Mountains, deserts, cities, wilderness, terrorists and toilets
01.05.2010 - 07.05.2010 41 °C
John:....New Delhi is a really colourful place. Even in the devastation of the building sites women labour in the heat and dirt wearing the most stunning collection of colours in their sahris. These women are just a small sample, not from a building site but at The India Gate in the heart of New Delhi, out taking the air on Sunday afternoon:
Matt and I visited the National Railway Museum in New Delhi. As with much of Delhi, the amount of WORK IN PROGRESS is considerable. Translated here to RESTORATION IN PROGRESS, many of the RESTORATION IN PROGRESS signs are so degraded through age that they themselves need restoration. We enjoyed the experience however and at only 10 (30 cents) rupees to get in it was a real bargain...better still to charge a realistic foreigners' rate and plough the money into the museum. The facinating story that is the Indian Railway Service is partly told here. Trains, royal carraiges, different track gauges , signals, films, uniforms and tales of pioneering work are all here. We will see plenty more as we use the service to travel around northern India (see below).
All of the exhibits were painted up beautifully. Unfortunately the rust beneath the new paint hadn't been treated so the decay carried on below the surface; perhaps an allegory for India herself...hard to know. Certainly this reveals one of the recognisable, to the foreign visitor, facets of Indian life; namely that the painter paints and the metal worker fixes the rust. The clerk carries out clerical duties; ask him for a glass of water and that task is somebody elses. This way everybody has a job and the strict hierarchy of jobs, and therefore position in society, is very closely observed.
By far the most entertaining exhibit at the Railway Museum was the letter, posted in 1909, from an irrate traveller to the railway authorities. It made me laugh when I read it, I laughed even more when Matt read it out so I could copy it down (to the letter this is a faithful copy):
I arrive by passenger train Ahmedur Station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefor went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard made whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah [water pot] in one hand and dhoti [a piece of unstitched cloth wrapped around the waist and the legs, and knotted at the waist] in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female woman on the platform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur Station.
This too much bad. If passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait minutes for him. I am therefor pray your honour make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers.
Yours faithfully servent
Okhil Ch. Sen.
The letter conveys a sense of outrage that would have been lost in more 'conventional' English and was instrumental in getting toilets put on trains in India.
Our stay in Delhi has been punctuated by reports of trouble brewing. The excellent 'Travel Safe' service from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, informed by the New Zealand High Comission in Delhi, provides us with timely, specific and helpful advice by email as soon as they hear of such warnings. The most recent of these as follows:
'Specific and credible information indicates that terrorist attacks in Delhi, especially in markets, may be imminent. All New Zealanders should avoid markets in Delhi. You should be very vigilant, be aware of your surroundings, and monitor local news reports'.
To this end we have avoided the markets and taken the opportunity to enjoy other aspects of this extraordinary city.
I mentioned the excellent and well maintained Crafts Market in the last posting. Murals are everywhere and the place is is a joy to visit
Part of the enjoyment here has been in reading the newspapers. On Sundays the Express carries a 'Matrimonial Supplement' in which families advertise for partners for their son/daughter. By reading this supplement you will understand that everybody is handsome/beautiful as well as cultured and tall. Superstition and pragmatism also feature (note request for horoscope details in 2nd clip). As you can see from the two examples below the caste system is far from over. Sadly, a 22 year old New Delhi journalist was murdered last week in what the police believe to be an 'honour killing' (ridiculous name) by her mother because she wished to marry a boy from a lower caste than herself.
'An affluent and cultured Punjabi family seeks alliance for handsome son 30 years old 5 feet 6 inches working in San Francisco, educated from St Stephens, Delhi, The Ohio State and Stanford Universities. Girl should be very beautiful, cultured and professionally qualified'
'Parents seek match from a cultured Brahmin family for their tall, beautiful daughter 26 years old 5 feet 7 inches. Post Graduate engineer, permanent visa and engineer in top MNC of North America. Father senior officer. Send photo and birth details for horoscope...'
I mentioned our visit to the National Museum in the last posting. Rather like the National Railway Museum it seems to have once been grand, with grand aspirations but now seems to be rather tired and shabby. Perhaps representing the ambivalence that many Indians feel about their history. The collection, especially the exquisitely detailed miniature paintings, are wonderful but the neglect of the building left me feeling a little sad by the end of it...paint marks on 800 year old statues because nobody thought to cover the carving before the painter started to paint the plinth, that kind of thing.
Having said that there are some lovely exhibits including a room dedicated to the Indian Navy. In there, a model of the INS Delhi, once HMS Achilles and then HMNZS Achilles seeing action at the River Plate before being sold to the Indian Navy and recommisioned one year later after Indian independence. Like the rest of the museum it feels like it needs a 'champion' but in the heat and chaos of Delhi maybe that is a tall ask.
We have found a great driver here in Delhi. Real name Bhupinder Singh but prefers to be called 'Happy'. He walks just on the right side of the line dividing aggresive driving from assertive driving. He rarely uses the horn in his taxi, unusual in this city, but always seems to get through what ever jam there is on the road. Wearing his navy blue turban he looks quite regal in his taxi whilst being extremely helpful and responsive to our sometimes confusing instructions. He is from Amritsar, our next destination, and his family including his wife, are there. He has been driving in Delhi for 10 years and, unlike many of the auto rickshaw drivers, knows his way around the city really well. Happy takes delivery of a new air conditioned taxi in one week. He is excited about this. More on Happy as our stay progresses.
From what we have done to what we have planned to do. We have four excursions planned, using New Delhi as a 'hub' to travel out from and return to between trips.
Trip 1 - 10 days
We will leave New Delhi on Friday morning, taking the 6 hour train journey up through the Punjab, with our friends Amanda and Matt. Our first destination is Amritsar, up in the north west of India and home to the magnificent Sikh Golden Temples. From there we will travel up into the foothills of the Himalays to the town of Dharamsala, perhaps most famous for being the current home of the Dalai Lama. After a few days there we will be parting company with Amanda and Matt and making our way across to the town of Simla/Shimla. The latter was the place that the entire pre independence Government fled to in the sledgehammer heat of April/May in New Delhi. We are no different! From there back to New Delhi for nearly a week before our next excursion.
Trip 2 - 14 days
From New Delhi we will be taking the overnight train to the city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges. Sacred to the Hindu religion, this place is described as 'one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth'. It sounds irresistable. We will be there for 4 days before taking the overnight train south to Katni and then on to the tiger reserve at Banhavgarh for a couple of days. From there we will travel across country to Khajuraho and Orccha, famous for their temple carvings. Our return to Delhi is via Agra and the Taj Mahal and Agra fort.
Trip 3 - 15 days
This trip takes us out right across Rajasthan, through the Thar Desert to the frontier city of Jaisalmer. We begin by going southwest to Jaipur and then up into the desert from Mandawa and Bikaner to Jaisalmer. Our return to Delhi is through the ancient cities of Jodhpur and Udaipur
Trip 4 - 7 days
..and so back home to Franz Josef. We leave Delhi and take the two hour flight to Mumbai. Driving out of the city the following day we will be staying in Aurangabad for 3 nights to take in the cave temples at Ellora and Ajanta. Back to Mumbai for a couple of days before catching the QANTAS flight to Singapore, Sydney and Christchurch.
Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends.