by Ron McGinty
India is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, the most populous democracy in the world and predominately Hindu.
To understand India in three weeks I would equate to taking a sip of water out of a fire hose. Why? There is too much history, a diverse culture, caste systems and so much more. I wanted a photojournalist trip, so I traveled the road less voyaged. I did not go to any tourist sites such as the Taj Mahal, etc. Aside from Mumbai (Bombay), I traveled to small towns. With few exceptions, in most places, my eight fellow explorers and I were the only non-Indians. We traveled over 1,780 miles from north India to Kochi by plane, bus and Tuk-tuks.I started my trip with some trepidations because of the unknown issues of food, foreign germs and personal safety.
After the first day, I only had one issue, a fellow traveler constantly jumping in front of my camera… being the gentleman I target to be, I handled it.
To understand India, you need to respect their customs, removing your shoes when asked, accept the caste system and don’t be timid to approach anyone. We got to see the “Lunch Box” delivery business. Over 5,000 men deliver over 200,000 meals a day, picking up the lunch boxes (tiffins) in the morning from women, typically, who have packed steaming, spicy dishes into each compartment and delivering them to offices throughout Mumbai by train then bicycles.
We can’t project our standards into their country, they existed thousands of years before our culture evolved, so I respect it. Even
in the ghettos many had smiles and who am I to say they are or are not happy. Their peace comes from spiritual well-being.
After Mumbai we traveled to Varanasi on the Ganges River, the most holy property in the country. People go there to die and be publicly cremated (over 350 people per day). There are religious ceremonies performed every night. The Sadhus, holy men, are everywhere. The Hindu religion believes in reincarnation, but if you are washed in the Ganges River and cremated here you can go directly to heaven. Every aspect of Hinduism is a new awareness for me to the options of other’s beliefs, learning, understanding and tolerance through education.
We took a boat ride to the far side of the Ganges River. This is where tribal people live, but has many things to experience, such as horses, old boats, bathing, desert lands, etc. As a bonus, we did get to see a wedding on the river bank of a beautiful couple, they said it was a customary arranged marriage.
I love the anonymous saying, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
From Varanasi we traveled south to Calicut-Kannur for the Theyyam pattern of hero worship. Tonight the Untouchables (lowest of the caste system) are elevated to a level of highest regards and considered as instruments of GOD. They express insights into the people’s lives. After this ceremony they return to the lowest levels of society. You see everywhere the brightly colored dresses of the women and young girls; I thought of this as a showing of vibrancy of their spirits.
Now on to, the State Academy of Arts for dance, drums, singing and art. It takes amazing discipline encompassing the eyes, feet and body movements to do it right, the school term is six years. We traveled to Cheruthuruthy to experience the vivaciously decorated elephants carrying people from neighboring temples.
My take away from India, there is no “Political Correctness” policies banning GOD from their vocabularies and lives, very refreshing and a virtuous lesson for us.