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“India? Are you nuts?” Join Gerry for Part 1 of his series on India.

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Feature Image India part 1

This is the first in a four-part series on India

“India. Are you nuts?” an incredulous friend remarked. “Why would you want to go there? It’s dirty, crowded, smelly and full of stray cows.”

So, I was anxious as I stared out the window of the Dreamliner 787 on descent into New Delhi after a 14-hour flight from Vancouver. But Delhi was nowhere to be seen. The worst smog in the country’s history had enveloped India’s capital. Visibility was near zero.

Man carrying basket on head

Smog in India

The late-night ride to the hotel was a dystopian dream. With the twelve-hour time change we were in a trance-like state. The streets were eerily quiet. An acrid smell hung in the air. As we drove through dense smog, the moon made a futile effort to silhouette India Gate, Parliament House and the Prime Minister’s residence.

“What’s happening?” we asked the clerk at check-in.

“Diwali,“ he smiled.

Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival that pays tribute to the victory of light over dark, good over evil – and a highlight of the annual celebration is the setting off of fireworks. When Delhi’s 22,000,000 inhabitants simultaneously ignite firecrackers and other pyrotechnics, the sub-tropical air becomes thick with the stagnant refuse of gunpowder. Add to this the exhaust of 9 million vehicles, smoke from burnt stubble fields in nearby Punjab, plus a temperature inversion – and you have unimaginable, eye-searing air pollution.

“…At the top of the heap are India’s cows. Bovines stand nonchalant, impervious – and sacred – amongst the vehicular pandemonium…”

Schools were closed. Construction was halted. Roads were sprayed to keep dust down. Farmers were threatened with fines for illegally burning rice stubble; all to no avail. The particulate index climbed, from just over 600 when we arrived, to 964 three days later. This level is 15 times the “safe” limit in India – and 60 times what would be considered hazardous in Canada.

Women selling wares

Street Vendors during Diwali

Then the currency crisis hit. In an effort to weed out “black money” – cash hoarded through corruption and counterfeiting – Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetization of all 500 and 1000 rupee bills. That’s like cancelling all our $10 and $20 bills.

India’s 1.3 billion people were given a fortnight to exchange old rupees, after which the old bills would become worthless. The bank lineups were horrifying.

India’s is a cash economy and many people don’t even use banks. The country was in chaos. But surprisingly, most people we met – guides, drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant employees – were sick of the endemic corruption and in favour of this Draconian strategy.

Our tour group consisted of my wife Florence and me, together with our fun-loving travel-mates Kim and Simone from Victoria and Joe and Carla from Saskatoon. We struggled through these pollution and currency crises from the comfort of an air-filtered, credit card-accepting hotel. Meanwhile out on the streets the locals coughed, lined up and resolutely carried on life in 21st century India.

school kids some wearing masks

Air quality is an issue

But for me more astonishing and unfathomable than the choking smog and worthless bills was India’s overwhelming, perpetual traffic congestion.

The “sub-continent” has 54 cities with more than a million people. Four of these urban agglomerations have over 20 million souls. And even the smallest Indian village is a clogged spoke of trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles and foot traffic. Pecking order is determined by size. Bicycles give way to motorcycles, which give way to rickshaws… ascending up to the big Tata transport trucks.

 

full bus carrying men

Traffic is insane

Buses overflow with humanity – arms, legs and heads spilling from every door and window. A moped transports an entire family – and their belongings. The lowly pedestrian occupies the bottom of the traffic heap, flirting death with each wary footstep.

At the top of the heap are India’s cows. Bovines stand nonchalant, impervious – and sacred – amongst the vehicular pandemonium.

people watching cow in street

Cows rule.

This may come as a somewhat of a surprise but Indians are fantastic drivers. In what can only be termed functional chaos, traffic actually moves. Roads designed for two lanes harbour four – in each direction. The tiniest opening in traffic is immediately filled by the largest object that fits that space. India abhors a vacuum.

Horns blast non-stop in a cacophonous chorus, used not in anger but to convey a message. A little beep means, “Hey, I’m here.” A resolute honk indicates, “I’m filling that gap.” And an extended blast from a bus states unequivocally, “Coming through, out of my way.”

The first two weeks of our month-long stay in India were spent in the company – and under the watchful eye – of guide Anoop Singhal and driver Devinder Singh. Each morning Singh Ji, a soft-spoken Sikh, greeted us with a colourful turban and a contagious smile. (“Ji” is an honorific, used to show respect – and we happily started referring to one another as Kim Ji, Anoop Ji, etc.)

kids with balloons

Despite the culinary curry shock to my digestive system – and the occasional experiment with street food – I managed to avoid “Delhi belly.” I credit my intestinal well-being to a daily dose of local yoghurt. But even with the use of air masks, we all eventually succumbed to the dreaded Delhi cough.

White palace on water

The Lake Palace of Udaipur

After “seeing” the capital, we travelled a few hundred kilometers southwest to Udaipur to begin an exploration of the fabulous architecture of Rajasthan. Vast palaces built by fabulously wealthy Maharajas in the 17th century still dominate the landscape. The Lake Palace of Udaipur, the White City, is a stunning snow-white jewel set in a liquid surface.

In Jodhpur, the Blue City, we looked down on a jumble of turquoise buildings from the heights of Mehrangarh Fort. The last in the colourful triumvirate of Rajasthan’s famous towns is Jaipur, the Pink City, where in 1857 Maharaja Ram Singh ordered his palace painted pink to impress the British overlords.

India is a photographer’s paradise. No need to search out photo ops; simply plunk down on any curb and start snapping: a vendor hawking fruit, women in crimson saris haggling over spices, a cow imperially chewing its cud, children laughing, beggars begging. All day, every day the flavour, colour, texture, sound, energy and urgency of India unfolds spontaneously, unrehearsed.

On the last day of our stay in Rajasthan, we stopped in at the famed camel festival of Pushkar where local dromedaries are auctioned annually. I nearly closed on a fine one-humped specimen but was outbid by a clever camel herder from the Punjab. Just as well; probably would have been tough to squeeze a grumpy dromedary into my suitcase.

Next time: Taj Mahal and the Sacred Ganges.

Thank you to these great local sponsors who make these stories possible!

If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C., www.exploreindia.ca, capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.

Click below to read about some of Gerry’s other great travel adventures.

 

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Does the world need more Canadian energy?

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Canada Action is trying to reach at least 750,000 people with their Stand Strong With Canada message.

As part of Todayville’s #visionCanada2119 project we’d like to share in this conversation.

Does this make you feel proud?  Is this a campaign you can get behind by forwarding to your various social media accounts?  Is this a step backwards?

We’ve opened comments on this post and we invite your strong and well intentioned opinions.

Please feel free to forward this post to your social media accounts.. and let us know how it goes.

Message From CanadaAction.ca

SHARE THIS VIDEO AND STAND STRONG WITH CANADA

Canada is a leader in protecting people and the planet – a fact that should be known by every single Canadian.

So, we need your help to get our video to 750,000 views across all platforms by sharing this link with staff, friends, family, and on social media!

We are no longer apologizing – a future in energy and a future in the environment are not mutually exclusive.

The world needs us. We are Canadian energy — and we are proud!

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How an Alberta energy company voluntarily restores caribou habitat in northern Alberta

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Helicopters dropping tree planters into forest corridors.  This is not an image that typically comes to mind when we speak about energy production in Canada.   Truth is, voluntary initiatives like the Caribou Habitat Restoration Project by Cenovus are very much part of everyday life for Alberta energy companies.

Let’s support our families, our neighbours, and our communities by taking a minute to learn about this particular effort.  If you’re already well aware of the environmental focus of Alberta energy companies, you can help by sharing information like this with people you know and encouraging them to do the same.  Just by taking the time to learn something new and sharing this information you are helping to make a difference at home in Alberta, across the country, and around the world!   Thank you for supporting your community, your province, and your country!

Todayville is sharing this video as part of our #visionCanada2119 initiative.

From Cenovus Energy

Caribou Habitat Restoration Project

Our 10-year Caribou Habitat Restoration Project, announced in 2016, is a voluntary environmental initiative that represents the largest single area of boreal caribou habitat restoration undertaken by a company anywhere in the world.

We use proven reforestation techniques to restore old seismic lines, access roads and other linear disturbances. During 2017, we treated approximately 270 kilometres of these linear features in an area comprising about 276 square kilometres. Our restoration program is helping to reduce fragmentation in the Cold Lake caribou herd’s habitat, where our Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands projects are located.

Since 2013, we’ve cumulatively treated more than 700 kilometres of these linear disturbances and planted more than 850,000 trees. As part of our 10-year project, we plan to take that total to 3,500 kilometres treated within an area of 3,900 square kilometres – about five times the area of the city of Calgary. We plan to have planted approximately 4 million trees by 2026.

Our project uses techniques such as mounding the ground, planting trees on these mounds, adding woody debris and leaning tree stems into the pathways to help cover historical corridors cut into the forest for seismic work, access roads and other activities. By closing these long open stretches, our work aims to make it harder for wolves to hunt caribou. Woodland caribou are listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

We continue to measure and monitor the results of our restoration work and share what we learn with others through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. For example, we’re a member of the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration, where producers work collaboratively across individual company tenures and lease boundaries to coordinate habitat restoration in the Cold Lake and East Side Athabasca River caribou herds and conduct research on caribou ecology and how wildlife respond to habitat treatments. We also work on a coordinated caribou approach with our peers at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

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