Posted By Carlo on July 20, 2009
I’ve just arrived at the Leela Kempinski Goa on the coast of the Indian Ocean in the southwestern part of this fantastic country. It’s one of the most beautiful resorts I’
ve ever seen. The per-night cost of the suite I’m typing this in approaches my monthly mortgage payment; no wonder it’s so relaxing. It helps to have a personal, English-speaking butler like Bintedar. God knows I don’t speak Konkani, the local language—or any other Indian tongue.
I got into India very early a.m. July 13 after nearly two days of flying and layover. That first day was a blur, largely consisting of meeting various Leela executives including its remarkable chairman C.K. Nair, who is in his 80s, has seen it all and remains enthusiastic.
On July 14, we went to the heart of one of the many subcities of Delhi, to old, old markets where I and another journalist on this fascinating press trip occupied a narrow, hard seat in a bicycle rickshaw. Our driver took us through the narrowest, busiest streets I’ve ever seen. I can’t recall ever being this hot ‘n’ sweaty (hey, the heat’s dry in Phoenix and Dubai) or as saturated by atmosphere. The streets were so tight no way anything motorized other than auto rickshaws (covered Vespas seating four thin folk) could work them. The cost of the ride was covered by the PR agency that sent me to India, but at the end, the driver, who pushed a sickly beggar kid off me during it, wanted a big tip. We gave him 300 rupees (about $6.25) when Pamela, my seatmate, added 100 to my 200, exceeding the norm. The guy was demanding and shameless and I didn’t like his attitude. Then I thought to myself, where the hell do I come off begrudging someone who just nearly worked himself to death pampering me? I want to kill my inner Ugly American.
The next day our band of 10, half of them journalists, rode four and a half hours south to the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to Agra, home to the Taj Mahal. Our bus driver was a hero, dodging bullets mechanical and animal over iffy roadway. We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and the sun was relentless as we entered the site, which is much bigger than I thought it would be. Like Beijing’s Forbidden City, it’s massive; that’s why it’s called monumental. It’s also dazzlingly white, even radiant, its calligraphy and gemstone marble inlay gorgeous, its shimmer and magnetism undeniable. I now understand the term “mogul” and am beginning to glimpse how complex and challenging are the area’s politics.
Before I descend into fatuousness, I’ll cut this short. India makes you reconsider your viewpoint, your conceptions, your preconceptions. I’ll write more about the trip to Agra next time I blog. I have to get ready for a trip to Atlanta today (it’s July 20) so goodbye for now.