Intriguing India

 

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In April I joined my friend Wilma and 11 other German tourists for a 15-day tour of northern India and Kashmir. The advertising campaign touts the country as “Incredible India.” It is – as well as intriguing. Following are some aspects I found incredibly intriguing during my travels.cow.2

PEOPLE: My favorite part of India. They are the friendliest, kindest, gentlest, most open and talkative folk. Indians often approach and start a conversation. Where are you from? Do you like India? They ask to have their photo taken with you, and they eagerly pose for photos.   On a train, they share their food. In Kashmir, I was invited to join a picnic. When I had a nasty crash during one of my solitary escapades in the boondocks of Kashmir (details in future post) two young men came to my aid, offered comfort and a ride.

My seat mates on our train ride to Agra were delightful: A retired gentleman and a recently-married young woman, Shruti. We chatted non-stop.   I learned a lot about India.

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Train companions

Poverty in the country is overwhelming. There are beggars. At the tourist sites, the souvenir sales crew do pester. But, if you reply with a firm NO, they usually back off. Many have mastered salesmanship. “You look like a movie star,” a crafty fellow at the

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Khajuraho temple known for its erotic sculptures told me. My hair was a disaster. I was hot, sweaty, tired and felt like an ancient hag. He won. I bought the bronze bowl with the sexy etchings which I really did not want, but now I am glad I have this bizarre treasure which brings back fun memories.

Despite the body-to-body throngs in many places, I felt safe in India. I was careful and cautious with my purse and camera, but never felt that someone would accost me and grab my valuables.

Many of my German travel companions were on their fourth or fifth trip to India. “People” is one of the major reasons they keep returning to India, they said. “The people are so friendly. They have so little but they seem satisfied. They have lebensfreude (joie de vivre, zest for life). It fascinates me,” observed Sepp.

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Celebrants at a country wedding.

MARRIAGE: Some seventy percent of marriages in India are arranged. Shruti, 27, showed me pictures on her phone of her December wedding with 1,000 guests in attendance. She had spent a mere 10-minutes with her husband-to-be before the wedding. They asked each other questions about what kind of life they wanted, what they wanted in a mate. His answers matched her desires. She is obviously happy with her new life and man, and glowed when talking about him.   She said some of her friends had married for “love,” but she preferred to honor her parents’ wishes and let them find her a husband. For India, she married late, but “I told my father not to find me a husband until I finished school,” she explained.

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The bridal couple

As is the custom in India, she now lives with her husband and his mother. Once married, daughters live with their husband and in-laws. This is old age insurance for the parents, assuring that they will always be taken care of. However, problems between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law are legendary and the brunt of numerous jokes.

Shruti has no problems with her mother-in-law, but, unlike most married women in India, she is not in the kitchen cooking with her mother-in-law all day. She has a career and works in a bank. According to guide Rajesh, 70 percent of Indian women are housewives who spend six hours per day in food preparation. Indian cuisine is labor intensive.

My other train companion has two daughters, both married. He had a hard time finding a husband for one of the two as she is overweight, he said. She found a husband on her own.

COWS: Yes, they are sacred. They are everywhere — and perhaps not too bright. Now I understand the German expression: blöde Kuh (stupid cow). Hindus, 80 percent of the Indian population, are vegetarians. Cows are never slaughtered. Thanks to their milk, they are viewed as maternal figures, and are raised for dairy products, as well as plowing the fields. Cow manure is used as fertilizer and fuel.cow.1

So, what happens when a cow is too old to give milk or work the fields? The beasts are turned loose and wander freely everywhere, often in the thick of roads clogged with cars, trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles, tuk-tuks . Horns blast. Drivers shout. The gentle beasts are oblivious to all. Traffic comes to a standstill. No one wants to hit a cow. There are other places to roam, but India’s cows seem to prefer to be in the midst of the melee.

They thrive on garbage, and there is plenty in India. In Varanasi where we witnessed numerous cremations on the banks of the Ganges, cows – and dogs — munched on the debris around the places where bodies had been burned.

Some lucky cows end up in cow retirement centers, Gaushalas.   India has 3,000 of these, but, according to animal husbandry statistics: 45,150,000 cows. Most meander ubiquitously throughout the cities and countryside.cows.4

Being an animal lover, I wanted to pet the poor fellows. The guide warned: Don’t touch. If hungry, they might be mean, buck with their horns, he said. I doubt the ones I saw would have had the energy. I obeyed nonetheless. I think these crazy cows add a puzzling, calming charm to India’s  chaotic ambience.

TRAFFIC: Cows do complicate the snarling masses of all sorts of vehicles as named above, plus pedestrians often in the midst. How could anyone even think of driving in this madness? The noise is more than incredible. Every driver seems to have his hand plastered on his horn. Who is honking at whom?   No way to know. Who has the right of way, other than the bovines? Survival of the fittest. Just plunge ahead and hope for the best.

Hats off to the drivers. We each had a rickshaw for our ride from the hotel to the riverbank in Varanasi. The traffic was abominable, but my skillful rickshaw driver kept his cool, pedaled his vehicle with aplomb, weaving around cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. There were many close calls, making the ride more thrilling than the wildest of roller coasters.cows.5

We had frequent long journeys on a comfortable, roomy bus. In India, the bus driver is in a separate glassed in compartment with his assistant sitting next to him. The assistant is de rigueur. Four eyes are needed to watch ahead and to the sides for all-too-frequent obstacles. Our bus assistant also served bottled water, and, in our case, often stopped to purchase bananas for his passengers.

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Bus driver assistant purchases bananas for passengers.

We rode on rutted roads through the countryside and small villages, and on super highways as good as any in the developed world.

Alok told us there are 2,000 traffic deaths per day in India. Many drive without a driver’s license, but a license can be purchased – no test required.dogs.2

DOGS: There may be as many homeless dogs as there are cows. These canines are not pets, never were. They all are similar in appearance: medium size, short, beige/ tan fur. They wander freely everywhere, but most seem to have enough sense to stay away from auto traffic. They, too, thrive on garbage. None I saw looked malnourished, and they were not vicious. Yet I resisted the urge to pet. Unlike the docile cows, I feared one could bite. After experiencing India’s stray dogs, I came across this article, “The World is Full of Dogs without Collars”: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/19/science/the-world-is-full-of-dogswithout-collars.html?_r=0   It’s an interesting read for animal people.

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I wanted to rescue this poor baby.

What about cats? I only saw two during the entire trip. No wonder. With all those hungry dogs, they would end up as dog food.

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Alok enjoying dinner in Kashmir.

CONTRASTS: The poverty, filth, garbage, noise and pollution are all mind-boggling. On our last day, Alok wanted us to see the new state-of-the art metro in Delhi. It, too, was mind-boggling: futuristic, spotless, sleek, quiet, fast.

Intriguing. Incredible. That’s India. More to come in future posts: Amritsar and the Sikhs, Dharamshala and Tibetan refugees, Kashmir.

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Weddings merit big celebrations. We came upon one in a small town during our travels. The groom was in costume  on horseback.

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Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Please leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.

No Indian recipe this time, but how about tasty Thai – sort of in the same neighborhood? See recipe column at right for Thai-Style Asparagus Beef Curry. Add some spice to spring asparagus. Click on above photo for recipe.people.4Holy Man.  Religion is another most intriguing aspect in India.  These “holy men” often pose near tourist sites, hoping for a donation.

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27 thoughts on “Intriguing India”

  1. Leah, what a delight to read your words this morning. I feel as if I were along for the ride with you. As an animal lover, I was fascinated by what you wrote about the cows and dogs.

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  2. Thanks, Leah — a chance to experience a place on this earth I will never go myself, from your immediate and thoughtful perspective. An incredible report from an incredible place!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! That was some post, Leah. I like the way you organized your comments into categories, making sense out of such a vast experience as India. As always, I learned so much. The dog section particularly interested me since I’d already read the nytimes piece on the Coppingers’ research and the 3/4 of a billion dogs without collars on our planet. I love traveling by proxy with you-so much more comfortable than actually taking the trip!

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    1. Leah: I really love the write ups of your trips. You are so gifted with your wonderful, descriptive writing skill. You make us feel as though we are right there with you on these wonderful trips. Leah, have you ever given any thought to doing a book on your travels? If not a book, why not do individual synopses of each country; and by all means include the extraordinary pictures.
      Our best to you and good luck in your travels. Love from home, Mickey

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are a jewel, Mickey. Fans like you are my reward. It is wonderful to know that you enjoy my blog. It’s my hobby and I enjoy it. I think a book would require too much patience, something I seem to be lacking.

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    2. Wow. Wonderful comments, Lynne. I am happy to know you learned something about India. I learned so much, all of which I found fascinating. I like to share this enrichment with my readers. It’s even more enriching to know it is appreciated.

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  4. Is India a country you would like to visit again ? Like in the Marigold Hotel film can you imagine retirement there ?

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  5. I read all of your blogs and am so impressed and envious of your adventures. This particular one on India compelled me to comment. My favorite thus far, as I have contemplated volunteering in a girls orphanage there. Did you visit one by chance?
    I anxiously look forward to your next blogs on India, especially on the Tibetan refugees.
    Dorie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you Dorie. There are plenty of needy people in India. We visited a school/orphanage of Tibetan refugees in Dharamshala. I will be writing about it in a future post. The saga of the displaced Tibetans is tragic.

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  6. Hi Leah,
    What an amazing journey–your story and photos bring home the majesty of the contrasts.
    I look forward to the follow-on chapters!
    Hugs, Gayle

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  7. Great post, Leah. Although I was only in Delhi for two days (one coming, one going), I too experienced the warmth and friendliness of the locals. At the airport, the customer service representative thanked me for visiting. He made a point to tell me that our tourist dollars mean a lot to his country.
    I have a 10 year India visa, so something tells me a visit there is in my future!

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    1. You are very kind. Yes, I use an SLR and am making a real effort to get better. Not easy on a group tour when you are constantly on the move with little time to concentrate on photography.

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  8. Wow, wow, wow…amazing adventure and incredible photos…and by the way, whether or not you believe it, no surprise you were taken for a movie star!
    Gayle

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Leah,Forgot to mention the cool new post look!I need to talk to you about getting a professional editor…book is basically done but huge editing required…70+K words so a big job…know you have visitors so later when the dust clears.Hugs, Gayle

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