Sunday 20 October 2013

A taste of India - 27

The wonder of India 
The world famous Lake Palace hotel at Udaipur, India, sat like a beautiful white marble wedding cake, perfectly mirrored in the still, quiet waters of Lake Pichola, For two nights we had wallowed in Mogul opulence, enjoying its faultless service, but it was now time to return to the reality of India and all that it had to offer.
The splendour of Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur.
     A smoke and grit laden steam train swayed and trundled its way slowly north, taking us to the bustling city of Jaipur, famous for being India’s first planned city, for its astronomical observatories, and for its nearby Amer Fort.
     The old city is, by law, painted pink as a sign of welcome and hospitality. At sunset, it glows with the intensity of fire.
     This wonderful city of sights, sounds, and smells leaves you with enough impressions to last a lifetime. There are sufficient forts, palaces, and places of historical, cultural, and religious significance to keep a visitor enthralled for weeks.
Sights, Sounds and Smells
     But, it is Jaipur’s street scenes that most remain in the memory. They are a constant kaleidoscope of people, animals, vehicles, and activities unusual to the western eye. 
     Thousands of three-wheeled auto-rickshaws, ancient charabancs and Morris taxicabs fight noisily for space on the roads and streets, each spewing forth clouds of black diesel fumes that stir the dust filled air.
Horse-tongas, camels carts and cycle chaos.
     They compete with bicycles and horse-drawn Tonga’s: with donkeys laden with panniers of sand or grain, with bullock carts full of clay bricks or bales of cotton, and with trains of mules whose backs are burdened with bundles of carpets or farm produce.

     Coolies fight their way along the thoroughfares, straining and sweating in the dust and heat, pulling and pushing their huge hand-carts from one trader’s godown to another; each laden with as much as two ton of goods.
     Amidst all this chaos, and completely unruffled, are oxen and camels that saunter along pulling overloaded wagons, while ponies and elephants lead wedding or funeral processions, followed by noisy discordant bands of musicians.
Bizarre bazaars 
It is worse during rush hour - by Global-lab
     The unpaved 'pavements' are awash with humanity; people are dressed in colourful garments and costumes, each trading, bartering, and haggling over every basic commodity imaginable, from spices to saris, paper to Primus stoves, pens to hookah pipes.
     Shops are often nothing more than an open-fronted area in front of a wall; goods compete for space and attention by spilling out onto the sidewalks. Fruit and vegetables, which are piled high on flat round wicker baskets, share space along the edge of the road with snake charmers, betel nut sellers, letter writers, aphrodisiac pedlars cobblers, and ear cleaners.
Fruit and vegetable sellers - by Robert Barnhill
     Goats tethered to butchers slabs, bleat as they wait to be slaughtered as fresh meat. Buffalo stand patiently to be milked. Monkeys scamper at random. Cats, dogs, chicken, ducks, geese, and goats are everywhere, as are Holy Cows standing and sleeping wherever it is most hindrance for people and traffic.
Foul Deeds
     The air is heavy with heat and humidity, and thick with dust and fumes.  Dirt, poverty, and squalor abound. People and animals defecated in the streets - it all becomes part of mankind’s daily rubbish that is pushed into the side streets at the end of each day.
     Certain designated castes make their meagre living as rubbish sorters; each specialise in collecting string, paper, plastics, metal, bags, and ashes. What is left at the end of each day is picked over by Holy Cows, chicken and other animals. There is little left for the city's refuse lorries to collect.
     Being a traveller in developing countries often requires one to forget - or at least to put aside - ones previous values, and to travel with a clear mind and a blank piece of paper, accepting everything for what it is. Travellers can seldom be more than casual transient observers, who must suppress their own values and try not to see things in comparative terms.
Pause for Thought
     I have written of the squalor and poverty seen in Jaipur, but I could have written similarly of New York or London. Was it not just yesterday that the British lived with lino floors, mice, rag mats, tin baths, coal-grates, and clothes-mangles? Or, the day before that, did we not have unmade streets, horse and carts, spittoons, rag pickers, board beds, outside dunnies, open drains, work houses…?
     Too often we compare our current western point of historical development with that of another country, cultures are seldom in step with each other; it is because of this that travel is so interesting and worthwhile.
     Our four-month Indian sojourn gradually toughened our soft western immune systems to the vagaries of local bugs and strange foods! Our hyper-tense and fast lane disposition slowed to a laid-back dawdle.  We adjusted to the heat, humidity and dust; haggling became almost a way of life.
The Black Hole
All aboard the India school bus
     Our arrival in Calcutta coincided with friends passing through from their month-long trek in the Himalayas. They had just enough time to pause and use us as tourist guides around the city.
     We took them to the Victoria Monument, built in 1911 to commemorate Queen Vic's Jubilee and which ironically marked the beginning of the end for British rule.    
     We visited ‘Rat Corner’ near Lenin's Statue in the centre of Calcutta, - where they spent 5 minutes, watching incredulously as hundreds of rats scampered in and out of their burrows, chasing, fornicating, and somersaulting before the bemused crowds, who foolishly fed the rodents with tidbits rather than rat poison.
Tiffin time at Rat Corner
     We clambered aboard a slow, noisy tram that screeched and shuddered its way across the Hooghly River by way of Howrah Bridge. Like a time machine, it transported us back to the ancient market area of Burrabazaar - a major wholesale trading zone for the city and indeed the whole of Bengal and Eastern India. 
Centre of Commerce
     We arrived at dusk and found the enormous market area of streets, lane, alleys, and passageways, alive with activity. Trade was being conducted in every conceivable 
commodity: nuts, oil, grain, tin, copra, jute bags, seeds, rice, coal, brushes, pans, candles, engines, fabrics, labour, and a thousand other things.
     Traders were striking deals and showing samples in the light of candles, oil lamps, or tilley lamps. Gold, silver and jewel merchants ,sat cross-legged with their scales and safes inside huge iron grilled cages for security. 
Busy street scene in Calcutta
    All the while, glistening bodies of hundreds of sweating coolies rushed back and forth from one warehouse to another, transporting bales of goods on their heads, or on large handcarts.
     The future markets of London seemed tame and unreal compared with the real market place here.  We came away reeling from the experience.
A Retreat
      I sought relief on the cool veranda of my wife’s family home in Calcutta: a large 200-year-old ex-colonial house with high ceilings and cool airy rooms.
     The slow monotonous thump, thump, thump of an overhead fan barely stirred the air as I sipped cool fresh coconut juice. A blind eyeless cat was curled contentedly at my feet, and nearby, slept a balding mangy dog that twitched in its sleep, its tail being nibbled by a pet tortoise.
     In the garden, I saw local children trying to scrump fruit from a Guavas tree, and a monkey running along the top of wall. As for me, I felt a little like the cat at my feet - too comfortable to let anything bother me. All was well with the world.
     Travel is an unending journey of surprises that require an occasional haven such as this to catch one’s breath.
Written by Roy Romsey

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1 comment:

  1. Roy, You should be writing for Lonely Planet or at the very least one of the travel blogs. You have described Jaipur just as it is. What visitor could ever forget the nature of the traffic? In my time there it was both unpredictable and chaotic. We arrived in the city behind cyclos carrying trade goods and would have struggled to average 5 kph. Our morning runs to the many sites were relatively trouble free but being the time of the Mother Earth Festival our returns in the evenings were another matter again. A 10 minute morning drive could readily turn into a one hour return. Then there were the traffic police who felt the best way to move a tuktuk along was to beat the rear panels with waddies. I was too amazed at this practice to even take a photograph but later played Spotto with others in identifying similarly beaten tuktuks from my bus seat. The aromas of the food preparation, the beggars, the piles of rubbish and the freely roaming animals combined to give the city its unique stamp. I envy your being able to stay so long in the country and the capacity to stay with folk you knew.


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