A Travellerspoint blog

Goodbye India

sunny 33 °C

Wow! Our two months in India are at an end. It seems like only yesterday that we arrived to the overwhelming chaos of Delhi, so naïve about India that we would unknowingly hand over two hundred rupees to someone thrusting a “blessing” upon us and then demanding a “donation”. On the other hand, Delhi – or rather our naivety – also seems such a long, long time ago. Looking out over the streets of Chennai while writing this, that same chaos we experienced two months ago now seems so completely “normal”. Not only do we not fall for the blessing ruse anymore (three attempts in two temples today), our Indian savvy is such that we refuse to buy water from a street vendor who tries to overcharge us two rupees – a little more than $0.04. So… are we suggesting we have India figured out? Not even close.

As we moved north through the state of Tamil Nadu, we immersed ourselves in the rich temple culture of the region. We wandered through temples that were over a thousand years old, with origins going back beyond recorded history. We sat inside the cells of gods, carved by hand into the side of granite cliffs or out of single boulders larger than four city buses. We were invited on several occasions to enter the inner sanctum of the temples to experience our own darshan (viewing of/by the god), something that is typically off limits to non-Hindus. We chatted with temple priests in between their blessings (and their text messaging), several of whom took great pleasure in teasing us about Canada’s poor showing in the Cricket World Cup. We’ve read temple signage stating it’s a “proven fact” that worshipping a certain god will deliver results such as becoming pregnant. We’ve been told that certain holy plants will die if touched by an “unclean” (menstruating) woman - again, an absolute “fact”. Warren even had a one-on-one discussion with a sadhu; the fact that neither could understand the other was of no consequence (a sadhu is essentially a wandering holy man that has renounced all worldly possessions and relationships). Through it all, we’re still just as, if not more confused about the Hindu religion and its millions of gods and rituals. But on some level, we’ve come to appreciate and admire the richness and sheer joy religion brings to people in India. And in seeing this joy on countless faces throughout our travels, trying to figure it all out just doesn’t seem that important any more. But India being India, even the steadfast commitment to religion has its contradictions. For example, take Auroville…

Auroville has its origins in the city of Pondicherry; a city that in itself is a contradiction. Annexed as a French territory in 1672, it was only returned to India in 1954. As such, while wandering around what can easily be described as a typical Indian city, you will suddenly find yourself wondering if you’ve somehow magically left the country. Without warning, the city suddenly transforms as you approach the Bay of Bengal. There are sidewalks - real sidewalks - lining straight, paved streets; buildings are complete and well maintained; there are actual street signs (in French!); and there is silence (“no horns” signs are posted everywhere). It is within this small slice of France that in 1968 a Parisian woman known as “The Mother” brought forward a vision of united humanity and the city from which it would germinate. A short distance from Pondicherry, the utopian community of Auroville is now home to 800 families, representing people from over 35 countries around the world, linked by a common charter that has among its primary underpinnings the complete abstinence of any and all religion. Only in India would such an apparent contradiction to the norm not only be permitted, but welcomed, encouraged and even supported by other community, business and even religious leaders.

While we’re on the topic of leaders, our journey through Tamil Nadu has coincided with the upcoming state election. It has been quite interesting following the drama, especially with regard to the openness of the corruption. Just this morning, the paper outlined the “benefits” the two front runners would provide their constituency should their respective party win. Among other things, the list includes laptops, grinders, mixers, fans and rice. Most notable was the offer of cash and gold for “marriage assistance”. Despite grandstanding about doing away with dowries, this financially punishing institution borne by a bride and her family is still going strong (which today’s paper also cited as the cause of 3 recent suicides in the region). In an attempt to clean up some of the election process, the Election Committee has initiated what they call “flying squads”. These teams set up road blocks to seize cash, TVs and clothing being brought into major centres to bribe voters (our car has been stopped and searched twice). It came of no surprise when it was discovered that the flying squads have been a little light fingered with the loot they have seized; seems they have been taking any money they can, regardless if it is legit, and neglecting to document it… Our driver just laughs at this because it’s all situation normal. Last election, his family received a bribe of 1,000 rupees per family member to vote for a certain official; this year he’s expecting 3000 per person. It’s hard to judge anyone for working the system when the program starts with the very leadership of the country (which we’ve also been told any individual can secure a senior position in…if you can afford it).

While there may have been a time when all of this would have surprised us, not any more. We’ve found that in only two months, many things that would cause our jaw to drop when we first arrived we simply don’t even notice anymore. Perhaps we have become desensitized to them or we have just grown used to seeing them, or perhaps we have expanded our comfort zone… We’re not quite sure. But we know our perspective has shifted because it took conscious effort (and a couple of beers) to recall a few of the things that used to illicit an OMG! Things like: traffic coming at us at high speed on the wrong side of the road; cows, goats, buffalos and other animals wandering or sleeping in the middle of the road; bullock carts on city streets and highways; sari-clad women and men wearing lunghis or dhotis (fabric wrapped in a skirt-like manner); sidewalks with man-eating holes that drop right into open sewers; bars on hotel room windows to keep the monkeys out; people sleeping on the street in the middle of the day; hearing the call to prayers from the local mosque; a family of four riding a motorcycle… all nothing more than our own “situation normal”.

However, we’re still a long way from being Indian; there are a few things that still get to us. A big one is the garbage. It is everywhere…absolutely everywhere. We are still taken aback at the sight of people throwing their garbage wherever they happen to be. Even at places like the World Heritage site in Mahabalipuram, filled with incredible stone temples and carvings from the 7th century, garbage is simply dropped anywhere. Bags, bottles, food – you name it and it’s on the ground…or in the rivers, lakes and oceans. There is also the little matter of the open sewers. For the most part, we are very used to walking around and over them. However, when you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time (meaning downwind on a hot day, which is every day), the smell is, shall we say, downright nasty. And then there are the beggars. It’s been tough some days to deal with the non-stop requests (demands, harassment) for money. We’ve been pleaded with, yelled at, grabbed, cursed, crawled to… It’s been a tightrope to figure when to give and when to turn a blind eye. The advice we’ve picked up along the way is to only provide assistance to disabled adults and perhaps elderly women (they may be widowed and have no source of income). Without exception, we have been counselled (in one case by the ex-mayor of a village we stayed in) not to give anything to children as, more often than not, the children are in the “employ” of a gang (particularly in the larger cities) or it will encourage the child’s parents to keep him/her out of school if they can bring money into the household by receiving money or gifts from tourists. And finally, while seeing four on a motorcycle is no big deal anymore, if we happen to see a five, it still gets our attention.

So as we prepare to leave India to head to SE Asia¸ we look back on the countless experiences we have undergone, along with a greater understanding and appreciation for this diverse and complex nation. We have learned to appreciate Indians’ tolerance for different social customs and religions. We have accepted that we will never be able to sort out and understand the millions of Hindu gods, despite our ongoing efforts. And we’ve gained a great appreciation for how they approach their lot in life; with gratitude for what they have rather than longing for what they may not have. We leave with innumerable images indelibly printed in our minds: the sweeping deserts and massive forts in Rajasthan; the tranquility of the backwaters of Kerala; the endless fields of coconut palms and colourful, ornate temples in Tamil Nadu; the smiling faces of countless young children who approached us to ask our names and shake our hands; the kaleidoscope of colours of the beautiful saris adorning the Indian women…

In particular, we will never forget the sight of endless, heaping piles of fresh produce on carts and in baskets lining the roadside; the sound of blaring, honking horns from early morning until late at night; the pervasive smell of wood smoke from cooking fires; the feel of the burning hot granite under our feet walking through temple grounds; and the taste of masala tea (“chai”) which Lee-Ann can’t get enough of… We take away with us over 1,000 photos, a million new memories, some incredible new perspectives about life and… one small, very special bronze Ganesh (but that’s a whole other story to be told at another time…).

Goodbye India. Next stop Bangkok, then on to Vietnam.

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Posted by Baxters 09:39 Archived in India Tagged india tamil nadu southern Comments (0)

As south as we can go...

Kerala / Tamil Nadu, Southern India

sunny 37 °C

After many days in the highlands of Kerala, we travelled back to sea level to the town of Alleppey, famous as the starting point for house boating tours through the backwaters of Kerala. As usual, we adopted our "zero expectations” attitude for this adventure, much like we’ve tried to approach all of our experiences in India. This shouldn’t be confused with being negative – quite the contrary. We’ve found the more we leave our preconceived notions behind about how things “should be” and just let things unfold as they will, we have more often than not been delighted with the results. House boating in India was no exception. Quite different from our previous house boating experience in BC, in Kerala our bamboo covered houseboat had a large, open air living and dining room, huge air conditioned stateroom with a full ensuite bathroom and a crew of three to look after our every need – which was mainly feeding us. We spent our time between huge, delicious, freshly cooked meals watching life in the backwaters pass by much the same as it has for hundreds of years, enjoying the humid tranquility and leisurely pace of the backwaters.

Our houseboat crew only continued to impress upon us the friendliness and welcoming smiles of the people of southern India. And as we move further south, we are witnessing a growing number of Indian tourists (and subsequent decline of foreigners). We have never travelled to any country where the greatest majority of tourists are nationals. Indians take great pride in their country and it is apparent that the emerging middle class is enjoying some of the fruits of its new found wealth by travelling throughout their homeland. That is not to say that India has ever been bereft of travellers. Pilgrims have travelled throughout India on sacred journeys since the dawn of time and, if anything, pilgrimages have only increased within India as a result of increased, cheap transportation (the “video-bus” being one of the most popular) compounded by its enormous population.

Following the stream of Indian tourists, we continued heading south, driving through miles of coconut palms - as far as the eye could see. Our next destination was Kovalam, a small fishing community cum beach resort on the southwest coast of Kerala. We settled comfortably into beach mode (yes…again)…lazing in the sun and taking full advantage of the string of beachside restaurants overlooking the surf. Every evening we watched a fleet of small fishing boats (more like oversized wooden canoes) head out to sea, and every morning we watched them return with their catch for the local market. Early one morning, we walked around the point near our hotel and came across the tiniest of fishing villages, snuggled into a small horseshoe shaped cove. From the hill above, we watched a group of men pull in to shore - by hand - a huge net that had been set by a single boat well over a kilometer out to sea. It was fascinating to observe yet again a traditional lifestyle that has been practiced unchanged for generations.

The time came for us to move on, so we headed further south once again – this time as far south as we could go. Crossing from Kerala into the state of Tamil Nadu, we arrived in Kanniyakumari on Cape Comorin, the southernmost tip of India where the waters of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea all converge. There on a small island a short distance from shore are two impressive memorials – one for Mahatma Gandhi, whose ashes were thrown into the ocean here; and one for the Bengali philosopher Sri Vivekananda. Kanniyakumari is a popular pilgrimage site which in India means the temples are surrounded by endless stalls of tourist souvenirs, toys, sweets and snacks (and the aforementioned video-buses). Although we have no interest in buying day-glow plastic gods or faded post cards, we’ve discovered these stalls are a great place to get cheap snacks to have in the car!

And with that, we stocked up with foodstuffs (known and unknown) and turned the car north to the city of Madurai as we begin our journey into Tamil Nadu, a region that is one of the most culturally and historically rich in India and has been described by one scholar as the “last classical civilization on earth”.

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Posted by Baxters 05:29 Archived in India Tagged india south kerala tamil nadu Comments (1)

Same country, different planet

Southern India

sunny 35 °C

Paradise on the Arabian Sea

After travelling over 3000 km around Northern India (mainly Rajasthan), we flew to Goa for 4 nights – the longest stay in any location since Hong Kong. We were pleasantly surprised to discover a tranquil, beachside paradise. We spent hours walking up and down the endless, wide golden sandy beach, stopping occasionally at one of the many thatched roofed beach bars for a cold beer, or swinging in a hammock strung between palm trees, listening to the gentle surf and the rustle of palm fronds in the breeze. Fortunately, our hotel/resort was located at the far southern end of Goa, away from the crowds and development. We did not go to one temple or fort; we did not go into town; we did not leave the beach except to return to our room to lounge in our huge window seat and watch the sunset. Even so, we’ve already noticed a difference from Northern India (aside from the lack of honking horns, crowds and touts)… at least here in Goa, people seem much more laid back; they speak better English; we can see a physical difference (which may be due to the strong Portuguese influence from times gone by when this area was an integral part of Portugal’s trading empire, dealing in the spices this region is so famous for). We’ve also noticed another shift in the makeup of tourists. When we first started out, France was the dominant country. As we moved through northern India, France gave way to Germany. Now in Goa, Russians make up the majority of tourists. Mixed in among the Russians are a somewhat motley crew of British beach bums, clearly living out their retirement (or at least the winters) in beach bars, playing backgammon, drinking beer and eating like kings – for about $10/day (Note: we may be back one day – post retirement ….).

Speaking of eating, with fishing being one of the major centuries-old industries of Goa, still done in many instances from handmade wooden boats stitched together with ropes made from coconut fibres, we finally broke our “vegetarian only” pattern and tried some of the local specialties. You can’t go wrong with fresh curried prawns or Kingfish and a cold beer in a thatched hut on the Arabian Sea.

So…it should come as no surprise that we’ve quickly gotten into the groove here and could easily settle in for a much longer stay. However, the next leg of our journey is about to begin. It has been an idyllic break for us, and we are rested and rejuvenated and ready to continue our adventure down the coast and around the very southern Cape of India.

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Internet options continuing to be slim… several days and hundreds of kilometers have passed since our time in Goa.

We’ve moved further south to the state of Kerala (which means “land of coconuts”). We had come to suspect that North and South India are completely different countries; as we have begun to explore the south, we are convinced they are different planets. Like its neighbour, Goa, we’ve found Kerala to be much more laid back and friendly than the north – even the hawkers and touts tend to back off after the first (or second) “no”. It is much cleaner than Northern India and there is nary a cow or pig to be seen on the streets, which makes walking a far less messy affair. Even the traffic is less aggressive. Travelling through the bustling, modern city of Kochi, traffic almost took on a semblance of structure – as if there were actual rules (although crossing the street is still as dangerous as ever). One of the most striking differences in Southern India is the high ratio of Catholics (Catholicism having been brought to India by the Portuguese in the 15th century). Catholic churches abound throughout Kerala, however, the Catholic religion here is approached in a very Indian fashion (eg. everyone removes their shoes before entering a church, and garlands of flowers are strung around statues of Jesus and Mary). Tolerance for different religions is evident, with Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Catholic churches side by side with many Indians observing (and mixing) more than one faith.

Kochi is one of the richer cities in India, much of the wealth being generated by family members working overseas in the Persian Gulf and sending money home. Despite this, many still earn their living in traditional roles, such as the families that operate the centuries-old Chinese fishing nets. We watched with fascination as the labourers manually hauled the nets up and down, on average 300 times per day, to retrieve their catch. However, it seems some things are universal – we spent a lazy Sunday afternoon strolling along Kochi’s seawall among countless locals out enjoying the beautiful weather with friends and family, just like we do in Vancouver.

From Kochi we headed inland – and up – into the mountains of the Western Ghat and the tea plantations around Munnar. Try as we might, no words or pictures will ever do justice to the overwhelming beauty of this area. It’s as if some of Switzerland’s alpine had been dropped into India and then planted with tea – thousands of acres of tea – among endless groves of eucalyptus, oak and other species of trees. Vivid shades of green as far as the eye can see. We hired a guide to lead us on a trek through the tea plantations, up and over a ridge with a 360 degree view overlooking several valleys and range upon range of mountains fading into the distance. It wasn’t lost upon us that most of our time at this elevation (around 7000’) back home has been spent on skis as we noted the coconut palms around us. We also noted that the locals of this mountainous region are very adept at moving vertically – during a particularly steep portion of our trek, our guide (in flip-flops no less) responded to Warren’s question “Switchbacks? No Sir. We go the straight up for to make the faster time”. No doubt this aptitude has been developed over generations of tea plantation workers, cultivating crops that are planted on 30-70 degree slopes. Watching the tea pickers work picking the leaves by hand and carrying bales of tea leaves on their heads up and down the steep slopes (mainly women as they have proven to pick faster than men), I doubt we’ll ever again be able to have a cup of tea without reflecting on the enormous physical effort put into that cup.

From Munnar, we moved south and, after a couple of hours of driving through endless tea plantations, crested a ridge and suddenly found ourselves in cardamom groves and coffee trees. We continued on to Thekkady on the border of Periyar Tiger Reserve. This is “spice central”. All around us grows coffee, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, vanilla, jackfruit, pineapple, mangoes, papaya, cocoa (which has led to our discovery of local homemade chocolate!)… and flowers. The scent of jasmine literally perfumes the air, and the variety of tropical and exotic flowers is amazing; bougainvillea, hibiscus, poinsettias… And being right on the edge of the Reserve, with the jungle all around, the sounds of bugs, birds and black monkeys (which jump around in the trees right in front of our balcony) mix with the noise of the TukTuks and mosque loudspeakers calling the faithful to prayer.

Last night after dark, we set off into the Reserve for a night trek through the jungle. We lucked out by being the only two on the trek. Then…we began to wonder about out “luck” when our guide handed us knee-high gators to protect us from the leeches and a second guide arrived carrying a loaded rifle. We quickly appreciated having an armed guard with us when not 20’ feet into the jungle we came across a tree that a tiger had used as a scratching post. Based on the height, size and depth of the claw marks, we began to wonder what good a .22 calibre rifle would do against a tiger – let alone a pissed off wild elephant (huge trenches have been dug in the jungle just outside the village to keep the elephants away – trenches that we were now on the “wild” side of). We were relieved/shocked to learn that the gun was actually for people – smugglers. At Ranthambore Reserve in the north, the problem is tiger poaching; here in Periyar it is sandalwood smuggling. With a small saw, two men can duck into the jungle and hack down a 20’ sandalwood tree which they can sell on the black market for a year’s worth of wages. Although we did not see any tigers or elephants (or smugglers), we had an amazing time, overwhelmed by the sounds of the jungle at night, the sparkle of fireflies and the ocean of stars that peaked through the canopy of the trees. And lest we forget we are in India, in the middle of our trek, in the middle of the jungle, in the pitch black of the night, our guide stopped to take a call on his mobile.

Tomorrow - off to Alleppey to cruise the Kerala backwaters on a houseboat.

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Posted by Baxters 23:55 Archived in India Tagged india goa kerala southern Comments (0)

Day 24 - India continues to “shock and awe”…

Rajasthan

sunny 26 °C

Coming from North America, where safety regulations pervade every aspect of daily life, it’s unbelievable how one’s personal safety is very much one’s own responsibility (and karma… more in a bit). Public vehicles’ capacity (i.e. buses, trains, taxis, etc.) are based not on how many seats or seatbelts are available, but by how many people can possibly cram in, sit on top or hang on outside. Crosswalks do not exist, so crossing the street is a high-risk adventure that requires quick reflexes, determination and courage. We’re getting the hang of it but, when working our way across multiple layers of traffic requires freezing mid-stream, trusting that vehicles will swerve around you with – no exaggeration – inches to spare, it can still be a little daunting. And while we’re getting very comfortable with our driver driving at high speeds and dodging people, cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, rickshaws, camels, pigs, dogs and of course cows, we have just recently been introduced to doing the same at night. When at least 50% of vehicles have limited or no lights (and forget the bikes, cows, people, etc.), it’s a whole new ball game. And, as Warren just recently pointed out, it seems virtually no one wears glasses. Either India is blessed as the nation with the world’s best eyesight or there’s a lot of guess work going on by millions of drivers. However, we must note that after hundreds of kilometers on the road, we have only seen three accidents – although we did see a roadside cremation (yes – on the side of road, fuelled by wood) of a young man killed when his motorcycle was struck by a truck.

Care of children is another example (although in no way is this meant to imply that children are not loved and cared for)… At home, everything relating to children must meet stringent safety standards and regulations: cribs, highchairs, playpens, strollers, playgrounds, etc. must be certified by regulating authorities. Car seats are mandatory, and one wouldn’t think of taking a child or infant in a car without strapping them in. Yet here a common sight on the streets and highways is an entire family on a motorcycle. Yes – a family! The toddler is seated in front of Dad who is driving, while Mom (in her sari) is sitting side-saddle with a sleeping infant draped over one arm and a parcel in the other – and rarely a helmet to be seen on anyone (never on children). Children play on the roadside, and walk or ride their bikes to school through the chaotic traffic. But they take it all in stride as it has been a part of their lives since day one. And we must reiterate, one of our favourite things about India is the the smiles and “hello” yelled to us by even the smallest of children as we walk the backstreets outside of the “tourist zones”. Straying off the trodden path is something we have always done when travelling, and while doing so in India can bring you face-to-face with some pretty shocking, unpleasant realities about life in India, we have never once felt unsafe.

Construction, too, is approached very differently. Scaffolding is typically bamboo poles, which we have seen being used to prop up concrete and stone balconies while the worker stands on top of an empty plastic bucket, which is on top of a somewhat sketchy step-ladder. At home, a hard hat, reflective safety vest and steel-toed boots are required to even step onto a construction site. Here, barefoot men work with rudimentary tools and women in saris carry pans of dirt and rock on their heads in open construction sites (often with cows, goats and/or dogs wandering through) earning a grand total of 100 rupees per day (about $2).

Perhaps it is their faith that their daily worship of their gods will protect them. For here in India, spirituality and religion is interwoven into daily life. It’s not just attending church on Sundays… With 85% of the 1.2 billion people who live in India practicing Hinduism, temples are everywhere! In the cities, in the villages, in the desert and in the mountains… massive, elaborately carved temples; colourful temples to worship Shiva, Vishnu, Hanuman or one (or more) of literally millions of gods and demi-gods (we’ve been told somewhere from 30 to 300 million of them); tiny shrines comprised of one small carved idol under a tree or in a nook in a wall… the variations are endless and everywhere. Every household has a picture or sculpture of Ganesh over the entrance or doorway. Every household has at least one small shrine. People visit the temples to worship throughout the day and evening, provide offerings of flowers, or light incense. Everyone seems to have their own way to worship, their own gestures, their own interpretation… and it’s all ok. And it’s this complete integration of religion that perhaps explains how so many extremes can exist side-by-side with absolute acceptance. It is an ongoing challenge for us to understand how so much apparent pain, suffering and poverty can be a simple part of everyday life, but if you’re one of the more than one billion people in India that accept karma and reincarnation as a fact, then if your lot in life is to be living on the street (or much, much worse as we have seen), then it is because that is where you belong based on previous actions – in this life or another. Therefore – no sympathy, no opportunities, no special treatment, no guilt…you are where you deserve to be. Trying to observe and understand without judging is one of the reasons why travelling in India is as much an emotional journey as anything else.

We’ve learned so much, but are still confused by our observations of life in India. However, we are reassured that we are not the only ones. We have had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with a number of fellow travellers who also find the contradictions and cultural differences of India bewildering. For us, the joy of travelling is enriched both by the local people we meet, and the many fellow travellers from around the world with stories of their own experiences to swap and share. As we approach the end of our first month in India, we look forward to new and different adventures as we prepare to head south. But first, we have one final stop ahead of us… the Taj Mahal awaits!

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Posted by Baxters 05:35 Archived in India Tagged india northern Comments (0)

On the road in India

Rajasthan, Northern India

sunny 35 °C
View Baxters' World Tour on Baxters's travel map.

Traveling by road in India is an experience unto itself. We decided to indulge in a private car and driver for our exploration of India and, after more than 1,000 km, we have come to appreciate how unique an experience the roads are here.

First there are the roads themselves… We have travelled roads that have ranged from modern, multi-lane highways (up to 14 lanes wide one direction) to single lane winding roads and narrow dirt alleys. The quality of pavement has varied from freshly paved, smooth as silk, to the roughest washboard, gaping pothole-filled streets you could ever imagine. Typically, we have been travelling on 2-lane “highways”.

Then there are the vehicles on the road… transport trucks, buses, tractors, cars, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and scooters, bicycles, and wooden carts pulled by oxen, donkeys, camels, water buffalo or people. The vehicles are often precariously overloaded, with 2-wheeled transport generally bearing 3-4 people, and other vehicles overflowing, with people hanging on outside or sitting on the roof. The right of way is based on size, with smaller vehicles giving way to larger, and everyone giving way to the cows (who seem to know they reign supreme). Yes – along with the multitude of vehicles transporting people and goods, the roads are shared with cows, goats, camels, dogs, pigs, monkeys and any other domestic animal that happens to be roaming or snoozing on the road. There seems to be a slightly different priority given to vehicles coming in the opposite direction, where speed along with size plays a role in granting right of way.

Finally, there are the drivers… There is a saying in India: “good horn, good brakes, good luck” – kind of sums it up. Aside from dodging vehicles coming in the other direction and trying to pass anything they can overtake, drivers are also faced with dodging potholes and rough patches of road as well as wandering or sleeping animals and people. It seems more like playing a video game than driving a car. The drivers seem to have nerves of steel as they swerve and slam on the brakes, or honk their horns, to avoid everything else on the road. In traffic jams, they fill every bit of space, with smaller vehicles nudging in beside trucks, then motorcycles and scooters filling the space between until mere centimeters remain between any given vehicle.

Karma, the many gods that are worshipped in this country or, indeed, “good horn, good brakes, good luck” seems to prevail as we have yet to see an accident, although we have seen a few remnants...

The best thing about the roads, however, is the amazing landscapes through which they have taken us. We headed out from Delhi 10 days ago, driving across the vast, arid plains to Mandawa, then on to Bikaner. Endless, flat scrubby plains filled with countless busy little villages, and herds of goats, cows, sheep and camels passed by as we watched, fascinated. From Bikaner on to Jaisalmer, the landscape morphed into “real desert” as we were told by one man, with massive sand dunes and desert grass stretching to the horizon. The style and material of the homes changed too, from brick and mud, to red sandstone, to the golden sandstone for which Jaisalmer is so well known. From there we headed to Jodhpur, the capital of Rajasthan, which we found to be a large, modern city with a quaint, old town in its center over which the amazing Mehrangarh Fort looms. Of all the cities we have seen to date, Jodhpur has been our favourite. It is very clean (caveat: by Indian standards). While in Jodhpur, we were driven in a 60 year old Land Rover to a Bishnoi village where we were introduced to their traditional lifestyle, spotting antelope and wild peacocks in the fields. We continued on from Jodhpur to Ranakpur, leaving the desert behind and heading into the hills. The road twisted and turned, winding through the hills as the landscape grew more fertile, with lush valleys, rock walls and rustic villages which made us both think of Tuscany and Greece. We arrived this afternoon in Udaipur, city of lakes, and have settled into our lovely lakeview room overlooking the lake ringed with palm trees, bougainvillea and…traffic. As India unfolds before us, we continue to be amazed, shocked, disturbed and inspired. Jaisalmer_..n_India.jpg

Posted by Baxters 02:45 Archived in India Tagged india northern rajasthan Comments (3)

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