Posts Tagged ‘India’


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?

 


Posted on May 6, 2018 - by

How Not to Travel to India (or Anywhere, Really)

I can so clearly remember my grandparents disappearing into our guest room one afternoon during a visit in the early 1980’s. When they finally emerged, it turned out they’d been worrying in advance about the trip home, looking for their keys. They searched and searched, more frantic by the moment. My little grandmother finally found them— pinned to the inside of their suitcase where she’d put them before they left home. I knew that would never be me.
Fast forward thirty-some years…
Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi
After touring two days in Delhi, the time came to pack up and join our group in the hotel lobby in order to catch the plane to Udaipur. You can imagine my despair when I found my passport missing. John ran downstairs to fetch the group leader and a hotel employee and they rooted through every item in our room, including my cotton unmentionables. The passport was gone. And soon after, so was our group. We were left to twiddle our thumbs for four hours until a driver and translator could be dispatched to help get my documents replaced. (No one drives their own car in Dehli – the traffic is heinous and you must be fearless in cutting off other cars, bicycles, rickshaws, ever present tuktuks, and the occasional cow or water buffalo.)
First stop, the Delhi Police Department. Outside the building, a long discussion ensued between our driver and guide, with consultations with other people by phone–in Hindi so we couldn’t understand a word. It boiled down to this: Tell the police you were walking around the hotel and then when you looked, your passport was missing. Do not mention the rickshaw ride in old Delhi (where I suspect I lost it) because then they will send us to that police station to make the report. Okay, my passport is gone and now I’m fibbing to the authorities.
Lucy with her saviors
The interior of the station reminded me a little of places I’d seen in the Caribbean. There were fierce, unsmiling, uniformed men in berets, carrying rifles. There was a woman in a sari who was seated at a desk providing “women’s services.” The back of the office opened out to a dusty courtyard where a set of black metal seats welded together were placed facing the sun, along with what looked like a beach umbrella stand covered with a ratty towel. And behind that was a row of scooters. A dirty black and white dog wandered the courtyard, pausing to lift his leg on one of the bikes. Eventually we emerged with a police report. “I think we should look at this as an adventure,” I told John. “One day it will make a good blog.”
Here’s the photo taken at the moment we left the station with our copies of police report in hand. All still cheerful, in other words.  “Just think,” I added, “if I hadn’t lost my passport, we never would have seen that police officer scratch his nose with the tip of his assault rifle.”
Next we visited the American embassy. It was around 3:30 when we called from the old-fashioned phone stationed at a table on the sidewalk. I was told that the cashier had gone home at noon and there was no way to get help until the next morning. At this moment, our good cheer begin to ebb.
As we trudged toward our car, the sidewalk phone rang again and the guard waved me over. “Do you have exact change?” “Yes!” “Do you have passport photos?” I explained we had just stopped to get them taken. “Without spectacles?” the woman asked. Of course that’s not what we had.
“If you can get pictures retaken and return by four we will try to help you.”
So off we went to our second photography studio, this one stationed inside a tiny dry cleaning establishment. Two men banged on the back metal door, and the photographer came out and hung a white cloth over the front window. And then took the worst photo of me I have ever had taken in my life. I considered posting it here for you but could not bear to do it. An hour later, I emerged from the embassy with temporary passport. Still, we were short one document, the exit visa.
We arrived at the visa office the next morning, and were advised by a lovely Australian man to visit the “office” on a nearby street where my documents could be uploaded and added to my application. (You might have had such equipment in your office in the 1990’s. I was taking this picture from the sidewalk.)

 

Then we returned to the visa office and waited, hearing nightmare stories of people who’d been waiting 10 days to three weeks—returning each day to try to resolve another mysterious technical issue. (Luckily, I had Rhys’s new book on my phone or I might have gone mad.) The workers buzzed around, seeming to accomplish little as people poured in but none went out. We heard rumors that the office closed down for lunch and I began to get seriously worried. Finally we were called in and given my papers, and then rushed off to catch a plane and join our group.
The next morning as we woke up exhausted. John said: “I’ve been thinking about document discipline. We are going to have one zippered pocket for our documents, no lip balm, no hand sanitizer, no iPhones allowed in that pocket.”

 

“Document discipline? I’m all in,” I said. “How about we pin them to the inside of the suitcase?”

Soon I’ll share a little of what was actually on our tour of India, rather than Lucy’s private tour of Indian bureaucracy…meanwhile would you care to share one of your traveling disaster stories??

And PS here’s John’s take on the “incident” with practical suggestions about how to stay organized when traveling…



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