The first half of my visit to India is part of a formal diplomatic mission led by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes. I am joined by the chancellor of North Carolina State University and the presidents of Baylor University, Kalamazoo College, Johnson and Wales University, and Oakton Community College, so we represent the diversity of American higher education. Our purpose is to further relationships between the people of the U.S. and India by encouraging student and faculty exchanges and identifying opportunities for collaboration on issues of mutual interest.
I am very pleased that the State Department has recognized the virtues of â€œsoft powerâ€ that come with advancing the common cause of education and understanding. For my part, Iâ€™m pleased to represent the UW and proud of the obvious respect our Indian hosts have for our university. Iâ€™m equally glad to be part of an American delegation that promotes mutual respect and cooperation.
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen P. Hughes (third from right) leads a delegation of U.S. college and university presidents to Mumbai and New Delhi. UW President Mark Emmert is on the far right. State Department photo.
The Taj Mahal and Mass Transit
Tuesday was an official holiday in India, so our delegation had a chance to see some Indian countryside. We took the train from New Delhi to Agra and rode back by bus. In both directions, we learned new definitions of â€œmass transit.â€ The trains are full, reasonably efficient, and sort of timely. But the highway is where we saw utterly amazing sights.
Because of Hindu custom, I had expected animals in unusual places, but the abundance of cattle and dogs on the roads is staggering. In addition, cars, motor bikes, trucks and busesâ€”all honking at each otherâ€”slalom around ox carts and the occasional camel cart with amazing casualness. And then there are the three-wheeled gas carts and taxis. Half the size of a Volkswagen bug, these are the mini-SUVs of India. They are everywhere hauling everything. We are having great fun counting heads of passengers in, on, and clinging to them. Eighteen people is the record so far. In India it seems all lanes are HOV lanes.
The point of our trip was to visit the Taj Mahal with our hosts. We have all seen the photos and travelogues of this great landmark. But this is one of those sights where photos simply donâ€™t do it justice. It is truly astounding in its scale and grandeur. Well worth the five hours of bus travel.