India Journal Part I

Dear Dad,

Someone told me once that journals are good for you – your mental and physical health.  He believed writing out your feelings would keep you from getting sick.  The semester that I wrote everyday in my journal, I was healthy.  The semester I didn’t touch my journal, I got sick 3 times.

Now, I don’t know if writing kept me healthy, but I do know it can help you sort out any dilemmas, get any negative feelings out, make you realize something you never knew, or just keep a record of your personal adventures.

Write stories, poems and inspirations in here or draw pictures.  I know in your busy life, you don’t have time to always write, but it’s nice to have a place to go to that’s just yours.

I love you. Happy Father’s Day!

Love Kelley

June 15th, 1995

 

Do you remember those “Anti-Coloring Books” we used to have?  I found one the other day in a box and began to look through it.

Under “What is your favorite story”, I drew a  picture of us three kids sitting on the ground and you on a chair, and in crayon were the big letters, “Jock DuPont” scrawled in  my handwriting.  I still remember watching you draw intricate designs on our tickets to listen to you make up the wildest stories about the great explorer – Jacque DuPont.

Kelley

June 15th, 1995

 

Found on pages 1 and 70 respectively, these were the first entries in this journal.  It was a Father’s Day present I received 9 ½ years ago.  It just took me about a decade and another trip to India (separated by 42 years) to get me journaling again.  For my kids the title of this journal is “The Real Life Adventures of Jacque DuPont”.

 

 

What follows is the chronicle, observations and reflections that came out of our (Mo and my) recent trip to India.

Very brief overview of itinerary: Denver à New Delhi à Corbett National Park à Ranikhet à Mendoli à Himalayan trek (2 weeks): Roop Kund, Kauri Pass à Auli à Rishikesh à New Delhi à  Agra à New Delhi à Denver.

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10/1/2004: 

Just as we walked in the door of our Steamboat home at 4 PM the phone range.  Mo picked it up.

Mo: “Tim Lange is on the phone.  Who is Time Lange?” 

Dan: “I don’t know”

Mo: “He wants to talk to you”

Dan: “Ok”

Tim: “Have you confirmed your flight yet?”

Moment of thought as I place Tim as the representative from International Travel who had set up our trip itinerary for our trip to India.

Dan: “No not yet”

Tim: “ Well, due to a delay out of Denver you won’t be able to make your connection from Seoul to Delhi, so we will be re-routing you from Seoul to Bangkok and then switching you from Asiana to Air India in Bangkok for the connection to Delhi.  You will be leaving from Denver on United at 8:45 AM tomorrow morning, going to LA where you will need to collect your baggage, take your baggage to the Thomas Bradley Branch of LAX, re-check in at the Asiana desk and get new tickets for your connection from Seoul to Bangkok that shows your transfer to Air India.  In Bangkok you will need to collect your baggage again and check in at the Air India desk.  It will extend your flight time by about 5 yours (40 hours total), but everything should work out fine.”

Dan: “Sounds easy, but what was that part about flying out tomorrow?  We leave on the 2nd in two days.”

Tim: (Laughter in the back ground) “That is correct you will be flying out on the 2nd, but that would be tomorrow. You will be ready to fly from DIA in the morning correct.” (statement not a question)

 

Smilkstein is checking out his Outlook calendar realizing that either there has been a devious cosmic time warp episode, or there has been a near disastrous error in the communication between his limbic system (memory) and his prefrontal cortex (associated with higher level thought, decision-making and planning).  He makes the assumption that it is the latter and moves ahead.

 

Dan: “Oh sure, no problem.  We’ll be there on time tomorrow.”

 

We had planned this trip about 6 months in advance so loosing a day and almost missing our flight by 24 hours was hard to grasp, but we took it in stride and adjusted.

The reality was that it was now 6:30 PM and we still had about 2 hours of mandatory things to do to actually be able to leave the house for a month with out worrying that some disaster would occur in our absence.  By 8:30 all of our connections had been confirmed, we had a printed updated itinerary from International Travel, the dog had been dropped off, etc., etc., etc., and so on.

We headed to Denver and were in bed by midnight, waiting anxiously for our 5 AM wake up so that we could make it on time to United Airlines International check-in (accounting for the three hour recommended window for customs and check in).   Piece of cake. 

I kept thinking, “I am Tina’s brother after all”.

 

10/2/2004: 1000

Check in was smooth and we are now flying over some old haunts in the San Bernardino Mountains.  Can see Big Bear Lake and Arrowhead Lake, so I know somewhere in between the two is where I spent a good portion of my adolescent formative years, but that is another story.  LA is just visible through the smog (I thought they had fixed that) and Angeles Crest is obscured by the brown haze.

 

10/3/2004: 0238 Bangkok time – elapse time 28.5 hours.

Let’s see?? I have to back up several hours and few countries ago to explain this one.  Arrived in Seoul a little early, at 7 PM, and checked the official computer print out from Tim Lange at IT.  We had 2 hours until our connection to Asiana flight 343 left from Gate 7 at 9 PM.  Confirmed this on the Departure board.

Since we had plenty of time we took a little walk around their beautiful airport and then decided to play it safe and go to Gate 7 early and just wait.  Mo headed for a bathroom to wash up a little and I headed for the gate.  As I strolled down the concourse, a frantic Korean Asiana representative came running down the concourse calling out my name.  As he got his breath, he explained in heavily accented English, that he had held our flight for 10 minutes and we had to get to Gate 22 immediately or they would have to leave with out us. I tried to calm him down by explaining that we still had at least an hour and a half before our flight left from Gate 7, but this only made him more upset.  I thought he might be over reacting due to the Apolo Anton Ohno incident in Salt Lake, but there was a more bizarre yet logical explanation at hand. 

He called a cart and we (agent and myself) raced for Gate 22.  At that point someone realized that we were still missing Mo.  I communicated that she was in one of the dozen or so bathrooms on the Asiana Concourse cleaning up.  At this point they sent an army of Korean agents in to all the bathrooms calling out “Mo, Mo”.  Even with the Korean accent they handled calling “Mo, Mo” with no problem, and I was just thankful her name wasn’t Herminie.  When at last they found her in one of the bathrooms she of course was baffled at the fuss.  It was all for naught since the flight had locked the doors and was ready to roll before she could be hauled to Gate 22.

With the help of a very nice and patient Korean fellow who worked for Asiana we unraveled the mystery.

When we landed in LA we collected our bags at the United baggage claim and made the mile trek to Thomas Bradley Airport to check in with Asiana. When we reached the head of the line we presented the “official” letter from International Travel explaining the change in schedule and outlining our revised itinerary.  The letter even had a special code that we were assured would alert the Asiana representative and the travel computer as to the changes.  It was obvious that the agent at the desk spoke and understood very little English, but he indicated by numerous head nods and ya-yas, that he understood the changes.  We specifically questioned him on this a couple of times and were completely reassured by more head nods and ya-yas that our baggage would make it and the flight schedule was all “ok”.

In reality he had no idea what the special code was and apparently understood little or nothing of what we said.  He may have also figured that when we were 6,000 mile away in Seoul, where almost no one spoke English, that it was unlikely that a complaint would be filed.  I tend to think that he was doing what he thought was correct and just didn’t want to admit that he didn’t understand what we were asking.  The end result was that he didn’t change anything on our ticket and we were we still booked for the flight we couldn’t (but almost did) make. 

In the end we did get on our rescheduled flight to Bangkok.  The re-check in with Air India was also an experience. The Air India desk is, well, a desk.  It was about 1 AM and we were the only people in line, which technically doesn’t qualify it as a line.  The agent had a bad case of ADHD or was having auditory hallucinations.  He would work on our ticket for a few minutes punching keys randomly on a keyboard.  Then he would suddenly stop, walk a few feet away and seemed to be concentrating on some other task.  He would then wander back and start over again.  This went on for about one hour and 15 minutes before he indicated that he had succeeded.  We were very patient through this whole process since we had nothing else to do and he was the best entertainment around.

After the ticket was finished he took us on about a ½ mile walk out to the tarmac.  We though we were boarding our plane, but instead we were being brought out to the plane to confirm that the luggage on the ground was ours.  We did so and then walked ½ mile back plus a little extra to the Air India gate.

 

Air India check in desk. Notice long lines and attentive agent.

 

 

About 5 or 6 hours later we were landing in New Delhi, India.  It was 4:30 AM, although time was irrelevant, and we were heading for the Park Hotel in Delhi.

 

10/3/2004: 0515

We selected the area of India we were going to trek in because it was more remote, less traveled and less well known than its Nepalese neighbors to the southeast.  Everyone has heard of Katmandu and Everest Base Camp, but very few have heard of Bedni Bugyal, Bhagwa Basa, Kauri Pass and Auli.

Fortunately, to get to our remote destination we were required to pass through some of the mass of humanity that constitutes the bulk of Indian society.  I do mean fortunate, because unless you see all of India you can’t comprehend any part of India.

We had about a 30 kilometer car ride from the airport to our hotel in New Delhi.  In spite of our (American’s) love affair with driving, roads in India have achieved a level of importance that far exceeds the function of driving or the esteem we hold for roads in the USA.  They have become life centers for the people.  All things travel on the roads and all activities from travel, commerce  to living, trash disposal and sewage, occur immediately next to the roads.  On our early morning drive we saw on the road an old man riding an elephant, people on motorcycles (up to 4 per motorcycle) traveling with and against traffic, people on bikes (up to 4 per bike) travel with and against traffic.  There were 100’s of three wheel taxis, cars, trucks and busses.  There were mules, dogs, water buffalo, a few monkeys and of course people traveling on the road.

Of interest was that almost all the motorcycle drivers wore helmets, but the woman passengers never wore helmets.  It turns out that Delhi had passed a helmet law for motorcycles, but the law was challenged by the Muslim woman due to problems with head gear.  Since they could not distinguish Muslim woman from Hindu woman, they just struck down the helmet law for woman.

I can say with out challenge that there are no traffic laws, or at least no traffic law enforcement, on Indian roads.  It is clear that the only one who ever cared about the nice line in the center of the highway was the guy who painted it.  Other than NASCAR level driving skills, the only requirement for driving is knowing how to use the horn.  We asked our driver how old you had to be to drive (after seeing a kid about 9 on a motorcycle).  His answer was something about at conception.

As we got closer in to the city, beggars of all ages, kinds and genders appeared in large numbers.  Begging is the social support system in India.  Living quarters in the form of plastic ground cloths and tin, bushes and boxes appeared in the ditches and niches between other structures.  There were acres of land that literally looked like they had been test grounds for the shock and awe campaign.  It was pointed out that this was middle class/laborer housing.

Every building, structure, car and person has some sign of imperfection, damage, decomposition, deconstruction or construction.  Nothing is finished or new.  As a westerner it is hard to imagine how this mass of cogs, chains, springs and rust continues to function day after day in this state of perpetual desperation.

Somehow the Indians not only survive with it, but they seem unstressed by it.  It is as much a part of their normal life as a traffic jam is in LA.  The difference, from what I observed, is that there was no road rage, no one was yelling at anyone, and people just seemed to calmly be going about what ever task they were doing.

While in the Seoul Airport, since nothing else was going on, I picked up a book about the Indian experience for 19,000 wons (2,000 wons/$1 US so not a bad deal).  The book, titled “India, A Wounded Nation” by V.S. Naipaul, may have provided the answer to this paradox of profound calmness in the midst of profound chaos.

Gandhi’s non-violent revolution to gain independence from the British Raj advocated non-violence in all aspects of life from political to social to economic.  Over time the call to non-violence has become a decree of non-action.  They are hard working, but have no ambition to achieve more.  This lack of ambition is not the outgrowth of poverty and hopelessness as occurs in American ghetto’s, but simply an appreciation for what they have and a desire to live this life as best they can, as they believe is prescribed by dharma in the Hindu religion.

If a man in a village has an ox, a grain field and a wife he is happy and desires nothing more.  An ambitious man might want to get a phone so that he can get the grain prices from the next town rather than have to travel there to obtain the same information.

 

10/4/2004  1700

In spite of the appearance that India is stuck in the past and crumbling all around us, I recalled that every teck call I have made for my Dell computer and most of the software I use, has been answered by an Indian in India.  The last Citi Bank Visa transaction I called on just before we left went was to an Indian in Delhi.  We even had a chat about recommended spots to visit in Delhi.  United Airlines just closed down one of their big reservation offices in the States, laying off over 600 people, and moved the reservation phone center to Delhi, India.

That means that below the open outdoor sewage, beggar hobbles, decaying buildings and streets, ancient Muslim and Hindu ruins, there are more T1, T2 lines, satellite hook-ups and hardware than in Silicon Valley.

India definitely struggles with the old and new.  Our guide to the famous ruins of Delhi today, pointed out that 95% of marriages in India are still arranged by the families before the couple has ever formally met.  All arrangements are made by the families, and depending on your socioeconomic standing, the dowry can be enormous.  Before we had a chance to digest this grievous violation of personal choice, she also pointed out that the divorce rate is about 5% and most of this occurs in the most westernized part of the population.

Visited several of the oldest and most impressive of the Hindu/Muslim historic sites today.  Hamayan’s Tomb, built by the designer of the Taj Mahal as his starter project, and Outab Minar. 

Outab Minar was most interesting, because it visually showed the relationship between Hindu and Muslim religions and politics. There were originally 20 Brahman Hindu temples in this area.  Hindu’s created elaborate designs containing  stone carving depicting human life and the likenesses of their gods.  In the 13th century the Muslims invaded India and took over selected regions. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this area of Delhi the Muslim conquerors needed building materials, so instead of outright destroying the temples, they dismantled them and used the stone.  Muslims do not allow any appearance of faces in their mosques, so where there were stone carvings that showed human likenesses the blocks of stone were either turned around (carving now hidden inside of columns and walls) or they chipped off the faces.  There were literally thousands of such carvings (bodies with no heads) on the structures comprising the Outab Minar.

Tomorrow morning we start our 3 day drive to the mountains and trekking.  Can’t wait to get going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to India Journal Part II

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