Tuesday, 6 April 2010

1st april - onto the second leg of our trip. We have been travellign one day short of exactly 2 months and it has gone by unnervingly quickly. Probs because we have been moving around so much. This leg, we are going to be in india for 10 days, then bus it to nepal for 3 weeks. After, we fly via madras to malaysia.

The plane landed in delhi airport and we had expectionally high expectations of this crowded city. I had images of narrow alleyways lined with sari and spice shops, and bustling streets if intricately carved buildings. We got our taxi to our hotel (it was about 11pm at this time). The taxi weaved its way down a narrow alleyway where children were playing cricket alongside a herd of cows and sheep. We got into our hotel, where we were told our room had a blocked toilet. We were promptly taken to a much nicer hotel with air conditioning and tv. We were content.

When it got light, we were ready a raring to see the city. Unfortunately, we had arrived at compltely the wrong time. Not only was it Good Friday (so most things would be closed) but because of the Common Wealth Games, much of delhi was dug up. Our hotel, being off the main bazaar, was slightly redundant as, due to the building work, much of the main bazaar was closed off by day and apart from the beggars, was all but deserted After getting lost and finding our way to the tourist centre named 'Connaught Place' (again much of it wasd either closed or dug up), we were getting icnreasingly frustrated. The tempearture was well into the 30's. After wandering around for hours, we booked a city tour for the next day, and a train out of Delhi to Jaipur in the Rajasthan region for thwe day after. We navigated our way back to our hotel, over massive heaps of rubble, exposed pipes and general building mess, and settled into our hotel.

That night, feeling particularly disappointed with Delhi, I ventured out alone to see if the city could redeem itself. I left the hotel and past a series of wood and wicker beds that were positioned up and down the street, on which people presumbaly lived, and found the main bazaar. Slightly more active than it was during the day, the many sari and food shops had opened their shutters, and the city was finally starting to show itself.

People hung out from windows and open shops shouting at visitors to buy, the smell of spices drifted through the streets, vendors trundled their goods along and around the heaps of rubble, and depsite the fact ti looekd like an earthquake had recently hti Delhi, life seemed to continue. Goats and sheep marched down the narrow streets, young kids with their hands out gesturing for money, and cows sat idly on the side watching the action. I walked down the narrow yet brightly lit alleys and was entirely satisifed that Delhi had lived up to my expectations.

The tour the enxt day, we had a driver to take us around for 5 hours. We saw everything there was to see, from the Red Fort, to the India Gate, to the Lotus Temple. Unlike cities like Phnom Penn where there seemed to be an organised chaos, Delhi was just pure chaos. Bikes, cows, sheep and camels weaved through stationary traffic and some cars were stuck for hours trying the navigate through the cities narrow and congested streets. When I walked to try and find the spice market, I abandoned hope of walking on the pavements as clearly this was reserved for dogs and speeding motor bikes. I walked on the road and was soon blocked in - bikes were bumper to bumper with cars, rickshaws blocked every available exit, and I had no choice but to walk with the traffic. I was going nowhere fast, and yet I didnt really seem to mind.

The bustle and crowd of Delhi, coupled with the constant touts and people asking for money was what I expected, however the general dirt around the city (maybe quite naively) was something I didnt expect. Public toilets were open to the street, people spat everywhere, litter in metre high piles were positioned on all street corners, and lines of people simply sleeping on the pavement were along the curbs of most main roads. As we walked along the roads without the comfort of a taxi to protect us, men would approach contantly trying to draw us into their shops (many of them not taking their eyes of emily as we walked), kids came up to us with their hands out chanting 'hello money', and we couldnt walk a step without a rickshaw driver offering us a lift somewhere (even after a firm no, did they continue to drive alongside). The general consensus among travellers, is if you simply ignore them they will all soon go away. However, after years of 'British conditioning' where 'politeness is everything' it has taken a lot of will power to simply ignore people when they approach you and not make eye contact. Even when children who are no older than 5 or 6, scruffy and unwashed beg for even a small amount of money, the tempation to open your wallet is almost too much, until you realise that the minute you give one money, more will be along - and with all the rumours of kids working for bigger bosses (aka Slumdog Millionaire), or kids simply going into the 'begging profession' when they have a perfectly adaquate home life, who knows where the money you give them will end up!

Walking the streets when so much poverty is around, almost makes you feel slightly guilty for the things you do have - even more so when someone holds out their hands for money, but then after 5 days of constant hassling, something inside you just hardens and you become accepting of it - the dirt, the poor and the begging - which im assuming is what has happened to many of the locals. The frustrating thing is, for obvious reasons we are incredibley conspicuous as we walk down the street, so the minute we leave our hotel kids start to swarm and the rikshaw drivers gather, all trying to get money out of us somehow. Even the tourist attractions try to syphen as much money out of us as they can - there are normally 2 queues, one for indians and one for 'foreigners'. The latter, in many cases is 10 times the price of the former. A resrataunt we went to for lunch, even went to the effort of printing out 2 menus, one for locals and one for foreigners. I grabbed a cheaper menu from an empty table and when we questioned the waiter on the price differences, he insisted the cheaper menu was the 'older one'. I know we can all say 'yes well compared to them we are all rich so we can technically afford it, and we have to understand their needs', yes i can understand their needs. But there something almost sinister about waiting in a rickshaw at the traffic lights, and the minute you come to a halt, 4 kids gather at either side of you pulling at bags and grabbing your arm - with the rickshaw driver doing nothing but looking away somehwhat awkwardly.

Everyone who has been to India has said it is a fantastic place yet incredibley exhausting. All of the above is true. The need to want to enjoy yourself, coupled with the constant need to be suspicious of everyone who talks to you (as much of a shame as it is) is a very tiresome activity. Our time in Delhi came to an end, and at the bright and early time of 5am, we headed to the train station. Far from Waterloo with its bright concourse lined with coffee and magazine shops, people slept on platforms and washed and brushed their teeth on sinks positioend in the centre of the platforms. Also, contrary to the image of a typical Indian train station that Slumdog Millionaire had shown us - there were no large groups of people dancing in sync to Bangra music on and between the stationary trains. There was however, someone, trousers and pants round his ankles, washing his 'private area' in full view of the New Delhi Station. Once his underparts were clean, he then went on to wash a shti stain out from his underwear. Failing to do this, he then took his underwear off, and washed them under the tap. We got an air conditioned carriage, and 4 hours later were in Jaipur.

Known for the fact the old town is painted pink, it is a stunning city. Though to a greater extent, sufefred from the same problems as Delhi, to the point where on many occasions I simply didnt feel safe to leave the hotel. People would approach from all angles, using the same lines about how 'the westernes seem to hate indians so come for a drink with me to prove it', or 'where are you from? do you want to come to my shop?' - yes they could be trying to be friendly, but suspicion must constantly be excercised, especially after reading all the guide books regarding scams and people trying to con tourists by befriending them and then maing them pay extortionate amounts for fake gems and jewellery.

Once you got your head around the constantly approaching locals, both old and young, there really were some magnificnet sites in Jaipur. We saw the palace, the tiger fort that sits hgih on a mountain above the city, and also the Hawa Mahal, which consists of over 300 windows, is 5 floor high and was designed so the the wives of the Maharaja can view the city without being seen from street level. A number of locals also asked me to pose with them for photos, which I was very flattered with to say the least :D. Emily was given a baby to hold whilst she posed with the whole family (photos to follow).

Another day another city tour, we saw the observatory, and forts and the numerous palaces, settled down for a nice lentil curry (nicer than it sounds) and that was Jaipur done. Our next stop was Udaipur in southern Rajasthan. Its a 9 hour train ride, over night. We got the second class sleeper so each berth is open and contains 6 beds. Our train leaves in 3 hours. We have read the guide books about securely tying bags to anything that cant be moved. The books also advises that woman should NOT under any cicrumstances travel on trains alone. That is directed at local woman, so with our 'fine white western flesh' g-d only knows if we AND all our bags will make it safely to Jaipur. We may have to sleep in shifts tonight....

1 comment:

  1. i just have to say- g-d bless india. its nice to know that nothing has changed. well actually, not nice.. in fact rather depressing. hope u guys are coping ok!!