Still Under India's Spell

Greetings with flowers in our room
I doubt it’s the jet lag at this point. Perhaps it’s the effect of the doxycycline (anti-malaria drug) I’m still taking that’s given me such vivid dreams. Or maybe it's just the residue of all the photos I've taken, still processing and rattling in my brain.   I awake.  Back to “reality,” my head still spinning.  Still under the spell of India.

Delhi_ President's Palace Gate

Delhi_President's Palace

Incredible.  !ndia.  

“But would you go back?” is the question.   Yes,  in a heartbeat I would go back.  (Doing Delhi in a day does no justice to the city.) 
Inside principal mosque of Old Delhi,  Jama Masjid (completed in 1654) commissioned by the
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Maha

More than a trip, not just a tour, our experience in India seemed a cultural immersion. Though I know it to be just a "toe in the sea"  --   a brief glimpse of life there.  I have only the photos on my memory cards, no deep insights.  Really. 

And yet:  I wake and I'm still packing and unpacking: India. 

World’s largest democracy and fifth largest economy, India is a country of  extremes and perplexing disparities.  A country of deep contrasts between antiquity and modernity, wealth and poverty, splendor and misery.  

Twenty eight states, (seven union territories), one time zone, where 21 official languages are spoken (along with hundreds of dialects),  India is a tapestry of history, religion and legacies reflecting civilizations, invasions and conquests dating back 5000 years. . . 

Today India lurches forward at a frenzied and appalling speed.

View from a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi

Cell phones at everyone's fingertips.  With more than 880 million cell phone connections, India is the world's second largest mobile phone market. India's internet is the world's 4th largest market with over 121 million users. 

From shanty rooftops to high rise apartments, the TV satellite dish is ubiquitous.  Nearly 138 million households have access to TV in India, (as compared to 115 million in the U.S.) with cable penetration now reaching 80%.  

Imagine. If only the infrastructure in India could keep pace with the prosperity of its telecom and entertainment industries. 

On the streets of Old Delhi

At once inviting and repelling, India begs the question: how in the world does this country work? How it is possible that 800 million people still live on $2 a day?  How is it possible that only 20% of the population has access to running tap water and sewage disposal?  How is it that businessman Mukesh Ambani can build a 27-floor skyscraper in the center of Mumbai for the sole purpose of his personal residence?  

Incredible. India. 

As tourists in a whirlwind, we had a trip-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with close friends,  a couple from Detroit - PRK from Hyderabad, and Jasmeet (Kitty) from Mumbai.   Our friends were generous and intent on showing us the postcard version of India - the beauty and mystery, the romance and spice of life in the land of their birth.  

All that "Rajmatazz."  At every step and every  stop, we were pampered and welcomed as  honored guests, made privy to the warm hospitality of relatives and lifelong friends in Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai.  Over "tea"  (set before us as entire meals) and a festive rooftop Chowki dinner held in our honor, (more on that later!) we'd meet, break paranthas and rotis, eat Indian family-style (with fingers only) and share the stories, hopes and dreams for our children,  as all parents and grandparents do - speaking of a new generation of young adults, doctors, lawyers, PhD's -  educated in Europe and the U.S.  and now living far and wide in the world today. 

A Taste of Five-Star India. . .
Midnight, Christmas Eve Greetings: Maurya Sheraton
Midnight on Christmas Eve:  bleary-eyed after 24-hours of travel from Detroit, we land in Delhi (a stunning new airport) to be greeted by porters and hotel drivers presenting us with garlands and welcoming namastes. The night is still warm: first impression of India is the air, so thick with the winter fog (smog), the smell of burning wood.  The streets are relatively quiet, but for the bays and barking of the dogs, so many dogs, on the loose,  not lost or strays. Like India’s incomprehensible sacred cows, the dogs are on the own, living, mutliplying and adapting to life on the streets.

The winding streets look like roads to nowhere, then dump us into unexpected luxury behind guarded gates and security checks.  

First night in Delhi we check into the Maurya Sheraton, every bit of a holiday resort on grand scale.  In the room we find fresh fruit, flowers, tea and Christmas iced cakes and sugar cookies. 

On and on in luxury we traveled. From dusty roads to spectacular storied palaces, steeped in the history of mughals, maharajahs and billion-heir royalty. From vendors and beggars on the street to prim and trim young men and women wearing veddy Indian/British regalia speaking flawless English, we experience India in extreme. 

The India of Mughals, Mararajahs and the Taj Mahal.

Greetings: Oberoi Hotel, Agra 

Room with a view of the Taj Mahal, Oberoi Hotel

Not a postcard! We came, we saw, we photographed.

From Delhi we drive to Agra, arriving in time to see the Taj Mahal in late afternoon sunlight. Our evening: at leisure to walk through the gardens of the Oberoi Hotel  
Namaste.  Have a lovely stay. And indeed we did.

From Agra it’s on to Rajasthan and India's "Golden Triangle" of cities:  Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.  

(To be continued. . .)
Photos:  VHenoch and MHenoch


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