|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
India ‘nil points’ as duck kidnapped
India, Country 15, Diary entry 15th–27th Jan 2006, Total distance in India: 7064 KM
Leaving Damien at the airport, packed to the gunnels with all the bits we’d asked him to take home, we left to battle the marathon traffic of Mumbai. Pleasantly surprised that we cruised through with no problems at all, we parked up at the Gate of India to board the boat to Elephanta Island. Really the only tourist attraction in or near Mumbai it was pretty disappointing. One large very dark cave to look around, too dark to take photos really, but we gave it a go and once again told off for “no photo” rule. :o)
Back on the mainland, we decided to go for some food. We’d passed a nice open air BBQ stand so decided to give it a go. Asking for no chilli as my stomach had been feeling delicate after the amount of spices we’d consumed over the last 6 weeks, I needed a lot of water to get it down….I’d hate to think how spicy it would have been if we’d asked for extra!
Up early the next morning to pick up Alex’s new passport from the British Embassy, we headed out of the city and began the long journey north. We eventually found the ‘expressway’ and headed towards Ellora Caves. Having a quick look in the guide book, I noticed that it said the caves were closed Tuesdays…. No, can’t be right (it was Monday night I was reading this after all!). But yes, we pulled up and they told us that we would not be visiting the caves Tuesday but they would be open again Wednesday. A quick change of plan was needed and we decided we’d head up to Ajanta caves 60km north for Tuesday and then double back on ourselves the next day. Not great planning I admit!
Ajanta caves are lovely and after parking our car and negotiating a good rate for a car wash from one of the boys hanging around, we caught the bus up to the entrance 4km away. The caves are cut into a steep face of a horseshoe-shaped rock gorge on the Waghore River. There are 30 caves in all, and a wide range of diversity between them with some not being finished whilst others are extremely well decorated with fine paintings and ornately carved sculptures. We’d read most of the caves are very dark, so we’d taken a torch so we could see the finer details of the paintings. We once again perfected the art of “no photo” after being told we couldn’t use the tripod (no flash photography was allowed), as postcards were being sold on the tat stalls where we’d picked up the bus. In the early Buddhist caves, the Buddha was never directly represented, but symbols used instead like a wheel of law or a footprint. In the latter built caves there were fantastic statues of Buddha, columns and carvings. We spent the whole afternoon roaming around them taking in the splendour.
We drove back towards Ellora caves again and after much searching managed to find a really nice camp down a river bed, tucked away in a gully. The car only just fit but was nicely hidden from view. We wondered if we were near a military base, as we heard lots of bangs which sounded like gun shots nearby, but didn’t think too long about it. Only once did we try and hide the reflectors on the rear bumper as the headlights from a vehicle shone down the riverbed from a passing car. Luckily they didn’t spot us so we enjoyed the rest of the evening gawpers free! Up the next morning to rekindle the fire to cook brekkie before heading on to Ellora caves. 3 gawpers found us, but we managed to ignore them and head off for our next site seeing adventure. Ellora caves are even more majestic than Ajanta, with Kailasa Temple being the cream of the crop and we spent the whole day exploring them.
One of the biggest differences we’ve found with India is the people. In every other country we’ve driven through so far, the people have mainly been extremely friendly, if not curious about what we’re up to. There will always be the problem of language, however, a smile or a thumbs up makes a huge difference to the way you perceive people – if someone just stares at you, no expression, no smile, just a blank face, it begins to wear you down after a while. Unfortunately, this is how we found most Indians to be and there are a lot of them. For this reason, we’ve named them ‘gawpers’.
After Ellora, we decided to head back to the camp from the previous night, but decided to stop off for dinner at a road side café to save us from the hassle of cooking. Having ordered some vegetable curry dish and roti, we sat chatting outside waiting for our feed. Earlier, we’d already seen one horrific accident demonstrating why Indians really should wear helmets when driving motorbikes, and thought we were about to witness another one when we heard a car screech to a halt just by our car, with the car behind nearly go in to its rear. No crash and as our dinner had just arrived we tucked in.
After about 10 minutes, the chef who had a little English, told us there was policeman who would like to talk to us. We finished our dinner and asked the man to come over who introduced himself as Inspector Suresh Sillod. He sat down and began questioning us as to who we were and what we were doing. We explained all he wanted to know and the conversation began to steer onto the car; “a very unusual car”, very similar to one that had been described to him by some locals as being seen on a river bed earlier the day before. Hmm, not knowing where the conversation was going we kept quiet and he then asked if we’d been on this road the previous evening. We said we had been returning from Ajanta caves – we thought it best to keep it as ambiguous as possible for the moment.
The Inspector continued; one of his villagers had seen a big truck drive off the road, onto the river bed and he’d heard someone shooting a gun. He’d seen 2 westerners in the front of the jeep, definitely 2 westerners and concerned as to what they were up to, ran to tell the inspector. On hearing the news, the inspector scrambled most of his officers to investigate and drove down the riverbed to see for himself. He watched a vehicle drive slowly down the riverbed with searchlights on (that would be our sidelights on the car then) and began to follow. Unfortunately, the vehicle disappeared without trace so after asking round the nearby village, gave up the search (that would explain the headlights we saw). We explained we tried to camp as much as possible and that it could ‘possibly’ have been us driving on that river bed :o)
The inspector had been more concerned by the possibility of the jeep being stolen and, had two westerners been in the front, the possibility of them being hijacked or kidnapped as “no foreigner drives round India without a guide”! There was also the possibility of poachers as gun shots had been heard. When he saw our truck parked up by the side of the road, he couldn’t believe his luck and screeched to a halt to have a closer look, nearly causing an accident as he stopped. After explaining everything, we asked about the gun shot noises and he told us that there had been a festival on in a nearby village and as part of the celebration they set of firecrackers!!
He was extremely relieved to have solved the puzzle but warned us that bush camping could be dangerous round these parts. He asked where we were camping after dinner and as it was now 11pm, I thought it easier to ask if we could instead stay outside the police station rather than return to our riverbed. He was delighted to oblige and we followed him back to the office for chai. I think he secretly wanted to parade us round the other police officers to show them who’d caused all the fuss the night before!!
Up at the crack of dawn to get a good day’s driving in, after passing some strange monstrosities of statues, we found a service station that had showers! After cleaning up, feeling refreshed and having a feed, the manager informed us there was another station just outside the town we were heading to. We decided we would stay there for the night. We arrived in Nagpur after 10 hours. Geographically the centre of India (as many people will tell you as they pass) it doesn’t really have much else going for it. We caught up with internet, filled up at a service station that took credit cards (whilst watching construction going on overhead and the sparks fly as a girder collided with a street lamp!), fixed the puncture, bought some well needed beer and went to our home for the night; the service station.
With the troubles in Nepal getting worse, we’d become concerned about when we should enter the country. After talking with Martin we decided that we should delay by a week or so until after the elections, hoping things would calm down a bit. Alex & I had planned some R&R from mainland India and arranged to fly over to the Andaman Islands for some diving and charity fundraising with Barefoot Scuba. With the delay in entering Nepal, we managed to get to the Indian Airlines office in Nagpur and extend our stay in The Andamans – lovely! We then carried on our journey north to Bandhavgarh National Park. We stopped off at Marble Rocks and took a pleasant boat ride down the gorge to get a closer look at the naturally sculptured marble crags all around, but it’s nothing spectacular if you’re pushed for time.
As we approached Bandhavgarh in was getting dark, yet again breaking our ‘No Drive At Night’ rule. However tonight it had been worth it as the setting of the sun seems to coincide with ‘Poo O’clock’..!!! This consists of the entire village (men & women) going for a cr@p in social groups quite literally at the side of the road – nice! Concentrating on the road ahead we finally arrived, but it was difficult finding camp. Eventually we found the perfect spot and lit a campfire to cook dinner. We had the best evening with no one finding us and decided if we’d not been rumbled by morning we’d return after our safari. Unfortunately we were not so lucky and on awakening the next day there were voices outside the tent. We tried to communicate with the lads who’d found us but after gawping in the usual Indian way, they went on their way and we carried on with breakfast. Before we knew it, a plush 4 wheel drive pulled up and we thought we were in big trouble.
A very friendly gentleman introduced himself as Neeraj Pathania and asked if we had permission to camp in the national park. Pleading ignorance, we said we hadn’t realised we needed permission, which we hadn’t and explained we were hoping to do a safari that afternoon. Neeraj explained he lived nearby and the locals normally came to him when unusual things happened rather than park officials, so incidents weren’t blown out of proportion. Before we knew it, we were drinking lemon tea with Neeraj on his land where he’d offered to put us up for the night after our safari! 30 acres of land we pulled up to, which was in the process of being transformed into an eco-friendly safari camp. With a temporary kitchen, sleeping quarters and office already set up, the main work was about to start in preparation for the new tourist season. It has a lot of potential and we look forward to seeing the final results Neeraj!
Neeraj helped organise the jeep for the safari and after a great lunch prepared by his team Tobgay, Chitan & Toshi we went to try and find tigers. Unfortunately there were none to be found on this occasion and very little wildlife altogether. We managed to see a few animals and spotted peacocks, bok & monkeys. We returned to Neeraj’s and settled ourselves for the night. We whiled away the hours talking to him about his expedition work for National geographic, the BBC and discovery channel. A well-connected man with lots of interesting stories to tell. Usually devout to his fitness regime and drank only on Fridays with the boys, he broke his routine (it was now Saturday) and opened a bottle of Old Monk Rum to give us a taster. It tasted delicious and complimented the chicken curry dinner Toshi had rustled up for us. We ended up spending the next day just chilling on his land catching up with diary entries. It was so nice to be out of the hustle and bustle of normal India and could so easily have spent much more time there. We had another lovely evening, with a couple more Old Monks to warm our insides and slept again in the peace and quiet of the park.
The next morning we woke to find that a tiger had torn apart Alex’s towel that had been left out to dry over night. OK, maybe it was a Jackal but it’s sounds much more exciting if we say Tiger :o) After a great breakfast of porridge and omelette on toast, we were sent on our way with packed lunch, once again to brave the roads and traffic to Khajuraho to see the temples. We spent the day wandering round the Jain temples before carrying North to Varanasi. The roads were terrible and it took us hours to drive a couple of hundred kilometres. In the late afternoon we passed a Land Rover with a Dutch couple – Dick & Nanna. After having a quick chat by the side of the cars, we quickly decided to find a bush camp for the night and catch up on stories, as the local gawpers had gathered round us and were jumping all over the cars.
Alex and I hadn’t seen any decent ground to find a camp from the direction we had come, but we pulled off the road to explore. First attempt was a no go as the whole area was either farmed or populated. We then took another turning, parallel to a river and passed through a village. Alex and I thought the river bed looked more appropriate to venture down, but we passed the village and came to an open area. Thinking it was now time to turn round, Dick pulled up and said, “OK, this should do”. Alex and I snatched dubious looks but decided we’d give it a go as it was getting dark and we hadn’t really seen many appropriate places. We obviously had very different ways of looking for camp, and I’m not sure the laborious toing and froing we do to find our spot would have gone down well. We parked the cars parallel to each other so we could sit between them and cook.
We had woken up the village by driving through and before long there were about 50 people gathered round the two cars. Alex and I were a little overwhelmed as we’d never had such an experience, however, Dick and Nanna seemed to be well practised at crowd control and before long we had a rope tied round the outside of the cars to keep the gawpers at bay while we tried to enjoy the meal we had cooked – curry. You’d think after a while, the people would get bored and wander off to find something more entertaining than watching 4 foreigners chat (well I should say shout at each other as the gawpers were making so much noise it was hard to hear) and eat.
After washing the dishes, we realised that we were the entertainment for the evening and nothing was going to drag them away from it. I appreciate that we had entered their territory and realise these people don’t have much in the way of entertainment, but we’re talking about adults as well as kids here, and they were all acting as childish and stupid as each other. It was time to move. We drove back the way we came and found another empty patch of land, which seemed to be the local toilet, to park the cars on. With it being dark, we didn’t draw any attention to ourselves so spent the next hour chatting in the moonlight before retiring to bed.
The next morning we were burdened with some devastating news………..the gawpers from the night before had kidnapped the duck. Our mascot for 6 months, leading us round the world was gone, unfortunately resigned to a life in India. We miss our duck. We had a few choice words for the little tykes who stole him, but had not really given him much of a chance with the situation we’d been in. We left for Varanasi with a heavy heart.
It took us the whole morning to reach Varanasi and we stayed at the motel Dick & Nanna had recommended. We got a rickshaw into town and had a wander round the ghats that line the western bank of the Ganges River. Varanasi can only be described as a paradoxical city and a real overload for the senses. With the sacred Ganges providing an important spiritual link to the Hindus, people bathe in it daily, a ritual that washes away all sins. There are many elderly people who spend the latter of their life here in the hope that when they expire, they will reach moksha – the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. With religious tones ringing through the ghats, it’s a real eye opener when you see open sewers pouring into the river next to a bather – there are 30 of them in total in this area.
The Ganges is so heavily polluted at Varanasi, that the water is septic – no dissolved oxygen exits. Samples from the river show the water has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100ml of water. In water that is safe for bathing this figure should be less than 500! Unfortunately the problem is much more widespread as this causes many water borne diseases to spread among the villages that use the Ganges as their water source.
As you walk along the colourful ghats, you get a real feel for people living out their daily lives here. People play cricket, fly kites, have their hair cut, get massages, sleep, do yoga, washing clothes in the rancid water, sell flowers, offer blessings and improve their karma by giving money to the beggars. The smell as you walk along the river is pungent and I can’t imagine why anyone would actually want to bathe in this cesspit – good karma or not.
As we ventured further along we came to one of the burning ghats, where bodies are cremated. Anyone except 5 types of people can be cremated; Sadas (holy men), pregnant ladies, anyone who has been bitten by a snake, those who have small pox and young children. These people are thrown in the Ganges after being tied to a rock to weigh them down. This really is a very different ritual to anything I have ever experienced before. Back at home, we pay our respects to the deceased and then everything untoward is done in the back rooms where we have no idea what goes on. Here, death is as much a daily routine as life. The bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms, and they are carried through the alleyways of the city on a bamboo stretcher swathed in cloth. Once at the ghat, the corpses are doused in the Ganges before being placed on a huge stack of wood for the cremation. Each log is carefully weighed so the cost of the cremation can be calculated.
The eldest son leads the procession and has his head shaved as an act of mourning. No females are allowed to attend. The priest and mourners circle the body 5 times before setting light to the logs. The stack then burns for at least 3 hours (longer if you have money to spend on a bigger pile of logs) while people meander round the ghat. Animals graze on whatever they find (I’d rather not think about it) while the kids play in the mud and ashes, looking to see if they can find a souvenir to sell on, left from the burnt bodies.
Ash flies through the air as the logs and bodies are prodded with sticks by the doms to keep it all burning. At one point, a rather stubborn head was not moving to where it should and after a smash down with the stick, the brains exploded out of it. Not a pretty site I can tell you. With burnt limbs sticking out of the fire, the air had a strange smell to it.
We spent a few of hours walking around before returning to our hotel. Hoping for a good nights sleep as we’d decided to get up for the dawn call and watch the thousands of pilgrims bathe in the sewer, we went to bed. I’d had very little sleep as I could hear a couple of mossies buzzing round my ear. I must have dropped off as I was woken by Alex turning the light on - about 30 mossies flew off me and began buzzing round the room. Good job I was up to date with my malaria pills! I’d been bitten all over my face as that was the only bit of me exposed, so we went to the car to get some mossie coils and spray to get rid of them. The next morning after seeing a huge hole called a window, which was supposed to have mesh over, we realised how they’d got it! Having been up half the night, we overslept so missed the sun rising, but got down to the ghats to see some bathers and have a boat ride.
Seeing daily life from the river was as interesting as from the ghats. The old and young bathing - they even take in the water before spitting it out again, many people standing in the water washing clothes or linen and people still playing cricket!! We spent an hour rowing passed the ghats and back again. On the way back we saw something ripple in the water. On asking the boatman what it was, to our amazement he said a fish! We presumed it was a special sort of fish which could hold it’s breath for very long periods of time and was coming up for air! Luckily we didn’t see any floating bodies, which can be a common site, as some people bob back to the surface if they’ve not been tied to a rock properly, but on getting out of the boat, we nearly trod on a skull which had been washed up. After savouring the sights and smells once more, we happily bid our farewells to Varanasi and headed for our well needed holiday to The Andaman Islands.
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|Comment from Keith|
|Nooooo! Not the duck! Poor little fella was liberated from the Lands End Hotel just before the 99 eclipse, only to be snaffled by some gawpers in India... what a way to go.|
|23 Mar 2006 @ 15:20:44|
|Comment from Tall Eric again.|
|Oh yes, a nice description, with scientific qualification of the amount of shit in the river. We like that. I hope someone burns my body properly when I am cremated, so I don't have some hourly paid geezer twat me on the head with a fire prodding stick after I have died ("that costs extra, Sir!"). Hmmm - live over there? - Non merci!|
|23 Mar 2006 @ 18:49:30|
|Comment from Tall Eric again.|
|In fact - we have just had a new colleague join us (again) who comes from India to Europe for the first time in his life, and after reading this blog, the contrast hits me. OK, this is a normal situation for us, they always ask if the water is safe to drink here and I (in a very understanding voice) say yes it is safe. I never imagine that they might possibly ask me if the water is safe to wash in - but that would also be a sensible question if your local river was such a gunk hole....|
Well, we all learn from each other and every day provides new ideas. Gotta go now and tie a stone to my mother in law, she lives in a loverly waterside cottage....
|23 Mar 2006 @ 18:57:54|
|Comment from Taimur Mirza|
|A twin of the stolen duck sits in Tanya's room, where do you want us to post it so that the other half of the journey is completed with this one :-) better still I'll send it to a friend of mine in NZ to be handed over to you guys upon arrival.... "network" ? |
All the best,
|24 Mar 2006 @ 05:57:12|
|Comment from Gawpers Front of Varanasi|
|2o0O d0ILaR5 0r y0U'7l n3VeR 5eE duCk a9A1n !!|
|24 Mar 2006 @ 07:59:53|