And now we get to the part where I rattle off a hodgepodge of memories that I didn’t think neatly fit into other categories. I’ll run them off in a seemingly unordered, hopefully enjoyable order.
Rain: We went to India during the monsoon season, which probably seems crazy, and it was. To be fair, it honestly wasn’t that bad, but probably this was due to happenstance more than anything. Literally every time the heavens ripped open, I was gripping a door handle or safely dry in transit or incidentally preparing for dinner. The rain not once hampered the trip, and for that I’m rather fortunate. Horrid flooding I’ve seen in the news in the country aside, the rain for us was not all the bad. Angels would shed their tears down on us for 15 minutes and then it ceased immediately or just misted lazily afterwards. Granted had I been outside wearing the sheer, off-white garb of the local men, I would’ve been in trouble. But I wasn’t, mostly.
There was one time in Rajasthan, where sheets of rain flew parallel to the ground and gusts buffeted the car doors; however we were (I think) safely inside a sedan, driver reassuring us that this, “was the worst storm he’s ever seen.” Afterwards, the streets were veiled by never-ending rivers of runoff water. So yeah there was that I guess.
Airports: India reminded me of the Urumqi Airport (northwest China), the only place I’ve seen such serious security. We entered and immediately they checked out bags and locked shut the main pouch with zip ties. Sure, why not. Then we head to the ticket counter where they say our bags are too big (they weren’t on any of the other four flights during this whole trip) and needed to be stored underneath the plane. Thus, the trouble. We had breakables in the bags, but couldn’t access them. And then we couldn’t go outside either, so the only “option” was to pray that marble can withstand a few tosses by the baggage guys. (It can.)
For all the security with guns and impassable doors and soldiers and police and notices, one airport seemed surprisingly willing to mix up bags: Goa. You placed your bag (and keys and phone and wallet) through the x-ray machine, turned ten yards to your left and waited in line for the metal detector. And waited. And waited. And waited for over 20 minutes as your wallet sat somewhere out in the open while scores of guys milled about trying to find theirs. Finally you were called through for a crude pat down, praying to any and all of the mystical beings that your credit cards were nestled in their leather beds and all your cash was all still spooning.
Culture Shock: I say this fully knowing that Asia is a vastly diverse place, with every country fully deserving of its own love and observation. Further, within every country an assortment of various cultures and foods and landscapes await. It doesn’t do good to typecast people. However, there is a sort of Continuum of Asia that one can definitely feel. East Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and everything in between. There are similarities in each of these groupings, and while I’m rather familiar with the first two and somewhat acquainted with the third, it was the subcontinent that eluded me these last two years.
I went to India fully expecting to be taken out of my comfort zone, and I was so happy not to have been disappointed. I was uncomfortable and that sort of travel is exciting, compelling, worthwhile. Vietnam and Thailand are 1000% different places, but compared to India, they’re identical twins. In India, I wasn’t ever crying to come home or so out of place I wanted to leave, but I was left with a range of emotions, a cornucopia of thoughts and an absolutely shattering of preconceptions. That was a good thing.
Ambulances: As my brother operates these things, I’ve tended to notice them over the years. For all the problems I’m sure exist driving them in American cities, I cannot imagine the stress that accompanies whipping these things through the streets of India. I’ve seen one literally stuck in the middle of a circle of hundreds of cars. We were on the backgrounds, with no real offshoots, when we discovered a huge accident and cars kept flowing in. Next thing we know, the ambulance is fully encircled, sirens blaring and worried lit-up faces peering out the back window.
It was so hectic, that once I saw a motorcycle zooming ahead at oncoming traffic, right hand on the gas, left hand waving traffic to pullover, like plowing snow, except instead of a one ton truck pushing fluffy crystallized water, it was a small bike pushing dozens of one ton trucks. Close enough. And following the bike? An ambulance.
Favorite Places: Bombay, Jaipur, Goa, New Delhi. In that order. I was tempted to put Goa first, simply because of the Portuguese influence, but I decided to be reasonable. Bombay and Jaipur were very, very beautiful, and had such unique offerings for travelers. Goa was essentially a big beach town with churches, and New Delhi is…a city? It’s got that going for it.
Eid Mubarak!: So we went right during the height of Ramadan, and having never been to a country with such a large Muslim presence during that holiday, I wasn’t sure what I’d see. Sure enough, there was fasting and prayer and all customs you’d read about. However, when we went to the Islamic center at Fathepur Sikri, something struck me as odd. The whole mosque was stone, in the desert, searing hot. As you have to remove your shoes before entering, it scorched my feet even with socks on. You could have probably, quite literally cooked an egg in the middle of the complex. Not that you should, though, because it was a time of fasting and people who were clearly tired and hungry and likely poor, were lying down on blankets in the shade, but still on a solid, searing surface somewhere between the temperature of hot rocks at the masseuse and a cup of warm milk.
In any case, “Eid Mubarak!” is something that you could (and should!) say around India as a sign of cheer and respect, and is not met with any disdain or contempt. It just goes to show the great diversity, the vibrantly popping colors and intricately woven tapestry that is India. India is a ridiculously diverse place, and all the intricacies of multiculturalism are there for all to see.
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