Friday, October 31, 2008

We were Ruined!

On the grounds of the Humayun complex, we found this building. From what we could figure, it's some sort of garden building (maybe the gardener's living quarters?). Reid said climbing the steps reminded him of the Mayan pyramids--steep and narrow--which explains why I stayed at the bottom!

Humayun's Tomb

Our next stop on Sunday's tour was Humayun's Tomb, the precursor to the Taj Mahal. This was a monument built by a queen for her husband and is 100 years older than the Taj Mahal but is almost as spectacular.

This is one of several gates leading to the courtyard and gardens before you actually get to the monument holding the tomb.

See the resemblance to the Taj Mahal?

Cool stairs leading up to the monument

Humayun's Tomb

Red sandstone with marble inlays

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Lotus Temple

After church, we chose to see some sights in the area. We've figured out the auto-rickshaw taxi system, and it's by far the best way to get around town. It's very inexpensive, and you sure get up close and personal to every other vehicle on the street. The Lotus Temple is a very famous worship destination for the Baha'i faith. The temple is shaped like the lotus flower, something very important in India. It's massive! No photos were allowed inside. We also had to take off our shoes just to approach it, so we walked around barefoot for a long time. There is absolutely no talking allowed inside--it's a holy place for meditation and prayer. After the temple, we went through the visitor center and learned a great deal about this religion.

Going to Church

Armed with just an address we got off the church's website,, we took a cab to find the Delhi 1st Branch this morning. I had a general idea by looking at a map we got from the hotel desk, and even the driver wasn't quite sure where we were going. We got off what could best be described as an expressway, and the driver actually got out to ask directions (what man does that in any country?). To his surprise and our delight, we were on the right road and just four houses away.

After my multi-national church experience in Cairo, I was expecting to see the same here in Delhi, especially since the Branch President's last name is Winter. Not so! We were the only white people there until another visitor showed up (a man from Cincinnati here on business). And then five of the six missionaries who came in were white. It was such a cool experience. These members of the church reached out to us and welcomed us to their little branch with open arms. All of the meetings were in English, but in Sunday School and Relief Society sometimes the teachers would speak in Hindi as well to accommodate some of the members whose English isn't so great. I got to play the piano in Relief Society because there are no women who know how. It took the sister in charge a couple of minutes to find the plug and turn on the piano.

After the meetings, Reid spent some time outside by the baptismal font just talking to President Winter. He joined the church just a year ago, and has been branch president for four months. He says there are about 300 members of the branch, but their Sunday attendance is around 80-90. This was a great way to spend our Sunday morning!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Taj Mahal - One of the Wonders of the World

I have never imagined myself visiting India, much less the famous Taj Mahal, but here I am--still pinching myself to see if I'm dreaming. This mausoleum was built by a grieving king for his beloved wife, who died giving birth to her 14th child. The queen is interred inside, and the king was entombed by her side later. Those are the only two things in the Taj Mahal. It is made of solid white marble, inlaid with precious stones and other colors of marble. It really is quite amazing (and every other superlative you can think of), and was definitely worth the long trip to see it.

When it was time to go, our "guide" proceeded to take us to a factory where they do marble inlays. We were subjected to a presentation on how this is done and then ushered into the showroom. We had no intentions of buying anything that expensive, but listened politely and got out of there as soon as we could. Then we were taken to a jewelry store where the same thing happened. Sometimes I hate being a tourist!

By this point, we were both exhausted and just wanted to get back to Delhi and our hotel (we had left the hotel at 6:30 this morning). We left Agra at 1:30 p.m., not even stopping for lunch (which our driver thought was very odd). Traffic became a huge issue, and it only got worse as we got closer to Delhi. Six hours and fifteen minutes later, we were back. It took us that long to go 125 miles--averaging about 20 miles an hour. Talk about miserable! I'm just glad the car had air conditioning so we didn't sweat to death.

We are going to try to attend church tomorrow; it all depends on finding the building. This ought to be interesting!

More Taj Mahal Entrance

The entrance courtyard and buildings are made of red sandstone with all marble inlays. If you look at the previous pictures of the entrance building, you might be able to see the writing on the face of the building. From a distance it looks like paint, but it's all inlaid marble, and the detail is amazing. This monument took 22 years to build, and was finished in 1653.

Looking through the arch of the entrance building, you can see the Taj Mahal.

Entrance to the Taj Mahal

Our driver picked up a guide for us, and "Sonny" took us to the ticket booth and into the Taj Mahal complex and then gave us a personal tour. The courtyard has three entrances and then a main building, through which you enter the gardens leading to the Taj Mahal.

Street Scenes

On our long drive to Agra, we were able to see so much of Indian life. We saw cows, camels, monkeys, dogs, horses, donkeys, goats, wild pigs, and even an elephant, all right on the roads. Almost every time we stopped, beggars would come up to the windows and try to get our attention (and our money). The most striking thing to me was the sheer poverty all around us. It was just overwhelming to see what these people live like. I'm sure there are better areas, but everywhere we went today was just sad.

Notice the dried cow pies laid out on the side of the road (for sale, I guess).

Look, Emily -- Monkeys!

Today was the big day of our trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Big day and long day. It is 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Delhi to Agra, so we rented a car and driver to take us there. He said it would be about 3 1/2 hours, but it ended up being more like 4 1/2. We actually got to see monkeys on the way! These guys on the side of the road ripped us off by making us pay for taking our own pictures of their monkeys.

Then the driver pulled over at a restaurant/gift shop/pit stop, where we found these monkeys in the parking lot. Nobody made us pay for these pictures! I took a package of Smarties out of my bag, and two monkeys came running before I could even open it. They knew they were going to get a treat. I wanted Reid to let the monkeys take the candy right from his hand, but he wouldn't even try. Something about being afraid of being bit (Andrew's friend, Beryl, warned us that the monkeys here are mean). So we just tossed the Smarties on the ground, and those monkeys grapped them and ate them up!

See the Smartie in his hand?