Monday, November 12, 2007

By Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

Impressionable India

When I last left you, we had rumbled, stumbled, and wrestled our way into the ancient city of Jaipur after a test of endurance and shaky nerves on the small road from Agra. We had left one roadside ‘rest stop’ with endless impressions of hungry foreigners devouring everything in their small store and passing out gaudy beads to anyone with enough courage to approach our alien group of vagabonds.

I can imagine the stories their children and grandchildren will hear for generations of the day strange ravenous Americans suddenly invaded their small village and ate and drank everything in sight while energetically taking photos of cows, camels, and pigs. US-India relations could have been dealt a serious blow by the manifestation of cultural weirdness displayed by our road-beaten gaggle of galloping CCF sponsors, but somehow I feel that everything came out on positive note as evident by the entire village quickly assembling to see us off on our tiny bus from another world. They smiled and waved furiously as we left this village, probably with a sense of relief and reverence that the Hindu god Vishnu had intervened to save them from these wacky American tourists.

Now I must mentioned that after a long day of travel, arrival in Jaipur presented another unexpected obstacle-- getting into the city through a narrow hilly roadway lined with gigantic block walls constructed by some Moghul chief about 500 years ago to protect his palaces and treasures from competing chieftains. Okay, many years ago, arriving by horseback up this trail would have presented no problem, but now there are hundreds of cars, buses, motorcycles, auto rickshaws and trucks of all sizes trying to enter this city through a passageway built for horses!! Gridlock supreme is the normal order and everyone seems to think if they honked their horns loud enough, the stone walls will come crashing down and a new HOV super-sized-asphalt lane will suddenly appear to relieve their frustration.

Just what’s up with all this horn honking in India? Everyone seems to do it all the time with no fear of offending the other drivers or the expectation that anyone will actually respond to their incessant honking of horns. Of course, the larger trucks don’t just honk…they bugle!...they play musical notes!....they snort and snarl with ear-piercing blasts from their air horns. Still, the Indian people do not seem to mind…in fact, they encourage this head-banging behavior by actually posting signs on the back of their vehicles that read. “Honk, please.” This nation has gone looney-tunes with this hapless honking behavior and some of our sponsors have astutely suggested the implementation of a ‘honking code’ where each variation of honking indicates a command or obscenity hurled at the opposing vehicle. Thus, one short honk may mean ‘please’ followed by three long blasts of the horn which would call reference to some obscenity. Seems like a rational plan to me!

Jaipur was a lovely city full of treasures and traps. We visited several ancient forts and palaces, rode elephants, raced in auto-rickshaws through downtown traffic, ate lots of spicy food, watched a block-printing demonstration, saw carpet weavers, listened to Indian music, bought souvenirs-- including marble elephants, camel-hide purses, and assorted batik wall hangings-- exchanged money, and ended our day with an unplanned encounter on the street with a shabbily dressed 12-year-old called The Magnificent Magic Boy!… well, okay, he just called himself ‘Magic Boy’ but he truly was a magnificent magician! His street act included making things disappear from your hands, coughing up large rocks, and making coins fall out of various orifices of your body… you HAD to be there to see it, but this kid was really good. The sponsors loved him and he earned some sizable tips that afternoon for his entertaining efforts. Ah, the unexpected and unplanned delights of a study tour!

Jaipur had become one of my favorite places to visit… ancient, historic, and awesome, but with a whimsical flair and the vibrant, friendly population who sincerely welcomed visitors to their city. It is Kipling’s India on steroids and stimulants encased in a rich foundation of history and hysteria. I hated to leave this land of ‘Magic Boy’ but Bangalore was calling and we had an early-morning plane to catch to the visit the “Garden City of the South.” Booming Bangalore beckoned our weary travelers with remnants of British colonialism and the futuristic enticements of a technology explosion!

(Although Gary returned to the United States on Tuesday, he will continue to document the travels of this Study Tour group through their adventures in Bangalore, Goa, and Mumbai.)

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