2007 #8: What’s in a Beggar’s Pockets?

The train ride back to Delhi was marvelous. And much to my very facetious satisfaction, my partner woke me up far too early for the train stop and we had to look out the window for ages until we got to our arrival point. Trivial, I know, but it did feel good not to be the only one overladen with cautiousness first thing in the morning on a train journey. And I got some really good shots with my camera, so I was pleased with that too.

We had a fairly laid-back day. We got back to our room, showered, then laid down again to get over the exhaustion of laying down all night. You only get about six or seven hours sleep while moving over hundreds of miles on a train and your subconscious is always semi-worried about your luggage, shoes and money staying put, so it isn’t the soundest of sleeps no matter which way you look at it.

Then, foolishly, we made our way back to the Railway Station and booked yet another bunch of train tickets. We simply never learn! This time, in three nights time, we will be on a train to Kalka, which will land at about 4.45 am. Far be it from us to travel during decent hours. But it does save money on accommodation and you get to where you’re going without having to stare out the window, sitting up, for seven to ten hours at a time. The novelty can wear off that no matter how wonderful a place is.

Then, with the favour of every god known to mankind, three-quarters of an hour later we will get on the ‘Toy Train’ (a very famous one) and go to Shimla. I say this because India is well-known for ‘India Time’, which does indeed stretch to the India Railway Company. So we’re really crossing our fingers that our first train will arrive in time to catch the second train. If not, we’ll play it by ear – what else to do? But it really is awesome to be able to go for hundreds of miles for a very small amount of money here. The India Railway System is the largest in the world and, if you ignore one or two idiosyncracies, is quite well organised.

From Shimla we will get on a bus (oh joy…) and go on to Sarahan. This is now in the Himalayas. Then, no doubt, we’ll flop around in a state of advanced exhaustion for a night or so then do it some more until we get to Chitkul. This is the village that is the last one in the Sangla/Baspa Valley that you can travel to without getting a permit. After that valley, with permit, you go more uphill then over into Tibet. We will not be doing that. We’re talking serious mountain-climbing here and I’m just not that into UP. It always hurts, you can’t breathe for panting, there’s always more UP in front of you, and then knowing my luck, there’ll be five days of cloudy weather and you can’t see a thing anyway! (Tis Monsoon season, after all.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no internet there (in fact, I’d be pretty disgusted if there was – these are supposed to be remote, unspoiled villages) so I may not be in contact for close to two weeks. So there you go, you may just get a holiday from my ramblings, if you’re lucky.

Last night was cool. We sat around on the rooftop, yakking with a Kiwi, some Dutch, German, Indian and various other people. All well-travelled and all very nice with a great sense of humour. Then it RAINED. When it rains here in Monsoon, it really really means it. Cools the air nicely though. This morning, pretty much like last night. I’m enjoying just keeping still while I can. And eating meat. Rishikesh is a vegetarian area, and while I love vegetarian food, every now and again I need to eat something that once was moving.

Also, we saw a beggar here yesterday that we see regularly every year. We actually heard him coming and knew it was him. My partner calls him the God Botherer. He crawls along the ground with one leg stretched out in front, calling upon the mercy of all the gods he knows of and holding a stainless steel cup. We happened to be sitting with one of the shopkeepers at the time, and he told us that this guy is actually very rich. He makes about 1000 rupee a day, which is a fortune over here, and has pockets sewn all over the inside of his rags to hide his money in. Why he prefers to keep grovelling in the dirt and mud and doesn’t invest in a fleet of rickshaws instead, I don’t know, but he does put on a good act and really does earn his money. And it’s terribly entertaining to watch. Especially since last year I spied him standing up, shaking out his clothes and yakking with one of the locals, then getting back down on the ground again to continue his theatrics. I wonder if he owns a mansion in the hills somewhere and retires there in the off-season to swan about on his verandah and watch his peons work in the fields? I wouldn’t be surprised.

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