Susan Calo-Medina's Travel Time (its longish proper name) comes out quarterly, for now. For the issue about to roll out this Friday, Tita Susan and editorial director Floy Quintos (who, before his current multi-hyphenate career, had cut his teeth on rag work as one of the editors of the early Metro magazine) asked me to submit a story on my recent India trip. I hemmed and hawed for the longest time because I had blogged about it a couple of times, and I also owed the Inquirer the major travel story (eventually, this one).
The magazine piece I delivered was a bit longer, more ruminative (I think), in keeping with Floy's dictum for a more point-of-view take, rather than a straightforward travelogue. Forgive me if I also feel quite clever about the title I gave it: Heat and Dust--Surprise and Surrender in Incredible India. When I received the proofs, I was overjoyed--not only was the layout clean and lovely, but the team had also taken a number of my photos and, by dramatic cropping alone, made them look more compelling, more professional-looking, than I had ever thought possible. On the page, they looked, uhm, stunning. Now this was the India I had seen--a visual blast, a whirligig of color, an atmospheric head trip. Thank God for art directors!
An excerpt, and the layout:
For your sense of reassurance, it pays to read first about India—or, better yet, book an experienced guide—before you sally forth with sandalwood-scented visions of elephant rides, a visit to the Taj Mahal and other exotic adventures swimming in your head.
That’s because a trip to India will not be one of those easy, or easygoing, jaunts to places where everything works, the amenities are always plush and fuss-free, the conditions conducive to bland relaxation and bliss. Don’t get us wrong--the country has its share of world-class hotels, cities of gleaming skyscrapers and pulsating nightlife, sprawling modernity. New Delhi, the capital of the British Raj, has the look and feel of a European city--a well-planned urban grid of broad boulevards, lovely parks and stately architecture.
But as our chatty, erudite guide Abhi pointed out, “To get a real picture of India, you have to get out of the city and see the countryside.”
The countryside is where the ancient pulse of India is found. The country, said Abhi, remains very much rooted in agriculture, with vast swaths of the Indian subcontinent--those not given over to searing desert, such as the mythical sands of Rajasthan, or the frigid northern plains aired by the Himalayas--a teeming home to hundreds of millions of humble folk still bound by tasks, customs and rituals that have run the course of centuries.
A drive from Delhi to Agra, site of India’s most emblematic structure, the Taj Mahal, translates to five hours of some of the most picturesque, arresting sights you would see in India: brown flat plains as far as the eye can see; riots of color and ceaseless activity at roadside markets and rural intersections (lucky if you chance upon a wedding--a virtual village bacchanalia of music, dancing, food and ornate finery); serene scenes of hamlets and bovine herds against citron-colored mountains; that fine, early-morning Himalayan mist coating India’s so-called Golden Triangle--Delhi, Agra and Jaipur--with a magical, sensuous air before the sun’s onslaught at high noon...
“To my mind, the defining image of India is the crowd,” Salman Rushdie once wrote. And that heaving, throbbing multitude will confront you everywhere you go--at the market, in the temple, on overloaded boats and rickety buses, along dusty road and concrete highway alike, in every space where Indians, now 1.2 billion strong, can sink roots into, proceed with the business of living and pray to their gods for strength and succor.
The rest? The magazine's out starting this Friday. Do buy!
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