An update from Elizabeth, MBA and Master of Arts Management ’12, who traveled to India with the Cox Global Leadership Program:
HUGE day today, very long and very hot. But totally worth it!
We started out at 6 am from the hotel in Delhi, on a larger bus than usual. Most had snagged their hotel pillows, and, on the advice from last year’s group, brought blankets and cardigans, despite the expected heat. This was great advice, as the air vents on the bus did not close and were blasting inescapable, freezing air the whole ride. After snuggling into our rows, it was a quiet first few hours.
On the road from Delhi to Agra you get a huge slice of India just from looking out the window. We were on highways that often turned suddenly rural as we passed through a village or town. On the road I saw: buses, cars, trucks, tractors overloaded with hay sacks three times the size of the vehicle, cows, horses, dogs, camels, pedestrians, scooters, tuk-tuks, roosters, goats, wild boars, bulls, bicycles, people pushing their overloaded bicycles, men urinating on the side of the road (everywhere), people sleeping on medians, cars going the wrong way down the street, and occasionally in a larger intersection, a policeman standing in the center of chaos, pointing his arms as if he could actually direct traffic.
It really brings home the advice our guide gave us as he narrated one day: “India does things very differently, and if you must have total order, you will miserable. You have to learn to swim with the flow.” I’m not sure if I could do it forever, but for now, it reminds me to sit back and see what happens, enjoying the journey as much as the destination. I can’t say it’s totally zen-like though; the amount of noise and the incessant car-honking (I think our bus driver was the worst offender) made me grit my teeth, and I found it impossible to sleep for any of the 5 hours to Agra.
We stopped at a rest stop briefly for the facilities, and there were snake charmers at the entry. A few of us walked over with Caplan to see, and they brought that snake awfully close to Eric! It wasn’t how I’d pictured; they played their horn but the cobras were already standing up out of the baskets, and they didn’t do anything. My inner animal rights activist, already on edge as I see horses, dogs, and other animals abused and misused all over, was very uncomfortable. Not to mention the poisonous snake about six inches from Eric’s face. I thought I had recorded it but apparently hit the wrong button.
When we finally reached Agra, there was another facility stop while our guide bought our tickets (heads-up to the ladies: this toilet does not have toilet paper!). You can barely bring anything in to the Taj Mahal, so we all just carried our cameras, IDs, and a bit of money. They handed us shoe covers and bottles of warm water, and off we went. There are no fuel-powered vehicles allowed within a certain distance of the Taj Mahal to avoid dirtying it with pollution. We took a short electric bus ride (a few minutes) further down the road, and then walked the last bit in about 2 minutes.
It was very easy, though we’d been warned otherwise by last year’s group. We’d anticipated an epic hike to the gates of the Taj, leaving weaker classmates by the side of the road as we slogged on, promising to come back for them.
Once you’re inside the gates (but not yet at the actual Taj), you take a few pictures, and if you’re a big group like us, a professional photographer snags you and offers to take a group shot inside. We went inside and did the obligatory group photo and chaos ensued. Indian tourists swarmed our group, taking pictures of us! It was the first time we’d seen it in such an intense rush, though for the most part they kept their distance. Though it occasionally feels intrusive, it’s really not that disturbing, and a few of us with “big-city” training had no problem shoving people out of our way.
It was kind of funny to watch them try to creep into our photos; just as you’d be smiling and posing for your camera in a classmate’s hand, they’d drop it and say, “Excuse me sir!” and you’d realize some random person had slowly inched up right next to you while his friend took a photo!
They love Rebekah here! Everyone thinks she’s Indian, and they probably all wonder what she’s doing with a bunch of Americans. She got asked to take pictures more than any of us – even our blondes. We suggested she stay here in India and live off the adoration. At the least, we’re expecting to return next year and find posters of her everywhere.
The Taj lives up to the hype, even when it’s 102 degrees outside. That’s about all there is to say; everyone has seen the pictures, and it’s even more impressive live. It’s incredible. We all wandered around, and ducked inside, then took a few smaller group photos all around, and the obligatory “I’m touching the top of the Taj” shots (Eric and Clark are great at lining these up). Then the heat really started to kick in (it was 1:30pm by then) and we were all out of water, so we headed back to the rendezvous point. Time for lunch (and more importantly: air conditioning)!