It is near the end of day 3 in India, and I just arrived in India today.
This is the first of many contradictions that comfortably coexist here.
After an 18 hour layover in London, which we spent in East London with some friends of Tarah’s from undergrad, being exactly as hipster as we normally are in Los Angeles…
We hopped on our flight to Delhi and arrived 12.5 hours in the future. Whuuuhhhh??? India is 12.5 hours ahead of Los Angeles, so technically I’m in the future. But as my Mom said in her last email to me, “But it is right now everywhere on earth! Oh time!”
As I gazed out the window watching the familiar scene of generic-airport-landing-strip whizzing by, I felt like I was standing on a high dive staring down into a pool I’ve never jumped into. But after two days of hotel living at The Shanti Home, I feel like I have slowly stepped into a hot tub, an inch at a time.
Tarah and I decided to ease into India a little bit by treating ourselves to a hotel for the first couple of days. We got a package through the hotel where on the first day, they drove us around Delhi seeing sites like Humayun’s tomb…
And the Qutub Minar…
which is the tallest Minaret in India, and is located at the oldest extant mosque in India, which was built in 1198. We just don’t have stuff that old in America! Besides, you know, mountains…
There is a palpable power in the stones here, and the old ruins combined with the amazingly beautiful buildings…
…made this my favorite stop of the day.
Tarah passed out for a while…
then I woke her up for our 4 course romantic candlelit dinner, part of the hotel package. The only other people eating at the hotel restaurant just happened to be from PORTLAND, OREGON!!! They were professors at Lewis and Clark University, and they were in India for an environmental law thingy-ma-jig. Maybe because they were liberal-minded Portland ladies, maybe because Tarah and I are adorable together, they thought we were actually on a romantic India trip together. Precious.
Speaking of romance, today we got up at the asscrack of dawn to drive 4 hours South to see the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a huge mausoleum built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memorial of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. That’s right, I said favorite. Imagine how the other wives felt. The Taj Mahal took 22 years and 20,000 people to complete, and it’s you know, kind of okay I guess.
…I’m KIDDING people, it’s one of the seven wonders of the world! It was badass! I would post pictures, but I’m finishing this post from a sketchy internet cafe thing and it’s not really possible. But to give you a mental picture, I’m positive that the animators who did Disney’s Aladdin had it in mind when they were drawing Jasmin’s palace, and I totally pretended I was Jasmin chillin’ in the palace with Raja and wishing I could just be a normal person instead of a badass princess.
Actually, though, the Taj Mahal was kind of a sad experience. Tarah and I both felt a little overwhelmed at the magnitude of this man’s mourning. It felt like being inside a big empty heart. It was reverentially beautiful but it was cold and hard and empty. I was happy to leave.
The most amazing thing about today was simply seeing Agra, though. It was so busy with life, and it felt like I was really seeing India for the first time. There is no barriers between livestock, construction sites, food preparation, bathing, nap-taking, selling stuff. There is no distinct difference between roads and sidewalks. There is especially no rules about transportation. If you have anything that will move something from point A to point B–a bicycle, a rickshaw, a car, a back-hoe, an ox, a donkey, a horse, anything with wheels–And if you have something to move–propane tanks, watermelons, people, rocks, insulation, cardboard–And if you have the will to make it work, it is fair game. While I was asleep in the car, Tarah saw a family of five on a motorcycle.
The coolest thing to me is that people seem to have as many strategies for making a living and living a life as there are people in India. I know there are plenty of rules and traditions in India that are very conservative, and that women especially have less social freedom, but there seems to be a much broader definition of what “life” is. Americans can have a very narrow view of the “right” way of living that Indians seem to be freer from. There’s a greater willingness to improvise and live creatively, to say the least.
But my God is it fast-paced. We just arrived in Rishikesh and it is such a relief after the hustle and bustle of Delhi and Agra. It is still teeming with life (the human to cow ratio in town is about 10:1) and full of shops, food, ashram, ascetics, children, bikes, motorcycles, and COWS but it is much smaller and sweeter. We are on our way to the Anand Prakash Ashram, and we’re not sure how long we’ll stay there. Maybe two weeks, maybe two days, maybe a month? Anyway, I’ve pre-written a little somethin’ somethin’ for next week, and next time you hear from me I will be reporting on my experience at the ashram.
I love it here. I may never come back. 😉