Saturday, October 3, 2015

Agra Tour – Great Riches and Extreme Poverty

On our first day in Agra having been wowed by the Taj Mahal from afar many of the group decided to wait until early the next morning to visit the great tomb when it would be bathed in early morning light. One of the group leaders suggested that hiring a cab driver for a guided tour was a good way to see the city. Ryan, Stuart and I followed up on this idea and hired a friendly driver named Kaka to show us the sights. Touring with a native guide – particularly if you buy him lunch – allows you to learn a lot about native culture and ideas. As a group we had been discussing the poverty we had observed and the ethics and dilemmas of giving money to beggars. Kaka felt that many of the young people had learned to beg rather than learning a skill and made it their way of life. He said that old and disabled people had no choice but to beg as their options were limited but that young people chose the begging lifestyle over work. He also observed that there are too many people on the planet which is easily observed when you walk through any Indian city. This is a viewpoint shared by many Europeans but not one I have ever heard expressed in the U.S.A. Kaka shared with us that Indians from the countryside come to the cities to find work as there was insufficient work in the countryside for them. 

At several evening meetings we discussed poverty, its causes and implications. We debated whether or not giving money to beggars helped them or made the problem worse. The discussions were emotional and intense and at the same time wonderful in the sharing of ideas as group members struggled to resolve what they were experiencing. Tolerance versus acceptance was one thing we pondered over during these discussions.  Poverty and beggars are a complicated conundrum that we observed first hand in India. As privileged westerns the disparities of Indian society were shocking, frightening and difficult for the intellect to process. 

During our Agra tour intellectually we pondered over population and poverty while touring and admiring incredible Mughal tombs and Forts. India is a dichotomy of contrasts; beautiful, shocking, diverse and complex.

The Agra Red Fort built by Akbar between 1565 and 1573 is made of red sandstone.
The fort is a contrast of styles from the fortifications of Akbar’s period to the elegance and beauty of the marble apartments built by Shah Jahan who is responsible for the Taj Mahal. This sprawling complex forms a crescent along the backs of the Yamuna.

The Baby Taj or China Tomb is the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah who was the Lord Treasurer of the Mughal Empire. The open pillared domes on the minarets are known as chhatri.

 The decorative elements of the Baby Taj are similar to those of the Taj Mahal with calligraphic panels, mosaic patterns, marble screens, painted floral patterns, and pietra dura (stone inlay).

A garden tomb the Baby Taj is thought to have been an inspiration for the Taj Mahal. The tomb surrounded by gardens and four red sandstone gates took six years to build and was completed in 1622. The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build and was finished in 1653.

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