Dear Everybody, What a hassle! On my way to New Delhi, India, I had to stay overnight in Hong Kong but I had a voucher so at least it didn’t cost me! Since I had until 8:00 P.M. the next evening, I did some looking and shopping in Hong Kong. Leaving Hong Kong the plane to New Delhi was plumb full and a chaotic scene. There were at least ten people moving about at all times—they never seemed to get settled! And the passengers never waited for the aircraft to come to a complete stop before getting their luggage, either. However, lots of luggage wasn’t put away; the flight attendants and everyone else simple walked around it. The airplane smelled like incense and curry, a portent of things to come! Finally we arrived in New Delhi, I taxied to a hotel and got to bed. The next morning I took a taxi to the train station to go to Agra, but the train was full so I hired a car and driver. On the way to Agra the scene was fascinating. Carts were being pulled by donkeys, oxen, water buffalo, horses, mules (they had jingle bells on their harnesses) and camels. Women in bright-colored saris were everywhere; people were walking, riding, and carrying things. An elephant went by followed by two boys riding three camels. What an exotic scene! I checked into the Hotel Amar, where I had stayed on a previous trip, jumped into the swimming pool, and had a whiskey. An acquaintance of mine from a previous trip turned up and we had tea, and later met for dinner.
I had come to India and to Agra to do a review assessment of a charitable private hospital called the Shanti-Mangalick Hospital. I had been here three years earlier on a volunteer basis and had done a thorough assessment of their hospital operations at their request. Now I was here to see what progress had been made, and to renew old acquaintances. I turned up at the hospital in time for 9:00 Hindu devotions, as was their custom.The owner/founder/benefactor of the hospital, PC, was present, as was the doctor/administration/surgeon.
PC and his wife, Shanti, live in my city in the USA half of the year as PC has an import business there. They live in Agra the other half of the year, and about five years ago, with their own money, built this hospital and clinic to serve the poor people in and around Agra. It was fun seeing the changes to the hospital and reconnecting with old friends.
Wednesday I went sight-seeing with my friend, Paul.
We first went to Sikandra, which is Akbar’s tomb, on the edge of Agra. It was in a beautiful park with monkeys, peacocks and antelopes and was built before the Taj Mahal, but in a similar style, although not as beautiful.
Then we visited Mat Daula, a tomb across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, which is called the ‘Baby Taj.’ It was built in 1622 for Mumtaz Mahal’s grandfather. Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jehan’s wife for whom he built the Taj Mahal .
Next was the Agra Fort, with its stone walls and scenic views over the river. Shah Jehan’s son felt that his father was spending too much money on monuments (ie. the Taj Mahal) and so wrested power from him and put him under house arrest in the Agra Fort. So Shah Jehan lived out his life there, able to look out from a beautiful marble platform and gaze down the Yamuna River to the Taj Mahal.
The next morning I went to the hospital and got a tour of the Out-patient Department from PC. They had added an awning, which improved the temperature and everything looked cleaner and neater. The administrator/surgeon was eager to show me his new laparoscopic equipment and for me to view a tape of an operation that he had performed, using this equipment. After having some snacks with PC and his wife, Shanti, that came from their new canteen, I went to surgery and watched while the surgeon performed an acute appendectomy using his new laparoscopic equipment.
I had lunch with PC and Shanti at their home and again, Nimma had prepared wonderful food—basmati rice with squash, beans, navy beans and a fruit dessert, and of course she served fresh-made chapattis.
That evening Paul saw me off to Delhi on the Taj Express, and the next morning I got a flight to Aurangabad. When I was deplaning, I noticed that I had forgotten my diamond ring at the hotel in Delhi. I called the hotel and when someone went to the room to look for it, they found it just where I said it was! Hopefully it won’t disappear before I get back to that hotel in a couple of weeks! In Aurangabad I jumped in the pool to cool off, and then had a beer. I read a guidebook that I had bought describing the Ajanta and Elora temples which I shall visit, then I had a manicure and pedicure followed by a big lunch of chicken in cashew sauce, dal, rice, roti and veggies followed by a plain, sweet lassi. I love Indian food! Early the next morning I was in the pool at sunrise. The garden smelled strongly of jasmine and the birds were singing.
Soon I was off to Ajanta by car, which, early in the trip, had a flat tire. After changing the tire, it seemed the battery was dead, but not to worry—the driver enlisted some young men to push the car to get it started. The driver offered to stop the car anytime that I liked to take photos. When I did, to take some pretty blue flowers, he insisted that I take the photo from a different angle and then gave me quite a lecture about photography. The driver pointed out several camps of Gypsies, although the people looked the same as the other people to me.The area is quite prosperous and there were many good-looking crops—wheat, being harvested by hand, sunflowers, cabbage, onions, sugar cane and cotton.
Ajanta has 26 caves that were carved into temples from 200 BC to 900 AD. They were all carved out of basaltic rock and had beautiful paintings and some sculpture. In former times they were places for monastic retreats—some were monasteries and some were for worship and meditation. The last cave had a reclining Buddha in it, signifying his death. What a wonderful experience! But was it hot! It was high noon when I finished climbing all those stairs. Luckily I was able to buy and drink a cold, large (21 oz.) beer at a little stand, which revived me a little. The guidebook that I bought mentioned a town called Anwa with a beautiful temple, which was ten km off the main road. The driver graciously took me there over a very rough road, and on the spare tire!
The temple was beautiful, but I think the kids were more fun—obviously they don’t see tourists very often and enjoyed having their picture taken. On the way back to the hotel I saw farmers harvesting, herding goats, and driving teams of oxen pulling carts loaded with sugar cane.
Tomorrow we shall push on to see Ellora, with its 33 temples!