, no older than 15, was holding her famished naked baby. She kept tapping on the window and bowing to me and saying “Money…milk for baby. Please sir.” I looked at her for a moment; I looked at her baby for moment; I sunk my head into one hand — I was not sure what to do.

I had heard stories from my parents: Once, my Mom slightly lowered her window to give some money, and in moments 4-5 kids were hanging off the window asking for money. The driver attempted to speed away to get the kids to let go; however, they held on for a couple blocks.

The incessant tapping seemed like it had been going on for an eternity, but it had only been a few seconds. I picked out the first thing of food I saw in my backpack – masala chips – and cautiously looked around to make sure I wouldn’t have 4-5 children hanging off my window and gave them to the girl. I quickly rolled up my window. She looked at the chips and then started to say, “No feed baby. Please sir, money for milk.” This continued for nearly 10 minutes until traffic cleared up. I would like to think had I not been in traffic and had there not been other beggars around, I would have given her some money. I always think that simply giving money is not a solution — it’s like giving Tylenol to someone who has a broken leg – they might feel better for a little, but then what?

I continued on to the Kerala Ayurveda Kendra where I would receive a 70 minute massage for a little under 20 dollars. I felt guilty given that I was unwilling to spare 100 rupees to the girl and her baby.