After an absence of about 44 years, myself and two companions traveled back to India. We planned to look around the area of Ludhiana, Punjab where we were all stationed as U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers during the period of 1965-67. We wanted to see what had changed, as well as view some other areas of the rest of the country that we had missed before. We pretty well accomplished those goals during a journey that I term "traveling to the eye of the tiger."
Our flight landed in New Delhi around 1:15 A.M. on January 14, 2011. After gathering our luggage and clearing customs, we met our driver and headed to the hotel. We noted what appeared to be heavy smog and asked the driver about it. He pointed out that the smog was not that bad and was simply a result of the fall weather. Somehow I thought the answer was less than the full story. I was not wrong.
If this were a travelogue, I would go into detail about every site we visited. Time and space constraints do not provide such an opportunity, so I will only comment on what I considered the truly high spots of the trip (for pictures of the trip by retired photographer and newsman Charles L.Griffin, a member of our trio, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/clgriffin/sets/).
Following our arrival and visits to some historical sites in New Delhi, we took the train to Agra, the site of the world famous Taj Mahal. It is a truly awesome place that I had only seen from the train during my sojourn here many years ago. Definitely, it is a "must visit" for anyone who goes to India.
Also, do not miss what I call the "love temples" of Khajuraho. Most of the temples were constructed during the period of 900 to 1000 A.D. and depict in stone carvings all forms of exotic love-making by the populous of that day. I was struck by the innocence with which these people viewed the most basic of human drives. That these temples and intricate erotic carvings, made with the simplest of tools, have survived to the present day is a wonder and a tribute to the artistic appreciation of those who later came to rule the area.
The Ganges River flows majestically through India. It symbolizes so much of what this country is about. The ever constant rhythm of life, the acceptance of what is and what may be; these are all reflected in the face of this great tributary. Located on the river is the city of Benaras, or Varanasi as it is now called, Here you will find the famous "burning ghats" where disposal of bodily remains of the Hindu faithful continues to occur. This part of India seemed unchanged to me from my previous visit almost half a century before.
Nearby is Bodhgaya, the city where Lord Buddha found enlightenment under the Banyan tree around 500 B.C. He then preached his first sermon at a place called Sarnath. The effect of this religion or philosophy and its impact is truly felt when you visit these places.
Always through these travels, we were constantly aware of the terrific population of India, straining at all boundaries to accommodate 1.2 billion people within a national area which is one third the size of the United States. Population growth is estimated to continue unabated with the number of people in India eclipsing China's 2 billion souls by 2017.
Along side the growth of population is the deterioration in air quality, not to mention the voluminous amount of trash visible everywhere, mainly in the form of discarded plastic bags and bottles. Smoke stacks without "scrubbers" belch out noxious fumes and particle matter around the clock. Contaminated water, a historical problem for India, has grown worse.
In terms of economic activity, however, India is leaping forward. While inflationary pressures abound, there is an expectation of 8.3 percent economic growth in the coming year. As stated by an old friend, originally from India, "prosperity has come to India." One must wonder if the prosperity will be worth it in the long run.
New Delhi with 14 million people and 6 million automobiles proudly stands as the capital city of this great country. Here the Republic Day Parade on January 26, 2011, displayed all the grandeur and glory of India. Be aware that the military might of India has increased. The country maintains the second largest army in the world behind that of China. Now manufacturing its own war materials, inclusive of fighter jets, India is a nuclear power to be reckoned with by the rest of the world.
My "home town" of Ludhiana, once what could be called an agricultural city of 400,000 people, is situated in Punjab state. It has grown to about 1.5 million people with a concomitant increase in its manufacturing base. A textile center for the country, the blue skies and simple farming scenes of my youth in Ludhiana are no more.
Just when the pleasant thought of the India of yesterday with its many problems but simplicity of life, collided with the present overwhelming dismay of maddening crowds and honking of car horns, the beauty of the Himalayas provided us with a brief respite. Simila was declared the summer capitol of India in days of yesteryear. It remains a pleasant place to visit in the foothills of these most majestic of the world's mountains, although it is no longer the lovely alpine-like village of my memory. Growth has come even to this lovely place where homes are stacked against the mountainsides in unbelievable numbers.
A visit to India would not be complete without a reference to the tiger. Once bountiful in supply, the national population of theses great felines has decreased to about 1,411 animals. Approximately 161 of these magnificent cats reside in Jim Corbett National Park. Throughout India's national park system, efforts are being made to save the country's national mascot from extinction. Jim Corbett offers an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the tiger, if you are lucky. Whether you see a tiger or not, a trip to India inoculates you with a mixture of love for this great country and its wonderful people, as well as a deep concern for the future of the world's largest democracy.