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/ A W A R E N E S S M A G A Z I N E
M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 1
50 / A W A R E N E S S M A G A Z I N E
M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 1
By Robert Ross
on India
"So far as I am able to judge,
nothing has been left undone,
either by man or nature, to
make India the most extraordi-
nary country that the sun visits
on his rounds. Nothing seems
to have been forgotten, nothing
overlooked."
-- Mark Twain
Since the cultural revolution
of the sixties and seventies, India
has been on my mind, women
wearing colorful saris, a reli-
gion that has something -- lit-
erally -- for everyone, ancient
temples, elephants, jungles, cos-
mopolitan cities and of course,
the much touted gurus.
During this time, it was not
uncommon for celebrities to run
off to India in search of a guru.
India was the "go to" place for
enlightenment. So, the ques-
tion stayed with me for years...
are the keys to the mysteries of
life waiting to be revealed by
a bearded holy-man in far-off
India?
Decades ago, Richard Alp-
ert thought so; the former Har-
vard professor went off to India
to find the meaning of life, and
came back as Baba Ram Dass,
a self-appointed spiritual leader
of a generation.
Now it was my turn to explore
this spiritual Mecca, treasured
by poets, photographers and
writers alike. India, the "Jewel in
the Crown," the cradle of civili-
zation... what awaits in this mys-
terious land?
At this point in the article, I
don't want to sound "nonspiri-
tual," but ... my recent sojourn
to India was, in fact, quite a re-
ality check. In a nutshell, India
is: hard traveling (lousy roads,
lousy infrastructure), hard living
(corruption is a way of life), very
poor (for most), crowded (popu-
lation 1.2 billion), unsafe for the
western "intestinal tract," chaot-
ic and unbelievably polluted.
Yes, it is colorful, diverse,
steeped in history, with plenty of
cows and holy-men types, but
make no mistake, if you are
looking for peace, tranquility or
enlightenment by osmosis, this
may not be the place.
We landed in New Delhi, the
starting point of our adventure
-- traveling with Overseas Ad-
venture Travel (Oattravel.com
or (800) 955-1925).
We chose "OAT" because the
groups are small (in our case 14),
the tour guides are well trained,
but more important, OAT man-
ages to capture more sights,
sounds, and flavors of a country
(for the price) than other travel
groups. Our trek was to cover
the northern half of India and
was dubbed, in the brochure, as
"The Heart of India."
Our itinerary included New
Delphi, Jaipur, Ranthambore
National Park, Geejgarh village,
Agra, Khajuraho and Varanasi.
Our main mode of transporta-
tion was an overland bus, but
we also utilized planes, boats,
trains, camels and bike-ped-
aled rickshaws.
Touring New Delphi, one is
initially struck by cows roam-
ing about, they're everywhere;
munching by the side of the
road, resting in the middle of a
Delphi "freeway," or sauntering
through a shopping center. In
the west, a cow is a hamburger
in waiting, but in India, they are
sacred.
A few thousand years ago,
one story goes, the Indo-Aryans
migrated from the Caspian sea
area into India. They viewed
cows as a sign of wealth, and
relished the milk products that
a cow produced. They met up
with the Dravidians -- the ab-
original people of India -- who
didn't share the same values,
i.e., they were meat eaters.
To save the cow from slaugh-
ter and possible extinction in
India, it was proclaimed that
cows were sacred and that kill-
ing them would lead to an after-
life filled with torment. (Writers
note: In India, migration patterns
are a hotly-contested subject.)
The bus ride from Delphi to
Jaipur (in the state of Rajasthan)
was an introduction to road trav-
el in India. Our driver -- a Sikh
-- had proven himself to be
nothing short of a miracle driv-
er, negotiating pot-holed roads
with no lanes, trucks coming
straight at us, cows meandering
their way through traffic, cam-
els hauling people and goods,
and women balancing baskets
on their heads, walking within
arms length of the bus.
By the end of the day, arriv-
ing safely at our destination, I
thought our driver was actually
a Hindu God posing as a Sikh
bus driver!
When asked what was the
highlight of the India trip, two
places come to mind, the Gan-
ges and the Taj Mahal. I can't
even guess how many images
I've seen of the Taj Mahal in my
life, but I'm sure it's in the thou-
sands.
We left our hotel before sun-
rise the morning of our Taj Ma-
hal visit, hoping to beat the
crowds and catch a glimpse of
this magnificent structure re-
flecting the first morning light.
We did get there early enough to
avoid the throngs
of people soon to
arrive. Unfortu-
nately, there was
a thick haze in the
air -- a smog-like
haze that prevent-
ed the "glistening
sun's reflection"
we were hoping
for.
A g r a , w h e r e
the Taj Mahal is
located, has been
identified as a
"pollution-inten-
sive zone" by the
W o r l d H e a l t h
O r g a n i z a t i o n
(WHO). In spite
of the smog, the
Taj Mahal was im-
pressive. A struc-
ture built in the
1600's with the
h e l p o f 2 0 , 0 0 0
lab o rers , wo rk-
ing 22 years -- a
structure built as
a t e s t a m e n t o f
one's love -- just
has to be seen in
person.
For the Hindu, the Ganges is
it, "IT" with a capital "I" and
a capital "T." It's what you
strive to see -- to bathe in,
and perhaps if you're lucky...
to be cremated on its banks.
We were fortunate to see the
Ganges during the Diwali festi-
val. As Christmas is a big deal
for Americans, Diwali is a big
deal for Indians.
On the eve of this major fes-
tival, a mile or so from the riv-
er's edge, tens of thousands of
people were in a tizzy, vendors
selling their wares, fireworks
sounding like gun fire, the om-
nipresent cow, all this mass of
humanity making its way to the
river's edge.
With the help of a dozen rick-
shaws, our group serpentined
through the streets of Varanasi
to our awaiting, very old, non-
motorized wooden boats, that
were to take us out about fifty
yards to view the cremations and
the city's lights and activities.
During this experience, it was
-- save for the electric lights --
impossible to tell what century
we were in... the first, the tenth,
the fifteenth?
The following morning we
were on the Ganges again, at
day break, witnessing the bath-
Ingrid and Robert Ross at the Taj Mahal.