You’re thinking about something, my dear, and that makes you forget to talk. I can’t tell you just now what the moral of that is, but I shall remember it in a bit.’
‘Perhaps it hasn’t one,’ Alice ventured to remark.
‘Tut tut child,’ said the Duchess. “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.’
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
India has a story for everything. They all have morals, although some are a bit more difficult to identify than others. We did our best to always find a lesson in our day, some funny but many more profound.
On the first day, we learned patience and the suspension of fear. Two of my fellow travelers and I, having met at dinner the night before, headed out to do some sightseeing on our own before the official tour began. We hired our first tuk-tuk. Traffic in Delhi is every bit as crazy as you might imagine. I suspect the country might save a fortune in the annual budget by eliminating any roadway paint. No one uses the lanes anyway. A perfectly good two lane road can easily handle cars six wide. And cars aren’t the only ones that use the road. You share it with buses, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, bicycles and cows. Oh, and pedestrians also walk along the roadway. Deep breaths and positive thoughts are required at all times!
So we were off to the Lotus House of Worship- a Baha’i facility that was just amazing. This religion invites all faiths to sit in the House and pray/meditate/contemplate/etc however they desire, without judgement. They also focus on the evolution of religions, recognizing that as times change, so should worship. They even ensure that religion and science find harmony with each other. It was quite enlightening. And this gorgeous building is one of only seven in the world.
Next stop was the Qutub Minar,the tallest mineral minaret in the world. Our tuk-tuk driver discouraged us from going there because it was just a tower. He was wrong. Very wrong. Built in the 12th Century, it was gorgeous, along with the surrounding monuments around it. Made of red sandstone and marble, it is a must see. The joke after this experience quickly became “it’s just a tower.” Moral of the story- don’t always listen to tuk-tuk drivers. Your eyes may see more clearly than your ears. Deep, eh?
Day Two in Delhi was a lesson in posing. India, land of 1.25 billion people, although everyone we met, said 1250 million. I am not sure why the distinction is made but it seemed worth mentioning. You would think that amidst all of these people, I would just blend right in. Nope. Not even close. I am happy to say that I am now in millions of family photos, 1473 million to be exact. Some of these photos were posed, while many were pretend selfies or really bad sneaks. Needless to say, most of these photographers do not have a future in spy work. Moral of the story- always smile because you never know when you are being photographed.
On the way to our first stop, we drove through a Goat Garage Sale. The next day would be a festival in which every family sacrifices a goat and shares the meat with their neighbors. The market was filled with goats for sale. I quickly did the math and realized I could not either buy them all or set them all free, so I taught myself a quick lesson in acceptance. Good thing, because we visited a Gurudwara, a Sikh Temple, and this religion is accepting. They are so kind and welcoming and feed anyone that needs food. Every day. If you can pay, great; if not, no worries. This particular gurudwara feeds 5000 people a day. I would have loved to stay and help cook and hear the stories of these lovely people, but time did not allow as we were off to a mosque next.
Day Three in Agra- the mother of all days- the Taj Mahal. Today’s moral- love can be captured in the beauty of a building while hate can be just as strong. We woke early to be the first ones in line at the Taj. Sadly, we were second. But it didn’t matter. We were able to see the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, without the crowds. The buildings are amazing. I fully appreciated the perfect symmetry of the building and grounds, an expression of the love of a husband to his wife. Everything was in balance. All except one thing. One of the sons of the Mughal Shah Jahan, was not super happy with his dad after he neglected the children while mourning is wife. After usurping his rule and imprisoning his father until death, he placed his tomb just off center, ruining the perfect symmetry. Love and hate- both powerful.
Lunch that day was at a place called Sheroes. You didn’t have to look far to find the moral in that name. This cafe was run by victims of acid attacks, a horrible trend in India. These beautiful women have created this haven where they can regain their confidence and hope after disfiguration and help educate others to eradicate this crime. Moral of the story- don’t mess with Women- we will always stand together.
After lunch we visited the Amber Fort- but really only saw a monsoon. Every inch of our clothing and shoes was soaked, but not having seen rain in months, I was quite excited for the opportunity! Moral of the story- carry an umbrella, although I can’t imagine it would have helped in this rain!
Final lesson of the day was learned that night at dinner. Indian produced wine is in its infancy. Enough said.
Day Four in Jaipur was a lesson in doing your research. First stop- the Abandoned City of Fatehpur. It was built by King Akbar because a local Holy Man ensured that he would have a son. They spent twelve years building this city and palace, moved in and discovered there was not enough water to support they city. So they packed up and left. Moral of the story- you might want to ask a few questions before purchasing property. Bonus moral- this King had three wives, one Hindu, one Christian and one Muslim. They all had their own sections of the palace of differing sizes. He decorated each of them in different styles to make them all equal, one in diamonds, another in gold and the last was the largest. Moral- if you are going to have three wives, you better find a way to maintain perfect equality!
We also stopped to see an ancient step well, built to allow villagers to get water a different times of the year based on the level of water. Research done and successful!
That night, was my first rickshaw ride, through the insane traffic of Jaipur. Fortunately my rickshaw partner channeled a gondolier and random serenading accompanied the chaotic ride. The ride concluded at a delicious lassi shop, built in the 1900s. I might just have developed a slight addiction to them by now.
Day Five- moral in being prepared. I left my camera battery in the charger, so the photos from this day are absent. Stories will have to suffice.
STORY ONE- In India, animals roam the streets freely. Interestingly, the cows are abandoned because they are old. Since they are holy, they cannot be killed. When they no longer produce milk, they are released to live out the remainder of their lives homeless, eating food on the streets. I am pretty sure I do not see the beauty in their release. Pigs, however, are not homeless, yet they roam. Their owners release them each day to go out and eat the garbage in the street. Each night, the pigs return home.
STORY TWO- Also in India, you can find snake charmers. I am TERRIFIED of snakes, like baboon terrified and will just pass out if I see one. As we were headed into Amber Palace, a beautiful fort on the top of a hill that you will need to google to see, I got lost in my head and the business around me and walked next to a cobra. Like literally right next to a cobra. Inches from his head. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t see it or turn around when my travel companions gasped in fear and shock or we would have had quite the set of photographs documenting my fainting, just like a baboon.
STORY THREE- The King of Jaipur visited England many years back and went shopping dressed as a civilian. He entered the Rolls Royce store and was rebuffed, Pretty Women style. He went home, ordered ten and had them shipped to Jaipur. He then cut off the tops, outfitted them with brooms and shovels and used them as garbage trucks in his city. So Rolls Royce- mistake. Big mistake.
Final stop of the night was a Bollywood film. The cinema is a different experience than everywhere else I have been. Feel free to walk around, have conversations and even loud fights and come and go as you please. And if you phone rings, by all means, take the call. While this would have made me nuts in the States, it seemed fitting here. The movie was horrible so the ability to talk made it one of my most fun things I did in India.
Last day in India- a lesson in treating others well, being happy no matter what, cherishing friendships and about 100 others.
We traveled to a remote(ish) village called Sawarda and stayed in an old palace that had been converted to a heritage hotel. We spent the afternoon, hanging out with each other, having cocktails and getting henna. Then we headed out into the village to walk with the people. These were the most amazing and happy people. The kids followed and smiled and seemed genuinely happy to see us. It felt almost like a movie set, it was too good to be true. This village made life work perfect for them. They had one blacksmith, one potter and so on.
One of my “to do” items in India was to crash a wedding. I did even better. I was invited. Two of our group had decided to renew their vows and this village made it happen. Hindu priests were brought in from a nearby village, the women in the village not only brought us their clothes to wear but came and dressed us as well. The ceremony was beautiful and explained to us throughout. Moral of the story- dream big, make friends, treat others well, be generous………
And so I leave India- filled with many life lessons and plenty of morals, both found and yet to be understood.
Off to Tibet.