our guide, who was a mine of information about the Middle Kingdom. She took us sightseeing and on passing trees from which cotton-like flowers fell, she proudly told us that this would soon be a thing of the past because the government had decided to replace these ‘female’ trees with male ones to avoid inconvenience to tourists. We were in the land where anything is possible.
The Great wall, like any tourist spot in India, was very crowded. The Forbidden City, right in the middle of Beijing, was spread over a vast area. But it paled in comparison with the grandeur of our palaces. The pace of sightseeing was hindered by numerous requests from locals for photo shoots with my wife and daughter, unusual women as far as the Chinese are concerned.
At Xian, the Terracotta army complex is a must-see but the big surprise was the Wild Goose Pagoda. It is associated with Hiuen Tsang, who famously travelled to India in the seventh century. The museum has a collection of articles he carried back from India. Every Chinese seemed to know one of their most famous stories, ‘Journey to the West’, and the “West” in this case means India. Stone tablets bearing Sanskrit verses, along with their Chinese translations, can be seen in the Stone Steles Museum. Clearly, they were intelligently copying back then as well. (via Long-haired women fascinate China).
The lost art of travel writing
I thought this was a very fresh piece of travel writing. For one it was not a regurgitated piece of propaganda. For another, he is a typical, English-educated, Indian who is surprised to see how far and how widely India is spread. He is also pleasantly surprised by the lack of simple freedoms that Indians assume are available to all – but a rare commodity.
Lastly, he seems to take significant pride, like much of Desert Bloc, in monuments built by rulers, in ‘glory’ of their reign! He does seems to think that “The Forbidden City … paled in comparison with the grandeur of our palaces”. When it comes to monuments, I would have preferred India to be at the bottom of the table.
For instance – in Russia, Peter the Great, asked all the boyars to cut their beards – and become modern like Western Europeans. Russia never recovered from that. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered Turks to stop wearing the fez – and a society with a 3000 year old history, suddenly started getting jolted from one crisis to another. In China, it was the queue.
In their great hurry to Westernize, these leaders cast their countries and cultures into a loop of self-doubt and loss of self-esteem. To all those who want to rush into Western (or anyone else’s) arms, Russia, Turkey and China are excellent examples. India is not far behind.
I liked this piece of simple writing. Utkarsh has his tongue in place – firmly in the ‘cheek.’