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My Passage to India–Part 1
Although it is nearly a month since I since took this trip the memories and impressions are still very vivid and fresh.
With equal measures of trepidation and excitement, I embarked upon my recent trip to India. I was heading off to New Delhi, India, to attend the Indian Gifts & Handicrafts Fair, one of the largest trade fairs devoted to handcrafted goods and one of the few that is open only to foreign buyers. I am not a novice at traveling to foreign places on my own for business, but somehow, this trip was a little different, perhaps because India is a country of extremes – wealth and poverty; modernity and backwardness. And there is a certain historical and cultural exoticism that is different from the other places that I have traveled to. This is the country of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books, the Taj Mahal, the British Raj of history and Hollywood movies, the guru of peaceful protest Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual awakening of The Beatles, the music of Ravi Shankar, and sacred cows that wander freely.
What did I find the real India like? I did some homework before I went. I got advice and opinions from friends and colleagues who had been there; I bought guide books to read up on some things; and I went on line to do some research. What did I find? Guide books can’t and don’t tell you everything, and friends and colleagues had vastly differing opinions depending on where they went in the country, what the purpose of their visit was, and what their individual experiences were.
We landed in Delhi around 8:30 p.m. after a 14+-hour flight from Newark, NJ, and a 10½ hour time change. After retrieving my luggage (which took nearly an hour to be unloaded!) and stepping outside of the baggage claim area, I was surrounded by a sea of humanity — a crush of people all waiting to greet and welcome arriving passengers — on two sides of a long exit aisle! Travel weary and a little bleary-eyed, the challenge now was to find the placard bearing my name held by the driver I had arranged for to take me to my hotel. Fortunately, this was accomplished relatively easily, even in all that hubbub. (I think that my name stands out a little bit, lucky me.)
Outside, the smell of burning peat and a dense smog hung heavily in the air. In the darkness, it was difficult to see much on the ride from airport, but immediately upon reaching my hotel, I knew I was in a very different place. It rose tall, modern and brightly above its surroundings, which appeared to be a mass of low, packed together, small shops and apartments. And as imposing as the building itself is (as most modern hotels often are), it was the wall and gates that surrounded it and the armed guard at the entrance with the long-handled mirror to check under the car, that really told me, I was in a very different place. Welcome to Delhi. My adventure will begins…