This is an image of the Taj Mahal as seen from Agra Fort through the miles of air pollution.

Taj Mahal, in the distance, as seen from Agra Fort.

After 3 days in Delhi, we departed at 8 a.m. for a drive south to Agra. It took 6 hours, rather than the 4 hours that were advertised.

The reason is that the road is choked with the most intense and chaotic traffic I’ve seen anywhere other than Cairo. It can’t be compared to a ballet, rather to pinballs nearly ricocheting off one another as drivers of tuk-tuks, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, bicycles, cars, vans, trucks, camel wagons, water buffalo, people, and buses make their way to their destinations. Another driver rear-ended ours, but no damage was done, because traffic crawled.

Our driver told us trucks must stay left, and keep the fast lane open. Result: when they didn’t, he honked. He honked his horn for 6 hours continuously. Where is that Excedrin Gail gave me?

The drive was revealing, as it took us by massive public works such as the outer limits of the new Metro, factories making shoes, textiles, auto parts, sugar and cement, and a multitude of small shops.

The underlying theme was filth – total and complete squalor and degradation of the human environment. The air was heavy with refinery oil and wood smoke, and diesel exhaust. Garbage stood 10 feet high on certain roofs. Pigs rooted in garbage, as did dogs, cows, and humans. The ravines were filled to the top with garbage.

The monsoon had been unusually good this year, after 10 years of drought. Every storefront had water in front of it, which meant that every area was filled with mud, flies and mosquitoes. If this doesn’t sound too pleasant, you are right!

There is countryside between the cities, but it looked completely unused by agriculture. I don’t know how India feeds its 1 billion people, but I didn’t see any evidence of it on this drive.

There is something very wrong here, but I cannot pin it down yet.

I just know that this place represents a contrast – life thriving but not knowing how debased this life is.

I have never felt this way about a country before.

Tomorrow we’ll tour the Taj Mahal at sunrise. That’s the sublime side of India. Today, we had, instead, the harshness of life here.

Over and out,
Claudia and Gail

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