I must first start off by saying, contrary to my earlier comments, that eating curries twice a day is fantastic. Especially at less than a pound a pop with rice and chapaties included.
Anyway, we are now in Agra. See map (provided I manage to update it). Home of the Taj Mahal. Now I have to say it is the changes that make traveling tough. You are presented by immense highs as well as big lows, but they generally follow each other in such quick succession that they really hit you hard. Yesterday was a prime example of that.
We were up at 5:30 in order to get north of the river to view the sunrise over the Taj Mahal. Arriving in darkness and watching the building change colours as the sun came up was simply awesome (hi five Jon). We got chatting with some local kids and later crossed the river to enter the Taj. The complex is truly amazing but words and pictures cannot do it justice. That said, you are not here, so here’s a picture for ya…
After several hours we had to leave as hunger was getting the best of us so we left and went to the Rough Guide’s recommendation of the Sheela hostel. The place was beautiful. So tranquil, yet so close to the Taj. The food was great too. If only we’d known…
After lunch we took a Rickshaw down to the park (walking is not really possible as you get so wound up by the touts and rickshaw drivers that you succumb and climb on board of one just to get away from it all. Looking for a quiet spot in the park we soon found two kids trying to sell us snow dome Taj keyrings. They don’t take no for an answer. They do eventually get bored however. These kids left us alone after about 10 minutes. As Espe pointed out it really isn’t right that these kids resort to selling crap to tourists when they should be out playing or in school.
After about 5 minutes peace we were joined by another group of kids. These were school kids and were just interested in talking with us. They showed us their swapsy cards (cricket players, wrestlers and film stars) and started teaching us Hindi. Before we knew it the group of three grew to about 15 and we found ourselves invited for a game of cricket. England verses India. After a bit of a knock about we got Espe involved for her first taste of Cricket. All jolly good preparation for the Rickshaw Run. This was all great fun, and one of the highs I mentioned earlier, until they all started trying to charge for the use of the cricket bat and ball and then started posing for photos with Espe. At least two of the kids took this as an opportunity to try and grope her. Now this is something that we’ve been warned about from Indian men, but to get it from 12 year old kids is just not on.
So we wandered off a little pissed off, only to be pestered by every salesman and rickshaw rider in the park. We eventually jumped onto a rickshaw wanting to return to the tranquility of our hostel. A small chap who looked quite well aged agreed to take us for twenty rupees (a little over 20 pence). I didn’t realise how young he was until we were moving. He was so small and skinny that he couldn’t get us up the first hill. I ended up jumping off and pushing. On the move again we were deciding to give him more than just the twenty rupees agreed (this in itself is a dilemma, as if you tip highly it drives prices up, making them unreasonable for locals) when suddenly he got a puncture. We got out and payed him forty on the spot as we were feeling so bad. He insisted that we walk with him to the corner where he could get the puncture repaired and then take us on our way again. We couldn’t bear the thought of a child this small slaving away in front of us again. We refused but walked up the road with him. Talking we found that Sanjay was only 12. He had never been to school and couldn’t read or write (yet his English was better than that of any of the kids in th park). The only positive was that he was an ardent cricket fan and played as a wicket keeper as often as he could (basically when he’s not slogging it out on a rickshaw). Espe gave Sanjay all the Cricket swapsy cards she’d been given by the kids in the park and he did seem quite touched by this.
Earlier on shortly after getting on the Rickshaw, Sanjay asked me the usual question of where are you from. Now the usual response when I say I’m English is “Ah, very nice country sir”, Sanjay however responded with the honesty and sobriety of someone triple his age: “you are a very lucky man”. How true he was. I’ve was brought up in a wealthy country where all children have the right to education and most get it. Sanjay, at twelve years old is forced to carry people twice his weight on a cycle rickshaw in a heavily polluted city while he should be at school being educated, playing and making friends. His eyes said it all.
This was an experience that has left a deep impression on me. If the above has moved you too, then I urge to help out charities that work with Children in poverty stricken areas. I for one am very grateful for the support many of you have shown for our entry in the Rickshaw Run and I’d like to think that the money donated will go to help people like Sanjay.