Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
44Trip End Jun 10, 2011
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-Instead of the occasional litter in the street you would have trash everywhere you looked. Piles and mountains of trash. We could not find trash cans and stopped being surprised when Indians would throw full bags of trash out of train, bus, or house windows.
-Instead of a man or two urinating in a corner, you had open public urinals where you could watch many relieving themselves at once
-Instead of a little traffic, you would have streets clogged with congestion with inches between cars, rickshaws, and pedestrians. Take crowded and multiply by fifty.
-Instead of the occasional horn blast, every car, every other second would blast its horn such that the air was filled with a cacophonous roar almost every hour of the day.
-Instead of a beggar on every other street, you would have one or two on every block, all very aggressively insisting that you give them money.
-Instead of tap water that you could purify, you had water than after purification was still undrinkable.
-Instead of normal touts that would like to earn a fare by doing you a service, you had persistent touts that would lie, extort, and act more than we had ever experienced. They would triple the price of every commodity or service and then act insulted when you offered the actual price
-Instead of the normal annoying crowds you had a self absorbed people that completely disregarded their surroundings and how their actions might be taken by others. Their attitude was: the world is mine, get out of my way. While we do not know this to be true, this was our
interpretation of their actions towards us and their fellow Indians. Given what we saw of India, this end behavior was a possible final outcome of the over crowding and limited resources: in essence, every man for himself.
On a whole we were confused how we could find so much bad in one country because we usually can see around it. We kept trying to convince ourselves to like India, but in the end we just couldn't do it. After much contemplation, we finally figured out that we rate our experiences with a few criteria: natural beauty, good food, and interactions with the people
The above was a vent and summarizes that we did not like India and were glad to be gone. That might sound harsh and southern India may be nicer, but our experience in the north was overall bad. Most people either fall into either the love or hate India category and we were clearly in the latter. Strangely, we did meet several people who raved about India but we were not ever able to get from them exactly what they liked. If India is anything, it is cheap. Perhaps these people liked how far their money would stretch. We could go on and on about the negative experiences, the numerous extortion attempts, and how they wore us down to the point that we did not want to walk around and explore, but we don't want to dwell any longer on the negatives of incredible India. The following details our positive or humorous experiences that made India an interesting destination.
India is incredibly diverse with 1.2 billion people and is the origin to four of the world's major religions
Following a tip from friends we met in Africa, we visited the northern town of Amritsar near the Pakistan border. After a long train ride from Delhi through farmland and countryside we arrived in Amritsar in the state of Punjab.
Amritsar had two draws, both of which we enjoyed: The Golden Temple of the Sikhs and the flag ceremony at the Pakistan/India border. Both were incredible. The Sikh religion is amazing in that it welcomes anyone from any race, creed, ethnicity, or sex to join, worship, watch, learn, share, eat, bathe and participate. The Golden Temple is the Sikh's most holy place and thousands pilgrimage from all of over the world to eat, bathe, sleep, and worship here
We came back in the evening to see the magical nighttime reflections and walked to the temple in the middle of the lake. Each night another army of volunteers would descend on the temple and clean every interior inch.
The flag ceremony at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan was both interesting and entertaining. Apparently the border guards started doing a oneupsmanship display in 1959 that escalated to the point that they brought in grandstands on both sides and the show draws over 5000 spectators a night. We were lucky and got to sit near the front because we were foriegners which provided us with a good view of the Indian side and a decent view of the Pakistani side. The guards on both sides of the border were enormous, far taller and well built than any of the Indians we had seen previously. They wore colorful uniforms with red fan shaped hats. In short, they looked ridiculous and covered for it by acting very serious and not smiling. The pre show had already started when we arrived with music blasting from loud speakers permanently mounted for the purpose of blaring. In the middle of the street groups of girls were dancing to the latest dance tune and people would run with pride to the border gate and back wielding huge Indian flags
The sole reason for visiting Agra was to see the Taj Mahal. The Taj, for short, is a white marble tomb larger and more intricately ornate than you can possibly imagine. Built for the lost love of an Indian king for his beloved wife, the Taj Mahal is an edifice to love, symbolizing one man's eternal love for a woman.
We visited the Taj Mahal at sunrise before the majority of the crowds arrived and shared the place with only a couple hundred other people instead of the afternoon's couple of thousand people
We had some time to kill after we found the post office (read our Air Mail entry for an entertaining story) and decided to try and see a movie. To get there we took our first and last bicycle rickshaw pedaled by what must have been an 80+ year old man. He had a colorful blue towel wrapped around his head and had we realized how far it was across town we would not have bothered him. For 20-30+ minutes he pedaled painfully slowly across town in the midday heat at times obviously struggling with his American load. We were afraid he might collapse, but he really wanted the fare (I suspect that he doesn't get much business in his frail-looking state) and we thought he would be upset and offended if we asked him to stop and let us out. On arrival we gave him a liter of water as he had none and we easily downed the entire bottle. His face was beautiful with dark weathered akin, deep creases, and deep set glassy eyes. I asked to take his picture but he declined. The mall was barren and the three movies, while with English posters, were all in Hindi sans subtitles. Oh well, we did find the equivalent of a 99 cent store and pickup a small squirt bottle which came in handy more than once.
Built on a bend in the river Ganges, Varanasi is one of the oldest Indian cities and the spiritual center for Hinduism
On one of the mornings, we took an early morning paddle out on the river to get a better view in the dawn light. People were selling floating candles and the water was dotted with little spots light as we glided along. Despite the water being toxic (fecal coliform count is 3,000x the safe limit and dead bodies are routinely wired to stones and sunk to the bottom) people drank, bathed, and fished in this most holy water. Burial in the water is reserved for only those who are pure (children and holy men), so most bodies are burned at one of the burning ghats. We went to one of the burning ghats and tried to rid ourselves of the "guides" walking in front of us, telling us about the ghats and then asking money for their services. At one point we couldn't get around them and ended up standing in the smoke from the burning bodies, which was more mentally than physically distressing. It is a testament to the weirdness of India that you can be standing next to a river, watching shroud-wrapped bodies being placed on pyres, and the thing that strikes you as most odd about the situation is that there isn't any trash on the ground
In Hinduism, cows are sacred and are allowed to be anywhere, anytime and are rarely if ever, prevented from going wherever they want. While this sounds simple, the consequences are that there are cows in the strangest places. We think of cows in grassy fields making milk. In India, cows could be found lying in the middle of the street, walking in the middle of the freeways, walking along the train platforms, in busy markets, ... We stopped being surprised and would simply smile when you were somewhere and a large cow would walk by or when you would turn a corner and be stopped by the large ungulate.
Bollywood body double
Very occasionally while in public, a group of Indians would walk up to us and ask for a picture with Jeremy. Sometimes they would take turns, others times it would be one group photo. After the tenth such photo shoot and on one of the many long train rides we asked why the group was laughing/wanted the picture
So I guess, India is incredible in some ways. We are very glad that we experienced this land of extremes and needless to say, India will be incredibly memorable. We have no intention, however, of going back.