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Boomer Bytes #29: India A Sensory Experience

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
  • See sixth column – Death – here.
  • See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here.
  • See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
  • See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here.
  • See 10th column – ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here.
  • See 11th column – Volunteeering – here.
  • See 12th column – Duck and Cover – here.
  • See 13th column –  Providing for the Future – here.
  • See 14th column – Here We Go Wandering… – here.
  • See 15th column – State of Schools – here.
  • See 16th column – Our War – here.
  • See 17th column – Behind the Curtain – here.
  • See 18th column: Our Mind
  • See 19th column: Change
  • See 20th column: Memorials
  • See 21th: When is Old? 
  • See 22nd: Roles
  • See 23rd: Becoming a Dad
  • See 24th: Where Are My Roots? 
  • 25th: Is it our fault? 
  • 26th: Getting There From Here 
  • 27th: Oriental Competitor
  • 28th: Russia – The Evil Empire

India A Sensory Experience

By Steve Canipe

Aug. 1, 2014. Visiting India is not something to be undertaken lightly.  It is an experience that assaults all the senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.  This is not bad but the traveler needs to be aware of what is happening around him/her. We went with a group of very experienced travelers and had a wonderful local guide.  The topics of discussion during the trip ranged from politics, to religion, to population, to just about everything else you can imagine.  The trip from the United States is long and, at least for me, was very tiring.



Traveling in a foreign country can be done solo, but in my experience even the experienced traveler can learn a lot more and feel more comfortable if the traveling is done in a small group.  There are lots of travel companies that take large groups of from 40-55 travelers.  In my opinion this is too many since, to me, the moving around is a bit like herding cats.  There is always someone in the group who is hearing a different drummer.  Small groups of no more than 15 or so are about ideal.  It is large enough to feel comfortable but small enough to not feel as if you are invading hotels or restaurants.


Clearing the airport was not difficult but the new terminal at Indira Gandhi International Airport is a partnership between business and government.  As such there are lots of concessions to advertising and money-making. Once we got through customs it was a minor miracle we found our transportation.  In the airport reception area, there must have been hundreds of vendors clamoring for your business.  We were looking for a particular person who was supposed to meet us.  They finally came.  After being picked up, we launched right into the trip experience as we came from the airport seeing over-crowding everywhere.  The most interesting thing is that street markings and signals seem to be useful only as general recommendations and no one seemed to pay much attention to them.  There was so much humanity and it all seemed to be moving at the same time!! Sidewalks, where they exist at all, are used for everything it seemed, except for walking.  To move from place to place be prepared to walk in the street and also prepare yourself for the noisy blare of many different horns telling you or others of the crowds to move out of the way. Roads and streets seem to have a similar operation— drivers parked wherever they like and assume that other drivers or pedestrians will go around.


In the United States we have a specific bathroom protocol—we find a suitable place to relieve ourselves.  In India this suitable place included simply standing or squatting along an alleyway, highway barrier, or fencepost.  The more common American conventions for bathroom functions seemed not to be followed by large numbers of people. If you are not expecting this type behavior it can be a bit of a shock – even for someone who is not prudish at all and separates sexual and elimination functions of our body parts.


We experienced many wonderful sights from the crowded and exotic street markets of Old Delhi via a human powered rickshaw. The magnificent Taj Mahal both in the sunset as well as the full sun of day was gorgeous.  To think this mausoleum built in the mid-1600s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan is still standing today as a tribute to his third wife. We enjoyed seeing a Bengal tiger on a kill in Ranthambore Park.


We saw cremations on the ghats in Varanasi as well as the ritual bathing in the Ganges. I had never seen a funeral pyre before and expected there to be a strong smell of burning flesh.  There was none of that.  The spices and treatment of the bodies prevented any bad odor.  It did have a smell but not a bad one like I was familiar with from burning hair. From a boat on the Ganges we watched the ritual bathing early in the morning; it was fascinating.  I am not sure why many bathers are not sickened from being in the water that looked terribly polluted.  Part of the pollution came from the ashes of the burned bodies; ashes from the cremated bodies are returned to the mother river.


Travel in India is tactile as well as an auditory and smelling experience.  On out travels we experienced many different modes of transportation from private van, tour bus, train, open safari vehicle, pedaled rickshaw, tuk tuk, hot air balloon, boat, and camel. (a tuk tuk is a small rickshaw-like device with what appeared to be a lawnmower engine for propulsion.)  One disappointment for me was that there was no elephant ride offered, although we could have easily taken these beautiful animals in at least one location. The elephants there serve transportation purposes as well as work.


During the numerous wedding/engagement ceremonies that we witnessed, often there was a decorated elephant taking part. The elephants often bore the groom or members of the wedding party.  These are very public and we were often invited to join in the celebration.  Horses, camels, elephants and other modes of transportation were employed in the merry making.  The parties were loud and boisterous but everyone seemed to be very happy over the nuptial events.


If you like Indian food, you would be in heaven as the traditional dishes were available everywhere.  Not being a connoisseur of Indian food, it tasted to me like Indian food in the U.S., but with probably more variety of dishes.  Indian is not my favorite food choice but there was ample less-than Indian food for those like me.  It does take a little getting used to not having beef options (assuming you partake) readily available.  Much chicken and lots of vegetarian options are available.  Being a vegetarian would probably be best in this country.


Animals (dogs, pigs, cows) roamed the street and beggars were apparent almost everywhere.  Hawkers at some sites were pretty aggressive but simply pretending not to see them helped; my mother would not have approved of ignoring people who spoke to you, but it was necessary unless you wanted to buy something. Visits to various temples – Muslim, Hindu, Sikh introduced another opportunity to learn about the culture.


A visit to a temple containing carvings of the Kama Sutra positions was interesting.  For those who do not know the Kama Sutra is a book showing various positions for intercourse.  In the Hindu religion, sexuality is prized and seeing images of these positions is not an embarrassment. This is certainly a difference from Western sensibilities.


Having talked about some of the rigors of the trip perhaps you will be content to see photos and read about it.  You might be asking should I take this trip?  If you are in reasonably good shape, can walk unaided over fairly rough terrain, and are not afraid to experience a really different culture then this is a great educational experience. The experiences are sensory– from smell, sight, and feel.


My wife and I would not have felt our travels around this beautiful world were complete without a visit to India.  The people are friendly and welcoming. We definitely enjoyed it and see a great potential in the Indian economy and people.  Even though westerners cannot readily drink the water, India is beyond the moniker of developing country.  Maybe not as developed as the United States or Western Europe, but so much potential is there.  My opinion is that folks from the West need to see and experience it. It is not a vacation in the commonly held sense of the term – it is an experience!


This is the third of four columns on exciting places I’ve been.  China, Russia, and now India have been described – each was exciting to visit and each was a new learning experience. The last place, which I will describe next week in this series, is a safari in east Africa – Tanzania and Kenya. For a preliminary view of some photographs from safari including from Amsterdam on the way to Arusha, visit the website linked here.


If you have not already shared with me and the readers, I hope that you will share your travel experiences with us, either through posting at the end of the column or on Facebook or by writing to me at boomerbytes@yahoo.com.  I do want to hear from you. Not just the glorious things you have seen but your feelings about the people you’ve met.