I need to take a break from reality — from what’s going on in Malaysia. Still no resolution. Just a lot of reactions. Things will take their natural course, I suppose. My feeling is that something will — must — happen and then, changes. Until then, I need to find some solace in escapism — for my own sanity!
Since there is really nothing more to say about the political situation — everything that needs to be said has been said but to no avail — and I have not got any fresh new insight into God’s Word, I will enjoy some distractions! I am going to write about my trip to India end of May to the first week of June!
India was a pleasant surprise. It was my first trip to India — the country where my parents were born, which they left for a future in Malaysia where I was born. From the stories my mother told me I had this picture of a backward country teeming with far too many people. Was I surprised!
India is far from backward. It is where we were a short 15 to 10 years ago. In some urban areas, it is more developed than other places. The urban areas have all the modern amenities of the 21st Century, although it is crowded, and you have to hoot your way through the traffic!
Though developing you don’t get the sense that the pace is frenzied like in Malaysia — we just want to leap-frog into developed status! India takes it slow.
I flew into Kochi and driving through the town centre saw how busy it was even at night. The city centre was a modern shopping centre with multi-storey shops, and a variety of eating places, including some coffee and snack places. A Metro line like our LRT (Light Rail Transport) is being built to connect the suburban towns to Kochi.
I stayed in the 4-star Flora Airport Hotel, a two-minute auto-car (three-wheel transport) drive from the airport. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful and they made me feel at home immediately. The hotel had an ayurvedic clinic where I had a traditional head, shoulder and foot massage. Hmmmm … soothing!
In Kochi, I took the backwater cruise in a boat that took you through lovely estuarine vegetation. Very green, rich foliage and very laid-back. It slows you down because you have nothing to do but sit and watch! You see women washing clothes by the banks of the river, men bathing, domestic animals grazing and eagles flying freely above.
At lunch time, they serve you a typical traditional Kerala vegetarian lunch which, though simple, was the tastiest Malayalee (people from Kerala are known as Malayalees) meal I have ever had!
From Kochi, I flew down to Trivandrum to meet up with my Indian cousins. We come from the coastal fishing community but none of them there fish now! They live in big concrete houses with full facilities albeit in congested communities where the roads run by the house perimeter walls. But each house has ample space within.
I saw my mother’s area but not her actual home. Her community area was demolished to make way for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where one of my cousins used to work. And, there was my father’s area next to my mother’s. The old structures — and ways — are gone. In its place are modern concrete individual homes. There was not a hut in sight!
My cousin proudly declares: “There is not one poor person among us now!” As India developed, more people from the community got educated, found good jobs or went abroad to work, particularly in Dubai, and sent home hard-earned money with which they made good.
It was good to get connected with my roots and even better to know that just as Malayalee emigrants abroad prospered so have those who stayed behind.
Then, I flew to Mumbai where I joined a group of friends. Mumbai is like any other commercial city. Huge, bustling, busy and expanding. A new commercial Mumbai is being built south of the current city. It is a city with towering skyscrapers, the most notable of which is Antilia, the 27-storey home of India’s richest man, Mukesh Anbani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. It is said that the family only uses 5 floors with the rest occupied by their more than 500 servants!
Mumbai has a beautiful seafront, which you can see from any point along its 4km C-shaped Marine Drive. The Gateway to India is on one end. The famous Taj Hotel where you can get a fantastic high tea for less than US$ 30 is on Marine Drive and within walking distance of The Gateway.
Yet, despite its great wealth, abject poverty is close by. Coming from the airport, you’ll see the unmistakable three-tier slums, houses built closely one on top of the other in ramshackle design. Walking along the streets you will also see Mumbai’s famed street urchins begging with those innocent eyes which really belie a very streetwise craftiness.
New Delhi was the next stop in our three-city tour. We hired a car and a driver and drove around the city to get its feel. The highlight was a visit to the world’s largest Hindu temple, the Swaminarayan Akshardham, a beautiful piece of architecture. I couldn’t take photographs because photography is not allowed in the temple grounds.
We did quite a bit of shopping in New Delhi. The Connaught Place is a popular shopping centre and you can get a variety of things there. It is a good place for souvenirs. A cheaper but more interesting place is the Karol Bagh. It’s like our Petaling Street and you can get good bargains there, especially for traditional Indian clothes.
Food was great in New Delhi. There are a number of places to go for a good meal. And, the tea they serve is to die for! I don’t know how they make it but Delhi tea — actually Indian tea in whichever city — is really a treat. My tea is good but it doesn’t measure up!
Our last and final stop was visiting the Taj Mahal at Agra — an item on our bucket list which we satisfyingly crossed off! The Delhi-Agra drive was very comfortable in our air-conditioned Innova, going on a newly-built six-lane highway with modern rest-stops.
The Taj Mahal was majestic. A sight to behold! Such great craftsmanship! Shah Jehan, the Moghul emperor, built it to bury his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in 1648. It is made with white marble and inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. In the sunlight it is a brilliant piece of architecture. At night, though, it is not very visible because there isn’t much light. But, four times a year, when the moon is at its fullest, the Taj Mahal illuminates with the moonlight.
The Taj Mahal lights up in the moonlight because its white marble is porous and allows light in. It is the only type of marble in the world which lights up by an external source of light and that kind of marble is found only in India — according to the tour guide.
The descendants of the craftsmen who built the monument have been preserved and continue in their craftsmenship, passing on their skill as a secret only to the male heirs. These craftsmen are employed to repair and restore the marble and precious and semi-precious stones of the Taj Mahal damaged by time and the elements. They also make jewellery, which can be purchased.
It was an enjoyable trip. While it was interesting seeing India, what I will take back most from India is that in India, I am not a minority — an Indian. I am just one of us. It was a good feeling.