As we began our road trip from Delhi to Agra a month ago, our guide told us drivers in India need five things: good eyes, good brakes, a good horn, good luck, and lots of patience. Now, as I reflect on our time in India, after roughly 100 hours on the road, in city traffic, to and from airports and hotels, I have a deep understanding and appreciation of this adage. We have seen the skillfulness necessary to navigate in this country and it strikes me it applies not only to road travel but to successfully navigating as tourists too.
Good Eyes: India is a feast for all of the senses. For the eyes, it can be almost overwhelming to take it all in and yet you can’t not look – it’s mesmerizing! Whether driving through a city or along the highways, there is a constant bombardment of signage, graphics, billboards, goods of all kinds competing for attention. Add to this backdrop the beautifully pure hues of the women’s saris, the many children and animals populating the roads, the gaudily painted trucks, the swarms of motorbikes attacking like gnats from every direction, and the piles of refuse that signal the poverty that is part of life here. When you come to a green field or stand of trees, it is like a spring rain, a welcome relief from the onslaught.
Good Brakes: It takes tremendous energy to be fully present in India. I found myself becoming exhausted by our pace of travel and learning about the incredibly diverse history and people of this country. I was forced to slow down by a bad cold that allowed me to stop and recoup my strength. Luckily we had built in extra days in several cities. These were a boon where we did laundry, had naps, and refueled for the upcoming adventures. We remarked in several places that we wished we had a few more days to relax, to sink into the culture and atmosphere rather than packing up to move on. It is easy to see why meditation is an important part of life here. It puts the brakes on the chaos.
A Good Horn: Horns in India serve a number of purposes. They let others know you are coming, they encourage others to move along, and they provide a vent for traffic frustrations. Managing on foot in crowds takes some of the same kind of vocals. I have learned how to say a very firm “No thank you” to the street hawkers who accost you around all the monuments. I have learned to use my elbows and a definite “Excuse me” as a way to protect myself from the lack of personal space. And once or twice in my frustration, I have almost shouted “I’m in line here!” as people simply shoved their way past me. India is not for sissies!
Good Luck: We have also been tremendously lucky throughout our trip. We’ve had only one little fender scratch for all the time on the roads. We’ve had six internal flights, all on time, and haven’t lost any luggage. We’ve stayed in beautiful hotels and been pampered by unendingly friendly helpful staff. We’ve tasted the cuisines of all four corners of this varied landscape. We’ve had guides and drivers who not only shared their knowledge and expertise with us but also something of their lives and dreams. We are among the lucky few who have been privileged with this opportunity to explore a vast and ancient land.
Patience: India has served up many gifts on this trip, not least among them some life lessons I’m bringing home. One of these lessons is certainly patience but there is also tolerance, acceptance, humility, appreciation. These values have impressed me numerous times on our journey. It is easy as North American tourists to apply our values to another culture, to see us as further ahead because of our material wealth. I have been reminded how important these basic values are and how much I can learn from them. Thank you India for all the treasures you have shared with us.