Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Incredible India - Part 1: Reflections on Travel to India

To Go or Not to Go?  That was the Question

Rob and I talked about visiting India for several years before we finally took the leap.  The distance from California, the unfamiliar culture, the poverty, the crowded cities, the reports of sexual violence, the current right-leaning government all contributed to our indecision.  But friends who had recently traveled there were enthusiastically positive about their experience, so when we received a travel brochure in the mail last year that described an exciting itinerary, we agreed that it was finally time. 

We were pretty sure that this would be our only trip to India, so we packed as much as possible into the eighteen days of the trip.  Our focus was northern India, which includes the cities known as “The Golden Triangle” – Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.  But we branched out from this iconic tour to also include Varanasi, the Ranthambore National Park, Udaipur, and Aurangabad.  I would not have skipped any of these unique locations, but it did make for a pretty intense trip with a lot of internal travel and very little time for relaxation.  If we were designing the trip again, we would probably have added two or three days for just catching our breath.  We returned from our trip completely exhausted – and very jet-lagged from the eleven-and-a-half hour time difference - but with wonderful memories and a new understanding and appreciation of this important country.

Our Itinerary:  New Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park,
Udaipur, Aurangabad, and back to New Delhi

To be perfectly honest, I think some of my initial hesitation about our trip came from knowing so little about this major world power.  If you are an India expert, you can skip this part, but for the rest of us, here (with a bit of help from Wikipedia) is:

A Very Brief History of India

India is one of the world's most ancient civilizations.  The Indus Valley civilization, from about 2500 – 1900 B.C., formed the first urban culture in South Asia.  Hinduism, the primary religion in India, is considered the world’s oldest religion, with the Vedas, the sacred texts of Hinduism, composed between 2000 – 500 B.C.  Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism all have their roots in Hinduism, and our trip would take us to several important temples of all these religions.

The Indus Valley in what is now northwestern India - from World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hindu temples along the Ganges in Varanasi, Buddhist cave temple of Ellora,
Jain and Sikh temples in Old Delhi

The Classical and Medieval periods of Indian history, from about 200 B.C. through 1500 A.D., consisted of a long string of empires and dynasties, none of which were familiar to me.  Trade with the outside world flourished with the Silk Road and the spice trade routes.

The early modern period began with the 1526 A.D. invasion of the Muslim conqueror, Babur, a descendent of both Timor and Genghis Khan.  The Mughal Empire ruled India for the next three centuries.  Many of these Muslim emperors were tolerant of the Hindu religion, and much of the celebrated architecture of India, including the Taj Mahal, was built during this period and incorporates both Muslim and Hindu art and design.

The Taj Mahal on a misty morning

During the Mughal period, the European traders began to gain a foothold in India, with the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French all establishing outposts here, and in the mid-1700s, the British East India Company expanded its military presence and took over large parts of the country.  They further expanded their power through treaties with various Indian princes, and by the mid-1800s, over 50% if India was under the direct rule of the “British Raj,” with the other 48% governed through British alliances with the various maharajahs.  The World Wars of the 20th century, and a growing independence movement led by men such as Mahatma Gandhi, finally led to Indian independence in 1947 and the establishment of a Parliamentary system of government. 

Statue of Gandhi leading his first group of followers. 

Today, India is an important modern civilization, with some unique challenges.  The country is about one-third the size of the United States, but it has slightly more than four times as many people.  In fact, in 2022 India, with its 1.4 billion people, passed up China as the most populous country in the world.  It is on its way to becoming the third-largest economy in the world, although it still struggles with immense poverty and social stratification.  The United States maintains a friendly relationship with India, but India’s powerful Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, also maintains close ties with Vladimir Putin.  The population is about 75% Hindu, but there have been recent, and sometimes violent, tensions between the Hindus and the 14% of the population that is Muslim.  My previously held views of Modi, whom I had viewed as authoritarian and intolerant, were challenged on this trip by our guides, who were unanimously strongly supportive of him, saying that he has done great good for the people of India.  I will reserve judgment but look forward to watching India’s story more closely in the future.


OK!  I think that's enough school-teacher history!  Upcoming posts will dive into the rich culture of India.



Annis said...

Wow, Joan! Thank you so much. We resisted India for many of the same reasons you did and never made it there. Now I can see it through your and Rob's eyes and feel like I've been there. And, thanks for the history lesson! xoA <3

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Thanks, Annis! I am looking forward to sharing the upcoming posts about each of the cities we visited. Each one had its own special character, and there were so many jaw-dropping sights!