Saturday, May 18, 2013

January 22, 2013

Suncourt Hotel, Delhi
Intrepid Travel to the Golden Triangle, Jaipur, Agra, Karauli & back to Delhi

Nice enough group, but again, I don’t travel well in groups as they don’t allow well for my moods and caprices.  Here there are 4 men and 4 women.  2 couples (one married, on their honeymoon); 1 Canadian and 1 Australian man on their first travel adventures; one married Englishman taking a holiday from his family; 1 Australian woman also on her first traveling foray; 1 middle aged Chilean woman who seems independent; and me, 66, on a mission to see the Taj Majal and other ex-glories of Rajasthan.  So here we are together with a young male guide (a ‘Delhi boy’ as I will find out) about to spend 9 days together hurtling through Earth’s space and land in India.

I woke this morning after a poor night’s sleep, to a cold water shower at the Suncourt Hotel in Delhi.  Still suffering with the cold I caught two weeks ago, and desperately needing some quiet time alone, I opted out of 1st group excursion to Old Delhi.  Slept two more hours, and woke better and able to stretch.  Lazy morning organizing a little and reading email.

Sitting in the hotel cafĂ© waiting for an egg sandwich at noon.  Masala tea cooling (it’s a little salty actually not very good) and waiting for the group to return.  I feel a bit like a prima donna, but am delighted to be alone.  I decide to head out to Humayun’s Tomb on my own, so hire a car through the hotel, and off I go.

The car is a dusty, beat up number and I wonder at the driver.  He speaks little English, is a young thin fellow of indeterminate background who immediately wants to take me to a shopping ("not bazaar") place.  I firmly insist “no shopping, only sightseeing" and he finally (after many, many repetitions of the same) drives and deposits me at the car park of what looks comfortingly like a tourist attraction. 

Sure enough, there are loads of school boys in uniform lining up.  As a foreigner I’m allowed to go in a separate line (albeit for a slightly higher ticket price) and I walk through a nicely kept garden to a magnificent structure housing the remains of one of India’s Moghul rulers.  Structurally it’s as impressive and anything I’ve seen, the Muslim influence of the graceful arches and inner doorways.  Once inside, these buildings are like beautiful puzzles… which way does one turn … which door leads outside.

The driver is waiting for me when I emerge from the park and I insist that he take me to see an Arab saint's tomb which is nearby  He is hesitant, saying that the Arab areas are dangerous, but I insist and he finally drives to a walled neighborhood, parks the car, gets out and bids me follow him.  We walk through a narrow street lined with shops and curious people.  It becomes narrower, and a roof suddenly appears as we are in a bazaar, full of all kinds of goods. He's walking so fast that I don't have time to look.  The alleyways wind, and narrow, and wind and even go uphill.  finally he stops, as a man behind us whistles and beckons.  "You must leave your shoes here.  I will watch.  You go on."  I remove my shoes, and walk on, finally realizing that I should cover my head (I'd brought a shawl) and buy some flowers.  A plate of wilted roses in hand I move on, press my hands together in  prayer as well as I can.  This seems to please people and finally I see some smiles and nods as I move long, not knowing where I am going.  I reach an open courtyard where men are sitting, talking, praying.  There are no women with them, there is a small temple-like structure and I walk cautiously around, not having any idea what I should be doing or where I should be going.  I realize I should not look at or talk to the men, and so I concentrate on where the women are sitting.  I put down my flowers, walk around the shrine, salaam, bow and get outta there.  Back to the shoes and back to my loyal driver who looks relived when I appear.

Now we go shopping.  I, feeling a bit like he'd gone out on a limb for me, allow him to take me to Arts India, a hard-sell tourist arcade where, $300 later, I emerge with some goodies from India.

January 24

Still sick and in Jaipur.  This cold (from the conference, Bodhgaya Jan 16) is 8 days old and getting me down.  Two days not bonding with the travel group as I'm one big hacking cough (I heard it throughout the conference and know how off-putting it was).  Illness on the road is amplified as is everything else, and being with others makes illness that much worse for them.

Amber (Amir) Fort was outstanding.  I’m glad I got at least to see that wonder, though listening to the tour guide was a bit of a bore.  The climb from the street to the top wasn’t bad, but I stayed in bed all the next day while the group went out to explore the pink city of Jaipur.

Major impression of Jaipur … driving is a process of reading and feeling the movements of other vehicles, moving in a stream of separate bodies (tuk-tuks, cars, trucks, wagons, pedestrians) sometimes within 2 inches of each other, somehow all maneuvering through the melee to their destination.  I think Indian drivers must be the best in the world … few violent accidents (though plenty of dented fenders).  Each vehicle a fish in a school … when one changes direction slightly all others accommodate.

I’m having trouble understanding British and Australian accents among my travel companions.  Is it my hearing, my elder brain, the cold,  or them? 

Yesterday when feeling so bad, Mr. Shayam at our hotel took good care of me.  I came into the dining room to get lemon tea with a little ginger, and he brought me lovely hot drink with honey.  Very gentlemanly, caring.   When I thanked him later for his kindness he said,  “Of course … it’s the moral thing to do.”  Have met with nothing but kindness and humor in this country.

January 27

End  of Intrepid tour.  Sukhot Singh Gill, our guide, lost my camera case and connector cable, so I’ve decided not to give him a tip.  Have felt he’s somewhat careless since about 4 days into the trip.  One woman wanted to see a doctor and, while he kept telling us that she was going to see a doctor, none was arranged.  He could have taken me to a pharmacy to get cold medicine, he is mostly interested in flirting and drinking.

I feel even farther from the group now as the cold gets worse.  I can’t understand their language or much of their humor, nor am I interested in the subjects they talk about.  They are decidedly not friendly towards me either--am feeling a bit like I have body odor, but maybe it’s just the cold.

Traveling in a group of people with nothing in common but that they’ve paid a guide for seeing and being in India is fairly boring, I’ve concluded.  I probably won’t take a tour like this again.

The Taj Mahal yesterday was stupendous and definitely the highlight of the tour…. Worth the trip to be there. Never mind that it was Indian Independence Day (Jan 26) and packed to the rafters (metaphorically speaking).  This was another gaff by our guide, who didn’t know that the Taj was going to be closed at sunrise because of an economic conference.  Things are falling apart.

Still, stay with the positive.  The building is glorious, seeming to float behind the long pool built in front.  In spite of the thousands of people cavorting on the lawn, it maintains dignity, grace and a sense of peace … pearly white and perfect.  Begonia (the Chilean woman) wanted to go inside the mausoleum, and  since we had the expensive entrance tickets we got in fairly quickly.  Once inside, however, the crowds milling around the lovely sarcophagus (thankfully shielded by a carved veil) were frightening.  Signs which said no photos were allowed were totally ignored and the mass moved clockwise around the crypt to exit where we’d entered, spit out like the irritant we were.  The well loved queen died in childbirth of her 14th child, and I can’t imagine what she would make of the chaos her countrymen are creating around the peaceful gift her husband built for her.

Rajasthan attracts visitors to its former splendor.  Five hundred year old Mogul palaces are crumbling, forts of bricks will never again repel invaders  or protect inhabitants, photographs of white hunters surrounded by their now extinct kills adorn walls of heritage homes which are supported by tourist dollars.  The maharajas made deals with the British conquerors during the colonial period, allowing them to keep their mansions and live their expensive lifestyles a bit longer.  Now, I was told, the former nobles of Rajasthan are politicians, still wielding power and maintaining a semblance of their former lifestyle, supporting the villages to some degree.  I hope these past nobles are in debt, but I suppose they are just in hiding.

January 29
Delhi airport, heading to Goa

India is the most horrible and wonderful country I’ve ever visited.  It seems at once on the brink of collapse into chaos, disease, poverty and despair and full of energy, devotion, pride, talent, kindness and motion.  The middle class is proudly aware of possibilities, but is it also aware of the need for mass education, social justice and income distribution.  I’ve seen many children out of school; I’m told that polio vaccine is not available to poor children; the central government controls access of electricity to rural areas; garbage is burned, releasing toxins into the air; fires of cow dung are used for heat, creating massive air pollution.

I visited shrines and monuments to India’s past wealth, power and glory and to her ability to give birth to a new religion.  Buddhism rose here because of and out of the corruption of the Brahmins to become inclusive and peaceful. It was a state religion for only a short time and, while it did not solve the problem of the caste system, it gives hope and responsibility for change to its followers.

January 31

It’s Goa and it’s the tropics and it’s hard not to love the tropics.  There is a fair amount of pollution here in Panjim; however, I’m rested, mostly free of the cold that’s plagued me for 2 weeks, and happy to be in one place for 5 nights, getting my thoughts collected, my pictures sorted, and my body in gear for the return home.


indu said...

hi Laurie, liked the .." fish in a school..."
and you have been misinformed, the Polio vaccine IS available to all ...poor rich anyone.the government sends volunteers door to door.

indu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.