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Gandhi & Khan

India is a sensory overload. There is no other way to describe the uniqueness of this proud country.

Indian BoySight: cats eating sewage soaked garbage, men openly urinating in the street, people riding atop train cars, amazing clifftop views.

Hearing: loud belching, incessant car horns, different Hindi dialects.

Smell: delicious Indian food and raw sewage at the same time.

Touch: marble of the Taj Mahal, friendly then aggressive monkeys, filthy squat toilets.

Taste: naan, curry, tea, dangerous tap water.

India GateWhat better place to wrap up the insanity of India than in its capital, New Delhi? With a burgeoning population showing no signs of slowing, this metro city area of nearly nineteen million can be chaotic one moment and peaceful the next. Unlike most Indian cities, New Delhi is relatively fresh having been founded by the British in just 1911 (there are older parts of Delhi). There are a multitude of interesting sights to spy so we hired Tumar as our driver for the day and saw much of the sprawling metropolis. Our first destination was the Laxminarayan Temple which was inaugurated in 1939 by Mahatma Gandhi under the condition the sacred place would be open to every person, regardless of caste. Next we spent some time around the red sand stone India Gate that honors the 90,000 fallen soldiers during World War I. It was an impressive monument to say the least. After a quick stop at the Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret, we took a pit stop at a textile shop. After a marathon negotiating session, Ash picked out a gorgeous bed cover adorned with exquisite beads. Carrying around six pounds of fabric in an already full pack was a joy not to be missed.

India Gate From Afar New Delhi from Rooftop of Pearl Plaza Hotel

By far our favorite sight on the tour was the immaculate Lotus Temple. We checked our shoes at the underground dugout then performed a loop around the enormous white flower. The reflecting pools surrounding the 27 free-standing white marble petals gleamed in the bright sun. Ash and I found a bench from where we spent twenty minutes watching the interesting people admire the temple. The next hour was spent inhaling the life of Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma) inside her residence turned museum. As the first female Prime Minister in the otherwise male dominated India, the assassinated Indira Gandhi represents feminism in the Subcontinent. The sidewalk on which she took her final stroll is now clad in crystal and a sheet of clear glass marks the spot where she fell.

Indira Gandhi Crystal Path Lotus Temple

Finally, we made it to the spot I was looking forward to all day, Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. During India’s independence movement, Mahatma was their fearless leader who pioneered the idea of non-violent civil disobedience. At the age of 78, Bapu (as he is referred to in India) was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist prior to his leading a prayer meeting. After cremation, urns were sent across India for additional memorial services in his honor. The grounds of Raj Ghat are pristine for the most part, yet we witnessed a woman shove a styrofoam cup into a bush not more than ten feet from the cremation spot. We made one last quick stop at New Delhi’s Red Fort with its intimidating entrance before bidding adieu to Tumar.

Raj Ghat Red Fort

The following day was spent on foot exploring Connaught Place. This center of finance and commerce was under much construction yet it was easy to see its urban garden appeal. From the first day in India, every television and newspaper had broadcast the controversy over My Name is Khan. The ruffled feathers were a result of the lead actor, Sha Rukh Khan, supporting the inclusion of Pakistani players in the Indian Premier League (cricket). This created such a stir that no theaters in Mumbai would screen the movie for fear of violence. So we found a theater near Connaught Place where we even had to smuggle our point-and-shoot camera through metal detectors by separating the battery from the camera. The controversy over the actor wasn’t very significant to us, but once we viewed the Hindi film (no subtitles though much of it is in English), Ash and I were filled with our own angst. The feature picture, filmed partly in the USA, is about a Muslim man who suffers from Apserger’s syndrome. His disability is mistaken as suspicious behavior and he is subsequently detained by LAX airport security. As the main character journeys to meet President Obama in order to clear his name as a terrorist, Americans are depicted as religious bigots post 9/11. The message was so powerful that an anti American feeling was palpable in the room. Part of me wanted to stand before the packed house and rebuke many of the film’s themes and the other part wanted to flee for fear of bodily harm. Once outside the theater, we both calmed down and two helpful Indian men assisted us in getting a rickshaw at the local price. Once again, the kindness of the Indian people shined through. Do yourself a favor and rent My Name is Khan and see for yourself how this Bollywood film unfairly portrays ordinary Americans.

School Boys, LOVED Posing for Photos Streets of New Delhi

India will forever hold a special place in our hearts and minds. One minute Ash is dry heaving from the filth and the next our taste buds are watering in anticipation of scrumptious food. Without a doubt, the locals are the friendliest and most helpful people we have met on the world road.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) If you want to push your comfort limits, go to India. If you want some of the best food in the entire world, go to India. If want an authentic experience hard to find elsewhere, go to India. It won’t be a vacation in the traditional sense, but more of an adventure.

2) In the bigger cities, hire a personal driver with air conditioning for around $30 for eight hours. You will cover a lot of ground while learning about India firsthand from a tried and true resident.

3) Be careful with your timing when traveling to India as the Summer can be brutally hot, hitting well over 100 degrees. If some of the smells were intense at 70 degrees, we can only imagine what baking trash would smell like in triple digit temperatures.

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