One of the world’s most ancient cultures is emerging as a global powerhouse But dynamic country refuses to lose sight of its fam
CHENNAI, INDIA—India jolts your senses awake like no other country. And it happens through its people and everyday life.
You experience sights, sounds and smells like never before — your feelings reach new and exciting heights. India can, indeed, touch the human soul.
Despite its many extremes, the poverty, the wealth, the corruption, the honesty — and there is all of that — woven through is a spirituality and a devotion to family that ties all these elements together. Indians live these two binding threads every day; they
do not just pay lip service to these family values.
One of the world’s ancient cultures, embracing one billion people, is emerging as a world powerhouse with a burgeoning economy, a thriving technology sector, a highly educated middle class and a population that largely speaks English.
Yes, there are poor people in India in rural villages and city slums; yes, life is hard, but relatively few are starving and there is growing promise of a better future combining old and new worlds.
In the words of one of South India’s famous classical Bharatanatyam dancers, Alarmel Valli: “I take the language of thousands of years of tradition and interpret it as a contemporary woman. I am a poet of the ancients.”
Or as a visitor said: “India is either 50 years behind the rest of the world, or 200 years ahead of it.”
Many of the country’s artists, designers and entrepreneurs are combining their cultural heritage with modern ambitions. Indian fashion, for example, is just one industry putting its stamp of vibrant colour and rich fabrics on the world runways. The high-tech
area is another.
A visit to India is an adventure. Every day is different and you can’t help but be moved. Because it is such a vast country, many recommend that to truly experience it, a visitor should focus on one area or one facet at a time.
Distances are huge and unless you’re flying everywhere, travelling takes a lot of time. A 100-kilometre trip by bus or car takes a minimum of three hours. The roads are generally two lanes, the surface is not always in top condition and many people, cyclists,
auto rickshaws, buses, trucks and even oxen, use them. Trains are not a lot faster.
But if you focus, India can be an adventure of a lifetime.
For example, in a few weeks in India’s southernmost states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, you can:
– Visit ancient temples and ashrams, mingle with pilgrims and learn the legends of Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world and the third largest after Christianity and Islam. There are thousands, some say millions, of deities in Hinduism, but they
are all simply manifestations of the Supreme Being.
– Travel to the very bottom of the country where three oceans meet: the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. It’s where Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial is and you can sit quietly and watch the sunrise and set over the oceans. Only on Oct. 2, Gandhi’s
birthday, do the sun’s rays fall on the exact spot where his ashes were kept before being scattered into the three seas.
– Take a narrow-gauge train up 2,500 metres to a hill station built by the British in the early 1800s where the wealthy used to go to escape the summer heat of the plains. It’s now a throw back to Victorian times with high tea served on the lawn at 4 p.m. and
hot-water bottles brought to your bed to ward off the nighttime chills.
– Spend 24 hours on a hired rattan-covered boat for you alone taking a leisurely backwater lake and river cruise. You’ll sleep aboard in a bedroom with a private bathroom and be attended by a crew and a fine cook. The cruise allows cool breezes and unusual
views of rice paddies, mud huts and river people who live on 10-metre-wide strips of land with a small house, a garden and animals. The cost? The equivalent of a four-star hotel in India, about $150.
– Talk to the Toda, South India’s aboriginal people, and see how they live in hill forest mud huts with small doors and windows. There are only 1,500 of them left and they live by farming and weaving unique clothes and blankets to sell at village markets.
– Experience an ayurvedic spa, including massage, meditation, medical and dietary advice. But the massage is the thing. The true ayurvedic massage is done in a small brick building on a leather stretcher-like bed with a small wooden stove warming the room.
You’re naked except for a loincloth; different heated herb oils are used for the head, face and body. Unlike kneading the muscles in western massage, the object here is to work the healing oils into the muscles with long repetitive strokes. It’s sensational.
– Visit a wildlife reserve, a tea or spice plantation, the oldest synagogue and oldest church on the subcontinent and on and on and on …
India has everything. It is more than a vacation, it’s an experience.
– Air Canada offers direct daily flights to Delhi from Toronto. Air Canada is the only North American carrier with non-stop service to India.
Vian Ewart is a senior editor at The Star.