Thursday, June 28, 2018

First impressions of India

People have asked me why we wanted to travel to India. Isn’t it overcrowded, dirty, and noisy, they ask.
Yes, it is. But it is much more than what you see on the surface.
This fellow pushes his cart of fresh fruit along the street.
India is an ever-changing collection of colors, smells, tastes, and sounds—a feast for all the senses that can often become overwhelming.
Cities, especially, are a jumbled mass of humanity which makes accomplishing tasks of daily living difficult. Chadni Chowk, the Old Town Market in Delhi, is a good microcosm of city life for the mid and lower classes. But the market is an historical place you must visit if you really want to experience all the crazy wonderfulness of this complicated country.

Colorful blankets for sale
Chadni Chowk is one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi, a place where you really want to have a guide. Its open air shops offer a multitude of goods at wholesale prices. It’s the most popular place for wedding shopping—paper goods, invitations, and bridal wear.
Food was cooked open-air style. Often we had no idea what was
being prepared--and didn't dare sample it.
 Open air spice markets and food vendors peddle a plethora of items, such as the wagon full of green limes making its way down the stifling street. Boxes of second-hand books (in case you want to learn chemistry, medicine, or law) were also bundled for resale to other shops.
In cities and rural towns vendors line the streets with their wares
or sit beside the wall and wait for a "job."
People on foot, bicycles, rickshaws, and motorcycles all vie for space in narrow alleys and lanes. All modes of travel pass each other with mere inches to spare, sometimes bumping into each other. People push carts loaded with fruits, boxes, and indeterminate goods right alongside motorized vehicles. Pedestrians must be brave and aggressive—even little old ladies nose their way across the street ignoring the real possibility of personal injury.
Electric wires strung across alleys
like this seemed dangerous to me.

Such close encounters means horns are constantly blaring at all decibels and tones.  Vehicles are spewing noxious exhaust, and just the noise of so much movement can be a head-splitting cacophony that never stops.
Still, we rarely saw tempers flare even though the conditions would bring huge road rage in America. It seems the people are adept at anticipating movement and avoiding collisions.

But look past the rust, peeling paint, and disarray. If you can blot those out of your mind, you’ll see brilliant colors everywhere—beautifully beaded and sequined gowns, glistening textiles in Crayola hues, and elaborate jewelry in crisp gold or decorated with multi-colored stones.
Rickshaw ride

Our guide wanted us to experience a traditional bicycle rickshaw ride, but what should have been a 15 or 20 minute jaunt took us into a massive traffic jam that took an hour to navigate. We were bounced, bumped, and jostled down the pothole-laden alley as our adult bike peddler dodged so many obstacles.
Ready for our ride--we held
on for dear life.
This is the typically crowded, gaudy, smoky, smelly, loud, and hazardous picture many people have about India. People stepping over bicycles while dodging rickshaws or weaving through the mélange. Monkeys roaming on the rooftops. Castrated oxen pulling an overloaded cart. And all sharing the same limited space. It wasn’t calm, but it wasn’t contentious—just what people must deal with.

Despite the hot, dusty ride, I tried to appreciate the experience for the fact it exposed us to life in Delhi—something I know not everyone will comprehend or value. But it was through such experiences that we better understood the culture of this heavily populated country. (One in six people in the world is Indian, our guide said).
We saw plenty that was good as well as bad—including the friendliness of the people. We observed that many different religious groups lived well together, and applauded that the country recognizes the inequality of the caste system, even though this social anomaly is still practiced.

Traffic on jam-packed streets leads tomass confusion.
As we traveled on to several interior national parks to view tigers and other wildlife, we enjoyed beautiful landscapes that many Indians themselves never see. Whether they live in a large city or in rural areas, life for most people is rather simple with few amenities. And there is a great divide according to education level achieved. I’ll write more about life in India in future posts.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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