WNPR

Julie McCarthy

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The road through central Bhutan rises through frost-dusted evergreens reaching a pass where travelers pause to take in the Himalayas majestically stretching across the north. Steep forests descend into valleys coursing with crystalline rivers and pine-scented air. The wind howls down the canyons furiously flapping prayer flags, and setting temple chimes to sing.

Shades of Shangri-La?

Perhaps, but don't tell the Bhutanese that.

The host of the Winter Olympics, South Korea, excels in the summer game of archery. They grabbed gold medals in all four categories in Rio.

But the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan may be less than awed. Bhutan claims archery for its national sport, and archers pay no heed to the plunging temperatures of winter when they compete propelling arrows across a field.

And if you think of archery as a decorous game, think again.

As you clutch a cuppa for a bit of winter warmth, spare a moment to consider the elaborate process that goes into producing that seemingly simple sip of tea.

In the biggest tea-growing region in India, the hazards alone range from red spider mites to herds of wild elephants.

Grower Tenzing Bodosa, a native of Assam, fights the former and unusually invites the latter.

From the large Bodo tribe and widely known by his first name, Tenzing stands beside the vermilion flames of a brick oven that provides the heat for a drying contraption erected in his backyard.

On a journey to the little known Northeast region of India, you may encounter a dizzying array of traditional tribes, rugged beauty and wildlife, including the rare white rhinos. It's here we discover perhaps an even rarer creature: the "Forest Man of India." A humble farmer from a marginalized tribal community, Jadav Payeng has single-handedly changed the landscape in his state of Assam.

Rahul Gandhi, the 47-year-old scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi family, takes the helm of the National Congress Party this week, raising questions about the potency of the political opposition in the world's biggest democracy.

Rahul succeeds his mother, Sonia Gandhi, 71, who steps down amid concerns of ill health, and ends a record 19 years as party president.

On a recent weekday, Vamsi Komarala guides me up to the rooftop of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, where he teaches physics. Fields of solar panels adorn the buildings.

I swipe an index finger across one of the panels to see if weeks of monsoon rains have washed it clean. My finger comes back filthy with grit.

Vamsi tells me the panels are washed twice a week, then explains the grime: "That is because in New Delhi, we have a lot of dust."

Promila Saigal remembers the men in her family tossing her "like a football" from the rooftop of one family home to the next, in a bid to save her from the frenzy that washed over the Indian subcontinent 70 years ago.

Saigal was just six when the events of India's Partition pressed in around her Hindu family's compound in Lahore.

"I remember very clearly, outside the main road, a mob had collected at 12 o'clock in the night. And they woke us up," she says.

India announced the election of its new president Thursday — but before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party nominated him last month to be head of state, few saw Ram Nath Kovind coming.

Kovind secured 65 percent of the votes from an electoral college drawn from more than 4,000 members of 31 legislative assemblies across the country and 776 members of Parliament. He will take office as India's14th president next week.

Updated at 10:50 a.m. July 11

In a cold, isolated Himalayan plateau where three countries converge, an old rivalry is heating up.

New Delhi and Beijing are locked in heated verbal exchanges over what each sees as encroachment onto a particularly sensitive spot: the tri-junction where India, China, and Bhutan converge. All three are parties to the simmering dispute.

Small cradles of chrysanthemums, illuminated by a single candle, flicker in the moonlight, bobbing along the fast-flowing Ganges River.

They are offerings. For hundreds of millions of Hindus around the world, the river is the goddess Ganga, or Mother Ganga, who descended to Earth from her home in the Milky Way.

Devotees murmur prayers and chant her praises in riverside cities along their ghats, the cement embankments that lead into the river.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go next to India, where the world's largest democracy tomorrow rolls out an overhaul of the tax system, which has a lot of Indians concerned. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the U.S. over the weekend, President Trump tweeted a warm welcome, calling the Indian leader "a true friend." The two are meeting for the first time at the White House Monday afternoon, Modi having arrived for a brief, two-day call — not a state visit, but a working one.

Perhaps that's fitting, as there is so much in the relationship to work on.

Madeshwaran Subramani is the human face of IT disruption in India. He recalls being recently summoned to the HR office of his employer in southern city of Coimbatore at 11 a.m. By noon, the 29-year-old software engineer was out of a job. He worked for Cognizant Technology, a U.S.-based firm with offices in India.

Typically, India's Bollywood film industry depicts older women as maternal and virtuous. Younger ones often are eye candy, propping up male leads. But a recent crop of films is showing more complex female characters, training a spotlight exclusively on the lives of women — and, even more unusually, on their sexuality.

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