Yesterday I was reminded about of my first visit to China.
During the long drive from the airport to Beijing’s downtown, I marveled at the ability of the Chinese [gov’t] to hide thousands of its poorest citizens behind a never ending array of ingenious landscaping devices- miles of carefully planted trees and plants, well positioned walls and mounds, all designed to obscure our view of ordinary people going about their daily lives.
Regardless of China’s motivation for managing the initial impressions of newly arrived tourists, there is no such filter evident in India. None
Indeed, as we embarked for Agra yesterday afternoon, I imagined we unraveled a strip of film on its edge at the very side of the road for a hundred miles, enlarged each and every frame to bill board proportions with depictions frame by frame of the most diverse, mundane and intimate aspects of people’s daily lives. And, it still would not begin to tell the story of our bus ride from Delhi to Agra.
Life in India by the side of the road is a reality show …and it has been challenging western concepts about how a democracy might evolve for many years.
After a half day of typical (and a few atypical) tourist activities in Delhi on Wednesday we left on our 5 hour trip by bus around two in the afternoon.
Our purpose for going to Agra is to visit the Taj Mahal at dawn the next morning, but it was the aggregate effect of the sights and sounds getting to the Taj that brought to mind the contrast with China and brought to life a common description of India as “an assault on the senses”
My journey to the Taj will remain as deeply embedded in memory as the journey’s end. I still have no adequate way to describe the experience and I have no allusions that I will be able to anytime soon.
There are five observations however that several colleagues and myself noted on the return trip today (another 5 hours back to Delhi Airport Thursday).
- We did not observe an accident going or coming. That in itself was miraculous.
- Road rage doesn’t exist here. People accommodate, persist and succeed at a micro level.
- Eye contact generates an immediate smile or wave. Self aware and connected.
- Everyone seems fully engaged and is going somewhere. Everyone wins.
- If you get distracted by the shock and awe you can miss the first four points. Don’t whine or judge.
In Delhi before embarking on our great adventure to Agra we toured the largest mosque in India, took a fast bike ride through a market in Old Delhi (also indescribable) and visited several historical sites- the most poignant of which was Mahatma Gandhi’s tomb.
In Agra we awoke at 5:30 am in order to reach the Taj by first light. (First light, actually any light resembling the sun has to first pass through and extra-ordinary filter of smoke, smog and something else I’m just not sure of).
The experience of this World Heritage Site and Wonder of the World far exceeded any of our expectations. On the way, the guide said (jokingly, I initially thought) “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have seen the Taj and those who have not.” I smiled enjoying the hyperbole.
Later I smiled knowing he was right.
We had a lively discussion in the bus about what would happen to the Taj if it were relocated to the US.
- Enron would buy the name rights for 1 billion and chisel its logo into the white marbel dome.
- Trump would bid to put a casino into the empty mosque on the right side
- entry fees would be charged to rival Yankee Stadium.
- stands placed between the entry gate and the monument to accomodate rock concerts and cricket tournaments.
One line most quoted describes the Taj best as "A Tear On The Cheek of Time”.
We’ve just landed in Mumbai and tomorrow is a major day with business leaders. Back soon.