This is my last day in India. I’m in Madras (or Chennai depending on your perspective) after having
just spent the last four days in Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.
India is…….holy shit…..can’t find the words to describe it, but that actually sums it up pretty well.
Christina, If you’re reading this, I have much admiration of your spirit for having lived here. Now I understand why it changed you the way it did.
Well, here goes. The flight to Delhi was smooth, despite the fact that many students were nervous as hell getting on the plane. The fact was, the security at the airport was tighter than I’ve ever experienced before. We were x-rayed, frisked, searched, battery removed, frisked a couple more times, then x-rayed again for a good measure. Wow!
On arrival in Delhi we transferred to the hotel. My experience thus far had been from the windows of a bus, first on my way to the airport in Chennai. It was hot. Unlike any heat before, this heat was body permeating, it invaded your soul like a hot hot treacle, except that you’ve gotta add flies, mosquitoes and a lot of dirt into the mix. Then you’ve got to add air pollution because I don’t think I inhaled a single atom of oxygen on the way to the airport – my body has miraculously adapted to respiring on pure car/motorized rickshaw/bus/more buses/cow and camel gas/elephant dung/sewage methane gases to survive. Then there is the visual experience. People, people everywhere – sleeping on the streets, peeing in the streets, kids naked in the streets, living on the streets, in the road, on bikes, everywhere. And then there’s the cows. Traffic drives around the cows, as they are sacred. They seem to be free roaming intermixed with city life – a sight so common I’m just used to it. There is trash everywhere, and buildings in mass disrepair. And then the smells. I’ve never known a country to have a more distinct odor. It varies between shit smell to sewage smell, to body odor smell, to exhaust fume smell, and sometimes, if you’re very lucky – you get a combination of the above simultaneously. Noise? Very loud in the city – mostly traffic. In the rural areas (we drove for over eight long long hours to Jaipur from Delhi) it can be pretty peaceful, just the mooing of cows and the snorting of camels to be heard.
So, I hope this gives you an idea of the ambiance of India. Madras was slightly more intense than Delhi – but it gives you the gist of things. To contrast this experience, we were greeted at our Delhi hotel with wreaths of carnations and a welcome cocktail. The hotel lobby was made entirely of marble with fountains and plush furniture. Kinda weird to step into another world that you can buy with money, if you have it….
We had a 4 am wake up call to catch our train to Agra. The station was unreal – rats everywhere, an entire settlement of homeless people living in the station. At the same time, the train was extremely decent, although slow, and I fell asleep almost instantly. We drove to the famed Taj Mahal upon arrival. Nothing prepared me for this incredible sight. We approached the white building from a red sandstone archway, and it reminded me of the feeling I had when I viewed the Grand Canyon for the first time. It literally took my breath away. The entire structure is immense in proportion and has a 100% symmetrical architectural
design. Inside lay the tombs of the last Mughal Emperor and his wife, for whom he built the Taj as a symbol of his eternal love…
Agra is predominantly a Muslim population, so there were not many women on the street, and if there were, they were accompanied by men. As such, I gained almost superstar status – every guy that saw me wanted a photo of him with me. So I kindly obliged the first 10 requests until it was just getting ridiculous. I got a glimpse of what fame is like, and it wasn’t very pleasant, despite the flattery.
Next we drove to Fakih Sirrar – the ancient capital of India – where, incidentally, they filmed the movie Octopussy – you know, James Bond. It is now an abandoned set of ruins, but very beautiful and interesting at the same time. Seven long, hot and sticky hours later we arrived in Jaipur and collapsed in a heap at the hotel before dinner and a dance performance with fire-breathing acts. The drive was a great insight into rural India – I saw many villages and farms with women carrying water on their heads, kids running alongside the road waving at the bus and crying out for food, and of course, more cows and camels. The countryside is beautiful and very green.
Jaipur was magical. The following day we rose at dawn to ride an elephant to the top of Amber Fort, in the middle of the beautiful Rajikstan desert hills. The experience was unforgettable – I even got my photo taken on top of an elephants’ head!! The view of the “pink city” (so called because the majority of buildings are pink in color, and because the land is pinkish) was spectacular. We also visited a carpet making factory and a Jewellery factory. Yes, I gave in and bought a few precious stones – but they were ridiculously good value. I got very upset at this one historic sight, where I found 4 puppies trapped in this 2 by 2 corridor of a fort surrounded by barbed wire. They were starving and so weak from dehydration they couldn’t move their heads and just lay there whimpering waiting to die….. it was horrible. Of course, seeing the hungry children everywhere we went was highly disturbing, and constantly in my mind is the question of whether to give or not? Does it simply reinforce the begging, or does it really help?
I ended up giving away all of my food.
My other highlight was taking the sleeper train back to Delhi. It was an experience to sleep as you watched the Indian Countryside flash by your window…. Also, of interest – Colin Powell was in Delhi at the same time as us, and we called the US embassy to ask if we could meet with him. We were informed that he had been “evacuated” from the city. WTF??
We also visited the Gandhi museum and walked around the garden where he was assassinated in 1949. I bought his biography at the airport – its fascinating.
Ok – I better go – I’m sorry this letter was SO long, hopefully you enjoyed reading it. I’m about to go shopping for a while, and then maybe head to the beach for a horse back ride. Back on the ship at 9pm and we’re sailing for Kenya tomorrow….
Please please stay in touch and let me know how you are all doing!