|My last stop with Bhojraj, after our tour of Rajasthan, was Agra. Agra itself didn't seem to have much to recommend it, but everyone visits there since it is home to the Taj Mahal. I woke up early and got to the Taj so I could see it at sunrise. It was spectacular and I took a zillion pictures, but I just chose a small selection to post here.
The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum, completed in 1653. I had high expectations, but they were all exceeded when I arrived. The monument was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his wife, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. The whole site is built on a raised marble platform, so the central dome looks almost like it is floating in the sky. All four sides of the main building are identical, and there are slender minarets in the corners of the platform. The effect is stunning.
Up close you see that the semi-translucent white marble is carved with flowers, and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones. The doorways and arches are also embellished with black marble scrollwork and quotations from the Quran. The memorial structure is flanked by identical red sandstone buildings, one a mosque and the other was a guesthouse.
The most beautiful stonework is inside the mausoleum. The actual tombs of the Emperor and his wife are in a locked underground room, but the public area has elaborate false tombs called cenotaphs. I was disappointed to see the signs prohibiting photography inside the mausoleum, but I noticed that many visitors happened to be hiding their cameras and sneaking shots. Then an official tour guide let his clients take some photos, and his explanation that they were "VIP's" only led people to get more bold with their cameras.
After Agra, Bhojraj dropped me off in Delhi, the capital city of India. My neighbor and friend in San Francisco, Shabeena (aka Bean), introduced me to her parents via email last year when I was planning my trip. Bean's parents, Lata and Yogan Vadehra, live in a nice suburb of Delhi called Noida. Lata is a former teacher who still tutors children most days, and Yogan is a retired 3-star general in the Indian Army.
I actually came down with a stomach bug during my first days in Delhi, and Lata and Yogan took care of me like a member of the family. It was very nice to have a home (and home cooking) after two months of hotels. Also, when dishonest taxi drivers would try to increase my fare mid-trip (this happened three times!), it was amazing how a call to "General Vadehra" on my cell phone would instantly clear up the misunderstanding!
Since I was sick during part of my time in Delhi, I wasn't able to explore the city much. I did visit a few places though, so check out the pix!
India was quite a trip. The people were very interested in me, and I was approached all the time to chat. I thought I would include a sampling of some more unusual comments:
Girl working in an Internet cafe: "My friend thinks you have a beautiful nose."
Guy playing soccer with me: "You have a very close likeness to your President Bush." (The only Americans many people there know are President Bush and Bill Clinton.)
Tour guide pointing to a hotel: "It is very nice. Last year, your Princess Clinton stayed there with her boyfriend."
Male waiter at a restaurant: "You are very handsome." I laugh nervously, and he says: "No, Really." (I am sure this guy was straight. It seemed like having white skin and blue eyes are very desireable traits here.)
Young Muslim guy at Internet cafe in Jaisalmer near Pakistan: "You should tell people you are from Slovenia." He sees my look of confusion and explains: "Everyone in India hates Americans." I ask why, and he says: "We all hate Israel, so we all hate America."
I asked Bhojraj about the Muslim guy's comments since they seemed to be completely contrary to all my experiences in India. Bhojraj said that many young Muslims in India have a "congested" mind, so they are not able to think clearly. Then he told me a story;
Bhojraj grew up in a Muslim neighborhood in Jaipur, and his family was one of the only Hindu households there. When he was 19 and living with his parents, siblings and wife in the same family home, there was an event about 600 miles away that upset Muslims. A large group of people in Bhojraj's neighborhood rioted, and they stormed into his home. He thought they were going to kill his family, but they were able to escape alive. Their house was destroyed, along with all their possessions, and they have never been back.
Bhojraj told the story to make the point that, in his mind, there is no logic behind actions like this. His family had lived for over twenty years in that area with many Muslim friends and neighbors. That these same people would destroy his family home because of an event that occurred halfway across the country was just sad and confusing to him.
Bhojhraj felt that the Musim community leaders take every opportunity to foment distrust and anger in their people. Every legitimate gripe, and many others, are fit into an adversarial worldview where someone else is always to blame. And the focus of this blame is typically Hindus and the predominantly Hindu government in India, which is perceived to be supported by America and "the West". This mentality leads many Muslims in India to feel they are under attack and need to fight back, and this response tends to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The issue of Muslim anger is extremely complex, and after reading many books on the subject, I still don't understand much. I thought the exchange I had though, and Bhojraj's response, were interesting enough to share. If you are interested in this topic, I just read two good books this month that I can recommend:
The Crisis: The President, the Prophet, and the Shah-1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam
by David Harris
The Crisis page on Amazon
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
by Lawrence Wright
Looming Tower page on Amazon
The Looming Tower is I think one of the best researched and written books on the subject of militant Islam available to date. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the subject.
Next stop is Burma, aka Myanmar...