travel

Road through Agra

cowsinstreetOne need only to take a short ride on a short stretch of the road that leads to the Taj Mahal to know what the true wonder of the world is. It is the road to Agra. You must share it, as all of us do, with oxen, camels, auto rickshaws, Ambassadors for today’s India with yesterday’s emissions, cowboy truckers, speeding and helmeted motorcyclists, walkers, bicyclists, men carrying very wide loads, women carrying babies while drying grain, children, dogs, cows and more. There are no rules to follow in sharing this road, everyone gets a slice. Drivers must honk (it is mandatory, really) and like young video players, they pound their hand held controls, blowing horns that do their bargaining for passage. This is reality, not a some mere virtual duplication; the game of chicken is played out without words or facial expressions, no move is taken personally, no expletives exchanged, no road rage. The object is to keep moving, and that we do. The only occasion to stand still is at a randomly placed red light, where engines are silenced and the players wait for green. The light changes and then it is game on. The passenger in the front seat is most at risk, so I thought, but in all of our driving in India, not once did another human or vehicle so much as tap ours, no matter how close we came on many occasions.

ambassadorCarAfter you have put your life in the hands of the driver, zen rules, and the sights come into focus. From the window of the Ambassador (spewing dark, ancient fumes) the action of the world of Agra is within my reach. It is a crowded world, nothing in America compares with it, except perhaps the floor of the Stock Exchange.  But goods and services are actually being exchanged in Agra, and for the most part, in a far more civilized manner. Men are shaved, clothes ironed, food prepared and sold, chai served, gossip dispensed, goods displayed, tours directed, directions solicited, shoes shined, dirt swept, children compromised, along with a frightening demand for services that can only be provided by women. There is an industrious spirit in the streets of Agra and  accompanied by the constant exchange of rupees.

It is no doubt one of the dirtiest places you will ever experience, with physicallytajmahal oppressive air, and yet, it is thriving, pulsing population center like nothing you could imagine. Everyone must pass through Agra — heads of state, wealthy natives and wealthier tourists, pilgrims, workers, school children — to reach the treasured Taj. How is it we don’t often hear or see Agra in books, on post cards, photo exhibits, or news reports? Most assuredly, it marvels one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which just happens to be down the road a piece from Agra.

Julia Gillern loves to travel in addition to shaping minds for future service to America.

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