>Thursday, March 29

Remember how yesterday I wrote that I was excited for several upcoming activities (henna, watching sunset over the Taj Mahal,)? The beauty of cynicism and low expectations it that you are rarely disappointed when things don't turn out as planned. I should not stray from my modus operandi.

While we did set out for a henna application, it happened at a marble inlay "factory." First, we watched a demo on a little stage of how marble inlay is made. The factory is supposedly the same one that did the marble inlay work at the Taj Mahal. Normally I like that kind of stuff, but it was a lot like watching beaten down indentured servants perform on command at a circus sideshow. After the "show," we went inside and served as the audience for an infomercial on marble quality and the factory. Then we were left to shop - for about two hours.

Let me put this in perspective. We spent:

20-30 minutes at the Birla Temple, a Hindu temple in New Delhi
60 minutes at the Qutb Minar World Heritage Site in Dehli
45 minutes at Itmad-us-daula, also known as the Baby Taj since it was built first
10 minutes at Akbar's mausoleum
90 minutes at the Agra Fort
180 minutes at the Taj Mahal itself

At the tourist death trap, we spent a total of 180 minutes. Yes, we spent the same amount of time at a marble store as we did at the Taj Mahal. Granted, it had not one scale model of the Taj, but three, each one bigger than the other, plus a video on how they made the largest of the scale models.

At some point during our entrapment, Ray discovered that the men used for the demonstration of how the inlay is made were selling small pendants on the side. They beckoned her over, then surreptitiously showed her what they had, and then in a terrified manner with wild eyes, carried out the transaction, whispering urgently to shove the pendants in her pocket and then shooing her away in fear. I bought two pendants also. It was depressing as hell, but I was glad to slip some extra cash to the workers. One guy told a woman in our group that he makes about $3 a month. That might be an exaggeration, but it is probably not far from the truth. The fat cat owners of the shop seem to treat them like shit.

After that, the henna artists set up shop. I go both my hands done, and it was a good experience. Most of the women did their hands and/or their ankles. As I was inspecting my design, I realized that if I were essentially an indentured servant forced to do henna demonstrations for idiot western and Asian tourists, I would probably paint evil messages into their tattoos to amuse myself. Things like, "I am a fucking moron" or whatever. Then I'd chuckle maniacally in my head as the ladies wander around the marble factory showing their pretty tattoo designs off to their friends.

By the time we left three hours after we arrived, my hatred of Fearless Leader had spread like wildfire across the group of normally mild mannered teachers. The sun had long ago sunk behind the horizon, so there was no chance to see the Taj Mahal bathed in the colors of the sunset. We still went to the fancy bar with the view of the Taj, but there was no view at all by the time we arrived because the structure is not lit at night. At dinner at the fancy hotel, I decided that I wanted to bring Mr. Singh, the nice man who assists the bus driver, home with me. I worry about him. He seems so solemn and sad. Of course, with Fearless Leader was bossing me around all the time, I can't blame him.

This morning, we set out to Jaipur. On the way, we stopped at the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1659, but deserted 15 years later after Akbar died. Since Fearless Leader is the worst guide I ever had to endure (and this is saying a lot since I had a violent dislike of a tour guide I had for a day in Israel), I decided to bring my guide book into the site so that I would actually have a clue as tto what I was seeing. Fearless Leader has an hideous tendency to ruminate on one fact for 10 minutes, repeating the same exact thing over and over again, and not answering questions that we ask. It's not that he doesn't answer at all, it's just that his answers have nothing to do with the questions.

When Fearless Leader noticed that I was carrying the book with me, he became severely agitated.

"What are you doing?" he shrieked. "Why are you bringing a dead guide with you when you have a live one?"

"Um, I just like reading," I answered lamely, although I muttered as he walked away, "and this dead guide is far more informative than you are."

For almost the entire time in Fatehpur Sikri, he watched me like a hawk. This meant that I could not wander off as he repeated, "This carving is done like a blooming lotus blossom," ten times. I noticed many people staring off into space.

Eventually, I decided to apologize for my "rudeness" so that he would get the fuck off my back.

"I want to apologize to you," I told him when he finally shut the fuck up about the importance of astrology (which would have been interesting if he said more than one thing in the 10 minutes be blathered on) and let people wander around to take pictures. "I should have explained better. I like bringing the book with me because for more background into. I just want to make sure that I can ask informed questions."

"Oh, it is alright," he said and then draped his arm over my shoulders and semi pulled me in. I grit my teeth. "I understand."

"Right, you know, there is so much to say and no one can cover it all in the time we have, so this was I can be sure I see everything I am interested in," I went on.

He squeezed my shoulder. I tried not to gag. "Ehhhhheheheh," he laughed in his obnoxious way. (I wish I could record it and podcast it.) "It is good."

Eventually I wrenched myself free of his clutches. He didn't watch me so closely for the rest of the tour, so that was good. Incidentally, we spent a total of 90 minutes there. Craziness.

As for random observations, I realized that outside of Delhi, I was seen very few women. Sure, a few are walking down the street and we've driven by some women working in fields, but not tone shop in Agra had a female employee. (There were some female reception staff at the hotel, though.) It is very surreal. Also, I learned that poor people use cow manure for fuel. The children follow the cow around and collect the shit, and the women then knead it and form patties out of it. Men do not do such work.

My little language lessons are going well. In addition to knowing how to say thank you, hello and good-bye (same word), how to ask how one is, how to ask for a Diet Coke to drink, tell the bus driver that he is brave (the traffic here is terrifying, and I have much admiration for him) and saying "see ya!," I added the phrase "my friend" and "nice to see you again." I am looking forward to trying them out. Hopefully, whatever words eventually come out will not be anything along the lines of "meet me at my room tonight, big boy."

After Fatehpur Sikri, we began our long bus ride to Jaipur. (I'm writing on the bus now.) We are supposedly going to another mandir (hindu temple) to watch an aarti, which is a prayer ceremony according to the itinerary that we semi-follow. Tonight we are scheduled to eat at a restaurant with live folk music, so assuming that actually happens, I'll be very happy. Tomorrow we are set to go tot the Amber Fort, which includes an elephant ride. Just like Indy, Willie, and Short Round took to get to Pangkot Palace! As Fearless Leader would say, "Ehhhhheheheheh."

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