We wanted you all to get a picture of the cows interacting with all the traffic… I’ve created a GIF movieloop. It’s about 1Mb and that’s large, especially for a dial up connection, so you might have to wait while it downloads.
Here I am in Africa still thinking about India…what an amazing country, India. We didn’t see but a fraction but what we saw was overwhelming to our senses. We are very grateful for all the help we received from Vijay, Sanjib and the rest.
Our first day we were taken around to see the major “sites” in Delhi.
This is the India Gate…remind you of something? Think Paris, France…I think the English were trying to out do the French in Arches…
this is the parliament and government buildings.
We visited the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi: An oasis in the middle of Delhi.
We made arrangements for Manik to take us on an overnight outing to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. We got up early and the mist over Delhi at sunrise was awesome.
All the sights, sounds and smells are like no place else. What we were told was that Bali is all about what’s not said and everything on the surface is nice. But India doesn’t hide anything, it’s all out there for you to see. All of it.
Here are some of the things we saw:
Can any of you figure out what kind of animal this is???Alien living in cognito?
Agra was dusty and dirty and filled with people who REALLY wanted to be our best friends as long as we would just come inside and see what beautiful things that they had to sell us. Overwhelming at times.
The Taj was amazing. In the morning…
and at midday…
You can understand why it is one of the Wonders of the World.
We visited the Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. Check out this link for more about the Taj and Agra sites.
Fatehpur Sikri was built in 1564 as the capital city of some ruler back then. It’s amazingly intact.
This was a gravestone erected in memory of some rulers favorite elephant after it’s demise…I’m thinking about one for Peggy or maybe Margaret…
On the way back to Delhi, we were side-tracked by a protest of about 30,000 landless farmers/peasants marching for a piece of the Indian pie. We ended up four-wheeling through fields and tiny villages because they closed the main highway back to Delhi. The people had been marching for about a month over 200 miles. Their story is amazing.
Just one more thing to see in this place of overwhelming experiences. I’m writing this from Nairobi and have already been to South Africa. Again I’m behind in my duties…alas. But I’m alive and healthy and seeing the world. Doesn’t get much better than this.
ps. Okay, true confessions. I know this was a stupid thing for me to do, but I forgot my camera when we went to the Taj Mahal. Can you believe that? So I became someone’s best friend and bought their postcards and took pictures of the pictures. Pretty good, huh? ron
So, I felt compelled to say a few words more about India before we move on.
After we finished up my dental work, we hopped on a plane and spent about 30 hours in Mumbai…formerly Bombay. Mumbai is not immune to some of the problems we witnessed in Delhi but it is a grand old city with much more of it’s History still hanging around for tourists like us to snap pictures of.
There was architecture that rivaled any I have seen, and yes poverty and traffic to rival Delhi’s. They do seem to have a plan to keep garbage off the street though and The Crawford Market…Wooooweeeee.
If only we could have gotten my dad there before he became too infirmed. Orville loved a market and he would have gotten that “great sale fever” that would overtake him when he hit a good one. It seemed to breath youth into his whole body. He would have willed himself to hold together just so he could finish seeing every last retail opportunity. To accomplish this he would have needed another decade at least.
It’s hard to imagine, but it is a whole neighborhood of little windy streets that didn’t seem to care much about grid systems. These lanes are lined by ancient crumbling buildings and dotted with road construction projects. When I say “road construction” its not like what you are thinking. It’s more like an ancient man and his two slightly less ancient sons decided to improve their lot, so grabbed spoons and a hammer and went out and dug up the sewer line in front of the storefront leaving a trench and a big pile of old Bombay in the middle of the road. I think at least half of the population of India must shop these streets every night. Orange cones and caution tape seem to be a western phenomenon, so people walk down this obstacle course over the bumps through the trenches and around the heaps of rubble…nonplussed. Ron and I attracted the attention of a man who was about as big as an American seven year old with an eating disorder, who volunteered, or more accurately, insisted on being our guide and to show us where all the beads were sold. He moved fast and demanded that we keep up. Difficult as it was we were able to lean into the mass of humanity and be carried along. It was just possible. What seemed impossible was to hear one of those incessant horns blowing and look back to see some motorized vehicle making its way through the crowd. Somehow it all works and when there are treasures to be found one must buck-up. There were treasures, unfathomable treasures. Sadly we discovered Ali Babas cave just an hour before we had to start making our way to the airport so we got to have an experience but didn’t even try to shop. Well, we did get a few of those smart Indian cotton shirts I mentioned in my last entry but that hardly counts. Mostly we gawked and vowed to come back.
Mumbai was fascinating and I think there are many places in India that are more akin to Mumbai than Delhi. India is difficult and eye-popping. We have enjoyed museums, art, architecture, great food and the people. I would love to return though I would not necessarily recommend it for the first time traveler unless you have a good guide and fair warning.
We did have one last farewell experience on our way to the airport a miracle happened, traffic lightened up. You don’t know how unusual that was. We have spent the past days smashed between every manner of man, beast and vehicle rarely driving for more than and inch or two at a time and everyone sits in their car blowing the horn to pass the time. I spent a lot of energy and good humor searching for my Zen place in those moments. On an aside, in credit to the Indian people, nobody gives an inch in traffic and everyone is blasting that horn at every opportunity (did I already mention that?), but no one seems angry about it. The predicaments I witnessed in my own country would have evoked bad language, red faced screaming, fist shaking at the least and quite possibly windshield bashing or gun waving. Not so here. It is part of life in the street and you go along and get where you can as fast as you can and expect the other guy is going to do the same…all the while blowing that damned horn. Anyway, back to our final adventure.
We had negotiated with a young man from the travel and tours desk at our hotel to drive us around for a day tour of Mumbai and on to the airport where we were told to arrive three hours before our scheduled flight at 2:30 AM… BLEH. It all worked out OK, but I would have traded his ready smile and impossibly long eyelashes for a few more words of English. We spent the day nodding and smiling a lot and not ending up at the places where we thought we were going but, oh well, we had a great day and at last headed to the airport. But wait, behold… a break in the traffic and it seems like we were going to arrive an hour early, so our driver, in his halting English, suggests that he drop us off at a restaurant/bar where we can relax a bit before going to the airport. I didn’t feel right about it. I was thinking that we could find someplace at the airport to hang…I mean this is the international airport in a very large city so, there must be someplace we can make ourselves comfortable…but at his insistence, we are dropped in front of this dicey looking place and told that he will meet us back there in 40 minutes. I don’t know that I have ever felt so white and so tall as we walked up and entered this establishment. One of the things about the Indian service industry is that there is nothing surly about it. They want you there, and they want to meet your every need so someone opens the door and a team of men dressed in black and white awaits us. These men seem to be assigned only to us. Our boys bring us into this room where a woman is singing and it is LOUD! I mean loud like this may be the last music I ever hear kind of loud. Now I do not have the most sophisticated ear, and I am sure that there are subtleties missed due to my ignorance, but this singing, to me, sounded like cat-wallering. We are escorted to a sofa as there seems to be no proper tables. As we take our seats, we notice that there are girls of varying ethnicities all dressed in full sari’s leaning up against mirrored posts holding big stacks of cash and smiling a lot. Our team is bustling about attending to us, bringing us little bowls of crackers and peanuts and when they asked if I wanted a drink, I, without hesitation, answered in the affirmative. Ron ordered a beer and I ordered a gin and tonic and then another hoping it would numb my discomfort. The team brings Ron’s beer and a tray with a glass with gin in it and then asks if I want ice and how much, now tonic, then they stir it all up and then stand there and watch us have a sip of our drinks so they can ask if they can top them off or if we need something re-filled. So, we are here in this noisy, hot, den of iniquity being watched by a team of incredibly eager waiters and smiled at by a team of equally eager Indian hoochie girls and I can just remember thinking that this experience will be much more fun in the telling than the living and telling the waiter, “yes please, more ice please”…
Oh, damned, we had been so careful. We had been brushing our teeth in bottled water and avoiding any contact with liquid that didn’t come with a seal… I forgot. So, we make our escape and find our driver who I think has probably been having a good laugh with his friends telling them that he dropped those two queers off at the hoochie bar… Ha Ha Ha!
The Airport is this big overly lit series of lines and security checks with an over used PA system that gets that shrill feedback whine whenever they use it. It was the coldest hot place I have ever been. There is nothing beautiful or comforting about this place. It is a people processing plant. So we get there and make our way through the endless lines and finally go and find something to eat at the one restaurant in this country that is in direct contrast to India’s eager-to-please mentality. We sit down and I feel a lurch then a churn and a need to find some fresh air (futile). What ensued was a contest between both ends of me to see which could purge my system the fastest and a self-guided tour of the Mumbai airport toilets. This was spurred on by the thought that, surely, there must be a better one (the horrors!). The contest of my ends followed me to the plane where I went from a wild sweaty fever to a bone rattling chill and finally to South Africa where I found a down comforter, a hot water bottle and a clean bathroom. I am grateful to the innkeeper. He and Ron saved me. Ok so he tried to grope Ron (he said it was a “lakka one!”). I don’t care, I forgive him, I am better now and hallelujah.
I am feeling good, and we are off to see what we can of this place called Africa.
I’ll be in touch.
Well, I am back. Eden kicked me out, so now India. New Delhi is about as far from bucolic Bali as one could imagine.
We have been very well cared for here. Sanjeeb, Vijay, Mausami and Manik, have seen to it that we are safe, looked after and have gotten to see everything. Also, Dr. Upender and his staff have tended to my teeth and oh boy wait till you see em! Thank you all.
(Ed. Note: this is Manik, our driver for the week…his skill behind the wheel is unparalleled unless, of course, you are from Delhi)
Here are some things I have seen this week: Monkeys, Elephants, Camels and Cows on freeways, and this is without even leaving the city.
I have also seen the most beautiful people…more than any other place I have been. Folks, they know how to do it here. There are eyes here that look like there is nothing they haven’t seen.
I have had a hard time not staring but they have stared at us a bit so I don’t feel too bad. Back to those eyes, imagine a Labrador in love, or a Labrador looking at you when you are about to eat the last scrap of chicken. Longing, loving, gentle and searing all at the same time. There are other qualities worth mentioningas well. People here have been good to us, I can’t say it enough, India is a place that wants you to visit and wants to take care of you. Nowhere on our journey have we found people more eager.
Now, back to the beautiful part, I have been quite impressed by the fabrics. Indian women are most often seen draped head to toe in the most amazing Saris.
It makes your breath stop for an instant to see the brilliant colors: Hot pink, lemon yellow brilliant green or blue…as bright as you can imagine. The men’s shirts are from a similar pallet…no one is afraid of color.
Here is something that puzzles me. It is not uncommon to see three or four passengers on a motorbike. This is particularly thrilling to witness when the person sitting side saddle on the back is bedecked in one of those aforementioned Saris which dances around in the breeze and, magically, never seems to go anyplace it shouldn’t (like in the spokes for instance). And, I have repeatedly seen cars transporting more than double the recommended capacity.
My impression has been that the people of Delhi have taken public transportation into their own hands…or cars as it were. It is not an exaggeration to think of those contests we have seen, you know the “how many people can you fit in VW” ones. I saw the tiniest little car the other day and counted five men in the back seat. They looked like they were all headed off for a day at the office and were chatting away amongst themselves and the three people who shared the two front seats. It seemed as if there were nothing in the world unusual about the situation and I suspect, there wasn’t.
So, back to my puzzlement…on my best day, I can often be seen with a dribble down the front of me.
I usually start spilling on myself first thing in the morning and save specimens from my intake for the rest of the day…and I am a sweaty thing, so even if I didn’t spill, and started out with a perfectly pressed shirt, it gets kind of wilted looking almost immediately. As you read on, you will understand that the Indian people have every reason to appear bedraggled…life is not easy here…but (Back to the puzzle), I have never seen so many people dressed in crisp, clean, fresh from the laundry garments. End of the day…beginning of the day, same-same. The men’s shirts never seem to get smudged or wrinkled…how do they do that? and the women’s Sari’s always look like they smell like flowers and weigh absolutely nothing. Hmmmmmm.
But, sadly that is only part of the population.
There is another side to this city. The population here is seventeen million. Just for reference, the entire state of Washington has about 6 million, so, nearly three times the population of Washington State living in one city and they are not all dressed in clothes that smell like flowers. I have no idea how they would begin to count noses because there are a very large number of residents of this city who have never had an address. India was described to me before I came as a city that hides nothing and it didn’t take long to see what that means. When you stop at a street corner people come up to your window…desperate, bone thin, wretched, sad people holding infants that look like they are sleeping but who’s eyes are open. It feels like I am in a submarine, all safe and sound, privileged and clean with our driver and our nice air-conditioned van. Outside we see all these people who are drowning and desperate for a sip of the air they see us enjoying. You see everything but you can’t even begin to roll down that window or…This is one of those places that is fascinating but heart breaking.
The saddest place I have ever seen. It makes me realize how privileged I am to live in a world where I can be annoyed by bad architecture, weight gain and Republicans. Here is an eye opener…what I see here is closer to what most of the world experiences than what we all see everyday at home. When they call the U.S. the richest country in the world it is hard to understand what they are talking about if you are having trouble coming up with the money to fix a broken car or buy the newer computer. These needs seem real if that is all you have ever known and you only have your neighbors to compare yourself to. But I am here to tell you we are fat and over-privileged.
It is also not hard to understand why so many people resent us…so this is an aside to that person that threw the squished up dirty lime at my head at the market the other day. I forgive you. I did not appreciate it, but I can imagine that if you are struggling the way I suspect you may be, and you see a big fleshy overfed American having a holiday and looking around for stuff so that he can take it home and show all his fat friends and family that he has been to this ever-so-exotic and fabulous place where you can get the coolest stuff for hardly any money and blablablablablablah…Yea, I might want to pick up a used fruit and hurl it. We hear about the needy people in far away places but to see them is quite another thing. So folks if you have got it, give a bit…ok, so off of my soapbox.
The other night our van got a flat tire in the middle of one of the major thoroughfares. Ron and I watched the press of traffic as Manik (our driver, and hero) changed the tire. I tried to count how many lanes of traffic the street was designed for but it was impossible. No one pays any attention to lanes anyway; often they don’t even bother to paint lines. We in the U.S. would have probably allowed three vehicles to travel abreast on this particular road and had a space on the left and right to safely pull over in case of emergency…this piece of pavement was about the width of three U.S. of A standard lanes with no safety shoulders. There we were, semi-permanent residents in one of the three lanes watching the most unbelievable dance of all manner of moving objects. There were never less than five vehicles between us and the other side and remember that there are now only two remaining lanes. They drive here like they are all about to miss the final episode of The Soprano’s.. FAST, they allow about 2 centimeters in any given direction for grace and they move into the smallest of spaces at alarming speeds. Driving in Delhi is a constant game of chicken. And let us not forget the pedestrians that are in abundance, running up and down the sides of the road and (no kidding) across the lanes of traffic. It’s Madness! I don’t think we could learn to drive here anymore than we are going to learn to like Lutefisk or Blood Pudding. You have to grow up with it. I am surprised that the traffic situation has not been more effective at population control. While we were sitting there, we saw cars, motor rickshaws, pedal rickshaws, bicycles, busses, trucks large and small, a backhoe, and a horse.
We did not see a cow, pig, goat or mangy dog this time but they are often part of this mix. It is not unusual to see a great big cow or even a whole gaggle of cows meandering across any street in the downtown core or lazing about with their buds on the traffic island just watching it all happen. They are sacred and protected and so get beads and bells around there necks and free run of the place.
Finally, you can ‘t really understand what its like here without some sensory aids. So here’s what lets do. Go into the smallest bathroom in your house with several people who you don’t know (enough so that you wont be able to move without touching someone). Now bring in some animals, cows, chickens, pigs or any poor wretched near death critter will work. In order to really get the feeling, you will need to crank the heat up and everyone will need three props, a loud horn, and a bag of vacuum cleaner sweepings, and an onion. Now, close the doors and windows and empty the sweepings on to the floor. Begin blowing your horn… no really blow it and don’t stop… keep honking and now, dance around a bit, really get your dust up. Now we need to engage the nose so grab a wad of hair out of that dirt on the floor and set it on fire. Or better yet light one of your attendees’ hair on fire it will add to the general feeling of wretchedness. Now cut up the onions and everyone take turns using the laundry hamper as a toilet. Now if you can emerge from this looking perfectly pressed, Welcome to Delhi!