Today was an India-tastic day filled with almost every unique-to-India cultural experience one can cram into 24 hours. We awoke bright and early to drive four hours to Agra to see the glorious Taj Mahal. It amazed me how taken back I was from every angle I looked at it…I kept having to pinch myself and I realized why it is a true wonder of the world.
After lunch, we went to the Agra Fort. This one was one of the highlights of the day for me because we stumbled upon Ohioans. Not only Ohioans, but Semester at Sea travelers. Being an alumna of this study abroad program, it was incredible to be able to talk to folks who are experiencing what I did three years ago. It’s a very special bond, what I imagine meeting an OWU alum in the middle of India would feel like…moments like this make me realize just how small the world is.
Our final destination was the Shri Krishna temple in Agra. This was especially moving for me, as the chants and music were more enthusiastic than any church service I’ve seen in the states. It took all my might to keep from dancing and clapping with the locals. It’s a very intimate experience, witnessing worship and prayer on such an up-close and personal level. I felt a little out of place, but I’m so glad we were able to see those beautiful shrines of the gods and goddesses, and get a glimpse of the passionate ritual and praise.
THE highlight of the day was after the Agra Fort when a Holi parade on the street caught our attention from our bus. We’re not quite sure why this holiday was still being celebrated, as we were told it ended on Sunday. I’ve seen remains of the festivities throughout the city, but it became very clear to me what the source of those piles and stains in the streets was when a crowd of locals approached us with yellow and green and red powder. They threw some on our cheeks, and cheered and drummed and danced…it was a celebration that a few of us were very grateful to participate in, and the musky smell of the Indian dust is still in my hair.
There were several moments today in which we had to refrain from using cameras, such as inside the Taj and the temple. I learned to appreciate this today. Sometimes I worry that I’m not soaking up an experience when I’m so concerned about capturing the best image. Sharing those photos with others is one thing, but being fully present in the moment is another. I hope I can see India, not just through a camera lens, as I learn to put down the technology sometimes and truly be where I am.
I think today was emotionally draining for some of us…there is a lot to be conscious of here. Personally, it’s been difficult for me to deal with the stares, some of curiosity, some of untelling motives, from all of the locals as we walk through the streets in a pale parade. It’s hard to ignore it, when you know everyone, men and women, are surveying you up and down. Then there are the merchants, who I’ve learned to just smile at, and not even say anything to. They are pushy, way worse than those kiosks at Polaris mall. I feel rude, as I’m sure a lot of people do, disregarding their pleads and “special price for you” calls. The worst thing to “try to ignore” (which is what we’re told to do), is the beggars. When their wrinkled dark hands leave dusty prints on our bus windows after tapping when we’re at a red light and then bringing their fingers to their mouth to signify them needing food, it breaks my heart that I can’t give some to everyone. But sometimes I wonder, especially with the children who have mastered the art of guilt-tripping, just who those donations are going to. Regardless, it’s difficult to witness the poverty-stricken who target white tourists, and even more difficult to keep walking or close the window shade.
This is a learning experience for all of us, and it’s a very real part of India that is part of the whole package. The economic divide is so in-your-face here, there is no denying it, and it will never get easier to confront for me.
I apologize for ending on that note…overall, today was incredible…beyond incredible, beyond any adjective I can think of. It was…Indian Tomorrow we have community service planned, which I cannot wait for. Our team is getting along great and growing closer with every day. I couldn’t be more grateful that I’m here with OWU people. #bishops go global