Saturday, April 14, 2018

Magnificent, Mindboggling 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 – you heard from Sujata earlier this week. But I also have loved short stories and novels by Jhumpa Lahiri, 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 yesterday‘s 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?


53 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your trip and your beautiful pictures . . . visiting India sounds like an amazing journey. [And the tigers are magnificent.]

    I haven’t traveled extensively . . . a lovely trip to Hawaii is about the farthest I’ve traveled. [We had a wonderful time; John had been there several times with the Navy, but it was all new to me.]

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    1. thanks Joan! Hawaii is so beautiful. What islands did you visit?

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    2. thanks Joan! Hawaii is so beautiful. What islands did you visit?

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    3. Oh, Lucy, it’s definitely beautiful . . . I could spend days just looking at the flowers!
      We went to Oahu where we did all the tourist-y things: sightseeing, going to Diamond Head, a luau, and the beach along with sobering visits to the Arizona Memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. We also went swimming with dolphins, which was a truly amazing experience.

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  2. Thanks, Roberta. Every time I see pictures of India and hear about friends' visits there, it reminds me so very much of West Africa where I have lived. The people's faces and the music are different, but otherwise the bright colors, people living outdoors and scraping out a living, the traffic, the five people on a moped, women carrying loads on their heads - all of it could be plunked down in Mali or Burkina Faso and seem totally familiar.

    India is on my list, but so is Australia and New Zealand. And a return to Japan.

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    1. So interesting Edith--makes you wonder how that came to be! That's a great list. We really want to visit New Zealand too. Australia I adored, though of course you only see a small part of a country like that.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Does anyone go into the Taj Mahal? My trip of a lifetime I'm waiting to take is to Italy. I will get there. I would like to go back to France.

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    1. Everyone files inside the Taj and you walk around the outside edges. But the crypt o the woman it was created for is on a lower level where we weren't permitted to go.

      always yes on Italy and France!!

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  4. Wow. India. Truly a feast for all the senses.
    Traveling has always been a priority for us... India is out there on our list.

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    1. You and Jerry have inspired me to get going or get creaky! (Of course John is always nudging too...)

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  5. Fascinating. Thank you. I had good of marvels around the world when I was a child and it permanently imprinted on me. When I actually stood in one,Petra, I couldn't believe it was really me standing there. But I often feel that way at special trip moments...and that is pretty great way to feel!

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  6. great photos! I have a few more trips on my bucket list...

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  7. Amazing thank you—you are brave and it was clearly life-changing !
    Where would I like to go? Alaska, Venice, New Zealand, the Faroe Islands. Now going back to look at your photos again!
    Xxx

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    1. You haven't been to Venice?! Get going, girl. We loved Australia and on another trip New Zealand. But do put India on the list.

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  8. Loved this post, Lucy. Joe and I spent four weeks in India in 2002 (or thereabouts) and had much the same experience that you and John had. We've traveled extensively over the years and both agree that this trip through the central part of India was our very favorite. As you so wonderfully expressed, it was the sheer range of life and color that (somewhat) assaults you at every turn. We were with a small group of nine so were able to cover a lot of ground including a side trip to Tiger Tops in Nepal where we saw these magnificent animals up close and personal -- a huge male just strolling down the road in front of our Jeep and a young female lolling about on the side of the road with a few cubs frolicking by her side. When her tail started twitching rapidly, our guide said, "we must leave now, she is getting angry." I say! I would move a trip to India up to the top of anyone's bucket list!

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    1. You encouraged us in our trip Pat, and so glad you did!

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  9. Great pictures. I'm such a homebody these days, I don't have anywhere specific I'd like to go. But I love looking at other people's pictures!

    Mary/Liz

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  10. Love you pictures and stories of India. It hasn't been high on my list but now I've got a yen to be there. I'm wondering, with my mobility issues, how practical it would be? Sigh, this getting old sucks most days. Maybe I'll just enjoy the travels of others.

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    1. Some places could be fairly easily accessed Ann, and others, like our stops in Varanasi to see the Ganges would be difficult.

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  11. Such beauty and diversity. I for one, would sit through a gazillion photos and memories that you and John might share.
    I have always dreamed of traveling to the UK. The closest I come nowadays is reading Duncan & Gemma's adventures. I would love to walk the paths in the Lake District, and take the trains all over the place. I just sit and people watch and pretend I am not a tourist.

    I think the closest I will get to India is dining in Indian restaurants.

    I do a lot of virtual traveling using you tube, and google maps. Over the years I have planned to do a virtual trip following the Silk Road from Venice to China. I usually get stuck in Turkey; what a fascinating country.

    Ann, you and I can hobble along and let everyone take care of the little ol' ladies.

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    1. thanks so much Coralee! we would definitely take care of the ladies. funny about you getting stuck in Turkey!

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  12. My big bucket-list trip was an eighteen-day photo safari Ross and i took with his father back in '98. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. We saw every animal imaginable, ate really well (safari was glamping before glamping was a thing) and met many fascinating people.

    What made it easy was that it was very much guided - a specialist travel agent had planned out every step with my father-in-law, so all we had to do was show up at the airport. It wasn't a sanitized tour - we were right out there - but all the transportation, camps and extras were all ready taken care of, so all we had to do was live the experience.

    I'd love to see India, but I suspect I'd do better with something similar. It seems so overwhelming to unfamiliar westerners, I'd rather have all the planning and decisions done ahead of time, so I could just focus on the moment.

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    1. Your trip sounds amazing Julia! We went with a tour to India because we didn't feel confident about navigating such a vast and strange country on our own. (As you saw yesterday, thank goodness!) When we went to Australia a few years ago, I planned the trip. The common language makes a huge difference.

      I agree with the idea of focusing on the moment and not the trip details. On the other hand, when I have planned trips, the planning itself becomes another kind of joy.

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  13. What a great travelogue, Lucy! I've been to India several times as my husband was a sales manager with Air India. It always enchanted, frustrated, and upset me. But in spite of the poverty one feels the celebration of life.

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  14. Laughing. I got the same reaction when I announced my friend and I were going on a tour in India. Why in the world. . . Oh well. It was a wonderful trip and I would do it again. I'd love to see a tiger preserve and go farther north to see where the Brits summered in Simla. As for a dream trip I'd love to travel all over Great Britain and Europe. I'm particularly interested in WW1 and would like to visit museums in England and battlefields in France and Belgium.

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  15. Since I can no longer afford to travel (saving money for retirement!) I absolutely love seeing travel photos and videos taken by others, so thank you for sharing, Lucy/Roberta!

    When I was a lot younger I went to Jordan/Israel/Italy, went to Hawaii three times, Bermuda twice, Canada two or three times, Mexico once. I loved every trip, and always did extensive reading about each place ahead of time, and usually afterwards, too.. These days I share a vacation house in Virginia every summer with other relatives. Having done this for over twenty-five years, we have found a house that we particularly love to rent.

    A few years ago I went to a relative's wedding in North Carolina. We went down there by car instead of flying. The scenery was spectacular! I was glad I wasn't doing the driving, because I just wanted to gaze at the mountains!

    DebRo

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    1. All sounds great DebRo, there's something very special about repeating a trip like your family vacation too. You know just what to expect and can go deeper each time.

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  16. Thank you for your description and photos of your travel to India.
    I've wanted it visit Australia for a long time and it will be this fall when retiring. Almost everyone ask: why for ?
    But I'm used to it because while I visited Scotland, England, Ireland, everyone around me wanted to visit France, Italy or Greece.
    Like you my traveling is mostly inspired by the books I read.

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    1. Australia is a lovely country--I hope you enjoy it thoroughly!

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  17. What a stunning trip, Lucy. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I am so fascinated by India - I would definitely like to visit. Lately, I am obsessed with seeing the Northern Lights - in a glass topped cabin in the woods - we’ll see if that pans out.

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    1. I never knew such a thing as a glass-topped cabin existed Jenn...would this be happening in Iceland? I think you and your men should all go!

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  18. "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."
    Wow. That is a powerful summary of your trip.
    Libby Dodd

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  19. Thank you for the marvellous pictures. When I was in my late twenties, my closest friend was from Kerala. His family was affluent by both Indian and American standards. He told me all sorts of stories of his growing up. He spoke better English than I did. A few years later, I had the opportunity to visit Israel. My greatest joys were meeting and spending time with relatives I had never met and speaking my make-shift Hebrew and being understood.

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    1. There is nothing like tracing roots. I haven't done that, and I should!

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  20. Lucy, thank you so much for the virtual tour AND the terrific photos. I've always wanted to visit India and Africa--India perhaps now the safer option? But the mostly yearly trips to the UK take up a lot of the time and money budget. Not that I'm complaining, mind you!!

    Your descriptions of India remind me very much of Mexico, at least Mexico as it was in the much time I spent there growing up and in my twenties. So much color and life! And poverty, yes, but there is such a vibrancy and joy to life there.

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    1. If you loved Mexico, I bet you would enjoy a trip to India. Or otherwise we are all coming to the UK with you!

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    2. If you loved Mexico, I bet you would enjoy a trip to India. Or otherwise we are all coming to the UK with you!

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  21. Did you buy a sari? I love the colorful fabrics so much and they actually look very comfortable. My dream trip was our honeymoon to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. We live in a sister city to Queenstown, New Zealand, which was one of our favorite places. I know several Brits who have travelled to India, but they went either to Northern India of the beaches like Goa -- it's a pretty common destination for them ~

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    1. Celia, no sari--I just couldn't think where I would wear it--FantasyFest?? But I did come home with several beautiful scarves and napkins.

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  22. Thank you for sharing your travel photographs and the memories of your journey! I would love to visit India. I love reading about the culture which has always fascinated me. I have been fortunate in life to have had jobs that allowed me to travel and see some places and things. I am now retired and I am beginning to recognize that feeling of comfort one gets from staying in familiar surroundings. And the longer the time period is between trips the easier it seems to get to postpone the planning and start of a new trip.(or new activity) I believe it is important to stretch oneself out of our comfort zones as money and health allow. Even if it is trying a new restaurant,shopping in a new store, joining the senior center, or worshipping in a new church. In the 1980's I visited Germany and while waiting in a line at one of the castles, waiting to go up a narrow staircase, I struck up a conversation with an elderly woman who was sitting in a chair. She said she was waiting for her tour group and wasn't going up the stairs. She told me steep stairs were just too difficult with her tired old legs. She went on to tell me she was from Norman, Oklahoma and that she was 91 years old. She said she always dreamed of traveling but never had, as she had either been too busy (or too poor) tied up with raising kids and taking care of their farm business. And her husband had never been that interested. When he passed away she decided to do a little traveling. She had a lot of spunk. I have never forgotten that encounter or that woman. Now over 30 years later, while I am not yet on the sidelines, I hope that I will continue to do new things, including travel and not hesitate to just do as much as I can, when and while I can.

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    1. Love your comment, thank you. It does take effort to plan a big trip, and I always half dread going as it gets closer. But I can't think of any I wish I had missed. And hurray for the spunk of that woman--what a great example!

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  23. My Dad was in India during the latter part of the Second World War. A secret mission to enter China to provide medical backup for the push to oust the Japanese. Trouble is the Japanese got the upper hand and just before Dad's group got there they found they were retreating back the way they had come only this time on foot. There followed a march through the jungles of Burma and on into India. Two weeks on foot with rice to eat and the Japanese at their heels. He spent the rest of the war in India supporting various incursions to try to unseat and repel them. When I look at your map he covered much of the country. I have always thought I'd like to go and re-trace some of his adventures especially those on the Irrawaddy. His love of curries and Indian food came from these adventures. Your photo's are beautiful and your travels fascinating thank you for sharing.

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    1. You are so welcome--your Dad's experience must have amazing--frightening and exciting too. Imagine all that as a young person. yikes! Tell us about your trip once you take it!

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  24. In honor of this theme, I made a killer chicken tikka masala tonight.

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    1. OMG and you didn't invite us. will you tell us about the recipe please?

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  25. Thanks for bringing us along for this trip.

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  26. Wow, oh wow. Thanks for sharing. So different, seemingly raw with the emotions more out front than here in the states or is that simply because it is so different? Your photos portray so much. The Taj Mahal is stunning with a feeling of peace radiating from the photo. Though the tigers are beautiful, 10 feet from the jeep sounds scary - was it?? And how was the heat? I've heard it gets so hot there. What a great adventure!!!

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