Some parts of India are too breathtaking, if such concept exists. There were times when I had to mentally slap myself out of a daze. What struck me the most were the people we encountered. There was a sense of sureness, confidence, and belonging I felt the citizens of India displayed. Although there was plenty of activity in India, I felt of sense of stillness. Poverty is visible in India. We saw unfinished buildings and people sleeping on the street. Our group was asked for money at many of the tourist attractions we visited, but it didn’t bother me. I expect being asked for money wherever I travel as a tourist including major cities in the US.
America is a relatively new republic, reaping the wealth after the near genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African people for hundreds of years. In Washington DC, the most visited landmarks are The White House, The Monument, and The Capitol – all completed in the 19th and 20th centuries. While touring New Delphi, Agra, and Jairpoor, I felt the weight of an ancient society with religions, artifacts, and belief systems that predate American monuments and technologies. It was a very humbling experience. American politicians often claim the US is the greatest nation in the history of the world. I am sure many Indians would disagree.
The food in India was delicious. As a pescatarian, I appreciated the variety of vegetarian options the hotels and restaurants offered. We mostly ate omelets, fruit, bread, and drank fruit juice for breakfast. Naan, rice, paneer, spinach, chickpeas, and samosas were our regular stables for lunch and dinner. Norma (my wife) and I are frequent patrons of an Indian/Pakistani restaurant in DC and we were happy to learn the food we eat there is very similar to the food we ate in India.
I had no desire to eat American food, listen to American music, or read American news, while in India. I wanted to completely submerge myself into the experience while it lasted, especially since the trip was quick. “Ignoring America” was quite easy. Our hotels had cable TV stations, yet only one channel was dominated by American news. There was so much going on in India, I had little time or reason to pay attention to anything else. There were reports of an Indian politician allegedly raping a woman. After reporting the rape to the police, the woman had to go to the alleged rapist’s home with the police to identify him while he was there! There was a story about a father beating his daughter to death and beheading his son-in-law because the father did not approve of the relationship and another story about the Indian Institute of Technology slipping in academic world rankings. Even though these stories were negative, it reflected a slice of what was going on at the time and I was intrigued.
The sheer enormity of India is more than enough to swallow. We were tin India seven full days and barely scratched the surface. Victas (our tour guide) informed us India’s annual net population growth is 22 million people per year, about the total population of Australia. According to Wikipedia, India’s net growth is closer to 15 million per year. Regardless, India’s population is growing at a very fast rate. I left India wondering where do these people live? How do they survive? Where do they work?
India is home to yoga, Buddism, Sikism, karma sutra, Bollywood (which produces about twice as many films than Hollywood), the Himalayas, and fine carpets. Indians were also pioneers in developing the numeral system, cotton textiles, and radio/wireless communication. It is hard to imagine America without India’s influence. Now that we are back in the US, I see India’s influence in many places and keep up with their current affairs more frequently.
I was sad during our last day in India. Norma and I were finally getting use to the 8.5-hour time difference. Our tour bus rode by ancient monuments, museums, and modern gardens at an alarming rate while Victas identified as many points of interest as possible. I could have spent another 2-3 months there easily!
Boarding the plane with Norma was bittersweet. We were relieved that we had survived, but also saddened that we were leaving one of the smartest guys I have ever met, Victas. Victas was a one-man wrecking machine. He was the middleman between our group and the hoards of street vendors seeking our business. He told us jokes, and advised us on how to stay sick-free in India. He redefined what a tour guide and ambassador should be. For all this and more, we were grateful.
The plane ride back home was smooth sailing, but I was unable to sleep due to motion sickness and stomach issues. The infamous “Delhi belly” had finally hit home. I buried myself in work and reading trying to numb the pain. Upon arriving back in Washington DC, I was struck by how different America and India is. I saw no cows in the middle of the street. I did not have to tip anyone in order to use the restroom. Yet, I missed it all. OK, maybe not the tipping part.
India will soon be the most populous country in the world (ahead of China). Americans will have to become more knowledgeable about India as its global stock rises. How the world adjusts to this phenomenon remains to be seen. What I do know is we will visit India again, hopefully sooner than later.