Illusion and reality in the travel biz
I have always had a secret yen to write travel brochures. The relentless optimism of their exuberant adjectives seems to offer escape from the world of humdrum fact. When Martha Johnson and I set forth in January of last year to tour Asia and Africa, I [quoteright]even had a few lines
about India composed in my mind. On hearing them, however, Martha generated some trenchant commentaries of her own as our 17 day Indian visit unfolded. Herewith, then, is the original glorious prose, with Martha's points of clarification added:
INDIA. We tour this ancient land by means of its modern first-class express trains. As the exotic landscape flashes by, we sip tea in our compartment and converse with our colorful fellow-passengers.
(The "express" travels at 20 m.p.h. at best; our colorful fellow-passengers include 2-inch cockroaches, and the heavily sweetened tea is mixed with lots of condensed milk and gulped hastily at stations so the cups and thermos may be returned to the vendor before the train pulls out.)
Our first stop is Calcutta, teeming city of fascinating contrasts.
(Contrasts, indeed! We walked out of the Calcutta equivalent of the Fairmount Hotel into a herd of goats, while down the street, people squatted in the gutters washing their clothes.)
There we visit the Kalighat Temple, where Hindu priests perform colorful rituals.
(The colorful rituals include goat sacrifices where a herd of frightened, young goats are systematically beheaded one after another with absolutely no ritual, not even a brief prayer.)
Leaving via the busy Howrah railway station, we proceed to the beach resort of Puri.
(The Howrah railway station is teeming with people - cooking, eating, sleeping, begging and defecating in such a mass of bodies as to make it almost impossible to walk to the train.)
In Puri we swim in the warm Bay of Bengal, while selecting souvenirs from the wide variety offered by traveling vendors.
(We swim in modest bathing suits and are looked at askance by the Indians, who jump in the surf fully clothed. When we are not actually in the water, we are opportuned constantly to buy coral necklaces and lizard skins from Indians whose extensive English vocabulary does not include "No.")
We also visit the famous Temple of the Sun at Konarak.
(It's famous, not for the sun, but for its pornographic carvings. George's picture-taking increased noticeably.)
From Puri we proceed to Benares, where we witness fascinating dawn rituals along the banks of the holy Ganges.
(Many bathe there at dawn, the more prudent using disinfectant soap against whatever lurks in the polluted waters.)
Next we go to New Delhi, the modern capital of India.
(It is modern by Indian standards; the British built it less than 100 years ago. Also there are no cows allowed, which makes traffic flow much freer, if not more sane, than in any other Indian city we visited.)
After a side trip to view the Taj Mahal at Agra, we fly to Bombay where we have reserved onward plane seats to Nairobi.
(Arriving at Bombay Airport at 1:30 AM for our 4:30 AM flight, we find the airline has no record of our reservations and join the throngs in a similar state. We get into the usual Indian queue which requires all to crowd around the counter in an attempt to push ahead of everyone else.)
Here we say farewell to India, a unique country where the old and new meet in a kaleidoscope of memorable scenes.
(We did get on the plane, probably because at 6 feet George towers noticeably over all the Indians. I do have a kaleidoscope of scenes to remember, some of which I hope will become less vivid with the passage of time.)
The bit on India by Martha and George was written in Nairobi last year . Because they missed getting it published in the SF Mensa intelligencer, the two authors started this magazine. You can read about George's latest book here!
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