Tuesday, March 06, 2007

 

A PASSAGE TO INDIA or THE RAJ QUINTET - part II

To paraphrase my friend, Cecelia - who wasn't too thrilled with her trip to India but has had second thoughts upon her return - "we saw cows and monkeys and camels and cows and sarees and elephants and cows and forts and cows and palaces and cows". And cow dung - lots of it. The cow is holy - you know the expression "holy cow" - this is where it must come from. The cows have right of way - always.

I wore my Crocs - those funny looking shoes made of some sort of resin - which are washable. They got washed every night when we came back to the hotel!

It's so strange to be in a city - a big city like Delhi or Mumbai - and to see cows walking in the streets. In Varanasi - which is a very holy city - there are almost more cows than people. I remember walking down a street and talking to Myra - but looking the other way - and I said to her, "Myra, please stop pushing me ". But it wasn't Myra - it was one of the cows - who didn't want to stop pushing me. And me a big city girl at that. What do I know from cows?

In India you go from the sublime to the ridiculous - you traverse centuries in the course of one day. Yes - there is extreme poverty and there are places that are not too clean - is that a diplomatic way of putting it? Especially when you are talking about walking down a street and always - but always - looking down in order to avoid the cow dung. But that same cow dung is used to heat the houses in the small villages we drove through. The dung is formed into patties, left to dry, and the resulting patties are formed into (very pretty) towers in the yards and used as fuel for the stoves and ovens. The same dung is also mixed with paint and used to paint houses. Definitely not our way of life - but it works.

And then you walk into the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai - I always use their restrooms when I am in the neighborhood (a good travel tip - their restrooms are clean and elegant and the hotel is most gracious about strangers coming in for that purpose) which is the height of luxe and modernity and elegance. Walk in the front door - opened by the most fashionable doormen I have ever seen - turn left - walk past the Louis Vuitton display - turn right - up the stairs - and there you are.

We rode in all sorts of conveyances - our ultra-modern Mercedes Benz 9-seater, air-conditioned, 4-wheel drive vehicle -- yes - I know there were only five of us but we do like our comforts. We rode in tuk-tuks - a 3-wheeled vehicle - with handle bars instead of a steering wheel - no doors but a roof - holds three comfortably but I have actually seen 15 people riding in and on it. We rode in bicycle-driven rickshaws and in the yellow and black un-airconditioned Fiat taxis whose meters are so out of date that you have to multiply the amount on them by 14 times the rate shown.

The only conveyance I didn't ride in was a palanquin - a chair affixed to two poles and carried on the shoulders of the men who trudged - countless times a day - up and down 120 very steep and uneven stone stairs to get to the Elephanta Caves. Not because I had anything against being transported by humans in such fashion but because my friends were going by foot and I decided to join them. I was not a happy camper - expecially when I had to walk down - and up - more stairs to get to the loo.

See what I mean about traveling through the centuries in one trip?

Stay Safe.

Rena




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