Saturday, November 22, 2014
Now that I've been in India for one whole day, I ask myself, on your behalf: “Well?!!! What do you think of India now?”
I'll tell you what I think: I think She’s HUGE! She might be Infinite, I don’t know, but She’s certainly the biggest thing I've ever seen a tiny, infinitesimally small part of. And I think She has a Hundred Thousand faces and if you open your eye you can see many of them at the same time. And you need to notice that many of them wear pairs of opposite masks, like the Greek Masks of Comedy and Tragedy.
For example, there’s the dirty old Mask of Ever-present Filth that is so easy for us hygienically-obsessed Americans to notice, but look closer and you can’t miss the Mask of Impeccable Cleanliness, right there next to it. You see that one everywhere you look, because there is ALWAYS someone sweeping the street, cleaning the carpet with a bunch of sticks or taking a bucket bath in the gutter. It’s a big, big country with countless mouths to feed, so there are constantly wagons full of produce being pulled from farms in the countryside into the city by oxen or donkeys or smoky trucks. That process generates a LOT of dirt and dust and trash – but Indians are just as constantly fighting back the filth and working very hard to make their home as clean as possible.
There’s the honored Mask of Antiquity that is so compelling to us Americans, since our culture is a mere 200 years old. We love to see old Temples and Palaces and Archeological Ruins. But in front of those ancient sites you can spot the Mask of the Future in the form of billboards advertising the latest technology.
There’s the Mask of Commerce hanging by the dozens of banks you’ll pass in an hour, and in the hundreds of small stores and carts you’ll pass in a minute, and in the shrewd salesmanship of every taxi driver, rickshaw peddler, and store vendor you meet. But in between trying to talk you into a longer drive than you wanted the taxi driver will tell you about his Religion and share his deeply held beliefs, and you’ll see pictures of his Gods or his Guru attached to the dashboard, and that’s when you’ll realize the Mask of Spirituality is there, too. It’s everywhere I've looked in India. This is the Spiritual Center of the World. The World Congress of Hinduism is going on right now in New Delhi. But I saw a bigger image of this Mask at Akshardham Temple. This is like Disneyland and Vatican City completely integrated as One Colossal Monument to Hinduism and Mother India. It cost me a grand total of $2 for 3 hours of incredible adventure, spectacle and breath-taking beauty. And that includes personal, protected storage of my phone, camera and computer (absolutely NO electronic material is allowed inside – they even confiscated 4 AA batteries I had forgotten were in the bottom of my bag). That price includes a 50 minute exhibition of animatronic figures, movies, dioramas and narration (in English, for my group) that told the story of Swaminarayan, who became a wandering holy man in 1792 at the age of 11 years, and spent most of his life wandering around India learning and teaching and spreading his message of peace. It includes a 40 minute film projected on a giant screen about another child guru who did almost the same thing (or are they supposed to be the same person?) And a 15 minute boat ride through a long series of other dioramas, with more animatronics, showing the history of India. This was on par with Epcot. But the message wasn’t about talking mice or fairy god-mothers. It was about world peace and finding the secret of happiness inside yourself. Best two bucks I ever spent.
I’m skipping over 5 hours of general sightseeing that included:
Walking through the streets of Old Delhi
Taking 3 or 4 rides on bicycle rickshaws
Walking around the Red Fort
Visiting a Hindu Temple, making donations, and getting a mark on my forehead
Having Chai (sweet hot tea, with ginger and other spices, served foamy) at tea stalls – twice!
Buying a set of brass dishes and tools to perform Puja (my son wants me to teach him to meditate)
Eating a Jalebi, which is a little like an American Funnel Cake, but the strands are much smaller – about the thickness of a pencil – and cooked until crispy on the outside, sort of like a waffle, and soaked in sugar syrup. It dripped all over me, my bags and my camera, but it was great!
Visiting a silk merchant and thoroughly enjoying his salesmanship techniques. It was well worth being trapped in there for 30 minutes to feel the softest material I've ever felt. He said it was Pashmina, which is the softest portion of the Pashmina Goat and the fibers are finer and softer than Cashmere. He swore it came from the very few hairs of his chinny, chin, chin! And it was mixed with the feathers of a rare Kashmiri bird. He said that’s what makes the material so light. It was almost like he was saying the feathers wanted to fly away!
The final adventures of the day involved a wild taxi ride back to the hotel from Akshardham Temple – this was ‘Rush Hour’ writ LARGE, with more honking than you can possibly imagine!
And then, at long last, dinner! My first real meal in India was in the Assure Resto Bar on DB Gupta Road, just 100 meters from my hotel. The hotel manager walked me there personally, to make sure I got there safely.
I ordered Crispy Chili Honey Potatoes, and Chicken Chili with Gravy – both of which, I figured out later – were items from the shorter Bar Menu. I looked at the full dinner menu, too, but decided to go with my first choices. I asked for some rice, a plain Puri and a Buttered Roti, and some Chutney, too.
I had no idea what to expect from the potato dish. The word ‘crispy’ in the description had me prepared for something maybe like a dry potato pancake, or maybe something like McDonalds Hash Browns. I expected to pick it up with my hand. What I received looked more like McDonalds Fries, if they were then stir-fried with Chilies and Shallots.
It was really good! The chicken was just OK, but overall I was more than satisfied with my first real meal in India!
I stumbled back to my hotel on feet that were fiery with blisters and fell into bed at 8:30 – right after remembering to take my anti-malaria meds!
I had been in India for just 20 hours, at that point, but by any measure my first day in India had been a success!