Second impressions

We have now spent nearly 2 weeks in India. The reviews are still good. Jacob, especially, is really enjoying himself. The Indians LOVE his size. People are always commenting on it and some even want their picture with him. They tell him, and me about my husband, “You are very beautiful. Very strong man. You look like John Cena.” They all watch WWF here.

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They ask him, in all seriousness, sitting him down: “Jacob. How are you so tall? What must I do to get taller?” and then walk off  dejectedly when they learn that they can’t change much.

He has also found a kind of food that they eat in New Caledonia that he loves, called akshardam or something. It’s a strong, lemony, red zest for some of the breakfast food here.

As for me, well, the pollution is really starting to get to me. I think I’ll join the many others I see and cover my face with a scarf when going out in public. 25 percent of people get a respiratory infection upon arriving in India, according to Lonely Planet. I don’t know if that’s me, but it could be. Not to disgust anyone or anything, but your boogers turn black here. I knew India would be dirty…I didn’t realize it would turn your insides dirty too.

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And it is a little frustrating to pay quadruple for a somewhat disgusting room based on prices we have paid in the past, and still not have internet. Internet, especially wifi, has not really caught on here yet, so we are splurging and staying at a 5 star hotel in Varanasi where at least we can pay to access it.

The hotel situation in India is like its economic situation as a whole: you can stay in a one-star, hole-in-the-wall hotel with a bathroom that actually makes you feel dirtier after using it instead of cleaner, or you can sit in the lap of luxury in a five-star hotel. You can’t really choose something in between, and India is made of those who have and those who don’t, so it makes sense there isn’t a market for something in-between.

The place we stayed at in Agra, Mandakini Villas, has a really persuasive website that makes it look classy. When it’s not. It’s dirty and buggy and…well, that’s Agra for you.

Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, is an armpit. It is fly-infested, loud, chaotic, uncomfortable, messy, confusing. Jacob says this city has hands down the worst gym he’s ever seen. I mostly have stayed inside our dirty but air-conditioned hotel, only emerging to see the Taj Mahal. And it deserves the prize for most beautiful building in the world. P1020054

 

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We got a guide. He convinced us to use him because he told us he could cut to the front of the line. Which turned out to be unnecessary because the gates didn’t open for 10 minutes anyway. But we were glad we used him, because he took pictures for us and showed us the optical illusions of the Taj, and we learned about the Hindu and Muslim symbolism, etc. It cost 500 rupees. 100 rupees is about 2 dollars. He was Muslim and had two children and two wives.P1020089
The little sparkles come from the sun hitting the flowers, which are made of real jewels. The writing on the wall is Arabic calligraphy—Shah Jahan was Muslim. He had two other wives besides the one he built the mausoleum for, and they got buried on the same plot of land, but not with near the pomp and splendor. This guy clearly showed who his favorite wife was. I asked why she was his favorite, and the guide explained, “She provided him with many children (14). The others did not.”

I decided something about India. I feel disoriented because it’s like I’ve been experiencing life in 2D until I arrived here, and now I know what 3D is like. That sounds dramatic, but when…

on your left you have monkeys swinging in the trees and clambering on buildings, goats and sheep grazing, cats and dogs brawling, and mosquitos swarming, while on your right the worse traffic you can imagine times 100 slams past, swerving to avoid the piles of cows sleeping at the median and the donkeys, horses, camels, and human beings pulling loads behind them, while in front of and behind you are Indian men who look like the guy out of the film Annie and Indian women in bright jeweled decorated saris dressed fancier than girls do at prom…home just sounds like it’s missing a dimension or two.

 

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From our hotel window in Agra

Not to mention daily we are confronted with the fact that our lifestyle is so different from those we see. We are faced with the fact that we choose to stay in a hotel that a week’s stay costs how much the average Indian makes in a year. This is an uncomfortable position. Yet, were we to donate the money instead, how would we choose which of the thousands of poor Indians we encounter to give it to? It is too difficult, so we make the simpler choice: we support our own family instead.

India is not an easy place, but I already know it is a pla ce I could choose to return to again and again over a lifetime.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 366 awesome articles for us.

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