Recognizing beauty in the squalor of North India

I’m on the road from delhi to rishikesh. I plan to unabashedly immerse myself in yoga and gods and adventure and love, breathing in the bounties of this blessed land.

But here on the road, for miles
and miles starting about 60km from haridwar, what do I see?

Squalor.

I’m reminded of the worst parts of Guatemala, but in this area I see it everywhere. Never ending. All along the roadside lie debris and damaged buildings and dirt. There is dust flying everywhere — I’m chewing on it, despite my window shutting out the world out there… I’ve never seen roads in such poor shape. Cars and trucks are literally pushed off the roads and into ditches and tree-filled fields because the gaping holes between the cement are too treacherous to drive through. We’re making this drive at night which no doubt amplifies the fear factor, however I wonder if it’s hurting or helping to hide the apparent poverty.

There are road blocks occasionally, something I hadn’t expected nor seen in my travels except once or twice in Israel and then again in Honduras and El Salvador (part of me wonders if the latter holdups were government-mandated or purposely and probably maliciously placed by thugs). These Indian roadblocks are manned by handsome, rugged types with guns and badges, although they’re definitely not military stops. …a mystery I’ll surely dig into deeper.

However it must be known that there is industry of sort — definitely some money to be made. And agriculture. With it being dark it’s impossible for me to tell must what’s growing in the flatlands next to the roadway (I think it’s sugar cane) or what is made (it very we’ll may be the same cement needed so badly on these roads). I do see cows pulling wagons stacked six times their height with bundle canes, mostly covered in burlap…

There are also pockets of people gathered, still awake at 1130 at night on a Wednesday. Some sitting around at the countless little roadside tienda-type-restaurants, and others huddled near small televisions or outdoor fires, simply sitting wrapped head to toe in heavy shawls (men and women alike). I also see people solo, smoking cigarettes (of what variety I can’t be sure), faces lit by laptop screens. It makes me wonder if Facebook dominates the real and virtual lives of this North Indian population, just as it does the American population back home.

I am highly enamored by some if India’s exotic sweetnesses as wel. For example, there are numerous stop-offs along the roads set up like small temples to Hindu gods — my ability to name these by visual cues alone is limited, but i have recognized Krishna, Vishnu, shiva, and shakti (the latter pair I’m nearly positive, based on their perpetual pairing). Also, there are many semi-trucks here (large lorries/box trucks). Maybe it’s the time of night or maybe it’s the route, but at least 3/5 vehicles traveling here are of thos fashion. What makes them so spectacular and charming are the colors emblazoned in bold or delicate patterns on the cab portions (bright mint green, fire engine red, peach, pale yellow…), and the fact that in each of the two split front windows there is a name written. There are two names! The way I understand this is that no man rides alone in these trucks — always partnered, always supported and supporting…

That’s what India is about I think. Really that’s what this world is all about. Making the best out of what you have, every day, and living your life with grace and love. I do not pity these people at all! I’d bet most of these people are genuinely happier than the majority of people I know in the western world. I do have compassion toward them and their struggles, just as I have toward anyone I meet. But I also display what I think to be the most crucial of all character traits, and hopefully I will not be proven wrong about this — kindness. We’re all one — each man, woman, child, animal, plant… Each gust of wind or wave on a shore… We all live with different worldly circumstances but we’re all fighting or flowing toward the same thing — peace and a better life. So all I can do is quietly observe when I can’t speak, ask questions and seek to understand when I can, and lend an ear, a shoulder, or a hand whenever possible, without expectation or requirement for return.

Life is beautiful. Always. Everywhere. In the serene peace of northern michigan, the majestic power of the Orwfon coast, the abundance of life in a Costa Rican jungle, and the chaotic, crusty and dusty squalor of a North Indian roadside town or ten.

Let’s never forget to recognize and appreciate the beauty around us, each and every day.

The photo below was taken today, the morning after this post was written. The squalor soon turned into breathtaking natural beauty — tree covered hills and baby Himalayas, and a mint green, majestic river. The Ganges.

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