In India, there is a saying that everything will work out all right in the end and if it does not work out all right, then it is not yet the end. Recently, I had the opportunity to test this adage by spending time traveling alone in India, having only my trusty guides to show me around. The main purposes of my trip were to visit all of the major places where Mahatma Gandhi spent time while leading India to independence in 1948 and to experience the culture of this enchanting country.
My trip began when I boarded a flight in Newark that would take me directly to Mumbai 15 hours later. My seatmates were an Indian couple who let me know immediately that I was in for a unique experience. That turned out to be an understatement. India is like no place I have ever visited before.
Though I arrived at Mumbai airport very late in the evening, there were still seas of people everywhere going every which way. Fortunately, a man was waving a sign that said, “Denise Farrell,” and though the spelling was wrong I was greatly relieved. He and a driver possessing all of the skills of a professional knife thrower somehow got me to my hotel unscathed, despite sharing the main road with cows, goats, bicycles and rickshaws.
My first night at the hotel was uneventful. The next day, I took a short airplane ride to Porbandar, Gandhi’s birthplace. Besides visiting a Gandhi museum and the home where he was born, I also climbed barefoot down a steep and dark combination staircase and ladder to a famous cave where the Lord Krishna, a Hindu deity, had spent some time. Removing shoes and sometimes socks is customary when visiting holy sites in India. Amazingly, there were numerous other visitors in this cave much older than my 62 years who had braved this climb and were praying at a shrine in the cave.
My next adventure was a nine-hour train trip to Ahmedabad. Nothing captures the spirit of India better than train travel. Furious crowds pressed simultaneously in 20 different directions. I was certain that I would never find the train, let alone catch it, and that my prepaid reservation could not have penetrated this chaos. Yet there was the train and the compartment with my name legibly on the door. The train miraculously started on time and, though it made numerous random, unexplained stops along the way, I reached my destination on schedule only to be greeted by even more chaos and competitive incoherence out of which order could never come but did.
Thanks to my guide, we made it to my hotel through the largest sea of hucksters, beggars and homeless people I had ever encountered. Over the next few days, I visited the ashram where Gandhi lived for 13 years and other historic spots.
My final destination was New Delhi. It was here that I not only visited the sacred and very moving sites where Gandhi was assassinated and cremated, but also spent several hair-raising and nail-biting hours in a tuk-tuk, a motorized rickshaw, marveling all the time at never seeing even one traffic accident.
While India might not be for everyone, for me it was an extraordinary adventure that I will never forget. My visit also taught me that much of India’s charm lies in showing us how to deal with the unexpected, to have more patience and not to sweat the small stuff.
Dennis Patrick Farrell retired from banking after 40-plus years. He lives in Hamburg.