I have to admit that it’s taken me over two weeks to put all these photos up not only because of major insanity at work (needing to play Big Foreign Boss again in a series of openly hostile meetings? Oh yes.) but also because the thought of manually resizing 300+ photos so that I could upload them made me feel a little lazy.
So this is just a quick geeky plug for using the Automator program if you have a Mac, which will resize them all for you! Amazing! (Here are some instructions on how to do that.)
A couple of things to consider if you are planning a trip to India in April (WHY?) is that you will need to build in time for accomplishing less than you have planned, due to the fact that it will be so hot that you may not be able to function. Basically, it was at least 100 degrees every day – dry in the north of the country, humid in the south. Also, you may need to build in time for being incredibly ill and unable to get out of bed for an afternoon or two.
As I’ve helpfully mentioned on this blog before, living in China means that I operate on a daily basis with a higher level of tolerance for general queasiness and gut-wrenching intestinal distress. So I figured hey, India couldn’t be worse, right? I WAS VERY WRONG. I really don’t want to know specifics about what it is in the food preparation in Kunming that leads me to be regularly ill but, at least in Delhi, I will wager that it was a combination of dirty water, less than sanitary handling of raw foods and just being unaccustomed to the local bacteria as a foreigner. I always thought that Delhi Belly was a joke, but turns out it’s just an inadequate description – there’s also fever and all manner of other hideousness awaiting you in that fair city!
Let me give you a brief overview of your trip, and then you can head over to my Picasa album and check out the photos.
First up: Delhi. I wanted to like Delhi. I wanted to experience what I thought would be one of the world’s great cities. Unfortunately, after spending 5 days there, I can say that whatever Delhi once was, it is not one of the world’s great cities. It has some great wonders in it, like the ruins of the 18th century observatory Jantar Mantar…
…the quiet retreat of Lodhi Gardens…
…and the epic (and hard to photograph at night) Red Fort in Old Delhi.
Unfortunately all of these things are enclosed in a city that, as our Delhi-ite friend KM put it, should really just be bulldozed and started over. It’s a dust-defeated, traffic-choked sauna, with no way to walk from one place to another, permanent construction ripping up the streets, and large pockets people living in abject poverty. No, Delhi was not a great city. Avoid it. Next!
Agra, home to the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort (a different one from the Old Delhi Red Fort), is one of the only reasons to be in Delhi – a 3 hour train ride gets you from one to the other. While you do not want to stay overnight in Agra, a podunky nowhere town, the Taj Mahal and Red Fort are worth seeing. They look just like the photos you’ve seen a hundred times, but being there in person is a transporting experience. Recommend not going when it is so hot that just walking around is a serious effot.
From Delhi we flew south to Trivandrum in the state of Kerala, where my childhood friend from London was to be married. If you’re going to be in India when it is so very hot, you might as well be somewhere lush and beautiful like Kerala, that relatively progressive Communist-led state with some of the highest social development indicators (life span, literacy, state of gender equality) in India.
The highlight of our three days in Trivandrum (Kovalam Beach, specifically) was the actually wedding ceremony, which took place on the evening of the second day of festivities. Crashing waves and periodic lightening, a wedding around a fire, the groom riding in on an elephant…RP and I can replicate this in New York City, right?
The morning after the final wedding party, RP, our friend KM and I headed north to Alleppey to do something decidedly touristy and completely great: renting a houseboat to float lazily around the uniquely picturesque Kerala backwaters.
Decadent? Well, yes. But worth every penny for the relaxation.
From Alleppey we took a short bus trip north to the laid back, cultural mash-up port city of Kochi (Cochin). Perhaps the most interesting chunk of our trip together, RP, KM and I wandered through the overgrown and crumbling streets…
…visited Jew Town (yes, that is what it is actually called) and the Pardesi Synagogue, built by the Malabari Jews in 1568, (no photography allowed inside)…
…visited the grave of Vasco da Gama, went to a hypnotic, ecstatic flute/tabla/madalam classical concert at the Kerala Kathakali Centre, ate delicious seafood and watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
And there we parted ways, so that KM could fly back to Delhi, RP could fly to Bangalore and then Beijing on his way back to Kunming, and I could fly to Kolkata (Calcutta) for a day before heading home.
Calcutta is what I thought Delhi would be: post-British colonial, with some areas that are wealthy and tidily maintained and others that are gritty, rundown, shanty towns. Unlike Delhi, which makes you want to turn and flee, Calcutta invites you to engage with it in all of its beauty and destitution. I spent a wonderful 12 hours there on my way out of the country visiting walking its leafy streets, visiting the Indian Museum (the greatest museum on the planet, since it exists as if the 20th century had never happened and features all manner of wonders like a 8-legged goat fetuses in formaldehyde, cultural anthropology exhibits displaying paper mache models of Nicobarese villages, a massive taxidermy hall and a giant glass case of asbestos) and the Victoria Memorial.
I had an extremely genteel little lunch in the Park Street area, and only wandered down one street where people were openly injecting drugs on the sidewalk.
So how was our trip to India? It was very intense, packed with activity and delicious food everywhere we went (regardless of the consequences…), and piqued my curiosity for more. I’d like to go back to Calcutta with RP, I’d love to see what Bombay is like, and I’d still like to go to Rajasthan, although I’ll have to settle for going at the height of the tourist season in December since I can’t take 2 weeks of travel in heat like that again.
The rest is in pictures – I went a little nuts with taking so many, so feel free to skip around…