India: country of contrasts

November 26, 2013

Ok. In presenting the unvarnished India, I’ve scared you to death, I know, at least some of you. And if you said I was being all negative, well, that’s a fair criticism.

The thing is, India’s a country of vast contrasts. There are the beautiful, five-star hotels, former palaces floating in lakes.

Taj Rambagh Hotel, one of my favorites

Taj Rambagh Hotel, one of my favorites

And then there are the millions of rag-clad people living in dirt. Literally.

tent on rd people

This tent was up a few notches from other housing I saw.

It’s hard to come to terms with those extremes.

3 temples

Gorgeous temples

We spent no time at all in modern India, not really. But still, we saw a lot of beauty. The temples–fantastic. Inside and out.

maharanee art nice

If I remember correctly, from the 14th or 15th century.

We strolled through beautiful ancient palaces that show architectural and construction technology well ahead of their time, and ancient art that was evocative, beautiful and instructive.

The Taj Mahal turns pink at sunset.

The Taj Mahal glows pink at sunset.

There’s the beyond beautiful Taj Mahal.  Seeing it was like I dream I never get tired of.

Blog posts are coming on Gandhi’s home and the place where he was cremated. On the nightly gratitude celebration Ganga-ji, the Ganges River. There’s a lot of fascinating and inspirational stuff to come.  But I couldn’t write about it until I came to terms with all the stuff that shocked me.

As for what we didn’t see, well, we didn’t see today’s India. There are modern condo buildings and offices and yes, even big companies. Delhi, at least the new part of it, comes closest to what we know of big, modern cities.

But for me, born in America with every advantage and a bottle of Purell in my hand, it was the other side that struck me and stuck with me every step of the trip. And it’s important that we know this exists in parts of the bigger world.

The irony. And this was just a tiny bit of garbage. I saw far worse piles. Far worse.

The irony. And this was just a tiny bit of garbage. I saw far worse piles. Far worse.

The piles of garbage everywhere. India has banned plastic bags but has yet to get a handle on garbage overall and the buildup of plastic trash from the past. As well as every other kind of trash. They’re trying, but the problem is overwhelming; the government super-corrupt.

Then there is the dirt, dust and horribly smoggy air. People living in squalor. The lack of sanitation and fresh water. Being there was like stepping back 1,000 years.   Taking it all in, my head nearly swiveled 360 degrees.

“How do people live this way?”

I have no answer.  Because my frame of reference is entirely different than theirs. Entirely. I can not even begin to understand it.  I can only observe it and report it.

It’s easy to be disgusted by this stuff. Sanitary conditions, clean water, a home—these are things we take for granted in the West.  It’s harder for someone with my life to put it in any reasonable perspective.

I wonder, how do native Indians now living in the U.S. or another first world country view conditions in their own country?  Many go back regularly. How do they cope? I’d love to hear from some.

9 comments on “India: country of contrasts
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    If you noticed the sidewalk tent villages, Carol, every owner of a parcel of cement is sweep,sweep,sweeping their 3 foot front path. So they are conscience of some kind of cleanliness.It is just not our American standard. Prayer is more important to them, I believe.
    The mystery and beauty and wonder of India lies, I think in the opposing views of the street people vs. the Taj, the hotel glamour vs.the slums. The women in their beautiful saris and the naked filthy child. It’s like the fitful dream- like art work of Magritte.
    Going to India is all about, for me, reckoning the two things. I did not once think you were being critical in your essays-I totally get it. One needs to be there only to understand.
    There is a banker in my local branch, a lovely Indian man who returns to see his family regularly. And that is exactly what he sees when he returns–his family, the old familiar customs, his God. He had reckoned the two worlds.

  2. The path to change starts with one. It can be overwhelming or it can be a challenge. As Helen Keller says, “I am only one, yet I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”

  3. Allen H says:

    What prevents the ultra poor from overthrowing the uber rich as in Tsarist Russia, Mao’ist China, Revoltionary France, Fidel’s Cuba, Pol Pot’s Cambodia? A profound belief that they are where they belong to be in the Karma cycle and that if they live their current incarnation well the next rebirth will be an improvement. It is one of the most profound and effective suppressions of individual self improvement in the history of mankind – and it survives! The caste system is now illegal and by observation has not changed in practice since the rule of the Raja’s. There is no apparent path to change in this place without first an escape from the belief system. Did not see much evidence of that, some of course but not much.

    • admin says:

      Good point, Allen. I’m still reeling from everything we saw. Sounds like you’re still thinking about it, too.

      • Allen H says:

        Your commentary is on the mark, contrasts and contradictions are everywhere. Sue and I are still struggling with creating short descriptions that we can use in polite conversation. How did you like India?: It is a question that cannot be answered in one sentence that we have been able to create.
        We have also decided that our travel recommendations must be more carefully tailored to who we are talking with than was ever the case before. For ourselves the answer is: Wouldn’t have missed it, spectacularly interesting and educational, won’t go back.
        This is not a trip to be readily recommended to the crowd whose first question is; will I enjoy it?
        Interesting?, yes. Educational?, beyond doubt. Enlightening and thought provoking?, to an extreme. Fun?, not even close.

        • admin says:

          We agree–since we all shared the same experience, we get what you are saying completely. We won’t go back, either. And yet, although it was very, very hard, I find myself missing it. I heard this would happen, didn’t believe it at first but now I do.

          • Ryder Ziebarth says:

            Missing it; would go right back-there are so many other areas to be seen-Goa, on the beach, the Himalayas…I am not done yet. But I agree, it takes a certain mind set! Give your thoughts and dreams some time to take there place in your collective subconscious-I’ll bet something more beautify will arise then just the surface discomfort.

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