Forwards and backwards

Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard once declared that life could only be understood backwards; but had to be lived forwards. A great motivation for me to travel, especially to a country such as India, is the opportunity to step back in time and touch the past. The conservation and preservation conducted by the Archaelogical Society of India (ASI) is instrumental to maintaining the legacy of the country’s cultural heritage. Multiple branches throughout the governmental organization cover a broad range of specialties. It is easy to get lost in the Afghan architectural wonders and the vast grounds of Jahaz Mahal, the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, or the elegance of the Buddhist caves in Ajanta. These monuments across India are a testament to the continued resiliency of Indian people throughout human history. There is significant work to be done.

Jaipur Jantar Mantar

Extreme elements around the world are threatening our collective cultural heritage. Among the human tragedy in Syria is the entirety of that country’s heritage sites damaged or destroyed in their ongoing civil war. Sadly, not a singularity. Mausoleums in Timbuktu to the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus in Iraq and the Bamiyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. The importance of supporting organizations that monitor theses sites, that promote conservation and hopefully in the near future reclaim some of these monuments and renew efforts to restore what has been destroyed. However, this is not simply a second or third world problem. The people (particularly in the West) who deny the science of climate change or promote increased fossil fuel production and utilization threaten destruction not experienced in millennia. There is much we can learn from the cooperation and collaboration of nations united in preserving our cultural legacy.

While exploring the temple ruins outside Siem Reap in Cambodia, Chelle and I were surprised to discover representatives of ASI working on a restoration project at Ta Phrom. One of many temples destroyed during the civil war in Cambodia or taken over by nature. Luckily the Archeological Society of India isn’t alone in their endeavors.

The UN has a specialized organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The group has a variety of programs and objectives but it’s  international cooperation agreements to secure cultural and heritage areas around the globe through its World Heritage Sites. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. Sites are selected on the basis of having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance. Their dedication in protection and preservation is admirable. Passing on to future generations the irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration is awesome and worthy of support.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) Mumbai

I have given much thought to the impact that India has had on me collectively. It is a visceral response.  I am just beginning to understand the profound nature of my time here. Chelle had a very sad experience today. While exploring the Jain sculptures in Gwalior she discovered a dying dog hidden under a statue. She dug through our bag and pulled out a few morsels of food. As I comforted her she questioned the futility of her actions. My response was simple…comfort and compassion to a life that knew little of either. The intensity of her feelings have been demonstrated throughout our time here whether it was dealing with scourge of poverty or feral animals. For me there has to be more.

I am determined to contribute in some manner after I have returned home. I may return in the not too distant future volunteering on a medical team with Projects Abroad. It may mean financial donations to Amma, or Magic Bus. Contributions to ASI or some other NGO conservation/preservation group. Perhaps becoming a member of the Sierra Club back home. To get on a plane and head back to the US just to plan the next adventure is impossible without first contemplating what comes next to improve my world. Globally, within our community or both.


Cold hands, warm heart

For most of our travels we have generally stayed two days in each city. Enough time to hit the hot spots and skedaddle on to the next location. Darjeeling has been the exception. We stuck around for five days. This had always been the plan, but as we were still recuperating from our recent illnesses the extra days were nice albeit chilly. Our first night a porter dropped off a hot water bottle. The simple gesture was received, pardon the pun, warmly.

The room we had was large but on the shaded side of the building and always seemed cold. On our way down to breakfast of the second day we spied a space heater in another room. After breakfast Chelle stopped at the front desk hoping to secure us a similar unit. Instead they moved us to a new room with a view of Mt. Kanchenjunga. The afternoon sun heats up the room perfectly. 

As Chelle was perusing the library area she was greeted by the Tibetan owner/hostess Yezere and received an invitation to her apartment. Chelle had been gone for a fair length of time but I knew she was looking at books and I didn’t give her absence much thought. A light knock on the door and an odd question of my decency…the hostess had wanted to meet me and prepared a rice and dal soup sure to make me feel better. Later that evening she had another hot water bottle ready and proper instructions for me to follow.

It bears repeating the hospitality and generosity that has been demonstrated by nearly all the folks we’ve met on our trip. Obviously, tourism is an important industry but our experience extends beyond a superficial layer of dollars and sense. It has also been the other tourists we’ve met: Simon and Darren two Brits Chelle walked up to at the Kolkata airport to inquire if they wanted to share a taxi from Bogdaga to Darjeeling. An Indian lad who helped broker our taxi and joined our merry group for the ride up the mountain. Arjit, a Sikh fellow from England who was taking sunrise pictures at Tiger Hill and we chatted and met by happenstance later in the day with more conversation…snipits of what we’ve seen or where we’re going, where home is.

Yezere sat with us at dinner and discussed the family history with the hotel. She talked about her sons. One a pilot with Indigo and the other a taxi driver in San Francisco. She spoke of her life back in Tibet, her husband who taught her English and the family wedding that was approaching. We met her husband Jigme one evening after dinner and we had a lovely time discussing India and future travels. Our porter Nair was ever vigilant in his attention to our smallest requests. I met him once while out and about and we chatted, he in broken English and me in very broken Hindu. 

The warmth of the Indians and Tibetans throughout our time in Darjeeling definitely took the chill out of the air. Warmed in the hospitality and generosity of our friends, hosts, fellow travelers and guides (in whatever form they appeared).