Survived the flight. Found the bus from the airport to Pahar Ganj and found a guest house. When I got out of the plane the typical smell of Delhi was present again. I'm alright but Delhi is literally in my nostrils: dust and diesel. Of course every indian guy here in the streets has a friend in Amsterdam. I bought a train ticket to Udaipur and got "Trains at a glance" from Americans who were leaving the country. That was nice, because it's sold out and it's very handy to have.
The first song on the tape I got from Marc is "Hunting tigers out in India" very funny (and true). It made my day. I'm tired and glad I'm going to Udaipur tomorrow. It's a long time on the train (20 hours) but Delhi is too big, too awful now.
Surai Rohilla station. Two hours before the train is leaving. Children are looking how I am writing. The children are a relief. They laugh and that's exactly what they mean. Much easier to cope with than the staring men who are always scratching their crotches. It's difficult to find my place in this world, so different from my own. It will take some time. Well, I found my place in the train, thats one thing. I like it, sitting and looking at the landscape, the people.
The night in the train was cold, very cold, but there is Udaipur to comfort me. Very glad with my guest house and warm feet. The waiter on the rooftop restaurant is about ten years old. What do you mean child labour?
I slept and slept and slept last night, good for my cold. Went to the City Palace, what a wealth. It's built up and around a little hill, the result is a garden with big trees on the third floor of the palace. At first I didn't even realize how peculiar this is. There are beautiful hand painted tapestries, very colourful and rich in detail.
Feeling a lot better after a visit to a hairdresser. It took only five minutes to cut my hair with very big scissors. The massage of head, shoulders, back and arms lasted a lot longer and was very relaxing. All this for the price of 1.5$. Walked around a lot. This is a beautiful village, almost all the buildings are white. The Bond film Octopussy was filmed here and you can still watch it during dinner in a lot of restaurants.
A wedding procession just passed, the generator for the electric lights almost makes more noise than the band.
Booked the night bus to Jaisalmer. They say it's going to take 11 hours, but I guess it will be a bit more. Went to a crafts village this morning. The biggest attraction was the driver of the tuk tuk. I think he is around fifty years old and it's a very nice man. It's a pity his english is limited, he says 'this way, this year' every other two words. No idea what he means by that. He laughs a lot. Took the boat to Nehru park, a little island in the lake. Children asked me if I could write Hindi: no only a little bit of Sanskrit. Our main festival: the queens birthday. My caste, well thats a tough question, for them I am a Dalit (Harijan, untouchable) because I'm not a Hindu. When I look out of my window in the guest house I can see a building under construction. The women carry bowls with cement and stones up and down rickety ladders.
'This way this year' took me to the monsoon palace in the afternoon. It's built upon a hill and we had to stop a few times to let the engine of his tuk tuk cool down. Good moments to smoke a bidi together. The palace is old and neglected, but there is still a sense of the former beauty. From the palace you have a good view over the lake and the city.
I'm adjusting to India again, it feels good.
'This way this year' was determined to show me a few tigers in a cage today. I seem to have a special relation with tigers this trip. Wrote a few postcards and watched them being stamped (they sometimes like to sell the stamps more than one time). Packed my backpack. 'This way this year' brought me to the bus station. An embrace and good wishes.
The bus trip of 11 hours took 15 hours. I was the only woman in a bus full of Indian men. I was glad it was dark during the chai stops that made it easier to find a 'toilet' while all the men were following me with their eyes (well, no problem, it were only their eyes). The man who sat next to me pretended he slept while he tried to put his head on my shoulder. I'm white, I'm a woman, I'm travelling alone so why shouldn't he? I can't imagine he would do the same if an Indian woman was sitting next to him.
In Jodhpur I had to change buses and met an English couple. They got enraged about the 5 extra Rupee we had to pay for our backpacks. Well, it's corrupt, but this is India... Live with it or leave it. Didn't sleep on the bus thanks to the Hindi music played at maximum volume. So in my thoughts I wrote letters to my friends, a nice way to spend the time. During the daylight there was the infertility of the earth to look at. Upon arrival in Jaisalmer the touts were a real "treat". The Lonely Planet writes about them, but it was worse than I expected. The policemen, who are supposed to protect you, weren't very active. But I survived, and after a bath with a bucket hot water I'm feeling like a human being again.
Met an American woman (Trish) on the rooftop of the guest house. It's nice to talk to someone about India, to laugh about it and try to understand why things are as they are in this country. And how are things really? It's so difficult to understand most of the time. When I think I understand something I immediatly discover a whole new world underneath which is completely different from my own.
This town looks as if it belongs in a fairy tale. The view from the roof is amazing. All the yellow sandstone houses, the fort, surrounded by the desert. There is a woman singing downstairs.
Planned a desert trip together with Trish. It's good to do this together. Spent the whole day walking around in the alleys. Drank a chai with an embroidery seller. We talked about the problems between India and Pakistan, BJP and Congress party. He explained the differences between Muslim and Hindu embroidery. I get lost in the alleys after 5 minutes, but I like to get lost. In this town it's possible to sit on a doorstep, watch life go by without being bothered all the time. The women are very colourful in their sari's. The carved sandstone is beautiful. Especially the haveli's are richly decorated. The life the women had to live inside the haveli's isn't very attractive but the buildings are fantastic.
Had dinner together with Trish, we talk about movies, books, India and life. We laugh a lot.
I bought a paper today, no war between America and Iraq, not yet. Thats what travellers ask each other: Is there already a war going on? In the paper a very detailed coverage of the death of a famous cricket player. About his medical condition, how they stopped the ventilator after talking to his wife and some VIP's. Such an article is unthinkable in Holland.
Good heavens those were the first and the last two days on a camel in my life. They are so BBBIIIGGG. After two hours there is only one thing you want: to get of and put your legs together. But it was FFFUUUNNN. Trish and I each had our own camel, the two camel drivers shared one. It's a real art to get up and down. They are a bit clumsy, make a lot of noise sometimes and they smell peculiar (you can also say they stink). It's hot in the desert, really hot and there are a lot of beautiful birds. In the evening we cooked dahl, rice and chapatti's. Harim had a splinter in his hand. He took it out with a needle, put the needle in his ear and rubbed the smear on the wound. I think I'm going to propose this treatment at home, it's cheap and it probably works. The night was cold. We slept up and under a few blankets. A lot of stars.
The second day started a bit frightening because my male camel saw a few females and he accelerated like a Porsche in the wrong direction. It took some power of persuasion to get him back on the track. Eventually he listened to the camel drivers. The problem was I was on top of the camel when he wanted to go on his honeymoon.
In a little village we met an old lady, she talked and talked to us in her own language. I think it was impossible for her to imagine some people speak another language.
Harim did the trick with the ring and the rope. I was touched and amazed to see it here in the desert. I know this trick for so many years, it's a part of my childhood, a part of my father. Well, I enjoyed these days in the desert very much, just the four of us and the camels. A bucket hot water, a dinner together with Trish, and a good night sleep is all I need now. The boy who takes care of the laundry, the Pepsi, the bucket hot water earns 500 Rupee a month (13$). A camel costs around 250$. Strange idea, such a huge animal for this price.
The fruit and vegetables taste very good. Tomatoes are real red and orange juice is real orange, not yellow. Drank a chai with the embroidery seller again. Talked about his farm.
There is a very nice bookshop in town. The problem with books is I want to keep them, especially the nonfiction about India and they are heavy.
JODHPUR AND PUSHKAR
Said goodbye to Trish this morning and got on the bus to Jodhpur. A lot of women in Purdah on the bus, that's something you rarely see in the cities. Jodhpur is a big city and I'm not in the mood for it. Going to Pushkar tomorrow. I was arranging my bus ticket in the guest house when I met a German woman, around 30 years old, with her private chauffeur. She is doing North and South India in 3 weeks by car. The driver asked me if I wanted a ride to Pushkar, we made a deal for 200 Rupee.
A very luxury trip to Pushkar, the whole back seat of the car for me alone. But not my style, someone calling you memsahib. The German woman studied Hindi during the trip. She didn't see the harvesting. How women in vivid coloured sari's separated the wheat from the chaff by throwing it in the air, letting the wind do the job. The villages, the birds, the children, the poverty. Well... I don't speak Hindi. I'm glad to be on my own again. I'm in a very big room, going to look for something else tomorrow. Met two Canadian girls during dinner, we had a nice evening together.
Found a nice, cheap guest house this morning. Pushkar is a good little town to walk around a lot, and that's what I'm doing. It's a place of pilgrimage so there are a lot of sadhu's around. I did a Puja (kind of prayer and you get a blessing) by the lake, just for fun. They want a donation and talk in dollars. They try some emotional blackmail. Hinduism is a difficult religion with a lot of mystical aspects. The first time I visited India, I was impressed by it. Now I see the other sides. The cheating, blackmailing, the bad position of the women, the caste system and the effect of this system on the society.
Three days in Pushkar is enough for me. I want to move on so I booked the train to Delhi. That's the easiest way to Amritsar. Sarah and Christy are taking the train too. I got my train ticket just in time to catch the bus to the station in Ajmer. Real Indian timing. I like the atmosphere of the Indian railway stations, especially during the evening. A lot of people with loads of luggage, chai and food vendors. And everybody waits with a kind of resignation for a train which is by definition hours overdue.
I slept a few hours during the night on the train. I even seem to get used to all the people and the noise they make on an Indian train. I have the kind off 'Delhian' room where you don't want to be. I don't want to know what's on the walls beside the paint, the toilet doesn't flush, the mattress is damp, the cushion is filthy, there is a lot of noise and of course...no window. But I'm having a good time. Had a good breakfast together with Sarah and Christy. Went to the Red fort, a nice place to sit on the grass for a while. After that to the Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in Delhi. Like the Red fort (and the Taj Mahal in Agra) it is built by Sjah Jahan. The mosque is impressive. But more impressive was the stench in the neighborhood nearby where they sold chickens. I like those impressive buildings but what I like most is walking in the streets to see daily life.
Main Bazaar in Pahar Ganj is beautiful in the evening. Little candles to light the stands. The packages with shampoo and paan glitter even more than during daytime, the flames under the wok, the smell of fresh fried snacks. The whispering when you pass: "Change money, buy hashish?".
Impossible city, so full of life and death.
Experienced the hospitality of the Sikh during the train trip. They offered me something to eat when they bought something or when they opened their packages with home cooked food. It's a pity they didn't speak english because I have a few questions about the Sikh faith. The women seem to have more freedom than Muslim and Hindu women. A lot of vendors and beggars on the train, even two hijra's (transvestites, sometimes eunuchs).
The mentality is completely different in this part of India. It takes some time to get used to it. People are always ready to help, without expecting something in return. It is also a "rich" part of India.
There are buses to Pathankot so I went to the bus station to find out which one to take. Well, the bus station is one big chaos. I found an enquiry office. They phoned the chief of information and I got him on the phone personally. Finally found out there is one bus a day to Dharamsala but it is still not clear where I can buy a ticket. So I went to the train station, there is a train to Pathankot and I can take the bus from there. I had a very nice evening, talked to the lady of the guest house, she told me a lot about the Sikh religion. Women are more free in this religion, but also the Hindu women have more freedom in this part of India. Problems between Hindu and Sikh people exist more on a political level than in daily life.
Spent the rest of the evening in the pleasant company of a Canadian couple and an Englishman. A lot of humour. Had my first whisky in weeks. And what a blessing, the Dalai Lama starts his new year lectures when I'm in Dharamsala.
I woke up with a cold. It is difficult to stay healthy in this country. Went to the Golden Temple together with Adam. There is a very relaxed atmosphere on the grounds of the temple. The temple itself is beautiful and richly covered with gold. I went inside where a kind of priests are reciting from the holy book of the Sikhs. People give you a friendly nod. Especially the older Sikh men are impressive, with their beard and turban. On the grounds is a kitchen where they cook all the food for the pilgrims. There is a very huge pan in which they cook dahl, and the food is free for everybody. Just outside the temple grounds they are building a guest house for the pilgrims. Everybody ques to carry a few stones or a bucket with sand.
This evening we thought we saw a big firework in the street but it was a short-circuit. A big ball of fire on a wall.
The cook offered to buy me a train ticket in the morning. I accepted his offer but I think I have a problem now, he has a very tight schedule.
I was right about the problem. At 8 o'clock no cook, no breakfast no train ticket. The cook finally arrived at 8.45 without a train ticket. So I got on a rickshaw and asked the guy to hurry to the station. I'm lucky to be alive after that ride. It is a suicide attempt to ask them to hurry. Just in time to buy a ticket and get on the train. The missed breakfast wasn't a problem at all. People on the train offered me bananas.
The right attitude is a problem in this part of India. I'm used to arrange everything by myself because that's the only way to know it IS arranged. Here, people are so willing to help, you begin to rely on them. I should have known by now that I have a problem when they say: no problem.
The train was nice. I like the trains, with the big variety of people. After the train 3 hours on a very crowded bus. Three people and my backpack on a seat barely big enough for two. A steep and winding road, Indian driving style. The second suicide attempt in one day.
When I finally arrived in McLeod Ganj it took me 2 hours to find a room. Ended up in Bhagsu, a 20 minutes walk from McLeod, a very quiet place up in the mountains.
I went to the monastery this morning. Just sat on the stairs and listened to the prayers of the monks. Dark voices, a very special sound. The stairs are covered with red fluffs from the monk's habits.
In the afternoon there was a concert for the freedom of Tibet with Joan Osborne. At the start they sang the Tibetan national hymn, the monk who stood behind me joined the singing in a soft voice. He told me in poor english how they had built the monastery and made Dharamsala famous in the whole world.
It's bad weather for almost two days now. It's raining and it's cold, very cold. It's almost impossible to follow the lectures of the Dalai lama in this weather. I bought a bus ticket to Delhi. Went to the monastery to follow the translation in english of a lecture. When the lecture was done I saw the Dalai Lama. His radiation is enormous.
It's difficult to adjust to Delhi again after the peace and quiet of McLeod Ganj and the surrounding mountains. Bought a train ticket to Varanasi.
A typical Indian train trip, with lots of people sleeping on the most impossible spots. I'm in a nice guest house next to the burning ghat. A balcony with a view on the Ganges and apes who are trying to steal my drying clothes. Varanasi didn't lose its magic in the last two years. Benares the city where apes and rats disappear quickly before your feet and the cows stand still blocking the small alleys. The city where the blown up dead body of a child floats in the Ganges next to the marigolds.
Walking on the ghats I met Bicky, a boy of ten years old who wanted to guide me to a few temples. He was very good company. He will become a great Don Juan, businessman and philosopher. "Money comes more times in life, happiness only once" he said, and "No marriage, that's good, not too much talking, no bla bla bla".
Spent the evening on the ghats. A beautiful girl tried to sell me a butter lamp with marigolds "Put on mother Ganga, for good luck, good Kharma". I don't believe in Kharma, I try to make my own Kharma.
Why do they call Benares the City of Light? It's one power cut after the other.
I'm very tired of Indian life It's unbelievable how much energy it takes. "Look in my silk shop, "need a rickshaw", "very cheap, just look", "what's your name", "What's your country", "where you going". The same conversations , a million times a day. I like spending time with the children. So that's what I do, walking on the ghats, talking and playing with the children, looking, absorbing the magic of this city.
I took a cycle rickshaw to the station this morning. It's a miracle I survived the trip. I was lucky to have the last place on the train to Agra tomorrow. I want to see the Taj Mahal again.
I spent yesterday waiting for the train to come. Partly in the waiting room in the company of a very brave family of little mice. They crawled into my shoes and backpack. On the train I had a good conversation with a man. We talked about the differences between our countries, about family life, about the position of women and about the writer Vikram Seth. He knew his books. Since yesterday I have a real 'Delhibelly'. That's not so nice. I wanted to go to the Taj this afternoon, but I was too sick. Try again in the evening when it's cooler.
And there she stood, as beautiful as three years ago. It's a rich feeling to see her again. I'm not crazy about buildings, but this one is of such a tranquil beauty. To see the colours change in the light of the setting sun. Just sit and look at this example of perfection. It is as if the world ends behind the Taj.
There are even more power cuts here in Agra than in Varanasi. And I think they invented the fly here, there is an enormous population of them.
Went to the Itimad-ud-daulah (baby Taj). It doesn't look like the Taj, it's more human, more of this earth. A beautiful building.
One more visit to the real Taj, tomorrow my last train trip back to Delhi.
DELHI for the last time
Sitting on the roof terrace of Anoop's, enjoying a big banana lassi. My last days in India and I learned to love Pahar Ganj. I like walking around here, and I like the incredible street life of this city. Met the English people I met in Dharamsala again. We enjoyed dinner together.
Bahai house of worship, I want to worship life here. The rickshaw trip back from Bahai house was really Indian. We got out of petrol halfway and had to walk a few K. The driver wouldn't let me walk it was embarrassing.
Had a long talk with Ian about what India does to you. I don't like it that it makes me pitiless sometimes. I had to have that attitude to "survive" sometimes, but I want to be compassionate. This country is too much sometimes. I HATE INDIA, I LOVE INDIA. I know I want to come back again.