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The Never-Ending Adventures of Bird Mann pt 2

Part 2 of my brother's bird-watching adventure in India-- I drove back into Agra yesterday - this is a major city on the Gangetic plain and famous for that beautiful love poem of marble, the Taj Majal (have you seen that new line of luxury hotels called the Taj? I wonder what that means . . . hmm). It was incredibly beautiful - the white marble changes color with the shades of sunlight - I heard it described as contemplating the different moods of a woman -wow - I don't think I'm going to make any comment on that but thought it was interesting! I have found Hindu culture to be very earthy and sensual in a way - I had heard that Arabs think we Westerners have not imagination when it comes to sensuality, or maybe it's that our movies leave nothing to the imagination. The beautiful saris completely cover women here but I think I can see what they mean. Not to worry Kitty! But there is definitely a different take on gender roles here (much more like we used to be like in the West. It's amazing how they keep their clothes clean in the midst of the dust and dirt. Women draw water at the well or pump twice a day and it was really cool to see them drawing up the buckets from the well in the early morning as I looked for another kind of thrush! Ha! It reminded me of what Abraham's servant must have found when he first met Rebekah. The women walk down the road with even their heads covered - apparently they can still see somehow! And then they balance one or even two water jugs on their head with no hands - unbelievable. The have a little ring that they put on their head to make it more flat, but still pretty neat. I guess this is the closest I have been to the Middle East and the Holy Land, so it's interesting to think of biblical references and the Hebrew worldview in context (versus a more "rational" Greek view I'm used to in the academy). Lots of camels around - they are so big and still scare me a little bit - usually there's a little boy or an old man wrapped in a cloak (looks like Jesus to me) on a wooden cart behind. I'm in the western state of Rajasthan that heads into the Great Indian Desert on the border with Pakistan - ancient stone forts in the desert and caravan tracks. Oh, the most amazing thing today - I found some little shepherd boys and this one little goat kept running away from his buddies - the youngest little shepherd kept chasing him down and bringing him back to the flock but the little guy kept going astray. Finally, this five year old boy came over and picked up the little lamb and physically carried him back to the flock - wow - it was really powerful as I think how faithfully Jesus shepherds us, how often we wander off the path. So God spoke to me there through a biblical image that just came to life in a new way. I can't imagine what it'd be like to actually be in the Holy Land - maybe we could go someday together!
Oh, but I got off track - so most of India is Hindu, though there are lots of different religious traditions. Buddhism started here but is mostly defunct (interesting yeah?), I learned that the guys in Turbans who ride the rickshaws are mostly Sikh, and in Agra there are 40% muslim. So the Taj Majal was built by a Muslim king to his wife who died while delivering their 14th child about 500 years ago. Most Muslims in the subcontinent of South Asia were partioned into Pakistan or Banglidesh around the time of independence in 1947, but India's most famous monument is Muslim from when the Muslims ruled the Hindus (now that I think of it, militant islam is old than I thought, and Gandhi-like Hindus are not known for being mighty warriors!). i also found my first little man riding on the top of an elephant head - wow - i almost fell over it was so cool!! it was a sweet asian elephant with the little ears and his tusks were pretty good and very active nose!
After spending time in the city I needed to get back in the countryside where I belong! It took me about 3 hours to get out of the city - I had the most incredible traffic jam of my life - there were about six lanes of traffic going north south and six going east west into this one intersection - only problem was that each road was only two lanes wide. So this is absolutely mayhem to begin with, and then a big city bus breaks down right in the middle of the intersectino about two minutes before I arrive. (it took me askign about 10 people how to get out of town and i almost thought i'd never make it!) so it was incredible - total chaos - cars, rickshaws, big trucks, camel carts, horse carriages, scooters, motorbikes, regular bikes, all going in every direction on every road . . . and the big city bus in the middle of the whole market, with kids and stray dogs and pink saris and guys welding on the ground and hawking everything under the sun - i would have taken a picture but there was no way to capture the heat and the smells and the different languages and . . . wow - praise the Lord I made it out and without getting my car busted! i have a whole new understandin of rush hour traffic!
I had about a seven hour drive to the west to a special tiger reserve! it's called ranthambore in case you need to procrastinate from something and want to look it up =) so i arrived around ten this morning and met a guy who knew a guy who could get me a ride on an open-top safari bus into the park (no private vehicles allowed). I asked if there was room in any jeeps (six passengers instead of 20 for a more natural experience) and he said yes, then no, so I ate some more curry and got excited!! In the end he squeezed me in a jeep on a last minute cancellation and it was perfect!! I was with a nice naturalist who spoke pretty good English, the drvier and five other passengers. Two Indian guys about to graduate from high school and go to university in engineering (from good families I think - had a regal air about them but friendly) and a lovely austrian family living in australia now. they also spke english and it was my first real english conversation in several days- yipee! they had a darling little five year old blondier and she drew lucky number three in the lottery for which route we took in the park. Apparently three is the best for tigers and birds because it includes the most lake areas which attract crocodiles, tons of spotted and sambar deer and (by extension I guess) - the tigers wahoo! They don't always see tigers but the Lord had already blessed this trip and we were not 100 yars past the gate at the first lake (lots of great water birds) when we spotted a tiger sitting under a tree about 100 yars away - he was just magnificent. We were elated and felt so lucky, when a huge female came padding past our jeep like 20 yards away, spraying for her territory every so often. We tried to be calm but our guide was freaking out because he said we were so lucky! It was so close as to almost scary - you could look right in her eyes, esp through the binocs. The austrian guy got some great shots and said he'd email them to me so I can pass them along. We didn't see any other tigers for the next 2-3 hours but saw lots of neat langur monkeys and other animals - including two incredible male peacocks displaying!! I've seen quite a few peacocks here ni India but these guys had their huge trains up trying to attract a mate - you know I had to keep pinching myself - wow - God sure had fun with them!
So I'm going to sleep in a field tonight and then go on one more safari at sunrise tomorrow before heading through Delhi enroute to several days up in the Himalayas. It has already been more than expected and I've had great time with the Lord. Wonderful learning about the Muslim and Hindu people and God is really growing my heart for them.
Thanks for your prayers, again no need to reply just trying to stay connected across the miles. God is taking great care of me (had my first flat tire of the trip today but close to town and lots of helpful "friends" around!) though I miss you much.
Love JasE =)