Monday, May 10, 2010
India -- so much to see and learn!
When I travel, two things are revealed to me again and again.
The first thing is, there's so much I don't know. It boggles my mind. I (sometimes) think I have a reasonably good handle on technology, world politics, current events, and so on. But all I had to do was show up on a blazingly hot and humid morning in Mumbai for a city tour to realize that I've only made the very feeblest of starts at understanding the geography, religions, history, and politics of southern Asia. In fact, it was immediately clear to me that I'd slept through the entire Social Studies unit on India in 7th grade. And, it being the American educational system, that was both the first and the last 6-week unit on India in twelve years of schooling. (No need for you to point out that things have changed in the four decades since. I got that part.)
The second thing that always knocks me for a loop is just how blinking huge the world is. What an astonishingly populous and endlessly varied place! And honestly, if you think you're overwhelmed by the number of people in O'Hare, or by flying through London Heathrow, then you might as well go on and land in Mumbai. It will put you over the top.
At half-past midnight on Sunday morning, we stepped out of the warm airport terminal into the even more hot and humid night. Masses and masses of people were standing lined up along the railings separating new arrivals (us) from greeters and drivers (them). Hundreds of placards everywhere, for hotels, for groups, for individuals. We made the circuit twice, each of us, before finding our name on a card and thus our taxi. Good thing Mr D could still remember his own moniker at that point. We were pretty tired after 22 hours of traveling; I wasn't any help at all. Then again, it isn't my name, really. If it had said "expateek" I'd have found it in a heartbeat.
After stopping at an ATM for cash (a quest in its own right), we arrived at the hotel in one piece. Sweaty, tired, and already alarmed by the driving in India. Fortunately we only had to cope with about 15 minutes of roadway at that point. Any more would have been seriously harrowing for the nerves.
Oh, you think I exaggerate, but the roads are everything you've heard about, and more. What you and I would consider a normal taxi is the largest thing on the road, excepting lorries. Everything else is smaller, and probably slower. Motorbikes, tuk-tuks, animal-drawn carts. You name it, it's on the road and probably in your way.
Honking and swerving are de rigeur. Yet after a second day in a driven car, it begins to make sense, and one has the feeling of being flotsam carried along in a river of motorcars, as the stream of traffic burbles and madly hurtles along, lanes sliding this way and that, cars slipping past inches away yet not touching.
Of course it was Sunday.
So there was actually "no" traffic, according to Freni, our guide.