As I write this, I am sitting outside at the table on my screened porch overlooking the woods. I’m savoring a bowl of Pasta e Fagioli, a warm and nourishing soup I made earlier. A light rain is softly falling, and it is so peaceful. Except that it is 70 degrees. And it is the end of December. In two more days we’ll be ringing in a New Year. Crazy global warming? Maybe. So, it’s peaceful but it’s also unsettling because at this time of year I feel like I should be sitting by a fire and watching snow fall.
And that is what I found in India. A country that is both peaceful yet also unsettling. It’s difficult to reconcile the two. I think sometimes that’s what the experience of traveling can be. You get out of your comfort zone, you may be in a country where you don’t speak the language, the food is different than what you’re used to, you encounter people who are different from you, yet somehow they’re the same. Each time you travel you learn a little more about this big, beautiful world of ours.
The first stop on my tour of India began in New Delhi. In 1911, the British decided to change the capital of India to Delhi from Calcutta, and New Delhi was built in 1912 south of the old city. Today, New Delhi is part of the larger city of Delhi, and New Delhi is the capital of India.
After British rule ended in 1947, millions of people flocked here in search of a new life. Since then there has been a continuing influx of people from all over India. Delhi is the third most populous city in the world after Tokyo and Mumbai, and has almost tripled its population since 1990 to over 29 million. Despite the urban sprawl of a bustling metropolis, life in Delhi still centers around the family as does the rest of India. Monuments and ruins from the 16th and 17th centuries are nestled next to modern structures and high rise towers.
My friend Payal, whom I visited in Dubai on my way to India, has an aunt who lives in Delhi. She gave her a call to tell her I was coming to Delhi with some friends, and would she be willing to show us around for a few hours? We wanted to visit a local market where the locals shop, not a tourist area. Not only did Viju Masi (“Aunt Viju”) say yes, but she came to pick us up at our hotel, drove us to the market and proceeded to take us around the shops where she knew everyone. We were elated to have our own personal guide to share insights — and she could not have been more gracious.
After a few hours at the market, Viju Masi invited us back to her home for some tea and lunch. Her husband was there and it was such an honor for us to visit with them in their lovely home and have an “authentic” taste of living in New Delhi outside of the many hotels that we would call home for two weeks. They served us a sumptuous lunch and desserts — their hospitality, graciousness and kindness were unparalleled.
This is the kind of experience you pray to have when you travel. The chance to meet other people, share a meal, visit their home, sit around the table and learn about each other. Thank you, Viju Masi, for a wonderful day in your India, your hospitality, and the sweet opportunity for me to return home knowing I have another new friend in the world!
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.