My main consideration for a trip to India was the cultural immersion, and specifically spending time getting to know our hosts. For Chelle, food was high on her list of potential experiences along with the bazaars and the places to discover, but certainly the people of India featured prominently in her plans. Thus far we have been in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The distinctive Muglai cuisine is heavily vegetarian which suits us well. Biryanis, tandooris, rich cream and yogurt based sauces. Not the Anglo-Indian dishes featured in the restaurants back home. It wasn’t that I didn’t look forward to sampling the food, but I had a different viewpoint. As a healthcare professional I was hyper-focused on food borne illnesses. So much so that it colored my expectations. The food has been exceptional save for two experiences in Udaipur. In nearly all our encounters the people of Indian have delightful – a significant understatement.
I have mentioned some examples of the welcome we received so far in an earlier post. I can only think of a two occurrences when we encountered a difficult personalities. One may have been the situation coupled with a language barrier that intensified the issue. The only other experience was when an old fellow asked for money. I said no, but as I walked by he punched me in the shoulder…weakly but a very surprising moment. Two small outliers with many positive experiences. Whether it has been a suggestion for a good place to eat, assistance with directions, history lessons, ideas on where to stay or helping us to navigate the confusing transportation centers. Ordinary Indians avail themselves to aid us on a regular basis. The congenial nature with which they assist us given the turmoil of the currency demonetization has been stellar. On more than one occasion I have used the interpretive services of a passerby or shop owner with a tuk tuk/taxi driver.
Capturing the faces of India has been a pleasure for me. I keep Rupee coins in my pocket on days when I roam snapping pictures. I am very aware of the constant stream of tourists and the bad habits that we can occasionally demonstrate. I try to be respectful of others and ask before I photograph anyone. Some folks request a financial exchange which in most cases I provide. An old chap sitting on a bench outside Galtaji (also known as the Monkey Temple) in Jaipur was wonderful. I asked for a picture and he agreed. After a couple of shots he smiled and I moved along. A few minutes later he approached and motioned at Chelle. I took a quick picture. He then motioned at me and I handed off the camera. He reached for the camera wanting to see his photo. He squinted at the small screen and smiled broadly.
By happenstance we connected with a young lad at the train station in Jaipur. Suny took us to our digs…the Royal Aashyanni Hotel which was not as glamorous as it sounds, but still quite pleasant. He had an interesting sales pitch and we hired him for the next day. I fully understand that I am somewhat of a commodity to a variety of people here by way of the financial resources I possess. Our relationship with him was certainly that but I spent some time getting to know Suny in a way I hadn’t with most proprietors before that. He talked about his family, gave us an insiders peek into the tourist traps and avoiding them. He helped us get a phone that would work while we travelled around as our original plan didn’t work out. We joined him at a chai vendor not typically frequented by foreigners. The guy sitting across the small space intently stared at me. In his head I imagined him repeating to himself “wtf, wtf, wtf”. Ultimately we were not the lucrative foreigners that Suny preferred. The ones he could steer to shops or restaurants where he could get a commission.I can say with near certainty that it’s not the last we will see of him. We discussed getting together in Delhi before heading back home.
Just two stories from our journey so far. I have so many photos of the people here. A police officer that gave Chelle an unauthorized tour of a step well, a camel jockey racing through the streets of Jodhpur, an elephant driver, the regular folks just going about their business, a few on or near their motorcycles (a whole other post), vendors, kids of all ages, and some of the many people who have requested photos with us. A poignant moment came when a rickshaw (tuk tuk) driver asked us about the US election results. Chelle was very eloquent in her answer. Any American who has experienced foreign travel had voted for Hillary. People who haven’t been out of the country and see the world with very different optics voted with their fears. The world can be a very scary place especially when we view others as different.
I am a resident alien of the United States, an odd term to be sure. I’m white so not typically viewed as the foreigner that I am. The faces of India are the same faces I see at home. The same faces I have seen in many other countries. Filled with big smiles, laughter,tears, sorrow, sadness, love, fear, loneliness, joy, pain and happiness. A full spectrum of human emotions. We can chose to be fearful and remain in the small spaces where we feel comfortable. How does it go? A ship is safest in port but that is not what it’s built for. People are built for discovery. Whether it is India or the oceans or space. Whatever the obstacles Chelle and I have emcountered on our trip…the currency issue, a case of Delhi belly, late trains, sinus infection and a few other bits. The people of India have been as exceptional as the places we’ve seen.