Unknown-3Today, we have a missive from a Mr. Ganesh, who is a professional driver in India and has spent a couple of months vactioning in the USA. He feels that American drivers could benefit from his long experience on the Indian roads and offers these suggestions.

1. Americans pay too much attention to those white lines on the road, like they’re jail bars or something. There is no reason a two lane road can’t become a three, four, or even five lane road if there are enough narrow bicycles and goats involved. We do it all the time.

2. Americans neglect to use their horns. Sounding them often is not only polite but essential to safety. And it’s good to test them from time to time even if they’re not needed at the moment to make sure they’re ready for action when the next situation arises.

3. Americans use their brakes too often. The horn and the accelerator are much more productive driving tools. Braking clogs the roadway and impedes the vehicles behind you.

4. When in heavy traffic be careful never to travel more than six inches from the vehicle beside you, even if you’re going fairly fast. Keeping a further distance is insulting to other drivers who will think you don’t like them or something.

5. Be sure to sound your horn whenever possible.

6. Be more respectful of animal life. I see too many flattened animal corpses on American highways. In India, we respect our animals. Brake for them if necessary, though swerving around them is preferable. Especially the cow, though I see no willingness on the part of Americans to train their cows to navigate on the roadways. (See #3) It’s up to the driver beside you to swerve with you, but since you’re so close it should not be a problem, and you can always create another lane.(See #1)

7. Americans are too hung up on which side of the road to drive on. Which side is correct is always dependent on circumstances. So, yes, right lane is standard, but if left or middle lane serves your purpose–in passing another vehicle, for example–you should employ the option. Not to do so clogs traffic and impedes vehicles behind you. (See #1 & #3)

8. Not to sound your horn means to not warn those ahead and beside you of your intentions. Why would you not want everyone to know what you’re going to do? (See #’s 2&5)

I believe following these simple suggestions would save many lives and make traveling on your highways much more entertaining. Thank you very much.

K. Ganesh, Mumbai.





The world is incompatible, just never forget it: gaga. Ghosts, Nazis,

saints, all alive at the same time; in one spot blissful happiness, while

down the road, the inferno. You can’’t ask for a wilder place.”

—Salman Rushdie,

The Satanic Verses (Thanks to Dan Barth)

Unknown-1And here comes a short version of my misunderstanding of Indian culture and philosophy. It’s all so much more complex and exciting than this, but let’s start with a story.

Bali was a good king with a peaceful kingdom full of happy people. Vishnu saw this and appeared at his door as a guest, a dwarf, and was taken in as custom demanded. He proved an entertaining fellow, and Vishnu/dwarf and Bali had a good visit. When it came time to leave, Bali, as custom demanded, offered a boon. Vishnu said he’d like some land. How much? All I can cover in three strides. Bali argued that wasn’t enough, but the dwarf insisted, so Bali relented.

In an instant, Vishnu revealed himself as a god and became enormous. So enormous that he covered the entire earth in two strides. Now it was time for the third step, but there was no place for Vishnu to rest his foot, so Bali offered his head as a stepping stone. Which he should have known better because in Indian battles if your opponent steps on your head, you’re toast. Thus Bali became an underworld demon with only an island to his name.

Lessons? Why would Vishnu do this to a good king with a happy kingdom? Answer. The kingdom was too happy, too stable. The Hindu pantheon needs a balance of order and chaos. Perfect order is death. Bali’s kingdom was too happy, so had to be disrupted. Ordinarily one might expect that this would be a job for Shiva the destroyer, but these guys cross over into each other’s boundaries all the time. You never can tell which god will be after you or will help you. Keep praying.



Why castes? This is what Martin Noval, our tour leader, says. Hinduism without castes would be like a body without a heart. All stemming from ancient sacrificial rituals. The Brahmins performed the rites, but had nothing to do with preparing the sacrifice, which meant someone had to kill the beast, someone else had to collect the blood, and so on, right down to the people who cleaned up the offal when all was done. No person at any step in the procedure was allowed to trespass on anyone’s territory above them, nor to violate that of anyone below. Thus when we got down to the carrion, that became a job for the untouchables, who were charged with taking care of that which no one else was allowed to touch.

This hierarchy eventually transferred to all other parts of society, so even today when the caste system is outlawed, people still observe it. Roommates and marriage mates and transact business transactions are done only within their own caste. The Sikhs (the guys with the turbans) came into being in the 12th-13th centuries and have managed to almost eliminate it within their own group, but they’re a small part of the population. Interestingly enough, you can’t confuse caste and class. An untouchable can become rich, but will always be of his caste.

I guess there’s a certain amount of security in knowing your own place, especially when it keeps you in good standing with your gods. Ganesh, the happy elephant, is my guy. Luxury, comfort, health and prosperity to us all.




We went from the Taj Mahal to that 16th C. fort across the river where the unlucky prince lived out his final hallucinatory days. On the way, we ran into these little critters (below right) as well as some camel-rickshaws and an actual snake charmer with a boa constrictor draped over his shoulders and a cobra rising out of a basket. No pictures of the snakes, sorry to say.IMG_1118IMG_0641









IMG_1125Ugly as the fort looks from the outside, it’s a vast and splendid place
once you get past the walls. Bigger, I think, than any European fort I’ve seen. Housed over 2000 people. Once again, marble (what else?) gardens, various architectural tricks to create cross-ventilation for those hot summer days. It was a full-on Ottoman Empire palace with a harem (300 or so) and eunuchs and all. IMG_0650_2



After a great lunch–our second wonderful meal of the trip–it was time to embark on the 5 hour drive back to Delhi. Except this time it turned into a 6-hour drive thanks to a Muslim festival day of some sort which crowded Agra’s streets in a way we hadn’t IMG_0653seen since our Bolivian trip years ago. Everyone fender to bumper to bike wheel to cow haunch, going several directions at once. and noise? Trucks crowded with jubilant, green-flag-waving celebrants with music that sounded sort of like traditional Indian music influenced by rap somehow. The speakers on the pictured truck (look closely up-center) were by no means the most numerous or the loudest. Everyone looked and sounded happy, though they could have been recruiting for Isis for all we knew, but the tone seemed much more festive.

Despite the traffic, everyone appeared happy, or at least tolerant, and despite spending 12-14 hours in our van over the two days, we witnessed not a single collision. Quite a feat. Anyhow, we ended up safe and sound back in Delhi, and at this writing, we are waiting for the fog to lift so we can climb on the next flight and end our little side trip and join the tour we signed up for.