Subject: India

posted Aug 9, 2013, 10:09 AM by LoMA LowerManhattaArtsAcademy
Date: August 8, 2013

As our trip to India draws to a close, I wanted to record and share some of the stronger impressions of this extraordinary journey. Luisa has been documenting it in pictures on her Facebook page, I still want to use words, and the word extraordinary pops into my head many times as day as I have found India to be one of the most unique places I have ever traveled due to the sheer mass of humanity.with four times the density of china, the congestion and crowds are fierce. The streets lack sidewalks so the few cars share the street with hundreds of tuck tucks (a cross between motorcycle and rickshaw), motorcycles, scooters, pedicabs, camels, pigs and the omnipresent cows. As there are few traffic lights or street markings the wail of the horn rules with every driver hitting his horn over and over to clear a path through the mayhem. The public nature of the country is startling as these same streets also function as stores, workshops, kitchens and garbage dumps bounded by open sewer trenches. Oh the garbage is everywhere - piled up and scattered about, it feeds the pigs and cows (in herds and singly mulling about laying in the middle of the road). Not just in the small towns, but in much of Delhi and Jaipur as distasteful as all of the trash is to my exaggerated sense of order, it is not the dominant impression; which is the mad sense of energy, the brilliant colors and the magical functionality of everything despite the disorder. Against this background, here are some of the stronger impressions:

> I am writing this from one of the many marbled, gardened balconies in Varnasi, where we are staying in the hotel from "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varnasi." It is somewhat surrounded by the flooded Ganges which rose about 10 feet into the homes in the last few days. Boys all around are hosing and squeezing the mud out of plazas, stores and homes, a far to familiar ritual from home.

> Varanasi is famous for its ghats, about 30 staircases below temples where people come put in the morning and evening to bathe, pray and, mostly, socialize. We spent almost three hours this morning watching from a boat and cafe scenes that reminded me of the Russian Baths. One, funny older man who could be anywhere in the world was loudly talking to himself, singing, praying and showing off. Even the dumping of mud on his head by friends could not quiet him for the two hours we were there.

> The burning ghat creates about 259 bodies a day in a series of fires set on a raised concrete platform. De to the flood, they are mixing castes in the fires. To get to it, we had to wander many tiny and dark alleys for about a mile until we finally hired a guide to lead us through. Thankfully, we could not see the bodies in the flames or smell anything bad, but the impression was still morbid.

> JRR Tolkien must have studied Indian forts as they seem more similar to the ones he describes in "The Lords of the Ring" than European castles in their more sophisticated technology. In particular, most have single entrances with many staggered, right angle gates behind fortified courtyards. Once inside though, they have pleasure palaces worthy of Coleridge's Xanadu with their grand throne rooms, ornate courtyards and intricate baroque carvings. O e fort still had hundreds of families loving inside. Descendants of the priestly Brahman, they've been living their for centuries.

> all of the cities of the mujarajahs contained a major fort, inside palace and more contemporary, 19th Century, city palace, usually now shared by the descendant royalty and a hotel. One that was built just a hundred years ago has 350 rooms. Interesting how politically close these warrior raj's were to both the Moslem and English conquerors. Even today, they find ways of retaining their economic and political power.

> We spent a night sleeping under the stars on top of sand dunes after taking a long camel ride and being entertained by traditional singers and dancers. It was surprisingly moving and almost mystical.

> while the begging and extreme poverty has not been as bad as expected, the aggressive touting of goods we don't want and demands for tips has been exhausting and frustrating. We're often surrounded in the markets by persistent tuck tuck drivers, offers from would be tour guides and crafts sellers, all of whom don't know the English for the word "no". They often start with "where are you from". I'm tempted to say Pakistan if I wasn't afraid for my life.

> this is a country of young men. Often we look up among the massive crowds and see only young men. Women are mostly likely to be found in the farm fields and maybe riding sidesaddle on the back of a motorcycle in her colorful sari, often with a veil. Men and women walking together never happens though we do sometimes see large groups of women touring a palace together.

> as in so many middle eastern countries with strict segregation between the sexes, them men are very publicly affectionate, more so than even Egypt or morocco. Beyond holding hands, the men will wrap their arms around one another, cuddle together and hold each others asses, even in police uniform.

> this is probably the most religious place I've been outside of Israel. Quite a few Indians want to discus religion and at least one could not even seem to understand what atheism is. Trying to explain being gay can also bring abut the same confusion. We've passed through quite a few massive religious festivals and pilgrimages. In the most extreme young men in Agra walk 40 miles barefoot around the city to al of the the shrines to Shiva in a night. There are so many thousands of them they close the streets and the kids become mob like with some people afraid of going out due to the possibility of violence.

> we saw this on one of our adventurous tuck tuck rides that had to divert itself through miles of dense, crowded alleys that seems to cut through people's kitchens and loving rooms. The best ride thou was a high speed alley ride up and down and around and under the walls of a fortress.

> even bigger than the religious festivals was a series of political rallies that drew many thousands into the countryside in the support of a corrupt princess. Miles long caravans of buses, trucks, tractors and cars crushed to the gills with young men riding atop and behind to get to a whole series of rallies that stopped all other traffic for about thirty miles. That made for a slow day, but all together I think we've travelled about 2000 miles by private car and train, usually overnight in sleepers. Good training for whine Luisa studies abroad.

> we've been so impressed with the craftsmanship here that we have done far too much shopping: metal work, textiles, marble inlay.

> the Taj Mahal is totally worth all of the hype! Perfection in marble. Less perfect is the amount of marble used everywhere including poor houses and shops.

> while in an ornate Jain temple learning from the monk about how they where masks in the temple to protect bugs from being eaten and how even some plants are too sacred to eat, I looked down on the floor and saw an ant struggling to move. Sandra or I must have stepped on it.the Jains are only 3 percent of the population, yet control 30 per cent of India's wealth.

> India's wealth is likely to remain somewhat limited due to its terrible infrastructure,strangling bureaucracy and reluctance to encourage foreign investment. One town that has the some of the most elaborate and sexual temples on the world that ought to be a huge tourist draw only has a couple of two starish hotels, no flights most of the year and requires a twelve hour train ride.

> we have seen only one pocket of wealth, a large collection of luxury apartments and malls outside of Delhi, though we have heard of gated communities. Besides that the street in front of the Calvin Klein shop or ramada hotel is as likely to have an open sewer and cow dung in front of it as the public toilet stand.

> i saw bricklayers stacking ten bricks atop their turbans to carry them up 4 floors.

> When I. Writing about bricklayers I get its time to wrap this up. Tomorrow we have have a 16 hour train ride to Delhi and then a long flight home. No 6 hour stop in Switzerland on the way this time as I think the culture shock would kill us. Be home Sunday.