A Close Touch With India

A Close Touch With India
(March 2008)
 
Whenever I told people that I had been to India, they would be amazed and envious of my experience. "India, wow, what a great destination!" Certainly it is. The trip has been over for exactly one month. I still cannot gather my mind to write something about my trip. Not only because there are so much to write about but also because the precious feeling I treasured during the trip has made it harder to describe in words.
 
To a Chinese, India is like a strong competitor in many industries from information technology to the open market policy; while to India, the West seems to be their target customer. Not like Southeast Asia, India has nothing about Chinese heritage. There is not any China Town in New Delhi; most billboards or store signs are written in Hindi, English or Urdo. Even their favorite Chinese restaurants are mostly run by local Indians. Since I don’t have a pointy nose or a dark feature, I was totally regarded as an "alien" or "foreigner" in this exotic land. China was the last nationality the local India would have thought of about where I am from. I think my broken Japanese could easily fool them. 
 
On my arrival at the airport of New Delhi, all I saw were people, people and people. It is no kidding that India has the second largest population in the world after China. I also noticed the Indians here in New Delhi were tall and robust, and their skin color was considerably lighter. I was very lucky to be put up at my friend’s family house. It saved my budget to stay at the expensive hotels (as they charged heaps in New Delhi). About food, I learned the Indian name "aloo" for potato as I liked to order it in the restaurant. Lassi, a yogurt milk drink, was my favorite in India. It was almost impossible to have an Indian dish without hot chilly. To the Indians’ standard, those which were not spicy had reached my limit of spicy dishes. Luckily I got to know Chapatti, a plain unleavened flat bread, and Naan, another simple flat bread similar to Chapatti but more tasty. I was fortunate to be treated for a homemade Indian dinner at a well-to-do Indian family. And the family suggested that I have three things for a non-spicy Indian meal: a mixed vegetable soup, some Naan and Lassi. Out comes a healthy man!
 
The traditional costumes on Indian women were beautiful. The vibrant textile colors just matched the enviroment. When I was in the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri, those Indian women in bright outfits were like fairies flying around the court. How beautiful they were! Interestingly, I noticed young Indian girls tended to be slim and pretty while middle-aged Indian women were plump and short, yet some were still attractive. I happened to pass by a couple of local weddings. It was not a fairy tale any more that grooms in India did ride on a white horse like Prince Charming to pick up the brides, followed by a band playing musical instruments. And I am told that until today many marriages are still arranged by parents in India. Caste plays an important role in this rite of passage. Sadly, my age in India would be too old to get marry. It looks like I am out of luck in India.
 
Despite poverty being a heavy social issue in India, the protection for nature and historic relics in India is better than in China. All kinds of birds were flying in the sky. The Hindus believe they would have a good next life if they set free the pigeons. Cows, buffalos, camels, donkeys, dogs, cats, chicken and even pigs are easily seen on the streets or in the center of the road. Gosh, just imagine on the modern highway, there are four-wheel autos, motorbikes, motor tricycles, bicycles and occasionaly horse wagon or cart pulled by donkey or camel. That’s the picture of modern India traffic. Drivers in New Delhi seemed to be as impatient as the Chinese drivers. Yet Indian drivers had no concept about car distance. Look at the appearance of the autos or motor tricycles on the road!!! Many of them are either dented in different degree or missing a backlight or some small portion. I was surprised to see thousands of cars lining up in downtown New Dehli during rush hour. Overloading is another phenomenon in India. Not like China, buses in India never close the doors. People just jumped on and off from the back door; passengers liked standing by the doors too. In the countryside, I even saw bicycles and people were on the roof of the bus. If millions of people riding bicycles to work is considered to be one of "Chinese characteristics," I must say this overloading scenario must be one of the "Indian characteristics." If spitting is one of many notorious "Chinese characteristics," answering the call of nature by the roadside must be one of many infamous "Indian characteristics."
 
I was attracted by the outstanding Ambassador taxis in India. They were so old-fashioned but Indian flavor!!! Of course the Sikhs had caught my attention as well. They represent India as pandas symbolize China. I doubted if the Sikhs really kept their hair for the whole life. Their turban is mysterious to me. If only I knew how they fixed their long hair I could fix mine the same. During my visit in Jaipur, I finally saw the snake charmers in person!!! I wondered if they had hypnotized the cobras before playing their tricks with the flutes. Anyway, they could fool the tourists very well.
 
India is absolutely worthy of visiting, not only for one time but is deserving of many returns. I have woven many fond memories on this trip. However, it is like an unfinished rickshaw puzzle. I need to explore more about India before completing the whole piece of real India.
 
Below is my sightseeing itineraries:
Day 1  New Delhi
Connaught Place–lunch @ The Imperial India (since 1911)–dinner @ India International Center–an evening peek @ Lodi Garden
 
Day 2  New Delhi
Connaught Place–The Raj Ghat Gandhi Memorial–lunch @ Maidens Hotel (since 1903), passed by Old Delhi–India Gate–India International Center–Lodi Garden
 
Day 3  Agra
Early morning train ride (totally Lost In Translation, like Survivor in India, 2 hours)–Fatehpur Sikri (don’t miss Fatehpur Sikri Mosque which is said to be a copy of the mosque in Mecca)–lunch @ Lakshmi Vilas (a South Indian Vegetarian restaurant)–Agra Fort–Taj Mahal–train back to New Delhi (another Lost In Translation ride, torturous 6 hours)
 
Day 4  New Delhi
Lunch @ Karims (it has the royal taste of mughlai food)–Jama Masjid–Red Fort–Humayun’s Tomb (an inspiration for Taj Mahal)–brief stop at India International Center for Indian folk performance–dinner @ local Indian family
 
Day 5  Jaipur
Morning flight from New Delhi–lunch @ Royal Orchid Hotel–Amber Fort–Nahargarh Fort for sunset (a-bird’s-eye-view of the "Pink City")–dinner @ Hotel Clarks Amer
 
Day 6  Jaipur
Wind Palace–City Palace–an elephant village–drink @ Raj Mahal Hotel (Taj Group)–flew back to New Delhi
 
Day 7  New Delhi
Shop @ N-Block Market, Greater Kailash 1 ("Fabindia" a must-go place)–lunch @ Connaught Place–Jantar Mantar–passed by Janpath bazar and Tibetan stores–shop @ Central Cottage Industries Emporium–last-minute shopping @ Evergreen Sweet–headed for airport sadly.  
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