I am on a virtual trip to India
… thanks to my daughter Laurie, who is sharing her travelogue, which I will share with you today. Thank you, Laurie, for guest posting.
India is chaotic and calm, flawed and fascinating, complex and simplistic. It’s everything at once, which makes it difficult to explain my experience in a coherent fashion.
I’ll be meditative in a garden one moment, and swarmed for selfies with smiling babies and soldiers the next. Crossing the street is an art form in itself. I wish I could say this happened, then this happened, etc. but that’s not how it works here. Things that Westerners are used to, like lights, cars, heat and WiFi, can not be relied on to always work.
In contrast, society works; people, families and communities work together.
All cultures and religions are welcomed and accepted. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jews live in harmony and happiness. The differences are not only tolerated but celebrated. Cows, water buffalo, pigs, dogs, monkeys (!!!), tuk tuks, motor bikes, cars, buses, trucks, and people share the street. Their heritage is part of their culture and it is vibrant.
I’ve had sensory overload with pungently aromatic smells of chili peppers in the local spice markets, sweet and savory tastes of masala chai, Laal Mans and Kadi Pakoda, and haunting sounds of jackals howling in the desert.
I’m just going to provide my perspective and hope I don’t offend anyone. I’ve only been here two weeks so my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt.
India is extreme in every sense of the word. Beautiful, hectic, kind, warm, colorful, diverse, friendly, expressive, corrupt, poverty-stricken, lush and more welcoming than any place I’ve been. I attended an evening service at the Jagdish Temple in Udaipur. Next to the Ranakpur temple, which is truly the most extraordinary display of architecture I will probably ever see, the Kamasutra carvings inside were captivating.
It boggles my mind that hundreds of years ago, India was so open about sex and now, gay marriage isn’t legal and many public schools don’t offer sex-ed. This is slowly changing but it makes me grateful for my liberal upbringing at Friends’ Central School.
Arriving in India
I’d been awake 40 hours when I arrived in Delhi. I met a new travel buddy, Arielle, who assured me that she had already gotten a lay of the land, felt totally comfortable exploring with me, and knew where we should go. She didn’t. We got lost immediately. It was pathetic and predictable. We bonded that day and stayed roomies ever since.
There are days I feel like giving up when nothing is working. When a jeep breaks down, we’re told it’s actually a push cart, which means we need to get out and push it, like it was never meant to run properly in the first place. There are so many things that make me want to laugh and cry. India is crazy and there is no place like it.
The sleeper train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai started off pretty well. I got the top bunk and it felt like camp. The ride was supposed to take 8-9 hours and ended up taking 17 hours. No announcement, and no exaggeration. Thankfully, the British girls I’ve been traveling with are a great source of comic relief and the countryside is so beautiful. I’m envious of the monkeys who get to swing through the banyan trees all day.
My guide, Abhi, grew up in Jaipur, my favorite city of all, and is one of the kindest, most genuine, humble and patient people I’ve ever met. We kill time on long train and bus rides discussing our different cultures and families. He helped me understand his beliefs and caste system, how to play cricket (he was team captain at university), and how to fly a kite properly.
Hindu principles encourage a pure lifestyle of thoughtfulness, purpose, respect, honor, and fulfillment. People don’t need money to be happy. Conversely, money is seen as excess and a deterrent to following one’s true path and spiritual journey to happiness, enlightenment and ultimate salvation.
External factors cannot make a person happy. While I couldn’t be prouder of or more thankful for my heritage, there are aspects of the Hindu and Budhist belief systems that I can adopt and be a better person. I’m impatient (when hungry, so, always) and neurotic, while Indians are chill and level-headed. They believe in karma and reincarnation. So if things aren’t working out in this life, they have 6 more to look forward to. An overarching theme here is simple living and high thinking.
There are days that are so special, I forgive India for being so crazy. Despite obvious flaws, the truth is in the details and they should be experienced by everyone. I haven’t changed but my perspective has shifted.
I watched the sun rise in Pushkar and set at the Taj Mahal. I played with first graders in Tordi, and partied on sand dunes in the desert. I wandered the narrow passage ways in Kumbhargahl Fort, hiked up to Brahma Temple, and unknowingly strolled down The Silk Road. I felt frustrated in Dehli and fell in love with Jaipur. I found my long lost monkey tribe in the mountains outside Udaipur.