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Delhi, Agra & Bangalore India

In May 2006 I was sent with a teammate to India by IBM to meet with our team members and some business partners. We spent a few days in Delhi, did a day trip to Agra and then a few days in Bangalore.  Preparation is everything and I managed to survive without any food or malaria problems!  My thanks to alert reader Hemant for corrections on the name of the Queen in the Taj Mahal, the name of the Agra Fort, and the location of the tool shop.

The first thing you notice in India, and you've probably heard about it and are waiting to see it in person, is the madness that is India road traffic. Not only are there cars and trucks, but 3-wheel motorcycles with a seating area added called auto taxis (green and yellow below), motorcycles, push carts, pedestrians, all sorts of wildlife (we saw elephants, camels and oxen among others) and constant construction.  I have to say that I didn't see an accident the whole time I was there, and it's due to the cooperative nature of the drivers and what I call "traffic sonar" - constant horn beeping so everyone knows where you are. Nobody cares about lanes, but you can cut in front of anyone and make a crazy U-turn in the middle of the road and everyone gives you just enough room to make it happen.  I have heard of mob violence when an accident does occur, so foreigners should never drive themselves. In fact, it's cheaper to hire a car with a driver for a week than just a car for yourself. Then you also don't have to worry about where to park... The bottom-right picture is the IBM parking lot - I swear I will never complain about parking again!

Delhi is the capital of India, so here are some pictures of the parliament buildings.  A lot of the formal buildings around India are built from this red stone.

Down the hill from the parliament buildings is the India Gate, a memorial to soldiers killed in World War 1 and the Afghan Wars, but really represents soldiers in wars in India's recent history.

As you might expect with India's several thousand-year history, there are a lot of buildings and sites from different periods in time. These pictures are of the tomb of Humayun, the second Muslim Mughal emporer of northern India.  The complex represents the first example of Mughal architecture in India, the most well-known of which is the Taj Mahal - you can see the similarity with the bottom-right image.  This site consists of a mausoleum surrounded by an octagonal wall with gardens and water features, and several large structures at the edges. It is listed as a World Heritage site. Parts have been restored but much work still needs to be done.

As a woodworker, I was always on the lookout for interesting handcrafted pieces. I found these chests in a shop - the wood and the craftsmanship is amazing.  I didn't bring these home in my suitcase, but I did pick up some rugs, carvings and hand-turned pens. The last picture is me at a tool shop I found in Bangalore - the picture shows the entire store, wedged at the back of a small alley. I explained I wanted to buy some traditional Indian hand tools and they pulled out some shrink-wrap Stanley chisels. I said no, what I want is the "old" stuff - traditional tools. They understood and pulled out a box full of hand-forged chisels, still dirty from the forge, and matching hand-turned wood handles.  I got about 15 tools and felt guilty asking if they would bargain down from the ~ $15 total... 

On Friday night we arranged for a bus trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I always thought Agra was close to Delhi, and it is, but when you only make an average of 20 miles per hour on the trip, due to the traffic, camels, construction, etc. it takes about 4-5 hours to get there and the same back again. We ended up in a minivan with a couple from the Phillipines and had a great time.  We made several stops along the way, clearly designed to give the driver a kickback from the shop owners if we bought anything.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity so I wasn't going to let a little capitalism dampen my enthusiasm!  As we neared Agra, we arrived at Akbar's tomb.  Akbar was Humayun's son, which makes him the Third Mughal King.  This tomb is immense in scale and beautiful in detail!

We then arrived at the Taj Mahal complex itself. The Taj area is much more than the famous white marble mausoleum considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and it's easy to understand why.  The central building in the Taj complex holds the final resting place of Shaha Jahan's favourite wife Begum (Queen) Mumtaj Maj. Looking through the main gate, you can see the gardens and reflecting pools that lead up to the main building.  It just looks better and better the closer you get. The locals say the marble has diamonds in it which gives it a sparkling effect - it certainly does sparkle but it's not from diamonds... The darker designs are made from inlays of many different kinds of semi-precious stone.

It has recently been renovated but the water was still and looked like a great breeding ground for the infamous malaria-carrying mosquitos.  It was baking-hot the day we were there, easily over 100F and little shade...

The Agra Fort is situated just down the river from the Taj Mahal and was built over the course of several centuries, rulers and architectural styles.  It's an enclosed fort with a huge wall and moat.  You can see the Taj in the distance in the last picture.

On the ride home from Agra, we stopped at a shop where they sold marble pieces, mostly tabletops, with inlay and showed us how the craftsmen mark the design on the marble, cut the semi-precious stones and inlay them.  All work is done by hand or with human-powered polishing tools. The craft teams are made up of family members and pass the secrets of their techniques down through generations.

After our meetings in Delhi we flew on to Banglaore. The difference is striking - where Delhi had an ancient feel, Bangalore was much more modern, with tremendous construction in process and definite influences from Westerners and Western businesses. This is one of the high-technology complexes with Microsoft, Dell and IBM in close proximity.

Traffic in Bangalore is a little better than Delhi.  We did get to experience travelling in an auto taxi.  It costs roughly 25 cents for a 10 mile trip - our host is paying the fare.  Three of us managed to fit in the back seat!

Bangalore had more green and open space than Delhi, as you can see below.  Other things you see make you sad and wish that the country could better handle some basic infrastructure issues, but it will also take a strong change in accepted lifestyle.

We spent a lot of time walking through narrow streets of shops.  Everything you think you might need can be found here.  The spirit of hard work is evident everywhere, from the shops to the competition for spots in universities to these hole-in-the-wall computer training companies.

At the end of our time in Bangalore, our host took us to the Bannerghatta National Park, a wildlife sanctuary and zoo.  They had a traditional area with mostly-local species and then a 25,000 acre area that you drive through in a bus.  This is the park entrance and a map of the layout of the zoo.

We saw a lot of snakes on the zoo side... cobras,  king cobras (curled up in a warm platform) , a rat snake and a python.

We then hopped on the bus and entered the first area.  There are several areas where the big animals are allowed to roam freely in a natural environment, but there are tall steel fences and moats to separate animals that might eat each other in the wild...  The bus passes through double-gate systems to ensure no animals can get through.  The bus is also well-protected from curious animals...  We saw bison and two types of deer in the first area.

We then passed into the bear area where we saw families of Sloth Bears.  They're all black with a light-colored patch on their chests. These bears were clearly happy with living here as they knew where the food was, where their warm dens were and they didn't feel much like getting off the road so the bus could get by. Not like the true wild, but about as good as could be provided here.

Next we moved into the lion area.  The animals just know they're cool! Lounge around, sleep, roar every now and then... The keepers actually put in live prey animals to allow the lions and tigers to get some exercise and keep their hunting skills up.

Finally we moved into the tiger area.  They have Bengal tigers with standard and white coloring. Unfortunately the white tigers were shy and kept their backs to us... or maybe this one had his eye on a deer in the next section over.

We took a flight that went directly from Chicago to Delhi - American Airlines longest single flight at 7,500 miles. It doesn't quite go right over the North Pole, but does peak over northern Greenland.  Here is a great shot of the rocky east coast of Greenland - the rest was covered with a flat blanket of snow.