Letter from India II
The Day we sent the last email - We went for a day trip out to anancient ghost town (Fatehpur Sikri) It was stunningly beautiful and awelcome respite from the touts/beggars/children who follow you all daylong. On the way we saw 'dancing bears' on the side of the road withtheir owners and had a heated debate with a fellow traveller (rob)with whom we were sharing the car over the cruelty etc. He put up agood argument and it helped pass the time on the way to the city.Afterwards we went to Agra Fort which was kinda cool. (Mad you couldso easily see those Indian hit men falling from the battlements :) ).We also drove through an Indian wedding in a very very poor shantytown where the car was engulfed by bright gaudily dressed Indianssmiling and cheering it was a lovely experience.That night we took the overnight train to Varanasi the spiritual homeof Hinduism. We had to travel sleeper class ( kind of upmarketpeasant) due to a lack of decent air conditioned seats left. It was aninteresting time though i did not sleep as i was to busy guarding ourbags (to put the money situation here into perspective a well paidgovernment worker earns 12,000 rupees a month, sounds a lot but inreality it equates to 150gbp), as our camera alone is worth 2 monthsgood salary you become very conscious of the eyes scanning you andmentally totalling up your worth. If they weren’t so weak from lack offood we would probably have been robbed, stripped and thrown from thetrain (joking, the average Indian is very nice and helpful - sadly youonly ever meet them on trains).We arrived in Varanasi, Rob was still with us (though he had an ACticket the bar steward) and had also found 2 other travellers whotagged along with us. The 2 new guys (Caz (male from Brislington!) &Polenta (female yank not cake)) were on a real shoestring budgetstaying in hostels for 50 rupees a night needless to say Caz had beenviolently ill on the train due to eating cheap food from roadsidevendors (neither has travel insurance the fools).Outside Varanasi station we went through the obligatory scrum of taxiand tuk-tuk drivers before coming up with the ball (or in this case ataxi) and headed for the hotel we had picked from our book.Varanasi has a main road and then very narrow streets/lanes (kind oflike Morocco Sooks) so we got out the cab to walk the last few yardsand that’s when our problems began. We were followed by a young boy ofaround 10 who offered to lead us to our hotel (the streets are a maze)we told him we wouldn’t pay him and he said fine. The Hotel wasn’tsuitable and we asked him to take us to another one we liked the lookof fort a small fee but he took us somewhere else where we weresurrounded by 5-6 touts all demanding that we stay the night. Needlessto say we walked off but they followed us and surprise, surprise thenext hotel was ‘full’ as I walked from reception i saw that one ofthe touts had got there before us. This all began to look a bitsinister and after a few choice words from my lovely wife and a longwalk to leave the touts behind we finally got a room in a reasonablehotel on the banks of the river Ganga (great name).We strolled along the Ghats (like docks but different) where we werecontinually hassled (children in North India come up to you smiling,hold out their hands and say 'Hello, Money' Isn’t tourism a greatthing?) by touts for hotels, boats, clothing etc. This totally ruinedthe ambience of the holiest place in India. We came across the placewhere they burn their dead (a strange sight, lots of mourners arounda burning body when one of the employees, who make sure the body burnsto ashes, walks up and with a large bit of wood smacks the glowinghead hard so it goes deeper into the fire......If it was my relativeI think it would upset me). There was a man there who explained it allto us (they burn most people so that the spirit rises to Nirvana, andthe ashes are scattered in the Ganges as the river is believed to besomething to do with their gods ( i forget what as at that point i waswatching the Head cricket. Holy Men, children, animals etc, they justweigh down with rocks and dump in the river as they are believed to beinnocent and therefore will enter Nirvana immediately). Late afternoonwas spent on the steps of our hotel watching the men bathe in theGanga - It was here I discovered religion, they bathe and then drinkthe water, now bearing in mind they dump bodies in it upstream, theypee and shit in it, then surviving drinking it is nothing short ofmiraculous so their must be a god, or 300 million gods if you areIndian).We also watched them fighting with kites over the river, we could havewatched it all night, they have small regular shaped kites no largerthan a foot square, the strings of which they coat with powdered glassfrom broken light bulbs. they then fly as close to another kite aspossible and begin to try and spin around it, so you have 2 kites inan aerial dog fight each trying to wrap themselves around the stringof the other in order to cut it. The losers kite ends up in theriver. It is very entertaining.Varanasi is full of Backpackers who have gone 'native' mainly the 18+women who think its cool to wander through shit in open toed sandalswearing a sari. I was trying to think of a word to describe them butthe best I can come up with is very politically incorrect and soundsracist (it’s not meant to be. We now affectionately refer to them asBackPackies.The huge amount of touts and a very strong feeling of insecuritymeant we cut the trip short and jumped on a train the next day forSatna.Satna is a railway junction where we were intending to get a cab toKahujaro to visit some 'erotic temples' After 7 hours on the train wearrived in the dark, We needed to travel 150kms by taxi, but when wegot out of the station it became apparent we were going to be rippedoff by an unregulated taxi service. We tried 2 taxis in the end butfelt exceptionally unsafe as they kept stopping and getting out totalk to other people which was very worrying. We ditched the cabs andheaded into Satna itself.....it was a hole, we couldn’t get a decenthotel (just ran down shacks) and to top it all off Saara slipped overin the street and fell in god knows what (didn’t smell too bad though).We were now feeling more insecure than ever, we were being followedup and down streets by a crowd of taxi touts, beggars and just generalresidents and after a quick debate we decided to get back to thestation and take an overnight train all the way to Bombay (Mumbai).After a slight problematic encounter with the ticket inspector we wereboth at our wits end and ready to jack the India trip in and head forThailand and the relative security of a country that does not try torob its tourists blind every time they open their mouths.Luckily We met a lovely Man called Chandrakant, He is 54 and lives inBombay ( A Marketing Manager for a rubber firm that make conveyorbelts). He convinced us to head for Gopa to relax and then exploreSouth India which, he claims, has a better infrastructure, less toutsand more English speaking people (we have also agreed to meet up whenwe return to Bombay, for a meal with his wife (marketing manager forsiemens) and a bit of shopping where she will barter for us (tops!).We stayed overnight in a lovely hotel called the Grand for 30gbp andin the morning an armed guard walked us back to the next train to Goa.We travelled first class which was lovely and arrived late last night.Having decided to base ourselves in Goa and do 1-3 night trips out ofour base we have booked into the Casa Sea Shell hotel for theextortionate rate of 10gbp a night. The food is lovely, beautifulgardens and a pool.In summary we are safe and well, sick of North India but enjoying ourfirst day in Goa.
D'you know, I've never been interested in India, even though my father lived there for many years before and during the war (the second of course; I'm not THAT old). But Keith's tale is so spellbinding that I'm sorely tempted to dream of a visit. Wonderful stuff, just wonderful.
Not me, Gone. Sitting in front of this screen is danger enough, altho the vicarious ride-along is fascinating. Don't be afraid to be P-un-C, Keith. Call 'em (ding)BatPackies, if you so wish.(Gotta love the term "tout", too) Pictures were excellent, btw...post more of those, if possible.
I said "dream", Way. I would never actually go to India - just too darn old, I think.
That has to be the crappest piece of spam I've ever seen
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