Royalty and Poverty in The Golden Triangle

In New Delhi, Capital of India, we drove past impressive parliamentary buildings and the statues of many famed & decorated politicians from throughout India’s history.

We looked on with awe as we kept driving past green public areas; some parks, others mere strips of land dividing the road, but this instead illustrated generations of poverty that forced Indian families to live out in the open under the blue tarps of their humble shelter.

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In Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, we walked around the gardens surrounding one of the seven wonders of the world. A breathtaking testimony of love and power from a ruling kingdom destined to leave a mark on Earth.

We saw men pushing their wooden carts full of goods; sometimes produce or flowers, but at times heavier piles of wood or metal, through traffic in the winding roads of the city.

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In Jaipur, the Pink City, we marveled from our rooftop at the palace submerged in the lake as the sunrise rays peaked through the mountains. Inside Emer Fort, glass mirrors decorated the walls and ceilings of the rooms atop a mountain accessed by elephant.

After visiting the City Palace, we learned of a young prince adopted into the royal Maharaj family since there were women only left as direct descendants. Shortly after leaving, a young boy knocked on the windows of our van begging for a few rupees to eat his next meal.

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A land of extremes.

Within the Golden Triangle, as its famously dubbed (New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur), we played witness to illustrious wealth and power, among widespread poverty and disenfranchisement.

Luxury among the struggle of the everyday.

And I wonder, when will those at the bottom of the triangle enjoy India’s gold?

India and The Economics of Fog

India and The Economics of Fog

We looked up to see each others faces with confusion – it must be a joke, right?
Our flight had been cancelled.

It was only a short ride (about 3 hours) from New Delhi to Goa, but the decision was set. The reason? “Weather.”

Low visibility brought on by the heavy fog that filled Delhi’s gray sky.

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We noticed it when we first arrived and we were taken by surprise. It not only filled the sky, but it penetrated hallways of our hotels and noticeably itched our lungs.

But, fog?

Nay. This was smog. Pollution.
A man-made environmental dilemma.

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Grave enough to be affecting health, water, living conditions, I’m sure.

Impacting flight patterns for local travel or tourism was the least of the problem, as we soon found out.

Could it have been corporate greed and capitalist malice with blatant disregard for the environment? Perhaps the massive influx of India’s urban population? An industrialized chaos of cars, motor bikes and rickshaws?

Many elements to blame unfortunately, but it is the current and coming generations who will pay the heavy price of our action and inaction.

Crossing the Street

By: Mitchell Petit-Frere

When you think “adrenaline rush,” what usually comes to mind is something along the lines of skydiving or bungee jumping — maybe even rollercoasters. But let me tell you, one of the most heart-wrenching things you can do as a tourist in India is cross the street.

You know in New York when you’re walking through Manhattan for the first time and can’t help but hesitate when the timer reaches single digit numbers? In India, there’s no time for hesitation. If you’re not proactive in deciding when you start your descent through a maze of cars, vans, trucks, bikes, tuk-tuks and other pedestrians, you’ll never get across the street. Oscar wryly likened the venture as “Real Life Frogger.”

The hardest part is taking your first step. There’s so many different opportunities that arise where you think you have enough room and time to beat the oncoming vehicle(s), but you more often than not get cold feet and tell yourself a better chance will come.

…it never comes.

So, in order to kickstart your trek across a [busy] road in India, you have to muster the courage to take that first step.

As the initial vehicle nears you, put your hand out toward it like you’re a makeshift traffic guard. That’ll slow it down [at least] a little bit — as well as the cars, trucks, etc. behind it — to give you some breathing room. But be prepared, you’re going to get intimate with the smaller vehicles as they breeze past you. I still consider it a miracle that I haven’t witnessed a single toe being run over since I’ve been here.

In many cases while crossing the street you’ll have time to take a small break at the road’s center divider. Don’t fall for the trap. If you let your guard down for even a few seconds, you’ll be stranded on an island where the water is pavement and the sea creatures are beeping metal beasts.

So, once you reach that middle divider, keep walking. But don’t abandon your freelance traffic guard alter ego. Remember when I said you might have to get intimate with smaller vehicles? Well, if you don’t put your hand up toward the tuk-tuk on a beeline to the general area you’re occupying, you’re going to get your first kiss. From there, you’ll probably break into a full blown sprint to safe land (ie: the sidewalk). However, there is a chance you’ll have to zig-zag through a few bikes, scooters and maybe a cow or two. But, rejoice! The hard part is over.

With that said, if you’re ever in India and looking for a good old fashioned adrenaline rush, please don’t ask your hotel concierge (or hostel front desk person, host family, etc.) where to sign up to go on a Well of Death ride. All you have to do is find a busy street and let Jesus take the wheel.

Godspeed.

 

 

Two Men Holding Hands

Walking down the streets of New Delhi.
Entering the Arabian Sea by the beaches of Goa.
Shopping in the markets of Jaipur.

I turn my head and my eyes do not deceive me: two men holding hands.

You see, in many cities around the world a transparent rope of masculinity and patriarchy ties us down. It strangles us into submission declaring pink feminine and blue masculine. It herds us into boxed fences of the gender binary, punishing those who dare to step out with lashes.

Unnatural. Immoral. Queer.

But, for some reason, the social constructs of gender and sexuality, the tightened grip around our wrists, allows two Indian men to hold each others hands.

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It is not a cultural marker that defines your sexuality. It is a measure of neither masculinity nor femininity.

Rather, a subtle expression of trust, a notion of friendship, a touch of humanity.

Seeing two men holding hands makes me long for our liberation from the patriarchy and gender binary.

Untie our masculinity. Untie our femininity. Free us from ourselves.

Let us be human.

I Can’t Breathe

By: Alexa Chanelle

I literally can’t breathe in New Delhi.

In years past I read books that described the Indian sky. The picture painted in my mind was that of a lazy sun hanging in a hazy sky. How beautiful it must be, I thought. However, when I stepped outside the fantasy of lazy sun rays and hazy skies turned into a huge coughing fit that left me searching for my Ricola cough drops in my overstuffed backpack.

I never appreciated the New York City air until that moment. Being from Florida, I never thought I’d say that.

The smell of the air was that of burnt rubber which must be caused by the amount of vehicles on the road. Tut-Tuts, motorbikes, busses and vans weaved their way throughout traffic contributing to the smogtastic city. In a place where 20 million people live it’s quite understandable why there are so many vehicles on the road at once. Cigarette smokers on my left and right made me wonder how people could have the urge to smoke when breathing felt like smoking. It was an aura that I couldn’t escape and made being outside miserable. I was relieved to get inside of the hotel until I found the smog and it’s smell greeting me at the door. It lingered in the hallways and by the end of the night found its way to my lungs. Causing another coughing fit.

This morning we left New Delhi for the city of Agra. I thought maybe the smog will disappear, but it didn’t. It was just as intense as the day before. However, I was glad to get on the road to Agra and escape it’s suffocating grip. Yet, as we drove, I began to see the smog from a different perspective. The experience became more visual and less physical.

The haze became apart of the landscape. It made anything that was 20 feet away disappear into its mystery. The buildings that stretched up into the sky looked like stairways to heaven as they faded into the dense fog. Clusters of trees looked like low hanging clouds. The sky no longer blue but changed from a deep orange sunrise to a pale yellow morning sky. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s almost as if God used the rise filter and tilt shift tool from Instagram to create this view. The dreamlike haze revealed pieces of the city little by little forcing you to appreciate and take in what’s in front of you, a life lesson maybe… Or I could be justifying years worth of pollution. I’ll stick with the life lesson though.

It was this ride to Agra that I saw and fully appreciated the beauty of the Indian sky. I found what I was longing for and a cough I am currently nursing. Through this, India taught me my first lesson– sometimes you have to view things from a different perspective to see its beauty. Oh and to bring a gas mask next time I come to New Delhi.