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 Images of India
by

Professor Arnie Greenberg

 … we learned the greeting NAMASTE with hands pressed together…it seemed to give pleasure to our hosts…

Introduction:

After three weeks in India I have new perception of a poor and crowded country that is taking major strides to conquer the things that hold her back. It was an adventure…a work in progress

I discovered a country that is as diverse as any with monitored compulsory education, diligent labor forces and a desire to move ahead. There has been much progress in technology and social changes. It is vast with a much-needed system of broad highways and highway services to feed the needs of visitors. It has come a long way from the 1947 independence and the days of peaceful disobedience of the revered Mahatma Gandhi. There are beautiful residences, hotels, monuments, public buildings, vistas and beaches. There are posh hotels for foreign visitors. There is also abject poverty, people living on the streets, beggars, hawkers and barefoot children picking at the garbage. Women toil among the cow dung that they mix with dirt, dry and carry home on their heads to supply fuel for cooking, often in open areas as they live wherever they can. There are also clean uniformed young students from private schools, smiling and eager to meet foreigners. Yes, there’s a long way to go and only when you return home do you sense the feeling of luxury we live, work in and play in. For many barefoot children playing cricket is done on the streets in the shadow of five star hotels. They earn pennies selling trinkets to tourists and they don’t easily take no for an answer.

What I propose is a series of articles over the next month to let you look closer at this incredible country. There are no protests as we know them, only a gentle population of good looking people slowly emerging. But the key word is slowly. India is “a work in Progress”.

There is the best and worst of  life. Yes, they have a long way to go but, in time, they will throw off the ways that hold them back. They are a polite, caring, lively and dynamic people.

They are indeed, a work in progress.

Part 1

Our tour in general. Yes, it was a true adventure and while there are signs of progress, they have a long way to go.

Our trip took us to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur Pushkar, Jodhpur, Udiapur, Mumbai and the south.

Delhi is a congested city with buses, cars, Tuk Tuks (3 wheeled conveyances) vying for space with bicycles, taxis, private cars and people. In some areas you move at a snail’s pace and it’s a miracle that there are as few accidents as there are. Even getting into the city is a task. A two lane road carries trucks and busses passing each other with only inches to spare as vehicles coming in the opposite direction, flash their lights and blast their horns. Horns are synonymous with traffic and every space is used up as the left-hand drive traffic causes the tourists to look the other way. Adrenaline flows when traffic doesn’t. Remember too that often, trucks or buses can’t move left to let cars pass. The left edge of the road is filled with bicycles, pedestrians, rickshaws and the occasional animal (or herds of cattle or goats in the country).

 In all but central Delhi there are pushcarts selling food clothing and a sundy list of necessities. They take over all the space beside the road with garbage mixed with vendors and barefoot children vying for space and a chance to earn a few rupees. People of all ages swarm to the tour buses as they park for a look at a special site. Everything from books to beads to fans, puppets, paintings or toys are bartered with everyone talking at once.

       

The ever present              

TUK TUK

As far as the history of the city and country, I’ll not go into that as it is complicated and filled with names unfamiliar to western travelers. However, I did perk up when our guide, going through a general list of conquerors and dynastic leaders mentioned that the beautiful city of gardens, forts, mosques and towns in the area of Delhi were destroyed by Tamerlane, a Central Asian Turk in 1398. I stood at his grave in Samarkand and heard the story of the sacking of Delhi. But even his successors were ousted  and the city fell into foreign hands The capital moved to Agra about 240 K south and by 1556 Akbar, a Moghal became monarch of India, He was considered the most distinguished of his dynasty and his grandson Shah Jahan became “Ruler of the Universe” in 1628. His extravagant reign gave rise to the construction of the finest monuments including the Taj Mahal. Akbar built the massive Fort for military purposes and as a palace and court.

There was much construction that is worth visiting today but it was all surpassed in 1628 when Shah Jahan took the throne of the Moghal Empire.

After the Shah’s second wife died while delivering their fourteenth child, a devastated Shah Jahan was motivated to build a monument that would employ beauty and ingenuity that might symbolize their eternal love. It took about 20,000 laborers, carpenters, craftsmen, artists and engineers almost 22 years to build the Taj Mahal.

It covers an area of 95 sq m (3,022.57 square feet) and stands on a base that is itself about 22 ft. The minarets are over 1236 ft high. They give balance to the structure. They rise at an angle away from the mosque to prevent damage in the case of an earthquake. With the best marble and both precious and semi-precious stones it is one of the great wonders of early architecture. It is best seen at dusk or at dawn when the light from the sun brings out the greatness of the structure. I cannot express the awesome feeling one has upon standing before this wonderful testimony to a man’s love.

In  Delhi we also visited  the Red Fort. The most opulent Fort and palace of the Shah. I was happy to have time to see Raj Ghat, the memorial site of Mahatma Gandhi and the small museum dedicated to the impact he had on India. His story alone makes for interesting reading.

But prior to Gandhi, a New Delhi was designed and built by British architects. The “imperial city” had palatial style buildings set amid broad tree-lined avenues and Moghal gardens boasting fountains and shallow pools. But after 20 odd years of rule, India obtained its independence.

Other things to see are Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate, Parliament House and the delicate lotus-like Bahai Temple.

 


Hans Plaza Hotel
In Delhi we stayed at the 4star Hans Plaza which was quite welcoming, despite questionable elevator service. Perhaps the fact that I was in a suite helped become acclimatized. In Agra our hotel was the Howard Plaza, a 5 star haven with a wonderful roof restaurant and a view of the Taj Mahal in the distance.

INDIA PART 2

JAIPUR

A colorful surprise…


View from Jaipur Fort

After our exciting stay in Agra we headed out into the desert to the old fortress cities, The first stop was Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan. The city gets its name from the Maharaja Jai Singh II who was an astronomer and great warrior. Hence Jai and pur is city. Today it is referred to as the “Pink City”.

With the memory of the great Agra Fort of Akbar the Great we arrived in the city of stones with anticipation. We were not disappointed. This was not only unique but in a way we hadn’t anticipated. Possibly because Jai Singh was an astronomer.

We arrived at the exotic Hotel Bissau Palace. There is nothing in North America to come near it. Where else can you eat is ornate Indian atmosphere or live in surroundings of a Maharaja? Our dinner was truly Indian traditional and later, a show of dancers and musicians in traditional garb, entertained us in the lobby entrance.

We slept well and were ready the next day when we headed to the Amber fort in the style of Maharajas of the past on the backs of elaborately painted elephants.


Bissau Palace


Dining Room

The town’s architecture is ancient and exciting. We visited the museum at the city Palace and saw royal robes, carpets of many colors, ancient weapons, paintings of battle scenes and processions. Passing the Palace of the Winds  (Chandra Mahal)in the middle of town I thought I had seen it all but little did I know that because Jai was an astronomer, there would be a greater legacy. I found it at Jantar Mantar an open air observatory.

Here is a display of instruments like none other.. Made of stone and marble, each has a curious but specific purpose such as measuring the position of stars, altitudes and calculating the times of eclipses. There is even a sundial with a 27 metre high rod. And remember, this was all set up after 1728 and is still accurate today.

Jaipur is famous for its semi precious stones which can be purchased at the Johari bazaar. There are also miniature paintings, handicrafts, clothing, jewelry of silver and other local materials to be worn on the forehead (rakhri), the nose (Nath), the ankles (paijeb) and bangles of all colors to be worn all over the arm as Rajasthani women do. I saw leather and camel hide footwear (mojris) embroidered  with beads. Even their handmade paper is a prize to attain.

But Jaipur is elephants and they are the way to get up to the Fort. There are painted elephants everywhere and a trip to the fort means a ride on the back of this enormous and beautiful creature.


Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds)


Elephant Transport..A must... 

As luck would have it, we arrived at Jaipur on the first day of their 15 day gift giving Festival. The sky at night was a myriad of lights as frire works ushered in Dawali. This is a time for family meetings, gift giving and togetherness. It was exciting to be greeted with “Happy Dawali” bu almost everyone. It certainly put us in the festive mood of our surroundings. People smiled, took our pictures and with folded hands they humbly wished us well. One cannot describe the warm feeling.

One stop was at a stone wholesaler. As we entered, I noticed the most beautiful sun umbrellas drying in the sun. They make wonderful gifts.

The fort was decorated with semi precious and precious stones. It boggles the imagination to see them in the sun but a return to our hotel and time to think gave us a feeling of history and we were able to visualize the pomp and grandeur of a kingdom never conquered.

But we were in for more.

Another gift just begging to be purchased is a traditionally dressed puppet. They are found everywhere as are the miniature paintings. We were fortunate enough to have a puppeteer at our hotel As soon as seven or more people would gather, the performance would begin. I have one of these in my office now.  I also have a beautiful pair of hand made leather slippers, another way to remember…not that I’ll ever forget.

The Holy City of Pushkar Jodhpur and Udaipur


My Pushkar transportation

Pushkar is a colorful and holy city, smaller than the others, but there are many other diversions to interest and amuse you. I took advantage of the camel ride opportunity through the town, out on the desert and back to our splendid Hotel Jagat Palace. I have ridden more comfortable animals. My wife went one step farther by plunging into the holy lake and being decorated with a Brahman dot on her forehead. The waters here are said to have magical powers, first selected by Lord Brahma "Lord of Creation”.

During November there is a camel air with people from all over India descending on this site. There are other reasons to come here too. Dyed fabrics are at a premium and this is said to be the place to buy hand made carpets. We did just that when we drove out of town in a jeep caravan to a Bishnois village where crafts and carpet making was demonstrated. The settlement was in the middle of the desert but the people seemed happy enough with what they had and friendly enough to welcome us openly.


Hotel Jagat Palace

Jodhpur is called the Blue City and it’s easy to see why. There is much to see and do but time always flies and we headed south to the city of Udaipur. Here we stayed in a hunting lodge once the meeting place of the great hunters of the region. The accommodations at the Shikarbadi were first class even if it was outside the city.


Hotel Shikarbadi Udaipur (Once a hunting lodge)

While on a visit to a government shop, I bought a miniature painting of a richly adorned Elephant. They arranged to frame it and deliver it to my hotel. It arrived by messenger two hours later beautifully framed; wrapped in bubble wrap and attached was a certificate of authentication. The Elephant is a special animal in India. Once they ranged in thousands. Today very few survive as they are threatened by poachers.

You are cautioned not to buy ivory, for very good reasons..

When I was buying the painting, I spotted a beautiful bolt of blue gray silk with an unobtrusive design. The salesman took my measurements and in a few hours they delivered a made to measure bathrobe that I proudly wear daily. The craftsmanship is elegant and the experience dealing with such charming people is memorable, especially at such low prices.

In Udaipur we took a boat ride to the Lake Palace Hotel on Lake Pichola with carved elephants and water fountains to greet us. There is a restaurant fit for kings and popular among visitors. There is no place like it standing in the water like a moored ship totally made of white marble.

With visits to the great Jugdish temple and the small ornamental garden, time went by quickly and a three-hour jeep drive to our final destination was next. Udaipur is separated from the north by high mountains but the four lane super highway to Ahmadabad was comforting, especially in the heat. We stopped on the roadside at a modern, clean restaurant with the usual mustached doorman ready to greet us.  advertise.


The Taj Lake Palace Hotel

I found it strange that there would be a camel and driver waiting for people to book a ride. On the camel’s rump was the telephone number tattooed to his skin.  I guess it pays to

Always there to greet us...with a smile.

Our flight to Mumbai was cancelled at the last minute so we were forced to take a jeep caravan to the next town, Amadabad) where our flight started. Arriving in modern Mumbai was a shock.

Modern Mumbai hotels

The Bollywood City was not quite what I expected. Here at the modern Farayas Hotel we were surrounded by people sleeping in the streets surrounded by high rise buildings. Kids played cricket barefoot on the roads as tuk tuks, taxis, buses and bicycles swerved to avoid them. It was a perfect example of haves and have-nots on the same streets doing their own thing.

Mumbai is a mega-city with over 18.5 million people. It is quickly modernizing with skyscrapers rising from dung filled hovels where people live in shacks if they are lucky to have anything to shield them from the sun and rain. Surrounding the airport were some of the most depressing communities I saw.

Our visit to the great Museum, the Hanging Garden and historic Gateway of India was a perfect way to spend our time there. Some were disappointed that they couldn’t visit Bollywood itself but it is out beyond the airport and open only by private reservation. 

A farewell dinner in a modern luxurious restaurant .We soon took off for Cochin and the south. This proved to be a highlight as the hotels faced the Arabian Sea. It was an Indian paradise, different in many ways

India Pt 4  Farewll to India

Exploring Cochin  & Kerala


 Ancient Chinese nets

The final flight from Mumbai brought us over Goa and the beaches of Western India. We arrived at Cochin an area I had heard about and had done research on. But I was little prepared for what lay ahead. I was headed towards the cleanest, neatest, most inviting part of India. This was a city of educated people and the tone of the city was like nothing I had seen. We’d spend two nights here.  But I was in no hurry. There was so much to experience in Cochin. It was the perfect place to holiday before the Malabar coast and our return home. We would see the fourth largest port city in India, visit the Chinese fishing nets, still in operation and, of course, what was once considered the Jewish part of the country.
Lets not forget the Dutch Palace of ancient Mattancherry. It was actually built in the year 1557 by the Potuguese and presented to the ruler of Cochin as a gesture of good will. It has an outstanding collection of murals

They are still on view.

Cochin was also the place where people went to see the gravesite of navigator Vasco Da Gama at the white St. Francis Church. Built in 1503 by Franciscan Friars. It was here that a great Portuguese explorer died and was buried in the oldest European church in India. One can see the plaque on the wall but the tomb is empty now as Da Gama remains were moved back to Portugal after about 15 years. But it is moving nevertheless and worth a visit.

Vasco Da Gama - click to enlarge
Vasco Da Gama
|

We headed for call Jew Town to see the center of what was once the Jewish section of the city. It’s a tourist attraction but a far cry from the community of old. We did visit the ancient synagogue built in 1668, the oldest in the Commonwealth. It has special hand painted tiles with a willow pattern originally brought from Canton China in the mid eighteenth century. One must remove one’s shoes to preserve the beautiful tiles.

The synagogue itself was rather bare and unused but it was nice to see the beautiful chandeliers and hand painted yellow patterned floor tiling brought from Canton in the 18th century.

The building is hardly spectacular and is set back from the street by a corridor one has to enter first. There are very few Jewish families left in Cochin. But the great scrolls of the Old Testament were in themselves worth the visit.

On the way to the synagogue you pass a number of spice shops. This was the port from which spices of all kinds were shipped around the world. The choice is spectacular and the shops do a land office business, especially in the sale of Malabar grade pepper, famous the world over.

Aside from the usual necklaces, toys, books and other souvenirs, this vibrant commercial capital of Kerala, had much to offer including our Hotel Cassino that offered ancient Ayurvedic massages. This life science is the oldest holistic medical system in the world. It is an alliance between mind and body. I won’t say it cured all my ills but it was soothing and I did feel cleansed when it was over.

 At night we went to a typical Kathakali performance. It was an enjoyable evening performed by people who had studied from a young age.

The next morning we headed south to Alleppy. We were almost at the southern tip of India.

Here we embarked on a crewed houseboat (riceboat) on which we cruised for a day and a night on Punnamada Lake through rice paddies, narrow canals and coconut lagoons.  In the early days they were used for transporting materials in isolated areas.

 It was a unique way to meet some of the natives and come down after a long Indian holiday and we did meet an adult and two young school boys who showed us their stamp collection and displayed pride in who they were. I have since written to them and sent some old stamps and coins from my collection. Imagine my joy when one called long distance from India to thank me. I said the people were gracious and giving. This was just one example of things that warmed us and make us consider returning some day.

Our final night was spent on the Arabian Sea in a beautiful hotel looking out over the water.  We each had a luxurious cabin with great views and the wind lulling us to sleep as the sea gently lapped the shoreline below.

Here, the traditional Indian food and entertainment, the excellent last minute shopping and the lively entertainment put a cap on a perfect holiday.

I canvassed the people with me. All agreed that this was the ‘adventure of a lifetime’ and one they would always remember. As for me, I returned tired and filled with images of a determined people who provided us with a great adventure.

Traditional Pantomime actors - click to enlarge
Traditional Pantomime actors

We will return one day soon. You should consider it.

 

Our parting view…

 #   #   #

You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 
 

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