1800 kilometres in 14 days is a bit much. That’s like driving from Calgary to Vancouver and back, and we learned long ago to fly home for family visits!
Our breakneck speed included stops in Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranakpur and Udaipur. Jodhpur is known as The Blue City because a lot of its buildings are painted this colour to ward off mosquitoes. I can see Calgary Parks rushing out to buy paint!
We stopped at Chand Boari to see the famous stepwell that was used as the jail in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. We’ve seen numerous forts as impressive as European castles, and had the worst oily massage of our lives. We’ve even listened to Indian versions of Christmas carols when a group of carolers came to our hotel.
The weirdest experience was buying silver jewellery (Christmas gifts for the girls) from a 7th generation jeweller in Jaisalmer. We went to his house that doubled as a shop, and were wide-eyed at the fortifications that secured the home. We viewed the pieces upstairs spread out on the floor along with some guns nearby.
The saddest experience was coming across a few boys who had cornered a crying puppy and were having fun throwing stones at it. How do you explain to your girls that dogs are considered vermin in such a poor environment?
There is no doubt that I’ve been struggling with India. The poverty is so acute that people are desperate to get money from you any way they can. We’ve seen many kids not in school, a lack of adequate housing and indoor plumbing, and almost non-existent waste management.
At the same time, there are many well-off people living in middle class apartments leading lives that Westerners would find typical.
It’s hard to get to know a culture when you must resist people’s advances because you don’t know their intentions. Only when we are around fellow Indian tourists can we have conversations about India and share about Canada.
The gender imbalance is striking and has miles to go. While educated women who speak English work in professional jobs, lower class women marry young and are expected to stay home. Men do all the work in hotels and restaurants. Women are non-existent unless it’s a family-run business.
Without women earning an income and having some means of independence, attitudes towards them remain medieval. These attitudes often extend to me; when I ask a man a question, he looks at my husband and answers.
We received a blessing from a Jain monk at the temple in Ranakpur. And yet this Hindu sect bans women from entering temples when they are menstruating because somehow they become “impure.” (Personally I think the case can be made that feces and urine are dirtier, but I guess rules that banned everyone from temple would be problematic.) Women are not allowed to pray or even cook during their period for fear they will contaminate the food.
Just as you feel there is no hope for change, you see work being done to turn the tide. We met a woman in Jaisalmer volunteering for an organization that sells crafts made by rural women to help them earn an income. She was completing her degree in sociology and political science, and had her sights set on becoming a teacher (hoping for a job in a government school to earn the best pay at $700 a month).
India is a country that should be experienced. Its historical treasures are incredible and the country’s social fabric is rich with many cultures and religions all living under one roof. The call to prayer is beautiful, even at 6:00 am and preceded by night-long Hindu weddings.
But India is a country without answers. It’s population is so large (over a billion) that trying to manage its social and environmental ills is overwhelming.
We are lucky to live in Canada. Our country is not perfect, but we have high-functioning levels of government supported by a professional public service (and we can vote people out of power who leave with a handshake). As much as our system drives people nuts, we are really complaining about the minutiae because we don’t know how much worse it could be.
I’m glad we came to India, but I’m also looking forward to Africa…