A Travellerspoint blog

from one extreme to another ...

a land of contrasts

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What I am discovering about India is that no matter where you are, everywhere you turn you are confronted by extreme opposites:

A modern glass and steel office tower right next to a palace that has stood in that spot for two thousand years … a woman wearing a beautiful sari, with a helmet on her head, riding a motorcycle … a young well-dressed (GQ-style) young man behind the wheel of a brand new sleek, shiny Honda, driving down the street next to a dhoti-clad, turbaned, bearded old man riding a camel or even an elephant pulling a trailer full of merchandise he is selling … a mall that would give The Eaton Centre a run for its money smack in the middle of a street where vendors working out of stalls sell tools that look like they were discovered on an archaeological dig, but are, amazingly still used today … billboards (that look like they were produced in the fifties) in Hindi promoting local products and services, surrounded by others selling Calvin Klein underwear or Panasonic Plasma TVs using the exact same campaigns we see back home.

And one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed – considering what a patriarchal society still exists here – is the sight of women doing heavy labour, and I do mean heavy, wearing beautiful, brightly-coloured, immaculately clean saris I might add – not workie boots: Extreme examples like digging ditches for the subway that’s being built … driving huge tractors and trucks … carrying heavy, heavy loads of sacks filled with God only knows what. In this they are considered very much equal to men. And yet, when they go home at night they will be expected to fulfill all the traditional duties that always fall to the women – not the least of which will be to feed their children first, then their husbands and then and only then, themselves – with whatever food is left.

But no one seems to be complaining. I haven’t met or seen anyone who isn’t smiling and doesn’t seem content.

Another good example of the kind of mind-snapping differences you find in this fabulous and fascinating country can be found between our hotel in Agra and the village we explored in Samode. In the space of a couple of days we went from the absolute utmost in luxury, style and modern conveniences to seeing simplicity, modesty and time-worn, time-honoured customs and traditions in action:

Amarvilas, the hotel we stayed at in Agra, is part of the Oberoi chain – one of the two chains of luxury hotels who operate throughout India. The other is the Taj Group, which is owned by the Tata family – who I might add also own just about everything else here too. I’ve seen signs for Tata AIG, Tata Motors, Tata this and Tata that.

But I digress …

Amarvilas, which isn’t a heritage property, is reminiscent of the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the Moghul emperors of long ago. The style is Moorish, with colonnades decorated with floral frescoes … rooms that are spacious and elegant (mine had, among other things, a magnificent rosewood desk with marble inlay and also afforded me my own, private butler ... a sitar player who greets you in the morning … and the pool pavilion – well, if lounging there doesn’t make you feel like a privileged and mildly decadent princess nothing ever will (will somebody please peel me a grape)!

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The well-heeled, expensively-dressed, to-the-manner-born guests come from all over the world – if you’re an observer of people and an eavesdropper like I am, you will overhear conversations in Chinese, Japanese, French and German, to name a few.

The village of Samode, on the other hand, meanders along a rather hilly, somewhat dusty road that ends at the Samode Palace and starts about a 20-minute walk (if you’re strolling) away.

Here you see natives in traditional clothing only, going about their daily chores. Women carrying baskets filled with laundry or produce on their heads … men, sweeping their little storefronts or clustered in groups, smoking and talking … children, little dark-eyed imps, playing or walking around, clinging to their mother’s hands … men sitting in workrooms the size of a bathroom polishing gemstones … sharpening tools … sorting fabric and shawls … cooking in iron pots that are well-seasoned from years and years of use. Everywhere there are dogs napping, goats munching and cows wandering.

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As you pass by, the residents smile – some shyly, others openly – and they are as curious about us as we are about them. The children, especially, are charming. When they see you want to take their picture they stop and pose for you – grinning at you with big, friendly smiles – staring directly at you with eyes that could melt the coldest heart. And here, in this village, they ask for nothing in return – just a smile back.

They are all beautiful – every single one. The men and the women. The young and the old. In fact the elderly are spectacularly beautiful – full of wrinkles and eyes that have seen much, throughout many lives (remember, this is a culture that believes in reincarnation).

They are all gentle … and generous … and filled with grace and serenity. And if all you come to India to experience is the people who live here, you will have the vacation and an experience of a lifetime.

Posted by a_broad 08:04 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel

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I look forward to your stories, and pictures, I feel like I am experiencing a bit of what you are. I love the way you write and make me feel part of it all...and of course one picture is worth 100 words...thank you Fransi for letting me travel with you.
Love Dana

by Dana Bell

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