We left New Delhi airport at 3:28am Monday. Over 20 hours later we arrived home in Seattle. It’s safe to say that whatever brain cells I still possess, they’re not working well.
That said, here’s the 3 bullet executive summary of the trip:
- India is big. Really big. Like 1/3rd the size of the U.S but with 3 times as many people. So my attempts to describe to people “India was like…” are impossibly uninformed and unfair. I can understand now why when Europeans that do visit the U.S. (particularly ones that visit Las Vegas or Orlando) see it the way they do: how much can you understand about anywhere by being there for a few days, mostly in touristy places? While in India I struggled with the scale: the size of the cities, the numbers of people, the depth of poverty and the optimism about the future. But I only saw the NW of the country and mostly urban areas and some big tourist stops. So YMMV.
- Chaos redefined. We stayed in Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw on the streets and in neighborhoods. Motorcycles and rickshaws dominate the unmarked roads. I saw driving moves I thought people only did in video games (e.g. running through intersections the wrong way across 6 lanes of traffic). Sections of towns sprawl and mash up against each other, with patches of decay, construction, slum and promenade all rolled together. I found it impossible to get a sense of bearing in the cities: their chaos and scale makes Manhattan seem like a childrens park. From a Western and American perspective, these cities were aesthetically a mess. But they work, sort of – at least for the people in them. As much as I was dumbfounded by what I saw, I was equally amazed and how well people functioned inside these incomprehensible systems. Entire papers could be written on the agile methods and organic attitudes employed by dense, and largely poor, urban populations: they’re more clever and resourceful than the rest of us.
- Amazement and Horror . During the trip I saw poverty on a scale I’d never imagined. We drove from Delhi to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, and for 200km each way we saw an endless roadside shantytown, one stretch of chaos after another, poor towns with shacks and village stores living off (one assumes) the traffic from the highways (We’d see more intense poverty early on in our train ride from Delhi to Jaipur). But every few miles, rising above the frey, were cell phone towers. Cell phones and internet access points surrounded by people without clean drinking water. I felt this kind of discordance many times in India – It seemed to be a country with everything, the good and the bad. Again and again there were dramatic contrasts, people living difficult lives in shacks, while next door is the most wonderous palace or temple I’d ever seen.
I’m still digesting what I experienced – once the brain cells are back I’ll have good stories to share. Thanks to everyone for their India advice – appreciated.