Trip to India: Surprising Facts I Never Knew!
Trip to India: Surprising Facts I Never Knew!
Note: For those readers who just want the facts without the story behind them, please jump down to the heading Surprising Facts. There you will find the facts I wanted to share in this blog about the interesting things that I discovered during my trip to India. For those who are interested in my recent journey, please continue reading!
You see, I came from a family of storytellers. My great, great grandfather was a storyteller. In those days, most people were illiterate and while some people were carpenters, others were wise-men, who were also the local storytellers. They conveyed the history or events of the day, similar to our new reporters on TV. I too am a storyteller. Just ask any of my patients or friends… So read on for my story!
My journey to India started when I was an undergraduate student at Tufts University. There, I met a wonderful person named Peggy Saletan, who was an American who had lived in India. She introduced me to her close friend, Dr. Shashi Nath, who was a physical anthropologist at Northeastern University in Boston. She was born and raised in India. I decided to write an in- depth paper on the two perspectives of living in India, one from someone born there and the other from someone who was living there. What evolved was the development of understanding this wonderful culture, their food, dance, traditions and the wide variety of religions and philosophies of life and living.
During this time period, Peggy sadly died of cancer. After losing our friend, Shashi and I stayed close. She befriended me, taught me how to cook Indian foods and how to truly appreciate her culture. Around this time, I was a cost accountant, who had switched careers to become a teacher. I had never dreamt that I would become a neuropsychologist and an author. Knowing of my struggles, Shashi gave me a gift that changed my life. She gave me a batik of Ganesha, who is widely revered as the remover of obstacles. I put the batik over my bed, and long story short, I became pregnant, my practice took off and my life became happy and successful.
Ganesha has since moved to the outside of my bedroom, where he is still today. I also have a bronze Ganesha in my office. From way back then, I told Shashi and many of my friends that one day I wanted to visit India, see the Taj Mahal, and ride an elephant in the jungle. In fact, on my desk I keep a picture of the Taj that I look at daily. My concept of Taj, however was that it was Hindu and a palace for his wife.
As many of you know from my previous blogs, over the past 25 years, I’ve had several medical crises, and I’ve overcome all of the various obstacles that were presented in these crises, including the most recent diagnosis of a benign brain tumor and abnormal growth in my liver. Both of which, the doctors are watching, but I’m currently symptom free. Knowing that there is always a possibility of more health issues, I decided it was time to live out my long dream and go to India!
Aware of my physical limitations, I knew that going on a tour with many people, where one has to be in certain place at a given time, and adhere to a specific and strict agenda, was not for me. And, unlike most tours that focus on sightseeing and architecture, I wanted to see all of the religious places, see how people really live in the country as compared to the city life, and of course, ride my elephant in the jungle! In addition, as a performing arts psychologist, I wanted to experience the musical and art events that are not offered in most tours. Thus, I experienced quite a challenge in finding a travel agency that would accommodate all my needs.
Surprisingly, I did find two suitable travel agencies; however the price of one was way beyond what I could afford, even with travel miles. The other was Enchanting India. They offered everything I wanted, including a private car and driver, Arjun Singh, and a personal tour guide, Dependra Sigh Rathore. I was first contacted by Prathima Rijhwani, who is the Asia Senior Travel Consultant. We worked out the details of what I wanted to see and when. She was keenly aware of my health issues along with the specific events, places, experiences, meals and hotel arrangements. She made the general arrangements inside India, including a flight from Udiapur to New Delhi. However, I had to find my own international flight, which was unfortunately not as easy a process as booking my vacation through Enchanting India. Most of the international flights cost more than my entire eleven day vacation. Then I found CheapOair. I could not believe the great flight arrangements and the superior service from Reynaldo Singh, Sr., Executive Sales. I was deeply touched that he was concerned I was traveling alone in India, and he gave me his personal cell phone number, just in case I needed help. He said that his mother often takes off and he doesn’t know where she is and he wanted me to have a safe trip. This was a great way to start my dream vacation!
Prior to leaving, I wasn’t sure of which clothes to take, what to bring, and what to do about exchanging currency. As we are all aware, however, Facebook has changed our lives. I am a member of my local community Facebook group. So, I decided to reach out to my virtual friends and asked if anyone had been to India and if they could help me out with my dilemma. I posted my question and within a day a wonderful person whom I never have met, Marie Lamb, wrote back to me. Her husband, Sundar, is from India and the fact is they actually live within 15 minutes of my home. In addition to looking over the travel agency itinerary and cost, they provided me with detailed suggestions of what to see in each of the cities I would be staying in and other recommendations from bug repellent to how to protect myself from beggers. As I refined my plans, she and Sundar gave me further suggestions, all of which were extremely invaluable. I can’t express my appreciation of Marie and Sundar, whom I have never met in person, and for the generous amount of time and insight they extended to me. The same goes to my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Richard Shulik, whom I’ve known for years. He’s been to India on several occasions and his suggestions were also very helpful.
With all this information in hand, I embarked on my trip. My international flight was between Boston and Heathrow and then to New Delhi. I left on a Thursday and arrived on Saturday at 2 a.m. While waiting for my luggage in New Delhi, I met another wonderful, caring person. He was a professor from Philadelphia heading home to his family. Knowing that I was traveling alone, he too gave me his cell phone number and said if I had any problems to please call him. I was touched by another act of kindness from a complete stranger.
My driver, Arjun, picked me up at the airport and took me to my fabulous hotel. The next day I met with my trip coordinator, Sneha Ghosh, with whom I felt I’ve known all my life. We reviewed all my wants and wishes, including my allergies to specific foods, which time of day I want to be touring, as well as my desire to see as many religious and spiritual places, dance performances, rural life, museums – and of course visit the Taj Mahal and ride an elephant in the jungle. She also noted that if along the way I wanted to change or add to my day to simply let my tour guide, Dependra, know and my wish would be granted.
All I can say is that everything I’ve ever dreamt about and more was achieved on this trip, including having a home cooked meal at Dependra’s home with his wife, son, and father. This was very meaningful to me. Also, through LinkedIn, I met a psychologist, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatiai, and during my trip I met up with her and her husband, Savin, in New Delhi. We had a wonderful time together and we hope to continue our relationship. On my departure, I got to meet the entire team from Enchanting India in the New Delhi office. I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to them.
I’m not going to go in to in-depth details of all the sights; however I did get to see classical Hindu dance, the musical about the Taj, and traditional folk dancing. Also, I saw and climbed the stairs to every spiritual edifice in the region of the golden triangle, which included New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udiapur, then back to Delhi. And yes, I finally saw the Taj Mahal and rode my elephant. Both were awesome lifetime experiences. Above are the photos of me at the Taj and on the elephant.
What was most shocking to me was that I had thought that I had at least a mildly firm grasp on what most cultural symbols meant in India. However, I realized that I, and the majority of the world, have NO clue to the truth, specifically the facts about the following information. I was in total disbelief.
Everywhere I went, I saw 6 pointed stars, (the Star of David) the symbol of the Jewish people. (See drawing) Yet here I was in India knowing there were very few people of the Jewish faith. This symbol was in my taxi and sketched into the main entrances and walls of many buildings. Also, surrounding most, if not all, of the 6 pointed stars or separately was a reverse swastika. And I don’t mean one or two. I mean lots and lots of them, used as decorations like in the car I was touring in. This of course had me puzzled so I asked Dependra about this. His answers were shocking, because the majority of people have no idea. As I mentioned, I always thought the Taj Mahal was Hindu and was a palace to the queens. Again, I was shocked to discover what I had perceived was incorrect. So here are the facts that were never told to us:
- Six pointed star was used by one of the Islamic dynasties, called Mughals, who ruled India for 300 years (out of 600 years of Islamic rule), just before British rule. It is a symbol of harmony between males and females.
- Swastika symbol was used in India for more than 8,000 years. It is an implied symbol for success in every walk of life. It is widely used in Hinduism, as well as in Buddhism and Jainism (offshoot of Hinduism). It is said that all the ancient languages like Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Mandarian, Tibetan originated from this symbol. Its correct form goes clockwise (not as Hitler used it) See drawing of the two below (Hinduism on left, swastika as Hitler used it on right):
- Before Hindu word came into existence (used by Greeks in 300bc), Indians were known as Aryans, as evidenced in ancient Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata which are the world’s largest epics. Aryan is person who is educated, kind and always ready to help others, not having to do with bodily features like fair skin, blue eyes and blonde hair as known in the Western world.
- The Taj Mahal is Islamic, not Hindu. The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Had I searched the Taj Mahal on Google on prior to my trip, I would have found this out. As for the other 3 areas, I would have never, ever known to even investigate this, because I never knew this existed. I thought it was interesting and important enough to share with you.
The total trip was indescribable from the vast colors, sounds, and scenery to the wonderful people I met all along the way. What I’ve come to learn from my many trips throughout the world is that we are all the same. We all need food, shelter, love and security. And when you greet someone with love and compassion, the majority of people will respond in kind. I had the honor and privilege to have met and shared with many families on this trip and prior trips, which I’m eternally grateful.
I’M CURIOUS… Did you know these surprising facts prior to reading this blog? Please enter yes, no or additional comments in the comments field.
Namaste…. May Peace be with You.
– Dr. Diane®