Garderners vs. Naturalists
Written by Mike Hunter on Sunday, January 20, 2002.

(Pictures available here)

I've been struggling to find a way to describe the trip to India without
slighting the richness of the experience by saying "it was great!"  It was
great, but that's how I might describe a trip to Disneyworld or Mt. Rushmore.

Some of my impressions may be attributable to this having been my first trip
to a non-western country.  The subject line reflects one of my biggest 
impressions; that in India, for right or wrong, there is an attitude of "live"
and let live," which applies to the sacred cows wandering the streets to the
poverty.  I think in the US we're a lot more tempted to try to put things in
ordered boxes, whereas India is content to put everything in the same box, if
that makes any sense.

I went to India with the intent of learning something about life as opposed
to simply going on vacation, and I feel successful in that ambition.  I was
reassured to see that people in India are for the most part motivated by the
same things as we are:  The happiness of family and friends, the comforts of
food and shelter, the fulfillment of spirituality...but each of these took on
a distinctly Indian flavor.  Especially the religious aspect:  It makes perfect
sense in India to have a little shrine to Shiva in between the shampoo and the
conditioner.  In going to some of the fabulous Jain temples and seeing the 24
embodiments of "God", the math major came into play to note that in
Christianity, there are a mere *3* embodiments of the great spirit; proving
that India is 8 times more suited to convolution :)

Moving on to the trip itself, I think it went very well.  It was good to have
the time in Bombay to get acclimated.  If you ever wanted to hate and love
being Caucasian, go to India.  On the one hand, you will get movie-star
treatment, people asking to have their photo with you...curious looks galore.
On the other hand, you become a very big target for beggars and cursed
peddlers.  This theme was repeated throughout the trip, but learned at the
first.  I enjoyed the company of Rushabh's parents very much while in Bombay.
We were not in a foreign city, we were in his family's home town, and that
was a comfort.  I think we all also enjoyed the stewardship of the family
driver Sabrash(?).  That was one of the biggest impressions in those first few
days:  How hectic the driving was.  What amazed me is that even without the
rules and regulation we take for granted in the west, the system functioned
just fine.  The pinnacle of our driving experience was driving to the train
station at the end of our time in Bombay:  It felt like we were driving
through a narrow path *inside* an amusement park...hopefully some of you will
get to watch Tanya's videotape of that.

The next part of the trip saw us take the train 18 hours to the north, where
we met up with our drivers for the first half of our trip.  We all liked the
two of them very much.  The first day we went to the most marvelous of all
the structures we saw on the trip (with the possible exception of the Taj
Mahal), a Jain temple.  (Please forgive the lack of proper nouns, I don't
remember hardly any of the city names or the places we visited...alas.)  The
whole place had had so much work put into it that it boggled my mind.  From
there we took out to Rajistan.  As the geography faded from temperate to
desert, I was amazed to see how many people there were even in these rural
areas, and the lands that they were attempting to farm.  In the US, it
wouldn't be profitable to farm such a place, but in India, where labor is 
practically free, there was agriculture everywhere, even in places that
reminded me of Nevada.  The two highlights of the Rajistan portion of the trip
were the Camel Safari and the Rat Temple.  Bizarre before beautiful:  Our
drivers took us to a rural Hindu temple.  This temple honored a god who was
associated with rats as his assistants in some capacity.  The temple was
dedicated to the rats, both in form and in function.  The keepers of the
temple fed and watered rats, so that the entire place was scurrying with rats.
And this being a Hindu temple, one is obligated to remove their shoes upon
entry.  So here we were, walking about barefoot with rats scurrying over our
feet.  I'm looking forward to getting those pictures developed.  The Camel
Safari saw us take out on camelback from a small village toward a set of sand
dunes to watch the sunset.  The whole experience was a big hit, from the
brilliant sunset itself to the ride.  But what was especially fun was hanging
out at the dunes with our guides and with fellow tourists.  Several of us got
to playing games with the young tourguides, including high-jumping a rope and
wrestling.  We also saw several forts and an old royal observatory.

We parted with our drivers in Delhi and spent a few days taking in the city.
I think we were in a pretty nice part of town.  We enjoyed eating western
food (Pizza Hut!) and good shopping.  We took out for the second half of our
trip with new drivers toward the Himalayas.  Stop 1 was Rishikesh, a holy city
on the river Ganges.  It was very neat to see the Ganges, not polluted in the
slightest (that far north.)  The next day (?) we had perhaps the most trying
experience of the trip, when we got our tour bus stuck on ice on a remote
rode en route to a scenic spot.  We were put to work gathering traction aides
and the like for several hours, but to no avail.  Finally the group walked
down about 3 miles to a village where we proceeded to eat a small restaurant
practically out of roti, and hired help freed the tour bus.  It was a fun
experience, and it gave me the chance to hike; all down-hill at that.  We
wound our way through narrow roads to the resort of Auli, where we stayed for
two days.  The groups was pretty weary at that point, so the brunt of activity
was in the form of card playing and rest.  But even if we'd had to do homework
there it would have been worth the trip:  The views were quite striking.  I
felt like I had been miniaturized judging by the grandeur of the mountains
around us.  Two days and 16 hours of driving later, we were back in Delhi,
where the group parted ways.

Sheila and I then went to visit my cousin who lives in a suburb of London
on our way back to the US.  That was a very nice trip, albeit only 5 days
long.  We found London very charming and warm (figuratively at least.)  We
saw most of your usual tourist sights, including the Tower of London and
the British Museum with the Elgin(?) marbles.  Just walking around the
countryside was a favorite for me, finally understanding what all these
British people have been writing about.  Our hosts, Pat and Nat, were very
gracious and gave the chance to both rest after our India adventure and to
get a taste of London.

I'll plan on sending out another letter when I get my pictures put on the web,
which is still a few weeks off.

So in summary, it was great :)  Thanks to Rushab, Ashok, and Pratima for
making it happen...speaking for the group, thank you so much for all the
effort you put into making the trip such a success and giving us such a
unique chance to experience India.