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Exotic lands

Posted: December 27, 2013 9:37 a.m.
Updated: December 30, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Being married to my husband was never boring! During the past 30 years, he planned trips for us to England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, France, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Mexico, Argentina, Greece and other usual tourist spots. Each of these had many fond and not-so-fond memories. Few, however, exceeded China, where I heard a young man tell me he had seen me in Playboy Magazine and want to show me to his mother at his home; Egypt, where a policeman insisted I give him my name so, when I disappeared, my family could hear of my loss, and one man insisted on proposing to me (there, the men could have three wives) although I was already taken; India, where only four people went on the tour because real danger existed. The only reason I occasioned so much attention was the fact that I am a tall, fair skinned blond, much taller than most of the men in China, Egypt or India. Today, I am amazed that we were so ignorant that we did not go with a tour group except to India. Actually, I never feared anything so long as my husband was along.

India was an exotic, contradictory place. Slums, beggars, buzzards and cattle existed side by side with castles, historic buildings, chrysanthemum petals formed into beautiful decorations used only for a few hours to engage the tourists, sumptuous meals and certain danger. The four of us had a bus and a guide to ourselves as well as a dinner invitation to the home of the president of the tourist association. I remember being disappointed that, under no circumstances, could we roam from the hotel or the castle grounds. In fact, one castle was in the middle of water, requiring ferrying back and forth. I know now that the guide earned his salary and tip because of the protection he gave four foolish Americans!

On several occasions, he insistently hurried us from a point of interest. What I did not know or guess was that he had seen danger. Once, however, he asked me to carry a tote for him. As a woman, I was surprised. Usually, men are the ones asked for such a favor. I reluctantly accepted the task because the bag was very heavy. What I discovered later was that it contained alcoholic beverages to use as bribes at the next point of departure. If I had been caught or stopped, I do not think ignorance would have been an excuse. In fact, I probably would still be in prison. Perhaps the guide chose the most innocent looking tourist or the one with the fewest brains!

Perhaps most illustrious of the beauty and the horror of India was Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal. Because of the crowds, beggars existed in large numbers. Because of the huge population of India, no personal space existed. The Taj Mahal is beautiful beyond belief, however, and a I am delighted to have been inside it even if it is a tomb with a sad family story involved. To the left of the Taj was a Muslim mosque. Its members dispersed while we were there, and the numbers were even greater than those visiting the Taj -- somewhat akin to a swarming fire ant bed.

Seeing the fires consuming dead bodies, the people bathing in the same water, and the nude Indians participating in their religious rituals left an unforgettable memory, especially at night when candles floated on leaves out on the serene water of the Ganges. Even knowing the filth of the water, we returned home with two containers reputed to have holy water. It was here that one of two projectiles was aimed at me, possibly because my husband took pictures  -- I had to carry the camera. If I wanted a picture of a naked man, I could just look in National Geographic!

While we had ridden elephants to many castles in India, the most unusual use for this beast was at Tiger Tops in Nepal. If my husband had told me what I was going to do, I would certainly have refused and missed a marvelous experience. All four of us rose long before dawn to ride elephants out in grass over our heads. We were seeking tigers, to which we probably looked like prime steak. The mahouts, or riders, had the elephants back up to the balcony, or we could have the beasts pick us up with their trunks and set us aboard. These two were the choices we had for mounting. The residential area would not have sustained an attack by one of the numerous wild animals, had no electricity and possibly would not have had indoor bathrooms if the tourists had not appeared so appetizing to the animals. Our lanterns were our only lights, and the most unusual roars and other noises punctuated the stillness of the night.

All the trips to other lands remain fixed in my memory, but Egypt, India and Tiger Tops are in Technicolor! A young girl in Nepal, for example, was chosen to be worshipped as a deity until puberty. What a change this must have been for her! The Nepalese were even smaller than the Indians (or Egyptians) and sinewy. They also seemed quite reticent, perhaps because we looked so different. The trip to India and Nepal was certainly one I shall never forget. Today, however, I am well aware that danger may lie in wait for someone anywhere, whether he has done a reprehensible deed or not.

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