Kade kneels next to a stream formed by the San Francisco Glacier, about two hours outside Santiago, Chile.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Journey to India, Dec. 28, 1994

Try to find Tashkent, Uzbekistan first.  Then locate New Delhi, India.  And for the fun of it, spot Bangkok in Southeast Asia.
Behind me is the presidential palace.  New Delhi, the capital of India.

Above is a video of my trip to India.  I took all the pics myself, except for a handful.  Shakeel, my tour guide, took the rest.  Perhaps in those few pictures you can find me "sticking out in the crowd."  I first met Shakeel on the famous shopping street, Janpath.  I ended up buying two Kashmir rugs - well, my mom, back in Alabama, bought one - from a shop Shakeel worked for.  They took me through the routine of rolling out the rugs, and turning them so I could see the color changes and intricate designs.  I simply sat there comfortably drinking a delicious hot, sweetened tea, which they provided.  The timing that day was also just perfect for me, because I had a chance to eat with Shakeel, his boss and a few others.  Following their lead, I washed my hands carefully, sat on the floor in the shop, and then ate Indian-style.  It had been delivered, and it was typical Indian fare - probably mostly vegetarian, a bit spicy and eaten by hand!  By mid-afternoon, after they had rolled out many, many carpets for my viewing pleasure, I did feel a bit compelled to buy something.  The Indians are great salespeople, so it's likely that was their strategy all along!  The meal, the courting, the service, their English, the tea, the attention.  They were good!  Hopefully I got good deals! 

Part of my negotiation in buying rugs was having Shakeel's boss okay him spend a couple of days with me, showing me the city.  Up to then, I was feeling more than a bit overwhelmed, and hadn't really even gone far beyond where my hotel was.  That's India for you.  All senses are stimulated, and you see more in an hour than in your whole lifetime!  At least it seems that way!  Delhi is home to 22 million people, and if you're traveling alone, it certainly helps to have a local by your side.  I just felt if Shakeel took me around the city, it would make things much easier.  And it did!  One day, we rode in a motorized rickshaw (tuk-tuk) and hit a lot of the big sights, including The Red Fort Complex, Old Fort, Humayun's Tomb, Rashtrapati Bhavan and Ba'hai Lotus Temple.  I bought some wool sweaters, leather sandals and custom made pants.  I also drank a mango lassi and ate more local food in establishments that were more along the mom-and-pop, "off the beaten path" line.  I couldn't have done all this without Shakeel.

On another day, out by myself, I did some interesting things.  I walked to India Gate, The Arch de Triumph of Delhi!  I also toured the home museum of the former Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma).  Touring the home and grounds was a magnificent educational experience.  It was at this home, while she was sitting prime minister, where she was assassinated by two of her own bodyguards as she walked down a path one morning in her garden.  Imagine even the thought of our secret service killing a sitting US president!!!  Years later, Indira Gandhi's son, who was elected prime minister, was also assassinated while in office. 

Two things I did not do in Delhi - and have been regretting all these years:  visit anything of significance associated with Mahatma Gandhi (yes, that one!), and take a day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  My excuse for not seeing the Taj Mahal was - and it was a good one at the time- that I was plum exhausted my last full day.  That, and I didn't have faith in the driver and van set-up that Shakeel was arranging.  As for Mahatma, I really have no good answers for that.  I had read a book about him, and even watched the Gandhi movie that had come out a few years earlier.  The main thing probably was that I just didn't know what Gandhi-related things were in Delhi.  As it turns out, the memorial park, where he was assassinated (yes, another one!), is in Delhi.  I missed it!  In retrospect, my trip to India was done almost too spontaneously, and I hadn't planned it out well.  I should have stayed ten days, and certainly should have seen the Taj Mahal and some of these other things.  Still, being young, and a novice in such an exotic part of the world, had its pluses too.  I was captivated, and at the mercy of whatever came my way.  C'est la vie, as they say in France.  Anyway....someday, somehow, I will go back.

One of the most important things I learned from this travel experience is the fact that Islam is a fairly sizable minority religion in India.  Shakeel was Muslim, and had come down from Kashmir in the Northwest, where there's been wars and tension between India and Pakistan since the days the British pulled out of the region and the country got partitioned.  And, in a world history (since 1500) class at UNCA, I learned about the Mughal Dynasty that established rule in the northern part of India.  So, for many years (maybe centuries), there was an Islamic minority ruling a majority Hindu state.  In fact, the Taj Mahal is considered the most beautiful piece of Islamic architecture, perhaps in the world.  All that now intrigues me, and the photos I took, when I look back at them, just make more sense.  For a BBC documentary on India's history, click here.

And, to link all this to Uncle Jim (Dr. Jim Vann, of Headland, AL)......after I had gone back to work in Headland, Uncle Jim went on a solo trip to Uzbekistan.  From there, he flew to India, and met up with Shakeel, who was his tour guide while there.  What's funny is that once Uncle Jim got back home (after India, he traveled to Singapore, Malaysia and I think up to South Korea), he and I both were getting pretty constant e-mails from Shakeel, where he was asking us for financial assistance of some sort.  He was pretty persistent, but really didn't get anywhere with us.  I haven't heard from Shakeel in over fifteen years.

For a super informative video of Delhi, check out 21 Things To Do In Delhi, India. This guy does some really good work.  And for an interesting story on Indira Gandhi, click here.

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