Our Journey to India and Nepal

Donald and Robert at the Taj Mahal, IndiaThe advertisements say “India, Incredible, India!” and I would have to agree.  Over 7,500 years of civilization, 23 “official” languages, 1.1 billion citizens and the birthplace to Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Jain religion; what else could it be but incredible.  And NO, we did not become sick from the water.

Our 3-week journey was my 50th birthday present to me, culminating nearly 15 years of deciding that I wanted to experience India and her people.  Robert honored my 50th year by accompanying me on this journey.  We were fortunate to also have the opportunity to spend 3 days in Nepal, WOW!

India, so many sights, sounds, colors, smells, foods, shops, languages, history, religions and everywhere people.  Even though we traveled for hours by bus and train--we were never unable to see a person.  Whether the person was stuck in traffic next to us, walking along the country road we shared, toiling in the fields, sitting on their home’s stoop or selling goods in the local bazaar; there are people everywhere.  I guess it is easy for 1.1 billion people to fill up a country-and by the way, the largest democracy in the world.

In India, we traveled and visited New Delhi, old Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Khajuraho, Lucknow, Varanasi and many smaller cities and villages in between.  In Nepal, we visited many areas in the Katmandu valley and via Buddha Air we traveled alongside the Himalayan Mountain range including Mount Everest.

Traveling in India and Nepal does include all types of transportation.  We did see people and cargo traveling on foot, horse and water buffalo-drawn carriages, elephants, camels, bicycles, tuk-tuk rickshaws (motorized and cycle), cars, buses (a public bus in not full until the top of the bus has no sitting room available), trains, boats and planes.  We were delighted to traveled by elephant up the steep entrance path to the Red Fort Palace in Jaipur.  Our elephant was elegant with makeup on its truck and face but a bit rude when it sneezed on us—yuk!

Speaking of the animal kingdom, India may be nirvana for cows and monkeys.  Everywhere they are meandering, easy going cows; munching away at the trash and garbage on the streets; sitting in the middle of highways; sleeping in the shopping bazaars, working in the fields; and maybe just sightseeing.  As we understand this cow phenomenon, Hindu’s consider the cow a blessed animal.  Perhaps not “holy” as in a deity but “holy” as in a blessing.  After all, cow’s milk nourishes most of the young and old and makes butter, yogurt and cheese; is a good worker in the fields; provides a family with lots of cow dung which is used to kindle fires, ward off insects, preserve paper, and treat illnesses. So why eat an animal that is so useful?  In addition, monkeys, I am not sure why they run around the city and villages, but they are there.

Both Robert and I often felt the overwhelming spirituality of the people in both Nepal and India.  A conglomeration of Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslims, Christians, Jain, and Parsi and their places of worship-temples, stupas, mosques, and churches.  Despite political-religious turmoil, it seems that everyday people tolerate and embrace each other’s faith.

We made efforts at each Hindu temple to receive the red powder blessing on our foreheads and we adopted Ganesha as our spiritual muse.  Ganesha, the young son of Shiva and Parvati, was decapitated by Shiva during a rage but later lovingly re-headed with an elephant’s head.  Lord Ganesha is the destroyer of obstacles and the Lord of success, education, wisdom, knowledge and wealth.

Holy is the city of Varanasi, the center of the Hindu faith, where the Ganges River purifies both the living and the dead.  Daily, the faithful bath in the holy waters of the Ganges, alongside people beating clothes on stones, cows drinking, tour boats cruising, and the ashes of the recently cremated being returned back to mother earth.  I placed a wreath of marigolds in the holy waters of the Ganges in loving memory of my mom and dad.

Shopping is not a leisure or casual time, especially for tourists.  Imagine store after store after store lining every street.  Store fronts maybe 10’ or 15’ wide, wall-to wall, spilling into the streets each with their own “Bourbon Street-styled” hawkers inviting (some demanding) that you just visit their store, “no need to buy” but always a “special no profit price” just for me.  I felt so special. 

Store vendors and hawkers are no contest for the street vendors, who hand-carry their inventory.  Literally, many followed us for blocks offering us their wares (underwear, necklaces, carvings, perfume, food, magazines, cloth) with the price declining with every block.  At first this is fun but after days of this it is annoying.

We expected to see abject poverty and we did; men, women and children but not unlike their counterparts in Appalachia, New Orleans, San Francisco, London or Cairo.  Each person deserving more but each person falling through the cracks of society.  All schools in India serve daily meals to children, if they attend school.

We visited some of the monuments to some of the great Indians who helped to make India great.  We were humbled to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s last residence, the site where he was murdered and the eternal flame memorial to him.  We walked in Sarnath, near Khajuraho, where Buddha is said to have held his first teaching after achieving enlightenment.  We sighed at the beauty of the Taj Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan’s loving memorial to his deceased wife. We marveled at Humayun’s Tomb, perhaps the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, and the brilliance of Raja Jai Singh, who constructed astronomical observatories in many Indian cities hundreds of years ago.

India’s history and culture have constructed numerous palaces, forts, and temples in honor to gods and humans. One of our favorite temple areas was in Khajuraho.  This area has 85 stone carved temples.  This is where the Kama Sutra is graphically and erotically carved into the temples.

In Khajuraho, we joined one of our fellow tourists on his visit to a Thai Buddhist monastery.  He was interested in learning more about his upcoming retreat at a Buddhist monastery in his homeland of Laos. There he would take vows to becoming a monk.  The monks at the monastery invited us in to their monastery, served us tea and shared with us insights about Buddhism and their life in India.  How blessed we felt.

Donald in Nepal with woodworking brothersAnother personal invitation we received was from two brothers in Katmandu, Nepal.  As we were shopping in their wood hand-carving workshop, we talked about their craft and their country; and yes, we bought many of their hand-carved works of art.  As we were leaving, we asked them in which restaurant should we eat.  They instead invited us to join them and their parents at their home for dinner.  Reluctantly, we declined due to our tour schedule.  I am sure we missed out on a marvelous occasion.

Donald and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, FranceNot wishing to miss another experience, on our way home we had a four-hour layover in Paris.  Robert had not yet visited Paris, so at 6 am we debarked our plane from India, went through French immigration, bought tickets at the train station and boarded a train into Paris.  The train took us to a subway stop where we boarded a subway to a site near the Lourve Museum.  I am familiar with the area from previous trips so I knew of a picturesque spot where you can see the Eiffel Tower and the Gran Palais from the Lourve Museum.  Moreover, there is a café across the street where we ordered, in French- “deux croissants and deux gran chocolates, S’il vous plait, Merci”. We ate our croissants and drank our hot chocolate, took pictures with the Eiffel Tower in the background and 20 minutes later we are back on the subway, back on the train and running so as not to miss our plane back to the USA.

I now have this desire to visit southern India where spicy Indian food is famous and perhaps another visit to the tea growing area of eastern India.  I am sure they will be incredible also.

Donald & Robert

November 2006