Connect with us
[bsa_pro_ad_space id=12]

Alberta

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

Published

10 minute read

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.

India Part 2- Terrific photos! Experience the Taj Mahal and Ganges with Gerry Feehan

 

Todayville is a digital media and technology company. We profile unique stories and events in our community. Register and promote your community event for free.

Follow Author

Alberta

Seven survivors of Alberta tour bus rollover near Jasper file lawsuit

Published on

EDMONTON — A northern Alberta woman who survived a fatal tour bus crash in Jasper National Park this summer says she is one of the lucky ones, but her recovery will be long and painful. 

Sweta Patel, 27, from High Prairie, Alta., is one of seven people who have filed a lawsuit against operators of the vehicle involved in the rollover.

Three people, including her uncle and a friend, died July 18, when a glacier sightseeing bus rolled off a road on the Columbia Icefield. Fourteen suffered life-threatening injuries.

“Sometimes in your life a quick moment can change everything. For me and my friends, July 18 was that moment,” Patel said Wednesday.

“Though I survived, I am left with devastating mental and physical injuries. I now live a completely dependent life, filled with a series of doctors and legal appointments.”

Brewster Travel Canada Inc., Viad Corp., Glacier Park Inc., Brewster Inc., Brewster Tours, Banff-Jasper Collection Holding Corp., the unidentified driver and an unidentified employee of one of the tour operators are named in the statement of claim.

Patel, who wears a halo head brace for her neck injury, appeared at a news conference in Edmonton with her husband, who was also hurt in the crash.

She said she has a C1 fracture in her neck that is still healing and could be permanent.

“I have over 20 fractures and the pain that I go through every day — it’s not easy,” she said.

“Financially, we are also struggling at a time when there is extra economic uncertainty across the county.”

The seven plaintiffs are from the High Prairie and Whitecourt areas, but have been told to stay in Edmonton for better access to treatment for their injuries.

“Overall, I think the lasting effect is the trouble my clients have had trying to get their treatments covered through this tour bus company,” said Basil Bansal, a lawyer with Diamond and Diamond LLP.

The lawsuit alleges that the operators failed to ensure the bus was safe, failed to provide seatbelts, employed a driver who acted recklessly and unreasonably, failed to carry out proper inspections and failed to properly train their drivers. 

The allegations have not been proven in court.

This is the second legal action against the tour bus operators. In August, an application for a class-action lawsuit was filed by James H. Brown and Associates with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary.

The lead plaintiff in that lawsuit is Devon Ernest, 22, from North Battleford, Sask., who was on the tour with his girlfriend, Dionne Durocher of Canoe Narrows, Sask., and his cousin Winnie Ernest.

Durocher died at the scene.

The class action, which so far includes 10 of the 27 people on the bus, must be approved by a judge if it is to go ahead.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2020.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press

Continue Reading

Alberta

‘Small number of kooks:’ Alberta premier condemns apparent racist rally in Edmonton

Published on

SPRUCE GROVE, ALBERTA — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is adding his voice to others condemning an apparent white supremacist rally in Edmonton.

Police broke up what they called a demonstration involving opposing groups on Tuesday night in the city’s northeast.

About 100 people were involved and police say physical confrontations took place between those calling themselves patriots and others calling themselves anti-fascists. 

Kenney says racists and white supremacists are un-Canadian and un-Albertan.

He says Canada, while imperfect, was built on the concepts of human dignity and equality.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu has also condemned the demonstration. 

It’s the latest in a series of racial encounters in the province.

Workers at a project near a junior high school in Edmonton were fired recently after swearing and using racist language during an Indigenous smudging ceremony, and clashes have taken place between white supremacist groups and Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve got a small number of kooks who go around trying to get attention for a message of hate,” said Kenney. “We condemn racism and racial prejudice.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Continue Reading

october, 2020

sat03oct9:30 am4:30 pmCharity Checkstop9:30 am - 4:30 pm MST Taylor Drive, North of 32 ST, South of 43 ST Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

Trending

X