Hello from Punjab! It's funny how quickly a six-hour drive can become an 11-hour drive in India. Exhausted but happy, we officially entered District 3090 last night. We were greeted by an incredibly warm group of Rotarians who draped us in marigolds at … a tractor dealership? Yes, a tractor dealership. Lined up panel-style, we all introduced ourselves, ate cake and laughed when they called us “Okies.”
We're paired off in our first home-stays now, and we'll be here for three days. Today we'll rest some, then visit a university and an orphanage. The word “orphanage” had barely passed the woman's lips before my throat had tightened and the tears had welled up.
I said I'd tell you more about Agra. I have great photos, but poor Internet. Here's what I wrote after our day in the city and visiting the Taj Mahal:
Agra is poetry. The Taj Mahal sits center stage, massive, its craftsmanship unfathomable. Their hands. They made this with their hands.
The girl in the red sari, her body draped along the ledge of her bright white roof, six stories off of the ground, on her phone.
The young boy, lifting the sledgehammer high above his head, letting it fall hard against the metal he was shaping, breaking.
Monkeys on rooftops, scaling walls, plopped on ledges, fighting with stray dogs. They're everywhere, like pigeons, but cuter, and tricky enough to convince an American that they're harmless.
Music spilling out of small place of prayer under an overpass floods our car, stopping conversation.
An outdoor barbershop. Two mirrors on two tables are propped against a brick wall. Chairs in front of them and surrounded by garbage, the barber waits.
Children with dark eyes make their demands. “Photo?” No. “Puppy?” No. “Chocolate?” No. “Money?” No. “Yeah.” No. “Yeah.” No. “Money?” No. “Yeah.” We walk away, avoiding their gaze.
Buses, vans, taxis, motorcycles are a never-ending ensemble of honking. Count the breaths you take in a minute and multiply by 100. Now you know how much to honk.
Makeshift homes line the streets, highways. Fires everywhere, people huddled for warmth, for cooking.
Roadside food stands. Leathery-skinned, wrinkled women cloaked in bright colors are cooking, selling, serving.
The impossible task of keeping anything clean. Sweeping dirt off of dirt.
Cross the river, sit opposite the Taj. Twin boys walk hand in hand, barefoot, down the littered bank. Dripping nose, one boy runs to you, climbing through twisted barbed wire. Poetry. Agra is poetry.
— Lindsay Houts
Lindsay Houts, one of NewsOK's editors, has traveled to India for a month as part of Rotary Club International's Global Study Exchange, a 48-year-old international cultural and vocational exchange program for young professionals.
• She's chronicling her “Incredible India” journey online at http://blog.newsok.com/lindsay-houts, and The Oklahoman will run some of her blog posts in print as she tours the country, meets with people who live there and gives presentations.
• Follow her travels online and follow Houts on Twitter @alamokie for updates. Here she writes about getting to Agra, India, where the Taj Mahal is located.