Monday, 10/16/2017 - Agra: Visiting with Mukul's Family, A Visit from AnkushCraig and I were both wide awake by 3 a.m. Craig eventually fell back asleep, which is good because of the fatigue he suffers as a result of his MS. I however, was wide awake. We went downstairs shortly after 9 o'clock and had breakfast with Mukul. Sonam and Sukumar were at work, and Sara was at nursery school.
We chatted with Mukul and Sunita, and spent some time outside in Mukul's beautiful garden. We could hear the myna birds singing. Mukul is a talented gardener, and has bonsai trees, flowers, cacti, and fish and turtle ponds on the property. It is a relaxing oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Agra.
Soon Sunita went to pick Sara up at nursery school. Sara was excited to see us, since we had been asleep when she left for school this morning. We surprised her with some Diwali gifts and she was so happy! "Oh my God!" she squealed, and then doubled over in giggles. She picked up her toy phone and pretended to call her mom to tell her about the gifts. Mukul actually did call Sonam, and listening to Sara chatter excitedly about the gifts in Hindi was adorable.
When she got off the phone, she told us in Hindi that she has never been happier and that we made her day. Her reaction made our day! She also said that her toy cabinet is now full, so by next Diwali, she will need an additional cabinet. She is such a character!
She sang some English songs for us, and then said in English "Stand up!" and sang the Indian national anthem for us. We sang our national anthem for her.
Last night we had shown her a video of us volunteering at a panda reserve in China. She asked to watch it again, only this time she set up her two stuffed pandas to watch as well.
Then I showed Sara the video of us swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos. "Sea lions," I said. "No lion, fish!" she replied in English. Touché, clever Sara, who must have thought I said "See lions" and thought that the creatures much more closely resembled fish than lions.
Sara associates Craig's cane with Gandhi. She walks around with it saying "Ghandiji". She is so cute! She and her parents recently returned from a trip to Rajasthan, and Sara enjoyed playing with the marionettes that they had bought there.
Sunita prepared a lovely lunch of paneer and vegetables, rice, dahl, yogurt, and chappathi.
Craig has been feeling the effects of jet lag with inconsistent sleep, so we went back to our room to take a siesta.
Later in the afternoon, Mukul's cousin's son Ankush stopped by to visit us. He is a naturalist and took us to view an owl the last time we were here. Today he showed us photos from his work in turtle conservation. He has been working with the Turtle Survival Alliance to protect the eggs and hatchlings of various species of river turtle. He lived in a tent on the riverbed for weeks until the hatchlings safely made their way into the wild. It was admirable work, and he is quite devoted. His passion for wildlife was obvious as we chatted with him.
We showed him our videos of giant tortoises in the Galapagos. He pointed out the similarities in the manner in which the eggs are cared for.
Then he showed us some additional photos that he has taken of birds and butterflies. He is a talented photographer and we enjoyed seeing his work. It was so nice to see him again, and when we have more time to spend, we would like to visit some of the areas where he works. We said farewell as he headed back to his family home on the other side of Agra.
We exchanged Diwali gifts with the family and enjoyed chatting while nibbling on delicious eggplant fritters. We gave Sara some storybooks about owls. Sara saw Mukul looking at one of the books and said in English "No, it's important, please please don't touch!" We have a feeling that is probably something that she hears often!
For dinner, we had kofta, okra, and chappathi. As usual, Sunita's home cooking was exquisite!
Our visit at the Pandya household was much too short, but we were happy that this wasn't our final farewell for this trip. We would be reuniting with Mukul and Sunita at the tail end of the trip for a night in Amritsar.
Tomorrow, we head to Bhutan to visit our dear "son" Sonam Tshering and his family after 10 years.
Mukul and Craig enjoying Mukul's gardens
Ankush, Sara, and Craig Uncle
Sonam, Sara, and Sukumar