In the fortnight I spent honeymooning in India last month, I was introduced to many of Hinduism's 330 million gods, and all those who manifested themselves were hospitable in sharing the wonders of the country with my wife and me. While we may have had hundreds of millions of protectors, the most prominent was our guide Ajay, who accompanied us for the first half for our trip as we toured Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan before our beach getaway in the south.
We had tons of questions, but no mobile device on all those road trips to query search engines. At night, we often had Internet access with our laptop, but that served mainly for accessing Skype and checking the scores of the Giants playoff games.
Instead, we had our questions answered the old-fashioned way: we'd ask Ajay. He was so knowledgeable about so many facets of the people, culture, history, and land of India that I soon took to thinking of him as "Ajaygoogle."
Ajaygoogle didn't entirely replace Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, and other resources (encapsulated here as Googlewiki) that expanded my understanding of the country. Before and after the trip, and at several points along the way, digital data proved to be invaluable. Each guide had its place, though. To see how they fit together, here's the story of the Googlewiki and the Ajaygoogle.
Googlewiki found me a great adaptation of Ramayana, the Hindu canonical epic about Rama, a prince of divine origins, who must save his abducted wife Sita from Ravana the demon king. AjayGoogle showed us shrines and stone carvings of Hanuman, the heroic monkey general who helped orchestrate Rama's victory.
Googlewiki told me the history of Chateau Indage, the brand of two bottles of wine we received as gifts along our journey. Googling the winery after coming home, I found a blogger's review from 2004: "First things first, these wines were crap. Second and more importantly they were not Indian wines, even though 5-star hotels and restaurants included the offerings under the India section of the wine list." Ajaygoogle delivered us the wine, one bottle of which tasted like shoe leather, while the other tasted like a poor man's Manischewitz (don't blame the messenger, though, as Ajaygoogle only delivered the wine on others' behalf).
Googlewiki said that the life expectancy in India is roughly 69 years, while in the U.S. it's 78. Ajaygoogle led us to an endearing elderly palm reader in our Agra hotel who said that my wife will live to 86 and I'll live to 88.
Both Googlewiki and Ajaygoogle said cows were revered by Hindus as matriarchal creatures, though cows are necessarily holy. Ajaygoogle stopped the car outside Udaipur to show us a true holy cow, walking with her soothsayer; they're among the few such cows that can bless you, and whatever blessing that cow gave us, it only added to the wonders of our journey.
Both Googlewiki and Ajaygoogle are encyclopedias of birdwatching. Yet it was Ajaygoogle who got us within feet of kingfishers, a family of sarus cranes, and two spotted owl couples, all at random spots along the way.
Googlewiki noted that Agra is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the vast Red Fort, the impossible to pronounce Fatehpur Sikri, and the crown jewel, the Taj Mahal. Ajaygoogle took us to all three, with the Taj living up to its impossibly lofty expectations as one of those places everyone should try to experience at some point in their lifetimes. After viewing one morning, all I could write in my 12,000-word travel journal was, "Up for four hours -- saw Taj @ sunrise."
That ultimately sums up the key difference between Googlewiki and Ajaygoogle. With Googlewiki, I always needed words to trigger a response. When I was with Ajaygoogle, however, the most meaningful experiences left me completely speechless.