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Opposite end of the world

Kaye Ferry

I decided last week to share with you the experience of my recent three weeks in India. It was probably the most fascinating trip I have ever made and one whose recollections will continue to find their way to the surface for a long time. So I’ll continue where I left off. The Taj Mahal in Agra was beautiful but crowded. One of the highlights, however, was the game preserve and safari in Ranthambore. We saw tigers on all three outings, with one passing not five feet from me.We then traveled to the south, which is a little different – much hotter, more educated and with a higher standard of living but still light years from Western expectations. And the animals are in the fields.Cochin, in the state of Kerala and on the southwest coast, was a major center for the spice trade and resultantly had more access to the outside world. Cultures melded more easily there, and the focus on education came from that exposure. Yet no matter where you are, Western dress is only adopted by the men. The younger generation is discovering the jeans look, but not in great numbers. But almost universally, women are in traditional clothing even when working in the fields. It is quite a sight to look across a field of mustard and see bright spots of turquoise, magenta, greens and blues as women and children tend their crops. That’s another lingering image. The color. Almost every possible combination of color and pattern is combined in the sarees. And regardless of the level of poverty or the work being performed, the clothes always seem well tended and bright and beautifully draped – right down to the beggars on the streets.Sarees are wrapped in different ways, depending on the area in India from which you come. And in the south particularly, probably due to the heat, a looser style is used. The men in the south also wear their wraps shorter than in the north for the same reason. Speaking of heat, I guess it’s all relative. It was winter there and apparently just the mention of the word brought out the wools and fleeces. I, however, was still in T-shirts, knowing that winter doesn’t really mean “It’s cold; it’s all the way down to 70.” Bombay was our final city. The English influence was apparent in the architecture and finally wide, paved streets. It was a Sunday and greatly touted as a family outing day. With Bombay on the Arabian Sea, beaches abound. Anyone from Chicago looking at the beach in the center of town would have thought they were at the Oak Street beach. With one exception. Hundreds of families were playing volleyball and having picnics but they were fully clothed. Sarees, turbons – the whole nine yards. Apparently, there’s a beach on the outskirts that foreigners use. Of course, I can’t forget the marks on the foreheads of many women. They are very optional but at one time were used to identify marital status. Today they are decorative and are applied by powder or a wide variety of stick-ons that come in many colors and shapes.”Fascinating” was the word I used last week. But also a complete and constant assault on the senses. There was only down time when your eyes were closed.Poverty is abundant. Living conditions far less than basic. Begging one of the main sources of survival. When out on the streets, we were totally engulfed by people selling trinkets and jewelry and carvings and anything they could get a few rupees for. They smiled and begged and tried to sell their wares. They surrounded us in such proximity that our first reaction was real apprehension. Yet never did we feel unsafe.We were as much a mystery to them as they were to us. For the first two and a half weeks, we never saw another Westerner. With only three million tourists a year and only 10 percent of them from outside of India, we were an anomaly. English is definitely not the prevalent language. But the kids know a few words. They would ask where we were from. When we responded, they would say “United States a very great place.” They would add that they were from India and beam that it was also a very great place.We didn’t go to Bangalore. That’s where you’re connected to when you have a question on your computer or credit card. And that’s where all of the high tech is. It certainly hasn’t reached most of the rest of India.I tried to guess how far back in American history you’d have to go have the same conditions. I would guess it would have to be the turn of the last century. In a country where electricity, phones and plumbing are not part of the average life experience, cultural mysteries abound. The caste system still exists but is not readily admitted to. Education is not mandatory in the north and is not free for girls, who are still not the choice at birth. Arranged marriages remain the order of the day, with ancient customs ruling the choice and timing.Nov. 27 was a particularly auspicious day in Dehli and 15,000 weddings were performed. We were gone from there by then but were told if we’d still been there, movement in the city would have been impossible. These are huge, elaborate events, often involving going in to debt as thousands of people attend, only after the dowry has been negotiated. But after that, spousal abuse still exists.There were several cases of “kitchen fires” while I was there and the suicide rate for married women is one of the highest in the world. Believe me, I could write forever about it, but I won’t. The town of Vail is bound to fire up soon, and I’ll be on to other things. But India will haunt me for a long time.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Columnists” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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