November 27, 2010
When traveling the Golden Triangle the leg between Agra and Jaipur can be very long and tiring. It is almost a whole day of driving. The scenery is interesting as you pass many small villages and get a peek into everyday rural Indian life like plowing the fields or tending to the water buffalo. There are interesting stops you can make along the way to break up the journey like the UNESCO World Heritage Site Fatehpur Sikri. The palace was constructed by the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1570 and was his capital for 15 years and then was abandoned due to an utter lack of water supply. The site is now a ghost town with nothing but small villages around it for miles. The palace is very beautiful and worth spending an hour or so stretching your legs and exploring. It usually doesn’t have too many tourists and it is fun to walk around and imagine that it’s your kingdom. I know I am not alone in the princess living in a beautiful palace fantasy!
I also recommend stopping in one of the rural villages and walking around a bit. Many of the villagers are not used to seeing white people and they may come running to see you, which feels a bit strange, but it is an interesting experience to have. Some members of my tour group brought pens and coloring books for the children and I brought candy. We had lunch at a house renovated into a hotel (although I don’t think anyone was staying there) and then we walked through the village. The kids all came running to see us and we started giving out the presents and at first it was really sweet and they were very excited and thankful, but then as more started to come they became nervous and competitive about everyone getting the pens and candies and started attacking each other and then us. The man giving out the pens had to jump on top of a large stone to avoid getting attacked, but the children scrambled up it. When he ran out of pens the children turned to me to try and get more candy. They started scratching my arms- actually breaking skin in multiple places. When one girl tried to bite my arm I finally dropped the bag on the ground out of fear and they all piled on top of it kicking, screaming and punching each other for the sweets. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my entire life. Our guide explained to us that they rarely get western visitors and it is even rarer that they bring gifts. He told us that the pens we gave the children may be the only pens they have their entire lives and they will keep them forever, even when they run out of ink and tell their friends that a nice American gave it to them.
When the scuffle ended the children morphed back into adorable children- much like gremlins turning vicious and then sweet again- and walked with us back to our bus constantly saying “hello pen” because those were the only two words they knew. We nicknamed the village the Hello Pen village. It was a crazy experience, that I am not keen to repeat again, but it was amazing to really realize the extent of the poverty in these villages that a child will actually bite another human over a pen or small candy. The ones who walked us back to our bus all stood there waiting for us to give them more, but we didn’t have any more with us to give. I actually still had a dozen or so candies in my purse, but was too frightened to give them out. Charity should always be about helping someone else feel good and making yourself feel good for doing it should always be secondary, but this experience was just horrible. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if you want to help these children out I suggest donating to larger charities like UNICEF who are well equipped to handle these situations and can make a real difference in these children’s lives. If you do want to bring gifts- never bring money and always try and bring enough little things for all the kids. I also suggest speaking with a village elder and asking for help handing the gifts out so both you and the children remain safe.