Posts Tagged ‘traveling in India’

Riding in the front of the bus, shrine on the dashboard of a bus I rode from Delhi to Agra, India, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by ybonsey, all rights reserved
Riding in the front of the bus, shrine on the dashboard of a bus I rode from Delhi to Agra, India, 2006, photo © 2006-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

In 2006 I took a trip to Bangalore, India for work with several colleagues. Two of us decided we couldn’t travel all that way without an excursion up north to see the Taj Mahal, so we decided to fly into Delhi and do a side trip to Agra before our work schedule began.

The morning we left for the Taj Mahal, we got to the train station in Delhi late and in our haste to find the right spot to buy our tickets, we allowed a little man to take us by the elbow to what we thought was the train ticket window. Instead he led us to a bus ticket office where they convinced us that the train to Agra was sold out. The only option, they insisted, was to go by bus, which they said was also almost sold out.

Fortunately, they had two tickets left. Four chaps from Hanover, Germany, were also in the office buying tickets on the same bus; we figured that if they were doing it, it must be the right thing to do.

The little man guided the “Hanover boys,” as we called them, and us down an alley and up a side road to a busy street where the bus was to pick us up. I bought dried fruit from a vendor while we waited in this unconventional loading spot.

The bus arrived, pulled over, and up the steps we climbed to the main cabin. We spied the passengers already seated. Men with turbans and women with braids turned our way with blank stares. Not a single empty seat on the bus. That’s when the little man directed us to go left, through a little door—similar to the door of a cockpit on a plane—into the cab where he and the bus driver sat.

And that’s where we rode, all the way to Agra. Almost all the way to Agra. Once we got close to the bus station, the driver pulled over again and this time the little man kicked the Hanover boys and us off the bus. By then we knew we’d been sold rogue tickets, and the driver did not want any officials at the bus station to see a bunch of naive tourists who’d paid too much money (under the table, I’m sure) crammed into the cab.

I wrote about this experience—or, rather, one piece of the experience— in my Writing Practice on Writing Topic – Feet & Toes. If you look closely at the top photo, you can see the shrine that I wrote about and the Hindu goddess covered by marigolds. I offended the bus driver, and presumably the goddess, when I crossed my legs and showed the bottom of my feet to the shrine.

You can also see the reflection of my journal in the windshield glass. The cover of my journal depicts traditional Japanese woodblock art. And in a baggie next to the shrine is the dried fruit I bought for the road.

        View of the Taj Mahal from the entrance, photo © 2005-2009 by Robin, all rights reserved
                                         View of the entrance to the Taj Mahal, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by Robin, all rights reserved

Two Views, view of the Taj Mahal from the entrance and the entrance from the Taj Mahal, photos © 2006-2009 by Robin. All rights reserved.

Our first full day in Agra, I got up at three in the morning, dressed in the dark, and met my work colleague in the lobby of our modest hotel. A rickshaw carried us through the cool twilight to the temple. We stood in the short line, which got longer as we got closer to the hour of 6 am. We paid our dues and spent the entire day wandering those sacred grounds.

I recently had a flashback of a place I went during my travels, but I couldn’t remember where it was. I saw myself and another person walking among ruins of red brick. I saw workmen rebuilding walls, and what looked like Sanscript writing in stone. It was only after I looked at these photos that I recalled that the place had been an area outside of the Taj Mahal.

My work colleague and I eventually did get to ride the train—something we wanted to do—from Agra back to Delhi. In hindsight I would have preferred riding in the cab of a luxury bus. The train was cramped and the rocking motion made many people sick. The bus ride afforded us a rare up-high view of India, whereas in the train my view was of slum kids begging for money and the woman across from me in the tiny cabin becoming increasingly pale as the train lurched from stop to stop.

I haven’t written much on red Ravine about my trip to India. Once, before the blog was even a blog, I wrote a poem called Cracker Jack that held imagery from the train ride, but mostly my writing goes to the present or the distant past. Rarely events from just a few years ago make such a central appearance.

Maybe it’s come on as I look to an upcoming trip to Vietnam. I’ve become comfortable in my lush Rio Grande Valley haven. It’s odd to think that soon I will in another part of the world, living a parallel life where flowers grow, vendors sell fruit, and enterprising fellows supplement their incomes by giving unsuspecting tourists new adventures that soon become crystallized memories.

View of the second-class cabin, train ride from Agra to Delhi, 2005, photo © 2005-2009 by Robin, all rights reserved

View of the second-class cabin, train ride
from Agra to Delhi, 2006, photo © 2006-
2009 by Robin. All rights reserved.

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I am grateful for feet. Grateful for the way feet have a hard outer layer that gets thicker the more you go barefoot. I’m grateful for the practicality of feet, for the way they transport and support me, for the fact that they can be beautiful and useful, like Danish furniture.

When I look at feet, I think, Who invented them? What designer would have created ten digits, big-to-little, five per foot? What designer would have then copied the design to hands?

Our bodies are bizarre yet familiar. We could have looked like dogs, and we have most of the same parts as dogs. They have feet and toes, although we came up with other words for them. Paws and what? What is a dog’s toe called? It’s not a claw. That is a dog toenail.

And in the realm of smells I like, I have to add doggy paws to the list. Salami, pickles, roasting garlic, anything sweet or doughy in the oven, and dog paws. They smell salty, like corn nuts on a road trip. And oddly, Fritos. (Odd because dog paws are a kind of free toe.)

And I vacillate between loving my practical, pragmatic foot, hard-soled, good for padding around the back patio, and loving a soft heel, filed and tenderized by lotion. I tip-toe on damp garden soil to check the progress of cosmos seeds and small marigolds and larkspur, aware of the foot’s magical power to repel the mud that otherwise presses itself into the grooves of a shoes’ soles and gets deposited back in the house. No, feet soles are smooth and sleek and almost immune to goatheads. Almost.

On a bus ride from Delhi, India to Agra, I sat on the console shelf of a luxury bus liner, up in the cab with the driver, his assistant, and five others hitching what we thought was going to be a normal, air-conditioned bus ride to the Taj Mahal. We folded our bodies into a small space for so many, although the space seemed spacious, surrounded as it was on three sides by wide contoured glass. I pulled my bare feet up to cross my legs in a Zen-inspired tortured, deprived, pained position. Several hours sitting in a pretzel shape up high with a 270-degree view of Indian highways—monkeys and tigers and elephants on chains and flame-throwers, women selling tea in small clay cups that you toss out the window when you’re done, and fields of blooming marigolds.

But before I could settle in, the bus driver and his assistant flipped out when they saw the bare soles of my feet (bared my sole). The men shouted in high voices and waved their hands, pointed to my feet and then to the Hindu goddess who sat silent and dignified on the dashboard, a garland of marigolds wrapped so many times around her I could barely make out her face.

The men muttered words of doom—”Now we’re going to crash on account of your Zen feet, your American tendency towards immodesty and insult…” (no, really, I only imagine that’s what they said)—and in the way I’m quick to correct my offenses, I dropped my feet, slipped them into the pink Italian leather shoes I’d worn on the trip, and sat side-saddle on the ledge of the console, aware that feet, toes, and legs are appendages that I’m used to flopping around, like a purse or a scarf or a stray arm. And to hold them in one spot, ladylike and proper, was almost like having my ankles tied. No feet, no freedom.

-related to post WRITING TOPIC — FEET & TOES

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