Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Kuznia Family's First Adventure Abroad

We came out of the airport in Delhi and immediately felt the air, feeling like a creamy tomato soup wrapped around every crevice of our American bodies. We met up with Jayaa's driver and headed towards our first night in the hotel. Driving in India is an experience within itself. We quickly realized that all the detail that goes into making a road is immediately disregarded as decoration. On top of this, India does a wonderful job coexisting with camels, elephants, dogs, and monkeys on the streets. My family and I feel extremely grateful to have a driver during our stay that is able to artistically maneuver through the chaos of the roads.

Our tour was a six day trip around Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Mandawa. Each day was absolutely incredible, and I am so grateful that my family decided to make this trip out here before I begin working with the Salokaya College of Nursing. Here are some highlights of the tour:

DELHI - We weren't expecting to make such a purchase, but after learning about how families in Kashmir spend their entire lives devoted to hand-knotting rugs, we couldn't resist. We learned about the different kinds of tools they use, and how they learn to make the design so intricate. They also gave us special green tea from Kashmir.

AGRA - The Taj Mahal is the greatest love story there is. This was probably my favorite sight to see in India. Although most may know the story of the Taj Mahal, I needed a little refresher. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan (a Mughal emperor) for the love of his life that he met at age 14. He already had another arranged marriage, and therefore could not marry his love, Mumtaz Mahal. However, his first wife died after their marriage of one year, leaving him the opportunity to remarry Mumtaz Mahal. Together, they had (I believe) four sons and two daughters. Later she became ill, and on her deathbed Shah Jahan promised to build her something magnificent to show their love for each other. Twenty two years after she passed, the Taj Mahal stands. She is buried right in the center. Within those twenty two years, there was a race between the sons on who will be the successor. One of the sons killed all his brothers, and locked his father away. When Shah Jahan died, his daughter snuck him out of the prison, and buried him right next to his wife.

From this story, a masterpiece arrived. The Taj Mahal is a beautiful combination of Hindu and Muslim architecture. From the Muslim side, everything in there is symmetrical, except for Shah Jahan's grave. The Hindu architecture decorated the Taj with tiny flower inlets, all made by hand. I am blown away by how much work went into making this. Every detail is absolutely perfect.

One thing I want to mention with Agra, is how poor the city is around the Taj Mahal. So much money comes into the city from all the tourists, but outside of our hotel and the Taj itself, is basically a slum. I do not understand why this is, but when I pictured Agra and the Taj Mahal, I thought the whole city would be as grand as one of the seven wonders of the world. Keep in mind also that I am here during the tourist off season, and that even though it was pouring rain, the attraction was still packed.

JAIPUR - Jaipur is packed with energy. Unlike Agra, it is a planned city. My family and I agreed that Jaipur is our favorite city. We had an awesome tour guide that day named Vijay Singh (no relation to Jayaa, or the golfer). Our day spent in Jaipur was packed, but the best part was with the elephants. we started off the day riding an elephant up the to Amber, just as the queen did back in the day!Lucky for us, Vijay has a friend who owns ten elephants and took us to go play with baby elephant, Gury, after. What a gentle giant she is!

The end of the day consisted of walking around through the city. Vijay wanted us to get a feel for what walking around the city was like, outside the tour bus. He wanted us to smell the Indian spices and flowers being sold on the side of the road. It was a beautiful experience, walking around with all the locals. Although we did stick out, it was really cool to feel like one of them. (For the record, my dad, pictured below, was proudly wearing his Michigan cap the entire elephant ride)

Vijay also taught us about the caste system in India. My understanding of it, is that there are three castes on top - the teachers/priests, the warriors, and the businessmen. The fourth class is below the three, called the "untouchables", or the servant caste. One is only allowed to marry within each caste, even though the top three are equals. Vijay also told us that not too long ago, only eleven percent of women are educated (as in reading and writing). Now, sixty-four percent of women are educated. According to Vijay, he believes that India learned how much more valuable it is to have women educated in terms of arranged marriage. An educated woman is far more attractive within a household rather than an uneducated one.

MANDAWA - This was the last stop of our tour. It was really interesting to see the rural parts of India, mostly because the city is fairly Americanized. Where we were, we saw more people taking a more traditional route, rather than using any sort of technology. Driving by the fields, we saw women digging with their hands and carrying bricks on their head. It was a whole new way of life.

Today is my family's last day in India. Last night I met Jayaa and her family for the first time. The Singh Family is very warm and hospitable, and got along very well with my family. Starting tonight I will live with them, and tomorrow morning we will venture to the Salokaya College of Nursing. Jayaa explained to me that while I will be here I will be visiting different NGO's and hospitals that focus on HIV/AIDS research and reporting back to the school. As sad as I am to leave my family, I am so excited to live with the Singhs and to start an adventure on my own.

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