India 2008 # 14: Tibetan Tea, Prayer Flags, Feelingless Limbs and Buses on India Time

Tibetan momos. Yum!

Tibetan momos. Yum!

Paul and I ran around like blue-bottomed flies trying to find some vertical prayer flags in Rewalsar, which appear to be as scarce as hens teeth no matter where you are. So while I was in one shop organizing some to get made, he was down the road doing exactly the same thing! So we ended up with two sets. That’s okay though – we got to watch the guy actually printing the design onto Paul’s flags – a huge wooden printing block with a picture of Padmasambava and Tibetan writing on it. Interesting stuff. Continue reading

India 2008 # 5: Warning – Sleeping on Indian Trains is Injurious to Your Sleep!

Well, it’s almost a relief to report that there was a bit of mayhem at the train station in Jhansi. We sat on Platform three, rat-watching as you do, when at the very last minute we found that things had changed and our train was coming in on Platform four. Much as I moan about this whole platform business, I have to admit things had been going boringly smoothly for a while there and I was beginning to wonder if I was still in India. So we did the mad dash along the platform and up the stairs, etc, and joined in with the mad squeeze of humanity boarding the train. Amusingly, at the metro stations they have t.v . screens demonstrating allowing people to get off the train before you get on. Who are they kidding? Orderly queing or boarding of any form of public transport is just not going to happen here. Indians, apparently, are genetically incapable of this.

Unfortunately, we had been given bunks by the door. You’d think this was good for expedience, right? Not so. A door is a very dangerous vicinity to hang out at on an Indian train. Kind of like the Running of the Bulls in Barcelona, but without the bulls. Even though the train was going to take overnight to get to Delhi, hoards of people were still crushing together to ensure they got out of the door first. Leisa and I had side bunks, which meant we were parallel to the aisle. We had a hard time explaining to one man that we had booked and paid for these seats and we were actually unreasonable enough to want to sit on them. Well, lie on them actually, as it was well after eleven at night. Some other guy was lying on Ernie’s bunk and he had a sudden lack of English on this subject also. But never mind – this particular guy perched on the end of my bunk throughout the night. My kicking and prodding him with my feet on a regular basis didn’t phase him at all, the rotten sod. I mean, I’m not known for my height – more so for the lack of it – but this was a very short bunk. However, he wasn’t half as annoying as the dude who decided to live in the aisle right beside my bunk complete with several suitcases. This caused everybody who kept coming to check that the doorway was still there, as after all, we only had eight or nine hours to go, to climb over his luggage, bumping and pushing against my bunk in the process.

We arrived in Delhi at 6.30 am and grabbed a taxi van to the guesthouse. It was Paul’s turn to feel a little unhealthy so he slept in the room while Ernie, Leisa and I went about the business of consulting with our tailor and assorted other chores. Funny thing – we’re supposed to be here on holiday, but we always seem to be going somewhere or returning from somewhere. Perhaps Tahiti, hammocks and palm trees is a good option next year? Nah, heck, we’d be bored in no time and have to start driving around beeping our horns, spitting on the streets and letting cows loose to keep ourselves feeling normal.

Delhi is a hot and sweaty place at the moment so I took Leisa to visit Mr Om at the R-Expo shop. They have air-con, heh heh. But believe me, we paid for it. I think I have about a years worth of vanilla bean soap and natural-based shampoo, etc – I know the package was heavy and my wallet was light when I left there. He’s a scary man, that Mr Om.

India – The 2008 Leg #1

Getting to Delhi was as interesting as usual. From Auckland I sat next to a Nepali girl. She was a real sweety. She had no problem leaning against me and at one stage rested on me to have a sleep for a while. I was reminded of the Indian translation of personal space (reasonably non-existant). Someone kept farting on the plane – I wasn’t sure if it was her or the guy next door or what the story was. Pungeant neighbour in very small space. Oh goody.

Great to eat Thai food again. I had pretty much double of everything they offered us. Once again I ended up eating pork while sitting next to a vegetarian. Life is cruel sometimes.

They put me on the Executive Floor at the hotel in Bangkok. The only difference I could see between that and the normal room I get was a hair dryer. I couldn’t sleep until midnight and woke up at about 6a.m. I raided the coffee tray and went down to the poolside to wallow in the luxury of sitting still for a few minutes and chatted with a man who is a Government Official. He is a Personal Analyzer. Whatever that means. He’s about to retire and he and his wife want to buy a house in NZ. I told him the average price there and he didn’t even blink. “That’s okay, I have plenty of money. They have no children. I did consider putting myself up for adoption for a minute there.

Naturally I went shopping here. Since it’s my third time here I know what places to make a beeline for so that saved me a lot of time. Which I needed to use to close my backpack up again. Two bottles of Drambuie take up a lot of room and also weigh a lot. But it meant I could buy some Malibu at the Bangkok airport, so it was worth the bother. All the way to Delhi I had fingers crossed that I could get through with that much alcohol. As a cunning backup plan I had a few $US in my pocket. Amazing what a well-oiled palm will do to cause sudden blindness in an official round these parts. The plane to Delhi made alarming squeaking noises, but when I looked around nobody else seemed to be panicking. I go by the theory that if the staff are looking concerned perhaps it’s time to be alarmed. Otherwise, just ask for another gin or brandy.

At the Delhi airport, once again I was once of the first off the plane and through Customs and last to get my luggage. I was getting a bit concerned, especially when the conveyor belt stopped and alarms went off and signs flashed something about luggage rules. “Oh no”, I thought, “they’ve found my Drambuie”. But then it started again and my luggage wasn’t on it. I whiled away the time chatting with a Christian lady who inadvertently found herself in a debate on Buddhism versus Christianity. Well, she started it!

Off she went eventually, still insisting that I invite Jesus into my heart or else I won’t get entered into God’s admission book, bless her, but I think she felt a little disillusioned about seeing me stand in that particular line one day. Won’t she get a shock if I turn up?

So, I was the last person standing at the conveyor belt. It turned out that my luggage was under somebody else’s huge flat parcel, and there was no chalked cross on it nor were any officials ganging up to converge on me, so the Drambuie and the Malibu got through. Yes!

Paul and Ernie and Leisa were outside to meet me and we all piled into the smallest taxi we’ve ever been in. A guy who looked about fifteen years old got into the driver’s seat, which promptly collapsed backwards onto Ernie, and off we drove into the Delhi traffic with Ernie holding our youthful driver’s seat together. We drove around for a full two hours because this young guy couldn’t speak a word of English, nor could he read Hindi and every time he stopped for directions (about six times, complete with u-turns in Indian traffic, which is a scary thing even when you’re going in the right direction), didn’t actually listen to them and drove off again before the guys he asked had actually finished talking to him! The car kept stalling and we were all wondering if we’d end up pushing our taxi along the highway, and when he did get it going he couldn’t get it into gear for ages. Meanwhile, we have cars, scooters, buses and trucks beeping and veering around us and we’re starting to resign ourselves to a possibly early and likely very messy sort of a death. However, off we’d go again eventually and drive along in 2nd gear until the next u-turn. He got stopped at one stage by Police who gave him a breath test – by that I mean the policeman told the driver to breathe onto his (the policeman’s) palm and the policeman smelled it.

Anyway, we finally got to Paharganj by way of a pure miracle and the help of a rickshaw driver who decided to follow us and make sure the guy didn’t take us to Haryana, which was apparently his first intention, and our free and unasked-for tour of Delhi was at last over. The tour was topped off nicely by the sight of an elephant walking down the Main Bazaar, and even though Ernie, Leisa and I had been squashed together in a sauna disguised as a taxi for two hours, they were rather pleased that they had seen parts of Delhi that they may not otherwise have seen. I was just relieved to have feeling back in my legs and my Drambuie to sup on shortly.

Welcome to India.

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.