A Passage to India

If there is one thing which lures me back visiting India, it has to be Dal Lake in Kashmir.

I did not have a lot of good impressions about India  in my summer trip of 1988.

As I was walking out of the airport, child labour was the first thing that caught my eyes. While a couple of very young boys were  working laboriously on a building site, several male grown ups just stood by, watching and maybe supervising. They seemed to be apathetic, perhaps they were similarly exploited when they were young.

While driving to town, you could see carcass of cows lying on the side of dusty roads. There were vultures busily pecking away the dead bodies and no body seem to care.

We bought a first class long distance train  ticket and thought we could escape from this harsh world for a moment. All we had for lunch was just a small bun which to me was almost unpalatable after trying a mouthful. Arriving at our destination, I was eager to get out from the train. Walking onto the station platform I was greeted by a super slim bare footed Indian with white beard, who only wore turban and diaper. With a cane in his hand, he asked whether he could carry my luggage for me. How could I trust him with my luggage?

The hustle and bustle of old Delhi was even more unforgettable. The slums were an eye-opening experience too. Everything was just so chaotic!

Then came the more pleasant part of the trip. . . . . the Taj Mahal. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, as a love tribute built Taj Mahal ( one of the Seven Wonders of the World) in white marble to his wife. My guide said that after they built the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan cut off the hands of all the workers who had worked on it so they would not try to build something as beautiful as Taj Mahal. Did the emperor not intend to build another one in black marble afterwards ? My guide was a bit crossed when I asked him about this and  the (low) literacy rate in India at the time, he thought I was just trying to embarrass him (and his beloved country).

Kashmir is situated at the border with Pakistan and conflicts had already started when I was there. We headed for Srinagar in Kashmir.

Flying to Kashmir was another memorable experience.  Going through the security at the airport, my body was groped all over by a soldier to make sure that I was not bringing anything dangerous on board of the plane. They even took away the small batteries inside my camera which were only returned to me before I alight the plane.

As I stepped out of the airport, I noticed there were several very old taxis waiting for travellers. I thought for a while we had gone back in time for approximately 30 years.

The scenery at Dal Lake was almost surreal. There were house boats on the edge of the lake against a backdrop of distant mountains and blue sky dotted with white clouds which formed a perfect mirror image on the placid lake. The view was just heavenly!

I could never forget the face of this smily little girl who rowed her small sampan towards me in our house boat, trying to “exchange” a small  water lily for some money.

Early next morning, we went for a rowing trip to the water market along the waterways.    The market was full of colours, sounds and activities; I like trips which brought me so close to real people.

We spent a couple of nights on the boat house which we were told had very good security. While on the boat house, my classmate who travelled with me lost his wallet, his ID and credit cards. Only when I threatened to report this to the police, the wallet suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the common living room of the boat house where we have never been to. What a miracle!

I am tempted to have another tour to India to see how this part of the world has changed. Of course, to stay at Dal Lake for a few more nights. However, Kashmir is still on the travel warning list of many government bodies. Some travel warnings simply say: Don’t Go.

After more than 20 years, I am keen to see how this country, which claims to be the largest democracy, compares with PRC.  In the meantime, maybe, I can only wait.

29 thoughts on “A Passage to India

  1. Don’t wait, Michael. Time and tide waits for no man. The place is safe, as could be seen by many of our ex-colleagues who worked there recently. India is still as interesting as that portrayed in E M Forster’s novel. Its religions and history are just fascinating.

  2. Hi, I also loved Kashmir. I was there in 1988 and then again with my family in 2006 and although there is a heavy military presence it felt safe for us as visitors and the Lakes and the Valley were as beautiful and serene as ever.

    • Hi, there is a difference in views between those who are actually there and those in the home office. I know I will be back visiting Kashmir in the future. Thanks for the inspiring comments! Regards, Michael

  3. hope this throws more light on the black Taj Mahal question! 🙂
    And yes, India can be overwhelming, and it will come as a shock to someone who is completely unexposed to the kind of lives being led in India. But there is more to India than Kashmir. And even in the filth, there is a lot to learn. 🙂

  4. I feel a bit bad for my country. Please visit India again and make sure you visit the south. Yes, child labour and slums do exist, but we have grown in leaps and bounds since your visit. So please come again, change your impression. I’m sure you will 🙂

    • Hi, I would like to include Srinager in my next India trip. I am waiting for things there to be more stabilized (from a tourists view, without knowing about it in detail). I very much want to see how India has changed in the last two decades. Regards, Michael

  5. As Sanjana said there are more to be seen and explored in India, kashmir as u said is always heaven on earth. And about the people ,the child labour etc i don think it has improved ever since. But still u cant expect certain things to be changed also. Being an Indian, I would request you to visit India with out any pre set concepts, just accept us as ourselves.. then you will love India and Indians..:)

  6. Although I have lived in Delhi for 22 years now, the chaos of Old Delhi still scares me. I agree with all the bitter-truth you have penned down, cuz I deal with it daily.
    And apart from srinagar and the Taj, there are more than a dozen places you can explore in your next visit to India.

    Cheers!

    • I have hoped that things are gradually improving in India, but it seems that things are only changing slowly for the better. When I visit places, I also hope that people there are leading happy lives, I hope the same for the people of India. Thanks for your comment! Michael

  7. I’m smiling as I read this post – your observations are so heartfelt and completely true.
    Child labor… as Indians, educated urban people, we too cringe at this, we do what little we can in our immediate surroundings. But our population is our bane – too many people competing for limited resources.
    I hope you enjoy your next trip to India and Delhi. I like to think we are a warm and hospitable people even amidst the chaos and poverty.

  8. I dint know you visited India. I am Indian. India is diverse.Many places many languages many types of food clothing etc. Do visit Kolkata if you come to India 🙂

  9. Uh…I am sorry you did have to go through all that but India is much more than all the bad parts… It really is. Did you visit again? Explore the rest of the country as well? I hope you did 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

    Would have loved more oics though 😉

  10. Just tottering your blog and came across this article.. Sorry to hear about the experiences you had when you were here in India.. I’m sure every place has its negatives as much as it has its positives.. Visit us in near future and you will be awed with our growth.. 🙂 🙂 Make sure you visit South and East India..

    Keep us posted!

    PS: I didn’t mean to be rude.. If I’ve sounded so, Sorry! 🙂

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