Saturday, March 17, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Friday, December 16, 2011
20 December - Goa
17 December - Sleepless in Raja
So I started by musing on how memory doesn’t work… I realized in my head I couldn’t tell which city was which between the other ones on the tourist trail. with the exception of Jaisalmer which I could picture, just, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Ajmer, Bikaner etc. and yet they all are qualified by a colour: the pink one, the blue one, the sandy one etc.
I only ‘remembered’ the Amber fort in Jaipur when I approached it – this time it had ten times the amount of elephant ferrying tourists up the slope to its entrance and the bedroom of mirrors is viewable only from behind barriers, I was lucky enough then to go inside and lie on the floor staring up at the dazzling mosaic, and I only remember having been inside the palace in Udaipur when I visited it again, but what I remembered of it are a courtyard with mirrored balconies and shop where I bought a silver ring I still wear. . And I kept saying things like ‘Oh, now I remember, there’s a picture of me and /or Anita (my friend on that trip) by this window’. So without having looked at that photo a few times over the years all of this would be gone. And since we had no digital camera then, we didn’t take masses of pictures either. At the time it was so awe inspiring and wonderful but in the intervening years it’s not like I ever bothered to google these places I just wanted to see them again for real. I did know I wanted the boyf see the open air observatory though as that had been a surprise find back then. I didn’t know such a thing could exist on the other side of the world. I tend to travel reading travel books after I’ve been somewhere, stupid you may say, but I prefer to rely on encounters and what people recommend but since Anita has a lifelong passion for the stars, the open air observatory had been her suggestion. And now I recommend it to all. But Jaipur has grown sprawling into a major city and you get stuck in its traffic a lot since there’s no ring road and going through the centre is like Piccadilly down on one lane of traffic. Start early, finish early is my advice and be prepared to miss great stuff whilst your eyes get drawn to endless monkey action around you. As in , monkeys being the clowns of india.
I’d picked a fantastic heritage hotel, the Narain Niwas, with the largest garden ever where they also have a plant nursery full of stupendous plants and a proper size pool. I thought boyf deserved some style and once he got over my ill advised henna tattoo on my palm (spelling welcome chris” but since it’s done in brown colour and smudged a bit it looked more like I ahem had squeezed a turd in my hand , sigh and it took ten days for it to fade despite scrubbing it with a kitchen brillopad) we were on!. However, this being India, when we were shown the fab room and heard a noise and asked ‘is this your generator, because if it is, we want to be as far away on the other side as possible” and the manager said ‘oh no this is construction work outside the hotel’ we looked alarmed, then I volunteered, “but it’s 3pm and they’ll have to finish at sunset non? And he said yes of course, we said ok we love this room with all its past grandeur and unique furniture.
Of course the demolition work next to the hotel was to demolish with pneumatic drills the size of dinosaurs the basement of a building that had gone up without permission, soon it will be a children’s park….aaaargghhh but not soon enough. This demolition work started at 2am on the first night of my boyf jet-lag and ended at 5am. It was like having something dug below your room never mind 200 yards away.. The disheveled look of the hotel manager next morning stopped me in my tracks when I was planning to complain.. he lived through it too so I let it pass.
Never mind, there’s beautiful Jaipur to see, and going for lunch in modern café Anhoki (part of the shop of the same name which sells fab fabrics, block printed, very subtle, google them) with Italian friend of friend who has a factory supplying fabrics to world famous designers, sadly there is no time to go visit such factory but I thank Barbara for taking me to a place where I can order a thai salad of soft little green leaves which have not seen in six weeks of mountain travel. Shame another friend of a friend, an Indian lady who does quality control on accessory goods a’ la Accessories my friend manufactures here, is out of town as would have liked her perspective on a number of things but as a middle class/entrepreneurial Indian she most likely can’t answer some of my basic /rural style questions, much as I wouldn’t be able to tell a foreign tourist why they do things like this or that in the Dorset countryside.
Up not so early on day 3 and basically , every town worth seeing is at least 250km from another so call that a six or seven hour drive with hardly anything to distract you along the way. The rajasthan fiefdoms were well set apart by their warring kings who just seemed to spend their time competing for who had the most lavish court. . I also wanted to go see some towns I had not time for on previous trip and so it is that the first trip out of Jaipur is towards Bundi, a less visited town but not off the beaten track by any means, with a deserted, semi crumbling palace. The shock here was the beyond bad road from Jaipur to bundi which traumatized us, chris because he had never been on such a featureless and bad road and me because I had the shits. Yep, the fancy heritage hotel in Jaipur gave them to me. Aaargh. Six weeks of street food and all good and the frikking top hotel floors me. Toph was fine as he’s still on the luxury probiotics VS2, can’t recommend them enough but you have to keep them in the fridge so no use bringing them when on the move. The thing to know is that in what passes for villages lining roads, the locals don’t believe you may be able to use a toilet the way they do, as in some cases it does not exist so the answer is always that they don’t have one. They just mean we don’t have one for the white lady… sigh.
I think 12ya I must have travelled between these towns on buses at night as have a memory of being tossed like a salad on a seat next to some bloke or my friend Anita, but not of seeing too much road. You can also do train of course or fly but not too all these destinations. However a bus would come off sort of ok perhaps in a collision with a cow or camel on the road but a car wouldn’t so we can’t travel in the dark. I also think that the owner of the car values it far too much to risk denting it because we want to use the night time to travel so it can’t be done, and as Jaipur friend confirmed a narrow escape when her car hit a camel once, I accept the local wisdom. Thanks for the warning. Cows and camels on the road is also a daytime occurrence though, and that’s why even with a good stretch of road in front of you, the driver won’t pick up speed. The animals appear totally out of the blue from some side of the road shrubbery and you would not be able to avoid them, so, 40km per hour it is or max 60km but only briefly. The joys of speed are not to be found in India unless on motorways but the cows are there too, seen them. Picture this, an almost deserted motorway, dozens of Indian men and women are busy repainting the yellow and black or yellow and white chevrons that mark the central reservation. On it we see a man pulling a water tank watering the tender new shrubs that one day may look very pleasant when in flower. A few steps behind the water cart are various cows chomping on the leaves and trunks of the new shrubs. The man either doesn’t notice or thinks it would be futile to chase one cow off when there are dozens awaiting …
Anyway, when we get there, the old town of Bundi is super cute with a perfect ‘lake/reservation ‘ in the middle, and you can sit in beautiful gardens and watch the endless stream of lorries on the other side winding up a hill. As in Europe, goods hardly travel by train anymore, everything is moved by truck and this region is highly populated so… my driver does not believe that in italy at least, delivery trucks can only travel at certain times of the day and never at the weekend…
Bundi is quiet if you discount the usual bikes’ fest and cars that should be blocked from entering narrow old streets designed to both keep out invaders and for horse or camel drawn carts only. Maybe in years to come an Indian tourist minister will visit the centre of Florence or Rome and marvel at the pedestrianised areas, which of course met with plenty of opposition when introduced , but I don’t think anyone regrets them now.
The heritage haveli here we pick as accommodation , Braj Bushanjee, is run by some old Brahmin prince and full of his stuff and delightful until 10 pm that night when a wedding procession jolts us out of initial slumber. It is atrocious and goes on for an hour only to move on to another part of town and then return to base all organs blazing of course around midnight. It’s not music only, it’s probably the same declaration over and over and over that Rama is a good guy and how lucky Pryanka is to get him as a husband. . Sigh…
But the Ghar palace the next day is for sure unique. Despite crumbling as not used since the early 70’s , there is a room in the women’s quarters that has miraculously been spared any weathering or defacing and is full of perfectly preserved murals , they’re exquisite and worth googling.
Did I also mention that in every fort/palace etc there are guides who are not guides but merely caretakers who take you aside (for a price/tip) and show you the painting/drawing where the naughty maharajah is spying on the bath time/dress time of the maharani and her female attendants? It’s hilarious, they pull boyf aside and whisper in his ear like it’ s something my ears are too delicate for. The same happens every time there’s a Shiva lingam to see in a temple. The lingam is the penis of Shiva and in some very very ancient temples it’s a huge block of marble or granite and sometimes it’s buried deep down some steps/cave and surrounded by water.. Funnily enough it’s me who touches every single one for luck rather than the boyf. I think it’s supposed to bring luck with fertility which I certainly don’t need but I just like to possibly shock the guides, “them western brazen women…”
There is no health and safety here, all monuments, forts etc have very low parapets that reach by your knees mostly , and you have to be careful how you lean out to look bu it’s also exhilarating not to have all the ‘don’t go here, don’t go there’ that we have in our monuments. And if you want to go up some steps you shouldn’t and take life in your hands, there’s a handy guide who’ll unlock the chain for you. For a tip or a price.
In Bundi we meet an Italian, chef during the season at the President hotel in Forte dei marmi and then uses his 16 or 20 weeks holidays to travel.. the kind of person who informs you he’s been to Thailand 18 times and Vietnam 22 times.. needless to say he’s long divorced, but he’s useful as he collects precious stones and antique perfume bottles and tells me stuff about jewellery like a lot of the gold sold is silver with a dip of gold. And you’d never know.. so that confirms I should not be spellbound by trinkets no more. I simply wouldn’t know what am buying so best to leave them. According to him in Nepal it takes 21 grams of gold to marry a girl, which is not a lot, in India it must be more, the 20,000 dollars worth, a jeweler guy told me in Delhi. In days where there was/ is no divorce but women can get kicked out of a home, or your hubby dies and his bro doesn’t want you, all you had is your gold to see you through the rest of your life and your kids. So there must be a code of honour in place as my immediate thought is ‘the guy can divorce you /kick you out AND keep your jewellery also no?’
Thankfully the road out of Bundi to Udaipur is great, nobody on it and leaving early means you arrive at mid afternoon and not at sundown when you’d feel ‘spent’. Udaipur is a dream and there’s nobody here. I’ll find out later that the peak tourist season is not before and during xmas as I thought but jan to march. Our first choice hotel, Amet Haveli, has a small window on the lake and when I say ho hum this is a partial view and hum and er about it and then ask if maybe they can discount us the 10 per cent of tax and he says no, it’s out of there and we end up next door which is much nicer and half the rate, check this out Lake Pichola palace with pool and restaurant on the roof, too cold for it though and Ibiza style tented beds on it and bar. Bingo. The rooms have a bit of a seventies feel about them but I guess they’ve started with the top pool floor and will renovate as they go along. Can’t beat it for the view thought. The lake is full of water, some years it runs dry and if you come to only one place in Rajasthan, this is the one I guess. Now, where exactly did liz hurley get married, on the hotel in the middle of the lake? Must be something to arrive by water in a cortege of vessels, but I come from near Venice so beat that… from the top floor at dusk you can also see hundreds of bats heading out for a night’s feed of a huge tree next to the hotel. I felt I was in a scene of Twilight there for half an hour.. but they just went into the branches and within minutes the tree was still and you’d never had guessed it was bat hotel.
The light switch lottery in every hotel is very entertaining, btw, as there are about 20 switches in each room usually set in a panel so you have to try each one to find out which lamp it corresponds too and even then there is never a decent light to read a book after dark by. Handily there is usually a switch outside your front door that will switch everything on or off.
Am super glad to see that the or one of the mosques in town is above the super expensive Leela palace hotel, much advertised, hurrah, you pay top dollar and you can’t shut up or out the hour of allah akbar at 5am. Presumably when the mosque was built it was a bit out of the way.. but maybe the Leela Palace has great double glazing.
Udaipur has a variety of places with terraces or bay windows facing the lake so you can watch the sun rise or go down whilst in the process of eating and drinking very nice food.
As mentioned tourists are either coming next month or are in Goa we’re told so it is that I can’t stop feeling sorry for the shops and restaurants which are empty and touting for their ‘pashminas’ (naaah mate, please call them just shawls, there aren’t enough goats in the Himalayas to produce all this quite obviously synthetic stuff), and all other wares. Of course the region is well known for exquisite jewellery and amazing textiles and you can go look for those in exclusive shops but am just talking about what lines the streets, not the Bond street equivalent. Incidentally here’s a good one. Everyone constantly asks you where you’re from which of course is a way of identifying what they can sell you as a French and Italian looks for different things and different quality than a tourist from Ohio, sorry ohians. This constant asking is immensely tedious as you answer and then get pushed for more /come this way and that. So I took to saying we were polish and that shuts everyone up as they repeat ah, polish and then waste a precious – to you as you’re escaping – few seconds whilst they think of what they know about polish people which is zero as not many of those around. Am rather proud of this one. If pressed for a word of polish you say dzjinkuja barzo (not actual spelling) and that’s that, they’re stunned for a reply. The polish tourist is a mystery to them still.
My acknowledged first faux pas of the trip happens in Udaipur and it’s a huge one. I saw a very well dressed man walking up the ramp to the palace on the lake, on his hands .. he had ‘shoes /sandals’ fashioned for his hands and well, I thought, he’s made an effort to dress decently – for a beggar - and approached him to give him some notes. To my absolute mortification he gestured and mouthed “no no, no” , he’s not a beggar, aaaargghhhhh , I want to die. Chris says he’s probably a relative of the last Maharana since that one had a disability also! Jeesus wept, I am a fool.
The Palace is pretty wonderful but I can’t help thinking, there are always galleries full of elaborate daggers, guns with intricately chiseled barrels and novelty features, but where are all the others gone? The armies of these maharanas had thousands of men and they were constantly fighting this prince or that one. Where did all the other knives go? Smelted to make ashtrays? Bought by all the british raj and currently in some cabinet in rainy England? I think this stupid stuff whilst I wait for boyf to take a zillion photos. He always tells me I’ll be glad he’s taken all these photos and ‘we can always delete’…. Mmhh. My tourist habits are simple by comparison, a few photos and a few postcards and am done.
When we reach Jodhpur our chosen heritage hotel, the Pal Haveli gives us a bedroom, which is larger than my flat in London and if you factor in the ceiling height than my flat fits into this room twice. Sigh. They knew how to live the reach merchants. The terrace has a fantastic view of the fort and the water tanks below. The fort here, Mehrangahr, is mega fantastic to visit – the work of angels, fairies and giants as ruyard kipling said, and the old town, the so called ‘blue city’
is only really visible if you go into the fort, so don’t skip it if you come- by. The rest of the town though has nothing much to offer so a night and a day is enough.
We sit for tea in a corner of the vast Jodhpur market, at a busy stall and the owner chats to us and even offers us tea. The chai walla (boss) reveals he makes 20k a day. 5k of it is profit, selling tea only, nothing else. That’s in Indian rupies so divide by 75. it’s a massive amount for here. His bro sat next to him owns a textile company and does pretty well too. But owner doesn’t think his son will want to run the tea stall, too many hours a day. We watch for a while, it’s all cash, who’s his spies in the team I wonder, it would be easy to siphon some money here and there but can people be bothered? And how much does he have to give to the local police….am not going to go into Indian corruption and mafia, there are fiction and non fiction books galore on the subject and the paper talks about it every day. Boring.
On the longest stretch, the road between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer where the cows on the road gradually give way to herds of camels and we go slightly car stir crazy – not used to a driver who drops me off and picks up at every gate, I miss walking around - we meet the longest ever army convoy. Hundreds of trucks carrying or dragging rocket launchers , latrines, tanks and what not, endless soldiers’ faces peering down at us every time our car is sandwiched behind one of their trucks. See, the road is not bad as our driver told us, but try overtaking this lot.. Jaisalmer is a mere 30km from the boundary with Pakistan and here they’re very scared of Pakistan, constantly in the newspapers., small but deadly next door. I bet they rue the day they said in ’47, ‘all you lot, go over there and be happy’. Hasn’t quite turned out that way. But I also suspect the Indian government uses the Pakistan threat to make themselves look better or at least to justify the military which is so huge here that it’s the biggest employer after the railways. Around jaisalmer there are army barracks that stretch for miles and we will meet another convoy when leaving town. So that’s def not my favourite 8 hours in a car… I will also see 2 very fit Sikh turbaned soldiers in fatigues, they’re stunning. The best looking guys in india are in the north and in rajsasthan, I remember that from 12ya. They’re taller, leaner, their moustaches don’t seem so comical and they have a look that says ‘I am the lord around here, don’t ya mess with me’ which ahem is sexy , compared for example with the Goans or Keralans who sort of look meeker and, well, shorter in comparison.
I remember jaisalmer for the beautiful Patwon ki haveli outside the city walls, owned by a merchant who must have been the Medicis of this town and since he had five sons to house in the compound, there’s endless beautiful rooms to peer into, full of heritage fabrics and cabinets with all sort of intriguing collections . But wish as with all the palaces visited that you could be inside them at night and with the original lighting which would have been flickering candles reflected back by the myriad glass and mirror work of the alcoves in which they’d have stood. Instead you visit everything in museum times/daylight when that treat is not available. I bet they let Charles and Camilla come at night, lucky sods.
Our desert hotel, Jaisalgahr, has a slightly faulty towers feel about it or if you want to update that, you could be in a Kaufman movie, (the guy who did ‘Being john malkovich’ and scripted “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” when we get to the breakfast room it’s in darkness and the poor waiter is asleep on a chair. But he scrambles up to turn on the lights in the ceiling that mirrors the sky, sweet. Eventually we’re joined by an Indian businessman who spends the entire time snorting back his own snot. Nice. I wish we’d followed my disregarded advice and stayed in accommodation inside the Golden Fort, (jaisalmer being the only town where the fort is actually inhabited, by 1000 people and probably a hundred cows who will bar your passage in the narrow alleys) but that would have meant dragging our luggage up a long ramp as 3 wheelers not allowed in anymore and I agree with that decision. Did I mention some of us have a suitcase in tow instead of the very handy backpack ? some of us don’t want to look like backpackers and you’d think that’s the girl right? Wrong.
Jaisalmer is also suffering from world recession tourist drought. We dine alone in the Tibetan restaurant we stop at because I miss eating veggie momos (Tibetan dumplings) but since they’re not that good, a simple question reveals that the last Tibetan left the kitchen here 7 years ago and his recipe has lost definition. So we chat to an extremely smart 15 year old with perfect English who is trapped here and can’t wait to get out, but he goes to a private school, maybe he will escape. We enter into a conversation about popstars and since I know the ones he mentions bar a few, we pass some sort of test. ‘What do you do when it’s hot here in the summer’ we ask, he answers go out early to play cricket and go out when sun is going down to play cricket. He adds this is pretty much all there is to do at any other time also. Since there’s nothing for the tourists to do, (how many play cricket? Thought not) I say some of us would like/could learn to dance hindi movie style moves if anyone started a course. “What ? he says, like ‘Tourists got talent?’ see I told you he was smart.
The pastimes are simple indeed. We’re on the terrace of a hotel which offers a grand view of the fort at sunset. You could spend hours here pretending to be an attacker who came all the way to take the fort and spends day and night wondering how to get in, so unassailable it seems. The terrace is a couple of storeys above a rabbit wren of terraces of regular housing. It’s near sunset and the terraces are little market place microcosms of the town. This is where all the women and the children are. The women who presumably only leave the houses to go buy food at the market and for the rest of the time are here cooking it, and washing and doing what women do. They’ re all talking across rooftops and the kids are flying kites. The kites are super simple, just small squares of paper or fabric with no tails or elaborate designs. Ranjit told us the kite festival is in mid January and we’ve seen older kids and young men flying kites from the ramparts of other forts we’ve visited. On some ad in a magazine I saw giant and elaborate kites but here it’s all basic stuff, for some reason I find it moving that they only have the wind to play with. I have not asked Ranjit what one wins for flying a kite the highest or the best and now it’s too late, maybe I’ll find info on the net, but it seems this is what kids to here more than kicking a ball around. The sun goes down and all the women and kids go inside. An hour later and the squares are thronging with …their men, drinking tea, eating a street samosa, chewing the fat. Jaisalmer is where chris follows his instincts and joins a queue for a busy street stalls and returns proclaiming he’s had the best masala dosa ever. Bear in mind that masala dosas are a southern snack not a desert one. I , in the meantime have something I could become addicted to if it wasn’t a glass of fat, ie full fat milk with saffron strands infused in it. Delicious. It’s kind of bizarre to see small crowds of men drinking flavoured milk but not many Indians go out on the razzle with alcohol.
I think I have trained myself to ignore the fact that there are never any women ever serving you (apart on market stalls selling fruit and veg or cloth items), it’s men, men and more men around so you feel odd because you know they think you’re odd sitting amongst them and drinking your tea. Am less of an oddity now that boyf is with me but they probably think they would never be like him and take their woman out for all to see. But am grateful that they don’t impose any funny tent for their woman to wear before she goes out. When you travel in rural places though all the women who are walking along the road going to fields etc, have their sari scarf well draped to cover their faces but it’s just gauze and see through
Incidentally the rajasthani dress is not a sari but the same choli/short sleeved shirt as a sari wearer but the skirt is a full skirt which of course is wonderful when they dance and it swirls around. The hem of the skirt is what tells you the status of the wearer, married women have a band of red or other colour at the bottom of the skirt. . which reminds me that in Tibetan/nepali dress, the dress is the same for both , but you add an apron to it if you’re married and the apron can be in a fabric that’s very expensive but it’s design/patterns aer always the same. Another thought on women’s clothing, when you see the brightness of the pinks and yellows and greens and reds etc, against the drab sandy landscape, you understand why they went for such extreme bursts of colours, to be seen if they’re lost in the landscape or just a way to scream ‘I exist in this harsh environment’ . and so my quest continues for some sari lengths in understated light grey which I need to turn into curtains for my flat. Grey silk plainly does not exist. Nor sand or cappuccino colour either ahem.
Unexpectedly in Pushkar despite its streets being lined with the usual shops selling shawls and hippy crap, nobody hassles you to come see my shop please. Mystery. As chris changes money in a money changer the guy explains that if they make 4 quid a day they’re fine and don’t need more. This is echoing my Hindi teacher rita in mcleod ganji who told me Indians only work to make enough to get by and are not greedy for more. Clearly this doesn’t tally with the government race to beat the Chinese at the new top of the world economy game. But it makes sense of all the people one sees doing nothing, they’re not deliberately doing nothing but there is not much to do at least in the service industry. No tourists, the recession in Europe and USA has put paid to many holidays abroad.. We’re the exception and that’s the reason some of the hotels feel so sad as empty. None more than in Jaisalmer which is so far to get to that many people won’t make it this far and all the camels will go hungry as we’re not paying for safaris. Went on one 12ya and got so bored I couldn’t wait for the 3 days 2 nights to be over, despite a canopy of stars you wouldn’t believe it, the kind to send professor Brian Cox gaga.
However Pushkar is where we get constantly approached and asked if we want drugs. Or rather, chris is, I’m a girl so presumably I’d never buy drugs and would just watch my male companion take them. I’d be curious to know the prices though… as the town is a mecca for a certain type of smoker and judging by the signs at most café’s, he’s Israeli.
But we still feel pretty safe and looked after, “This is Rajasthan, not crazy India” , says Ranjit every time boyf asks things like ‘are our bags safe in the car? ‘ (when we leave one overnight type thing). And also everyone is unfailingly courteous but things take time, there’s no such thing as American style service, my boyf gets annoyed every time as food takes a while to get to you as it’s made from scratch and they don’t keep an army of cooks in the kitchen and he refuses to accept my simple suggestion which is ‘Go for food before you’re hungry and desperate for it, so waiting half an hour won’t be filled with ‘but how long can a bowl of porridge take to make??’. Men!
Some of the streets laden with the same-same wares make me feel like I’m trapped inside Cha cha dum dum, a cavernous warehouse inside the old Kensington Market selling ‘oriental goods’ , where my best Italian mate M. had found a job as a book-keeper back in 1980. I remember that was hippy shit even then and we were punks innit? so I don’t remember ever asking her to get me a bracelet or other of their wares, it was even then really cheaply produced , I asked her recently, and sold in major volumes so feel free to disregard me anytime I call these trinkets crap as many people like it and surely anyone on their first gap year buys them, and I’m just an old snob.
So it’s snob’s punishment that I lost my very real , very beloved purple cashmere scarf whilst roaming round the lake, had to be the best /warmest scarf I brought with me I thought, not the cheap stuff I plan to abandon on some corner, but my karma must be good as a not so hopeful retrace of my steps and voila’ find it 3 hours later still on the steps of the ghats surrounding Pushkar lake. Hallelujah. Maybe I should have paid the wanna-be Brahmin priests for their puja (purification ceremony) after all, I had refused. . You get a string tied to your wrist to show you have paid your dues and thrown some marigolds in the lake. Flowers not the washing gloves though for sure there’s plastic in the lake too. And the women sweeping dust off the steps to the lake, sweep it, into the lake of course. Am sure it’s a form of devotion on their part. Btw, the brooms they use here are not brooms with a handle but a bundle of sticks that can only be used if you bend down or squat. Not ideal for these womens’ backs and rest assured that no man is ever seen sweeping anything round these parts.
So it is that the dancer ladies from Jaisalmer are surrounding chris when I get to back to him and he has agreed to buy them tea in exchange for taking photos, but once we’re stat down, it starts, we’re both hemmed in by one on each side and more. They tell us tales of woe and demand six quid, just like that. That’s a lot of chapattis and teas, so I offer two and leave them. I think chris is disappointed, he had not ‘got it’ instantly that we were the usual sugar lump in the anthill, and had been captivated by their colourful costumes. Later we saw two rajasthani ladies strutting back and forth in the same central street and approaching male tourists and well, life is hard but had not seen this display anywhere else yet.
The largest second mosque outside of Mecca is in Ajimer a mere half hour from pushkar, hurrah, and they let anyone in the walking areas though you can’t access the shrine where a finger of the this particular prophet is kept. So you go and the courtyards are full of muslim and hindus just chilling there, or washing before going into the shrine though the women have separate areas of course and they’re much smaller, maybe they’re supposed to just worship at home…. This giant mosque complex is smack bank in the middle of hindu town so if there was some religious tension you’d better leg it, but otherwise there’s no sense the two religions can’t live side by side and the streets leading up to it sell the usual tat only here it’s all green and gold coloured. in mecca colours.
The road back to Jaipur is fab motorway style so we’ll be there in a flash for one last night before the flight to Goa. The weirdest sight on it for a change is not cows but a posse of stark naked men in a slow jogging convoy. They are Jains religion followers on a pilgrimage says Ranjit’s to our stupefied faces. Our driver Ranjit’s wife has never been anywhere, lives in a village 100km from Jaipur . He returns there when not driving, as he’s a farmer for half the year, and they farm mustard plants and other vegetables. This earns him/them 2 quid a day for a few months of the year till monsoon and waiting for harvests to ripen pass. That would buy food for them for sure but to put into some perspective, a bowl of porridge with fruit and a coffee that is not made with nescafe’ would cost me more than that at any moderate establishment. No doubt all who come into contact with as tourist must think us loaded if we choose to travel to the other side of the world from our homes to blow a quid on a bowl of porridge instead of the 15p chapatti they eat for their breakfast.
I don’t know how much he earns for driving but he’s clearly happy to be in charge of a nice big car with white seat covers, air-con and a stereo. I just think it’s ironic that he’s been all over this fabled region with dozens of us tourists and his wife has never seen any of the fab views we’ve enjoyed. He’s very subtle and careful as a driver and must have been told we hate hearing the horn used constantly so he doesn’t. proof that you can drive in india w/o it. And he must also have been told that there is only so much Indian music tourists want to listen to and he keeps it low and turns it off when we ask him too, but he listens to the same 2 CDs everyday, so at a service station I buy him some more but the songs are virtually the same. Sigh. I had thought about bringing some of my own but didn’t, I regret it now. I think Ranjit needs to listen to some William Orbit or Bach for a few hours to realize why we don’t appreciate Rajasthani dance music that much, which incidentally is super similar to Moroccan music, I guess the instruments are the same….ahem. For good measure I also gift him a phone microphone thingy so he can take his various calls without taking his hands off the wheel!
Rajasthan is ‘done’ and the morning we leave for the airport, Ranjeet brings his nearly 2 year old daughter with him. To our horror she’s sat on front seat , no seatbelt, no child seat and she’s the size of 1 year old. We can barely see her head as he approaches the hotel gate, but we see clearly that she falls clean down in the well when he brakes to reverses into a parking space. Oh dear god. So on the way to the airport, I take her and am holding her on my lap in the back seat to possibly save her life in an accident, and the little mite shifts a little and pukes on me, profusely, (the purple cashmere scarf is not having a good Indian sortie) and I stink till I get some men’s strong cologne later in the airport. Poor doll, she didn’t cry at all and under her bottoms which I take off to wipe, she’s naked , so small , so cute but what can I do. She now wants to be with daddy, not with me and after he comforts her, he plonks her again on the front seat half naked, this time belts her up and gives her his phone to play with and all drama is forgotten. Reminds me of 12ya on plenty trains I used that the Indian toddlers were the quietest I’ve ever met. They had no toys to entertain themselves with and were always quiet. Anita and I were always trying to work out how the mothers knew exactly when to spirit them away to the toilet as they wore no nappies …. It’s still a mystery.
Various other temples and forts were visited in between major towns, some of them we had to ourselves entirely, don’t miss the Kumbhalghar fort with ramparts that go for miles, wall of china style, and Shekhawati and Bikaner and the temple of rats which we didn’t go to on this trip, but I remember vividly from 12ya. You would too if you had hundreds of mice running over your bare feet. For good luck obviously. But if this goes over the equivalentof ten pages you’d want to kill me
4 December - Parvati land to Delhi
After possibly offending my trekking guide Shiv with the following exchange on last morning whilst he was cooking breakfast and I happened to see big bags of salt and sugar by his feet :”Shiv, why did you carry so much salt and sugar for a 3 day trip?” his answer “the smallest bag available is a 1kg bag” , me “er, yes but you could have decanted half into a cup or something and not carry it unnecessarily, maybe we should throw away what’s left before we head back down?”
After that Shiv walked on without waiting for me at all… oh dear, wounded pride but ya know…. Wise up man, elemenentary physics.
After sleeping again on a bed and not freezing it was time for a 5am start, had arranged bus to a town 40km below and 2 hours of course and then shared jeep.
the shared jeep had clearly not got my message that there were 2 of us not 1 so it was overloaded but the driver who makes money from each passenger was not about to turn away Miguel.. However, we had not reckoned with the ‘pulling rank’ fat businessman who refused to allow anyone next to him on the front seat and kept his bag there. Eventually the 5 at the back, (room for 4 only), mutined at a pee stop. Michael squeezed himself at the front next to the driver who has a metal bar meant to divide him from the other passengers at the front, so he was effectively in the driver’s operating space. We were coming down mountains and clearly Mike’s hulk was an impediment to the changing of gears. . At the next stop I turfed him out to sit next to the driver on account that I’m much smaller, and would give the fat businessman evil stares, but it was not so simple, I still had to shift out of his hand/way every time he hat to change gear. Still, the businessman was impassible and even refused one of my biscuits as to take it would have meant becoming friendly. So much for having an easier ride than the usual local buses!
The other guys at the back tried to remonstrate but businessman pulled rank. God knows..i felt I was in some Chekhov short story with the government inspector. I was dying to find out both what was his job and what he carried in the precious holdhall, but I didn’t ask. As we finally hours later got to the plain and a busy town where driver had to shift gears a lot more frequently, the businessman must have realized as I did that my shifts were going to slow us down considerably and eventually suggested I sit on his side of the bar but , as a further “I’m boss” signal he told me I was to keep my coat/scarves etc on the other side of the bar. Done deal. When we got to the bus station at rishikesh he quickly exploited my dithering over whether to get out there to get the train or go to the source of the train at dehra dun and persuaded us to get the train there, thus getting the car to himself to.. dehra dun. Anyway, we made it, would have been ironic for our jeep to fall down the side of a mountain when the buses didn’t. by the way, en route, I have seen various accidents or the remains of. Not pretty. Cars under trucks, trucks fallen off the side of mountains and so on, plus there are daily reminders in the papers..
The 3 wheeler who took us on for the sort of right price, then announced he had to get another 4 passengers in order to go to Haridwar , a 15km and an hour down the road… oh dear. But the train was not for a while so… he only got two who were going in the opposite direction so he decanted us ten mins later to another driver.
Trying to imagine what haridwar looks like when millions of people converge on it for the kumb mela held once every 12 years, all these millions must be camped all around, all trying to bathe in the convergence of the various tributaries to the ganges which becomes ‘the ganges’ at haridwar..
Haridwar train station at this time of the year was manageable, got to talk to a few people and find stuff out, especially if they have accountant sisters in derby or work in the US and are here on holiday so their English is good. This particular chap worked for a huge Spanish mining company who was busy extracting coal . apparently the Spanish managing cadre like to start work earlier than their indian workforce would so that leads to a few tensions. And everyone I meet thinks I must be here for spiritual quest reasons and I have no heart to disappoint them so take all the advice about shrines to visit and ‘you must go to varanasi’ without saying er, been there , done that and what a mess of a place that was, if I fell into the ganges there I’d die instantly of a zillion lethal germs, no thanks..
I went to the window and was told at 4pm that I’d have to wait till 6pm at another window in order to perhaps be able to buy a ticket for the sleeper to delhi. Michael went off to internet and when he came back decided to double check and at the same window was told to go out and book his ticket on the internet. This was clearly a ‘lie’ as after 12pm on a Sunday no tickets are sold on internet, the system is closed. Why I was told to wait was simply because I was female/foreign and nice. Obviously. As I waited first in line for 6pm , plenty of other Indians came up to try change/get tickets and got short shrift. You may not know that when in line for a ticket window, the Indian who’s behind you will not be behind you but next to you so he can step into your place sideways as you exit. This makes for uncomfortable queuing especially if he’s with 3 family members all next to you, but just be warned.
At 6.01 I also was told ‘not possible ‘ by the same guy who’d come from the window where he’d told me to go to this one! This is part of a dance, thank god I was here 12ya. So knew not to just slink away and accept the ‘no’, so plead I did and he eventually sold me 2 sleeper first class, hurrah, tenner each to sleep till Delhi. But the train didn’t go till 11pm. Will spare you the tedium suffered till the departure time. My dreams of luxury were dampened as the first class on the Mussoorie express was like a second class sleeper train in italy but hey, I did a dance of joy as I lay on my hard couch. Didn’t notice till toilet get up at 4am that we’d slept with the door wide open as a certain idiot Oz boy had gone to the loo and forgot to lock it, but all was safe in first class. Dreams of peace were sort of shattered by the locomotive sounding its horn throughout the night presumably to get cows off the tracks but sleep did come. As the train pulled slowly into old delhi, the tracks were lined with rubbish and hundreds of men peeing alongside but thankfully facing the opposite direction or crossing them which since we know is dangerous is just freaky. Nothing changed here I thought (from my last visit 12ya, as our 3 wheeler (real price 80 after starting at 300 , sigh) made its way into the old town/bazaar area which was the usual mess of … decay.
But something has changed!! Delhi has a metro. Hurrah, it goes everywhere for a pittance and it’s an over-ground so you don’t die of heat in it.. So now I feel bad for the rickshaw drivers forlornly and gathered at the exits and waiting for a fare, why haggle with them when you can buy a token or an oyster card and whizz to your destination?.
I excitedly got on a train to Connaught square, now renamed Rajiv chowk and no longer a chic area, only to realize my mistake quickly enough, there were no women in my carriage, only men, so I remembered that the trains here all have the ladies compartment rule to keep women from being pawed and stared at by blokes, . and sure enough the front carriage of every metro is reserved for ladies and has pink speech bubbles on the floor of stations to tell you so. Ahhh, that’s baetter but does it mean that only this amount of ladies go anywhere in Delhi, since a carriage would never contain all of us women going to work etc in London….. ?
And if you can’t be bothered to run to it, as platforms are very long, the next best thing is to stand behind a married woman with her husband and /or possibly carrying a child in arms and form a sort of immediate ladies enclave.
Thanks to the metro I went to see the Qu’tab minar ancient mosque complex, which is 16km from the centre of dely and 12ya clearly I felt I couldn’t face that distance in a 3 wheeler (no money for taxis then). It’s pretty spectacular and it’s bizarre to think that this area was alternatively hindu and Islamic and back again , each building temples with the stones taken from the destruction of the enemy’s ones. I was tempted to go see the new vast area of Gurgaon, all modern housing and offices and malls, a sort of canary wharf owned by one bloke and conveniently positioned 15 mins from the airport, but I thought it may make me sick. So I didn’t.
It was bad enough a couple of days later not recognizing Delhi airport when I went to pick up chris, they had practically rebuilt it for the commonwealth games of 2 years ago and the hordes are kept out by 3 wheelers only allowed to park 2 miles away and if you are meeting someone arriving or saying goodbye to someone departing, you have to pay a whole pound to be allowed into the airport effectively keeping out the crowds that I remember 12ya. Progress! My sweet car driver takes me to get chai at the drivers’ tea stall because tea inside the airport is 4 times more. Bless. He’s already got the measure of my ‘I want to be indian’ type personality.
Later, I see a cart in the street selling coconuts and you’d think I had been granted a wish. I’ll have two and go wild on coconut water, and gorge on the pulp, why not, none of that was available in the mountains.
The papers are full of articles about the Lopkal bill, something to do with trying to rein in rampant corruption which is at Mugabe levels here, only sort of disguised by democracy. Other than that there’s the usual obsession with Pakistan and getting one ahead of china in the industrial development area. So I just turn to the gossip pages.
Tom cruise is in Delhi for the premiere of Mission Impossible 4, and the people who are waiting for him a t the airport are paid extras, so says the paper. He has flown in all his organic food and his chefs. He needs his hotel temperature at 23 degrees, I want to ask him if he can really tell the difference when it drops to 22.5 . but the thing is that here they don’t care for Tom Cruise or anyone western, only for their homegrown stars. And they like the women with a bit of flesh on them, skinny is very very bad. They also like them pale and the TV is awash with ads for skin whitening creams, this is aimed at women only, presumably the men can stay dark or are not sissy enough to use moisturizer. They are also full of ads for conditioners which is just how marketing works. The average non city woman washes her hair with handsoap, seen many at pumps or baths do so, and then they coat it in cheap coconut oil, but that would be bad for l’oreal so let’s get all the Indian women onto conditioner and we’ll clear up.
One more thought on western idols, f all the pop idols you can think of, only Michael Jackson registers, U2 don’t and Lady Gaga will soon be forgotten, it’s still rather impenetrable for our brand of stars… in my days at Sony, in fact, I don’t remember ever dealing with india and I was doing international marketing. Think there was some sort of higher decisions, like pick one who can ‘travel’ like maria carey or that Vida Loca boy and push those , but forget about , I don’t know….manic streat preachers or travis, that don’t ‘travel’.
Michael the oz is in the meantime busy monitoring texts from Pooja and Riva, poor man. It won’t happen. He met them at the conference he came here for in delhi before I run into him, conference to do with creating products that work for third world situations and more. The woman who won ‘invented’ a much cheaper version of syringes, instead of the tube we’re familiar with which is attached to the needle, she came up with a sachet, ketchup sachet style in macdonalds, which attaches to the needle and is a third of the price to produce. Well done her. Michael’s product is a lamp what works in any place set up for surgery, possibly solar, am not sure. Anyway, these two gals are mates, he likes one, the one with the boyf, but it’s the other, less attractive one who likes him and does the texting. That old chestnut, they promise they will go here and there with him in rajasthan, previously had promised to go to rishikesh but in the end he went with 3 indian boys from the conference, stoners…. but then pull out or don’t make any plans. I keep saying to him actually call Puja or Riva , don’t keep doing the text dance.. you’ll know by the tone of their voice, but I can only be mother once. In the end he agrees that with only 1 more night in delhi, and them being Indian girls, there wouldn’t be any sex following a night out in a bar drinking, they’re not that forward. And very sensibly he declares he’s actually here to further his work/career and he’ll be off to jaipur where he’s been invited by another company that deals with product design with a NGO slant. Awww, am so proud. Good call mike.
However, he worries he has no thoughts, no light bulbs going off about his work, but I tell him to relax, it all comes afterwards, when you least expect it and in the meantime people pay good money to therapists to get to the empty mind state.
Meantime, I need help with the following if anyone knows enough about re-incarnation to help me through my questions.
So, this reincarnation chain, if you’re supposed to be on the top and you do something wrong, what is the creature you’ll become? is it set according to your misdeed or is it totally random ?and what if you’re the one bad was done to, the victim., as you’re human what higher form do you go to? Some extra terrestrial bodyless intelligence? And do ETs also commit bad acts against one another and therefore get cast back down to crow form? And who’s to say you’d have any notion that your life as a grasshopper (after having been human) is a bad one, maybe you like it, don’t know any better as you only know the grasshopper reality, and how does a grasshopper have any chance to better himself till he gets back to human? Does he have to open a shelter for female grasshoppers victims of grasshopper violence or give up eating worms? For me these are all myths and more myths (bit like believing in jesus’ miracles which surely are just a story to illustrate a point) and I can’t believe people would spend years studying all this dalai lama stuff, like the young oz monk student girl met in mcleod ganji who’s on the seventh year of studying Tibetan so she can follow the Dalai discourses. I was tempted to say girl get a life but … each to their own. God knows what she’s escaping from in her own world/culture. And also , the Dalai lama, I kind of want to ask him, you know this non violence thing of his… well it’s been 50 years since the Chinese got into Tibet and clearly they’re never going to go and they’ve already essentially wiped out Tibetan language because it’s not taught in schools an with that Tibetan traditions are also going. So ya know… a bit more nelson Mandela and a few bombs would have worked back in the days but now now when to get any of that into Tibet , I have no idea how you’d manage. Every third person there is a Chinese soldier dressed as a civilian. Richard Gere where are you when I need you? You’re only good for collecting money to help tibetna refugees, but as for the other millions trapped in Tibet, they have no chance. So maybe it is good they believe in reincarnation, bit like my granny believed in heaven as that at least makes life tolerable on earth if you hope there will be better stuff to pay you back. Personally, well, I think I made it clear what I think, and I’ll shut up.
Next instalment, Rajasthan, with the addition of my own bollywood superstar, the all not singing and not dancing Toph, but he’s got good moves.
2 December - Two humans & 1 Leopard
having lost 'my' older gentleman travelling companion, the oz matematician Winfred, i was pottering along alone and sunning myself in Joshimath when the younger oz product designer Michael turned up. He only got my text saying 'do not come to Joshimath, there's nothing to do, the road to Badrinath is closed, and there are no women around, let alone young and good looking ones' - he's looking - when he was already 5 hours into his 12 hour cranky bus journey to ... joshimath. That's the trouble with bus journeys which start at 5am. He arrived despairing of never being able to see the mountains close up and regretting leaving some stoners indian friends in Rishikesh where he'd been rafting.. and where there was yoga/massage and the promise of a babe or two to cultivate.
As we were having a cup of tea the following day wondering what to do (for his sake really, since i had declared that was happy to read novels for the foreseable, non-active future) , i decided to ask the cafe' owner what could the only 2 westerners in Uttarkhand do and he said 'maybe my friend Ajay of Himalayan adventures can sort out a trek for you'. and so he did.
we took the 3 days /2 nights option and decide to trek to short of 4,000m (that's 12,000 feet for you anglos) from joshimath to the kauri pass from which you get a fantastic view of Nanda Devi, second highest mountain in india, and around 12 other peaks next to it.
that's a younger version of me in the photo and she's trekking in summer it looks like :)
as usual, i only bothered to look at the website above or others giving trek info, after i retured. i like suprises.
.. it wasn't that hard, i managed the uphill fine from Auli at 2,500m (8,250) though am glad that was not told that 2 hours in , there would be an hour long section on a ridge wide enough for one foot in front of the other and abyss on your left hand side. am not too steady at best of times and with a backpack you worry you'll trip, topple over even if you manage to hang on to a tuft of grass because the weight of the pack will get you! we took over 6 hours to climb up to first base camp and by then my right leg was super sore as i lead with the right and repeatedly 'stepping up or down' on it had pulled a muscle. am no girlscout but had the brilliant idea to fill one of those drinking flat packs with boilig water, place on muscle, and by next morning the ache had receded somewhat.
Set up in some woods at 3,200m area called Gorson , dinner on open fire (Shiv, the guide was cooking and washing up tk god) and sleep by 7.30pm .it was bitterly cold in the flimsy tent, but was given great sleeping bag complete with an inner tube made of fleece. the only problem was the mat, which is fine for summer but too thin for winter. Anyway, slept in all of my clothes, layered on top of each other, you sort of feel like a boil in the bag two hours later but by 5am you're a bit frozen peas . the last trek the the trekking company had done was 2 weeks ago (many mumbai and delhi people come up for those and also in summer germans/swiss and french but i guess they're all people who 've already conquered their own mountains, whereas between my trek to annapurna in nepal and now, there's been 11 years of me not walking upwards- bar something in wales).
however, the problem was i could not sleep as had a minor but constant headache. of course i thought f x ,it's altitude sickenss , but had not felt any adverse feeling when standing up or eating etc. On top of that the day before we left, (having already paid half ) some kids in a coffee shop told me a leopard had eaten a woman in a village below and that nobody goes out after 7pm ... i asked the owner of hima adventures and the guide and they both said yes, true but leopard wouldn't be at our altitude. that was fine, i believed them, but not when you are unable to sleep an entire night. I did think that Shiv having 3 small kids meant he wouldn't go endanger own life for a bunch of notes...
anyway , following morning woke up all fine, trekked up for under hour and a half to second camp at 3,500m at Galishar, which was AMAZING, circular view of many peaks i shall list another time. from here it was another 2 hours up and 2 down to the actual Kauri pass and readers.... i decided to be a reader and skip it, after the guide made the mistake of saying 'from up there you see exactly the same view, only closer'. I thought ummmhhh, i shall lie here all afternoon in the sunshine and stillness and probably manage to read most of White Tiger from page 30 onwards which is where i got to in london.
i got scared out my wits at 3pm ish by some very odd noises, and took a while to actually see the guys come through the woodland. what they were doing was rolling down huge trunks of dead trees (cedar or oak up there ) so they would hit the plane i was on and be used for fire. I again, thought leopard wouldn't be out at sun up but still. forgot to say that on way up but way down below still, it's full of indian army barracks and exercises going on but not spotted a plane or an helicopter. so you know, not exactly easy to get down if needed to in a hurry. also, forgot to say, that winfred had left me a book, one of many i hear, by jim corbett about his man eaters of Kumaon /tigers hunting so i think i know more than you about how they operate. they're alas super clever and super more powerful than anyone w/o a rifle. i did scope trees i could climb to be safe but none had branches low enough for midget me to get a leg on... I also knew the leopard would find our scent since i was uphill from the guide for a while and could smell his trainers a hundred feet behind him. so know i know how animals track us.
then we set off at 10am following morning and was all the way down and it was harder than going up. after 2 hours your legs start to wobble and you are super conscious of your feet twisting this way and that on the rocks , the path through forest, all rocks , rocks rocks so major fear of toppling over and holiday over. so i did slow them down a bunch but ... not sure about Shiv, but michael who does lead bush trekking in tasmania besides his job of product designer, was very impressed . i mean, i am twice both their ages first of all, and i weigh 8 st dead. so don't have that much spare muscle to carry all my shit. the only thing i didn't have on my back and they did was the tent. so i did well. we got down at 2.30pm and had been looking forward to the hot springs at Tapovan, 3km from end of trek. As usual with india, and have been here a month this time so i should know, you should ask for descriptions over and over to be sure they mean what you mean. you'd be expecting the springs to be like a tiny version of iceland lagoons or even the springs i went to in Manali, but oh no. the water gushes out of a rock then gets channeled to a building that houses a his and hers set of showers, 2 big spouts in each side and you have a very hot shower. no lounging about making your dead muscles come to life again. such a let down. nobody there as were the only tourists in town... as i think i said many times but can't tell you how odd it feels.
on jeep back, we had to wait while the road workers detonated part of the mountain off and then had the jcb's clear out the rocks. i kid you not. michael will give me the photos. it's hard to believe the roads are so awful, but they told us that every year the monsoon is so bad that they have to rebuild sections and support tracts that have fallen down the valley. my friend Leo filmed one of those docus on the most dangerous roads in the world blah, but eat your heart out. i 've been on 2 of those already as well.
that night am thought i'd sleep very well in the knowledge that it's the same room i left 2 nights prior and was quiet and clean and nice, and no animals want to get me. however, had reckoned w/o the electricity cut out which lead to the owners using a noisy generator and having no control over switching off the room light i had left on... sigh... mask and earplugs again.
i feel bad i didn't go up to the pass but am practical and i don't have that notch to etch on anything so happy to have done what i did .
am slightly disappointed that hima man had bad news on return. we had asked if he could book train tickets to delhi on night train, first class no objection and there aren't any seats for love or money in any class as november /december are the months of weddings here and all the world is travelling. there is a wedding everywhere you turn, it's true. so another 5am bus down the mountain (with top volume hindi songs on the stereo, but hey, anything that keeps a driver happy and then a shared car to derha dun - expect to arrive 6 to 7 hours later if not more, vs the 10 to 12 by bus (buses can't overtake trucks as roads too narrow , but jeeps can! hurrah!) and from there find a 'luxury' coach to delhi. whch will cost just a tad less than the first class would have, such a shame.
i think this was good practice for the western fjords of iceland nex year, it will take hours to go around 'fingers' of land when the proverbial crow could cover the distance in a flash.. sigh.... and i think you can safely assume i won't bother anyone with 'let's go to Everest base camp ' (a familiar mantra of mine) for a while. i can /could do it before i turn 60 , but only if am not mean enough to pay for a porter or a mule to carry my stuff and me. in fact, both the nepali himalaya sides have the advantage of a couple of airports at high altitude (Jolsom and Lukla) that significantly can reduce the trekking days ... but also, am exhilarated by the views i saw and especially the stars at 4am second morning when i had to get up and go out to pee, such a mega hassle that, but if you go to bed at 8pm , 8 hours later is the max any bladder will hold.... the stars were incredible but i was on frozen grass with no shoes so didn't gaze that long. the stream next to us had frozen over of course....but thank god it never snowed as predicted by the guide! he said when it starts to snow, they get 1 and a half foot. Can't imagine how hard to walk through fresh show. may as well join the Ibex (mountain goat) indian regiment and offer my services in protecting the border with tibet, ahem, china a few miles up.
no special insights from the stillness of the mountains, except , if anything i constantly thought about the old pilgrims who would walk to Josimath or Badrinath or Gangotri or wherever the top of the mountains are and they clearly didn't have jobs as would have taken them 3 months to cover these distances. minimum. also thought about people who are forced to leave their homes and become refugees and to get to their new country they have to carry their lives on their backs for days.. oh and they're scared, not like us doing it for kicks. other than that, no major thoughts, empty head, the best feeling i guess.
Glad am down on steady ground - having learnt to put up a simple tent , ya know, slept in one at glastonbury one time but never 'did ' any camping. and hope the calves stretch back to normal eventually.
ps young oz revelaed in passing on last day that his cousin co-runs mywardrobe.com in UK! form a tidy line if you want a knock off price bags, actually no, he said cousin was a bit stand-offish...
Sunday, November 27, 2011
25 November - Rishi& the Beatles
22 november - iranians & Japanese
Sunday, November 20, 2011
20 November - Rita & Dill
so am in Mcleod ganji where the dalai lama in exile lives , ten km from Dharamshala and decided to take some Hindi lessons and do some yoga so i can approximate Toph level when he turns up.
Rita is 29 and has a toddler boy and a 3.5 year old girl and she teaches Hindi, she's good.
her husband, not sure how old he is but similar and he teaches yoga or rather at the moment he teaches people who want to achieve teacher level themselves, and one of his former students a swede called Erik teaches the classes. He's good but can't do handstand!
Rita told me she was going to Dharamshala to the market and did i want to go with as she had misunderstood that i wanted to buy a mobile phone but i didn't. . I said yes, off we went in a taxi for which she said we could share the cost, fine by me.
she was happy as finally husband had agreed she could buy a sawing machine, the machine , indian made, cost just short of 40 quid, and to put it into context the rent they pay for 1 month for the yoga studio which is nice and full of windows and the ONE room in which they live is 26 pounds. then we went to buy some fabric for a pound, for her to make pajamas for the kids or 'night suits' as she called them, she wants to practice on kids clothes before she tries on good fabric for herself. A neighbour will teach her. husband then went to buy vegetables . i said to Rita on way back that i wanted to buy something for the daughter, some trinkets as she'd been looking at my shiny watch. so we stop in a toy cum make up shop. Shagun , the daughter chooses some bracelets, and i was looking at a toy truck for Bittu, but Rita said it was too expensive, (2.50) and no, i should get him something cheaper so we settled on a plastic water bottle 'that he can use later when he will go to school' , that cost 1. and i got another wind up cheap toy and some hair bands.
As I was paying , on the counter were some displays of earrings i was picking up and looking at and Rita asked me if i liked 'these' i said yes, but they were 'expensive ' at 2.pounds (sorry no pound sign on this keyboard). they were childish shapes and colours anyway, and i was just looking because i look.....
i go sit in the car with kids and husband and she's taking her time to come out of the shop. when she does, she hands me the earrings i was looking at and said they're a gift from her.
I remonstrated and said you can't give me a gift because i got you one! but she wouldn't hear it.
I just think things like these make my day.
18 November - Movies & George
so have not seen the dalai lama yet and doubt i will since i move on tomorrow, you have to do a certain amount of admin to go to a talk of his as some are for tibetans only and the other ones you have to sign up for it 3 days before, bringing passport etc, and then you have to bring an FM radio to tune into the translation and you know, i went to the tibetan meditation centre and library and fingered about 50 of his books with discourses and thought 'nah, me no need right now for all of this' and strangely enough there were so many youth around and in the photos of people attending meditations there etc and i thought, maybe when you 're younger you search more, right now i have no questions to ask and need no answers, it's sort of perfectly clear to me and if the meaning of life is to prepare for a good death, well, am ok there , won't mind, if far ahead in the future blah blah.
they also had a breakdown by nations and gender and ages of the participants over past few years and overwhelming majority is USA, UK and.... israel - that's a surprise since much smaller number of people there and by % all israelis have done buddhism courses so why they still want to kill the palestinians me don't know. And more women than men seeking enlightenment and so on. er, women usually more keen to find mediating solutions to anything so it figures. Practically no muslim nation seeking it. oh dear...
Was fun to see pictures of richard gere there, bless, they love him for bringing the cause to attention in the west and he's here, well not here but in bodhgaya near Varanasi in 2 weeks to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the buddha finding eligthenment under the bodhi tree at er.. bodhgaya. of course last week posh beck, aguilera, bono , ricky martin where in udaipur to help celebrate the 80'th b'day of some millionaire indian. so sooner or later i will no doubt run into some celeb instead of strange ozzies who talk about science all the time or a lovely iranian woman who has been studying law in india for 5 years. i like that you find out lots of stuff from different people. of course could sit in a cafe' in piccadilly and button hole strangers from many countries but in london we'd both think the other super weird for that , whereas travelling you don't mind.
but enough about that. the town is awash with gap year peeps here to do some voluntary work with kids, english or clearing up rubbish, which the indians have always had a different view of. it all goes into the street to be eaten as much as possible by dogs and stray dogs, and the rest swept up at night . of course it means that in the hours it doesn't get swept up,it flies everywhere into the woods, streams etc so the gap yearers are walking around collecting tons . bless, a very worthwhile pursuit i think, whilst i just sit and read.
last night after a day that included a long chat with a delightful tibetan girl at the internet cafe' who was completing a USA visa application to go join her tibetan boyf who already lives there , and during which she told me that it took 24 days of walking to get from tibet to india and most of the tibet/nepal side of it included mountains of course (the girl is half my size) ... anyway, today she came to find me in the shop and wants to cook some vegetables for me to thank me for the visa stuff/form. so sweet. she was born in '88, sigh.
so, last night, since i found the cinema and it was showing' Drive 'i thought, must go at 8.30. The cinema is a room with a screen a decent size, 30 odd chairs and dvds of course. I was the only person there and chatted to the owner who told me he likes monsoon weather (here from mid june to september ) because his cinema is full but now obviously is not. eventually a large american bloke with a beard and indian garb turns up and we chat about the film , i said i saw ryan gosling in the Ides of March with George Clooney and he was super good. bloke says he was once an actor in LA and was in a forgotten dvd movie called Combat Academy with a young george pre-ER. must check this out. He now teaches yoga in hollywood of course - golden bridge? so i said 'i did yoga in larchmont last year ' which established i am 'cool' (he knew the place) and is about to go to italy to spend time in Assisi learning meditation with a mexican called guru dave who well, teaches in italy. go figure. bloke told me his name, but was naturally an indian name so forgot it promptly. i told him to dress warmly as it's freezing in assisi in winter. Ah he also said he had been an architect and gone to Milan for trade fairs. (have actually checked imdb now and yes, he must be the actor called Kevin who is no longer an actor). story tallies!
so it was like we had a private screening room situation and felt it was ok to talk through some of the movie, mainly to call out reference points (the debt to david lynch, the one to michael mann the one to scorsese and so on) . He was also scared of violence so had to ask me what happened after any violent scene (and there are a few). and i'm squeamish too. and i made the mistake of telling him a few seconds before ryan on screen realises he's been played by the baddies that he had. he didn't like that.... He had been eating popcorn whilst sat behind me. towards the end of the movie i heard a rustling to my right and thought 'uhm, does he still have popcorn', then i heard it again and thought no, he's behind me, and rustling to the right , must be a .... RAT?
almost at same time i hear bloke say 'did you hear that rustling? I answered yes, must be a rat or a monkey, the words were not out of my mouth that he had catervaulted (new word?) to the front chairs saying i'm scared of rats!. i said am not, and to just lift your feet to another chair. i guess all those years ago occasionally seeing rats the size of cats near my grandma's house have come to some sort of fruition. The rat is not remotely interested in you, as he goes off scavenging as he does.
movie ended and we voted EXCELLENT, so if anyone hasn't seen yet.. go see. unfortunately dvd copy had no end credits so need to check who sang the 80's inspired songs which am betting are all new songs and not of the period. thank god was not a horror movie or would have spooked myself plenty in a room with a stranger, never mind he'd met george. darn, forgot to ask about the gay/straight opinion of george.
ok this story is not so great, i guess you had to be here/there as if felt surreal to watch LA night landscape in an underground room near where the dalai lama sleeps.
apologies for typos but it's always the damned sticky keyboards, not me! honest!
8 November - Apples & Potatoes
Am glad boyf. is not with me initially as he would have objected to 10 hours on bumpy local buses on scary roads in the night (but that’s better than a week on the jubilee line as far as am concerned) and also to my sleeping habits, ie 12 hours a night. I could never achieve this degree of rest in London as would always have something to do and would feel guilty wasting time but since I have no master here, 12 hours it is. My next job would be one that starts at 11am I think since my ‘without alarm clock’ waking up time seems to be around 9am. er...that will never happen.
So in a day or two I will have enough energy to face another 10 or 12 hours on a scary bus on a bumpy road to go say hi to the Dalai Lama, he’s not there but his house is, in Dharamshala. then i'll do the same to go to Rishikesh and beyond . There are so called luxury Volvo coaches which are more comfortable especially if travelling at night but am here in low season so they don’t run them. Drat! Local bus it is, which resemble something you see on those documentaries about kids going to some village school in Africa, they were built the year I was born and the suspension pads never existed. And the roads get routinely washed away or the tarmac does and you're left with a muddy track. Sigh…. But a bit of yoga on arrival will sort out the achey spine.
So things you learn no. #55. The other day I stopped to buy a banana and 2 apples. The banana I know is 5 rupies, so when he asked for 30 for the apples I thought no way, this is where you GET apples, the whole region is apple orchards galore and 30 rupies is 50p which is massive for 2 apples in the apple region of india. So I left them, was in no mood to barter. Yesterday on the a 22km round trek with the guide, he was telling me that this year the crop of apples has been dismal. His father has an orchard and year before he produced 800 boxes of 20kg of apples and this year he got……………23 boxes of 20kg. so his father didn’t have apples to spare to give to him (bear in mind that they make cider from those and some other local potent brew). So me buying apples at 50p was no more than a tokyo dweller buying an orange back in the 80’s , astronomical. Guide also told me that prices are going up for Indians too. When a couple of years ago a kg of veg was 20p , now it’s edging towards a pound. I like finding out about economy. funny though as every single one has a mobile phone. and not just the cheapest nokia to talk only, approx 12 quid, but more advanced models. Which reminds me I spent a day and 8 quid to have one of my spare london handsets unlocked, doh. Except that this way I don't contribute to any child labour in a Congo mine to extract the minerals needed for mobile phone function. So there, smug or what, and i contributed to the local economy and skills practice since the guy doesn't get asked often to unlock a london phone and was chuffed he managed it.
Then we saw some massive quarry and asked ‘why/what’ . he said they’re starting construction of a 9km tunnel under massive mountains (currently it takes hours to go from 2,000m to double that where the pass is to continue on the other side and the road /pass is closed to traffic as of now because of snow/weather. ), the tunnel will take over 10 years to build. I said ‘exuse me but what do they produce in Ladak (the other side, 2 road days away). Do they have minerals? He said no, do they have oil?, he said no, gas? , he said no. So I asked what do you care then if they’re cut off for six months of the year, that was always so ….. it was kinda nice no? (all western townies long for some forgotten way of life but could only stand it themselves for a week max of course)
And the said in Ladak they produce practically all the potatoes that you eat in india!!!! But potatoes are cheap I argued, why spend zillions to make them available, when you can , I don’t know, ship them in from… Ireland? But he had no answer and thinking about it I don’t think the production of potatoes in Ireland or Italy or Poland or Germany could ever be enough to feed billions of Indians.
So now we know about apples and potatoes.
now for climate change. last year they had no snow here. No snow. that's like... scary! and the guide (born in 1980) says he has picture of the glacier when he was a teen and now and the glacier is well, considerably smaller . if you think about the fact that i rushed here from delhi because in early november they get tons of snow and therefore i would not have been able to get to the pass and instead not only is it not snowing, it's 28C during the day, you get an idea of weather patterns screwed up. However, i think Italy will destroy the world economy before we have to worry about disappearing snow. The last time the river here overflew and took out the entire road down to the valley was in 2004. now of course it's dry season still and there's a trickle of water but if no snow = no river = no er...lots of things, and no rubbish carried down to the sea also.
now for nationalities. the guide says the dutch always ask lots of questions about birds species and and nature and they love mountains presumably because their country is so flat. he didn't offer anything about other nations. he said the Israelis come here and don't want to trek. why we don't know, since er. you come here to trek or smoke. i offered that perhaps since they are obliged to do military service for 2 and a half years, when they are here they don't want to exercise but smoke and rave? he agreed. that was the end of nationalities/cliches. Apart from a story about some woman who suffered vertigo even walking on a path that was not overlooking a cliff or anything and kept crying but kept wanting to go on treks. He had to hold her hand all the time. Uhmmm...
oh , i had to laugh. we met the guy who accompanied the Himalaya/indian skiing team to the winter olympics in Turin a mere 6 years ago i think. bless. i saw the slopes here. they are er.. 1 slope in place called Solang Nallah. One slope, think a Red. ok so higher up there are others, and you can heli ski so if you're good you can be parachuted down to some glacier but no way is there the network of slopes we have in europe or america. not quite jamaican bob sleigh team but....
My guesthouse is nice but more than that seems to have the best food around. The food costs as much as the room but is worth it, and in light of the above economics of vegetables and fruit, the fact that my muesli with yogurt and fruit had the following on top is extraordinary: apples and bananas , standard, plus melon and pomegranate, exceptional. The chef makes a mean pasta arrabbiata sauce and a good pizza.
The essential thing though is that total quiet never exists anywhere. The place is full of stray dogs , all of india is since they don’t put down any creature. During the day the dogs are perfectly peaceful if manky and seeing 7 puppie at your feet when you drink tea is kind of cute, especially when a yak goes past, yes, one of those giant furry mountain bulls and the 7 puppies decide to bark at him and chase him. As if! Very funny. Then you go to bed at 9pm and w/o fail at 10 or 11 or 12, the dogs start some elaborate drama , dozens of them barking at each other or fighting since there is no human on the streets at that time. What the f? I wish I knew what sets them off. But at least am not under a canopy of trees inhabited by zillions of crow (that’s kerala and goa for you) or surrounded by hens and cockerels that cookadooodledoo at 3am (that was laos). The trusted earplugs that kept me sane from listening to ex colleague’s hour long phone conversations with her mother/sister/friends daily at work well here too. Never travel without plugs!
I have a lot more in common with the middle classes than I have with the poor despite some of my family thinking am here to seek some mother Theresa style mission. The guesthouse has a large collection of the india version of conde nast Traveller magazine which is highlighting tons of places India that are up and coming as opposed to the over-visited Rajasthans etc. plus reviews of chic hotels and restaurants up and down the country. I like, and it makes me laugh when I see a tourist board page ad for visiting…. Manchester. Check it out, it tells you could see lakes nearby, or go on a steam train or drink in fashionable bars, must be interesting if you’re a middle class Indian from Delhi looking to escape the heat there in summer.
The guest house library is also full of FHM magazines with great looking Indian guys and their six packs on the cover. The ads are super daring for these parts, ads for condoms, ads for nutritional supplements, (can’t get the six packs just with exercise don't ya know) and ads for fashion and grooming products, all correlated with half naked gorgeous Indian lady models . none of these people are to be seen on the streets, much as London is not full of Helena Christensens on the tube to work but still, how does the life of the magazine co-exist with the local women here who wear a blanket held together by broaches at the top , belted in the middle and plastic/rubber flat shoes and cardies ? necessary attire for spending hours in the woods collecting branches and grass to fill huge wicker baskets which to then carry home to store for fire or feeding cows in winter. then again some housing estate dweller in Glasgow has no thread in common with an ad in Glamour magazine so have given myself the answer already. Ain’t I clever?
But the quiet life here in the mountains is attractive up to a point. I will soon long for Mumbai and the scene. Am busy learning the names and faces of bollywood stars in case I come across them in real life. Half of them share the surname Khan, the other half are Kapoors and there are a few Chopras and one other surname i can't remember.
The gossip mags are full of them and they are more candid than our stars , they all comment negatively on the others, (example 'Goa is full of girls who look like Freida Pinto (she of Slumdog millionaire) says a MALE actor! how ungracious) but maybe that’s a bit like having Jordan calling Posh a moody cow or something so again, maybe the west is the same, long time since I read the National Enquirer.
November is the season of weddings, 20 in the past two weeks alone am told in old manali village which holds 2 or 3000 people. That’s a lot. Have seen various processions but think they were the ones to bless houses rather than seeing any brides or grooms. Thank god here they don't subscribe to the notion of dowry which is widespread in the rest of india and is themost appalling thing. Should be outlawed as far as am concerned, much as throwing yourself on the funeral pyre of your husband is outlawed since the sixties or seventies thanks to Indira Ghandi (I think)
I’ve seen various old mills to grind flour using the power of rushing mountain streams in action. I have seen similar in Italy but I guess if you were 20 years younger than me you wouldn’t have. It’s no longer done. Same for seeing various old ladies spinning wool on those spools or using machines to make carpets, I remember my gran spooling sheep's wool under her portico but don’t think any of my ‘nieces’ would have seen similar as their mothers are my friends and or mothers never did, it was already a lost skill. Same as killing and plucking a chicken. Yewwwwww. One of my grans did as lived in small town so rural habits still persisted in the sixties, and I was obliged occasionally to assist in the plucking. Double yewwwww.
anyway, back to reading a novel or two.
4 November - Travel & Mishaps
Then choosing on spur of moment Chandigarh as don't fancy arriving in Jammu/Kashmir, bit risky that area on first day out of Europe. The ticket desk lady said Chandigarh near Manali, you can drive there. I said 'Umh, I don't think it's that near' but what choice did i have, had no desire to leave relative sanity of airport to go into Delhi to find a bus. So Chandigarh it is. In the meantime the first few cups of chai bring just happiness. Only here can I drink stuff full of sugar and love it. There is no internet terminals for public use so first a nice indian guy with a laptop allows me to check an email or two and later, after I make it past security and there's no internet either, 3 employees of the local Dixons go to lengths to allow me to log on to a display laptop and send the guesthouse in manali the 'hey , won't be arriving this morning after all' since I very stupidly forgot to write on paper their phone number and simply assumed no hitch would take place. Doh! Good old pen and paper, should remember that.
You land one hour later to discover that the way to Manali will take a further 10 hour on a government bus! but that's preferable to staying in Chandigarh which looks like the pits despite having been built on a le Courbuoisier type grid. the bus goes at midday, you'll be lucky to be in bed at midnight. Only good thought you can have at this point is 'thank god the boyf is not with, he'd have hated this, hated it, proof that india doesn't work. As it happens I came prepared with the trusty earplugs to block out some of the screeching engine noises and with the super versatile foamy pillow that allows you to nod off against a rattling window. At least it's cold on the night portion of the journey and am wearing all my winter clothes instead of carrying them. Fun to watch the poor local indian men sat next to me for stretches of the hours, trying not to knock their legs or other anatomy against my body. So much for the boyf thinking they all want to prey on western women. I keep telling him that apart from a small percentage who for sure thinks western women are whores or some such as they travel on their own, the vast majority has no intention of being disrespectful and since none of these men gets on board drunk ie abusive, after they register a lady, they go on to chat on their phones, eat peanuts, talk to their mate etc. I wish had not taken both a rucksack and a small wheelie as you really can't keep track of both. Wheelie btw is only full of books I intend to read and discard, the guide and a few hindi notebooks. Once i get to the heat of the south, i'll be able to discard all woollens, and the persistently unread novels, like A.'s grandad's of which am reading the last 3 books in the series and am disconcerted by the amount of characters he's following. Should have written for Eastenders or something. I also have a remaining Bolano to get through and a few more. The Kindle has to wait for next long trip.
all the way up there the batteries on the mobile are slowly dying but managed to arrange a driver pick up at a surely deserted bus station at 11pm in Manali. Vinod was there, to take me to tired but patient guest house staff (thank you Drifter's) who lugged my bags up along the impassable (to anything but a donkey ) road which was being re-built in time for the next tons of snow to dislodge it down the hill again.
All is forgotten upon waking to brilliant sunshine next morning at 10am and stepping out to march type strong sun on the slopes in france or italy. Pure joy. A good choice was made without resorting to any omens, just 'has to be done'.