India Richly Rewards the Patient and Open-Minded Traveler
India is a challenging country to backpack in. The cultural differences between India and the West are great but it is this that makes the experience more rewarding in the end.
I arrived in New Delhi in April, 1987. The crowding, noise, pollution, and poverty were all quite jarring but after the first few days I begin to take most of it in stride. I could not really get used to seeing people in the advanced stages of leprosy however. Many of the countless beggars I encountered there suffered from that horrible affliction. A cure for leprosy had been available for decades before 1987.
The extreme poverty and suffering I witnessed in India left a lasting impression on me. I was so keenly aware that in lieu of having been born in the developed world I would never have to share the fate of the most unfortunate people I saw in India. I became less materialistic after my return to Canada and I remain so today. After seeing how little so many others have it seems perversely decadent to devote ones life to the pursuit of wealth.
Of course there’s a great deal more to India than grinding poverty. The Taj Mahal is justly famous for it’s elegant beauty. Before seeing it I was unaware that the white marble it is constructed of inlaid with ornately carved semi-precious gems. A most impressive sight.
The highlight of my trip however was a four day visit to the holy city of Varanasi on the Ganges River. Hindus from all over India converge on the bathing ghats to ritually wash themselves in the river which is said to flow from the head of the god Shiva living high up the Himalayan Mountains.
Cremations are carried out in the open along the river bank and everyone is welcome to sit and watch. I was quite apprehensive about doing this but on my third night in Varanasi I worked up the nerve to visit the burning ghats and witness a funeral pyre. The bodies are wrapped in white cotton cloth but the fires soon burn that away exposing the corpse in the thicket of dried branches that the pyres are built from. The light from the fires attract flying insects which draw small swarms of bats that feed on them. Altogether a memorable experience. One proviso applies though. While you’re welcome to view the cremations, photographs are strictly forbidden.