Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

India—Cultural Encounters of the Colorful Kind

by Meredith Mullins on March 16, 2015

Flower seller, car-to-car, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

A car-to-car flower seller in Delhi
© Meredith Mullins

Travel Inspiration from Northern India

I expected sensory overload . . . and India delivered.

  • Bright colors warmed by the sun
  • Labyrinthine bazaars, far more organized than first glance implies
  • Horn blasts and shrill shouts from streets crowded with cars, rickshaws, animals, cycles, and carts
  • Spices that pervade the body—smell, taste, and touch
  • Dust and wood-fire smoke permeating air and clothes
  • Mounds of golden flowers—in markets and on shrines to the gods
  • People living their lives in the open—in the streets, on rooftops, in alleys, in unwalled shops, or in just about any open space
Rooftop in Old Delhi, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

Up on the roof . . . in Old Delhi
© Meredith Mullins

What I did not expect was the depth of hospitality or the pride of place that I experienced from the people of India.

Flower seller in Jaipur market, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

Hospitality at the Jaipur flower market
© Meredith Mullins

This was my maiden voyage. A toe-in-the-water trip that lasted only a few weeks. But the richness of the cultural encounters made the days feel like a lifetime. I received travel inspiration of the most colorful kind . . . and five first-impression OIC Moments.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The Taj Mahal. A palace beyond words.
© Meredith Mullins

Inspiration from the Palaces

India is a land rich in history, architecture, and more than its fair share of palaces from many empires.

The Taj Mahal, of course, is the centerpiece. This Agra palace is said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

At sunrise and sunset, the white marble seems to take on the soul of the sun, and the inlaid stones shimmer with light and color. From every angle, it seems to calm the spirit.

Taj Mahal in Agra, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

Sunrise at the Taj Mahal
© Meredith Mullins

There are many more palaces with beautiful workmanship—especially the Agra Fort, the Samode Palace near Jaipur, the Amber Fort in Jaipur, and the City Palace in Udaipur.

Inlaid work at the Agra Fort, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

Inlaid work at the Agra Fort, across the river from the Taj Mahal
© Meredith Mullins

I loved them all, particularly those that provided a more private viewing.

You may never have the Taj Mahal to yourself (except perhaps during a full moon night when they limit the number of visitors), but you can be alone in the Samode palace, time traveling into an opulent 18th century palatial life.

The Samode Palace near Jaipur, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The resplendent Samode Palace near Jaipur
© Meredith Mullins

Lessons from the Temples

Religion plays a major role in Indian culture: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism. The diverse religions and ethnic groups have a long history—of conflicts and tolerance, as would be expected.

Sikh Temple langar in Delhi, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The communal meal at the Sikh langar in Delhi. Everyone is welcome.
© Meredith Mullins

The Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras) are havens that welcome all faiths. Each temple has a langar, or free food kitchen, which serves a simple meal to anyone who wants or needs nourishment. People of all backgrounds and faiths, men and women, sit together in the communal hall.

Helpers donate their time to prepare the meals, and visitors offer a contribution if possible to ensure the continuation of this service.

Sikhs counting donation money at the Sikh Temple in Delhi, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

There is no shortage of donation money at the Sikh Temple in Delhi.
© Meredith Mullins

Encounters with Markets and Masters

The markets and bazaars are bustling and bursting—from the block-printed textiles to bundles of bangles, from silks to pashmina, from handmade paper to handcut gems, from miniature paintings to delicate embroidery. The artisans and craftspeople of India are alive and well.

Block printer in Jaipur, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration.  (Image © Meredith Mullins)

A master of textile block printing in Jaipur
© Meredith Mullins

It is said in India that the skill of the hand is a sacred gift, and so the masters continue their hand work as long as their eyes and limbs are able. They then pass the trade to the next generation. A tradition that, hopefully, will continue for a long time to come.

Woman in pink embroidering at SEWA, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The art of chikan embroidery . . . and self-reliance
© Meredith Mullins

Cooperatives are also vibrant, such as SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), with goals to encourage self-reliance through work opportunities and to provide protection for workers, including work security, food security, and social security.

The SEWA women's cooperative of chikan embroidery, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The SEWA women’s cooperative in Lucknow
© Meredith Mullins

A Multitude of Rides

As in any populous Asian country, the number of transportation modes is mind-boggling. The streets are teeming, and the art of wending and weaving is critical to surviving.

Street scene in Old Delhi, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The streets of Old Delhi
© Meredith Mullins

Cycle and auto rickshaws, open-air taxis, camels, elephants, meandering cows, bicycles, motorbikes, horses, wagons, cars, minivans, buses, street dogs, and purposeful people vie for road space.

It is a culture of beeping horns (to keep everyone aware of each other’s presence), but, interestingly, little road rage.

Delhi street, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

Making way for the elephant
© Meredith Mullins

I am still in awe of the muscled cycle rickshaw drivers who pedaled us uphill for several kilometers in the heat of the day for only 50 rupees (80 cents).

A Photographer’s Paradise

As someone who has photographed in many countries and received a variety of responses (including polite and not-so-polite rejections), I anticipated the usual challenges of photographing the people in this colorful country.

Man reading paper in Old Delhi, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

An alley in Old Delhi
© Meredith Mullins

The biggest surprise and, for me, the most rewarding “Oh, I see” Moment was the generosity of everyone in allowing themselves to be photographed.

For the Indian people, photography wasn’t at all a stealing of souls, but a sharing of souls. I was greeted only by smiles. And never, not even once, did someone refuse to be photographed.

Woman in orange, cultural encounters in Northern  India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

Sweeper at the Amber Fort in Jaipur.
© Meredith Mullins

Oh, I See Many More Cultural Encounters To Come

A few weeks in India is perfect as an introduction. It becomes quickly obvious that there is much more to this complex country.

My first impressions may or may not hold true once I go deeper into the culture.

What is true is that this journey provided travel inspiration of the best kind and extended an open invitation for more cultural encounters in this diverse, proud, bustling, and colorful country.

Namaste.

Girl with gold flowers in Old Delhi, cultural encounters in Northern India that provide travel inspiration. (Image © Meredith Mullins)

The next generation of India
© Meredith Mullins

To get your Northern India/Rajasthan bearings, take a look at this map.

Thank you to Delicious Connections and Kipling India Travel for the organization of our visit. And special thanks to my fellow travelers for making the journey so memorable.

Comment on this post, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.

 
Comments:

14 thoughts on “India—Cultural Encounters of the Colorful Kind

  1. What a blessing, dear Meredith, to have such an eye and such a yen for seeing! and bringing to life, while keeping alive such sights as are doomed to vanish or be destroyed in the wake of “modernity” and “development”!

  2. Meredith thank you for the beautiful pictures of my mother
    Country hopefully one day soon I will be able to visit and see
    These wonderful people with my own eyes.

    Thank you again

    • Namaste Lorrain,
      Thank you for your comments. I’m glad it stirred something inside you. The people of India are, indeed, wonderful. We can all learn something from the way they live life.

      All best,

      Meredith

  3. Meredith, It takes a special gift to be able to get up close and personal with your subjects, as you did. Instead of holding you at arm’s length, they invited you into their lives.

    • Dear Ann,
      I’m sorry I missed this comment earlier. Thank you for the compliment. As I learned, the people of India do invite you into their lives, without seeking anything in return. It is a wonderful way of life … and a blessing for the photographer.

      Namaste,

      Meredith

    • Hi Barbara,
      Thanks for writing. I was amazed at the diversity of characters but all with a universal welcoming smile. I feel I have much to learn from these peaceful people.

      All best,

      Meredith

  4. Wow. I would contend you captured moments of the unique visual feast and the natural warmth of the Indian people masterfully, Meredith. How can we prevent National Geographic from seducing you away?

    • Thank you, Pamela, for your appreciation of the “visual feast.” And I’m glad you felt the same warmth that I did from the people.

      As for National Geographic, hmmm. Are you listening, National Geographic? I could be seduced …

      All best,

      Meredith

  5. Meredith, you have captured so very beautifully in pictures and words the essence of the India we experienced together just 2 weeks ago. Thank you so much, Patti

    • Thank you, Patti, for your comment . . . and thank you for leading us on such a rewarding sensory experience.

      Namaste,

      Meredith

  6. Meredith, you have captured so very beautifully in pictures and words the essence of the India we experienced together just 2 weeks ago. Thank you so much.

    • Meredith and Patti,
      I can only add ” ditto”.
      I just relived some of the best parts of our trip through your words and wonderful pictures. Many thanks for sharing.
      Emily

      • Dear Emily,
        It was my pleasure to share some of the memories with such a wonderful group of adventurers.

        Namaste,

        Meredith

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. The name you enter will appear with your comment. * Required field

12 + eight =

Copyright © 2011-2013 OIC Books   |   All Rights Reserved   |   Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.