Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crown of Palaces

"India is freedom. Everything is free." It was said by a rickshaw driver in response to a remark about animals in the streets. On India's roads, cars, trucks, bicycles, pushcarts, rickshaws, cows and dogs all fight for space. Trucks brush past animals with an inch to spare. Vehicle size and horn duration dictate right-of-way. Within reason, you're free to do just about anything. Push it too far and you'll just have to pay off the policeman that catches you.

Traveling in India tests you. For all the beauty and intrigue, there can be a chaotic lack of civility. There are so many people, and they get so close to you, wanting to talk to you, sell you something, take their picture. The air is filled with the clamor of blaring horns and frantic Hindi yelling. Garbage is strewn across streets, alleys and empty plots of land. The ubiquity and persistence of the very poor makes you question not only your approach to it but your thoughts on humanity.

Someone told me yesterday that 90% of Indians are happy. The other 10%, he said, were the richest 5% and the poorest 5%. I'm not sure that's entirely true, but many people here play the hand they're dealt and find things to be happy about.

The Taj Mahal is pretty spectacular. Built almost 400 years ago by a labor force of 20,000, it's perfect in its architecture, symmetry, layout, and beauty. The white marble is powerful and oddly luminescent.

Was convinced to take a slight detour to Rishikesh, a small town on the Ganges north of Delhi. It's the hippiest spot I've ever seen. I was skeptical of yoga and meditation before, and now having seen the extreme, I sense my suspicions have been confirmed.

Pumped to get up north. Manali on Saturday.

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