With three cars surrounding the BMW I was sitting in, one on either side and one in front, we crawled to a halt as a man riding a donkey jumped the central reservation of the two lane highway we were about to enter, getting hit immediately by another on coming vehicle, one that was trying to overtake us on the right hand side, hitting the donkey broadside, throwing its rider ten feet up into the air and then down straight through its windshield, severing his head into two parts. The donkey, oblivious to it’s now decapitated owner, made haste for the other side of the road and safety. The rider, now dead, and brains splattered all over the road, remained in two distinctly separate pieces. My guide turned to me, hands firmly on the steering wheel which he now gripped with some angst, and with a certain casualness and a huge smile, said, “Do not worry, he is dead. Happens all the time here in India. The donkey is safe by the looks of the way he ran away, and that’s a good thing!” Welcome to India!
On the road to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, a new road, built to make the journey from Delhi palatable, (the old road took 5 hours, the new one 2 hours), there were no other cars. Why? Because the road costs $10 to drive and the vast majority of Indians cannot afford to venture out and enjoy it’s three lane British motorway like feel. It was sensational, driving at 80 MPH for 200 kilometers without seeing a single car, not even a cop car. Passing through three toll booths, each one emptier than the other, with toll collectors who just seemed to hang out and chat with one another, surrounded on either side by brick making facilities, yes, building bricks, which created the most vial of smells and pollution that was so bad, blue sky is something not seen in that area since independence in 1948.
Agra wasn’t too far into the distant brown horizon and as suddenly as this new road had begun, it ended, not with a bang, but with a true shock to a system already in turmoil. An Ox, then a few cows and then monkeys, yes monkeys, running wild on roads that were fit for the only vehicles that seemed to fit, tuc-tuc’s. Some single seater, some laden with dirty washing, cow dung patties, or dead animals, such as wild boar, and some overfilled with passengers, normally 6 or more seated in a space suitable for 2. Culture shock would be a mild exaggeration on how I was feeling at the precise moment we crossed a bridge and an Ox ran out in front of our new BMW, which by the way, stuck out like the sore thumb amidst the chaos of poverty we were now driving against.
Destination Taj Mahal. Excitement? Perhaps. Disappointment? Well after parking, meeting my new guide and walking the half mile or so in 112 degrees of heat from the parking lot to the grounds and entrance of the Taj, sweat rolling off my back, each step taken with the deliberate avoidance of feces, from humans and cows and dogs and pigs and monkeys, one could only feel disappointed to be shown round one of the worlds wonders and then stopping to think, “hang on, this is just an empty dome” OK so it was built 360 years ago, some feat, but Jesus Christ walked the planet some 2000 years ago and his miracles seem far greater than this eccentric piece of real estate. The history of the Taj is interesting, but only if you want to hear about an ancient government and king fleecing his own people whilst determined to build a palace and mausoleum for his already dead wife. Oh wait, sounds a lot like today’s politicians! I liked the building, I liked the premiss, but for God’s sake, how can this be a wonder of the world? It’s situated next to the biggest shit hole I have ever seen, yes, greater than any shit hole China has to offer, so my friends, I take you back to the title of this blog, India wins hands down!
India, or at least the parts I saw, is by far the biggest shit hole I have ever had the misfortune to visit. I apologize in advance to all my friends from that country, and all who have to live there. I am sorry that you have to read this and apologize profusely if you are upset by my observations, but the truth is often hard to take, and what I have written above, describing in detail just a minute part of this vast country, is absolutely true and in general, heartbreaking. To witness such poverty first hand, and to have the opportunity to see it again and again over three unbelievable days, just makes me appreciate China even more and for me to appreciate China, you know, if you’d read my previous blog, that India must be really desperate.