India, Day 3, Afternoon
After grabbing another hotel buffet, Brittany, Annie, Shelby and I decided to explore the area a little more. We had heard that some girls had gone to some sort of a festival and Shelby was told that there would be an elephant show. Not knowing what we would be in for we head out towards the shopping street.
After just a couple of minutes of walking we stumble upon an entrance of sorts with a sign in Hindi. We smile politely at the guards and they let us in. Within minutes we are surrounded by what we initially believe is a carnival. A large orange tent dominates the field and throngs of individuals sprinkle the rest of the landscape. Painted elephants can be seen in the distance as well as carriages and ornately decorated band members. A group of Indian children run up to us and pull us towards a booth. A group of Indian women surround a man who is applying henna stamps to them. Thats right stamps. Wood stamps. I quickly ask if he sells them and if so for how much. 200 rupees later (4$) I am the proud owner of two hand carved Indian stamps and am adorned with some funky henna designs. I was thrilled.
We decided to explore the festival, which we soon find out is actually in honor of a wedding! And I thought American weddings were extravagant! A marching band plays and vendors selling goods abound (yep, at a wedding!). The children follow us as we walk around snapping pictures and taking in the fact that we are attending an Indian wedding!!! This was definitely one of the highlights of my entire trip, crashing an Indian Wedding!!
We stayed for as long as we could before heading back to the hotel and the bus, our next stop being Mother Teresas Orphanage. Mother Teresa was a huge advocate of children in Third World Countries. Today there are over 200 of these Orphanages in India alone. I was thrilled that this was on the itinerary as I think it is always imperative as travelers to see as many sides of a country or place as possible. I was taken aback when the sign read Home for Sick and Dying Destitutes, I guess political correctness hasnt reached India quite yet.
We were first brought into the center for orphans. They ranged from just a month old to about 11 (the older ones had severe mental handicaps). Most were orphans, but some were born to single mothers and since it is shunned there the Mother (its catholic) takes them in. Almost all of them have some sort of handicap ranging from mild ones to it being so severe that they have to be literally caged (Ill come back to that). I begin to play with the children, coloring and tickling and snapping pictures. Their spirits seem to be pretty high considering the dirt and dust that fills the walls (although they were painted with Disney characters!). After a while, a couple of us head with the Mother to see the other part of the facility and in order to pass out some t-shirts and donations.
We head to the center where the older individuals are held and I am aghast when we walk past a group of possibly 50 teenagers behind bars. She asks one of them who has the key. The key to what? we ask. She goes on to explain that they can be too psychotic or hyperactive and are locked in for a good part of the day but can come out at night. This totally horrified me. I am not sure how mental hospitals in the United States handle it, but I hope better than that. She goes on to say that most of the older kids and adults are taken off the streets, mostly found with maggots on them or the like and that they are brought to the center to live and die like humans. I think to myself that India sure does have a way to go and I wonder how Catholic Church policy could (or does?) allow this.
Although the visit did alarm me in a pretty profound way, it gave me perspective into the lucky ones in India, since these women, men and children were taken off the street. We in the United States really do lead charmed lives and do to a large part take care of each other, even those with disabilities. Without ADA laws to speak of, India seems to be lacking in the human rights department.
I head back to the original center where a little girl seems adamant about literally climbing up members of our groups. The women in charge said she had pretty severe mental handicaps, but she seemed to be having a ball. We loved her interaction and were sad when we were told it was time to go.
On our way back to the hotel we are dropped off at two stores to do more shopping. The problem is that the shops are way expensive and it is pretty clear that we are there for them to get commission-my only real complaint with the tour company, but I guess that is the way it goes! Brittany and I walk to a shop close by the first one and I find a batik elephant wall hanging, but the shop keeper is not a bargainer and I walk away from the print. The second shop shows us how marble inlays work, which was very cool since that is how parts of the Taj were created. As we go to walk away, the man doing the demonstration holds up a small pendant with the inlays and a sign that says 300 Rupees, I offer him 100R (2$) and he takes it. I marvel in my purchase as the owner goes on to show us 1,000$ tables and the like. The group gets antsy and annoyed quickly and soon we are ushered back to the hotel.
They tell us that we have about 45 minutes until Pizza Hut (!) will come to deliver us dinner. Brad (our LLC which is basically an RA) asks Brittany and I what we are going to do and we all decide to try to head back to the festival. Others join us as we walk the short blocks back to the site. As we get closer we are passed by two naked men (!?!?), which we later learn are their holy people who need no possessions. Startled we quickly realize that there is a full on parade beginning, the men taking up the front. All of the elephants, floats and horse carriages soon pour out of the gate which we had not so long ago passed through, the individual attendants to the wedding also flooding through. We are soon totally engulfed in Indian culture, our feet surrounded by garbage (as usual), our eyes transfixed on the parade and our ears listening to the bands festive beat.
As the flood of people becomes a trickle, we decide to scurry back into the original fair ground to show Brad the original event and to see if our stamp friend was still there. While Brad stood in fascination of the wedding that was, we ran over to the henna booth. He was still there stamping another throng of women (who were virtually the only ones there). I find another stamp and as I go to count my rupees I realize I am 10(20 cents) short. I had been talking to a woman next to me who spoke a little English and was virtually my age. She insisted on paying the difference, as I tried to protest that I could just get a smaller one, but she was adamant. This may seem trite as 20 cents is nothing in the United States, but in India it is so much more. Interactions with people and women like her are what make my trip. How nice for her to help a total stranger, let alone a young American, to purchase something so frivolous. Happy with our purchases (Brittany bought a smaller one with her last 50 rupees) we find Brad and head out, knowing that our experience at this festival/wedding will remain with us for quite a while.
As we pick up our personal pan pizza (with chicken and some very spicy spices) and Pepsi (spicy too) we discuss our day with delight. We had seen the Taj! We had attended an Indian Wedding! We had had a wonderful time in a country so impoverished yet so beautiful! How lucky we are!
From the hotel we head to train station once more to say goodbye to Agra. Our departure train turns out to be late and as I look around at the families huddled together on blankets and impoverished children begging once more, I am once again overwhelmed by sorrow. It seems every time I see these horrid sights it truly gets to my heart and makes me want to do everything I can to help it. Yet, once more we are reminded not to give to beggars because the money doesnt usually get to be kept by them. It makes me wonder how exactly it is best to help these people. NGOs? Orphanages like Mother Teresas (although the beggar children usually have parents)? I really need to do some research when I get home!
Our train arrives late and is pretty crowded. I sit next to Brad and we pass the time picking out songs on his ipod and reading. The group gets a little rowdy and antsy towards the end, but the four hours go rather quickly. We get to the hotel around 11 and Brittany and I head straight to sleep.
Friday, March 13, 2009
India, Day 3, Afternoon
India, Day 3, Afternoon