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Published: April 8th 2006
The final leg of the Indian journey commenced in Delhi, where I met with Frank Huzur - who published some of my Taj Mahal musings on my last visit - see On the Tiger Trail
. During my time in Delhi, Frank introduced me to luminaries of the theatre and journalism, which was a great opportunity to meet some very interesting people. Most exciting though was that due to Frank's efforts, my travelblog from Kerala - Gluttony in Kerala
- was published in its entirety (complete with two photos) in the Sahara Times - an English language newspaper in India. It is not a bad progression from a travel-blogger to travel writer in only a couple of months! I have now experienced the first bitter-sweet taste of fame - and hopefully I can add to the tally of published travel articles in the future.
Leaving Delhi, the next stop was Ranchi, where I again met the indefatigable Mr Praveen Ohal of the HOPE & Animal Trust (HOPE) - an organisation I had assisted previously as an UN Online Volunteer - you can visit HOPE's site at www.hopeandanimal.org. Praveen had organised for me to present a speech to students at Carmel College - an all-girls school -
in Ranchi. Over 100 pair of dark eyes watched Praveen and I give a two hour presentation - of which mine covered the topics of goal-setting and life in Australia, and as you could imagine, such an audience required a simple, slow and extremely articulate delivery style. I thought that the visit was quite an unimportant affair, but to my surprise the next day the local Ranchi Newspaper "Prabhat Khabar" ("Morning News") published a photo and article (in Hindi) of the presentation at the school. Now this fame situation is really moving along!
Whilst in Ranchi I also visited the nearby village of Khunti where HOPE's education and training block for rural people is located. Visiting here was most satisfying as I had helped to raise funds for its completion last year. In the area was a small rural school staffed by two teachers and with no electricity and no furniture - the children sat on straw mats spread out on concrete floor, and used discarded books and pens to enable them to complete a rudimentary education. It certainly put into perspective how extremely fortunate I was to have undertaken a full education where I was able to sit
at a desk, use new text books and never want for any stationery item.
During my stay in Ranchi I was hosted at the home of Shalini Sinha and her family who, for five days, treated me like a relative and showered me with ample servings of Indian food and the hospitality of an Indian home-stay. On my final day, I was fortunate to attend the Sarhul Festival - where villagers converge on the city to parade the streets performing traditional dances and songs and attempt to outdo each other for the most impressive float. Some of the participants had been partaking in their specially brewed village drink, which left a few of them looking decidedly vague and unwell.
After leaving Ranchi, which like the previous visit, saw tears in my eyes as the train slowly stuttered away from the station, I headed to the lovely seaside town of Puri. Not only does Puri have the best prawn dish in the world, but it is also the launching pad to one of the great temples of India - the Sun Temple of Konark. Designed like a gargantuan cosmic chariot (complete with 24 large stone wheels) of the sun
god, Surya, it was a very impressive and creative structure. Similar to Khajuraho, it was adorned with many images of copulating people (in groups of twos and threes) who were, in the words of the guide, "enjoying time". It was apparent that the private lives of the Orissan people in the 13th century was a time of some very bizarre sexual practices and customs. For example, a canine's tongue was renowned for its disinfectant qualities in curing venereal diseases, and images of "disinfectant dog" healing a female patient were quite startling to say the least.
My final destination was sweltering city of Kolkata, where the streets are thick with festering beggars and menacing buses. There are some wondrous sweet shops with some incredible oversized creations on offer. In fact, Kolkata is supposed to have more sweet shops than any other city. The Bengali people are very welcoming, and certainly made my brief stay here most pleasant. An essential task for me in Kolkata was to visit the family home of Rabindranath Tagore, one of the greatest poets of the modern age. I brought along my favourite poem
of his, which I recited quietly in the room where he died in 1941.
But now after visiting 30 cities in three months of travel in India, it is time to open new doors to new travel destinations. India has been an incredible experience and the ultimate in travelling - it is so diverse - culturally, religiously and geographically - much like the whole world has been crammed into just one nation. It is a place which is very strong culturally - it is one of the greatest and most enduring civilisations that the world has known. However, India is quite weak in a societal sense. There is so much focus on family and self, that progression of the community is forgotten - or what is known as a lack of 'social capital'. This manifests itself in the prevalence of corruption (I saw several overt examples when taxi drivers paid officials to pass checkpoints) and the predilection of people to be very careless in maintaining the cleanliness of their public places. This combined with the burden of overpopulation do provide India with a very great challenge.
Despite the negatives, the positives of India are almost too many to mention - the incredible warmth of the people is the undoubted highlight - I
have never met a friendlier people - but so too was the food and the sights of Madurai, Mysore, Khajuraho, Jodhpur and Agra. The temple experiences in Tirumala and Balaji were just remarkable, but so too was the serenity of Bodhgaya and Amritsar. Though the journey is completed, the memories will live on forever - for the nation of India and its people will always remain deep within my heart.
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