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Archive for June 29th, 2009

Over a black screen, a deep male voice begins to speak.

NARRATOR

When we last saw our intrepid travelers, they were in sweltering Mumbai, living in

roach and gecko infested apartments that occasionally had air conditioning.

Now they reside in a beautiful, deliciously cold hotel in the Hottest Place on Earth:

unstruck-by-monsoons Delhi in mid-June. How did they come to be here?

Let us start at the beginning…

 

This morning (although it does not seem like the same day, it is still, in fact, Monday) we arose with the sun. Actually, about an hour ahead of the sun, which does not come up until 5 am or so. Having packed the day before (most of us, anyway), all that was needed was to take our luggage downstairs and load it onto the bus. In an moment oddly unsuited for the feel of the rest of our trip, the elevators actually WORKED and we did not have to walk our suitcases down 20 flights of stairs. I think we made up for this blessing later. We drove to the airport (the international one first, then the domestic one; this was more like the India we knew) and checked in for our flight. We walked outside the terminal, got on a bus and drove from here to ————— there – a distance  which would have taken less time to walk than it did to ride, and boarded the plane just as the rain started. I had joked, in the days previously when rain seemed more and more eminent, that it would not rain until we left Mumbai, just out of spite. This, however, was far too literal. After getting a good laugh at the timeliness of the precipitation, we were seated. This is the sight that greeted us:

Smoking Plane to Delhi

Can you see the smoke? I hope so, cause we sure could. After the smoke, or fog, or whatever it was cleared, we had a fairly uneventful flight (except for the crazy old mad sitting behind Jill, Andrea and I who did not understand the concept of “Turn off your damn cellphone!”) We landed in Delhi and walked into the most intense heat I have ever experienced. We took our luggage across the street to the awaiting bus, and found this:

The Bus

The bus was too small. The bus was too small by a lot. After much arguing (TG with the driver), negotiating (TG with the rental service), and extreme creepiness (the helpers to the left in the photo, who offered to have sex with me for $20 – “Please, Madam-ji, four men, $20”), the larger suitcases were tied to the roof of the bus with a very un-sturdy-looking piece of rope and the rest were piled in the aisles, with us squeezed in around them. It was a long, hot, bumpy ride to Agra, and I am not a skilled enough writer to be able to fully describe how uncomfortable it was. Suffice it to say, we were all grateful for the cooling rush of adrenaline when we almost had the head-on collision with the truck. And the water buffalo. 

On the way to Agra, where we are spending the night, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri – a capital city built by Emperor Akbar. It was very beautiful (see below) and the tour guide was amazing.

Fatehpur Sikri

We finally arrived at our hotel in Agra as the sun was beginning to set, and discovered what appears to be heaven on Earth. There is air conditioning (which is freezing – I have not had goose-bumps in a month and its awesome!), no cockroaches, geckos or creepy-crawlies of any kind, complementary dinner (which was delicious) and best of all, a pool. After a wonderful hot shower with powerful water pressure (ahhh, luxury!), I lie in bed, anticipating the Taj Mahal tomorrow, slightly dreading the ride back to Delhi, and (mentally) bouncing off the walls in my excitement to go home.

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While driving to Agra I think the culmination of everything I had seen and learned in Mumbai finally hit me. Looking out the window of the hot and stuffy van was a world so far from my own that it was almost too surreal to even believe. People were sitting in concrete huts, walking with water above their heads, and guiding packs of cows down the road. Village after village of crumbling structures surrounded by peacock inhabited fields whizzed by, making it hard for me to picture one of the world’s seven wonders sitting at the end of our journey. It was hard for me to imagine living in the same conditions that these people were living in, and I immediately had the desire to help them and to make their life more like my own, somehow more “comfortable.” However, I also realized, and although this might sound cliché, just how little they needed to survive and find happiness. People in the villages as well as in Mumbai often sit on the side of the road, outside their store, or in the doorway of their home and just watch the day go by. The world is their entertainment and the community around them at any given time is their automatic social network. I feel like someone living in New York City would feel more alienated in their bustling surroundings than a Mumbaikar or a simple village farmer in the middle of “nowhere” India. Although the Taj Mahal was the dream of Emperor Shah Jahan, it was through the community of the builders that it was finally accomplished, becoming a tribute to the bonds of the people. While this lavish display of wealth and royalty is a beautiful sight, the crowded villages and the colorful surroundings were just as inspiring as the pristine white structure of the Taj. I think I came away from this experience with a better appreciation of people. I focus so much on where I want to go, what I want to become, and how I am going to get there, I think this made me think about what life means to other people and the beauty in observing someone else’s path.

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Subhash Ghai

During our meeting with Subhash Ghai, the Steven Spielberg of Bollywood cinema, he explained that “films are like people” despite differences in cultures and backgrounds the stories and characters still come from a similar existence and resonate across classes, races, and countries. He described his experience at an international film festival where although many of the films were in different languages, he was able to look past the differences in delivery and recognize the beauty in the storylines and eccentricity of characters. Most things that I saw in India were a million times different from the place where I come from and yet people still share the same relationships, conflicts, and internal decisions that I do. Despite the exterior surroundings, we’re all human! I think this trip reinstituted what I love about films. We’re not all rock stars, super heroes, or lovers separated by time and space, and yet we continue to watch stories and characters who are. We continue to search for new things we have never seen before, or maybe things we have seen but want to see again and again because they bring comfort and resolution to our real world issues. Being in India was like being in a film of my own. Looking back on the experience now I can hardly believe I was actually there, and yet I can remember the stories, people, and the emotions I felt at certain moments. Subhash Ghai also explained that as a filmmaker you have to see all aspects of the story line, developing a love for all your characters whether their morals relate or differ from your own. I think that my trip definitely had its ups and downs, but from every experience I was able to find something to learn and appreciate.

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