Our first day in India was a Saturday. I woke up early and sat in the beautiful garden of our bed and breakfast. The scent of flowers mixed with a whiff of wood fires from the nearby village and the smells of breakfast cooking in the bnbís kitchen. I had pancakes-Indian style, coffee, and fruit I had never seen before. Everything was delicious.


Our driver, Mr. Singh arrived and took us out in a new Toyota station wagon. In the first hour, we saw everything you ever heard about India and more. We experienced crazy traffic with cows, monkeys, and elephants sharing streets with people, cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, push carts, and motorized and foot powered Pedi cabs. There was dirt, slums, heavy air pollution, and an occasional immaculately clean public park and gorgeous rich neighborhood. The sidewalks were crowded with Indians-rich, poor, and middle class, young and old, men in suits, beautiful women dressed in colorful saris, and everyone going somewhere except for the occasional holy man who was just sitting and watching us go by.


First, we visited a fantastic archeological site with excavated Hindu, Buddhist, and Moslem temples and palaces. Here, children on school trips came up to us, shook our hands and practiced their English. I realized holidays help people smile everywhere so our coming to India during their Hindu New Year celebrations was a great idea.


Next, we went to Humanyunís Tomb, which resembles the Taj Mahal except the exterior is brown marble instead of white marble. This Emperor even built a beautiful big tomb for his barber next door to his tomb. The rulers of India spent the wealth of India building giant monuments to themselves and waging war against one another. Their economic collapse happened three hundred years ago. One reason many royal families in India sold out to the British East Indian Company in the 18th Century was that they needed the money.


After ancient ruins and beautiful tombs, our guide Rajiv took us to a small restaurant called Pindiís for lunch. While we waited in line to get in, I talked with some vendors, asked if I could take their pictures, and they agreed. And lunch was great. Rajiv answered every question we asked, about Indian history, Hinduism, Islam in India, arranged marriages, the caste system, etc. We were the only non-Indians eating at Pindiís but the staff spoke English, the menu was in English, and many conversations around us were in English. I learned English is the common language for all Indians. This fact made meeting and talking with local people very easy throughout our travels.


Back outside after lunch, I saw a snake charmer. I checked with the guide on what was a good tip and then sat down on the sidewalk next to some baskets. From his first basket came a Cobra swaying to the charmer's music. Then he opened two other baskets and brought out two other snakes. I had never been so close to Cobras in my life and my camera worked perfectly (to my delight.)


We drove around New Delhi, saw cricket players, joggers, their parliament building, and fortresses. We experienced insanity on the roads that makes New York City look tame by comparison but Mr. Singh was driving and I felt perfectly safe.


Then we returned to the bed and breakfast for a delicious dinner. We received and accepted an invitation to go to a Indian New Yearís party on Monday night.At sunset, I climbed to the roof of the BnB, photographed the adjacent village, green farmersí fields, and an orange sunset.


I fell asleep to the sound of distant fireworks exploding and village drums beating -probably some early New Yearís celebrants. I counted my blessings on having my first day exceed all my expectations for the entire trip. It was more than I could possibly have imagined. I thought it might be my most fantastic day in India.


On Sunday, we experienced twice as much as Saturday. And Monday was even more amazing than Sunday! And Monday night, what a great party!



And this spiral of everyday new and more and greater, continued from day to day, for eighteen days. We came to a rest in Udaipur, at a hotel on a beautiful lake, with views of golden castles, and again, among new friends.


How do I really feel about my trip to India? It was stupendous. A word my dictionary defines as something that exceeds beautiful, is greater than fantastic, and bigger than immense.


Joe Mikuliak


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