Reflections on India

Jaipur Amber FortIndia is so varied it is hard to make a general declaration about “India is ….” Parts were strikingly beautiful, sadly filthy, touching, wrenching, perfumed, stinky, funny, poignant, etc. Most countries have some variety, but India has extreme contrasts. And the volume of people makes the ends of the continuum pronounced.

Here are a few more experiences that stood out for me, along with some more pictures, not necessarily specific to the stories:

• Using your head

A woman in a beautiful saffron-colored sari, working on a construction site, held an inch-thick woven pad on her head. A co-worker then placed a 30-pound rock on it for her to carry to the masons.

• Camel corral

camel corralCamel wranglers tied up their animals outside roadside diners into a makeshift camel corral. It reminded me of how cowboys secured their horses outside saloons in the wild west. But horses weren’t as gaily decorated — nor do they spit.

I saw one camel shepherd leading his flock of two tied behind his bicycle.

• Juxtapositions

Men outside small, roadside stands in primitive villages of mud huts chatted on their cell phones as cow patties dried on nearby roofs to later be used for fuel. The juxtaposition of the 21st-Century technology alongside eons-old practices was startling.

• Reminder to not brush with the water

On our first night together, I shared with my roommate a tip from a friend who travels to India frequently. My friend said to wrap a hand towel around the bathroom sink faucet to remind yourself not to brush with the water.

I forgot about this until I later went into the bathroom. Not finding a hand towel, my roommate got creative and wrapped toilet paper around the faucet and handles. It looked like our sink was wearing a head tourniquet!

elephant eye view• Elephant-eye view

One morning our group climbed the steep hill to the Amber Fort and palace atop elephants! None of us had done this before so didn’t know what to expect. The two-person seat was reasonably comfortable, even as we swayed side-to-side with the giant’s lumbering movements. Here’s what it looks like looking down.

• Wanted: Harem manager

We learned of a king who had 12 official wives and 364 concubines! We wondered if each woman was assigned a day of the year, with him doubling up on a few days. And what if it was your day and you had a headache? Would you have to wait until next year for your turn?

We were told the king scheduled an hour a day to hear the problems from the harem women. Apparently there was a lot of squabbling among them, although we didn’t get to hear the details of their complaints. We were surprised he would allot an hour a day to such rumblings, as kings are busy men. I suggested he needed a harem manager.

dancing girls• Dancing girls

At our hotel in Udaipur we were delighted to discover a show of dancing girls and musicians in our private courtyard. When the music struck up about 8:00 p.m. we were drawn like moths to light. We sat in the audience to watch, but being the only onlookers, we were beckoned to join them on stage. I used my best Jazzercise techniques to follow along, but unlike my adept instructor, these girls didn’t call out their steps beforehand. I tried as best I could to keep up, but soon I was sweating and looking like an uncoordinated Westerner, so I sat down. But it was fun to try.

• Roadside privy

Amber fort 2Several of our group became afflicted with the Indian Montezuma’s revenge, even with being vigilant about what we ate and drank. One had it during a long bus drive, so our driver was instructed to pull over immediately whenever she requested it.

She needed this when we were on the highway outside a village where children and adults were working in the fields. As soon as the bus pulled over, the children ran to it to see the exotic creatures inside.

Not wanting to put on a show for the workers, my friend asked if any of us had a towel or blanket we could hold for a make shift privacy wall around her. We took the first thing offered by a travel mate — a 6-foot by 3-foot purple inflatable air mattress.

Two of us scurried to the side of the road with our friend, encircling her in the purple shield as we averted our eyes. We are sure the children thought our friend was a queen attended to by her two servants to accommodate her most private needs.

Jaipur door man• Apology in wrong language

I had a brief bout with the Indian Montezuma’s revenge. To combat it I took Cipro, a powerful antibiotic. The first day I was fine with it, but the second day I thought it would be okay to take in my room then go down for breakfast. I knew I had to take it with food but thought the 15-minute gap would be okay.

It wasn’t.

During breakfast I felt a little queasy, but thought food would calm my stomach. After breakfast I went to the front desk to settle my bill. A sudden wave of nausea overcame me. I rushed to the lobby bathroom but not in time. I erupted onto the bathroom lobby floor, unfortunately splattering a few Chinese tourists in the process. I felt horrible for this. Trying to apologize with the only Asian phrase I knew for “I’m sorry” I said “Sumi masen” — which is Japanese.

The Chinese ladies understood my intent — even in the wrong language — and patted me on the shoulder as I bowed to them with an apologetic face.