A trip to India was not a bucket list item for me so when the opportunity arose to travel there I was a bit ambivalent about a journey to the other side of the world. The jet lag, travel VISAs, shots and possible illness were not high on my priority list.
At some point I realized it might be important and in the back of my head I knew seeing the Taj Mahal was something one needs to experience in one’s lifetime. So Jeffrey and I journeyed to India with our friends Annie and Craig who are seasoned India travelers.
When you ask how it went that is a long answer, one which cannot be answered in just a sentence or a blog but here’s my best attempt to capture what the journey meant to me.
India is a culture full of richness and sadness you will not experience in America. There is a void of the middle class with a clear diversity of poverty and wealth. It is thought that 40% of the population has no roof over their heads. The train station going to the Taj Mahal was full of homeless families and little children begging for food or money. It was a sobering scene. Afterward looking around our hotel room with the clothes strewn about, I realized we had more in our small suitcases than an entire family had at the train station while sleeping.
Juxtaposed to these scenes of scarcity were the hotels showered in roses, amazing food and impeccable service you rarely see in America. There was no entitlement or rudeness in any of the hotel staff who truly seem like they just wanted to please.
Cows, dogs and livestock casually walk on the side of the road and meander through the streets like people. They all have car sense and seem cognitive of their surroundings. The teeny taxis called Rickshaws abound on every corner and taking them for a quick ride to a destination made you feel every pothole in the road and the pollution that abounds but it did not seem to matter. The traffic makes the 405 seem like a playground where you can reach out and touch the person next to you who is trying to meander through to their respective destinations.
Part of our stay was at an Ashram with 3 vegetarian meals provided per day. I was a little worried about getting enough protein but it all worked out. The vegetables were the most delicious I’ve ever experienced since they were all grown in the garden on the premises and seasoned with local fresh exotic spices. The milk and yogurt came from cows in the area and everything was prepared fresh each day. The favorite surprise with okra which was so delicious I want to figure a way to make it – something I would never have thought of eating.
Although seeing the Taj Mahal and other sights was wonderful, experiencing a people rich in happiness, kindness and spirit was the ultimate gift of the trip. Being home only a few days the traffic, life’s frustrations and hassles have not seemed as bothersome. There is a fresh gratefulness for health and life and seeing the world with new eyes was worth every ounce of effort required. My ambivalence was quickly dissipated almost as soon as I got off the plane in Mumbai as I realized this trip of a lifetime was beyond any palace experience could offer and that was the ultimate surprise of our travels to India.