Saturday, May 7, 2011

India Caprice - Part 1

“…so the word bamboozle was my one preparation for the rich, noisy, functioning madness of India.”  Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Taj Mahal

In India more than four days, and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit still and write about the experience of India – the places we’ve visited and my impressions of the country and its people.  We’ve been on the move steadily since our arrival in the middle of the night (early AM) in New Delhi, jet-lagged, exhausted, confused, overwhelmed by the crowds.  Fortunately, there were three other OAT passengers seated near me on the plane and we helped each other to fill out forms in the airport.

Rathambore-Nahargarh Hotel

I’m writing in the spacious, elegant courtyard of the Ranthambore-Nahargarh Hotel, built like a Raja’s palace, white on the outside with pointed-bubble domes and elaborate wall fretwork (Indo-Islamic architecture).  Inside, the facades facing the courtyard are a deep cream color accented with white trim and yellow panels and pillars in a mauve-tan, lighter than the pink sandstone paving the courtyard and veranda steps.  Bougainvillea in brilliant red and purple grow lush in pots around the courtyard, and frangipani trees hang over its four corners.  A fountain drips softly into a shallow, eight-pointed star-shaped pool, and birds (pigeons and other smaller birds) fly down to drink, then fly away again.  It’s a peaceful idyll after the rush and chaos of the first few days of the trip. 
Impressions so far have been a jumble of images - crowded streets and ostentatious buildings - both Mughul and British Colonial - garish gods and temples, blurred by fatigue and overstimulation.  I haven’t taken very good notes, and I’ve lost half my pictures.  They were on a camera I let someone try to find a function on and when I got it back, all my pictures were gone!  I read through the instructions this afternoon and am afraid those photos are gone for good, but I learned how to protect the ones I’ve taken since.  Fortunately, I brought two cameras, each with a new memory card, so I should be able to take plenty of photos.  I have been alternating them, so I’ve lost photos of days one and three, but not of days two and four (I hope).  I’m still jet-lagged and feel like I may be coming down with something – cold sores, scratchy throat.
On the first day in India (Delhi), we woke up “late” (~9:30 AM), ate a quick breakfast, and went out to explore the hotel neighborhood.  The local market place was crowded and dirty, and we were thronged/hounded by beggars and curious, unkempt children.  This has been my experience throughout the trip so far:  being mobbed by the curious, the beggars and the hawkers.  Our leader, Ghopal Singh, has a very good way of handling the hawkers.  The bus is our refuge and, after we get into the bus, he brings in wares from the hawkers, one-by-one, gives us the fair price and, if we would like to buy something, we give him money to give to the hawkers.
And now I have developed a cold.  It started yesterday evening (or perhaps the night before with a scratchy throat) but last night, my head was stuffy and I felt exhausted and finally slept through the night for the first time on this trip.  I did awaken a couple of times, but was able to go back to sleep, which I wasn’t able to do previously.
This morning, we got up at 5:30 AM, had a quick breakfast, and went out to the Ranthambhore Park early in the morning.  We saw a lot of magnificent wildlife:  peacocks, monkeys, spotted deer, antelope, the “blue bull” (I didn’t realize that antelope don’t lose their horns each year whereas deer do), wild boars, several species of birds and a magnificent young female tiger, who just sauntered across the roadway behind us!  Perhaps we were scaring up game for her...


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