September 21, 2018. Today was delicious. India finally came alive for me and it was hot and sweaty and exhausting and wonderful. I could feel the juice of India and I could inhale the scent of this land and its people.
We had been in Trivandrum for two days. Our tour group of 17 were packed and lining up to board the bus. We would travel most the morning to our day’s destination. I don’t remember the town. That wasn’t significant. Our destination was the canals that had been all man-made centuries ago. We would board a house boat, three couples per boat, and we would cruise the wide canals as we ate a tradition Kerala cuisine lunch. After lunch we would board smaller boats to tour the narrow canals -- the neighborhood canals -- up close and definitely personal. As the sun set we would have dinner on our house boat and eventually retire to spend the night.
The houseboats were converted rice boats: table, dining chairs, and lounge chairs on the front deck under a thatched roof, three bedrooms, each with its own air conditioner and private bath, and then there was the kitchen for the three-man staff and a chef. We had a sweet afternoon with a delicious lunch.
At 4:30 we boarded our small canal boats and headed into the narrow canals. I first noticed a pile of books with swollen pages, books. lots of them, that had gotten wet. They were spread out on the retaining wall which was made of brick and dried black mud. Then I noticed pillows, couch cushions, and mattresses piled on those crusty mud retaining walls. Oh! I remembered, this area had been flooded about two weeks ago. Our boatman said the water had been chest deep. The water had retreated but the scars were still visible and the sadness was almost palpable. Even in the midst of that tragedy, even as much of the beauty had been flooded and washed away, there were telltale signs of recovery. Laughing children. People greeting each other as they walked the pathways lining the canals.
We returned to our houseboat. We traveled a bit further and then they moored the boat. Dinner was at 7:30. We had planned to play Euchre after dinner but everyone retired to their rooms by 9:45. It had been a full day.
After breakfast on Tuesday morning we disembarked, and we were off again on the bus to the Cochin Airport for our flight to Mumbai. 17 of us and our guides, each with luggage to be checked and with carryon, yet it went elegantly. A bit slow but easy.
Mumbaii didn’t speak to me. It’s the financial capital of India. There are 18 million, that 18,000,000 people in the city. Over 7 million of them ride the metro system each day. It’s big, it’s sprawling, and the traffic is insane. As we were inching along in bumper to bumper traffic midday on a Tuesday, I thought this insane traffic is just like the traffic in Colombia. The drivers are crazy wild yet they never collide with each other. There are shockingly few traffic lights or stop signs. It’s a free for all. And then add the swarming motorcycles and motorbikes. Like cockroaches, they scurry in between cars doing everything they can to get to the head of the line of traffic. On a mission to nowhere.
I realized, I am still in my safe place. This crazy traffic is so familiar, so comfortable, and it so at home in Colombia. I also realized that it’s much harder to get outside my safe place than I thought it would be. We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Mumbai -- Taj Land’s End -- even so, I didn’t feel I had touched India yet.
We flew to Udaipur on Thursday morning after two nights in Mumbai. We are staying at The Taj Lake Palace Hotel, and it’s one of the most elegant hotel I’ve encountered. It’s a beautiful hotel in the middle of a manmade lake in a region of manmade lakes. It’s beautiful and elegant, but mostly it is the impeccable service that we are receiving that makes this place special. But no matter who grand the hotel is, it was are very busy day today that has awakened my passion.
We went into the city and headed for a tour of the Palace, the Crystal Palace, and then to the Monsoon Palace that sits perched high above the city. All of that was really wonderful, but for me it was the walk down a street lined in small shops with vendors trying to lure you into their place that was alive and wonderful. Groups of locals standing around talking about their day, beggars quietly asking for money, people just living their daily lives. A boy, five maybe six years old, was struggling to push a rickety wheelchair with an obviously crippled old woman. Shriveled body, crippled crumpled legs, arthritic fingers. He was opening and closing his hand asking for money, screaming at me without uttering a sound. We walked to the Hindu Temple which was alive with music and chanting and dancing. It was enchanting. As we walked up the countless number of very steep steps, there were two very young boys sitting on the side. Their hands were opening and closing. I recognized the language. One had to be only 5 and the other couldn’t have been more than 3. On the other side of the steps an ancient man cradling an infant sat silently quietly blessing anyone who gave him money. The smallest gift -- $10 in India rupee (14 cents USD) was appreciated. It was painful and it was beautiful. I didn’t “love it,” but I thrived on feeling it.
India came alive today. Maybe I came alive today. I definitely stepped outside my safe place.