As April approaches and the end of Tax Season nears, the big question for people who know me is "Where are the Bialoskys going this year?" All our friends and my clients know we are dedicated travelers and there is high interest, especially with Teri B. being a travel blogger. We usually get fawning responses from people who have either been where we are heading as they lurch into fond memories or we receive comments of joyous jealousy from people wanting to join us as our destination is one they have longed to go to and want to stow away in the luggage. But this year we got a decidedly mixed reaction. Many said "Why are you going there?"
After one goes to the infectious disease doctor to obtain proper shots, one is left to wonder why are we doing this. Our doctor expressed his exuberance for our destination and then rattled off 22 diseases we should be worried about. He suggested we stay away from eating various foods and not even use ice in the very fine hotels in which we'll stay. I was thinking "And this guy really likes this country."
But we have our reasons for going to India despite not being lovers of the cuisine. India has the world's second largest population making it important just for that fact. Its culture dates back close to 5,000 years. Many people speak English as it was a colony of Great Britain until its independence in 1947 and is still a member of the Commonwealth. It has many of the basics of civilization and the rule of law left by the British, and is often referred to as "the world's largest democracy." I also wanted to see the Taj Mahal, something I had heard about all my life.
The first thing you experience once you arrive in India (Delhi) is that the people are unfailingly polite. This is in direct contrast to the world's other country with the largest population - China - where the people are brusque, at best, if not downright rude. It is amazing how pleasant the Indians are considering there are over 1.3 billion of them jammed into the country. And we started in its largest city - New Delhi - which has about 21.75 million residents, but who is counting?
The next experience we had was the searing heat. Many parts of India are exceedingly warm for large parts of the year. While we travel far and wide during late April and early May the weather worldwide is typically mild as it is either spring or their early fall wherever we go. Our guide told us the weather was unusually warm (over 100 degrees F cooling to a mild high 90s at night) for this time of year, but was heading toward the very hot period. Thank God for Willis Carrier.
New Delhi was quite an experience, but nothing like Old Delhi with its winding ancient streets filled with shop after shop. This is what people think about when they think of India. The most bewitching feature of the area is the electrical lines run between buildings that can only be described as the world's worst fire hazard. It is amazing to visualize and stupefying that people are not electrocuted on a regular basis. The spice market and the crowded pathways make up for the strangeness of the electrical grid. This matches the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul as a bewildering capitalistic experience.
That does not begin to match the towering sight of the Taj Mahal. This white marble structure can be seen from far away in its home in Agra. We Americans often have said "It is not like I live in the Taj Mahal," which is a fascinating colloquialism since the building is a tomb for a wife of the Emperor who built it in the mid-17th century. But it speaks of the magnificence of the structure and the grounds. To see the reflection in the pool leading up to the structure, you know you are seeing a unique part of the history of mankind. There is a reason this draws seven million visitors a year.
Agra is the 24th largest city in India, but you could have fooled me that it exists for anything other than the Taj. The site lives up to its billing and worthy of the trek. But you do get - as a bonus -- to see the Agra Fort, which is on the list of World Heritage Sites.
We went to a camp in Ranthambhore to see the animal reserve of Northern India. There may be a lot of animals there, but what everyone wants to see is the Bengal Tiger. Our first trip out we saw a female huddled in the brush to stay cool from the afternoon heat. But the next morning we saw a full-grown male lumbering across the road. He was quite a magnificent sight at almost 12 feet long and 500 pounds. Then we saw his mating partner and two cubs having breakfast of deer. We stayed with them for over an hour as they finished breakfast and slowly went over to the closest watering hole to lie down in the pool, cool off and wash down breakfast. They are quite magnificent animals with their wonderful yellow-green eyes.
While we were driving through Ranthambhore, as we dodged hundreds of people on motor bikes (sometimes three to a bike), camel-driven carts, cows, pigs and dogs darting in and out of traffic, we commented on the fact there is no traffic control or traffic lights. Our guide said they only have those in the big cities. We asked him what the local population was and he said five million. Welcome to India.
India was a unique experience. Many Americans would be horrified by how many Indians live amid the seeming chaos they endure. This is what they know. It works for them as the country makes the transition from earlier times to the modern era. Quite grateful we made the trip.