Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Lonely Planet can't prepare you for what's instore

A glimpse of what makes India, India

There were three women in total. They were draped in effervescent saris, naturally colored with dyes reminiscent of the flora surrounding. Vibrant and bright, they were modest, keeping themselves fully covered while washing their bodies and clothes in the Pichola Lake in Udaipur. They used a strong, wooden paddle to beat the dirt and filth from their clothes, simultaneously running soap over their long, flowing, hair like a starless sky. Emancipated from the horns and hollers of the city’s streets, the lake was still in the midmorning. The scene was picturesque. It was exactly what I envisioned when devouring romantic slivers of how India must appear. Little did I know, though, that this scene would occur only a few feet away from a swanky café in India’s most romantic city.

The footbridge over the minuscule piece of the holy lake is reminiscent of those lain in Venice. Tourists, school children, and locals alike use it to gain access to the old city, or escape towards the refreshing air of the surrounding mountains. From its apex, one can see the aging remnants of the royal dynasty and a weathered wall, embellished with spray can angst. The bridge is also the perfect perch to watch the interaction (or lack thereof) between tourists and locals. Opposite the wall, cheery travelers sit on bamboo chairs in combating, neighboring cafes. While they eat western food and drink tea imported, the local women continue to bath. Though they are close enough to share the myth of personal space, it as if both parties exist in different spheres. The women wash, absolving their clothes of grit and grim to a tune a far cry from that emanating from the café. This is India.

While most people have an idealized view of what they believe the subcontinent will be like, India is a rhetorical question. Those flocking to the storied lands seeking cohesive answers are the ones who remain perplexed. The truth is, though not entirely impermeable to globalization, India will always be the antithesis of western standards. Changes occur yet, even with an influx of lavish hotels and upscale western establishments, Indians outside of the tourism industry won’t adhere to foreign influences. India will always be crowded, dusty streets, with free-roaming animals, and a population who does as it sees fit. Peering through a western lens may render a disapproving gaze at this (especially bathing and washing in the same air as fine dining), but India doesn’t bat an eye.

As I peered at the uncanny sight from the insightful bridge, I couldn’t help but admire the proud women going about their routine. Their fortified skin, full body badges of  honest lives lived, boasted contrast to the soft, engaging colors of their country and clothing. While no destination I’ve encountered thus far has made me long for rocky mountain air like India, likewise, none has matched the drive and self-awareness which it has instilled. The pride, confidence, and action, in places the west would host shame, is what makes India so appetizing. Those of us with insatiable hunger can’t help but be tempted by its abundance. The challenge comes, though, in biting off a palatable portion.

Photo courtesy of Traveler's Point 

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