Sunrise Over Mumbai
The first time we came back from India, I told everyone about the cows in the street in downtown Delhi. I told them about the elephant that blocked our way on what passes for a “highway.” I told them about dodging the cars (usually successfully) as we crossed a street in Mumbai. Or about the 7-year-old kids hawking souvenirs as the sun rose above the majestic Taj Mahal. It wasn’t even 8 o’clock in the morning, and school was in.
Who was taking care of them? It bothered me. And safety on the road? Did you ever see four people on a motorcycle—mother holding infant, another child sitting between her and the father.
It’s scenes like this, stories like these, that make people cringe. I’d estimate that half the folks I talk to about my India adventures seem nervous about it, and will not travel there.
I try to explain—it’s not for us to judge, but just try to go with the ebb and flow of this fantastic country.
I haven’t been 100 percent successful in convincing people. Maybe part of the problem is that I’m not completely convinced myself.
That is why I’ve been to India twice. The first time, we hired private guides.
Breakfast on the Maharajah’s Express
The country attacked our senses, overwhelmed us with images and sounds and people and animals. In your wildest imagination, walking down your favorite street in your home town, would you ever expect to see one man peering into another’s ears? And what was he doing? Cleaning out his ear wax.
So we wanted to go back, but not be part of the scenery, be somewhat detached. That is why we chose the Maharajah’s Express luxury train, under the command of the Oberoi Hotel people.
Yes, I admit it was somewhat snobbish of me not to want to mingle with people on the street; not to have the opportunity to haggle with a taxi driver who hid his meter in the glove compartment; not to have to deal with a woman begging on a street corner with two young children.
And I didn’t stop there after the train ride. I wanted to continue my trip to another part of India, but again, not dealing with hordes of people, sights of poverty, cries for help.
That is why we took the riverboat Vrinda—also run by Oberoi—along the southern backwaters. Here was a look at life as it was 300 years ago—cows strolling the river banks, a child tending a goat, an elderly woman bathing..
Strolling in Kerala
Also, we had the chance to visit a school (my wife ran programs for gifted children and visits a classroom wherever we travel). Here, the students stood at attention when we were introduced.
This part of India once was over-run by fishermen from China. Their legacy remains easy to see: giant fishing nets. The Chinese figured out a way to place nets in the water to trap fish so only one person could handle it. They dot much of the Kerala shoreline.
I hope this doesn’t read as though you should go to India to escape the people, the cities, the sheer drama of it all. No, indeed. I will tell you to go to India and walk the streets and be part of 1.3 billion people. But the reality of it is that many of you reading this have your fears, and are reluctant. It is why, for this huge potential segment of travelers, I suggest train and boat. I’ve enjoyed it all.