Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore

That famous phrase came to my mind a lot the week I spent in India.  It hit me as soon as I got off the plane and was walking through the airport.  It’s hard not to notice the soldiers walking around with AK 47s on their shoulders.  I reminded myself that this was India that was subject to several terrorist bombings in the last year and they were taking security seriously, but this was a high profile airport and things would change once I was on my way to the Hotel.  Yeah right.

The first thing you notice on the roads in India is that the white lines are merely suggestions, and not serious ones at that.  There might be three lanes at an intersection, but there are often six or even eight vehicles across and when the light changes, watch out!  They also take their horns very seriously.  They use them so often the cars often have special buttons on the steering wheel so they don’t have to lift their hand to honk the horn (yes I am serious).  I thought a New York taxi ride was wild, until I road around India for a week.

Once I survived my ride to the hotel I thought it would finally be time to relax, but once again I was wrong.  As my car got into queue to go through the gated entrance to the hotel, I realized that all of the cars were popping their hoods and trunks and the guards were using a mirror device to look under the cars for bombs.  I guess after the bombing of the hotel in Mumbai last year, they decided to get very serious about making sure it didn’t happen again.  Tip for those traveling without their spouse – do like I did and don’t tell them about the bomb inspections until you get home.  There is nothing they can do about it anyway, except worry, so why put them through that.

After being sequestered in the Hotel for the conference, we finally got to get back out on the roads for some more eye opening experiences.  The 150 kilometer (less than 120 miles) trip to the Taj Mahal took five hours one way – and that was on one of the better highways.  The concept of slow vehicles staying to the right (or I guess the left in the case of India since they drive on the opposite side of the road like the British), does not enter the Indian psyche.   We were weaving (as best you could do in a bus) around tractors pulling trailers, Camels and Cows (yes cows) pulling carts and the ever popular Tuk-Tuks (a three wheeled motorized vehicle that often functions as a taxi). 

Please don’t get me wrong.  India is a very modern country with all of the latest gadgets available to its citizens.  There is a large and growing middle class, and you can see the potential with every turn.  But being in India for a week also made me realize how wondrous our country is and why so many people want to come here.  Even our poor live in sizable apartments with multiple rooms and at least one nice T.V. – not the mud huts that we saw some of the farmers living along the highway.  As crumbling as you hear the politicians describe our highways and infrastructure, it is still light years ahead of what they have in India.

As interesting as India was, I was happy to return to the U.S. and drive 30 miles in 30 minutes to get to my house from the airport.  In fact, sitting in traffic this week didn’t seem nearly as bad as it did the week before I left.  Maybe that is the most important lesson I learned from my trip to India – to appreciate the many blessings I have by living here in the U.S. and being part of the greatest profession in the country.

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