Posted on May 12, 2018 - by

Magnificent, Mind-boggling India

LUCY BURDETTE: If you say you’re going to Paris on vacation, people don’t ask why. Paris speaks for itself. But India? When I mentioned our upcoming vacation to friends and relatives, I most frequently got one of two reactions. 1. Oh that’s on my bucket list and I’d love to see it. Or 2., and much more commonly, why on earth would you travel to India?

I’ve been fascinated with novels about India for a while  I have loved short stories and novels by Jhumpa Lahiri and Sujata Massey, novels and memoirs from Thrity Umrigar, especially The Story Hour and First Darling of the Morning, No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal, The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright, and one of my favorites, Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guild to Dancing. Many of these books are set in the United States, or a combination of the US and India, but with Indian characters torn desperately between their old life and a new life in America.
And now perhaps I have the smallest sense of how hard it would be to leave India, contrasted with the powerful pull of the United States. I think that was the call of India to me – the absolute foreignness of the country – the other. Not wishing to be the annoying relation who insists on running her slideshow and home movies ad nauseum, I’ll give you a few snapshots of the fascinating things we saw. (Of course we saw many beautiful temples and historic sites, but I’ll concentrate on the people.)
As you saw in an earlier blog, first we took a harrowing rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. We were overwhelmed by the noise, the colors, the fierce jockeying for position on an incredibly narrow road, which set the standard for travel. Whether on bike, foot, motorbike, car, bus, or some kind of animal, you mustn’t hesitate. The road belongs to the fearless and to the loudest horn.
Out in the country, we tended to see people living as people have probably lived for years – washing their clothing and their bodies in lakes and rivers, women in beautiful saris working in the fields, men in more western clothing.

photo by John Brady


We saw people living under tarps, sitting around open fires; cement block homes with clay tile roofs, their insides open to passersby. Everywhere along the highways and the smaller roads were people scratching out a living with tiny stores and even smaller kitchens. We often saw groups of men standing around chatting and sharing cups of chai. Where are the women we would wonder? (Probably working.) We saw scooters carrying entire families, five was probably the maximum. Or sometimes women riding sidesaddle on the back of the scooter in their beautifully colored saris.

After the busyness of the city, we enjoyed celebrating the Holi Festival of colors in the small town of Narlai…children of all ages love throwing colors on visitors…
Even the animals are decorated for the holiday…
Later that afternoon, we visited Kahrda or Desuri, depending who you ask, a small village not that familiar with tourists. Some of the villagers followed us around their town…
Others were busy with their own affairs.
These men in turbans are the heads of villages all talking about the problems of their towns…notice that their white outfits have been painted too.
Our guide explained that the women wearing veils over their faces are daughters in law. Best not to show their faces when mother-in-law says something…
At the end of the afternoon, the women and children sang us a welcome song…
We wanted to sing them something in return but what? Frere Jacques? Why would Americans sing in French?? For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow? Maybe too British and therefore unwelcome. We droned through Yankee Doodle Dandy…
Then on to the bustling streets of the pink city, Jaipur, where we saw vendors selling bolts of bright colored cloth for saris. Below is a wedding party deciding on the wedding sari. It is said that all the women must agree on the final choice.

Sewing a sari right out on the sidewalk

Next we enjoyed visiting Kanota Castle where The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was filmed, though we’re not ready to retire there…

One of the reasons we chose this itinerary was to have an opportunity to see a Royal Bengal tiger in Rathambore National Park. And honestly, some of our friends familiar with the park were quite discouraging about our chances.

After the worst bumpy dirty jeep ride for three hours the first afternoon, where we saw no sign of a tiger other than some old poop, we got discouraged too. We decided to give it one more try on the early morning ride. Our guide explained that deer and monkeys work together to spot the tigers and warn the other animals in the forest that they are approaching. So listening for calls of distress from the monkeys is how the guides decide where to drive and wait. So glad we went as we saw this lady tiger and her sister not ten yards from the jeep. They are truly stunning animals.

Of course at our next stop, the Taj Mahal was beautiful, both evening and morning.

Finally, we drove back to Delhi and then flew to our last stop, Varanasi. The drive from the airport was difficult, as poverty was on full display.

Early the next morning, we walked with the pilgrims through the narrow streets of the town to the river. Many Hindu Indians long to end their days getting cremated at the Ganges River and having their ashes deposited there. But people also bathe in the river and do their laundry.

One of the most remarkable sights we saw was that of ten cremation fires burning on the banks of the river. The bodies, wrapped in bright colored cloths, were carried down the steps on stretchers, dipped into the river by their relatives, then left to dry, and finally placed on the fire with family in attendance. Out on the river, a fleet of primitive boats jammed with tourists watched the process. We were grateful that our guide was sensitive to the feelings of the mourners, and encouraged us not to photograph the process.

Every night, there is a big celebration where the people put the Ganges River to bed.
photo by John

It’s kind of like the Sunset celebration in Key West, only the river is the living being, rather than the sun.

On the way to our long flight home, these two ladies wanted to take my picture, so John was able to get all three of us.

This trip touched me in ways I never could have imagined, leaving me awed and horrified and grateful and exhilarated and exhausted and humbled all at once.

Where have you been, or where might you like to go, for the trip of a lifetime?

 

2 Comments

We'd love to hear yours!

  1. Jack D Whitsettu said:


    I too have been fascinated with India and would welcome a trip there. My favorite novels about India are all by the late British author Paul Scott. They include The Raj Quartet (contains The Jewel in the Crown) and Staying On.
    I’m enjoying the Key West mysteries very much.

    Reply
    • Lucy said:


      I do not know those books Jack, so thanks for the recommendation. And thanks for reading the Key West mysteries!

      Reply


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