2005 #10: Of Pigs, Kids, Monkeys and Crrricket

We spent a relatively pleasant night in our room – particularly pleasant for me because I had a full-on, raging bout of Delhi Belly by now and having our own bathroom was vastly preferable alternative to the public toilets I have seen in India so far! Well, when I say pleasant, it’s all a matter of perspective really, isn’t it.

We had breakfast (plain rice for me) in the lovely little garden outside our room and chatted with Ragoun and met his gorgeous little nephew, Kush. Kush is about 18 months old or so, with big brown eyes, curly hair and a lovely toothy grin. I never laid eyes on his mother all the time we were there, but we did see a lot of Kush with his uncles. They obviously adored him and carried him around so much his feet hardly ever touched the ground.

We then went for a wander out into the streets and alleyways of Bundi, which is a very old town, part of which is surrounded by an enormous ‘city wall’. Right up behind our guesthouse is a fort (Taragarh) and Bundi palace, perched on the side of the hill – a past Maharaja of this reputedly having been friends with Rudyard Kipling.

Of course there are cows all over the place here, but we also noticed that there is no shortage of street pigs either. We even saw a doorway in the side of a house, and upon perusal discovered that the pigs had a room of their own! They looked pretty happy about it too. There was initially cause for alarm when we had to squeeze past some of these creatures in very narrow alleyways, but they took no notice of us, so in the end we all got on just fine together. Paul even took a photo of me chatting to some kids while a pig walked between me and an awning post, an inch or so from my legs. I’m quite glad I didn’t know about it at the time. Who knows what sort of effect jumping out of my skin might have had on my Delhi Belly situation….I’ll leave it to you to fill in that particular picture.

Some of the kids – generally the ones in school uniforms – were very nice and we had great chats with them. Then there were the other ones. ‘One photo, one photo!!’ ‘One pen, one pen!!’ Paul soon had that sorted though. When they did their ‘one pen’ bit, he’d put his hand out and say ‘Yes please’. Or if they asked ‘What is your name?’ he’d answer ‘One Pen’. They’d look at him for a moment then crack up laughing. And after tiring of their smartarse antics (which didn’t take long) I said to a bunch of them ‘Tum bahut sherati ho!’ (spelling?). This means ‘you are very naughty’ in Hindi. Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads – they didn’t expect to hear that from a white woman! It was well worth the days it took me to learn that sentence to see the looks on their faces. Funny the little things that amuse us, isn’t it?

We wandered down the road and through the town and watched a man making the lovely round metal pots they carry milk and stuff in. How amazing – they use only the most basic of equipment and tools and do an absolutely lovely job of these round, shiny pots. I could have watched this artistry for hours! We stopped and visited with a jeweller in his ‘shop’ – again more of a hole in the wall than the kind of shop we know. And amazingly, we saw some guys sitting across the road listening to New Zealand play Pakistan on a radio! How about that – we never watch the cricket (or any other game) in New Zealand, and then we go to the other side of the world, travel to a little town out in the wop-wops of Rajasthan and hear our own country playing on a radio a few feet away! We yelled out to them that NZ was where we are from and I stood up and did a bit of a victory dance, because our country was winning. All of us were grinning our heads off with delight. One of those fun moments that life gifts you with every now and again.

Now apparently in Bundi, if you keep still for 5 minutes or so, somebody will paint you. There are paintings everywhere around here – around the doors, up the alleyways, on the sides or houses, etc. We stopped to take (yet another) photo of a painting on the side of a house when a young woman leaned over the balcony above and yelled out to us to come up and see her house. At first we were a little hesitant at invading her privacy, so she came downstairs and almost pulled us in physically. Up some narrow steep steps (naturally!) we went and were introduced to her sister, her sister’s baby, her brother, her other brother and his friend, her mother and her grandmother. We were then treated to a look at her wedding album – a very colourful affair indeed. She was a very proud young bride and was particularly chuffed with herself because downstairs she even had a laundry room! She decided that she was going to gift me with some of her art, and proceeded to colour in the embroidery on my shirt with gold paint. I thought that was rather sweet and giving of her, then she held her hand out and said ‘Now you give me gift”. They’re not backward in coming forward, these people, as I was rapidly gathering. All I had to give her was a postcard of our ‘village’ Waihi, back in New Zealand. I’m not sure if she was very impressed with that – perhaps she expected a gold-plated pen and a few hundred rupees, but she was just plain out of luck. Nevertheless, she still seemed to enjoy our company and wanted us to stay for chai. But we wanted to go, as we didn’t have a lot of time on our hands and this was all getting a little overwhelming, so we took photos of them, them with us, etc, showed them the photos and made our way back outside. Having first been given a grand tour of the laundry room.

We wandered through the sabzi bazaar – the vegetable market – and then over to a local ‘baori’ which is a step-well, about 46 metres deep. Apparently built in 1699, it has beautifully ornate columns, carvings on the walls of god scenes and many many steps down to where the water is. Well, more like green slime actually with objects of dubious origin floating in it, but I don’t think they really use it any more.

Wandering back through the bazaar, a woman came up to me and pointed at my anklet with great concern. She didn’t speak english and I didn’t speak her language, but it was obvious she was greatly concerned that I only had one anklet. I had actually tried to find another to wear, but there were none that appealed to me at any of the shops, so I just had the one. I think she was convinced that I had lost the other one. We gesticulated at each other for a while about this and then she wandered off with a frown on her face. I was quite touched though at her concern and her efforts to let me know.

We wandered back to our Haveli, hot, tired and dusty, and on my part a little concerned at the increasingly urgent need to visit a clean toilet. A nice luke warm shower and a bit of a rest later, and I wandered up to the rooftop to take photos of the sunset and the Palace. I was cruising along quite nicely, getting some good shots and leisurely watching the monkeys on the roof next door, when I heard a shout. “Get down, get down!! Monkeys!!!” It was Ragoun’s father-in-law, and he looked so upset that I looked back at the monkeys to see what he was on about. There were a couple of big males that had been bossing the females around rather nastily, and in the few seconds I had been looking away had started to edge towards me with their mouths open and their fangs showing. Well, I think I broke a world record for climbing down that ladder. I did 2 stories in about 4 seconds flat! Ragoun then came up to me and explained that the monkeys around here had no problem with mugging human beings and I was wise to use more caution than I had been. No need to tell me twice!

After my heart rate recovered we sat down in the courtyard and had dinner. We chatted with Ragoun again and the subject got onto snakes. He said how he and many Indians were very scared of them and was telling me a story of how there was one in his room one time, when I saw a movement on the ground by my feet. Once I was safely standing on my chair (again, another speed record), I looked down and saw that was just a toad hopping by. It did, however, spur me on to go and get my jandals (flip flops). As though that was going to be protection from snakes! But it gave me the illusion of being safer and I guess that was the main thing.

2005 #9: On to Bundi, Rajasthan

Something I dislike about train journeys in India is that Paul is able to sleep like a baby while I get on with the panicking about which is the right stop to get out on. When you’re jammed up against the ceiling looking directly at a set of 3 dubiously hung – and at best, dangerous looking – fans, and the train keeps stopping and letting people on and off at seemingly random intervals, you give rather a lot of thought to getting off at the right place yourself. Over and over your mind plays recordings of horror stories that others have told of missing their stop and ending up in goodness-knows-what sorts of situations. So each time the train stops, you crane your neck trying to look down through the window and up again at the (hopefully) signs at the stations, and goodness knows why because many of them are written in Hindi and it’s dark anyway.

It’s downright disgusting how relaxed that man looks when my nerves are in tatters and I’m freaking out about where we’re supposed to get off on this enormous sub-continent.

Well, this time I’m taking my cellphone so I can use it as an alarm clock. I too will sleep like a baby and he can do the panicking, if necessary.

So off we trundled on our adventure to Bundi, Rajasthan after a few days back in Delhi.

We got to Kota (not the most attractive looking city in the world – apologies to the locals, but really it isn’t, is it?!) and took a tempo to the bus station to get to Bundi. A tempo is kind of a large auto rickshaw. There’s a sort of box thingy on the back that fits about six to eight people. Or in India, as many as you can get in there and still breathe. The driver insisted on putting us in the front with him, which felt a little elitist at first, but then it might have been uncomfortable for the locals to be jammed in with us in the back. I dunno. I just went where I was told. Which turned out to be squished in between the driver and Paul. Now, I don’t know if it was just my imagination, but it seemed to me that the driver really used his elbow a lot when changing gear. And guess who wore it in one of the softer and more feminine parts of her body every minute or so. However, I decided that just in case it wasn’t my imagination, that I would make myself a little bit wider to combat this. Gradually and subtly I edged my elbow and upper arm towards him until that was what his elbow pushed against instead. Funny thing, it stopped happening after a while.

The bus ride to Bundi was interesting – stimulating even. It takes about an hour and there seem to be a lot of trucks coming the other way. And the loads on them are about half as wide as the truck again hanging over each side. Essentially the road rules are this: If he’s bigger than you are, it’s probably best to give way and let him have the road. However, do not embark upon your pulling over procedure until a maximum of 3 seconds before you collide. This way he will know that you are a man and not the whelp of an insignificant street-dog nephew.

We got there alive – and on my part significantly surprised about it – and took chai in a roadside cafe. That is to say, a roof with a gas cooker under it, a bit of a kitchen, a few tables and three or four Indian men sitting round looking at you.

We took chai, perused our copy of Lonely Planet – India, and decided that the Haveli Katkoun sounded like an alright place to stay. As it turned out, it was a good decision. It’s run by a pleasant young man called Ragoun (light skin and green eyes – quite a cutey actually) and it’s tidy, pleasant and has a little courtyard with a palm tree and a bit of garden and quite nice food. Our room was lovely. A big beautiful bed with lots of wood inlay, a lounge bit with coloured glass windows everywhere and a generous-sized bathroom. Between us all we deduced that 300 IR (about $11.00NZ) per night was acceptable. Bearing in mind that this was off-season.

2005 #8: What Bluddy Platform?! (Orchha back to Delhi)

Before I get onto Rajasthan, I’d like to extrapolate on our experience while trying to return to Delhi from Orchha. At the Jhansi Railway Station Paul had a bit of a struggle finding someone who spoke English. In fact he downright couldn’t. So he took his best shot at reading the info board, which was written in Hindi, and decided that our train was probably leaving from Platform 1. So we hauled our now very heavy luggage down to where we figured our carriage would probably line up (and these trains can be VERY long!), and sat down to wait. We had a little bit of time to spare, so he decided to go and check around with a few people and see if we were on the right platform. So I was sitting there with my scarf pulled up over my glaringly obvious blonde hair, feeling pretty pleased with myself for wearing pants that weren’t laughing at the crotch this time, when I saw Paul racing towards me with an urgent look on his face. “Get your stuff” he cried. “We have to go to Platform 3!” We hauled anchor and lugged our bags back along the platform, up the stairs, along the walkway, down the stairs and along Platform 3. Whew! Thank goodness we got that sorted.

Not so. During a genial conversation with a chap sitting near us, we discovered that we should’ve actually been on Platform 5. Pulling our anchor in again, we raced back along the platform, up the stairs, along the walkway, down the stairs and along Platform 5. Paul, wanting to make sure we had it right this time, decided to consult with some likely looking men a few feet away from us. And they all decided that we should indeed be on Platform 3. They were dead certain about this. So, well, you know the routine. Upstairs, downstairs, onto Platform 3. Okay, by this time our luggage had done it’s usual trick and gained another 80 pounds. We’re hot, sweating, exhausted and getting pretty stressed.

We sat on our luggage trying to pull ourselves back from the very edge of panic and then a trumpet blast came over the intercom. “Tadaaaaaahhhhhhh!!! Your attention please. Blip blop bluuuur, blop blip blop bluuur bluuuur blop. Thank you. Have a nice day.” That’s EXACTLY what it sounded like – I kid you not! Paul and I looked at each other with horror – that could have been a really important message. And I think that’s what pushed us over the edge. I am now intimately able to understand the term “hysterical laughter”. I started off, Paul saw it, he got started and before we knew it we were rolling around laughing our silly heads off with tears rolling down our faces. The announcement came on a couple more times with no improvement to the quality whatsoever, and rather than having split pants I nearly had wet ones. I was actually in pain from laughing.

However, this did not sort out the situation we were in, so Paul got up and went to the office window again, while I tried to pull myself together. And when he came back, guess what? Our bluddy train was actually leaving from Platform 1. And it was due in about 2 minutes! How I managed to haul that luggage onto my back one more time and get up those stairs I’ll never know. But I tell you what, I couldn’t have cared less if the train we got on was going to Timbuctoo – I was just gonna be on one. As it turned it, the darned thing was about twenty five minutes late and hoved into view just as we began thinking there was no such train at all. I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to hug a train before, but as it pulled in I looked at it with such love in my eyes………….

I have since learned that Indian people have this thing about not wanting to disappoint you. They don’t like saying no and they don’t like not being able to help you. So if they don’t know the answer to your question, they’ll say whatever they think you want to hear, even if it’s completely untrue. Bless them.

Now I do have to wonder to myself how many people have actually killed someone in this sort of situation.

2005 #7: Palace Living

We finally reached the top of the steps to the palace and most gratefully sank into the seats in Reception. We were now surrounded by archways and columns, rich furnishings and other such trappings. This was now about 7am. We managed to scrounge a wash in a bathroom which had the most incredible view I’ve ever seen. Jungle and ancient monuments for miles – as far as the eye could see.

Paul did a little bit of name dropping (a good friend of his brought many tours here over the years) and we were given the best room in the palace, apart from the Maharaja and Maharani suites. This was on the top floor, with a courtyard the size of a tennis court shared with the Maharaja suite. Our lodgings had an entranceway with bed and pillows, another anti-room, then you walk through another archway to this enormous room with a curved sofa and table, then further along a bay window with cushions and futon, a large bed that is NOT two beds stuck together as per usual, a window you can sort of sit inside and watch the world from, and a large marble bathroom with a shower and a western toilet. It even had toilet paper. Although if you ever stay at this palace, may I recommend you bring your own no.5 grade sandpaper for extra softness.

What a scream We went from fighting off pack dogs and sleeping on a wooden bench on the street to the third best room in a palace in a matter of hours. Nice juxtaposition, what?

From the roof of our palace we looked up at another palace, which was apparently made for the Moghul of the time by the Maharaja. He only visited the place once, the ungrateful sod. Below us was another palace, built as a bachelor pad for the Maharaja after the Maharana went a bit funny and kicked him out. It can’t have been easy or cheap to keep one’s dignity in those days.

I spent a fair bit of time amusing myself taking photos of the vultures on the palace roof next door. Wonderful creepy-looking birds – so photogenic. I was in heaven.

We wallowed in luxury for a bit then went for a wander around the town. This took time, as every second person on the main street (it seemed) came up to Paul and greeted him delightedly. And of course, one must take chai in these situations, or have a “Limca” – local soft drink. This was Paul’s fourth visit to this village and he has made many friends here. But we gradually got around the place and my camera was running hot from use. We sat up in the chattri‘s (several story high memorial monuments) by the river and watched some kind of monkeys groom each other, parrots flying around, vultures skulking the sky of course and the locals down below going about their day. I now have dozens of photos of monuments and ruins to bore people with when I get home. And the people are so friendly and laid back in this place. Even the cows are more laid-back than the Delhi ones, if indeed this is possible.

In the evening we dined in our “suite” and quaffed a gin or two. We were invited to try a bit of “mutton” (which is Indian for goat) in the courtyard by a local businessman. He was a very important man it seemed, because he had his own personal soldiers and 2 men fanning him at all times.

The next day we booked into a guesthouse in town and then went on a tour of the museum monuments. You buy a ticket to visit these ones – there are 6 on a ticket I think – and your ticket is only valid for that day. But you get to see inside the other 2 palaces and view the paintings on the ceilings, walk around the crumbling rooftops, peek through the jali work (sort of fancy stone latticework that the women peek through to see without being seen – all hand carved!) – and totally wear your legs out climbing up and down steps. In India, everything seems to be up steep steps! How on earth they got flash furniture into the rooms on the upper floors I’ll never know. You have to look for the steps before having the pleasure of climbing them because they hid them in little niches. Very narrow, very uneven and sometimes very dark. Sometimes you have to put your hands against the wall to balance, all the time hoping you don’t touch a lizard or a spider or anything else squishable.

On the second morning, in our guesthouse room, I heard a loud chirruping noise just outside. I opened the door onto the balcony, stepped out and came face to face with a monkey. I’m not sure who got more of a surprise, him or me. Turned out there were several of them, and one had stolen some chapati from somewhere. I had a brilliant time sitting on the balcony with my camera and got some very nice shots of them eating chapati on rooftops and stealing them from each other. And a wonderful close-up of the one outside our room who was using the tv aerial cord as his ladder. These were langur monkeys – white-faced ones of a reasonable size with amazingly long tails. They don’t hassle humans like the big brown ones do, so I felt pretty safe. What a wonderful way to start the day. Our room looked over the main street and was right next to the gateway to the market square, so I sat out there for quite a while and happily watched the town wake up and thaw out ready for the day.

We ate at Paul’s friend’s restaurant most of the time. This is a humble little place where you are served on the footpath outside a building with a roller door. Many of India’s flies live here. Can’t say I blame them, as the food is great and the view of the village goings-on fantastic.

Will have to continue this another day, as I’ve run out of time and we have to get ready to get on the train (cringe) to Rajasthan tonight.

2005 #6: Situations Vacant – Osteopath, Orchha

We just got back this morning from Orchha, which is in Madya Pradesh, about 20 K’s from Jhansi. (This is south of Delhi.)

To start off, we missed the train by minutes. These things happen. So we had to quickly get a refund (partial one) and buy another ticket for another train. Of course there is a system for this. Paul had to leave me in one of the offices for this with the luggage while he went and filled in forms to give to men to fill in forms to give to men…….

Meantime, one of the Indian men helping us comes up to me and says “Give me 5 rupees”. So I gave him 5 rupees. Then he comes back and says “Give me 20 rupees”, and I’m thinking “what is this, a shake down on this white woman with no Hindi while her husband is out of sight?” So we had a bit of a chat about this, neither of us understanding what the other was saying, and I finally gave him 20 rupees because the ball was in his court. Then Paul came back with yet another piece of paper, and the man came back and gave me a handful of money, and now I’m really confused! Turns out he was giving us a partial refund and needed 25 rupees for the right change,etc, etc. So, we now have another train ticket, but this time it is not for a reserved sleeper seat, it is for the “find a seat if you can and be grateful for it”section.

Now at this stage, I am becoming horribly aware that my brand new trousers I bought today were not sewn as well as they should have been and are starting to come apart in the crutch. We have to sit amongst a bunch of staring Indian men and I cannot do anything other than sit up straight and keep my legs very closed. Now this is okay for a little while, but we still have another 5 hours or so on the train Then the TC (Ticket Collector – they abbreviate everything possible here) comes along and says we can sit in the seats down the way a bit until the next stop, when it will be claimed. This was right beside a window. Yay! I was able to see out the window a little bit because it is full moon and there was a lot of lightning. So it worked out fabulously – dramatic lightning striking the countryside, frogs croaking by the thousands – until it started raining and we had to shut the window and could no longer see past the reflection. So now I am left sitting up straight, looking at the less-than-glamorous inside of the train and avoiding staring eyes, aware that I cannot relax any more than this as my trousers are splitting more every minute. Paul is faring better than me because at least he can cross his legs and change position.

So I think to myself, it’s okay, I can do this. I will try and sleep sitting up.” But of course, at the next stop, along comes the man who has booked this seat, and naturally he wants it. So we go and sit in the bit at the end of the train by the door, on the floor, (all the time keeping legs straight out in front) until someone takes pity on us and suggests we use the TC’s seat because he hardly sits in it, as he is very busy being important up and down the train.

This works well, until the TC comes back sporadically and wants to sit down. That is fine, he is willing to share his bench. It’s the security men with guns slung over their shoulders that want to surround him and chat that bothered me more. Not so much the guns, I doubt they were more than decoration and I didn’t see any bullets, but more that they were men and with every time I changed my position slowly to try to keep some semblance of feeling in my backside, my pants would respond with another dreaded ripping sensation. Please, if you wish to have a better idea of how I am feeling by now, find a very bone-rattling type of transport, ensuring you do not have a seat with any more than 1 inch of softness to it, sit there for 5 hours with your legs straight out in front of you and try to sleep. Thus you will gain insight into my predicament. Oh, and don’t forget to add staring eyes all around you, just for that added extra Je ne sais quois.

Anyway, somehow I managed to sleep for an hour, and we finally pulled into the Jhansi station. Now I have to step gracefully from the train whilst holding a medium-sized heavy bag and a large heavy bag and walk through crowds of people and bodies hoping the situation around my crotch area held together for a little longer and find a bathroom that wasn’t too disgusting so I could change my pants. Again I say to you, please try this at home. It really is challenging to one’s modesty factor. Especially when you’re the only white people around for miles and most the crowd is lying on the floor and looking up at the strange-looking white woman walking funny. It would have been funny if it wasn’t happening to me at 3am after one hour’s sleep.

After changing my attire, I strode out of the bathroom feeling almost like a glamour queen in my cotton tie-dyeds and we went outside the station to do the usual refusal routine with the taxi wallahs. We had a choice between sitting outside the station until 7am providing entertainment for the locals or getting an auto rickshaw to the village of Orchha and hanging around there in the dark fending off the dogpacks. Gosh, the romance of it all. We chose the latter.

The road to Orchha is about 18kms long and is a Osteopathic wallah’s paradise. Paul kindly filled me in on Madya Pradesh’s infamy for bad roading, and the potholes, spine-jarring rattles and juddar bars placed literally any old where along the way, gave truth to his words. Now, the fact that you are experiencing this punishment on your body is a good sign because it means you are successfully negotiating around the cows. They apparently own the road and lie there with an air of supreme confidence in the fact that you will go around them.

We finally got to Orchha, through some ancient gateways, past some slums and yes – more cows – and got dropped off in the village square. We then went through the usual routine of refusal with the rickshaw wallah, who wanted to give us a lift to a “good hotel” – probably owned by his brother’s brother’s wife’s uncle-in-law. We couldn’t shake him off – 10 points for tenacity on his part – so we just walked the few steps to where we were going and let him follow. I think he found us to be ever so disappointing foreign tourists, but generously hung around all night and part of the next morning, repeating his offer in case we hadn’t heard him the first 400 times.

The dog packs weren’t too bad really – mostly show, which is the case with most dogs. We told them we were very impressed at their ferocity and they apparently found that satisfying and moved over to let us in. We lay down on one of the wooden benches outside Paul’s friend’s restaurant and had a crack at sleeping. I tell you what, after the performance of getting there, the wooden bench felt like a feather and down mattress. I remember glancing over to a couple of other benches near us and thinking this must indeed be an honest and trusting place, as the stallkeepers had left their stock out and just covered it with sarongs. Then the stock moved a bit and a foot poked out and I had to do a little cerebral readjustment. Maybe we were lucky there was an unoccupied bench available without a having made a reservation.

Morning time came and we woke up to – gasp – a quiet scene. I think that was what woke us up – the lack of horns blasting. Cows were happily ambling by, the dog packs had just gone off duty and our dear friend the rickshaw wallah was asleep in his rickshaw a few feet away. He soon awoke also and reminded us he was there in case we had forgotten. Whilst he carried on his one-way conversation, we slung our bags over shoulders and made our way over the nearby bridge to the palace on the island. Wow! Not just one palace but three of them! Pretty impressive sight. We walked through anti-elephant devices (enormous gates set around a corner and studded with very long and unfriendly looking spikes) and stumbled wearily up what seemed like five thousand steps to the palace doors. Here was our home for the next 24 hours.

2005 #5: Trainspotting In Delhi

Train stations in Delhi are an interesting thing. People milling around, sitting around in piles, lying around sleeping and some people even actually doing some work. We had to walk up some stairs (dark, hot and very nefarious looking) to the “Foreign Ticket Office” to buy tickets for the trains. First you fill out a form (of course – always a form), then go the wall and find the numbers of the trains that are going your way. You then go to a man who writes numbers on your form, and then you go and sit under a sign that says “Q here” and you wait to be served. Of course. But the service was fine, and it was nice to see that the men serving had bracelets on their wrists given to them by their sisters for brother/sister day. Some of the trains we wanted were cancelled due to the floods in Mumbai. We finally got it sorted and are now in possession of tickets to Madya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

I have to laugh at the service here sometimes.The other night I asked for a freshly squeezed juice and the waiter said “I’m sorry, you cannot have that. Do you want some now?” Umm, yes, I think I still do. It’s only been 10 seconds since I asked and yes, I definitely feel I would still like some. Hard case.

We visited a belly dancing clothing shop – wow! And next door a shoe shop that actually has aladdin-type shoes with the toes curled up. I really want to grab some before I leave. I don’t know about wearing them, but they’d look great hanging on the wall.

I dropped into a shop that had some stuff I wanted to look at. This was down and dark and dingy alleyway. Nothing special about that. All the alleyways are dark and dingy. The guy took me downstairs to look at different versions of a handbag I wanted. These stairs were worse than the last lot. Even steeper and narrower with dangerous marble overheads. He then took me across the alleyway (where I was treated to a walk through a cloud of flies) to look at some motorbikes brilliantly constructed out of coloured wire. We had a good chat and I showed him photos of my kids and he said he couldn’t believe I was old enough to have such big children. Now I was really starting to warm to this guy. He thought my Hindi accent was beautiful and because I spoke a few words of it, he felt that we were almost family. Of course – we have now known each other for at least 15 minutes.

Next, into the tailor’s shop. Or perhaps “square hole in the wall” would be a more apt description. In here we were crowded in with the man and his “boy”, 2 other customers, and assorted hangers-on. One guy to fetch chai, another to fetch catalogues, another to fetch material samples and a few others that were just decorating the front of the shop I think. Talk about squish. And the men here often hold hands with each other. It doesn’t mean anything more than that they are friends. But it must be a little alarming to fresh-to-India heterosexual western males.

By the way – apologies to anyone I have sent repeat emails to. Today the power went off 4 times – apparently quite normal for Delhi. So of course I had to*be on the internet during one of these times, having just written yet another long epistle and every second computer went off. Just my luck! So I don’t know what happened. This is India email. Just shake your head and roll your eyes.

We are getting on the train tonight to go to Jhansi, where we will arrive at 3 o’clock in the morning and wait for a few hours for a bus to take us to Orchha. I have just stocked up on Pringles and water. Paul says take bananas but I can’t stand the thought of an ugly squashed banana in this heat. And ugly and squashed I am quite sure it will become.

2005 #4: Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Delhi

Nighttime now and we’re back in our own neighborhood after another afternoon of cruising around. This time we traveled by motor rickshaw, which give the illusion of being safer than cycle rickshaw, but apparently are not. I did not bother to ask why, I preferred to stick with my illusions.

We went through Connaught Place to the bank, which was an interesting experience. You go through a metal detector and then you get scanned by a guy with a hand scanner. Paul had to hand over his pocket knife to be held until we left again. Upstairs we sat in a room, sat down at the counter and were ignored for 5 or 10 minutes – apparently very normal – waiting patiently to be served. The gentleman that finally noticed us (even though we had been sitting all of 3 feet in front of him for a while) served us, filled out some paperwork, gave us a brass token to hang on to and we were then escorted to another room to some people in cells behind bars. They handed over the money. This is how you get your own money out of the bank here if you are a foreigner. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the scene in Harry Potter when he goes to the Goblin bank, only the security guys in the bank are a fair bit nicer looking than goblins.

Over to Janpath, where we looked through a row of Tibetan shops. Very interesting and colorful. I spent money. On jewelery. What to do – I’m a woman. I then had to carry the stuff all over the place and it gained weight as I went along. The Tibetan people are very nice – not as pushy as the Indians. We saw fascinating padlocks and conch shells with silver-work all over them and gems and miniature sewing machines, etc, etc. We then went briefly through the Rajasthan row, but were getting pretty hot and tired by then and we’re going to Rajasthan anyway, so we opted for (cringe) MacDonald’s instead. Well, they have clean toilets (ish). The door was opened for us by a very sharply dressed “Security” man who even wore spats over his boots. Everything is chicken or vegetarian. I had a Maharaja burger, which had mildly spiced chicken patties and an extra bun in between. The buns don’t quite hold together like our ones and it was nigh on impossible to eat it in a ladylike manner, but fortunately a TV was on showing a cricket game so not too many people were watching me.

We wandered on to Palika Bazaar which is an underground market. Totally crazy and full of western stuff. And sort of like a concrete bunker or a large bomb shelter with a dome on top. We didn’t stay there long, it just wasn’t so nice to be in.

Back to our neighborhood (Pahar Ganj – Main Bazaar) where a policeman had decided to take up residence at the entrance and wouldn’t let our rickshaw through. I guess he was having a slow day. So we had to get out and walk. Talk about take your life into your hands. By this time the jewelery had gained an extra 400 pounds and the traffic was pretty insane. There are no real lanes here – just a free for all. So people are always beeping at you from behind and you have a choice between avoiding dogs, cows, people spitting, touts, beggars, puddles and piles of rubbish of dubious origins. Also auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and taxis. This is all crowded into a street about the width of one lane of our streets. One taxi driver decided to stop and have a chat with his mate across the street and caused a massive blockage. Not that it bothered him at all. It actually would have been quicker to get up on his car and walk over it, and I doubt he would have noticed or minded. Tempting.

I am constantly amazed at the spatial abilities of the rickshaw drives. For the mayhem that goes on, there seems to be a remarkable lack of actual accidents. I think Auckland drivers could take lessons from these guys. It’s a total mess, but somehow the traffic almost flows. Well, in a terrifying and raucous sort of a way. Another entrepreneurial opportunity here would be to sell Rescue Remedy to newly arrived westerners on the street corners. You can’t do such a thing on the footpaths because they just don’t have such things (footpaths), except for in the very modern areas.

I stopped at a clothing shop on our street and found some nice things to wear. But no matter how thin, the clothes just are not cool enough! If somebody came up with a way of making refrigerated clothing, they’d make a fortune.

We dropped in at one of Paul’s contacts’ shop and, joy of joys, they gave us a cold coke and a seat. Then finally back home and yet another cold shower and some Indian TV with the ceiling fan on high. Highly entertaining, especially the ads.

And now we are back at the air-conditioned cyber cafe. They are doing quite nicely out of us. It’s always a bit of a shock to walk back outside into the heat and past a reasonably open public toilet, which is a little on the fragrant side.

2005 #3: Rooftop Dining – Delhi Style

Well, settling to the Indian way quite nicely now. Yesterday was a bit of an adventure. We went to a bank around the corner and went and sat in a little room where some men were writing things in duplicate and triplicate in important looking books and they had piles of the most ancient looking ledger books I’ve seen in a long time. Something like what was used in schools in the 40’s and 50’s. A guy walked in with a motorbike helmet on – something you can’t do in the western world and live. I think he was a money courier – sort of like the Indian version of a stuntman, without the danger pay.

We also went to a shop that sells much of the incense we see in NZ, and you sit down with the important looking elder of the place and his boy brings you chai and you choose some things and put them on a nice wooden tray and they add up your bill with a pen on scraps of paper. Actually, come to think of it, I haven’t seen a till here yet. When we finished, the man had his boy bring us a sample of perfume each to take away. I’m not sure if it is normal here to give perfume to a man, but I guess it must be. Paul didn’t seem quite as delighted as I was, but you can’t please everyone all the time. It was a very posh shop – it even had glass windows!

We took a cycle rickshaw over to Sadar Bazaar. Mmmm – Delhi traffic – hmmm. If I thought our neighbourhood was busy, I was in for a real treat this time. I’m not sure how much notice the locals take of the traffic lights, but there appeared to be vague traces of organised chaos going on. Although I’m not sure how they train their bullocks and horses to read roadsigns and lights. Some of the red lights have “Relax” written across them – a nice Indian touch.

After struggling to walk through the Sadar Bazaar crowds on the streets and in the alleyways, we finally gave up and grabbed another cycle rickshaw. What a good idea. You’re a little elevated and can see much more, but you’re still part of the scene. There was quite a traffic jam going on, so we had plenty of time to look around us. And the neat thing was that the meter wasn’t running. Same cost no matter how long it takes. Cool! We were the only white faces there – apart from a group of 3 that Paul saw whiz by somewhere along the line – and we were in the traffic for what added up to hours! At one stage I caught some Indian ladies in a rickshaw going the other way looking at me, so I smiled and waved to them and they seemed totally taken aback. Their delighted smiles were just fantastic. That was very nice.

We went from there to Old Delhi and visited a brass merchant that Paul has been dealing with. Both these areas are Jain areas. They are total vegetarians and will not harm anything at all. As Paul put it, they make Buddhists look violent. Some of then wear white masks over their faces so that they don’t accidentally swallow a bug and kill it. Taking things slightly to extremes really, but there you go. This brass merchant had some amazing stuff. Huge brass statues of all sorts of things. Very beautiful. But to bring such a thing home would use up about 10 years of luggage weight allowance. Darn it all. Up the scary staircase he had rooms with shelves and shelves of a mind-boggling variety of smaller stuff. It’s very nice that many shops you go into will automatically bring you a drink. So we had several drinks of chai and Pepsi (out of glass bottles. Yes – GLASS bottles!!) which is greatly appreciated with the heat and grime that is just*everywhere. While we were sitting down enjoying our Pepsi, a long furry something ran up the passageway and past us. Turns out it was a weasel. Apparently there is a family of them living behind one of the doors. We’re not quite sure whether it’s a good sign that these creatures, lizards, eagles, weasels, etc, are about or not. On the one hand they eat the bug things and rodent things around the place, which is great, on the other hand the fact that they need to be there at all is a slightly alarming thought. I’m just choosing not to think about this too much.

Last night we went and dined at the Metropolis – a nice Indian restaurant just down the road from us. We went up to the rooftop and it was very romantic being served ice cold beers and cocktails with umbrellas whilst we were serenaded*by the gentle honkings of 90,000 people trying to all occupy the same space at the same time on the street below. The food was beautiful and the service very good.In the back of their menu it is written that they have been there for 75 years and are “obsessed with their relationship with the following businesses”*(and goes on to name about 4 Indian newspapers). They have such fabulous wording here. I was tempted to take their beautiful large studded wooden doors back home with me, but manners and the vague possibility of them noticing held me back. The live lizard wallpaper is a fantastic feature also. Paul made me promise to behave myself and not keep leaping up to take photos of the lizards all the time. It wasn’t easy.

We then went back to our own rooftop and took water with a frenchman, an american woman, an Israeli and a kiwi that had been in India for an hour. He was a little jumpy and his eyes were almost popping out of his head from jetlag and lack of sleep, but after a day or two here he’ll learn the fine art of passivity and lizard watching and he’ll come right I’m sure.

Today we are going over to Connaught place and will go to an underground market. Air conditioning and all. Luxury! she cried.

To those of you who have emailed me –

Carol – those those pedestrian bridge things in Bangkok aren’t half as scary as the traffic below!

Oriwa – kei te pehea koe e hoa? Lovely to hear from you. Please give my love to the ladies of the Info team. The big man who will be flying with your son to Thailand has a little bit of time to start a radical diet before trying to sit in a plane seat for many hours. May I suggest that he just doesn’t eat between now and November and he might just pull it off.

Kevin – no I haven’t gone all genteel and cultured on you – I would have drank Jack Daniels on the plane, only they had run out! I’ll fill them in ahead of time next time so they’re stocked up and ready for me. Thanks for the tip on getting through Customs quickly. These things are good to know. And I already got through two lots at Bangkok and there was no comment on the airline cutlery. Maybe it had helped the second time that I’d forgotten to fill out my departure card. That was very frowned upon and I was very officiously put aside to fill it out, like a naughty child. A cunning distraction.

Greg – hi there. Unfortunately I did lose sight of the brandy bottle – I’d probably darned near emptied the thing anyway. But never mind, I’ll console myself with the bottle of duty-free gin that somehow got into my bag. One does what one can in such circumstances. I shall battle on.
Dad. Big hugs. And yes, you’re right. Some of the Indians are rather keen to sell things to visitors – in fact they’d probably try to climb right inside your skin given half a chance. But wearing sunglasses and imitating a deaf person seems to do the trick. The only problem I’ve had so far was 2 boys in an alleyway in Old Delhi last night but a push and a snarl soon sorted that out. I haven’t been a mother for years without learning a thing or two about snarling when necessary. It transcends all languages.

2005 #2:Genesis in Delhi

Well, I made it to India. I was very lucky and got to sit beside a Canadian diplomat on the plane. She was very nice and very helpful. I now have in my possession a list of the most fabulous markets, etc, in Delhi, who runs them and how to elicit the best service from them as far as being a female foreigner goes. We yakked all the way over, so the plane ride seemed fairly short.

The plane was actually nicer than the one to Bangkok – more leg room, better movie screen and the hostesses were very pleasant, unlike the first lot who were a bit snooty. I managed to add to my collection of plane-ware – a facecloth, another glass, and some more cutlery. Funny how these things fall off the little table thing and land in one’s bag.

After being regaled with horror stories about Delhi traffic by this diplomat who spoke from vast amounts of experience, I also took advantage of the fact that they had run out of chicken dinners by the time they got to us, and seriously tested out their brandy bottle. They were so apologetic about the food that I got away with a reasonable amount of alcohol.

Once I got into the traffic, I was very glad I had done so.

The airport was less horrific than the Bangkok one. Fairly straight forward. Wait in this line here. In 15 minutes, shuffle forward 2 feet. Wait 15 minutes. Shuffle forward another 2 feet. Etc. Fortunately I took this woman’s advice and as soon as the plane stopped, made a run for it. There was a very long line of very hot and tired people behind me. I felt for them, but hey – I was hot and tired also and it is, after all, a dog eat dog world.

Once through all the lines, bored and dangerous looking customs people and assorted hangers around with guns and shiny boots and important looks on their faces, I got through the crowd and saw Paul. What a sight for sore eyes!!! I was so glad to see him.

And compared to Bangkok, the sauna in Delhi is on high! Unbelievable. You sort of gasp when it hits you – it’s like a moist hot wall of air.

The taxi ride was pretty entertaining. Beeping and swerving, screeching of brakes and a very loud stereo playing what is probably top of the pops in India. Thank God for brandy…did I mention the brandy?  The taxi was a Morris Oxford (Ambassador) windscreen was cracked and the dashboard had white fluffy something on it. Very groovy and quite humorous.

We got to the hotel (I say that word with tongue in cheek – no more comment), we went up onto the rooftop and hung out there eating fruit salad. I saw a bird of a decent size flying overhead. When I asked Paul what kind of bird it was, he said “Bat”. First one I’ve ever seen, and quite a lot bigger than I expected.

This morning we went back onto the rooftop and had breakfast. They’d run out of croissants so I had fried rice. Yum. Today is Independence Day and the sky is full of kites. We have a brilliant view of people all over the place on their rooftops flying kites. It looks great. I feel a little sorry for the birds at the moment – the airspace is downright dangerous. There also appears to be a stereo competition happening, so there’s music coming from all directions and it’s not necessarily complimentary. But it all looks like a heck of a lot of fun.

Looking down at the wall across from us, I saw a lizard of rather a healthy size climbing up and down the wall, investigating cracks and window grates. I just watched him for a while then told Paul about it and it turns out that it was bigger than the norm. So I’m now kicking myself for not getting my camera out. Maybe he’ll be there tomorrow.

Down below, some local cows are having a bit of a hui. I haven’t seen any close up yet. Looking forward to meeting some.

I have tried an Indian toilet out and survived. They’re right – it ain’t glamorous. Enough said.

At the moment, we’re sitting in yet another air-conditioned cybercafe. So nice after the heat outside. Although it’s not as hot today as it was last night. The street is fairly quiet compared to usual, so that gives me a chance to learn the art of street walking without ending up under a rickshaw. We’ll probably just wander around and do some looking today, as many things are closed due to Independence Day. Tonight we will go to another rooftop and try the restaurant called Metropolis and eat some Indian food. Yum. (The one on our rooftop is Thai and Italian.)

2005 #1: In Which I Experience Another Country For The First Time Ever

Well, I made it to Bangkok. The plane ride was very, very long, but fascinating. I had a great seat by the window, just in front of the wing and I made total use of it. Sort of like a goldfish in a bowl without water. I didn’t quite realise how squishy the seating situation is on planes, and it was definitely one of those times when I was grateful for being vertically challenged. Actually, I felt a little sorry for the guy sitting next to me on the plane. He was vegan and they kept feeding me pork. I had to wonder what he was thinking about that.

Bangkok airport is enormous and I realised when I got there that I didn’t have a clue what to do next. I just kept asking people and gradually fumbled through it all. It took a while to find the person who was meeting me and the ride back to the hotel was slightly alarming, but I was generally too tired to care.

I checked into my hotel at about 11.30 last night, had an interesting and frustrating time with the chap at the front desk, resisted strangling him (rather proud of that) and finally found my room after going to 3 wrong floors. I thought I was on the 3rd floor but it turned out I was on the 16th. I’m so glad I don’t have a problem with heights.

A bit of a learning curve with the room “key”, which is an electronic card. It let me in, I turned on the lights, dropped everything and the lights went out. After a bit of fumbling and dropping of a few unwholesome french words, I finally realised I had to leave the card in a slot by the door if I wanted to use anything.

The shower was pathetic, but it was wet, so in I went. Afterwards, of course everything was closed in the hotel, so I felt it was a justified moment to open my bottle of duty-free Malibu and do some quality control on it. Fortunately a little Thai Airways glass had found its way into my bag somehow, so I put it to good use. After being folded up into a little pile on an airplane seat for 12.something hours, it felt pretty*fabulous to stretch out on the poolside lounger and relax and let it sink in that I was actually in another country. Wow! After a while, I braved the lifts again, actually found my room the first time and crashed out on the very hard bed.

This morning I watched daylight arise – no, not a beautiful tropical sunrise in an exotic location, just daylight arriving in an unspecific and ordinary way – and wandered off to see the world around me. There are shops galore in the 2 bottom stories of this place, plus stalls everywhere outside. Thank God they have bridges slung in the air for pedestrians to walk across or else I doubt I wouldn’t have lived long enough to have lunch. It’s Sunday here and most of Bangkok appears to be out shopping or selling. Nobody’s really hassled me though and I certainly don’t feel in any kind of danger, even down the little alleyways, etc.

I did have some Thai lunch – something-dori chicken. I chose not to look too hard at the meat before they cooked it. Nor at the strange-looking creatures in glass cases on the counters. It was a very nice meal and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s been an hour now and I’m still okay. *I’m now off to see what else I can see – reluctantly, as this is an air-conditioned cybercafe. A little later I shall fling myself upon the mercy of a taxi-driver and see if I can get back to airport alive. I’ll be spending 4 hours or so there before taking off to Delhi. That’s only 4 hours away by plane, thank goodness, and I’ll be in Delhi late tonight.

Okay, I’m out of here. Wish me luck.