When I returned from ten days in India I felt some relief from the crowds of people and the endless touts. I was glad that I could walk on the sidewalk without being approached every few minutes by someone who wanted me to ride in his taxi or rickshaw or buy something from his shop. Then I looked at my pictures. My reaction was "Where are all the people?" When I was there I hadn't fully realized the contrast between the wide open spaces with spectacular monuments and parks and the crowds of people on the streets. Some of these people were obviously very poor, sleeping on the sidewalk or squatting outside a restaurant hoping the chef would share some leftovers. But the vast majority went about their lives, working at their jobs for modest pay, playing cricket in the park and offering assistance to confused tourists when requested. So I resolved that on my next visit I will not let the touts detract from my enjoyment of a beautiful country. I also resolved to try to take more pictures of ordinary city life. As soon as I saw two women slowly stacking bricks on top of their ahead and carrying them twenty yards to where masons were building a wall I knew that I wanted a picture but that the women would not have been pleased. And I wanted to take pictures of the barber giving shaves to patrons squatting on the sidewalk. But I could have taken pictures of the vendor outside my hotel in Jaipur whose electric juice-maker crushed half a dozen or more oranges to make me a pint of sweet juice.
I started my trip in New Delhi, less than three hours south-south-east from Tashkent -- a free flight for me using my frequent flier kilometers on Uzbekistan Airways. I was met at the airport by a representative of the travel agent who had booked my hotels and train tickets. He took me to my hotel and collected his money then left me to begin exploring. Outside the hotel the road was a mess, torn up so that a subway could be built underneath it.
I spent the next two days wandering around New Delhi. I admired two old forts, the Friday Mosque, the Arc de Triomph and the tombs of sixteenth century Indian nobles.
These two pictures really are in the middle of downtown Delhi.
India had just won a three-day cricket match against arch-rival Pakistan -- the first time they had played each other in many years. In every park, everywhere there was a bit of grass or even dirt, boys were playing cricket.
After three days in New Delhi I caught an early morning train to Agra. On the train I met a young English couple and when we arrived we hired a guide to show us the Taj Mahal and other sights. At the time we thought it was a reasonable plan since we didn't know our way around the city and we wanted to make efficient use of our time.
The Taj Mahal really does deserve its ranking as one of the wonders of the world. From a distance it is a spectacular building. But then when you inspect it close up, you realize that it is not only made from marble, there are intricate carvings of all the marble and then many precious and semi-precious stones are inlaid.
We were hungry and ready for lunch because breakfast had been small and very early, but our guided insisted on taking us to a workshop where they did the same style of work we had seen at the Taj Mahal. It was impressive to see how they first cut each stone to the desired shape then carved a depression into the marble so that it fit perfectly, then cemented it in and polished it all smooth. The workshop had many beautiful marble tables for sale but I resisted the urge.
Finally our guide let us eat lunch then he dragged us to another shop before we went to the aptly named red fort. Except that it was a combination palace, fort and prison. The king who had built the Taj Mahal to honor his wife somehow was succeeded by his son who imprisoned the father in this fort. It was also intricately decorated and father had the consolation of being able to look out his window at the Taj Mahal.
We spent much of the rest of the afternoon fighting with our guide as he wanted us to go shopping at places where he would get either a commission or a small payment just for delivering us to the shop. We convinced him to take us to one big mosque, and we were glad that he let us explore it on our own.
The next morning I hired a taxi, not a guide, to go see a fort/palace about an hour's drive from the city. The distance was probably only 25 miles, but it was a very slow drive first through villages crowded with bicyclists and animals in the road, then past desolate looking brown countryside. Then we drove through an old arch and up a hill and found a sprawling complex combining fort, palaces, a mosque and many fountains and pools. Everywhere there was intricate carving of marble. For almost an hour I successfully fended off the guides who wanted to explain the buildings to me and show me their family shop. But eventually I gave in to a pleasant young "student" who did help me understand the buildings then showed me his family shop where I bought a small marble cheese plate inlaid with some semi-precious stones.
Back in Agra after lunch, I hired a pedi-rickshaw to take me to an old garden and two tombs. There was little left of the garden which was created almost five hundred years ago, rebuilt a hundred years later, then renovated by the British in the early 1800's. Now there are fine views of the river and the remnants of some pools but little else. Some workers showed me around in hope of a small tip.
The next stop was the 400 year old tomb which an Iranian shah built for himself. The outside was covered with glazed tiles while the interior had inlaid marble. It also had a fine view of the river which I admired from a minaret.
The final tomb, from the same era, was built for another Iranian couple by their daughter. It predated the Taj Mahal but used some of the same kinds of decoration and intricate inlaid marble. It also had a huge red gateway. By now the sun was setting which made the white marble look pink and the gateway an even brighter red than it really isMy next stop was at a national park to see Bengal Tigers in the wild.