Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Life in rural India

After a full day touring historical sites in Delhi including Old Town, Shanti Vana (Forest of Peace), Red Fort, Raj Ghat (Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial), Humayan’s Tomb, and Qutub Minar,  we left our resort, the Taj Palace, and flew two hours south to Jabalpur. Then we rode another five hours as our driver maneuvered through rural areas to Kahna National Park in Madhya Pradesh state of India.
Along the way we passed through many small towns, each exhibiting a level of simplicity (by Western world standards) as indicated by people sitting on the ground by the road selling apples, tomatoes, and shoes. Day laborers waited for work that rarely came. Open air stalls served food, sold medicines, clothing, and purses, or offered a shave. Entire families piled on one motorcycle, including lap babies (I cringed), but it was quicker than walking.

Away from the busyness of the cities, life is slower and more serene. But trash is piled up almost everywhere, and everything seems dirty, crumbling, or in disarray. But no one appears to notice. When something breaks, it stays that way because there are limited resources for repairs. Yet we saw children playing and laughing and getting into the same mischief as children anywhere.
As you might imagine, cattle roam freely often causing traffic jams or slowdowns on the roads. They are never eaten and usually don’t do work but are important for the milk they give—and as status symbols for some people. Killing cattle is not allowed even though cattle must fend for themselves for food.

Bicycles, cars, and pedestrians all share the road in a tenuous dance involving oblivious but complicated right-of-way. Life and death is often a matter of mere inches. There is two-way traffic on one-way roads. I gasp more than you can imagine and at times refuse to look at the road. Yet, our driver knows all this and expertly drives us safely to our destination.
Poverty and living conditions are depressing, especially to our American sensibilities. Dirt is omnipresent. Dust fills the air. Women walk with large bundles of fire wood and baskets of food items balanced on their heads. Technology is a foreign concept in the work life of villagers and farmers, although Internet capability is available in all but the most rural or secluded places.

I’m amazed by this journey. We are right in the heart of India, and these are not tourist destinations. I can’t imagine getting a better view of real life in this dichotic country. Still, I know this trip isn’t for everyone; it does require a sense of adventure and a non-judgmental mindset.
People from several villages are going to a Sunday festival.
Around dark we arrived at Kanha Jungle Lodge, our base for wildlife safaris during the next several days. Set on the outskirts of the national park, this beautiful lodge provides respite from the conditions we have traveled through.

Here we see a totally different aspect of Indian life. Wildlife conservation is an important issue in India with numerous governmental agencies aiding habitat construction and preservation. Researchers study wild animals to ensure their safety and longevity. Park visits are highly regulated and require knowledgeable local guides. With more than 200 national parks in India, tourism—both foreign and local—allows for education while boosting the economy.
I’ll share more about  our wonderful experiences at tiger reserves and game sanctuaries in later posts.


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