Tuesday, October 24, 2023

India, a Study in Contrasts

I had the privilege of spending two weeks in India this month, primarily in the state of Rajasthan. Run through Veg Voyages the local guides handled all our hotel reservations, dining requirements, and planned excursions. Even with all that pampering, our exposure to Indian culture had a raw, grassroots quality to it.

The people in particular were exceptionally friendly, the food was delicious, albeit a bit on the oily side and surprisingly carb heavy with all the rice and bread. The very old temples and palaces underscored the long and complex history of the country. With its many invasions, desert climate, and modern development, India (future Bharat?) is a collage of booming humanity.

As a visitor, the most striking aspects were of the bustling mayhem in most of the streets. Dehli in particular was a constant flow of people, vehicles, cows, dogs, goats, and camels in a maze of monuments, shops, and houses, many in at least modest disrepair. As a tourist, it often felt like moving through magic portals where our hotels were comfortable escapes from crowded, garbage lined streets.

Surely, India is a big country, and I did have a chance to visit bird and safari preserves in the forested mountains where I saw many avians, a leopard and other wildlife. Still, the predominant aura in the country was of a nation challenged to serve its constituents while providing an escape for tourists. The everyday Indian, nevertheless, seemed content to live life simply amidst this tangled society with joyful family and religious gatherings. 

I did feel very welcome by my guides and their families, and was thrilled to experience a bit of the history of northwest India. Alas, it was hard not to have the impression that religious obeisance was holding India's people back from modernizing their communities. Abandoned cows and dogs, prolific milk consumption and carabeef export alongside the general disrepair and accumulated garbage all conspired to make India feel a bit backward. In a way India seems to encourage unfettered human proliferation with just enough capitalist freedom to grease the tracks. 

In summary, my journey through India was an eye-opener. Humanity left unchecked can lean into supernatural beliefs at the expense of rational world building too easily. The Indian experience felt like an "ignorance is bliss" society, its surface full of human kindness and societal complexity flowing over a gritty, plastic-strewn, chipped concrete river bed. 

May mindful progress continue there, and across the world, where every region has its own challenges.