From the capital to the Himalayas and back: our first week and a half in India!
25.10.2010 - 03.11.2010 75 °F
India. I've been her only ten days and I fee l like its impossible to know where it begins and ends....
India is color & spice. Smog in the air. Ancient cities and modern temples! India is where British colonialism and Mughal rulers melt into a monsoon of cultures: Dravidian, tribal, Aryan.... A place of high luxury and extreme poverty. Of the noise and din sleeping contently with Himalayan silence! Its all toy trains and chai. Bottled waters and dizzying buses. India is everywhere in the world squeezed into an overcrowded tip of Asia. Truly! I've come to believe in my short time here that hte subcontinent is really more of a mouth - the Himilayas a set of teeth. India gobbles up peoples - Aryans, Arabs, Dravidians, Colonials - then trapes them until they become digested into the cultural fabric of the place.
Really my time here has but hardly scratched the surface of this place. We spent the bulk in Delhi: exploring the famed markets, sleeping in the dirty backpacker ghetto of Pasar Ganj, and seeing the famous sights (Lotus Temple, Red Fort). While the primary activity of a tourist is to see the sights... the secondary activity should always be absorbing the place visited. And we set right to it!
We inhaled sweet chai and gobbled down dal (lentils). Admitted the bright saris of Indian women and still brighter lights of the festival of Diwali. Our first week has been as much about seeing as it has been about tasting, touching, and enveloping ourselves in everything India has to offer.
Our one stop out of Delhi was the old British Raj summer capital of Shimla. Shemmmm-la! It really rolls off the tongue opening the mind to all manner of exotic dreams. The fairly large town is nestled high in the Himalayas where it would stay pleasant in the summer for colonial officials. Modeled off of European cities it had an open monumental square, pedestrian only avenues, and cozy almost-German style architectures. Where once the British officials stomped today middle and upper class Indians vacation. In fact the place was swarmed with tourists! As all were domestic tourists, the place still breathed a lovely exotic charm for two Americans such as Amy & I.
From Shimla, we organized a 3 day trekking expedition into the mountains. I awoke the day of the hike with a fantastic sinus infection but my enthusiasm managed to carry me through our first day's 27 kilometer journey. The views were stunning: cactus and pine, high snow capped peaks and rocky water filled canyons. Our excellent guide - Hassan - a native of Kashmir took us down windy paths through forests and overgrown village farms. We stayed two nights in a tiny village called Tatapani... Tatapani or "hot water" was named after the fabulous sulfur springs pleasant in the town. From Tatapani we took all sorts of short 3-5 hour hikes: monkey-temples, "linga"-filled caves to Shiva, and windy country roads with excellent views.
From Tatapani & Shimla we returned to Delhi for a few days to recover and prepare for Diwali: the festival of lights. We would spend Diwali with the parents of Manali, a friend from college, in nearby Faridabad before heading out to Rajasthan and the Arabian sea... We had just got to India and all the momenum - previously drained by seedy Bangkok streets and humdrum Malaysia - had been revived. We were ready for all the good (and bad) India had to offer!