Well this trip was a very entertaining and very busy trip, from the second we got off the train in Agra to the time we got on the bus to go back to Yavatmal. After the 12-hour train ride from Nagpur to Agra we were greeted by a tour guide at the bus station. He told us he would drive us around all day, taking us to three hotels, lunch, the Red Fort and Taj Mahal and then some shopping. This man and the driver took us first to a hotel it seemed good enough for the both us so we took it. After freshening up we went for lunch and then they took us to the Red Fort. This fort was massive. The biggest and oldest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s called the Red Fort for obvious reasons. I experienced what discrimination feels like when we bought our tickets to get in. Indians: Rs. 20. Foreigners and N.R.I.s: Rs. 300. At the Taj Mahal it was worse, Indians: Rs. 20, Me: Rs. 750. I told Danny it was because I was 37.5 times the man he is. The Fort was spectacular and seemed unnecessarily big. We opted not to take a tour guide and just walk around ourselves. I don’t know why anyone would use a tour guide, everything that is of importance has the information written right next to it. After spending some time walking around this beautiful structure, we then headed back to our drivers. While walking back a vendor came up to me and tried selling me a whip again. He had come up to me on our way into the Fort trying to sell me a whip. I thought it was funny that he first started talking to me in Hindi, then when I said no in Hindi, he started talking to me in English. But anyways, we wanted $20 for this whip. I thought it would be funny to buy and bust it out someday during English class, but what was I going to do with a whip when I got home? Beat Tom with it? He lives to far away for me to get my moneys worth out if it. So I told the man no again and then he followed us all the way back to the car and continued lowering his price. His final price he yelled out as we drove away, Rs. 100. He then called Danny a bad man for helping an American over a fellow Indian. Our driver then took us to some shops. I think they get commission from every shop they take us to. The first one was a jewelry shop. They had some pretty impressive stones here like one black stone they said is only found in Agra. When light is shown on it, it reflects a natural cross on the stone. After we left here we went to another shop that I think has to be the most impressive shop we saw. It was a shop that specialized in making hand-knotted rugs. These were some very impressive rugs and we watched one of them being made. These are hand-knotted rugs, not hand-woven rugs. Meaning, they take the loom and individually place a tiny piece of string on around the loom’s strings and once that row is finished, he then knots it by running a piece of string across the loom, much the same we did in art class back in second grade. Just to put how long making a rug like this takes into perspective, it takes five people, five months to make a pretty standard design on a rug about the size of an average dinning room table. This kind of rug would cost about $1000. I would have loved to have bought one of them, but this isn’t the right time in my life to be spending that of cheddar on a rug. Next we went to a shop that specializes in making the marble designs with the inlayed stone. Watching them make these art pieces was very impressive as well, and takes the same amount of patience as making the rugs. They have to first grind down the stone into the shape that they want, mostly flower pedals. Then they chisel out they size they need from the marble and glue each pedal individually together to make the flower. This is the same process they did when constructing the Taj Mahal and these workers are the descendants of the original artists who worked on the Taj Mahal. After watching them make these designs and seeing how long it takes, I can see why it took 20,000 men, 22 years to build the Taj Mahal. After this it was time to head to the main destination of our trip. After telling us a few of things about dealing with the tour guides and things like that, they dropped us off at one of the entrances. We began walking the quarter mile to the Taj Mahal. On the way we turned away many tour guides and even some bicycle rickshaws before finally letting one drive us for Rs. 10 total. This old guy turned out to be pretty funny. As we headed down the road we got our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal and he said, “Here is the Taj Mahal. It is very dirty.” We had a good laugh at that. He dropped us off at the ticket counter and we bought our tickets and went in. The security for this is a joke. It felt like the same security service they provide at the McDonalds in Hiltop. The building is the most impressive thing I have ever seen, and it’s size is hard to capture on film. After taking some pictures of me wearing my Cake Face shirt for my buddy (www.cakefaceclothing.com) showing how Cake Face is taking over the world, Danny and I just sat on this platform in the middle of the pools facing the Taj Mahal. We sat there for at least an hour just starring at it, we could have easily stayed there all day. We then moved in closer for some more pictures and to check out the inside of the tomb. The inside is actually not interesting at all. In the middle is the wife’s tomb and next to hers is Jahan’s tomb. Since I’m an advocate for symmetry, I hope to be buried on the other side of the wife’s tomb. We stayed there till closing when they kicked everyone, and even a pack of monkeys, out. It was quite an end to a very busy day.
The next morning at 11:00 we were picked up by the same guy and he drove us this tomb in Rajastan. This tomb was pretty massive itself and like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, it was built by a Muslim. This king had three wives, one Muslim, one Hindu and one Christian. So all the artwork depicts each religion. Compared to yesterday, there really wasn’t much here and I would have rather had spent my day at a nearby bird sanctuary. What was impressive, though, was seeing the entrance to an underground tunnel system that connects this tomb to the Red Fort, which is connected to Delhi and then continues on to Lahore. After leaving here we began the hour long drive back home, had some dinner and then boarded the train for our 23 hour trip to Pune. This train ride was the longest, hottest, most crowded and dirtiest train ride ever. We rode in sleeper coach which is non A/C. And it’s times like this when I’m glad I am a man. Peeing on the train is like peeing into a hole between your feet while standing on a roller coaster going through a helix. I have no idea how women can do this.
We reached Pune around 16:00 and were greeted by Danny’s sister. The three of us road in an auto rickshaw to their Aunt and Uncle’s house. And I got to now check two things off my “To-Do List in India”: See the Taj Mahal and ride in an auto rickshaw. On the way we stopped off and bought three boxes of sweets for the three houses we were going to visit tonight. The first house we visited, which is where we stayed most nights, was Daddy’s oldest sister’s house. Daddy is one of six and is the second oldest. This sister is the third oldest. After freshening up Daddy’s mom stopped by. I showed her some of the photos from Agra and the Home and then we went and visited another families house who I still can’t figure out how they are connected to the family. They live a whole two doors down in the same apartment. After that we walked a whole minute to another Aunt and Uncle’s house. This aunt is the youngest, and looks exactly how Daddy would look if he were a woman. I met their family which included two daughters, one was taking the tenth standard exams this week and the next, and the other, named Yerusha, who is in fifth standard. She was very shy and wouldn’t talk to me and kept hiding from me so I had to learn how to say “Don’t be shy” in Marathi. I also came to learn that one of her nicknames is Tinger Padre, which means “Farting Ass”, which made her even shyer of me. This was a great family and we spent a good deal of time here and one day they tried taking us to see some tourist things like a building where Gandhi was imprisoned by the British and a small fort that was inside the city. Both attractions were closed because our half hour naps turned into two hours. I blamed Yerusha for not waking up in time. So then we drove around the shopping centers of Pune and they bought me a shirt. One night we stayed at one of Daddy’s uncle’s house and I met some more of this family including the two most naughty children ever, a little four year old boy named Nahum and his cousin Sheva. To show you how naughty they were here are some examples, most are stories I was told: He once broke his arm and when he got his cast off, he showed his aunt how he broke it the first time, and broke it again. One time at church some women were coming up to him and pinching his cheeks. They didn’t know Marathi and he said to them, “Keep quiet or I’ll beat you.” The ladies asked his mom what he said and she said, “He’s glad to meet you.” When he comes home from school he shares an auto rickshaw with seven other boys and he makes them stand so he can sleep on the seat. He woke me up from nap by slapping me on the head, and he wasn’t wearing any pants. And finally, I was tickling him and he said to me, “Hey stone!” Stone is what the teachers call a student who doesn’t know the answer, meaning, they are as dumb as a stone. And how little Sheva was naughty is she was shy around me at first and just before going to dinner she said to me, “I’m going to kill you.” Apperently she doesn’t know what that means, which means she heard someone say that to her (most likely Nahum).
One day we drove two hours to Daddy’s hometown with his mom, where his brother lives, the oldest of the six. Once we got there we were introduced to more family and went around the town and saw some of the places that Daddy used to visit every day. Grandma stayed at the home for a few days so Danny and I drove home by ourselves, and it rained. It poured on the way home, which is the first time I have seen rain since London on Nov. 28th. We also got stuck in rush hour entering Pune which took about an hour to get back to the home. Back at the home where we spent most of our nights, we got to hang out some more with Auntie and Uncle’s daughter and son-in-law and their 11-month old daughter, Stuti. Stuti was a very funny girl and her mom told me to take her to America with me, but she also told me not to go back to America. I actually think about not returning, I love it here that much. And I’m not even joking a little bit.
One night we left for a beach town with Stuti’s father, Sachin, and Danny’s friend, Arbin. We stayed one night at the parents’ of a friend of Arbin’s house that was about two minutes walking distance from the beach. This whole trip was intense, and we had a blast, and we’ll leave it at that. The first night we got there we went to the beach, which was the dirtiest beach I’ve ever seen. We swam for a little bit and then went back to the house for dinner. The next morning we packed up and headed out for a tourist spot farther down the coast. We went to see an old fort that was built on an island by a king from South Africa 900 years ago. To get to it you had to take a sail boat, which was by far the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. And once you get to the fort, there is no dock to unload the boats. They just throw you off the boat onto some stairs leading down to the water and then disappearing below the sea. Who knows what happens if you missed the bottom step. Getting on the boat is even scarier, as everyone acts like it is a race to get on the boat and when you’re standing on that bottom step and everyone is pushing forward trying to get on the boat, that can be a little scary. The fort was pretty interesting but very dirty. They don’t try to preserve it at all. On the way back home we stopped at a beach along the way and swam some more. This beach was so much cleaner than the one yesterday. We got back around 23:00 and went to bed, this was my last night in Pune, and our last night of our trip. The next morning we said our good-byes to all the family and then got on a local bus, the ones where you have to be insane to drive, and drove three hours to another families house. We spent the afternoon with this family playing with their one year old daughter before it was time for us to leave and head back to Yavatmal. Our bus left at 19:00 and will drive us 12 hours to Yavatmal. I am writing from the bus now and it is making me sick. The bus is bouncing around, I’m trying very hard to read what I’m typing and we just ate dinner, which is trying to make it’s way back up. I will go to bed here shortly and when I wake up, I’ll be home.