Category: South of India, 2012

Reflections on the trip, from Abu Dhabi, en route home, February 6

So, let’s start with infrastructure. Peirce & Leslie is fabulous–exceedingly professional, attentive to every detail and willing, amiably, to turn on a dime to accomplish whatever we want to do. Like all good infrastructure, it’s virtually invisible, but makes an enormous difference in the travel experience. You may (or may not) pay a bit more, but, if you do, it’s worth every rupee.

We were blessed with excellent guides throughout. As any traveler knows, the quality of a guide has a dramatic impact on your experience. We were particularly fortunate to have Jay with us for ten days.

Spending most of the trip with Steve and Karen was a treat. They are easy, curious, smart and fun. Traveling with others is tricky, at best. Great friends do not necessarily make great travel companions. We count Steve and Karen in both categories, and only hope that they count us that way, as well.

The trip itself was terrific. Carol and I play a game at the end of each trip, separately listing our favorite moments of the trip. As usual, there was a strong correlation between our choices. With slight differences in order between us, the top ten were virtually identical. Carol did rank her blessing from a temple elephant putting his trunk on her head highly, and I certainly can’t disagree with that assessment. I only wish I’d been so blessed.

Mine were the caves (especially Ajanta), the Dabbawallas ( lunch deliverers in Mumbai), lunch with Sabita and family in Chennai, the dance recital in Chennai, putting the god to sleep ceremony at Minakshi temple, visiting Deborah the ceramicist in Pondicherry, dinner with Anil and his wife and friends in Mumbai, elephant bathing and procession in Cochin, the Dhobi Ghat (open air laundry) in Mumbai and the houseboat ride with Ashok in the backwaters of Kerala. The list was made en route to Mumbai, or I probably would have included the visit to the slums on that list. Other things that both Carol and I loved were the ox cart ride in Chettinad, the terra cotta horses, the movie and the wedding we crashed.

Striking, but not surprising about the list is that, with the exception of the caves, none of the top items is a temple, palace, fort or museum (to be fair, Carol ranked the bronze dancing Shivas we saw in a museum highly). Not that those all weren’t interesting and worthwhile, but it’s the personal and real life experiences that make a trip. I should add to the last sentence “for us.”

One of my favorite moments in the trip was when our guide, Jay, talked about taking Indian tourists to Europe and how what mattered most for them was singing and watching movies on a bus that was traveling on a highway at high speed, bringing home small souvenir/gifts to subtly show their status as travelers and, incidentally, seeing a place or two. He described this without being judgmental. What interested these people was having an experience different from their everyday lives and, in that sense, they were attracted by the same thing we are. I can also readily imagine sophisticated American travelers who are blown away by the architecture, history and museums. But not us. (Though I have to admit that we were blown away by the architecture, history and museums in Egypt. On that trip, though, we lacked the kind of personal connections and touches that we had on this trip.)

I’m always struck on a trip like this by what a privileged life we live. And, also, by what a sheltered and provincial one. Ours is a young and isolated country. What do we know of rulers from a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago? And how can we understand what it means to be invaded and ruled by different empires over the centuries? Are the countries we’ve invaded (or, excuse me, liberated or supported) in the last fifty years feeling what prior generations in India felt during the periods we heard about on this trip? Wouldn’t it be nice to have some of that kind of history, at least if you didn’t have to live through it? Or, have we achieved some of the “benefits” of invasion and colonization (how’s that for a concept?) through immigration and, if so, what do our current immigration policies portend for the future?

At times, I’ve poked a bit of fun at the religious stories or names we heard about. That’s just my approach to life; I don’t mean to belittle the beliefs of others. Religions and their appeal have real interest for me. To be honest, I love the Hindu stories and gods, and their many characteristics, incarnations and consorts, though I confuse them constantly. What right-thinking, sane person would not love to worship an elephant god who brings good luck? And how can one not respect a religion whose adherents not only wash themselves before entering the temple to worship their gods, but also scrub down the elephants who carry those gods?

Finally, I have to mention the world’s greatest travel companion, my wife. Sharing these trips with her increases the joy of traveling exponentially.

And, speaking of companions, thanks for following, and for your many encouraging comments. It’s been fun to have you along. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the trip, perhaps even learned something along the way, and that you’ll decide to join us again, when we go to Ghana in September. For you, no visa or inoculations required.

8 comments to Reflections on the trip, from Abu Dhabi, en route home, February 6

  • Eve

    Thank you and safe trip home. Hugs…Eve

  • leslie

    so glad you loved the trip and got tot he slums……I thought they were amazimg, mostly that they are unique in the world. don’t know if your guide told you that the one you saw is the biggest in all of asia….loved every word of this. it was like going again!!!hope you are home safely… Les

  • Alison Edwards

    Amazing! Thanks for taking us in your side car.

  • Paul McLoughlin

    Superb summary. I can see you writing and hear your voice. Who needs Audible? Well done, indeed, and thanks to Carol for her input. Safe home.

  • Sharon

    Great Blog! Thanks for sharing your adventures and for the gorgeous photos! Look forward to getting together in person back home!

    Sharon and David

  • D.J. Baker

    Arnie – this is a more than worthy windup to your blog for the trip. The posts have been endlessly fascinating and insightful, while the pictures have given great immediacy to it all. It is – literally – the next best thing to going in person. I am already looking forward to Ghana.



  • Bonnie

    Thank you for inviting me on your trip to India.. Enjoyed reading about your experience, what you eat, what you saw, and who you met. It was great fun..
    See you back in Evanston..

  • Callie Batts

    Sounds like an incredible trip! Loved reading about it. And fantastic photos. Since you spent some time in Mumbai, you should rent a movie called Dhobi Ghat–a recent Bollywood film (but no dancing or singing!) that looks at the complexity of relationships in the city. Great film. Safe trip home, and hope to see you and Carol soon!

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