(Belated) Videos From New Delhi/Agra Trip…

Click on the link below to check out the videos I took on my trip to New Delhi and Agra, India!

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All I Want For Christmas…

After being here in India for over 4 months, I think my perspective on a lot of things has changed. One area in particular is fully realizing how many blessings I have had bestowed upon me and my life. I was raised in a loving family, never went without any necessary thing (food, water, clothing), had the opportunity to go to college, to pursue my interests. Before I came here, I don’t think I always appreciated them fully – I took them for granted at times.

However, I have seen things here that have dramatically changed how I look at things. I’ve seen families living in garbage dumps, seen children reduced to begging in the middle of busy roads in sprawling urban areas, seen people with limbs ravaged by polio – the list goes on. While I have had to focus a lot on my work, the sights I have seen still haunt me and probably will for the rest of my life.

I have done a lot of soul-searching and realized that when it really comes down to it – I honestly don’t need anything this holiday season. I have a good job, I live in a secure corporate compound with A/C, free bottled water, high speed internet, etc. There are people 200 yards away from me who struggle to survive.

To this end, I have decided to request that anyone who planned to give me gifts this holiday season make a donation to these charities instead. I’ve decided that the best thing I could receive for Christmas is knowing that others are being helped. As a challenge of sorts, I’ve personally donated $10 to each charity listed.

International Charities:

Save The Children: This group does a lot to help alleviate the suffering of children and families around the world, including right here in India. Their gift catalog allows to choose a gift that will help someone in countries all over the world.

Heifer International: This charity strives to help end hunger and provide those in poverty with a way to sustain themselves and their families – thereby stopping the vicious cycle. One can purchase an animal, a share of an animal, trees, etc. to further this goal. They operate all around the world, including India.

Samaritan’s Purse: By purchasing a gift through their catalog, you are giving something of tangible benefit to the poor and needy around the world (including India). From sponsoring an orphan’s care to providing vocational training, the gifts in their catalog will undoubtedly help others. They are an avowed Christian charity, but provide relief to everyone – they do not discriminate in who they help.

Local/Domestic Charities:

Salvation Army USA: They need no explanation – you’ve seen their red kettles all over the place for decades. I respect the work that this group does tremendously. I set up a “Red Kettle” on their site that you can donate to – kind of a fun way to track things.

Help A Willing Kid Foundation – Lansing, MI: This charity is very close to my heart. They provide kids in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Lansing with after school activities, including athletics (specifically amateur boxing), tutoring, etc. Through their work, they keep kids off the streets and provide them with a structured environment that gives them the opportunity to improve themselves and stay out of gangs/off drugs. I work personally with this all-volunteer organization and have seen first hand what the money raised goes towards.

Capuchin Soup Kitchen – Detroit, MI: Operated by the brothers of the Capuchin Franciscan order, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen provides food, clothing, and other necessary social services to those in need in Detroit. They have a rich history of serving the poor in the area.

Closing Words:

In conclusion, I just want to get it out there that I don’t expect anyone to donate if they do not want to. This is not a guilt trip or a burden I want to place upon anyone. I just want to help out those that are less fortunate by forsaking the tradition of receiving gifts for myself. Donate as much or as little as you wish – it’s the thought that counts. All I ask is that you let me know if you donate/where you donate – I want to put together a scrapbook/binder of sorts and maybe put together some neat graphs/stats for posterity.

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Visiting “The Least Of These”…

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
– Matthew 25:40, NIV

After reading of Nate’s experiences seeing “another side of Mysore”, I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to visit as well. I wanted to put what Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 into action.

I met up with a coworker’s aunt (referred to in Nate’s post as “The Saint”) to go visit the poor, aged and destitute on Saturday morning. It was an absolutely beautiful experience – quite possibly one of the more meaningful experiences I’ve had here in India. We visited these places (home for the destitute, nursing home, orphanage) in Mysore, India and I felt my entire body/heart just feel the presence/love of Christ – it was amazing. My coworker’s aunt personally blessed, prayed and sang (both in English and in Kannada, the regional language) with people that society had forgotten about – people who can’t walk, people with AIDS, people’s whose families have abandoned them, children with no homes – her passion and devotion was so sincere. As we rode in an auto-rickshaw, she was so excited to talk about what she wanted to do in the future with her ministry. I was completely inspired by her, the work that she is doing, as well as the Sisters who help run the institutions we visited.

Far from being a “downer” experience, it actually helped inspire me to continue my spiritual journey and continue to help those that need it most. I want to continue to show love to those who are in darkness, those who suffer, etc. – just as Christ showed his love for me by bearing the sin of the world on the Cross – thereby gaining final victory over death.

To close out, I’ll tell you about one woman I interacted with at the home for the aged. An elderly resident of the nursing home named Margaret, with cataracts in her eyes, asked me to pray for her. The thing that struck me is how serene and peaceful she seemed. She may not be able to see the things of this world in full detail, but through her faith she can see the things that really matter.

You can see photos of our visits here.

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Delhi/Agra Part IV: The Long Ride Home…

This concludes the four part series of posts about my trip to Northern India (New Delhi and Agra):

Early the next morning, we woke up, checked out of our hotel and hired a driver for a half day so that we could check out the few places we had left in Delhi to see. We knew it would be a fun day when the cab driver started trying to ask me something in Hindi – I speak about 3 words of it. Definitely relied upon pointing/slow speaking to get our points across. We arrived at the entrance to the Red Fort in Delhi and we saw two soldiers guarding it – our cab driver, after asking a random bike rickshaw driver, said it was closed. We took a look at our tourist guide about Delhi and realized that he had brought us to the wrong entrance – he was assuming the Fort was closed because he took us to the military controlled entrance (only part of the fort is open to tourists, the rest is a garrison for the Indian Army) and saw that there was no parking. After a heated exchange, we finally parked in the garage of a Sikh Gurudwara down the street and we made our way to the Fort. We were able to successfully negotiate Indian pricing yet again by flashing our neat Karnataka State Government papers – my tax dollars at work?

The Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was a huge fort built in 1648 by Shah Jahan (same guy who built the Taj Mahal) on the Yamuna River. It wasn’t as intricate as the architecture we saw at Agra Fort, but it was still amazing. There was a lot of Indian Army presence here – we saw at least 3 mustachioed soldiers with sub-machine guns wandering around. Also, we noticed that in India, roped off areas don’t stop people from going under the barrier like they do in the US – well, as long as the guards weren’t looking.

After we finished our tour, we went to one of the more unique places on our trip – Akshardham. The only way I can describe it is the Hindu equivalent of EPCOT Center. After ensuring that we didn’t have any of the 20-something forbidden items on our person, we went through a security screening that rivaled the TSA in terms of thoroughness. As we walked towards the temple, we saw some of the most ornate carvings and ostentatious statues we’ve seen here in India. I found it odd that they went on and on about the aestheticism of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (the “teacher” that the complex is dedicated to), like walking across India barefoot, etc. – yet he was represented by 14 foot tall solid gold statues. For a mere 51,000 INR ($1300), you could get the late guru’s blessings every day for the rest of your life. If that sounds a bit high, for only 11,100 INR you could get his blessings on only one day per year for the rest of your life. What a deal! They had an IMAX theater and boat ride, but myself and Jen passed.

After leaving that, we almost got dragged to a handicrafts store – but we demanded to go the airport. We assumed we’d only be a few hours early – turned out our flight was rescheduled for 4 hours later. Oops. I ended up studying for my work exam and listening to music for a while. The flight home was uneventful – save for the “jokes” section of the SpiceJet on-board magazine that had suggestions for ways to break up boredom on the flight that would get you arrested in the US – many included jokes about terrorism, etc. Gotta love the Indian sense of humor.

We arrived back at Infosys Bangalore around 10 PM and I hopped in a Tata Indicab and told the driver to go back to Mysore – he took the short cut, apparently. I was lying down in the back, in and out of sleep – but I do know we went down the very much unfinished tollway, went down some random dirt roads in rural Bangalore, but ended up back at Infosys Mysore in 2 hours flat. The long weekend was finally over.

FIN

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Moving On Up…

Moving Up In Mumbai” – Wall Street Journal

Interesting article focusing on three young guys from the slums of Mumbai, India trying to work their way out, with a little help from the explosive growth of the service sector there.

Having lived here in India for over four months, you can see a difference in how people treat their jobs. You walk into a McDonald’s here and you notice how clean it is – you could perform surgery on the floors. You go up to place your order and you are greeted by a fresh-looking cashier who adeptly punches in the numbers and has your food up in 5 minutes or less. These people actually care about their jobs. Reading about the former employment of those three guys – I can see why.

All I know is that I will never complain about my time pushing carts at Target again after seeing the type of stuff people have to do here for a living.

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Delhi/Agra Trip Part III – Wonders Of The World…

Continued from a previous post:

Saturday was another early morning – waking up around 5:00 AM so that we could catch the Bhopal Shatadbi train to Agra at 6:15 AM. We rode First Class AC Chair Car and let me tell you, it put Amtrak to shame. We got free bottled water, coffee/tea, biscuits – not bad for a ticket that cost about $12.50. We finally arrived in Agra at around 9:00 AM and found yet another prepaid taxi (a lot of taxis in India are prepay only – which can be good because a lot of drivers don’t like to turn on their meters/will take you the long way). We hopped in the sturdy Hindustan Motors Ambassador and headed for the Taj Mahal.

We were dropped at the beginning of a 1/4 mile path that led to the entrance – lots of overpriced touristy crap for sale, plus quite a few beggars. We finally got to the ticket booth/security entrance and were greeted with a pretty egregious case of price discrimination based on nationality/skin color. Indian nationals had to pay 20 INR (about 50 cents US), everyone else (Pathkars, or foreigners) had to pay 750 INR (about $20). My well reasoned argument about the fact that we pay (a lot of) Indian income tax, so therefore we should be allowed to get the lower price fell on deaf ears. We finally resigned ourselves and paid the obscene charge and got a color “pass”, a tiny bottle of water, and shoe covers – what a deal!

Government price-gouging aside, the Taj was amazing. It was breathtaking to see it in person – I can definitely see why it was selected as one of the new Seven Wonders Of The World.

They even had a post office there, so you could get your postcard stamped at the Taj Mahal. On the way back to the cab, I saw a beggar with legs gnarled from polio – it really made me realize how miniscule the fact that I had to pay extra to see the Taj Mahal really was. I gave him my free bottle of water, hopefully the gift of clean water was a good one. We then made our way to Agra Fort. There was some amazing architecture and breathtaking views – the most notable being the view of the Taj Mahal that Shah Jahan saw while he was imprisoned there for many years.

After enjoying some lovely Chicken Tikka at a restaurant called “Indiana”, we were forced to go to a handicrafts store – yet again. It was interesting to see how they hand-make carpets (that cost upwards of $10,000!), but all the stuff they were selling was at least double the price of the exact same thing back in Mysore. Being the unfunny person I am, I asked the guy if they had a painting of Elvis Presley or Jesus Christ on crushed velvet. Unfortunately, sarcasm doesn’t translate well in Indian culture and he told me no, but they could have it commissioned. His assistant pointed to the velvet painting of Ganesha – close, but no cigar. When we left without buying anything, our cab driver became sassy with us – guess we aren’t the dumb tourists that he usually drops off (and that got dropped off one cab after another while we were in there). We didn’t want to pay his ridiculous fee for 3 more hours, so we told him to drop us back at the train station.

We made our way to the prepaid taxi stand to find another driver, all the while being aggressively harassed by auto rickshaw drivers. We got to the government run stand to find that the police officer manning it spoke no English. The taxi drivers were basically operating it as they pleased – the inmates were running the asylum so to speak. We finally got a good fare (and almost prompted a fight over who got the drop) and we went to the person’s cab.

It was by far the worst car I have ever ridden inside in my entire life. It required a full bottle of water poured into the coolant reservoir to even turn over and rode like the springs had been cut. Multiple doors were broken, which was another comforting sign.

We made our way across a 1.5 lane bridge, almost hitting numerous things while crossing over to Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb – aka “The Baby Taj”. It was very peaceful and beautiful – a lot less tourists there than at the other attractions.As Jen and myself walked along the outside of the tomb, we had rocks thrown at us by the beggar children on the beach below because we wouldn’t give them money. It was darling – really.

We also made a stop at the Chini Ka Rauza – another Mughal tomb. As we walked along the wooded path, we realized that no other tourists were there. Turns out we were right – it has been basically abandoned by the government and left to rot. Most of the beautiful blue Persian tile is gone, the only visitors there were the local hustlers – hence why our cab drivers followed us. It was a shame that such a beautiful place has been abandoned – I’m sure it was amazing in its prime.

After talking the driver out of taking us back to Indiana (I think they pay a pretty good kickback), we realized that most of the sights were closed – so we foolishly agreed to check out another handicrafts store (we were tired of fighting at that point). We walked in and found – surprise – more excessively overpriced art and gifts. The highlights of that trip were the fact that I found a table top that cost as much as I owe to the US Dept. Of Education in student loans – aka it was pricey – as well as finding a velvet embroidery of Jesus Christ himself (remember my request earlier in the day?) – totally out of the blue.

We finally made our way back to the train station in our trusty cab – which we found out had no working headlights or turn signals, and was being driven by the cab driver’s brother who may or may not have known how to drive – and began the process of waiting for the train to show up – turns out it got delayed, by over 45 minutes. It gave us even more time to experience the chaos that is an Indian train station. There is the obligatory metal detector that no one is watching/cares about when it goes off, pallets full of goods, families sleeping on the concrete as well as the overzealous shoe shiners who thought that they could convince me to get a leather shoe shine on my non-leather Merrell trail running shoes.

We finally were able to board our train and make our way back to New Delhi. We walked outside expecting to find a prepaid taxi stand – turns out that it was a misnomer, as they only dealt with auto rickshaws. We had to make a hasty deal with the menacing cab drivers and finally found someone not wanting to rip us off totally and got a ride back to our hotel in a Maruti van that had the worst transmission I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. Hopefully our 200 INR will be invested into a new clutch.

Thankfully, the locals had run low on Diwali “crackers”, so we were able to drift off to sleep in relative peace.

To be continued…

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Delhi/Agra Trip Part II – Diwali Madness

Continued from a previous post…

We hopped in the allocated cab and were greeted by a young driver and his older, surlier “assistant”. This “assistant” proceeded to demand our pre-paid cab slip before arriving at the hotel, which is not allowed. We refused, as we weren’t taking any chances of him ripping it up and charging us an arm and a leg, preferring to give him the actual address. This made him cranky, and he started mumbling in Hindi at us near the end. We checked into our hotel (which had an elaborate Diwali ceremony/shrine going on in the lobby) and caught our breath.

We talked to the hotel manager, got ourselves a pre-paid A/C cab and started our tours of the city. We first went to Birla Mandir – which was a pretty cool looking Hindu temple. We then proceeded to check out the Indian Parliament building and India Gate – the Indian version of Arlington/The Wall/Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier. It had the names of British/Indian soldiers who had died from WWI to Indian Independence. We then went over to Qutb Minar – a very old and ornate mosque/monument complex. Foreigners were supposed to pay 150 Rs, but we got “The Indian Price” of 10 Rs by flashing our FRRO papers. The guys behind the counter weren’t happy about it, but they saw “Government of Karnataka” and decided to give us the discount.

After touring Qutb Minar, we drove across town to the Baha’i House Of Prayer/Lotus Temple – it was an impressive structure that had beautiful grounds and was nice and quiet on the inside (silence was required). They had volunteers from all over the world helping out – which was kind of neat.

We ended the day by going to Mahatma Gandhi’s “samadhi”/memorial – Raj Ghat. Upon entering, we saw a guy hawking plastic toy AK-47s – it definitely didn’t seem like the place to be selling such items, considering his ideology of non-violence.

The memorial was very peaceful and beautiful – rolling grassy hills, famous quotes engraved into stone and an eternal flame.

We had finished off our first day of touring and had an hour or two left to kill. We figured we’d drive around some more – we were wrong. Our cab driver proceeded to take us to a handicrafts store (where he got a kickback for dragging stupid tourists to). We sternly refused – this made our cab driver less than pleased. I wanted to stop for a coffee, but he tried to say the coffee places were closed (never mind the fact that there were two places all lit up/with people in them within a 1/4 mile of each other). Our obstinacy had put him in a cranky mood – this theme would repeat itself throughout the trip. He didn’t even mutter a thank you when we paid him our balance.

We hit the hay pretty early, as we had an early morning train to catch to Agra. However, the neighbors had different ideas. During Diwali, people often light off cheap/loud firecrackers to celebrate. The people of Karol Bagh were no exception. The area outside our hotel sounded like downtown Sarajevo during the civil wars in the Balkans – it sounded like artillery shelling outside. We put in our ear plugs and finally went to bed.

To be continued…

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