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Rob's Journeys Misadventures in Africa, Europe and Asia.


INDIA | Thursday, 22 February 2007 | Views [804]

We got a free upgrade for the London-Delhi leg, which was a nice bonus on Wenny’s birthday. A bigger bonus for her would have been a new husband, but she had to settle for the upgrade. I wouldn’t bother paying for business class though, as the only difference was the size of the seats. We arrived in Delhi in the middle of the night, and went to our disappointingly disappointing hotel in a rather busy area. When we went outside after waking up the next afternoon, it was all pretty nuts. Despite being in a central part of the city, there were cows wandering all over the place. I’m not quite sure who they belonged to, or how their owners kept track of them. In that way they reminded me of adolescent girls in England.
We didn’t do a lot in Delhi, but one evening I went and got a bad haircut (business as usual then), which was overpriced at $1.50. Wenny had a facial at the same time and then they asked me if I wanted one as well. I wouldn’t normally do it, but figured that my face was due for a clean and that there was no risk in making it any worse, so gave the thumbs up. Things were going along swimmingly until the dude decided to stick his little finger right into my ear and use it as a swivel for his vibrating facial machine. He repeated it on the other ear, which sent me into shock for three days. I know strange things go on in India, but this was unexpected. Perhaps he thought my brain was itchy.
From Delhi we went up to Kashmir. Upon landing and on the way into town we noticed a large army presence. This wasn’t surprising, given the region’s history. You’d have to be a bit silly to try anything stupid, for those fellows and their large, imposing guns were everywhere. We stayed on a moored houseboat on Dal Lake in the capital, Srinagar. Our room had a wood fire, which was just as well, as it got pretty flipping cold up there. They gave us ponchos to wear to keep the cold out, but the ponchos also served the purpose of making us blend in a bit more. They seem to be the regional dress. We had to get a rowboat to and from the mainland, and one day went on a bit of a cruise on it, which was very nice. Our guide from the houseboat kept getting us to go to shops along the way, which we got a tad sick of after the first couple. In the end I just threw him and his commission over the side of the boat and figured we’d guide ourselves.
We went up into the Himalaya for a spot of hiking/trekking. On the first day we rode mules for some of the way up a mountain and then went back to the house. It was just a bit of a warm up. The house we stayed in was very simple, and didn’t seem to have a kitchen or a bathroom. There was a rather feral dunny out the back, which we avoided. A couple of hundred yards behind the house was a lovely, freezing river. The only problem was we had to dodge the crap on the ground on the way. In the evening the guys around there had a bit of a Kashmiri sing-song in the living room/cooking area. It was quite a surreal experience, one that prats on shows like Getaway would gush about in a highly annoying way if they ever actually left their five star hotels to experience such a thing. The next morning we went for a longer walk/ride on a different route. This one took us a lot higher, into an area with a lot of snow. It got pretty tough going after a while, when we couldn’t walk without sinking into thigh-deep snow with every step. Even our four-legged friends had difficulty. It was a real novelty, but summer would be better for an extensive trek. The mountains in that region are just massive.
Kashmiri people look very similar to those from places like Afghanistan. They don’t look Indian at all, and it did feel like a different country up there. While a lot of Indians are pretty in-your-face, in Kashmir they were more reserved. They weren’t outwardly friendly, but friendly enough when they had reason to speak to us. Most of the blokes look like the types that tend to end up locked in prisons in places like Nauru and Guantanamo Bay. If they tried to enter Australia or the US with those beards they’d immediately be issued with orang jumpsuits and sent off to be tortured for four or five years.
From Srinagar we got a bus back to Delhi, which took 26 hours or so. It was only about 900km away, but much of it was so winding that it seemed to take forever to cover any distance at all. It was a beautiful journey though, with much of the scenic part covered during daylight. We didn’t stay in Delhi long before going on a tour of Rajasthan. We don’t normally travel like that (doing everything independently is more our thing), but if there’s any country that’s worth going for part of it by private car, it’s India. We didn’t have a lot of time, so figured we’d give it a go once. We had a driver called Vicky (male, and a bit of a Fonz at that), who was very amusing and spoke in rapid-fire Hindi. He also had excellent driving skills, especially when he was sober.
I won’t talk about each place in Rajasthan that we went to, because we went to about 8 cities. I’ll instead focus on some of the highlights. We went to several forts/palaces in which maharajas in each area used to live. They were all very impressive, with lovely architecture, as were their wives (going on the paintings). The forts were generally high up on hills, for obvious strategic reasons. A common feature was an area for the respective maharajas to keep cool in, which was quite a sensible idea. One had a pulley system which enabled a servant to activate a fan to keep the maharaja and his concubine cool in the bedroom. Not a bad move really. The region’s arid, with pretty warm temperatures during the day, even during winter (which it was when we were there). It gets stinking hot during the summer (45 degrees), which I don’t think I could handle.
In one fort I was wearing my exceedingly stylish Everton shirt, which I think was the reason that a whole class of schoolkids crowded around me and wanted to ask me questions, have their picture taken and shake my hand. In other places (Collingwood for example) I’m used to people throwing apples and watermelons at me as I walk down the street, but on this occasion I was a novelty, despite not exactly being the only tourist around.
One particularly interesting place we went to was a rat temple near a place called Bikaner. For a reason which escapes me the rats are holy, so they’re well-fed and breed like Tasmanian teenagers. There are apparently 20,000 or so of them in the temple and they run around everywhere. Wenny panicked about 30 seconds after going in and almost started crying, so quickly retreated to the safety of the outside world. I thought it was all good fun (false bravado ahoy!), venturing further. The rats were provided with big trays of milk and food, which they all crowded around. One reason I wasn’t particularly bothered by it all (I usually hate rats and would almost cry myself) was that because they’re fed, they don’t need to look for food in dirty places like usual rats do. One tried to nibble on one of my toes, so I promptly turned it into kebab meat. Great success!
Vicky needed to buy new wiper blades at one stage, so stopped at a garage to change them. When I got out to stretch my legs two snake charmers appeared out of nowhere. They played their pipes and the snakes danced around, hissing all the while. The surprising thing was that we weren’t even close to a tourist spot. Because they didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Hindi, my brain decided that it might work if I tried speaking to them *in Indonesian*. It only took a couple of sentences for me to realise that it was just a ludicrous thing to do and that I was a buffoon.
There was an abundance of animals in Rajasthan, even in town streets. As with Delhi, there were loads of cows. Some would decide that they couldn’t be bothered standing up any more, so would sit down in the middle of a very busy street. There was also no shortage of hogs roaming through town streets either, plus the odd monkey and plenty of camels. Camels are used as a form of transport.
Speaking of camels, we went on an overnight “camel safari” from a place called Jaisalmer, way out in the west, near the Pakistan border. We got a lift out into the desert, then hopped on camels and rode for a couple of hours to a spot with a few huts, in which we camped for the night. We watched the sunset out on the sand dunes, trying to recover from camel-induced cramps. While we were sitting there four young girls (perhaps 8yo) appeared and started dancing for us. They wore some sort of local costume, and it was quite a sight. Even better than that was the guy who wandered through the dunes selling beer. I thought he was an apparition at first. What a champ. When I took a photo of my camel I, for some reason, counted to three out loud, thinking the camel was somehow going to understand and smile for the camera. Idiot. As if Indian camels are going to speak English. They struggle with Hindi.
The driving in other parts of Asia seems pretty crazy when you first come across it (it becomes normal after a while), but in India I think it genuinely is crazy. There’s endless mad overtaking, constant beeping of horns and stupid moves galore. One guy we saw pulled off a very dangerous move, just avoiding an oncoming truck, then 100 yards down the road pulled into a petrol station. Weird. Trucks are generally seriously overloaded too, which provides frequent amusement and occasional terror.
On our last full day we went to the Taj Mahal. We couldn’t really not go there, isn’t it? The place was very busy, as it probably always is, but pretty spectacular too. If you’ve seen it on TV or in magazines, then that’s pretty much how it is. When you’ve seen something that many times before you see it first hand, there can’t be too many surprises.
One thing I appreciated in India was the lack of McDonald’s and shopping malls, which we didn’t see any of until our last night. I’m sure there are quite a few in the richer areas of big cities, but it was refreshing to be able to escape them.
At the airport on the way out a few middle-aged Afghani guys on their way to a concentration camp in southern Cuba came up to Wenny and I when they saw us filling out our immigration cards. They spoke no English nor any of the Indian languages, so Wenny and I ended up filling them in for them, using their passports as guides. Half of the content in the passports was in Arabic, which was a bit of a challenge. One of them had a fingerprint in his passport in place of a signature, and did the same to sign the immigration form. I assumed he couldn’t read or write, which made him a great candidate for president of the US and A.

Tags: on the road


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