Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Contrasts in Gurgaon

During our last few days in India, Kristin and Amy twice drove through a city named Gurgaon. It is a suburb of Delhi. It isn't very far from Delhi but it sure looks VERY different.

Gurgaon is full of shopping malls like the ones we have in the United States. It also has lots of really cool looking buildings.

Kristin says she wanted to see Gurgaon because of the modern buildings. Kristin says India is growing FAST and Gurgaon is a good example of how India is growing. Kristin also says there are many BIG American companies like Microsoft with offices in Gurgaon.

Kristin wasn't kidding when she said Gurgaon is growing fast. Everywhere I looked I could see construction cranes, construction workers, and partially finished sky scrapers.

Here you can see workers with bright yellow hats working on one of the many buildings under construction.
All of the really tall buildings looked very new and modern in Gurgaon. But everything didn't look new. I still saw old cars, trucks, and even tractors on the streets in front of the new buildings.
During both of our trips to Gurgaon, Kristin and Amy had a very hard time taking photos. That's because there were security guards everywhere! I wanted to show you pictures of the inside of one of the malls but the security guards wouldn't let Kristin and Amy take photos. :(

So Kristin and Amy decided to have our driver drive up and down the main streets of Gurgaon. He would stop when Kristin or Amy asked him to and then they would put down the car windows and snap as many photos as they could before they would attract guards.

It was really interesting to see how the buildings were being constructed. Some had very modern looking materials like steel beams. But some buildings were using what looked like big sticks as support. Kristin said the sticks looked like bamboo. And while I saw lots of modern looking construction equipment like cranes and concrete trucks...

...I also saw people working in small, crowded shops like this person who was welding what looked like a small motor.

I also noticed at some construction sites that the workers didn't have modern tools. Here you can see women using their heads to carry baskets of rocks.

At another building site this man was one of a team of workers using their heads to carry baskets of sand.

Here you can see a team of men working together to move large metal poles from the ground to the top of a building being constructed. Very interesting.

After Kristin and Amy had taken photos on the main streets of Gurgaon, our driver took us down some smaller streets until we reached a new road under construction. You could see many of the modern and new buildings from this street. But I noticed there were several tents (or poles covered with tarps) along the road.

Kristin said many of the construction workers live in these tents. I had no idea! Kristin reminded me that many people in India are very poor and cannot afford to live in a real home like I do in Iowa. This makes me sad.

Here are a couple of other interesting things I saw on the roads in and around Gurgaon. A few times I would see a single chair sitting in front of a tree with a mirror on it along the side of the road. Kristin says it is a roadside barber shop. Wow! This sure doesn't look like the place where I get my hair cut.
I also saw many different animals along the side of the road IN THE CITY. I think it is strange these animals don't live on a farm. They were just roaming along the streets. Here are some piglets...some of them were so small that they could barely open their eyes!

At one point when we were driving down one of the roads under construction, we came across an entire herd of cows. I was actually a little scared when I saw all of these horns headed toward the car (shh...don't tell Kristin but I hid in her purse while she took this photo).

And I stayed in her purse as she was taking photos of the bulls like this one as they got REALLY close to the car.
This baby calf could barely stand when I saw it. It didn't scare me like the big bulls!

I finally asked Kristin why I kept seeing so many cows in India. She says a majority of the people who live in India are Hindu. Hindu is the third largest religion in the world (Christianity is the first and Islam is the second largest). I had NO idea! Anyway, cows are very important in the Hindu religion. Kristin says they are so important that many Hindus do not eat beef. Who knew?

Finally, I saved the best for last. Yes...I saw another camel! I love camels! Maybe someday I will actually get to ride one.

That's all from Gurgaon. Bye for now....

The Road from Agra to Delhi

The day after our visit to the Taj Mahal, Kristin and Amy packed up their suitcases and we headed back to Delhi. But this time they didn't leave until after the sun came up (whew!), so I was able to see more things on the road between Agra and Delhi.

The first thing I noticed in Agra was another large red building complex. Kristin says it is the Agra Fort. It is also known as the Red Fort of Agra. Well that makes sense because it is red!

I was surprised their was a Red Fort in Agra since I had already visited the Red Fort in Delhi. Kristin says the fort in Agra is very important because at one point it was where the Mughal government ran the country. I had no idea! You can learn more about the Red Fort of Agra by clicking on the colored words above.

I wanted to stop and see the Red Fort of Agra but the driver told Amy and Kristin we needed to keep moving because the traffic was going to get really bad between Agra and Delhi. Well the driver was right. Traffic was really jammed at times! It took us a long time to get out of Agra.

Once we were out of Agra and on the highway, I could see there were a lot of trucks on the road. These trucks are not the same as the big semi-trucks I see in the United States. They are smaller and most of them look very old.

These trucks are much smaller and sometimes are REALLY overloaded. Sometimes I could even see people sitting on top of stuff in the back of the trucks. Can you believe it?

I noticed several trucks with what looked like long sticks like this one passing us on the road.

Kristin told me the sticks were something called "sugar cane." Kristin says sugar is made from sugar cane. I had no idea! I LOVE sugar.

Our driver pointed out that the trucks loaded with the sugar cane were driving to sugar cane plants like this one.

It is probably hard to tell but in the photo below there are dozens of trucks loaded with sugar cane waiting to enter the sugar cane plant (just look for the big piles of sticks...that's where the trucks are). Here is a picture Kristin took from the car of a sugar cane field. I'm glad she told me it was sugar cane. I thought it was a corn field!

It takes more than three hours to get to Delhi from Agra (and even longer in traffic), so I had plenty of time to look out the car window. Sometimes I could see interesting little buildings that reminded me of the mud huts I saw in Africa.

Here you can see one Amy took with her camera's long zoom lens. Kristin says it looks like the roof is made out of sugar cane. I couldn't tell if people were living in these huts, but Kristin says people probably do live in them just like they live in the huts I saw in Africa.

If you look really closely at the photo above, you can see the walls of some of the houses look like they have patterns in them. I asked Kristin how the patterns were made. She told me they were made from mud patties like the ones you see below.

I saw fields full of these mud patties. Kristin said the patties are made from mud taken from the fields where cows live. Hmm...I think I know what's in the mud. YUCK!

I stopped thinking about the mud houses a few miles away. That's because I started to see camels. I LOVE camels! I had no idea there were camels in India. Kristin says the camels are sometimes used to pull large carts overloaded with items. This camel was getting ready to pull one of those large carts. And guess what? They walk along the same road as the cars and trucks!

These camels were taking a rest. Look closely and you will see there are patterns shaved into the fur coat of the camels. Very interesting!

About halfway through the trip we stopped at a rest stop along the side of the highway. Kristin said we stopped at the same place on our way to Agra. I guess I must have been sleeping when we stopped before. Anyway, the rest stop was a lot like some of the rest stops along the highways in Iowa. It had bathrooms, a small restaurant and a place to buy crafts and food for the car.

I really wasn't interested in looking at the crafts. I was more interested in the field next to the rest stop. It was FULL of sheep.

It is probably hard to see the sheep because they blend in with the field, but trust me there were HUNDREDS of sheep in the field. I also saw two boys watching after the sheep.

I got sleepy after the rest stop and I slept until we got to the outskirts of Delhi. Here are a few more photos Kristin took from the car as we made our way to the hotel in Delhi. Here some rickshaw drivers were taking a rest.

This is one of the modern gas stations I saw along the road.

And right before we arrived back at the Hyatt in New Delhi, I saw a train near the road. Kristin says traveling by train is very popular in India. I guess so! This train car was packed with people!

That's my trip from Agra to Delhi.
Bye for now....

Review of My Visit to the Taj Mahal

Hi everyone! I am slowly getting back to normal from this jet-lag stuff. Man, it really makes me tired!

I promised to tell you more about my trip to the Taj Mahal and Agra. Here's a recap of my day.

First, Kristin woke me up REALLY early (4:30am) and told me that we were checking out of the hotel in Delhi and going to a place called Agra. She told me we were going to see one of the most famous buildings in the entire world, the Taj Mahal.

Kristin told me is would take more than three hours to get to Agra in the car. I have no idea how long it really took to get to there. I was so tired I slept most of the way.

We brought out guide, Satyender, with us. Just before we got to Agra, Satyender had our driver stop at a place called the "Tomb of Akbar the Great."

I have already seen SO many tombs this week that I've lost count. Kristin says Akbar the Great was the son of Emperor Humayun. I visited his tomb earlier this week. Anyway, Akbar became the leader of the Mughal Empire when he was only 13 years old. Wow...that's close to my age! I can't imagine running a huge country at my age. Anyway, Satyender says Akbar was one of the best Mughal rulers and that's why his tomb is important.

Kristin and Amy really liked the bright colors and patterns on the south gate that leads into the tomb itself.

The colors were nice, but I was too busy looking at something else. Monkeys! There were dozens of monkeys running all around. Actually, Kristin told me they were baboons. OK....I really liked watching the baboons. They have REALLY long tails!

Look...they even wanted to take over the place where the people fixing the tomb usually work!

Kristin and Amy decided to take a few more photos of the gate area before heading back to the car. They were anxious to get to the Taj Mahal. Here are a few more of the photos Kristin took at Akbar the Great's Tomb.

As we were heading to the car, Kristin and Amy suddenly stopped to look at some colorful birds in the trees near the gate.

Can you see the bird? Guess what it is? It's a parrot! Can you believe it? I've never seen a parrot in the wild before. Have you?

I wanted to stay longer and look at the baboons and parrots, but Kristin said we had to go. While she and Amy were taking photos, our driver heard that the Taj Mahal was going to be closing early today. Oh NO! The driver wasn't sure when the Taj Mahal was closing or why, but I could tell Kristin was really worried. We had driven a long way to see it. So our driver tried to get us to our hotel as fast as possible.

But I think King Tut was mad at Kristin again because we ran into a traffic jam. It seemed like it took FOREVER to get to the hotel. At one point our car had to stop for a herd of cattle that was being led through one of Agra's main streets. Can you believe it?

We finally reached the hotel, but Amy and Kristin only stayed long enough to check-in. While they were checking in, they learned the Taj Mahal was going to close at 2:30pm. It was only 11:30am when we arrived at the we still had time to get to the Taj Mahal. Whew!

Our driver took us to a place near the Taj Mahal and then we had to get into a rickshaw to get to the entrance gate of the Taj Mahal. Our guide says most motorized vehicles are not allowed close to the Taj Mahal to try and reduce the pollution around the Taj Mahal. I guess this makes sense. Kristin snapped this photo of Amy in her rickshaw.

Kristin and I could see a large white dome while we were in our rickshaw. Kristin says the dome is part of the Taj Mahal. Cool!

When we got the to entrance gate, Kristin and Amy had to make sure they had NO food and NO extra batteries in their bags. Kristin says this is to help keep the grounds of the Taj Mahal clean. I guess this makes sense. And they are SO serious about this rule, that people inspected Kristin's bag. I was worried they wouldn't let me in, but Kristin told me that she made special arrangements so I could get it. Whew!

Once Kristin's bag was checked, we walked toward this very big building that looked a lot like Akbar the Great's tomb gate. Satyender told us that it was the main entrance gate to the Taj Mahal.

The entrance gate was interesting, but I really wanted to see the main building. So did a LOT of other people.

Kristin took this photo as we were walking through the gate. I really didn't want Kristin to stop to take this photo. It is SO hard being patient.....

....but it was worth the wait. This is what we saw as soon as we made it through the gate. WOW! It is really a cool looking building. And it is HUGE. Now I see why it is one of the most famous buildings in the world.

Kristin said it was "breathtaking." I'm not exactly sure what she means, but I think it means it is awesome! Here are a few photos of me at the Taj Mahal.

And here is one of Kristin and Amy.

Amy and Kristin noticed there were a lot of people pinching their hands and having their photo taken. I thought this was very strange and asked Kristin why people were doing that. She wasn't sure at first, but then she figured out that if someone was standing at just the right spot, it would look like they are actually holding the Taj Mahal. Here's a photo of Kristin "holding" the Taj Mahal.

How cool is that photo? I noticed that just about everyone visiting the Taj Mahal wanted their picture taken. Kristin says that's because this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many people.

I also noticed many women wearing colorful saris like I saw in Delhi. Kristin says the photo below is one of her favorite "people" photos of the day.

Kristin and Amy were at the Taj Mahal to take photos of the buildings and the grounds. I guess they weren't the only ones!

Kristin says the Taj Mahal...or Taj for short.... is made of white marble. She also explained that the Taj Mahal is a tomb. It was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz after she died. He must have really loved her to build her such a grand tomb. Kristin says Shah Jahan was buried next to Mumtaz after he died.

Here are some of the more than 200 photos Kristin took during our visit.

This is the ornament...or spire as Kristin calls it...on the top of the main dome. Kristin says it used to be made of real gold but now it is made from brass.

There are similar spires on the top of the other Taj domes and towers. Satyender told us they are supposed to help keep the building from being damaged by lighting. Who knew?

Kristin really liked taking photos of the towers....or minarets as she called them. It is hard to tell from the photos but our guide told us the four main minarets are actually leaning AWAY from the main building. He says they were built that way so they would fall away from the building if there was ever an earthquake. I had no idea! Here are some of Kristin's favorite tower photos.

In order to climb the steps to get closer to the Taj, people had to take off their shoes....

.....or cover them with these funny white shoe covers. Kristin and Amy chose to cover their shoes. They didn't have any shoe covers in my size, so I stayed in the outside pocket of Kristin's bag (where I could still see out).

Below people are lining up to walk into the main part of the tomb. This is where Mumtaz and Shah Jahan's bodies are interred...or above ground marble tombs that look like caskets. I would show you photos but Kristin wasn't allowed to take pictures inside. But you can see some photos of inside the tomb and learn more about the Taj Mahal by clicking on the colored words.

Here are some young girls who kept waving and saying hello to Kristin and Amy.

This is a view of the Yamuna River. Kristin says the Yamuna river is a tributary of the famous Ganges River. Kristin says the Ganges River is as important to India as the Mississippi River is to the United States.

It is hard to tell from far away, but when you get closer to the Taj, you can see that parts of the marble are decorated with brightly colored stones. Kristin says some of these stones are "semi-precious" which means they are very expensive.

You will also find something Kristin calls "caligraphy" on parts of the buildings. She says the caligraphy includes passages from the Koran and other religious texts.

Here are some photos Kristin took of the interesting people and shapes we saw during the visit. This is the main lawn leading up to the Taj (taken from the first level of the Taj balcony).

Here is a photo of the sidewalks surrounding the base of the Taj building....

...and here are people fixing the sidewalks...

....the sidewalks connect to these buildings on either side of the Taj. One is a mosque and our guide says the second one was built on the other side of the Taj to "balance" the view of the Taj.

After we walked around the buildings, Kristin and Amy decided to walk through the gardens. Amy and Kristin looked at the flowers, but I was more interested in the animals running around. I must have seen a HUNDRED chipmonks running around in the grass and trees. Some would even let Kristin get really close so she could take a photo.

Others would let people feed them. Can you beleive it?! I wanted to feed the chipmonks but Kristin said that it probably wasn't a good idea to let the chipmonks eat human food. Besides, Kristin reminded me that she couldn't bring food into the Taj Mahal.

Suddenly I started to see parrots in the trees and on the ground. This one was playing with the chipmonks!

I like this photo because you can see the reddish-pink color of the parrot's beak.

Here Kristin was trying to take a photo of another parrot when it suddenly flew away. I think the photo is still really cool, don't you?

After walking through the gardens and stopping to take a rest, Kristin and Amy took a few final photos of the Taj and the main gate.

As we left the main gate, I noticed there were hundreds of soldiers and policemen with large guns and other security equipment. That's when Kristin reminded me that the Taj was going to be closing soon. Kristin and Amy later found out that a very important person...or VIP...was visiting the Taj and it was being closed just for him. Satyender later heard the Prime Minister of Hungary was visiting but Kristin says she can't confirm that's who was visiting. Whoever it was...he must have been really important or I don't think there would have been that many security guards.

I didn't dare ask Kristin to take any photos of the security guards. I figured she would get in trouble.

On our way back to the hotel, Kristin had the driver stop so she could take a photo of me outside the local McDonald's. We didn't go inside because Kristin didn't want to eat there. I think she could tell I was disappointed but then she reminded me that I can eat at McDonalds at home any day. She is right.

Whew...I am tired from writing this long post. Plus I still have that jet-lag stuff. So I am going back to bed soon.

More later....