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Phil's 1998 India Travelogue

The Bad Bacteria Finally Got Me

I returned to Delhi from a wonderful retreatlike stay in Varanasi ready for the next leg of my journey, which involved going through what is known as the Indian "golden triangle" (as opposed to the S.E. Asian golden triangle of drugs), which is Delhi-Jaipur-Agra. Moving further south, my plan was to hit other cities in the Rajasthan state of India, a mostly desert region, including Udaipur, of Octopussy fame, and Mt. Abu, known for its incredible Jain temples.

Well, that was my plan, but India has its own say, and here's the story.

I decided to book my Rajasthan leg with the folks who set up my initial itinerary here in India. After an initial meeting with them in their offic, I said I was really in the mood for Chinese or Thai food, and Anil on of the brothers who run the company, said I must go to the Imperial hotel, which has outstanding Thai food. So I go over half starving to the Imperial, which is 5 star hotel, almost intimidating if I actually gave a shit about apprearance. Go to the maitre'd and he informs me that dinner doesn't start till 7:30 and its now only 7:00.

So I try to find another restaurant to no avail, and walking the steets of Delhi (after posting my previous segment) I am getting really annoyed by the touts trying to sell me all sorts of tsotshkiss. So I purchase some mungphali (peanuts) from a vendor on the street, and decide to have some fun.

The next tout that comes up to me, shoving some crap into my face, I try to sell him my peanuts, using the same bullshit lines that they use,"Hello my friend, what country are you from? India? Pakistan? Come look at my munghphali, for you only 20 rupees!". I come back hard and strong on these guys and they are totally dumbfounded - no one's ever held a mirror on their tactics. Hey, this is New Yawk tawking here! They eventually walk away confused, and a street vendor nearby, watching the whole scene, is really getting a kick out of it. Apparently I could be good tout material.

So 7:30 rolls by and I go in to the Imperial to eat. I'm the first one to be seated, and the restaurant is really magnificent. I order Tom Ka soup, phad thai, and a chicken dish. Somewhere between the soup and the main course, something begins to happen - I begin to break out in a sweat and feel like I am tripping a bit. It feels like my digestive system was totally freaking out, severe burning, etc,. and despite a wonderful traditional thai dance on stage, I get out of there, I go back to my hotel, the Hotel Janpath (a 3 star hotel at a bargain price, BTW), and hell night begins.

I will spare you the details, but something I ate at Imperial made me sick or simply added to certain conditions that were already in place to push me over the edge, but this was the big one I was hoping wouldn't come, the one that hits first time India travellers the hardest.

But being in a comfortable hotel was an advantage, and between the bouts of nausea and running to the bathroom, I managed to find a sense of humor in all this. I wondered, has anyone ever written a haiku about throwing up? I bet not, and in a burst of creativity, I wrote possibly the first haiku about the experience of foreign digestive disorders:

Throwing Up in a Far Off Place

Embracing porcelain like mother does child,
a reversal of the natural flow.
Little pink pill to the rescue!

My first haiku since third grade, damn proud if I say so myself. And armed with a set of pain relief medicines, I spent the next 36 hours either in the sleep or meditative state, or just staring at the walls and ceiling of my hotel room.

To help with the body-mind in general, I employed a technique I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist (actually Bon) teacher, namely "parking the mind in the central channel", a kind-of back-flipping attention into the central channel of the body to promote equanimity. And having the opportunity to be in one place, I found myself staring at the "cosmic mandala" a vision that I've been having for 20 years, and one that is common to many practitioners of ascending yoga practices, a golden circle filled with beautiful purple light that seemed to stay around and bathe me. So despite the situation, I was in pretty good spirits most of the time, but I did have my times of "book me on the next plane outa here!".

The following morning Anil called and he was horrified that his suggestion for dinner has just fucked up my India journey. Not to mention my next itinerary, which had to be curtailed till I was well enough to travel. He asked me if I wanted a doctor, and I thought that was a good idea. So in comes Dr. R.V. Gupta on a HOUSE CALL!, a short stocky guy who says, yup I got the virus, and hands me a whole mess of pills and a diet plan for the next few days. All this for $18. Try that in America! (But in hindsight, he really didn't give me the antibiotic that I really wanted, a mistake that will not happen again).

The Bahai Lotus Temple

So two days later on the 12th, I was well enough to go out, and Anil asks me what I want to see. One was to go back to the incredible Chatarpur temples to take pictures and another "must-see" in Delhi is the Bahai Lotus temple.

Anil and Co have 4 other folks from another trip joining on the tour, and we take two taxis. Being an experienced Delhi tourist, I get to play tour guide to the other American tourists which was fun. Basically they're gonna follow the itinerary I wished, perhaps out of guilt for my sickness.

The Chartarpur temples were again wonderful, and the new main temples, of South Indian architecture, is simply a colossus. If you're ever in Delhi check it out.

The Bahai Lotus temple is an extraordinary feat of architectural grace and is reminiscent of the Sydney Australia Opera House. It is a large circular cathedral many stories high made of white concrete and laid over with white marble. The roof is a series of structures that give it the distinct look of a lotus flower, and the entire cathedral is surrounded by beautiful pools. You are requested to retain silence in the hall, and you can sit on the beautiful marble and hardwood seats to meditate as long as you wish. Now it isn't one of planet earth's great spiritual power spots, but it is worth a visit if you are ever in Delhi. And there's a really cool looking Hare Krishna temple off in the distance.

Insight into the Indian Mindset

Mr. Bhatia, Anil and Mohit's father, invited all us westerners for dinner that night, and it was my first time I spent with an Indian family in India, and it really brought home to me how and why India works the way it does.

There were numerous in-laws that confused me, and we got to meet Mrs. Bhatia, as well as the daughter Anu and her husband Nitin who were married in February, and are expecting their first child in April.

Anu showed a video of her wedding, in which there are two ceremonies (at least for the woman), one of leaving the family in the morning, and then the actual ceremony later on. The spiritual principle of marriage was certainly prominent, and the outfits that each wore for the ceremony were incredible, like a Rajput Maharaja and wife.

Anu and Nitin's marriage is an arranged one, and Nitin joins the wife's family as much as the wife joins the husband's, it seems. In fact, the vibe I got from Anil, the oldest son, was that Nitin was higher in status now that he was married to the eldest (and only) daughter.

The experience that night really drove home that India is not only cemented in the religious culture of thousands of years, but part of that culture is heavily invested in strong family values, seemingly much deeper than those of the west, which are still fairly strong.

Anu's pregnancy made me wonder how much more pressure there is in Indian culture to bear a child, because of the arranged marriage structure. Just guessing, but perhaps there's a silent, "we got you a spouse now start delivering babies" message hidden in the structure, as opposed to western, romance based marriages, which the parents cannot take credit for.

Additionally, it appears that the notion of self is intimately tied with family. It is still a source of identity and a way to determine where you fit into the universe by your position in the family. Time and time again, people have asked me if I have any children in my marriage, which we do not, and they cannot fathom the idea of having a marriage without children. It is not part of the psychic mindset.

Another curious point was made over the dinner table while in Varanasi. A French man was saying that Indian movies ("Bollywood" or Bombay based) all revolve around simple minded schemes and have not changed for decades. Arlene, a professional Indologist, made the point that in India, the people do not have the "luxury" of romantic love, and this gets constantly exploited by the film makers of Bollywood, and it still works. That's where India gets to play out the archetype of "searching for, then finding, then losing, then finding for good" one's true love.

So the night with the Bhatias drove home the point that I was in error thinking that India is driven only by deep spiritual values over the millenia - the family structure also has been woven into the culture and is a major reason why India is the way it is, for good and bad, IMO.

At one point in the night, Anu mentioned that she recently had a sonogram, and one of the women asked her what sex was the baby. Anu replied that there is an actual law preventing doctors from revealing the sex of the baby, since it was found that it became a cause for termination of many pregnancies, due to the prevailing attitudes towards women in this culture. The issue of women's rights and infanticide in India is now world famous, and has been highlighted on the US news show '60 Minutes'. In fact, if you do not produce a baby, as a woman, this may be grounds for dissolving the marriage, I know of one case of this happening, though that was several decades ago. The treatment of women in this country, IMO, is downright awful.


Next, The Taj Mahal

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