Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Indian Adventure Continues

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on February 5th in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau
While there are any number of reasons why you should not rent and or drive a vehicle in New Delhi, or India for that matter, the best one is for your own safety. Sure they drive on the left just like folks in Ireland and the UK do, but that is where the similarities both begin and end.
Try navigating a toll road, designed like the motorways here in Ireland, but also sharing the driving lanes with carts pulled by bicycles, camels, donkeys, oxen and the occasional human animal. There are also the farm tractors, pedestrians and omnipresent rickshaws that use the same road lanes that one also has to be on the lookout for. Plus, even though motorcycles, cars and trucks are supposed to travel in the left hand lane unless they are overtaking slower moving traffic, the reality is that virtually all of them drive in the middle of the road straddling both lanes
Now, unlike Ireland, the big heavy trucks which carry goods between cities and to stores and factories are not allowed to use many of India’s motorways between 7am and 7pm in order to ease traffic congestion. But when they are on the road these big trucks TAKE the right of way, regardless of whether or not they are legally entitled to it. The rule is, the bigger the truck, the more right of way its driver believes he is entitled to.
Another curious feature of India’s divided highways is the fact that trucks can enter them and travel in the opposite direction of traffic for distances of several miles until they reach a break in the median strip where they can cross over onto the other side and the proper traffic flow lanes. Imagine my surprise when the car I was in had to shift to the left from the inside right hand speed lane on the highway from Delhi to Agra because a huge truck was barreling down the road straight at us in that same lane.
Automobile and truck horns constantly assault one’s hearing when you are on the road because India’s drivers not only don’t pay little attention to what is beside or behind them, but also because they do not use their indicators or yield the right of way, and they frequently change lanes without signaling. Furthermore, Indian drivers also frequently pass on blind corners, up steep hills or in the face of oncoming traffic and many of them either don’t use their headlights or turn on their high beams when they encounter on coming traffic, blinding the other driver. Small wonder India has 131.2 fatalities per 10,000 motor vehicles compared to only 1.4 for the UK and 1.8 for Ireland.
However, assuming that one is smart enough to hire a driver to take you to see the many wonderful sights that there are in India, you will be truly amazed by many of them. I stayed close to New Delhi for my first two weeks and still didn’t see everything that there was to see in the Capital of India, but I probably could have had it not been for many hours I spent in the United Nations workshop that was the primary purpose for my trip. Having said that, it was also the native Indians who took part in that workshop who served as my guides to what sights I should and eventually did see during my stay.
My first weekend was spent visiting the National Gandhi Museum and the Memorial of Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat on the bank of the Yamuna River in New Delhi. At the memorial site known as Rajghat Samadhi, there is an eternal flame burning at the spot where Mahatma Gandhi’s mortal body was consigned to flames at his funeral.
The memorial itself is striking for both its beauty and its simplicity, which would also be in keeping with Gandhi’s ideal of simplicity. It consists of the brick platform on which Gandhi’s body had been laid, and a black marble platform of the same size and dimensions which are surrounded by a white marble fence and several acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. Visitors must remove their shoes (10 rupees to check them at stand near the entrance) so the stone walkways will give you a “hot foot” but fortunately there is plenty of “cool” grass to walk on nearby as well.
The National Gandhi Museum is within easy walking distance from Rajghat and is filled with photographs, paintings and sculptures of Mahatma Gandhi as well as a full scale replica of his bedroom and “office”. The museum also has numerous other artifacts including “Official” documents and plaques which were given to Gandhi by leaders from other countries and organizations around the world in recognition of Gandhi’s contributions to India’s history, democracy, non-violence and world peace.
I must say, however, that I am still mystified as regards why Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This seems to me to be a striking omission by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, but one that I hope they will someday choose to correct even if it’s a posthumous award.
In addition to the numerous historical artifacts which surround visitors when they are inside the museum, there are also some very interesting displays outside as well. At the entrance is a large rock carving depicting Gandhi’s “Great Salt March”, a non-violent protest against a salt tax which shook the British Empire and led to world wide recognition of the legitimacy of India’s claims for independence.
Next door to the museum is a full scale replica of Hridayakunj, the residence of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba, the beloved wife of Gandhi who died in his arms while they were both still imprisoned by the British. The residence is surrounded by beautiful gardens including the wonderful gazebo where I had my picture taken under the hands of a huge sculpture of a seated Gandhi. Next week I will discuss my visit to Qutab Minar and the Akshardham temple.

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