Support the project at https://andyeversole.com/be-india
Day 13 – Delhi is Home
It’s amazing to me the quickness with which humans can become comfortable in their surroundings. It seems as if it’s a very ancient and profound wisdom, buried deep in our DNA. It only takes a few days, even in a place that is extremely different from what you’ve been used to, for one to become “at home” in a new place. In my travels around the globe, this happens to me over and over again, yet never ceases to create a sense of wonder about what it means to be human, and what it means to be home.
This is the feeling I got upon returning to New Delhi today, after a spectacular four day jaunt through the Golden Triangle of India. This is the name for the region that is connected by New Delhi, the capital of India; Agra, which is 3 hours south and the home of the famous Taj Mahal; and Jaipur, 3 hours directly west of Agra, which is the capital of the state of Rajasthan. In this four day tour I’ve seen things that will never be forgotten, namely the image of the pristine white dome of the Taj Mahal as the sunrise began to peak through the clouds. As well as a religious and musical festival procession leading through the streets of Jaipur, that could just have well been located on a street in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The day began with coffee and an omelette at our comfy Airbnb. Our driver, Samir was scheduled to meet us at 9. He was on time, and so were we. We hopped in, and began our the last leg of our tour, the 4 hour journey back to New Delhi. He stopped at the Water Palace on the way out of town, but as stated in the previous blog, I we had become wary of the tourist funnels, and I politely asked if we could just skip it and get back on the road, to which he obliged. The ride through the countryside was beautiful yet uneventful. That is, until we hit a standstill traffic jam. Traffic jams in India are a bit different, in that cars and trucks are backing out, turning around, stuck, any and all manner of traffic patterns can be found in an Indian traffic jam. The golden rule, according to Samir, is not to stop, because if you do, you could be sitting for hours. So our only path was to careen down off the highway into a farming field.
It seemed like an adventurous move at first, but soon started feeling like a deathtrap. We agreed to get out and push if anything went wrong, which it certainly looked like it would. It was all tilled soil, hard dust, and mud. The first major bump got him stuck, but with a little maneuvering and some pushing, we pressed onward. The next obstacle was a gigantic mud hole with about 10 farmers just sitting around it. I suggested that Paul and I get out of the car to lighten the load a bit, and Samir went full speed ahead through the mud, slinging earth in every direction. Miraculously he made it through, we hopped back in, drove back up onto the highway, and were somehow on the other side of the traffic jam. He’s been driving these roads for over 20 years, and it showed off with this impressive display of skill, bravery, and stupidity 😉
Pulling into our neighborhood back in Delhi, it felt like we were returning home. That’s the feeling I spoke of earlier, and it was quite stark and clear this time around. I’m really beginning to feel the heartbeat of India, the energy of it’s streets, the spirit of it’s people. It takes a minute, but once you begin to hear the melody of the song, it sounds like home.
Day 12 – Peeling Back the layers
Almost nothing in India is as it seems. Layer upon layer lies in a maze of smiles, motivations, and business. As we awoke from our “designated” hotel that was “recommended” by our driver, we began to come to a realization of the whole mechanism at work. He miraculously came out outside just as we did, as he had been sleeping in the guest house at the same hotel. Which would have been fine, but the place was a dump, and we didn’t even have running water in the morning. Our plan was to find a nearby cafe for our traditional coffee and internet ritual. Our driver assured us nothing was open, and “suggested” a nearby restaurant that he knew was really good.
This was the moment I decided to jump completely off the train. We had inadvertently got ourselves wrapped up in a complex web of funnel tourism. Everything is connected. The hotels, the restaurants, the things to see, the tour guides, the demonstrations, they all provide kickbacks and favors behind the scenes. It’s a feeling like the Truman show, when you finally realize the true nature of what’s happening. Right then I decided to go off the reservation, to go rogue. I told him we would check out that restaurant, get some coffee, and call him in about 2 hours. He had a whole day of expensive pre-planned activities for us. That would be the last time we saw him for the day.
We jumped in a rickshaw and told the driver to take us to an Indian coffee shop. There we met a very nice older gentleman who invited us to sit with him. Thus began the next web of adventures. I ordered some coffee and a tasty omelette, and enjoyed some nice conversation with our new companion.
He was a retired teacher and writer, who was passionate about his coin collection. He loved the pursuit of gathering every American quarter from every state, and all the other half and full dollar coins of our Presidents. I told to him to soon be on the lookout for the new Trump coin, coming soon. Haha! Of course he invited us to his house for lunch, and one to hardly ever turn down these invitation, of course I accepted. We set plans for 1pm and headed to the Airbnb to check in. Compared to last night, this place was a palace. Plenty of room, very clean, swimming pool, and friendly staff.
After a 30 minute relax period we set off for our friend’s house. All we had to go on was an address, so it was a bit like a scavenger hunt. We kept getting closer and closer, asking people along the way, finding our path through a maze of cars, motorcycles, cows, alleys, and markets. We eventually found it and settled in for an awesome, simple, easy lunch. Afterward showing us his US quarter collection, he broke out some samples of his batik artwork, a specialized skill of dying cloth to make colorful images. He said they took 10-15 days to create and that he didn’t make them anymore. I expressed interest in buying one and he was surprisingly open to idea. So, I bought a couple of gifts, which by India standards, were quite expensive, and we set off down the road.
Around the corner was our next destination, Jantar Mantar. This is a courtyard next to the Imperial palace that contained an exciting collection of ancient astronomical observation structures. All were aligned with the sun, moon, and planets to track the celestial bodies and their movements. Given my affinity for space and the stars, I always enjoy these ancient astronomy sights. At the end of the tour there was a traditional Rajasthani band playing music and selling handmade puppets.
They saw my instrument on my back, and invited me to sit in with them. This was my first true jam while in India, so I was really excited to play. We played for about five minutes, occasionally creating some special musical moments. As the crowd began to gather around, so did the security guards, and they asked me to stop playing, much to the ire of everyone enjoying it. Alas, the perils of a life filled with banjo.
The rest of the day was filled with swimming, dinner, and a nighttime search for live music, which was largely unsuccessful. We did find a dance club and a rooftop bar however, and enjoyed our last night in Jaipur sipping a Kingfisher beer and showing off our best dance moves.
Though all is not as it seems, and the layers must be peeled back and continuously untangled, the heart of India beats strong and true. It’s hidden away, packed deep inside of a loaf of naan bread. But once you find it, once you see it’s true colors, your life is forever changed.
Day 11 – The Golden Triangle
5:15 comes early. We get ourselves together, pack our gear, and meet the guide by 5:30 at our home stay gate. The morning is quiet but windy, as a rainstorm and cloud cover moves in. I can feel the electricity in the air, and in my body. Today we have just a 10 minute walk to one of the most amazing structures in the world, The Taj Mahal. Our guide, Imran, leads us along the road to the grounds, briskly. Though it’s 5:30 in the morning, the crowds are already beginning to arrive.
Sunrise at the the Taj is one of the most coveted experiences available to us earthly mortal humans. We get our tickets, shoe covers, bottled water, and the tour begins. He begins explaining to us the history, the different structures surrounding, and the meaning of all the symbolism. The symmetry of every last detail is incredible. It’s all laid out perfectly, according to the math, the sun, and the Muslim religion behind its creation. All together, you get a feeling of cosmic wonder and amazement, mixed with the exactness of mathematical perfection.
As we walk through the main gate, the white marble of the main structure seems to rise right out of the ground and right up to heaven. The majestic emotions you feel when you first come upon it are hard to describe with words. Only music, love, the birdsong, and the monkeys perched along the tops of the surrounding walls seem to hint at its deeper message. Though the clouds protect us from the sun, it peaks its face out a few times, glistening and parading through a spectrum of colors that reflect off of the pristine white marble of the dome. As the sun finally breaks through completely, spiritual bliss takes hold, and the poem with which this amazing monument to love was written, is finally recited in its entirety.
After leaving the grounds, we are whisked off by our driver, guide, and a whole concoction of tourist trap mechanisms designed to separate us from our money. I always respect the hustle, but finally begin to glimpse all of the instruments at work in this symphony of capitalism. They take us to a “presentation” of the primitive stone and wooden tools used to create all of the elegant marble work found in the mausoleum. After explaining the technique for a few minutes, he leads us downstairs and begins one of the most impressive sales jobs I’ve seen. Beautiful marble artwork fills several rooms, ranging from huge dinner tables to miniature elephants. My Banjo Earth budget forbids me to partake in these activities, though that chess set was amazing. After some hard nose negotiations, Paul buys a gift for his girlfriend and we’re off.
After fully coming to a realization of what was really happening, I politely declined the next “presentation”. We instead opted for a spot behind the Taj Mahal, which gave us a far off view of the dome and a great opportunity for a banjo video. Though this experience is the opportunity of a lifetime, it was only 12pm, and we still had half a day to go. So, we dropped off our guide, tipped him, and began our 4 hour trek to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.
Sleep took me over for the first part of the drive, but after wakening, I was treated to a beautiful drive through the countryside of India. Wheat fields, brick smokestacks, women carrying things on their head, camels, buffalo, peacocks, kids playing pick-up games of India’s national pastime, cricket…It was all there. This drive really began to give me a sense of the vastness, the beauty, the truth, that is India.
Just before reaching Jaipur, we stopped at a place called the Monkey Temple. It is a series of temples and structures tucked away on a mountain, that house three to four thousand monkeys. Our first stop was the Temple of Shiva, the Cobra Goddess, where I was anointed with an orange design on my forehead. As went went further back in the mountain, the monkeys began gathering around. Five or ten here, twenty more there, until there were hundreds all around us, jumping, walking, playing, and occasionally fighting. As you hand them a peanut, their human like five fingered paws reach out to take them like a small infant, but with the grace and curiosity of an old soul.
There is a natural amphitheater at the very top of the mountain filled with water that provided a perfect place for some music. I got out the banjo, pulled out my slide, and played my tune “9 finger Blues” to the Gods, the monkeys, myself, and anyone else who dared to listen.
As darkness began to set in, the guide warned is it was time to go, as the leapord who lives at the top of the mountain would be coming down soon. We headed out, got back in the car with Samir, and settled into to our overly modest hotel for a night of somewhat restless sleep. These are the days of Banjo Earth: India.