Sights and smells bombard me as I travel across the world to India from North Carolina. The weather changed almost a whole season between Raleigh and London. I landed in London, just as the sun was coming up. I hadn’t seen the sunrise over Europe in 10 years. My daytime flight from London to the Islamic island kingdom of Bahrain was too long, and I was impatient to land and stretch my legs. Every mile I flew away from home and work and normal life felt more liberating with each hour, and my excitement for what was to come wouldn’t stop growing.
Landing in Bahrain was interesting — I’ve never flown through the Middle East before. I felt out of place, and kept to myself. I saw men in long white robes, and heard announcements over the loudspeaker in Arabic. I truly felt like a foreigner, a tourist. One man sat with several men around him, and he held a falcon on his arm. The falcon wore a leather hood, and sat calmly. I took the time to stare as I walked by.
I landed in Bombay before the sun came up the next day. My mother and aunt picked me up and we went to have an early breakfast in a hotel. It was peaceful to watch the sun come up over Marine Drive, which runs beside the ocean.
Just a day or two later, my mother, aunt and I were on our way to Jaipur, the Pink City. The ancient city is in Rajasthan, the state which once held all the most exotic kings, palaces and jewels of the world. You can still find all kinds of jewels there for sale. Camels pulling carts, peacocks and monkeys were everywhere in the streets and on buildings. I was most excited to take the elephant ride to the top of Amer Fort, a historic site.
We climbed to the top of a set of stairs, where we stood on a platform. The elephants came up beside the platform and you had to sit down sideways into the palate on her back. The palate held a soft padding, and only two people could sit on the back of one elephant. A small metal gate encircled you, forming a sort of basket. The motion of the elephant was one I could not get used to. It swayed slowly back and forth, and I had a hard time knowing where my feet were as they hung off the side. By the time we got to the top of the path to the fort, the sun had climbed high in the sky. The elephants retired for the day, and could be spotted all over the city later.
The fort itself was fascinating, but it didn’t hold my attention as much as the view did. A small lake filled the gap between the fort’s mountain and another mountain. The even older village of Amer sat nestled into the mountain behind the fort, and a wall ran around the mountains for miles. It looked like the Great Wall of China, but it wasn’t nearly as long. The old village was mostly ruins, but I could see a woman doing some chores on a rooftop veranda. I could have sat on the wall and watched her work quietly for hours, but hawkers were closing in on us, trying to sell us their goods. A woman with no arms was in the mix and I knew our tour was over.
I’ve been flying to India all my life, more times than I can count. But I always went during the Monsoon season, what equates to our school’s summer break. This was the first trip I had taken to India that was in winter, and I found the country to be cleaner, more quiet and the people more friendly and helpful. I felt at home.
Two days in Jaipur were filled with site seeing and picture taking and trinket shopping. I was determined to take a picture of a camel, which I did, and I got to pet a cobra. Our last day in Jaipur was actually our car trip to New Delhi, which took about four hours. Although I got to see the beautiful, green country-side of northern India, I could only see about a mile ahead before a dust-smog cloud obscured the view. Driving in India (or being driven) is an experience by itself. The car driver never stops honking. Large trucks, overloaded with goods, share the roadways. The trucks are painted and most of them say “Please honk” or “Horn please.” The car driver honks repeatedly to let the truck driver know he is coming up from behind. In this understood system, the truck driver simply moves to the side. The system works because everyone shows the same amount of respect to everyone else, a system that would fail in America.
Watch the Opinion page of the Daily Journal for Part II - The Big, Fat Indian Wedding.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.