DELHI -- Realizations and true emotions can arise at the strangest of times. For me it was in a cramped bus seat on a bumpy, dusty road en route to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
Listening to my iPod and reading my fourth book in two weeks, "The Book Thief," by Markus Zusak, I began to cry. Not the hard, sobbing, sad kind of cry; No, this was a silent, peaceful, tears welling up in your eyes and spilling over when they have nowhere else to go, cry.
Playing on my iPod at the time, "Chicken Fried" by the Zac Brown Band. A song always sung loudly during a time out at a Packers game (SUPER BOWL!!!), or after one drink too many at my favorite bar.
I struggled at first to realize why this song would bring about such a strong reaction. I wasn't feeling particularly homesick. And I definitely wasn't sad.
I was happy. Scratch that, I am happy. And grateful. But not in the way you might think.
So many people I spoke with who had traveled to India (most for business), had all returned with a new appreciation for the luxuries we are afforded in the Western world. Toilets where you can actually flush your tush wipes, clean drinking water, wifi and coffee shops on every corner, are amenities we expect. Many fellow volunteers on this trip have dreamed aloud about how much they miss pizza, burgers and a cold beer.
As for me, somewhere between Delhi and one of the modern seven wonders of the world, I realized how easy it is to live without all the things we deem "necessary."
Sure, I miss taking long, hot showers and not worrying if everything I put in my mouth will make me violently ill (more on that later!), but in the end all I'm really missing from 7,000 miles away -- people. My people. And I am realizing how easy it is to take those relationships for granted, and not really spend time with friends and family when you are inundated with complex technology.
By being limited when it comes to texting, e-mail and Twitter, I'm forced to pay attention to everything and everyone.
It may only be out of lack of online options, but dinner is dinner. Discussions are uninterrupted. Stunning beauty does not go unnoticed.
Which brings me to the Taj Mahal.
How many times do you hear how magnificent something is, only to be disappointed when you finally see it for yourself? At the very least a few times, but in reality it is probably dozens over the course of a lifetime.
The Taj Mahal did not disappoint.
We lucked out and had the most beautiful day. The sky was the perfect color blue. The Taj Mahal looked like a post card with its stark white marble against the cloudless sky.
The mausoleum (called such because Mumtaz Muhal is entombed there) was purposely built so nothing would interfere with the structure aesthetically.
Visitors are allowed to walk through the Taj Mahal and see its intricate beauty up close. To think that human hands built, sculpted and painted a building containing such detail is mind blowing.
My favorite aspect of the design are the flowers carved into the marble that border each doorway. It seems as if each was done with painstaking attention to detail. You are made to feel that each flower is somehow real and just cast in stone for eternity.
Unfortunately, the beauty of Agra ends with the Taj Mahal. To be fair, due to a number of us being sick we never made it to the Red Fort or other monuments, but the city doesn't lend itself to a yearning for a return trip. Agra was dirty, lacked the colorful markets of other Indian cities and is home to the scam artist.
We literally got taken for a ride by a rickshaw driver to nowhere. He did not take us to any of our desired destinations, only the "best" stores. Translation: we stopped at his buddy's business. We also got chased down by the same driver later in the day claiming we didn't pay him correctly. It was actually quite comical!
Honestly, when things go awry in India, all you can do is laugh. Even when you have Delhi belly.
Yes, after bragging about how much I've eaten without getting sick, I got violently ill. I'll spare you the details, but just know that a gas station squatty potty is the worst possible place to have to run. (Pun intended.)
However, the best place for pre-Delhi belly Baskin Robbins ice cream and a unique cultural experience is a movie theater. The Bollywood box office experience isn't quite Hollywood. You have assigned seating. Each movie preview and commercial is preceded by an official Government form on the screen. And there is an intermission. Yep, with about 45 minutes left the film abruptly stops for 10 minutes. Our program advisers only explanation, "it's always been like that in India."
Again, we could only laugh. Even though we barely understood a word of the movie.
We saw "No One Killed Jessica," which is a new and highly acclaimed film based on a real event in Delhi about a woman's murder, government and upper class cover ups, and a journalists fight for justice. I think. I also believe there were a few really funny lines based on the gut busting Hindi laughter surrounding us. I think I'll get this one with subtitles when I get back to the states.
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