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.

IMG_8274    IMG_3810

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.

IMG_4514    IMG_5549

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.

IMG_5728    IMG_4784

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?

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.

IMG_7049-Edit

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.

Overlooking Jaipur

Overlooking Jaipur

By: Alexa Chanelle

We spent two days nestled between the mountains in the pink city of Jaipur. A lively place filled with open markets, monuments and people who are always heading somewhere.

Our modern hotel had more activity than the others we stayed at prior. There were numerous families checking in and out with children that ran around the lobby carelessly. I, like the children, was excited to be there and wanted to run around the lobby with them. As a 6 foot tall adult I figured that wouldn’t be appropriate, so I showed my excitement through snapchats that failed to post.

My room, which was on the fourth floor, had a magnificent view. On my left I could see the summer palace that peeked out of the middle of the lake in which it was built, with a mountainous background. In front of the palace I saw artisans lining the boardwalk with their goods to sell. In the distance there was a fort on top of a mountain. So high the morning fog almost made it disappear. Parakeets flew in pairs, monkeys roamed about and dogs barked below me. To my right apartment buildings, possibly made of sandstone, were decoratively scattered about the mountainside.

I thought about how blessed I was to witness such beauty. I took many pictures of this view even though I knew my iPhone 5c wouldn’t do it justice. I’m not quite sure anything but the human eye could accurately capture what I saw and the feeling it gave me.

During our stay we visited Amer Fort. It was surrounded by a wall and as we entered its gates ancient architecture intermingled with 21st century patrons. We rode elephants to the top and upon arrival an extravagant palace was revealed to us.

Rooms made entirely of marble so intricately designed I couldn’t imagine how its creators envisioned such beauty within a marble slab. Colorful paintings, mirrored rooms and of course breathtaking views of the city.

Later we took a driving tour around Jaipur. We saw glorious government buildings, sports arenas and statues. Although I tried to pay attention to our guide as he recited the city’s history, it was diverted by the child beggars who tapped on our windows at every stop light. Little hands covered in dust and dirt didn’t cease their banging even when we tried to ignore it. Their voices asking for anything we can give. We all had the urge to reach into our pockets but each time our guide shooed them away. As I observed those around me anger filled my heart as people in cars taunted the kids with candy. Some eventually threw it on the ground for them to fetch… others closed their windows and gave nothing at all.

No matter how hard I tried I could not erase this experience from my mind. How can so few live so lavishly while their people live in dirt? This question haunts me for I am unable to answer it.

Each night we all gathered on the roof of our hotel for reflective conversation and a few drinks of course. Watching Jaipur sleep as its street lights twinkled like the stars above. Our dialogue drifted between deconstructing ideologies and humor. All the while reminiscing about the luxurious palaces we had the opportunity to see– as well as the profound poverty that was right outside of its gates.

As I gazed off into the distance, overlooking Jaipur, I thought how blessed I was to be here. As I continued to gaze I couldn’t help but think about those overlooked.