India is beautiful. The climate, topography and cultures vary dramatically from region to region. As a result, there is a wide variety of types of food, dress, religions, art and architecture. There are Muslims, Hindis, Christians and even a few Jews living in the the country. Where we stayed in the northwest, we saw a huge range of people wearing different religious garb or traditional dress. We also saw a ton of different styles of art and architecture, at palaces, forts, museums and mosques. Some parts of India were dirty and tough. But other parts were so beautiful it looked like a photograph.
Jaipur was one of the prettier cities we visited, and this was where we rode elephants to the top of a mountain and visited a fort where Jon found beauty even in the texture of the walls. The architecture at this fort was more art than structure. The painted walls and doorframes, the engraved and sculpted stone, the mosaic of mirrors on the walls – all the architecture were incredible feats of art. The paint was all natural colors made from spinach, turmeric, lapis lazuli, beets, and other natural foods and spices. The colors were painted over and over and have stayed bright on these buildings and forts for 100s of years. It was incredible to see such delicate looking art still preserved on the outside of buildings. The sculpted stone was also really cool and had an inherent symbolic meaning – a flower wasn’t just a flower, it was also a snake, a scorpion or a butterfly, depending on how you looked at it. Each animal part of the flower had a different symbolic meaning in the culture at that time. It was beautifully sculpted, but it was also brilliant.
We also saw a lot of natural beauty on our trip. The beaches in Mumbai, aside from the occasional person pooping, were incredibly beautiful. During our train ride from Mumbai to Baroda we saw huge mountains, little inlets of water lined with boats, and flat yellow fields of hay. The views from the tops of the forts were incredible – we could see how small the cities really were compared to the vast, rugged landscapes that surrounded them.
Our trip to India was a long journey and learning experience. Parts of it were tough – seeing all the poverty, hunger and illness was a surreal experience. And in contrast, the rest of the trip was great fun, filled with loud, over the top joyful celebration. Sometimes it was hard to reconcile all the poverty of the lower class with the excesses of the upper class. There really wasn’t an in between and the extremes were huge. A person either had no shoes or was having fireworks set off in their honor at a wedding. Both Jon and I struggled to understand certain aspects of the culture there – especially the social dynamic between men and women – but we also embraced other aspects – like the warm, welcoming way we were invited into our friend Nirmal’s family, as if we were family ourselves. I don’t know if we will ever go back to India – but what I hope to take away from our trip is a sense of gratitude for my life here, a greater understanding of how so many people all over the world live every day, and an appreciation for the beauty of another culture.
© 2011 Jonathan Meter and Jessica Hertle