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India

India is a paradox. It is hot, fragrant with spices, perspiration and the ash from burning piles of dung that people burn to heat their shanties. It is stunningly beautiful with marble temples and sandstone fortresses and women in colorful saris. Its hotels are laden with precious metals. Tourists are treated like royalty. But then there's the dark side: poverty casts an ever-present shadow over 68% of its population. Unlike in America, where we hide our impoverished, India cannot. How does one hide 800 million people?

But there is change.

When I first visited India in 1979 the country was still undiscovered by most Westerners. Jaiselmer, set near the Thar desert, had no hotels. One's only option was to stay in a government hostel which I did. The only other guest was a cow who had made her holy self at home within its walls. Today there are literally hundreds of hotels and motels in Jaiselmer alone. I preferred the 1979 version but the newer version has boosted India's economy considerably.

India is a monument to history; one of the most gorgeous, and difficult, places on earth.