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India March 5, 2006 Español

Posted by Belle in : India

Unfortunately I misplaced my journal which had notes for India, Egypt, Israel. Now it is months later and I can’t remember very much, but here are some of the moments that I remember.

Our trip to India was comprised of two parts. The first week we traveled with Wence’s business partners on the Deccan Odyssey train. The following was the itinerary:
First day: Leave from Mumbai
Second day: Jaigarh fort ganapatipule beach, ratnagiri fort
Third day: Sindhudurg fort, tarkali beach, and the crafts village at Sawantwadi
Fourth day: Goa
Fifth day: Pune, markets and museums
Sixth day: Aurangbad caves
Seventh day: Ajanta caves

The second week we traveled through the Rajasthan province in another train called The Palace on Wheels (and it really was just that). The Palace on Wheels itinerary was:
First day: Leave from Delhi
Second day: Jaipur
Third day: Jaisalmer
Fourth day: Jodhpur
Fifth day: Sawai Madhopur
Sixth day: Chittaurgarh, Udaipur
Seventh day: Agra

They were both first class trains with very comfortable cabins and wonderful service. We also think it must be one of the nicest ways to see India. The main difference between the two trains was the degree of opulence. The Palace on Wheels not only looked like a palace, but most of the places it took us were former palaces and or other buildings pertaining to royalty. In that way the Palace on Wheels was more impressive. The Deccan Odyssey had more of a variety of monuments and attractions. Perhaps they were not as impressive as the Palace on Wheels. For example in the Deccan Odyssey we saw a mini copy of the Taj Mahal where as in The Palace on Wheels, we saw the real Taj Mahal. In the Deccan Odyssey we saw beautiful deserted beaches and small craft fair in small mountain villages. In the Palace on Wheels we only saw very established tourist attractions and went to textile warehouses that supply bedding for Giorgio Armani. If you want to feel like a king, Palace on Wheels is your train. If you want to get a better sense of what India is like today, take the Deccan Odyssey.

One of the many nice things about traveling in a train is at the end of a long day of touring, the train allows you to eject from it all, have a nice meal and collapse. No worrying about getting to the next place. There’s something very romantic about train travel. The countryside spreading out before your eyes, the sound of the train speeding over the tracks. Looking outside the window you don’t have to wonder if you have to take a right or a left at the next intersection, or wonder if you’re husband remembered to fill the gas tank. You can’t see the grime or smell the urine and since you have nothing to do with navigating , you have time to imagine all kinds of things about the people and places whizzing by. I have always found that train travel makes me very nostalgic. It takes me back to moments in my childhood, remembering things like the grain of wood on a foot bridge at my old school or the muffled silence of snow falling in the forest under my favorite chairlift on Aspen Highlands. The things we see when we are moving stay with us.

The Deccan Odyssey

During the day we explored various sites with all of the passengers from the train and at night I would take a nap with Theodore while Wence met up with his business partners and Dio kept Liz and David bouncing around the cars. After long, hot days, I think those that could tried to nap or at least lie down for a bit before dinner. Then we met in the lounge car to chat, have a drink and then wandered to the dining car. The train would whiz along to our next destination as we dined on tasty, but not spicy Indian food. How can Indian food not be spicy? At least they offered spicy chutney with which Wence and I doused our meals. I think Thailand and Sri Lanka warped our taste buds. Anyway, it was a great way to see India and to spend some quality time with friends.

I’ll do a quick introduction to Wence’s partners, Willy, Micky, and Michael. Willy came to visit us in New Zealand before Theodore was born, which was wonderful. He was our first nonfamily visitor to actually make it to Simpatica. I can still remember how he and Dio would play soccer every morning on the trampoline. We went for long walks up mini mountains to have picnics with the clean kiwi cows. Willy is always so easy to be around, so kind and engaging. Dio remembered him well and he still calls him Wheatie. We were happy to meet Maria, his girlfriend. She had to take a pretty hectic traveling schedule to join us on the trip. Many people might have chosen not to come, but she came and never complained once. Willy and Maria seem very happy and relaxed together. She has a beautiful smile. I am looking forward to getting to know her.

Micky and Becky are always a pleasure to see. Unfortunately they could not bring their baby girl Sigal, because she had been sick. Most people are not exactly excited to bring their babies to India anyway. I’m not sure if I would to it again. But we missed meeting her because we’re trying to see if she’s more Dio or Theodore’s type. It looks like she might be extremely tall, in which case Theodore might be a better match. Anyway, Micky and Becky are great with kids. Becky taught me a little game I could play with Theodore (Choque las narices) which he loves. I had not seen Becky for a few years. It was nice to catch up with her and for me to have a chance to talk about mundane mommie things like rashes and diaper creams with her. I also learned how bacterial infections are spread. Becky is a nurse and most of the members of Micky’s family are doctors. His brother, Jonathan has been a great help to us on this trips. Whenever we have a problem with the kids we call him and he gives us advice over the phone. Often when we are in a place where we are not sure of the quality of medical care, it is so nice to be able to have his second opinion. And his advice has been so helpful, that now he is our first phone call.

Out of all Wence’s partners, I have spent the least amount of time with Michael. And with all the bits of stories I hear about him, he has become a mysterious figure. I’ve heard some people compare him to Al Pacino in the Godfather. Don’t worry, he’s legit, unless Wence has actually been a money launderer all this time and I’ve been fooled by that vague Patagon.com explanation. I like to ask other people what Michael is like to see if they say the same thing as Wence. They all describe him as a no nonsense, highly intelligent, hardworking young man. That sounds nice, but a bit boring from afar. But Michael is not boring. He’s perceptive and fun, with a great sense of humor. He also seems to be tricultural, if there is such a thing. Brazilian, Argentine, US, he gets all of them and can be at home in all of these countries. I finally got to meet his girlfriend, Tatiana. Not only is she gorgeous (and a successful model), but she is wonderful. She’s smart, very funny in a sometimes surprising way, and kind. She and Theodore hit it off immediately. He seemed so happy in her arms. One time I was having a hard time getting him to sleep and Tatiana took him for a bit and he passed out over her shoulder. They got so close; I was a little worried that she was going to try to steal Theodore. But what worried me even more than that was that Theodore wouldn’t have missed me for a second.

Traveling on a first class train in India is a luxury. We were really taken care of: escorted from the train to the air conditioned bus with water and wet wipes in each chair, toilet paper at every bathroom stop, helping hands always to guide us onto the ferry, to the palace for a king’s buffet lunch, little cottages by the beach should we want to take a nap after lunch or a shower after a swim in the ocean, back to the air conditioned bus directly to the air conditioned train to our cozy rooms which had been cleaned while we were away. Immediately we were served tea and cookies and anything else we might fancy. It was like being royalty. We were taken to the nicest places, protected from the heat, from the hawkers, from the beggars, from anything that might be unpleasant. Of course it is a very nice way to travel. Especially in a place like India where the hawkers, heat, and overpopulation can be overwhelming. At the same time, as someone who is trying to learn about a different culture, you are kept from the people who are the living, breathing carriers of the culture and its traditions. Beautiful buildings are wonderful. And museums are a window into another time and place and a great tool for understanding cultural heritage, but I have found as we have made our way around the world that as beautiful and grand as places like the Taj Mahal may be, they do not move me. People move me.

We were very lucky to have very special porters who took care of us on the train. Pravaka was a 19 year old boy who reminded me of Bambi. His eyes were big and brown, innocent and kind and he had a grace about him when he moved. He also seemed too young, somehow to be off on his own, living on a train, rarely seeing his family. But to work on these trains, they told us, is quite an honor. So Pravaka was very proud of his job. Pravaca loved Dio. One morning I found him holding Dio in front of an open train door as the world soared by. My first reaction as a mother was, GET MY CHILD AWAY FROM THAT DOOR AND AWAY FROM THE DANGER OF FALLING OFF THE TRAIN. But as I got closer, I saw that Pravaka had a good hold on him. I realized Pravaka was sharing with Dio his favorite part of living on this train, so I waited nearby, listening to Dio talk about all of the things that he was seeing, and hearing the joy in Pravaka’s voice as he pointed out other things. A few nights Liz and David asked Pravaka if he would mind watching Dio while they went to the restaurant car for dinner. When they came back from dinner, Dio who was supposed to be sleeping, was watching television, running around, eating cookies, basically having a blast. When David and Liz asked Pravaka why Dio was up, he would say that he had been crying so he got him up. Pravaka could not bear to hear him cry. I understand that feeling. I used to do all kinds of things to avoid Dio’s tears. But then I had another baby. And of course we cannot keep sadness and anger from our children. It’s part of life and the sooner they learn to deal, the better.

One conversation I had with Pramod, the porter in Michael and Tatiana’s car, explained something I had been feeling, but had not been able to put into words. One day nearly half of our group was sick. Tatiana, Willy, Liz, Dio, Wence, (although he did not admit it), everyone was having stomach problems. I walked by Pramod and he looked like he was about to cry. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “My lady and my man, they are sick.” He later told me that we were all “like Gods” to him. That’s how these people saw us. I was speechless. The caste system is such a part of the fabric of the society in India. It was amazing to imagine how Gandhi accomplished all that he did. We need that kind of strength, that kind of power today. We were lucky enough to go to an apartment in Mumbai where Gandhi would stay when he would pass through. There were many pictures, books, and letters. I remember one in particular written by Gandhi addressed to Hitler. What struck me was the complete lack of anger in its tone. He was not condemning Hitler although what Hitler was doing could not have been more contrary to Gandhi’s beliefs. Gandhi was reasoning with him, arguing with him, trying to convince him that Hitler did not need to do what he was doing. It must have impressed Hitler because he kept it in impeccable condition.

I have a kind of mental collage of India. Every day I would open the curtains in our cabin and watch the countryside slide by. Some days there was not much to see, miles of dry fields. Other days my eyes could not keep up with all of the things that soared by. Little farms with grass huts, a faint brush of smoke curving into the air from a small fire. A beautiful beach with cute cottages scattered in the shade of palm trees, dozens of boys and men squatting outside the train station first thing in the morning, no toilet paper in hand . Children waiving and running, tripping up a hill to get a closer look at the train, to look at us and to be seen by us. When I watched these children from my first class window, safe and separated from them, I cried without knowing why. As a mother, I wanted to hold and protect them. When I saw so many hungry, dirty, smiling children, I wanted to help them. But as the mother of my own children, I wanted to keep these children far away from my own. Too many illnesses, no hygiene in India. There are too many hungry, dirty people here. You want to help them, but when you see how many there are, you do not even know where to begin. India breaks your heart.

Of course that did not stop us all from bargaining up a storm. Wence and I added a new dimension to our partnership as man and wife. We became a negotiating team. I can’t do it alone. I’m the worst. I always feel like if I’m paying less than I would be in the states it’s fine. But Wence is much more ambitious. So we began to carve out roles that worked for us. I would wander into a store that looked promising and start asking to see things, then ask for prices, all the while wondering out loud if my husband would like it. Then Wence would show up and I would show him what I liked, he would ask for the price, and then he would laugh, or sometimes be extremely polite and say that though we liked the object in question very much, we did not ever imagine that it could be so expensive so we would be unable to buy it. Then we would act as if we were about to leave and then the bargaining would begin. When we finally all agreed on a price, I have to say, they LOVED Wence. They admired him for getting a good price and for doing it in a way that was respectful. What beautiful textiles you can find in India. I imagined how fun it would be to come to India with the task of buying fabric and furniture for a hotel or a business. How fun. The colors. So different from what I am used to. So beautiful.

We really enjoyed our time in India and talk about going back in the years to come. Without the kids. It’s a different world.