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Libby Znaimer

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - Libby Znaimer ( libby@zoomer.ca) is VP of news on AM740 and Clas­si­cal 96.3 FM (Zoomer Me­dia prop­er­ties). BY LIBBY ZNAIMER

tHE TAJ MA­HAL. Ev­ery­thing you hear about it is true. Pic­tures can’t cap­ture the sense of seren­ity and peace you ex­pe­ri­ence when you are there. My hus­band Doug has been telling me this since he first saw it in 2009, and the amaz­ing ho­tel in sight of the Taj, where he promised to take me for a cock­tail. When we fi­nally clinked glasses at the bar in the Oberoi Amar­vi­las, it was a de­light that went well beyond a drink with a loved one, even with one of the best views in the world. It has to do with an­tic­i­pa­tion. I had waited a long time for this moment – In­dia has been on my “list” for­ever, and Doug had been there five times. This cock­tail was eight years in the mak­ing.

Re­searchers from the Nether­lands have ac­tu­ally mea­sured how va­ca­tions af­fect our hap­pi­ness, and they found the big­gest boost comes from plan­ning and an­tic­i­pat­ing the hol­i­day, not from the trip it­self. The study in the jour­nal Ap­plied Re­search in Qual­ity of Life found the ef­fect of va­ca­tion an­tic­i­pa­tion boosted hap­pi­ness for eight weeks. That drink made me re­al­ize there is al­most noth­ing in life I have to wait at all for, let alone for years. Be­ing in In­dia, of course, will make any­one re­al­ize how for­tu­nate they are even though we did not en­counter the worst of the poverty.

The first thing on our agenda was a rick­shaw ride in Old Delhi. There were dozens of other tourists – all baby boomers, speak­ing a hand­ful of lan­guages – all wait­ing to do the same thing. As we were grid­locked on a nar­row hill, I won­dered if the re­al­ity would live up to the an­tic­i­pa­tion. Then In­dia’s in­fa­mous honk­ing, passing, sideswip­ing, traf­fic chaos kicked into gear. The roads are shared by cars, trucks, buses, au­to­mated rick­shaws called tuk-tuks, bikes, mo­tor­cy­cles, carts, pedes­tri­ans, and cows or other an­i­mals. It’s an apt metaphor for the whole coun­try – it’s not just vastly dif­fer­ent types of trans­porta­tion but dif­fer­ent cen­turies trav­el­ling on the same road, mov­ing for­ward as quickly as pos­si­ble. And so, the ride that looked like a tourist trap gave us the au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Even more au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences came as a sur­prise. We didn’t re­al­ize that we would be there for Holi – but it would be worth plan­ning the en­tire trip around the Hindu Fes­ti­val of Colours. It sig­ni­fies the tri­umph of good over evil and the ar­rival of spring. For days be­fore, ven­dors sell coloured pow­ders, which peo­ple throw at each other as they frolic in the streets. The idea is to break down bar­ri­ers, and it cer­tainly does as strangers ap­proach and smear each other’s faces. When ev­ery­one is cov­ered head to toe in pur­ple, yel­low and red pow­ders, it erases reli­gious, class and na­tional dif­fer­ences.

In Jodhpur, the Puro­hit fam­ily wel­comed us for a cook­ing class in the home their fam­ily has lived in for 300 years. It’s painted blue be­cause they are Brah­mins – and they demon­strated de­li­cious snacks de­spite be­ing strict veg­e­tar­i­ans. This is part of a global trend of so­cial tourism, or sus­tain­able travel. Lo­cals earn some money by invit­ing tourists into their homes, and guests get to see how peo­ple live. I’ve read about ul­tra-Or­tho­dox women in Is­rael do­ing the same thing.

I didn’t be­lieve Doug when he pre­dicted that my red hair and green eyes would make me a cu­rios­ity. But sure enough, the re­quests for self­ies with lo­cals started at the Taj Ma­hal and con­tin­ued for the en­tire trip. There were vis­it­ing schoolchil­dren at nearly every heritage mon­u­ment we toured and they would sur­round us, prac­tis­ing their English, high-fiv­ing us and

“Re­searchers found the ef­fect of va­ca­tion an­tic­i­pa­tion boosted hap­pi­ness for eight weeks”

tak­ing pic­tures. Their sweet­ness and open­ness was one of the high­lights. But when the traf­fic started look­ing nor­mal, I knew it was time to come home.

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