I remember a Scholastic magazine article I read in fifth grade on Mahatma Gandhi which detailed how he led India’s movement of nonviolent resistance and helped the country gain independence.
Over the years, that article stayed with me as I was impressed that such a little man could have such a big impact. I made a commitment to one day visit that country.
Well, fully 50 years later, I achieved that goal – and by myself no less.
As I’ve aged, I have noticed a tendency to, how do you say, maintain the status quo. When I was working, I continually challenged myself with new goals. Since retiring four years ago, I have set a few new ones, but as I’ve achieved those, they haven’t been replaced so rapidly.
That was why India was important. I was sorely in need of a challenge and heading to the other side of the planet on my own (no one wanted to go with me, boo-hoo) suddenly became a priority.
Home to 1.4 billion inhabitants, the country is not easily navigated. I used a local tour company to handle the logistics. I’m glad I did, as Delhi is one of the most complicated cities I have ever visited. From the moment you wake up until those minutes when you drift off to sleep, you are met with a cacophony of car horns.
Yes, horns are the primary form of communication of Indian dwellers. On the streets, you are continually navigating people, put puts, cars and cows. Yup, cows and monkeys are considered sacred so they are revered and roam freely in India.
If there is one thing that can be said about the country, it is that India makes you feel fully alive. Your senses are constantly inundated. The tastes, sights, even smells, breathe life.
The majority of my trip was spent in the Golden Triangle which included Delhi, Agra and Jaipur; cities traversed via automobiles. I became very chummy with my driver as some days I spent seven hours with him slithering through traffic like one of the country’s honored cobras.
His English, like that of many Indians, could be good, bad or undecipherable. I said, “uh huh” more times in a week than I had uttered in years.
I saw some truly marvelous sites. Of course these included the Taj Mahal, an amazing mélange of marble, inlaid gems and intricate carvings. Truth be told, as I peered upon it my first thought was, “That’s a bit excessive,” for it was built by a Mughal emperor to entomb his favorite wife. It took 22 years to complete and rumor has it that its construction bankrupted the country. Artisan’s hands were cut off after they completed the masterpiece. The emperor’s reasoning? Workers should never again create such a thing of beauty.
My favorite part of India was Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities set along the banks of the Ganges (pronounced Gaan-gah). I had long wished to visit the Ganges so I knew this might be my only opportunity, and it was truly amazing.
According to custom, Hindis are to make a pilgrimage to purify themselves in the waters of the river. My guide and I arrived at 6:30 a.m. to see the sun arise, and equipped with the most amazing Chai tea I have ever tasted, we joined the long lines of Indians walking toward the water. The atmosphere was jovial and celebratory.
What I saw was – fog – a muck so dense that I could barely see 10 feet in front of me. When I got close enough to the water a slew of bathers appeared through the mist. I stopped as I became enveloped by an immense sense of peace, calm and reverence. I did what I always do when I feel that way.
I can’t describe my feelings exactly, but I felt like I had touched upon something bigger than me. Something that could not be put into words.
We returned to the Ganges later that day and took a boat ride to a waterside crematorium. It is said if believers are cremated at the Ganges, their souls will go on to become Brahmin. We floated there a long time, peering upon the majesty of flames and smoke arising from the pyres. Priests threw some of the deceased’s ashes into the water as they were returned to the earth.
It served as a reminder that one day we are all return to that from which we came, and as I age, I see that as part of our existence.
Almost two weeks later I am still processing everything. India is a country of extremes – both grandeur and poverty. I will forever hold it in my heart, much like my experience at the Ganges.
And with that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”