India Journal XV (The end)

 

10/24/2004: 1800

Will be meeting the heads of Ibex Expeditions, Mandip and Anita, in a little while in the lobby of the Park Hotel.  After this we will be off to the airport for the long ride home.

Since we had a couple of hours we decided to venture out in to the Delhi evening and visit the Central Cottage Emporium at Connaught Place.  Their  shops are supposed to have some very high quality Indian art and crafts.  As soon as we left the sanctuary of the Park Hotel we were faced with the usual gauntlet of taxi drivers and solicitors of various sorts.  In the past we had always turned left out the gait and gone in to the 24 hour per day street market and bizarre that existed non-stop along Parliament Street outside our hotel. 

 

 

 

Market place immediately outside Park Hotel gate. 

These two guys were very interested in America

and worked as electricians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three weeks previous when we had first made this trip a taxi driver at the gate told us that the street was closed due to an Indian Holiday and that only Indians could go to the street market.

He graciously was willing to take us to a place that was open and had great and very cheap things.  Since there were about 1,000 people in the forbidden zone, all of which seemed to be having a great time buying and selling things, we ignored him (correctly) and headed on in to the market.  The same fellow met us again this time and informed us that it was a Indian Holiday and that it was closed to foreigners, but he would be glad to take us to a wonderful shopping place in his taxi. 

 

 

 

The Park Hotel taxi man who informed us that it was a Indian Holiday…all the time.  Turned out to be a very nice fellow who had an uncle in Michigan.  When I told him I was from America he said, “Oh, I like Bill Clinton”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After convincing him and a particularly persistent and pushy three wheel taxi driver that we would preferred to walk the 0.5 km distance to the Cottage Industry Emporium, they seemed satisfied to leave us alone. 

I was wrong.  The three wheel taxi man came after us, and as a good Samaritan and proud host of his country, corrected our bearings and pointed us in the right direction.  I should have been more suspicious.  After a couple of blocks I didn’t recognize the name of any of the streets and it was looking distinctly un-commercial.  I carefully pulled out the map (careful, because if the taxi drivers see you consulting a map they are on you like flies on you know what) and determined that our good Samaritan had almost accomplished his goal of getting us lost.  Miraculously their he was at our side again offering to take us to the correct address.  I had figured out the correction and after some vigorous refusing, we were off.   Ten minutes and three blocks later we should have been at Janpath where we could turn left and intersect with Connaught Place, but we weren’t.  We were at Rajpath and something else.  I looked around to make sure we had no observers and pulled out the map.  As fast as I could say “we are lost” there were two taxi drivers, including our old friend from the Park, ready to assist.  We had figured out the MO of the taxi drivers, now we just had to figure out the map.  Again we insisted we like to walk and were really enjoying (not) the evening.  The three wheeled taxi man pointed out the direction to go, which was 180o off what the map said. This was not our last encounter.   The taxi man trailed us around Delhi like a fly on a hot summer day that has decided that you are the last worthy meal on the planet, not able to do you harm, but very irritating. 

We finally arrived on a street that looked promising.  A young man earnestly asked us where we were from and if he could help.  I still had some faith in humanity, but Mo had gone to the dark side.  When I said “we are American” and were looking for the Park Hotel, he indicated that he was excited to meet Americans and eager to direct us.  After a few more questions about America he pointed down a dark stairway that let under the street and said, “you need to go underground”.  That concept didn’t please Mo, but I was out of answers and decided to trust him.  With some vigorous encouragement Mo was willing to enter the bowels of Hell in the under world of New Delhi, India.  Actually it was a pretty clean and well lit passageway under a very busy and dangerous road.  We emerged on the other side safe, only a block from our hotel and cured of our desire to shop.

 

At 1900 Mandip and Anita arrived at our hotel and we had a very nice visit.  Both of them are native Indians with vast experience in travel and a passion for adventure and the environment. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandip and Anita Singh Soin in Park Hotel lobby

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ibex has received several international rewards related to conservation and eco-tourism.  Anita has many connections to the literary community of India and had read almost every book written on the culture and history of her country.  Mandip is what I would call a classic neo-Asian-western Sikh.  He wears a turban, has a well trimmed beard and dresses casual urban western (not-cowboy).  Mandip actually has some impressive credentials including numerous Himalayan ascents.

10/25/2004: Seoul South Korea Airport

We made it to the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi at about 9:00 PM, but the check in desk didn’t open until 10:00 PM.  Wandered the airport and took a nap.  I can sleep any where and did so on the floor of the waiting area.  Mo lacked the knack for the nap and was feeling a little stressed (see picture).

 

 

 

This is actually a perfectly in focus picture of how Mo was feeling in the Indira Gandhi International Airport at about 1 AM. Picture taken from perspective of my napping position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plane was late by a few hours, but finally got off the ground and to Seoul with out any problem.  Had a great Korean meal at an airport restaurant and then boarded the final flight to America (still had one more to get to Denver).  Stacey picked us up at DIA and the rest is history.

 

 

 

 

 

You can take the girl out of the country.

 Mo and Stacey in Stacey and Kelly’s living room in

 Denver, Colorado immediately after our arrival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/29/2004: View of India:  You can not be human and walk away from a visit to the real India with out being deeply affected.  All the senses are being constantly assaulted.  Smells of rich spices mix with the smoke of burning sugar cane and garbage. 

Captured in the same camera frame you can see some of the finest and richest architecture and art and the most pervasive poverty on the planet.

There was tremendous peace and quite on our trek through the Garhwal Himalayas.  There was the continuous cacophony of automobile horns, engines and people in the city.  Our culture values privacy and space.  Out of respect or fear we leave space between ourselves and others yet physical violence and outward expressions of anger permeates our lives.  In India there is no space.  People live in such close proximity and with so little privacy that they can not help but invade each others space, yet there is very little verbal or physical violence and you almost never see outward expressions of anger.

Walking a path in the mountains, separated in time, space and technology from the world I knew, was one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever had.  Being a passenger in a vehicle on Indian roads was at first one of the most gripping and anxiety provoking experiences I have had, but over time acceptance and surrender, combined with the newly learned skill of disengaging from reality, turned it in to a new form of entertainment.

In places like Rishiket you can see the modern world of India juxtaposed with the Hindu Brahmin practicing, in much the same way they did 4,000-5,000 years ago, the oldest living religion on earth.   The high holy men, barefoot, wrapped in orange robes, long beards and face makeup, carrying penance and possessing no worldly, walk through auto traffic and vendors selling everything from ancient Rudraksha mala beads to modern electronics. 

 

The country also has a very modern high teck side.. India is one of the main software development centers and the number one technology call center of the world. Since they lack the capital to invest in hardware, they have made their technology investments in their most abundant resource, humans.  The Indian Institute of Technology rivals any US university in high tech training.  Not only are fewer and fewer Indians and other Asians coming to the US since 9/11 to get educated, but IIT reports that there are a growing number of foreigners coming to their schools from all over the world including from the US.

 

In 1947 when Gandhi’s non-violent revolution succeeded in defeating the British Raj it marked the end of 150 years of British rule.  It must be remembered that this 150 years was just the frosting on the preceding 500 year Muslim occupation.  At the time of independence there was no government infrastructure and no stable or identifiable economy, but there was a massive landless poverty stricken population. 

The British occupation had created a wealthy Indian aristocracy that owned most of the usable land on the sub-continent of India.  Nehru, the first prime minister of India, initiated a land redistribution that involved reclaiming all of the land in India for the government and then redistributing it to the people of India.  This redistribution, in theory, would give 12.5 acres (legal limit) of usable land to each Indian for farming.  It still holds to this day that no Indian can legally own more than 12.5 acres of land, but the goal of breaking in the cycle of poverty through land ownership has failed.  India still has the largest landless population on earth and the highest rate of poverty.

Nehru’s main task in 1947 was to decide on a form of government.  His choices were fascism, communism and democracy.  Dictatorship was dismissed early.  Democracy/capitalism was a nice thought, but he realized there was no government infrastructure to ensure good elections and no capital to support capitalism.  Communism was favorably considered but private ownership was valued too much for communism to succeed.  Sine there was no type of government that met their needs and limitations, Nehru and his cabinet created their own.  This new government came closest to Democracy with elements of socialism.  It was clear traveling the country today that government is little respected and has little influence on the lives of the average Indian.

 

One thing that you are always aware of in India is that almost everyone is almost always busy.  People building brick walls in the middle of fields.  People selling, growing, hustling, sowing.  As a westerner observing this hyperkinetic state is difficult to impossible to tell what people are doing, why they are doing it, or how it all works together day after day, month after month, year after year and millennium after millennium, but it just does.  My uneducated guess, based on a few hours of reading and observing, is that Dharma is the glue that keeps it together and the gravitational force that prevents the country from spinning off in to space. 

Dharma is a key Hindu concept that teaches that a continuous, vigorous and focused effort at living this life as best you can is the key to advancing to a higher place in your next life.  Ultimately, by living enough good lives, you can obtain supreme knowledge and be one with god.  I think Christians just applied the “drive through” philosophy to this concept and shortened it to one life.  One of the more contemporary Hindu Indian writers, Gita, described Dharma in this way, “And do thy duty, even if it be humble, rather than another’s, even if it be great.  To die in one’s duty is life; to live in another’s is death.”

We associate Dharma with casts, the Untouchables and the royalty, but according to my Hindu book casts are not a Hindu concept and are rejected by the faith as well as legally by the Indian government.  In spite of this, “class” or “cast”, is heavily used in employment, arranging marriages and allowing educational opportunities. 

 

By all accounts Hinduism and Sikhism started a couple of thousand years before Christianity yet they have no identifiable splinter groups and accept all other religions as valid.  Today in the world there are 34,000 separate Christian groups with 11,000 alone in the U.S. and Canada (according to David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University Press, (2001)) and many of these claim to be the only true religion. 

Hinduism, as well as India itself, has survived as one of the few unchanged religions because they are adaptable, supremely tolerant (even of dumb western tourists), highly spiritual and not particularly interested in changing the rest of the world to their beliefs.  Warring nations come and go and who shall inherit the earth.

Looking back at the people and the country I can say they are the toughest, hardest working, least complaining, most generous and loyal, economically the poorest and spiritually the richest people I have ever met.

 

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