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Adventure to India

A first trip to India would be unthinkable without a visit to the Taj Mahal. This much-photographed Mogul tomb is no less magnificent because of its familiarity. The marble edifice was built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz, who had died in 1631 giving birth to their fourteenth child. The inlaid marble detail inside the tomb is awesome. A very long pool of water in the center of the garden leads up to the mausoleum. Pictures of the Taj generally do not show the other lovely buildings and gardens in the compound, which is enclosed by a large red sandstone wall. After the Shah grieved for the loss of his wife he eventually returned to his "goodtime" life but did not live happily ever after. His sons got into the ultimate family quarrel and the survivor put him under house arrest, albeit a palace, but imprisoned nonetheless. He was buried beside Mumtaz, though their remains have been moved to a lower level of the tomb out of harm's way from the hordes of tourists. 

Elephants in India are still used as beasts of burden, carrying both goods and tourists. If tourists are the cargo the elephant will have a saddle (called a Howdah) on top of its back. Our tour group walked up steps and mounted the elephant from a platform. We rode up a steep hill to visit a Hindu temple and palace at the summit. An elephant ride is really a pretty tame excursion once you get used to the fact that an elephant gait seems strange because its stride is so much longer than the stride of a horse.


India has made much progress in recent decades, but there are great disparities. Though many people in India recognize that the caste system is unjust, its practice has certainly not been eliminated. The lack of the monsoon rains in the northern provinces for the last five years has had a disastrous effect on the agricultural productivity, to say nothing of the landscape in general. In recent years India has been able to feed herself, even though there are more than one billion people to feed in a country that claims information technology is second only to the United States, arranged marriages are still a common practice. One of our local tour guides admitted she was able to divorce her first husband only because of help from her parents, and the second marriage was not working out and she was considering another divorce. Since independence from Britian (1947) India overall has made fantastic improvement in literacy especially in the South which is the center of their information technology industry. In the northern province of Rajasthan, where most of the first time tourists visit, the literacy rate is quite low, especially for women. The arrival by train of 20 American tourists in one small (by Indian standards) town was recorded by a photographer of the local newspaper. Before our train left the next morning we all had a copy of the newspaper. Our picture caption on the back page noted nothing more remarkable about us other than that we had arrived. 

A traditional intricately carved beautiful white marble elephant and a white horse that was clearly the pride of Bateshwar Animal Fair are definitely still part of everyday India. Today they exist among cell phones, luxury cars, personal computers, extravagant weddings and high rise apartment buildings. India is achieving its own personal brand a "modern nation." 


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