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Mike & Mag's World Adventure

India- Holy Cow!

INDIA | Wednesday, 28 May 2008 | Views [1054] | Comments [1]

How can one describe India?  I will try to explain in a way that is truly representative of our time and experiences.  Basically, India is everything at once: beautiful yet filthy, sinful yet holy, malicious yet loving, etc. One day you will be flying so high you're saying, "I love India" and then the next day you're screaming and in tears crying, "I hate this country we have to get out of here!"

India will try your patience in more ways than you can count.  It is a culture unlike any else we have experienced.  Sometimes we asked ourselves if we were still on the planet Earth.  The population is so large that you get a lot of good and a lot of bad all in one.


The average Indian is typically a strict Hindu that covers with cloth from head to foot: the women wear saris (beautiful silk lengths of materials that they wrap around their waste as a skirt and then the remaining material is thrown over their shoulder or around their head as a scarf.  Women are generally pretty subservient and seem to be missing in public most of the time (meaning they were pretty much always in the house).  In public women are outnumbered by men by at least 10.1.  The day we went to the Taj Mahal we were required to enter through 2 lines, one male the other female.  Easy to say I entered about an hour before Mike made it through the long line of awaiting males.

Being a white female in India is just plain frustrating.  Several times men would approach us and introduce themselves and speak to Mike only, completely ignoring me, as if I wasn’t even there.  There is also the widely accepted opinion that Western women are all prostitutes.  For one reason, the majority of Western women that they do see are on MTV which would certainly give you that impression and secondly… female prostitutes in India are identified as prostitutes if they stare men in the eyes.  Therefore, Western women that stare men in the eyes must want to have sex with them; and we are all nonreligious sinners as well, so I guess it fits.

Luckily there were exceptions, and we met several individuals and families that were that were extremely friendly to us. It was not uncommon to meet a family or individual and then after 10 minutes of conversation be invited into their home.  This was actually new for us.  One time at dinner we had a family sitting next to us offer their food to us to try and then invite us to their home for breakfast the next day.  Unfortunately, the next morning we were leaving India so we had to decline the offer.  This situation just displays the ups and downs of India… the previous day we had just changed all of our flights to return home and here it was we were going to miss what could have been a pretty interesting breakfast date... oh the dichotomies of India.

So why did we leave early?  The biggest reason is that India was just too damn hot.  We were there during the hottest time of the year where temperatures soared to ~113 F.  I suffered from heat exhaustion twice to the point that I thought I was having an anxiety attack each time…my hands were shaking, I was sweating profusely, and I couldn’t catch my breath. Everyone we met said, “Why are you here?  You must come back and visit our country in September, much better.”  And they were right, we just couldn’t do the things we wanted to do due to the heat.


But the things that we were able to do made our short trip worth it.  Our first destination, Calcutta, was a great city to begin in.  The British invested more into this city than any other.  This meant, good roads, beautiful architecture, and like the rest of India, good English.   Calcutta is considered the cultural capitol of India.  We found this to be true as we spent two days enjoying free cultural performances from traditional and modern dances to musical performances. One evening we decided to visit the local gallery display at the Academy of Fine Arts.  As we were viewing a painting we suddenly found huge flood lights on us and cameras flashing.  We turned around and started smiling for the cameras, not exactly knowing what was going on.  Initially it was news cameras, but soon after the lights faded we were surrounded by Indians that wanted to take our pictures, either with them or just by the painting.  

In India we were stars.  Indians love taking pictures with white people, it’s like we’re exotic or something.  I should also mention that Indians love to stare at white people.  It was not uncommon for both women and men to blatantly stare at Mike and I for a solid 5 minutes.  Apparently it’s not rude to stare in Indian culture and the staring never stopped.

 For the most part we were almost always the only white people anywhere we went.  This meant we always had a possy surrounding us trying to lure us into a rickshaw, hotel, restaurant, their shop to buy souvenirs, etc.  Indians working in tourism were fierceless and pushy.  They were smooth talkers and almost everything that came out of their mouths was a lie.  We would get into a rickshaw and say, “Please take us to the Alka Hotel”, and the driver would say, “oh no the Alka Hotel is full (which was always a blatant lie) but I will take you to a nice hotel” and refuse to take us to our requested destination.  Or the drivers would just drive you to a souvenir shop without your permission and say, please go in a look for just 15 minutes, just look, no buy, and I will get commission.  They would plead and beg and we would pretty much have to yell NO a million times to get our point across, “just take us to our damn destination!”  

After Calcutta we headed to Varanasi, the most holy city in India.  This city is set along the Ganges River and is considered the most holy Hindu city to pilgrimage to.  Hindus have long believed that bathing in the Ganges or dying in the holy city of Varanasi circumvents reincarnation and hence provides a permanent place in the Swarg (Heaven).  

Early one morning, before sunrise we hired a boat to cruise down the Ganges to view the morning rituals.  One reaches the River by a Ghat, or staircase that is designated by its name or function.  As we passed the Manikarnika Ghat which is famous because it is where the cremations occur, we witnessed the burning of the bodies.  Everyday, all day peoples bodies are cremated and then their ashes thrown into the river.  

During the evening we witnessed a ceremony that served as an offering to the sacred river.  Sadus come by and bless you with tikkas and you can purchase little floating votives with flowers to release into the river as a prayer or a request to the gods; in our case, safety and happiness for our families.  

Varanasi, like the rest of India was absolutely littered with cows.  Cows are everywhere, and since they are considered holy creatures, they roam free and are never harmed.  Cars simply go around them or wait for them to exit the road. This means a lot of poop.  That is one thing India is not lacking… poop is everywhere along with garbage.  Oh and what do the cows eat?  Well of course, the garbage.

Next we were off to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal.  It was everything you could imagine and more.  The Taj Mahal is the most romantic and tragic piece of architecture I have seen.  It is said to be the largest architectural feat to be built for love.  The story goes like this: The structure was built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is a story of true love and sadness. 

The structure is built completely of marble and actually functions as her mausoleum and on the inside is her tomb.  Once the Shah died he joined his beloved, as they are both now laid to rest side by side.  The tomb and the walls are all inlayed with intricate designs of flowers that were carved of the most precious of stones.  Upon visiting the Taj Mahal it appears to be straight from a fairytale and just plain magical.  The Nobel-prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore once described the Taj Mahal as “an eternal teardrop on the cheek of time.”  


And with that I think I will end this journal entry.  I could go on forever about India, there is just too much to share.  I will forever remember all the trials and tribulations that we experienced in just a few weeks in that crazy country we call India. 

Comments

1

I am so glad you had some great experiences in India- I am sympathetic to the struggle! Can't wait to see you guys!

  Ashlee May 29, 2008 3:30 AM

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