Well, it’s obvious to me that another trip to India is called for. There is just so much to experience, the country is so vast and compelling. India grew on me subtly yet tenaciously. I have to say that the time spent in-country changed me; profoundly, but in a way that is hard to describe. I feel better about myself. My optimism is much stronger. I feel more spiritually attuned.
Somewhere in the next few months of my travels I will try to make the arrangements to procure a 10-year India tourist visa, which is available to me as a U.S. citizen. With that visa, I will be able to stay 180 days at a time before having to leave the country for a visa run. And that is more like it. Each state in India is like a separate country, oftentimes with its own language and customs. The history is so varied on the subcontinent that the present- day resulting culture in each state has its own identity, yet is unified as a whole.
Some random thoughts:
Security – India is worried about and aggressive with its security. All public places are heavily guarded. At the major train stations and airports (Mumbai, Bangalore, etc.) there are soldiers on duty inside sandbagged bunkers with heavy caliber machine guns pointed straight at the crowd – inside the lobbies. They are not fooling around. Even entering shopping malls requires an airport-quality security check like walking through a metal detector and bag scanning. I walked around some of the sites in Mumbai where the 2008 attacks occurred and you can still see bullet holes in the wall (Victoria Station, Leopold Cafe). To drive into a hotel parking lot (even a cab) requires a bomb-scan under the vehicle carriage and a visual trunk inspection.
The Head Wag – there is just nothing like it anywhere that I have ever been. It boggles the mind to contemplate how this behavioral trait was adapted by a billion people in India but never carried over elsewhere. And it is hard to get used to. In the first few weeks, I had to bluntly ask if a person was saying “yes” or “no”. For instance, I ask “Can I have a masala chai, please?” and the head wags side-to-side. It could be interpreted as “sure, no problem”, “no, we don’t have”, “I don’t like the way you smell”, “I have no idea what you just said” – the list goes on. After a while you learn to ask less yes-or-no questions. After even more time, you get used to it and even have fun trying to use it yourself – the locals go nuts!
Spirit – the spiritual life here is, simply put, more so than elsewhere. There are so many deities to attend to that it takes up a large portion of anyone’s non-working day. It permeates the culture at every corner you turn, unavoidable. And that kind of elevates you. The preferred greeting to anyone of any social level is a reverent clasp of the hands palm-to-palm and a statement of peace. It sets a nice tone to moving about your day.
Food – fabulous! It is so easy to eat vegetarian in India. Most eateries have a big sign out front declaring “Pure Veg” and “Non-Veg”. Most every place I ate served delicious food. And the sweet shops! OMG! The various laddus and burfis and paks are out-of-this-world delicious, colorful, beckoning come-eat-me-please. It is a miracle that I did not trend obese on this trip. I also never had any bouts with Delhi-belly – something that I attribute to staying away from eating less-than-fresh animal flesh.
Pollution – not good. It is sad to see this fabulously beautiful place sag under the weight of so many people and so little public works authority. Just about every city stream, river or canal is fouled and basically nothing more than an open sewer. There is litter everywhere. Air quality in the big cities is orange, miserable and choking. It is a very sobering overpopulation scenario that the rest of world should be carefully observing.
Just a great trip it was and I can’t wait to get back! Here are some of the really cool people that I stayed with over the 10 weeks: