When we were planning this trip, a few people told us that we’d be bored soon or that it’d be a waste of time “because America doesn’t have a long cultural history or heritage like India does”. That seemed so absurd, almost like saying it’s not worth talking to a young person because they haven’t lived long enough to be interesting! So our journey from New Orleans with its multi-ethnic background up to ancient Native American Taos and then on to Colorado Springs was interesting, to say the least.
We drove through a lot of small Southern towns on the way up, and by the time we got to Santa Fe, we were tired of the highway scene. The same chain restaurants and hotels, the small towns clustered around the big junctions and the campgrounds close the busy roads were enough to prime us for charming Santa Fe, a hotspot for artists from around the world. With beautiful sun-dappled streets to offset the brown adobe buildings that are mandatory, we felt like we’d gone back in time. The atmosphere soothes you and sets the pace for a slow amble through art and curio shops lining the streets. We took some time out to go and admire the art of Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams at dedicated galleries and came out feeling inspired by their depictions of the landscape.
Two days of art-filled sight-seeing later, we headed to Taos Pueblos, which is the oldest, continuously inhabited Native American community in the U.S. This 1000-year old pueblos, or community has its own group of ‘Elders’ to make decisions on laws and disputes, and still lives in traditional style. However, there are small inroads made by modernisation: some homes have running water and electricity, and many of the younger members of the community have moved out for better jobs and education. It looked a lot like an Indian village in many ways, and the issues they face are similar to those we see back home (rural people wanting more conveniences, kids wanting branded clothes and cellphones), so we weren’t exactly wide-eyed. But it was a pretty place and we had a young but interesting tour guide.
From the beginning of our journey, we’ve been impressed at how carefully Americans have preserved the many aspects that contributed to its identity, from the national forests to the indigenous people, and how proud they are of their heritage. There are museums, knowledge centres, visitor information booths and ranger stations to help travellers explore the country’s history and natural blessings. There are restrooms and campsites and water fountains and wheelchair-accessible hiking trails in the remotest places. And its all well-maintained, clean and functional. When you compare that to some of the countries with a longer history, but very little or very shoddy preservation efforts made, its rather interesting. Years from now, a lot of those countries would’ve lost any evidence of their heritage.
Maybe its better to say that history is what that country has made of it, or what it has achieved in the time its had.