Goodbye to India
Arriving in Delhi a day or two before a flight to the USA is wise. All too often, I’m told, bureaucratic entanglements prevent travelers from boarding. In our case, I had neglected to bring a printed coy of our itinerary. A heavily armed security guard denied us access to the airport, on the grounds that he couldn’t establish that we were actual passengers. Our driver intervened and after intense negotiations, the guard grudgingly admitted us.
While waiting for departure day, we took a look around Delhi although because of the diwali holiday, Hindu businesses and monuments were closed. No matter. India has the world’s second largest Muslim population. They don’t honor Hindu holidays. We visited the Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, Old Delhi’s principal mosque, where diwali is just another day. I shot this view of the mosque through thick smog.
Hindus, Christians, Atheists and Muslims alike crowded the forecourt. The place is a major tourist attraction, and moreover, since on that day there wasn’t much else to do in Delhi, everyone came here.
I thought about all the experiences and sights of this visit, of the things I’m going to miss. Among them, mirrored bedspreads.
Who would have thought to sew mirrors onto fabric?
I’ll miss people wearing exotic dress, like this young Sikh in his “trainer” turban, age-old headwear combined with modern athletic shorts. A study in anachronism.
I missed the chance to learn Power Meditation, so I guess I’m doomed to practice the old-fashioned powerless kind. Om.
Power Meditation apparently doesn’t gurantee improved spelling.
Every neighborhood has a peanut man. They all set wood fires to smolder in pots, shoving them into piles of peanuts. A few rupees gets you a newspaper cone of warm peanuts in their shells, scooped from under the pot.
I’ll miss livestock wandering everywhere, but I won’t miss dancing around piles of dung.
I often wished I could speak Hindi or Urdu, so that, for example, I could have asked shopkeepers to explain their more mysterious wares. This display contains nothing I recognize, much less have any idea how to use.
I’ll miss the hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Jogibara road, where late at night we could get potato parathas smeared with fiery red chilli* sauce and big cokes in heavy returnable bottles. Dinner for two: 40 rupees, about one dollar.
The inside of the place looked like the setting for the drinking contest in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Whenever I was too frustrated or tired or grumpy, the friendly image of Ganesh would appear around the next corner, always accompanied by the tiny mouse he rode to earth on. My main obstacle at those times was my fatigue. Ganesh never failed to remove it.
I’ll miss scenes like the Chicken Man unloading the day’s inventory. That crummy shack is his store.
Not everyone would miss the snake man, but I will. I gave him 20 rupees to let me pet his serpent.
I’ll miss the architecture, the vistas, the mystery, the spirituality, and above all, the people—courteous, helpful, friendly.
If I spent a year here, traveling all over the country, I wouldn’t get to see it all, and I surely wouldn’t understand it. A third the size of the USA, India lacks good air connections and freeways, so in terms of travel times, it’s actually much bigger. I met a family in Dharamsala that had come from Calcutta on holiday. Their train took 40 hours.
Exhausting, dirty, frustrating, I can’t imagine a travel destination any better. Travel expands horizons. India expanded mine farther than any other place I’ve traveled.
* Indians use British spelling. What do the English know from chiles, anyway?