Gerald McMullon, 4th September 1990
In September 1970 I moved to Nottingham to study for my A Levels. Here I was introduced to the culture of India and Pakistan. I learnt about and adopted some of the attitudes and customs of my friends and the people, later in-laws, that I lived with. This process continued even after the separation and move to Cambridge. No longer living in a predominantly Asian area and only seeing college friends a few times a year in 1987 I took up Hindi lessons. These have been periodically interrupted because I worked in London in 1988 and the attendance diminishes by the spring term, in any case and so they get cancelled until the autumn. Inspite of my lack of linguistic abilities and almost total inability to reproduce sounds that I hear I have mastered most of the script and can read, write and certainly say more Hindi than I did before. Other than visits to Southall, Leicester and Nottingham or shopping in one of the few Indian shops in Cambridge, East Ham or Bedford I am in a cultural backwater. Yet the wish to visit India, in particular the Punjab where most of my friends families originally came from, has been ever present.
After University, getting married, separating and changing jobs I have never had both the funds and the necessary holiday allowance to afford to go to India.
In 1982 I was on course for a Christmas trip to India, then I changed jobs in May. By the summer of 1983 I had enough funds and had accrued several hours overtime as well as my full holiday allowance. The company was liquidated in August. Changes in employment in 1985, 86, 88 and 89 usually left me without sufficient holiday allowance. Anyway, there was always something else to spend my money on.
Back in 1988 I had decided that I would obtain a new car in September 1989, when the G registration came out. This desire was exacerbated when I started at GST in January 1989 and a company car was in the offering. However, inspite of saving £140 per month on the train fare I didn't have enough to pay off the existing loans and credit cards.
In June I set out to re-mortgage in order to raise capital to buy a second hand executive car. I had an estate agent evaluate my two bedroom semi-detached. The market had dropped considerably since the high prices of the previous summer. My next door neighbour had placed his house on the market for £77000. I was told that people in Armitage Way were not able to sell at £69000. Hence I discovered that there was someone eager to purchase a house similar to mine. I re-checked the prices of the houses in Milton that I had viewed in January. The 10% drop in value in my house was matched by the 10% drop in these four bedroom detached homes. The difference in prices was becoming narrower. The high mortgage rates had to come down soon, but at the moment appeared to give me the edge.
Tuesday morning, the first week of June I told the estate agent to place my property on the market. That evening the buyer I mentioned viewed and made an offer £1000 less than the asking price of £69000. The estate agent said to lower the price, I said no, but would compromise on £68500. I obtained a £12500 reduction on the house in Milton to £97500. My mortgage went up from £22500 to £70000 this left me with about £14000, from which I had to pay over £3000 in fees.
So the chance of a £14000 executive car (2-3 years old) disappeared. With the remaining funds some were put aside to subsidise my mortgage over the next 12 months, at least. I decided to equip the house, carpets laid, three additional bedrooms to furnish (a wardrobe and bed from Dad, twin space saver beds at £450), new cooker (twin gas, electric and halogen ring costing £550), water softener and filtration plant installed (£1650), computer controlled door lock (£250), bookcases to make, curtains and towel rails to put up. In fact the move resulted in spending over £8500 plus paying off my load from 1985 and the credit cards. I have not had so much fun for years.
However this left me in a total un-natural state in having money in the bank, gaining £50 interest per month. Unfortunately the investigation into obtaining an alternative to my 1984 Maestro HLE had convinced me that only a Jaguar or, at least, a Celica would do. Otherwise there was no point in changing. With the rate of spending since July buying a car now had to be ruled out.
Since July I had also been accumulating flexi-hours and had taken no holiday. By October this gave me over 6 weeks holiday to be taken. So not only did I have sufficient funds, but also ample time to visit India.
At the end of my Hindi night-class in October I announced that I would definitely be spending December in India. Having spent Diwali in Leicester in the company of Moslems why not spend Christmas in India in the company of Hindus?
This was the same night that the chancellor increased the mortgage interest rate. That one change reduced my residue salary by £600 per annum. Rapid recalculation ascertained that I could still afford it (just), and I hoped that the interest rate would soon be reduced, and I could always let rooms (something else that proved to be less easy than I thought).
This led to a flurry of activity to get the entry visa, inoculations and flight booked. I also wrote to Ravi to see if he was going to be at home in December. The correspondence took so long that it was impossible to let him know what day I had booked for the flight. I tried ringing, but his number had changed.
I met Ravi through Terry, and he had visited me in Cambridge and used the interactive video equipment of IIS in the summer of 89 when I was working there. Since then we have corresponded periodically.
In November I decided to visit Oma for her 83rd birthday, Friday 17th. I had problems getting my passport back from the Indian High Commission; they couldn't find it. It arrived just in time to book the flight from Stanstead to Bremen and arrange the train ticket from Bremen to Hanover.
Although my German has not improved, if anything has become worse with lack of use, I found it easy to converse with my fellow travellers. I had a new sense of excitement. I had time on Friday to get some Minox films and purchased two Hi8 video cassettes for the Sony V900 that I hoped to get for the trip. I could not obtain enough transparency film and settled for additional negative film.
On the train from Hanover to Celle there was a young woman attempting to move her luggage with a baby strapped to her. I asked her, in German, if she would like some help. She responded in German, but soon realised that I am English. She is Irish although has spent all her life in Germany. Her husband met her at the station and did a double take when I spoke to him in English.
I had not told anyone that I was going as I was unsure about getting my passport back. So they were very surprised. Oma was shaking until I hugged her.
Getting back to England proved an adventure in its own right. Firstly the train from Hanover to Bremen that I expected to take only ran on Monday morning, not Tuesday. So I had to wait at Hanover from midnight until 5am. Then Stanstead was fog bound and so the morning flight was cancelled. I then had to wait 11 hours for the evening flight. At least I got a free breakfast from the air line This got diverted mid-trip to Gatwick. We were then bused to Stanstead and so I got home at 21:00 instead of 09:00.
I had obviously been following the news about the opening up of Eastern Europe, particularly what was happening in East Germany. Fritz told me that Stephan, Anita's brother-in-law, had queued up at the boarder and took 12 hours to drive to them a trip that normally only took a couple of hours - with the correct papers). He knocked on the door said 'Hi' and 'Aufwiedesehen'. Fritz asked him where he was going. He had to drive straight back to be ready for work the next morning and had driven all the way just to prove that he could do so.
When I waited for the bus at Celle railway station several people asked me for directions. The amusing thing was that I was able to tell them, having worked in Celle during two summer vacations. One young woman had a different accent and I found it hard to follow what she was saying. It was only later that I realised that she was from East Germany. Hanover station was crowded with East Germans Christmas shopping. I to loaded up with Germany biscuits. Christmas doesn't exist without lieb Kuchen. I took some for work, and some to hand out in India.
The next task was getting the video camera. I originally intended in buy one second hand (costing less than £700) and selling it on my return. I then read that the new High Band 8mm camera was released in November costing £1395 plus £110 for two additional batteries. It arrived on the Wednesday before my Saturday flight. I had therefore no time to learn how to use it or record more than a few minutes to test it out. I attempted to get insurance cover, but the limit on baggage was £1000 and £100 per item. It ought to have been possible to extend my house contents cover, but the CIS needed more time than I had to make the arrangements.
Carrying a suitcase made no sense at all. So I spent £110 on a backpack. This can be carried like a suitcase or strapped over the back like a rucksack. I had asked both Terry (who spent some time in Pune) and Ravi to let me know what would be sensible to pack. Failing any advice I took too much and I bought too much stuff whilst there. I had twice as many shirts as I needed and bought another four. I also purchased trousers, sandals and shoes. I wore the sandals in Pune, but not thereafter. I spent over 1400 rupees on clothing in Pune. I took a good set of clothes, which I didn't need, but had I stayed another week I would have gone to a wedding in Delhi. I also missed by a few days a wedding in Pune. The trainers that I bought where hopeless. Having to undo shoe laces at every temple and mosque is too time consuming (there are a lot of temples in India). I took shorts and swimming trunks, neither of which I needed. Bombay was 32 degrees, Pune was in the high twenties, but at night dropped to 7 degrees. Further north, at Mt Abu (1212 metres above sea level) my room dropped to zero at night. Delhi had a day time high of 22 degrees, but as soon as it became dark (5:30 pm) the temperature dropped to 5-6 degrees. I could have done with taking heavier thermal wear and a jumper or warmer jacket.
The sun cream was not needed. I had expected to get burnt. Other than Bombay the climate was very good, but cold at night. I did get a little browner, but that was mainly due to the forced leisure in Delhi whilst waiting to get new traveller's cheques and passport.
I took my Sony Professional Walkman - in the event of finding anything worth recording - which I did. I acquired a stereo microphone for it (£60). I also had no idea what I would be doing all day. Long train journeys could be boring, as can hotels. So I took 17 cassette tapes. Three contained my Hindi language course the rest was my efforts to reduce my collection of music to "a desert island" selection - roughly 28 LPs - not 8. Najma Akhter had just released a new LP and Nasreen and Anwar obtained a CD and posted it to me at work. It arrived on the Friday morning. I had just enough time to record it for my trip and get a copy made for Nasreen before driving to London.
I also purchased a Sony SW1 short wave radio. At least I would be able to hear the BBC World Service. Full digital processing and all wave bands in a package half the size of a paperback book. It is hardly bigger than my credit card Stereo FM radio but the reception is considerable better, aided by the telescopic aerial - at £150 it should be.
I carried my shoulder bag everywhere - the bag supplied with the video camera. It contained my two smallest Minox Cameras, the 20 year old Rollie (which I took because I still had over 10 films left), Minox Flash gun, the Sony V900 video camera, with two extra batteries, headphones (from the SW radio), passport, traveller's cheques, drivers' licence, credit cards, Papermate biro and pencil, travel guide, the addresses, spare films for the three cameras and spare video tape. This little lot was stolen from the train. More of which later.
I tried to obtain the new Hi 8 tapes for the video camera before I left Cambridge. As I couldn't I bought six ordinary tapes. Then in London I went to PRC, a shop near were I had lived and they had the new tapes. So I ended up having 16 tapes (19 hours). I was on the third when the camera was stolen. I don't know if this meant that I really took too much video tape (I wanted 12 hours), or that I really didn't use the camera correctly. Holding the camera for 10 seconds is an eternity. I also wanted to avoid spending all my time filming and no time being there. With the poor results of the snap shots the video is the only real record that I have.
Videos are banned from many temples and monuments, as are cameras in some places. In Uttar Pradesh there is a state law prohibiting the use of videos at the monuments, so no filming at Agra Fort, the Taj Mahal, etc. But, on balance, it was still worth taking and in preference to obtaining a 35mm single lens reflex camera with telephoto lenses.
I had budgeted £3000 of which the video camera was to be about £1500 and I expected to get over £1100 back from selling it on my return. The trip ended up costing £4700. £1050 was spent on things that I still have, or gave as presents. £888.75 was recovered in the insurance claim - out of the £2446 worth of articles stolen. The cost of the adventure was approximately £3900 - not the estimated £1500.
So, with this little lot, my backpack was 23Kgs, the camera bag 7Kgs and I bought a silk carpet in Jaisalmer which weighed another 6Kgs. I seldom carried my backpack, as the porters would take as little as 2 rupees (8p) to carry it to the autorickshaw. The usual payment was 5 or 10 rupees. For this I got taken to the correct train, mostly, and my seat found for me. If you are able to book in advance then your seat number can be found posted by the carriage door. The computer printed list normally works and my name was no more badly spelt than it is in England.
When I decided to carry my own baggage I adopted the typical porter style of supporting the weight on my head. I have frequently been stared at in London, but encountered outright surprise in India. At one station I observed a family with enough baggage to move a small home. The porters turned out to be a woman and boy, neither over 1.5 metres tall. She balanced three suitcases on her head, the final one being put in place by the boy.
I left my car with Terry, at his home in Acton, London and stayed the night. Terry got me modifying a program for him at 10pm until well after midnight. I then had to be at the airport at 6 am.
The flight from Heathrow was a good start. In the departure lounge I met Sonia. She is from Brazil and currently doing a year's advanced training in London. Her friends had already gone to India and she was expecting to join them in Pune. As my first port of call was Pune we agreed to travel together. At the long stop over at Baghdad we chatted to a nurse from Preston. She was taking her niece to Bombay to learn meditation techniques. We tried to persuade Sonia not to go to the Shree Rajneesh Ashram. He was recently thrown out of America, and hit the headlines again after I left India when he died.
I had a strong feeling of affinity with her. As the opportunity for this trip had opened for me so had it for her. Everything seemed to be slotting in place. Not only my life was on an up, so were most of my friends. The events in Eastern Europe and the general election in India have given new hope to millions of people. These events contributed to my sense of joy. Meeting a new friend boosted this feeling. The nurse from Preston had thought we were old friends, yet she had witnessed our meeting.
My Hindi came in useful very early. I helped a Moslem lady fill in the landing document. She spoke English, but got confused and couldn't see the small print properly.
I got held up at customs, having to declare the video camera and get my passport filled in with the details of my cameras. Sonia rang her friends, who were still in Bombay waiting for her. They then collected her and she came back to find me and say goodbye. We parted as close friends, and hugged tightly. I believed then that we would she each other again, but now I doubt that. I had given her my GST company card and wrote on it the address of the people I was going to in Pune. I should have got her London address, but had not expected to be parting so suddenly.
I still had a long wait at customs. The details of all my equipment were filled out, and then added to my passport. I also had a long hike around the airport to get the papers signed by a high enough official.
In the queue I translated for the custom official what the German tourist was saying. Small world.
The next task was obtaining rupees. I only took ten £100 traveller's cheques and cashed one in. I was given 100 rupees too much. After a couple of recounts I handed back 100 rupees to a very puzzled bank teller.
I went by taxi from the airport to the long distance taxi rank. From there I took the taxi to Pune 195Km away. The airport seemed so much like airports and stations in England, but with fewer Indians.
Taxi fares are higher than autorickshaws and higher in Bombay than elsewhere in India. The trip to the Pune/Bombay taxi rank was well over the top.
So my first site of India was the drive past the shanty town. The sight was no surprise, we see too many films about India to be shocked, but nothing prepares you for the smell of too many people cramped together without sanitation. In the open doorways you could see the flashing of the television pictures. Many of these poor families have electricity and own TVs. They are, in the main, clean and have white clothes, so conditions can not be as bad as they seem.
At the taxi rank I was told that the fare would be 450 rupees, or 95 if I shared. By now the sun was high and there was no shade. I got hot. A few minutes later an Englishman got dropped off. I spoke to him cheerfully, but became more reserved when I discovered that he had changed his name to the one that Rajneesh had given him. He spoke to a couple of men standing around asking them to exchange money. They were offering better rates than the bank at the airport. I felt from the beginning that really I did not wish to get involved with the black market.
The taxi was getting full and I was asked to get in. The Englishman was not able to join us, to my relief.
The taxi ride to Pune was the worse journey I had in India. The five hour trip was hot, bumpy and came after the 18 hours flight. I had been in India a week before I concluded that they do drive on the left. The Sikh driver 'over took' lorries on either side, the cab horn being blown for at least half of the time and the maximum speed was 50Km/h. When lorries break down they are jacked up or turned over in the middle of the road. The heat is a dry heat and I became dehydrated. I had a litre flask of water from home. It had been cooled during the flight and even three hours later, when we stopped mid-journey, was still cold.
I sat in the front, pinned between the driver and a chemical engineer on a visit to his son at Pune University. After some general questions the conversation went into politics and the recent election. The driver joined in. Soon I got left out and could no longer follow it in Hindi. I fell asleep.
In Pune getting out of the taxi I felt weak legged. A hoard of autorickshaw drivers offered me their services. I showed them Ravi's business card and eventually one man heard the address drove over and said he knew where it is.
I arrived at Ravi's home midday. He was at work (this was a Sunday) and his mother out visiting friends, but his uncle's family was in. After this initial introduction I never saw them again, inspite of being in the adjacent flat. They rang Ravi, and he came home to show me my room. He had to meet his uncle as he was to photograph the company staff for publicity. So I went with him.
Ravi gets around Pune on a Lambretta. Hitting the pot holes in a taxi was one thing, high speed on a scooter was another. The pot holes are bad, but the repairs are even worse as this creates a ramp to fly off. Many sari clad ladies ride side-saddle sometimes with a baby or infant wedged between them and the driver. When the driver was also a skinny teenage girl my admiration for Indian women became even greater.
Ravi's uncle owns a printing press and prints bank notes for most of the banks in Maharashtra. During my stay I had tours of other industrial units and had explained to me the problems of operating a small business in the shadow of Indian bureaucracy. My impression is that everyone works, and very long hours, 6 or even 7 days per week. Shops are open from 8 or 9 (although in some towns they don't start until 10) to 8 or 9 at night. The many bridges over the Mula River are full of traders, often women and young children, and many gypsies.
The Joshi's are Brahmin. Ravi and his father, Bhau are engineers. Lata's degree is in chemistry. As Ravi was very busy, not only at work but in the construction of their new home above the factory, Lata, his mother became my guide to Pune and teacher. Bhau also spent much time discussing religion, politics and from them I learned a great deal about modern India. Lata has been involved with women's groups. The problems sound so similar to those I encountered in the East End of London, when I went with Maureen who had a client in a woman's shelter. There is a difference between learning about the daily life of people in India from UK immigrants or the predominantly white news media and indigenous Indians. The overview remains the same, but the details and perspective are different.
I found that I had so much in common with Bhau and Lata, believes and customs. Bhau is rightly well respected by friends and employees. His un-assuming ways have strength of believe. His views on the still practised dowry system and his refusal to attend marriages where this takes place has made many couples refuse to accept this custom. He is very jolly and always has a ready joke.
Bhau was surprised that we both had the same philosophy, arrived at by different routes. Such common views he expects, but has not found, in India but had not expected this from am individual who lives 5000 miles away.
At breakfast Bhau performed daily pooja. The offerings were later picked up by the house sparrows that fly in through the open kitchen windows. Most evenings Lata and Bhau walked to a Ganesh temple to pray.
Lata strengthened my believe in the 'Mother India' image of Indian ladies. She entered and won a scooter race against an otherwise all male entry. Brought up in a large extended family that shared themselves with Moslem and Chinese children. She went to a 'camp' school and so her first language is English. She used to proof read for her father's printing press, now run by her brother, and for the local English language paper. My letters must cause her annoyance or at least amusement with the many errors per page.
They have been trying to find a suitable match for Ravi. He is now 27. Lata and Ravi are not worried about caste or even religion, but Bhau is concerned that their astrological charts match. Inspite of a population of 800 million people Ravi choice is reduced to a population of suitable families of may be only 500,000, so there could be as little choice as 50, un-married, of the correct age and education. I thought I had it tough. On the Wednesday before I left Lata questioned me about a lady she wanted to introduce me to. Time was too short to pursue this. But who could compare with Lata?
In Pune I visited the Kasturba Samadhi (Aga Khan's Palace), where Gandhiji was interned by the British. I also visited the Raja Kelker Museum, the small zoo, the Empress Gardens, the nearby Shanwarwada Palace with its Shivaji stature and drive by the market place where you can buy everything from a hair pin to a tank's gun. On nearly every street corner is a beautifully laid out temple, mostly dedicated to Ganesh, the god with the head of an elephant.
Lata also took me to visit friends. One of which has furnished one room in his new home with the doors from the 'family' home which was built 400 years ago. Not even the museum has piece to match their splendour.
On the climb up to a temple we passed by a street seller with a daughter and son. They wanted their picture taken so I filmed them and let them watch themselves on playback. The response of people seeing themselves on video is delightful to observe. Further up I had my first taste of fresh sugar cane crushed to extract the juices. The fruit and fresh vegetables tastes better in India than the imports in England.
Going to the Kasturba Samadhi we took an autorickshaw and asked the driver to wait. When we came out he was gone, without waiting to be paid. On another trip we had only just got into an autorickshaw when the traffic was halted by a policeman and got hit by the autorickshaw behind. An argument ensued. The police officer told us to pay the driver and get another rickshaw. The driver did not want any payment, as he had not taken us anywhere. We got into another rickshaw and left them arguing.
There is an annual 3-day festival of classic music, the Sawai Gandharva Indian Classical Music Festival. One of Ravi's friends was supposed to be going and offered to take me with him. He didn't turn up, so I went alone. Classical concerts are as poorly attended in India as they are in the UK. I arrived at 11 pm and left, being too cold to stay at 4 am. Shortly after I arrived Pandit Durga La performed kathak dancing. Ravi Shanker started his performance at 1am. I filmed part of the closing piece and found holding the video for over 5 minutes quite an effort. Seeing the results of this Ravi lent me his tripod for the next evening. On the second night I listen to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan playing sarod. Again I arrived late in the evening and stayed until 4 am. I taped some of the performance and video filmed them as well. One women spent two hours telling her friends how bad her husband was and how he broke her collar bone - all in English with a thick Indian accent. Two men wrapped up and went to sleep during the interval. When the music started one accompanied the tempo with his snoring, to everyone's amusement.
One of the Joshi's tenants was at the concert and was unsure about speaking to me when he saw me there. I wore a white jacket, and with my hair colour I certain "shone" out in the reflection of the stage lights. He asked to see what I had videoed so I wired up his TV to show them. When his wife found out that I like karala she made it especial for me.
Pune is the fastest growing town in the world. The state provide free education for the poor, but these families make everyone work by selling things or begging. When accommodation is available the shanty town people have been know to sub-let it to the middle class and go back to the shanty town. The wealthiest families employ women from the shanty town to look after their children whilst they do social work for the poor.
When I went sight seeing on my own I often got followed. Soon I got used to the repeat of the same questions - What's your name?, Where are you from?, Are you alone?, Are you married? (where is your wife?), Is that a camera? (referring to my Minox). Most recognised the Sony video. Demands to take their picture where later accompanied by requests for "one rupee" and "give one pen". You also get hassled by autorickshaw drivers looking for fares.
I bought a sandalwood Ganesh, a small box inlaid with brass and a carving made to look like a nut but opened to show Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. The shop where I obtained these from is owned by a friend of the Joshi's. He didn't like the sum of 420 rupees; being too even a number, so gave me 10 rupees back. Lata gave me a spice container; several compartments for different spices made out of stainless steel and a bag of masala. Some evenings we went out for a meal. A group of Ravi's student friends met at a restaurant and I was invited. The girls were teasing Ravi about the advertisement his family placed. They wanted to know what kind of bride he was looking for. Ravi is a semi-professional photographer and has many front covers to his credits. I had asked him, with meeting all these very beautiful ladies why was it that he was not married. He responded that they were nice to take photographs off, but would not be so nice to live with.
Occasionally I watched television. The films are often accompanied by sub-titles in English so I found these easier to follow.
I spent over a week with the Joshi's and was very sad to leave. I could have stayed there for all six weeks, but I needed to move on, and experience more of the country. I had hoped to find something really new. The Joshi's treated me so well that I felt as if I was a brother, not just a visitor.
The return to Bombay was by train, ticket courtesy of my host. Lata accompanied me as She was going to a wedding in Bombay with an elderly couple. I had fallen asleep in the taxi coming, but now was able to enjoy the trip. My first site of Rhesus and Hanuman monkeys and vultures taking advantage of the thermals. Being winter (32 degrees) the countryside lacked the green lustre of spring and summer. None the less it is very beautiful.
Now at Bombay railway station I again felt the isolation of being alone and vulnerable.
I was also a little reluctant to visit Veena's younger brother's family. I have known Veena and her family over the past three years, and have met her cousin and his son. The night before I left Cambridge she gave me the addresses of her brother in Bombay, father in Kanpur and cousin (brother to the cousin I had already met) in New Delhi. They don't know me and inspite of Veena's instance I really wanted to take them a small present. So I felt uncomfortable at least. Still, they were expecting me and a local contact is always helpful.
My confidence was further hit when Mona declared that she "Hates all Britishers". Her mother is very nice; insisted that I take a jumper with me, as the north of India is very cold in the evening and at night and also gave me two stainless steel plates and food to take on the journey when I left.
Mona is 17 and at college. She has a distorted view of the west - accurate in the main - wrong in detail.
They live in a tower block, on the 12th floor over looking the beach. A cool breeze was welcome at night and the views, one side over the city, the other out across the bay, are magnificent.
After returning from a trip to India Gate I got into the lift with two infant boys. I had over-heard them talking in English, so I said "12th floor please". Pressing the buttons one boy declared in surprise "He talks just like us".
Veena's sister-in-law was going to Delhi, so I couldn't stay very long. I went to get a rail ticket to Ahmedabad at Christ Church station. The local station to the tower block is Dadar. Easy to get to, but very hard to find a taxi able to bring me back to Prabha Devi. Bombay local trains are like the London Underground. I was warned not to travel in the rush hour. In fact at all times I found no difficulties with the crowds. The Central line at Liverpool Street Station, 8:30 when the Cambridge train arrives is far worse. But at least the tube will not move with the doors open. I also had the advantage that most Bombay citizen only came up to my shoulder in height.
I queued for 5 hours, only to be told that bookings could only be made for trains leaving that day or tomorrow morning. The prospect of another 5 hours queuing was too much so I took a waiting list place for the next morning. This does not mean you can actually get on the train, it just places you in the queue for a place.
I had to cash another traveller's cheque as they would not accept rupees without an encashment certificate. This rule also applied in many of the hotels, none of whom would accept the receipt from the Indian Railway. They also fill out the back of the certificate with the details of the bill being paid. So it was important to hang onto them.
I visited the Taj Mahal Inter-continental Hotel opposite India Gate. Coke (India's imitation of) costs 3.5 rupees in most places and 18 in the Hotel Bar. This was my first real encounter with street urchins. If you gave money to one you would be surrounded by scores. Too many to help. It is not certain that the money you give will do them any good. They may have to hand it over to some pimp who gives them a meal and perhaps a fraction of the takings. I watched a girl doing cart wheels for the tourists, skinny and short in height yet could be anything from 6 to 12 years of age, so great was the discrepancy between her size and face. I wandered off feeling so helpless.
I stopped to watch road works in progress. I had already seen in Pune gangs of men and women at building sites. The women taking on the burden of carrying bricks on their heads. The men are stripped down to a dhoti but the women have long shirts and heavily embroidered backless bodices. Many of these people are gypsies from the north. No spades or pick axes just a heavy hoe and the occasional help of a mechanical digger.
I went to Hajl Ali's Tomb. This mosque is situated on a rock about a kilometre out in the bay, with a long narrow path leading to it. The path is lined with beggars, most are crippled, often done to enhance their ability to beg. One man had a transistor radio blasting out Urdu songs. On the way there I saw a man and very small girl whipping themselves holding out their hands for money.
Europeans and Japanese are the prime targets for the beggars. Women will tell their two year old infants to grab you; as happened to me outside the Taj Mahal Inter-continental Hotel. As the population increases, and medicine becomes available to more people the problem increases. In the evening, as the temperature drops you find people sleeping on the streets. A pile of rubbish is often someone curled up against the cold.
The other type of target tourists are is from the tout. I got picked up by a man who offered to guide me around the temples that I was looking for near India Gate. He had a rapid fire of language - telling me much that I already knew - but did make it a whistle stop tour of the Jain, Banaji and Anjuma Fire temples. I was not too keen on being shown the funeral piles of those too poor to be cremated by their families. This side tour was accompanied by a 'request' for donations to each of the religious orders. A few hundred rupees is not much, but there are several religions and no certainly that the money will go to the charity stated. This tout also demanded payment for 'going out of his way'.
I then set off looking for the aquarium and walked up Chowpatty Beach as the sun set over the bay. The aquarium was being visited by a group of Russian sailors. I tried to talk to them, but they wouldn't speak.
The Prince of Wales Museum is an impressive building, similar to the British Natural History Museum in London, but the exhibits are not well looked after. The Raja Kelker Museum in Pune and the Calico Museum of Textiles at Sarabhai House in Ahmedabad are the only museums in India, that I saw, that take care of their exhibits. Both are run by private trusts. The state is too poor to attend to the relics that are found all over India. Unfortunately this means that future generations will never be able to see these treasures. I saw artwork in Rajasthan that has survived a thousand years, yet I see little hope that they will survive the turn of the century. Before going to India I had felt that the 'West', in particular the British Government should return the treasures taken from India. Now I know that this is unwise; at least until India can and does show the ability to look after them correctly. The guide book (India a travel survival kit - published by Lonely planet) quotes a tourist as saying that "India is a land of ruins in ruin." Sadly this is very true.
Two days in Bombay was enough. Next time I will be able to handle the pressure and climate better.
The train journey to Ahmedabad was 11 hours. I talked to the commuters, and this became the norm on subsequent train journeys. The modern Indians are more western in their ideas than most Asians in Britain are.
I drank water from the Tower block's own supply. Water in Pune is save from the tap. Not so in Bombay. I became ill, but this cleared up quickly. Ahmedabad was not so kind to me. I drank water from the sealed jug in the Hotel room, the most expensive Hotel that I stayed in during my whole visit (550 rupees per night, £27.40). I became weak with the loss of body fluid. At one stage I felt so unhappy that I thought I might return to the UK as soon as I could. Fortunately I soon adjusted to the alien bugs.
The Hotel food was not to my liking, too many onions. But three musicians entertained the diners. The room also had a television and the hotel provided video channels. So I spent the evenings watching snatches of popular movies.
Ahmedabad lacks tourists and I found it difficult to communicate. Hardly anyone spoke English or even could understand my Hindi (which was passable in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh). Asking for the Railway station - trains to Abu Road - got me delivered to the local bus station. A short trip from the bus station to one of the mosques resulted in a journey across the city, passed the hotel that I had only just come from and the driver still wanted to go further. The tourist guide book included a map, so I knew we were heading in the wrong direction, but he would not stop and turn around. Eventually, 10 kilometres further away than when I started, I jumped out and walked off. I did meet a 16 year old boy who took time to show me some of the sites on his way home. Bhavik has since written to me.
I attended a light and sound show at the Sabarmati Ashram. This is where Gandhiji started from on his return to India from South Africa. Using lighting and sound effects the narrator depicts the struggle for independence. The system is fully automated, there is the stage and the audience only. This show had a lot of propaganda about the 'evil' British Raj. Nahru has written books covering this period. His view point is that India would have been ruled by some European country and it was therefore fortunate that it was the British and not the French, Germans or Portuguese. Goa only joined India in 1965.
I visited the Hathee Singh Temple where a visitor told me that the priest spoke English and could tell me more about their faith. In fact Sadhu Jnanyagnadas to went to University in England and studied engineering. I was later introduced to others who studied in Wales and London. The Swaminarayan Aksharpith have a Hindu Mission in Neasden.
The Mehta Museum of miniature painting was difficult to find. Besides the problem of explaining to the drivers where I wanted to go the paintings are displayed in a single room on the first floor whose point of entry is well hidden. The kite museum had a well laid out history of this sport with some interesting photographs, but the kites on display were not very interesting.
Getting to the Calico Museum of textiles, well worth the visit, was very difficult. I had stumbled upon a very high tower near a temple and believed the museum to be near by. None of the rickshaw drivers had any clue what I was asking. I then enquired at the shops. One young man did understand and stopped his friend who was driving by on his moped. So I got taken there, much further than I expected. I offered him some money, at least to cover his petrol and inconvenience, but he refused.
I went on a trek out to the wells of Mata Bhawani and Dada Hari. These buildings, the latter is now a Hindu temple, are carved into the ground. The guide book says the children are helpful in giving directions, and this was the case. The more recent of the two has two entrances. One leads down a long stair case, the other is a spiral stair case that is to one side of the well. This was the route that I took. I explored the gallery at each level, but desisted from this when I became less convinced that the bats, disturbed by my presents, would let me pass unmolested.
I found Gujarat unfriendly, basically because few people seem to speak any other language than their own and some what unwilling to help. Being ill didn't help. Having most places shut, it was Sunday, and being mosqued out - there are more mosques per square kilometre in Ahmedabad than any where else in the world- I was ready to leave.
On the train to Abu Road, the station stop for Mount Abu I spent the whole journey chatting with a group of men. In the compartment was a young couple with a two year old boy. It was not until we arrived at Abu Road that he spoke to me in English. He had been following my conversation intently. They were on holiday from Bombay, although he is Gujarati. He knew about the jeeps that go up to Mount Abu and suggested that we share the fare. First they wanted to eat, so I went with them to a restaurant. Being ill I restricted my diet to fruit, rice and curd (yoghurt). He did all the ordering for me. So I insisted on paying for their meal. This may sound very generous, but at 36 rupees was no more than a gesture.
The climb up to Mount Abu is incredible. This mountain range jutes out of the plains, that stretch for hundreds of kilometres in all directions. The vegetation is lush and colourful. The journey up offered me my second glimpse of Hanuman monkeys, the sight of dozens of birds that I have never seen in any of my books and many small squirrels - chipmunk like in appearance.
The driver claimed that foreigner can only get single accommodation at the tourist bungalows. The man from Bombay persuaded him to drive me there on his way back (for 15 rupees) and insisted that he pay my 7 rupee fare from Abu Road.
In fact I could have taken a room almost anywhere, as the architect that I met on the train from Bombay had recommended a hotel I should have stayed there. Most hotels have only double rooms with twin beds. So a single costs almost the same as a double. The room was very cold and at night the single blanket was not enough. Even taking the one from the other bed left me cold. But the place was clean and the shower boiling hot. At 110 rupees per night and avoiding the meals the place was okay.
The air at 1212 metres is crisp and clean. The plateau is not heavily populated. Mount Abu is popular with Indian tourists, particularly honeymoon couples. It is the only hill station in Rajasthan, and close to the Gujarat state border. The oranges are more like giant satsumas and the juice pours out of them. The bananas also taste better. The hotel food did not look too great, so I ate in the town. Thalis at the Veena Restaurant are excellent.
In the town, by the Nakki Lake tourists were being dressed up in Rajasthan costumes for photographic sessions. Some were hiring boats and a man and boy played on 'home made' instruments, singing for anyone who would pay a few rupees. I took a tour bus, the next morning, that visited most of the sites of interest. The Dilwara Jain Temple is reported to be the best in India. I did see Jain temples near Jaisalmer that where equally beautiful, but none had the setting and overall effect. The entrance charge for a camera was 25 rupees, but they wanted 100 for a video camera. Only now, too later, can I say that it would have been worth while. Even having been inside I was not sure at the time but I never saw anything later that matched these temples. However it would have been impossible to adhere to their restriction on not taking pictures of the gods and idols?
At the bus station I filmed the monkeys. A group of school girls asked me in English to take their picture. I filmed them and then asked if they wanted to see themselves. I had to repeat in Hindi before they understood. They knew what a video camera was, but were amazed at seeing themselves on television (even the 1" black and white monitor).
I walked out to sunset point. From here you have a drop almost straight down to the plains below. The base of the mountain could not have been more than 100 metres out from the vertical. I arrived here at about 3 pm, before the tourists. So I had the view all to myself. The sun was still very warm, a soft breeze, the singing birds, a few insects buzzing by and the squirrels playing. I had intended to wait until sunset at about 5:30, but realised that without lights I would find the hour trek back to the hotel difficult. I also didn't want my tranquillity broken by the crowds.
Their was little to do in the evenings. There is little twilight, sun rise and sun set takes only a few minutes. I watched the news on the television in the common room and went to sleep at about 9 or 10 pm.
By now I had recovered from the effects of bad water, and ready to travel on.
Next stop Jodhpur. One man spent his trip talking at me. The noise of the train was so loud that I had to keep asking him to repeat what he said. He got fed up of this and asked "What is wrong? Am I not speaking your language?"
The guide book's description of the Ajit Bhawan Hotel and the little cottage rooms, the old MG-TC and folk entertainment over dinner was a must. I arrived at 8pm, so was unable to see the splendour of the place. There was also a typical power cut. I heard one of the guests talking about the "Village Safari". 300 rupees sounded expensive. By this time I was getting used to the rate of exchange - meals for 20-30 rupees, rooms for 100-200 rupees per night. Here the room was 450 per night and the evening set meal 60 rupees, both worth every last paise, as indeed was the safari. The Maharaja is a splendid fellow, sounds like he went to Eton. He was our driver and guide on the safari.
We had an early morning start. The Maharaja told us it would be cold, we couldn't understand why, already the sun was warm. The windscreen of the jeep was lowered and the desert didn't warm up until noon. My companions for this trek were Toby (his girl friend Jo was too ill), Atul and his wife Paulet (from Manchester) and a ballet student from New Zealand.
We went past the Umaid Bhawan Palace, built in 1928 as a job creation scheme. The Maharaja called it a white elephant. From here to the desert. We chased gazelle, visited villages and were shown the different castes, how they live, where the schools are, how they keep clean, how food is prepared and about vedic medicine. One chap stood near the jeep, dressed in rags, as poor as anything? The tractor in the field is his, all paid for. India has many problems, but applying western solutions fails. The tarmac roads melt in summer and give off flumes, the old mud and stone roads do not have these problems. The village people live well off the land, but when they migrate to the cities they are lost and have often to beg.
I filmed a man weaving a carpet. His children wanted their photograph taken so I filmed them and let them see themselves and the man weaving. Their reactions surprised everyone, including the Maharaja. Later we past a nomad tribe. The old men were seated and the Maharaja joined them while we went to have a closer look at the sheep and shepherds. The Maharaja asked me to film the tribal elders and let them see themselves. Each person grabbed at the camera and I had difficulty in getting to it to rewind before the next person looked. The women and children were equally demanding to see themselves. We ate with a family, food provided by the Maharaja, but prepared by the wife. Paulet was dressed up in the local dress and Atul was dressed up by the farmer, including turban. So was Toby. Several guests, that evening, viewed the video I took and the Maharaja, having seen it asked for a copy to be sent to him.
We got back at about 4pm. Atul and Paulet were visiting his relatives as well as touring and had booked a taxi to go to the Meherangarh Fort. They invited me along. This is "the most impressive and formidable fort in fort-studded Rajasthan". Again there was a charge of 10 rupees for a camera and 25 to use a video, in addition to the entrance fee. By the time I got to Agra these fees were mounting up, but at least they allowed you to film. The building is everything a Fort ought to be, a small band of musicians play near the entrance. The museum has a collection of baby cradles, miniature paintings, musical instruments and Rajput armoury.
I loved Jodhpur. The sites were wonderful, the hotel delightful. The food was real home cooking at its best. In addition to this the tourist were nice. Atul and Paulet, who I have since written to, the New Zealand men travelling together, the French couple who I went on a Camel safari with at Jaisalmer, Toby and Jo and an Australian family. All were friendly, discussed the places that they have seen and going to. Swapped stories of hotels and were to eat. Getting hot water in the rooms required a 15 minute wait for the water to travel through the pipes. I had not realised this until the 'pageboy' insisted that all rooms have hot water and ran the tap until he proved his point. I should have asked earlier instead of having cold showers.
The next morning I walked to the Umaid Bhawan Palace visited the private museum and toured the gardens. Then I went to Mandore. This is 12Km north of Jodhpur and was the capital of Marwar prior to the foundation of Jodhpur. The gardens contain the cenotaphs of Jodhpur rulers, the largest and finest of all, the soaring conical memorial to Maharaja Ajit Singh.
The French couple, Toby and Jo and I took the night train to Jaisalmer. The 14 hour trip was hard. My first experience with Indian sleepers. I had met a man at the ticket office who offered to arrange the bed roll for me. Toby and Jo didn't want anything to do with the old man. Sure enough when I arrived at the station he was there and the bed roll was ready for me. The others had more of a problem.
When we arrived in Jaisalmer I had a pile of sand to dust off my baggage. The air was thick with the desert dust. We got a jeep to take us to the fort. Toby didn't want to join us but we kept bumping into each other and in fact I travelled back to Jodhpur on the same train as them. The jeep was owned by a tour company, Adventure Travel, with whom we arranged the day trip to the dunes. We needed another two people, or would have to pay 400 rupees each instead of normal 300 charge.
You don't really need a guide to Jaisalmer, but I got chased by one, who was useful. However, I did get tempted by the carpets and ended up spending 7500 rupees on a 4x5 feet silk. The Visa bill arrived at the end of February.
Jaisalmer is a real "Arabian Nights" City - Laila Majnu country. The walled city and surrounding town is built in the original style. Every house is worth taking a photograph of. The streets are narrow and no motorised transport is possible. My guide took me onto the roof tops to view the city and surrounding desert. You can see 80 to 100 kilometres out towards Pakistan.
Here I bought a goddess made of brass, but there is a dispute as to who she is.
One man, a clerk, thought I was German. So I answered him in German and discovered that his self-taught German was excellent. He continued to speak to me in German every time he spotted me on my trek around the city. This confused the Canadian couple, Rasik and Malinda, who I was guiding to the shopping area outside of the walled city.
Rasik was returning to his childhood haunts and showing his Canadian wife Malinda around. I discovered that they were looking to go on a camel safari. I took them to the tour operator's office and they decided to go. So I got the five needed. The safari consists of a drive out to the dunes before dawn. A camel ride from the village to the sand dunes. Wait for sun rise, return to the village for breakfast then a tour of the villages, dinner and return to the city in the late afternoon. It may be great to camp out and go on a two day camel trek, but this would give a favour without possible problems arising from two days in the saddle.
Rasik and Malinda were also at the same hotel and that evening I found them on the roof listening to the musicians who had come to play for a family gathering. I spoke at length to the head of this family and listened to the singing.
The desert night sky is something else. The streets are sparsely lit. There are no clouds, nor man made pollutants. The stars shone like diamonds, millions of flickering candles.
We had to get up at 5am the next morning, and I had to carry all my stuff through the narrow and dark streets as I was heading to Jaipur that evening. It is a good 20 minutes walk to the collection point from the hotel. I had problems when we had to climb up narrow steps to avoid the cows who blocked the street. Getting up was not to bad, but with the carpet strapped to my chest I could not see the ground in order to jump down.
An hour later we arrived at the village where the camels were waiting. The drivers lead the camels out to the dunes on foot, a good hours walk, but drove from behind you on the way back. Dawn occurs rapidly at about 7am. One of the drivers collected wood and made a fire (with matches) and the Moslem driver (the others were Hindu) sang to us which I recorded on video.
I let them watch themselves on video and later the Frenchman took Polaroid and gave them to the drivers. Khan was unhappy that his camels face was blurred. Rasik said he would send him a photograph. Later in the jeep we discovered that he had not wound the film in correctly and so had no pictures of the camels. He asked me to send him copies.
Unfortunately some of those I took have been stolen and the others are relatively useless. Our guide, a Sikh did not come with us, and the camel drivers spoke hardly any English. Rasik had some minor difficulty, not only because he has been away from India for 27 years, but their regional accent was sometimes difficult for him to follow. He was allowed, or encouraged to take the reins and set off at a trot. The camels were more comfortable than I expected. Mounting and dismount could be a problem. The hind legs spring up first, throwing you forward before the front legs attempt to straighten. Added to this the poor fellow who carried me was young and unsure, so having made a false start had to be re-seated so Khan could jump on.
The village visits were not as pleasant as in Jodhpur. The locals knew our guide, but didn't really like the tourist looking at them, and did not want their photographs taken. The villages have no electricity or water laid on. However I spotted a solar powered street light.
The guide (a graduate engineer) spoke French, as did the tour operator. Many of the inhabitants of Jaisalmer speak several European languages and Japanese.
Out in the desert away from the villages is an oasis and the site of ancient cenotaphs. Most of the local food is grown here.
I had booked out of the Jaisal Castle hotel at the top of the walled city, but was able to wash at the hotel of the tour operators. I stayed there a few hours and got taken to the station and the driver arranged a bed roll.
My next stop was Jaipur. The night trip was Christmas Eve and I spent it in a compartment with a French diplomat, his wife and teenage daughter. I broke out the German Christmas biscuits and offered them around. My only concession to Christmas. I had left some with Ravi in Pune, with Veena's relatives in Bombay and kept a box for her cousin in New Delhi. So Christmas Eve was spent on the train.
There is no through train, and the connection seldom works, so at Jodhpur I went to the bus station. This was my only long distant bus trip. It was okay, but the passengers didn't talk. At the mid-trip stop I saw the motel menu was offering "Sent witches".
At Jaipur station I met the autorickshaw driver Sabbir Khan. He is a real crazy driver; likes driving on the inside of roundabouts! He recommended the Pink Palace Hotel and took me there. He is very honest and a good guide. Everywhere you have to bargain, but Sabbir was very straight forward. I paid him 50 rupees to tour around Jaipur and arranged for him to take me to Amber the next day. He asked for 80 rupees for the following day's trip. I gave him 100 and 20 earlier for petrol.
The pink city of Jaipur is busy and colourful. The Janta Mantar Observatory has a sundial with a 30 metre high gnomon. The shadow cast moves 4 metres per hour and you can read the time very accurately. Being a Monday entrance was free. Sabbir took 10 rupees from me to queue for a ticket to the City Palace. Being Christmas day the entrance was half price, so he gave me the change. The City Palace holds a museum. In keeping with most museums the place was dark. We then went to the Albert Museum. Not well kept, but has some interesting models showing yoga positions. Sabbir accompanied me, but was bored and attempted to rush me a little.
That evening I set out to find a restaurant held back when I noticed someone else on their own. She is French, escaping Europe over Christmas, but hoping that her jewellery shops do a roaring trade. She goes to Jaipur every year to buy jewellery for her shops.
On Boxing Day Sabbir took me to Amber, 11km from Jaipur, the former capital of the state. The climb up to the fort, from the road, takes at least 10 minutes. The view is magnificent. I spent all morning, some four hours around the fort. Longer than Sabbir bargained for. The outer wall must be over 5 km long. Coming down I bought bananas and had to chatter at a monkey who insisted that I donate my hoard to him. I hot footed into the garden and ate in peace.
I bought two shawls as presents and a large painting of Laila Majnu on silk. I thought I did well to get the painting for 300 instead of 450 and the shawls for 325 instead of 450, later I realised could have pay even less elsewhere. It was here that I discovered that the carpet I bought was artificial silk and I should have paid only 4800, not 7500.
A 5am start and bicycle rickshaw to the station, the only transport that the night porter could find for me. Onto Agra. After all You haven't seen India without seeing the Taj Mahal.
On this train journey my companions were two VSO teachers from England who are near completing their second year in Butan and Momoyo from Japan. I was told about the VSO teacher, who, having completed two years of duty had saved up his money to spend a few nights at the Taj Mahal Inter-continental Hotel in Bombay. When he arrived, travel dirty and tired they told me that there were no rooms. I should explain that this individual is a large well built man. He asked to see the manager and the assistant-manager was called. Very disappointed he was shown the door. Wandering he saw a phone booth and rang the hotel and asked if they had rooms. They did. Very angrily he stormed in demanding to see the manager, pushed past the assistant-manager and complained that they refused him a room because of this travel clothes and appearance. He explained why he wanted to stay and how he had saved his leave to travel from Butan to Bombay. Asked how he could make amends for this insult our intrepid traveller said "Well you can let me have a room". He had three nights in one of the best rooms free.
Agra, is agro! The street vendors are pushier here than anywhere else in India. I got an autorickshaw from the station. But this man was trying to rip me off. He was unlicensed, and was trying to teach his brother how to drive. Then his younger brother joined us. I didn't trust them at all, particularly when we went through some back streets. From a pay "as you feel" to 20 rupees per hour at 4 pm I decided to pay him off at the Red Fort.
I had took Sabbir's advise and booked into the Grand Hotel, although the autorickshaw driver wanted me to go somewhere else. It is some way from the monuments, but was good value at 190 rupees per night.
At the Fort I had my video camera taken from me and locked up. The Fort over looks the river Yamuna and you can see the Taj in the distance. It was foggy when I was there, so the Taj was in mist.
I then saw the Itmad-ud-daulah - the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg. She married the Emperor Jehangir and became known as Nur Jahan, the light of the world. In turn her daughter was Mumtaz Mahal, the lady of the Taj. Although earlier than the Taj, smaller it is also constructed of white marble with fine lattice work and inlaid semi-precious stone. I found the craftsmanship better than the Taj.
Finally, before dust I visited the Taj.
Having the video taken from me again was a blow. I needed the zoom to see to the top of the dome. Inside you were pushed on and no photographs are allowed. The guides use torches to show how thin and translucent the marble is and how the precious stones light up. The long path from the entrance to the monument is the play ground for a group of Hanuman monkeys. One took off at a trot and jumped strange at me. 30Kg of primate at full speed packs a punch! I was on the way back to the hotel when I saw a garden, and an open gate. I went exploring and found the back entrance to the Taj, down by the river bank. The gardener there took be around and onto the mud of the river bed. So I did get some video of the Taj, "backside" as the light faded.
Next morning, a foggy start and a 40km drive to Fatehpur Sikri. This was the capital during the rein of Emperor Akbar. There is a large mosque here and a perfectly preserved Moghul city. Akbar was tolerant towards other religions and attempted to synthesise them all into a new religion called 'Deen Ilahi'.
My final visit was a bicycle rickshaw ride to Sikandra, The trip took at least an hour. Here is the tomb of Akbar, with a combination of Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. Four gates lead to the tomb, one Muslim, one Hindu, one Christian and one Akbar's patent mixture. There is also a Christian church in a setting that could easily be an English country church yard.
From Agra an internal flight to Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, the site of the 9th and 10th Century temples in the middle of nowhere. I had got my tickets in Jaipur, again with Sabbir's help. Another waiting list place.
At the airport they would not let me in because I was too early. It is military place, so the guard was showing off his power! After 10 minutes he did allow the taxi to go through. Momoyo turned up in the waiting room, but failed to recognise me at first. I got on board okay, but Momoyo had to wait awhile, being further down the waiting list, but tagged onto the end of the queue and eventually joined me.
Momoyo has worked in the Japanese embassy in London and now works for a Canadian company, often visiting Toronto, New York and London.
We arrived late in the evening. I had to wait for the plane to be unloaded, but Momoyo had only a small bag and so went ahead to book us into the Payal Hotel. When I arrived I found that there were no spare rooms and Momoyo had gone on, but no one knew where. In fact they did have rooms for that night, but were fully booked the following night. So I booked in for one night. I was just settling in when Momoyo returned to collect me. Confused and angry by finding me booked into a better room than the other hotel had to offer got resolved by booking out and booking in here for one night.
I had already ordered dinner for eight, and Momoyo found me in the restaurant chatting to an India from Sweden and an elderly Swedish couple.
This hotel was good. The food brilliant and cheap. The chai was normally cold! We buttered up the manager, as did the Swedish Indian, for us, hoping for a room the next night. Next morning we hiked to the western group of temples. I took more video here and pictures than anywhere else. Inspite of being a 1000 years old the craftsmanship has not been bettered in any art work that I have seen in India. The statues cover the walls of the temples and depict all aspect of daily life. We walked out to the eastern temples and tried a short cut through the village back to the hotel to book out by noon. We asked a school boy directions and he took all the way back to the hotel. They had one room forthe next night, so we shared, halving the price was an added bonus.
We tried to see about the chances of a flight to Varanasi. as we where both at the bottom of the waiting list. Next we then visited the southern temples, taking a cycle rickshaw.
The settlement is merely a village. It is a major tourist spot, but is out of the way so the number of tourists seems limited. We did cross the group of Americans who travelled
on the same flight. So it was peaceful and the country side very pretty. I would love to spend a month or two there. There are other places to see on day trips.
Momoyo bought two rings and we spent sometime at this jeweller. The craftsmanship is high. I had a strange idea and dream about getting him to make me a ring based upon my logo and next day took a sketch to show him. He discussed with me what I wanted and I picked blood red rubies to go across the middle. He would make if and post it onto New Delhi for me at a cost of 3500 rupees. The jewellery was all elegantly made and well finished, even cheap 300 rupee rings in silver. I bought four rings to give as presents to my nieces.
I mentioned that India was cold. The climate was unusually cold, being 3-5 degrees below the normal December temperature. The flight from Khajuraho were cancelled, due to fog. So we took a taxi to Satna, 120km from Khajuraho. The driver spotted a Japanese couple and Momoyo spoke to them. The fare was 750 shared between four of us. At Satna we had to book the over night train.
This trip was my coldest. No blanket, no covers and a drafty compartment. Momoyo and I stayed together, but lost Hiroshi and Hiromi until the next morning. They ended up staying with the school trip, in whose compartment we first boarded, and spent all night showing them how to make origami animals.
We breakfasted at the station. Indian rail food is good and very cheap. I got my ticket to Kanpur but had to queue for an hour. My Japanese friends waited.
We all went onto the Gautam Hotel. There were two rooms, one at 350 the other at 175. So Momoyo gave our friends the choice and we shared the more expensive room. We not only had a real western style bath, but a black and white TV and a heater, the only one I saw in any of the hotels.
Varanasi was very quiet when we arrived because the greatest 'soap' of them all was on - the Mahabharata. The room we took was full of servants watching the TV when we were shown in.
We had the afternoon sight seeing. A short, hour trip on the Ganges watching the devotees performing pooja at the ghats. I wasn't too keen on Varanasi, although the Fort was very interesting and the floating ford across the river in front of it. Unfortunately all the video I took was in the camera when it was stolen. My last videoing was of the western temples in Khajuraho.
We also went shopping, and purchased woollen shawls and some printed silk scares to give as presents. The temperature was still falling, hence the shawl and thermal underwear. That evening we were going to retire for the evening when a cycle rickshaw driver told us of a sitar player. This turned out to be young 13 year old boy and his tabla playing father. He was quite good. The event was private, in a silk emporium and was followed by a hard sell.
The next day Momoyo had to queue all morning at the ticket counter, only to arrive at the head of the queue just before it shut for lunch. After an hour queuing I had left the station to queue for a refund at the Indian Airways office. I had just finished when Momoyo arrived and was able to take my place at the head of the queue.
So I went to the University and other sites alone. The Shiva Temple at Benares University is modern and elegant. My tour was accompanied by the soft sound of two musicians on the first floor. The Bharat Mata Temple is dedicated to Mother India and has a marble relief map of India.
On the 2nd January we went to Sarnath - the site where Buddha came to preach the middle way. Here is the remains of Ashoka's Pillar.
Momoyo said goodbye at the station. We met again in August when she and her friend stayed with me for a few days in Cambridge. I didn't see Hiroshi and Hiromi again, but they have written to me in Japanese. I told them that Yoko might do the translation for me.
It was on this train journey, from Varanasi to Kanpur, that my bag was stolen, an event that still over shadows my holiday. I was moved by the conductor from the second class compartment to the A/C (posh air conditioned) compartment. From the crowded second class, where I wrapped my belongings around me I moved to a spacious compartment with one other passenger, Mr Sharma. A/C carriages are sealed at either end and consist of compartments with two double bunks. I placed my baggage on the top bunk opposite me. The theft must have occurred when the carriage became crowded at Lucknow, or during the period that I fell asleep. I noticed nothing until 30 minutes after we had left Lucknow. Fortunately I showed Mr Sharma the address of the people I was going to stay with in Kanpur and he remembered it.
Ravi's friend's mother gave me the address of someone in Kanpur. I wrote to them from Khajuraho asking if I could visit them and look around the plastics factory. Unfortunately this address was also stolen, so I couldn't find them or explain why I did not turn up.
Mr Sharma helped me out at Kanpur station, got me a bunk in the railway retiring room and I went to the police. He is a station master at Kanpur and had recently been involved in the train crash investigation. It took three hours to fill in the police report. Only one officer spoke to me in English, the others ignored my questions or responded in Hindi. It was clear that they understood English as they were able to read aloud my report perfectly well in order to make several copies.
I stopped a couple of Europeans to see if they had a travel guide to get the telephone of the British Embassy. I told them what happened and they stuffed 200 rupees into my hand. Generosity that surprised me, although it should not have.
I tried to ring Mr Sharma the next morning, but he didn't answer. I did get to speak to him eventually and he collected me before noon and took me to Veena's father's home. Mr. Alhuiwalia phoned his son-in-law and Mr Sharma took me to him at his surgery.
There was a letter from Lata waiting for me, written shortly after she returned to Pune from Bombay. It couldn't have been better timed nor more gratefully received.
I tired to ring the British Embassy, but it took until the next day, and all they would say was that they couldn't do anything until I arrived in Delhi and I needed 4 passport photographs.
Next day Veena's youngest brother returning from Bombay with his two sons. He took me back to the police station and then for a quick tour around the town. Kanpur was the place where the Indian Mutiny of 1857 started. I also visited the zoo. Zoos in India are badly maintained. His youngest son gave me a pen and note book, possibly because he over heard that I had my pen stolen. The boys are polite young gentlemen.
We got my passport photographs done, inspite of the power cut across the city and I took the evening train to Delhi. This was a free trip courtesy of the Railway Police who escorted me. Ten hours seated upright, and very crowded, but at least warm.
It is shame that circumstances were so unfortunate. I was not really able to see Kanpur properly. Veena's father and mother, indeed the whole family were very kind. I am sure that without their support I would have got disgruntled and depressed.
The train arrives in old Delhi and it was a long trip across the city to the British Embassy, who were, of course not open. But I could leave my bags with the Gurkha sentry and went to get breakfast at the Asok Hotel.
After filling out the forms I had to go to registration offices for foreigners to get a new visa so that I would be allowed to leave! Then I went to the American Express office and queued for hours. The assistant was so busy and apologised all the time for keeping me, but the forms would take a long time to fill in, but Amrita was very charming. It was therefore 3 pm when I arrived at the Alhuiwalia's home, 8 hours since my arrival in Delhi.
They had been expecting me for sometime, and Veena had written asking if I had arrived. I got a surprise to see Ravi from Denmark. He had come over for Mala's wedding. He cheered me up and looked after me.
I didn't feel much like touring, but they took me around the local sites and prevented me from sulking.
The 73 metre high Qutab Minar is very impressive. It was rebuilt in 1829 after an earthquake but has been closed for sometime after a stampede lead to a number of deaths on a school trip. We visited some new temples and the modern lotus temple. I went to the National Museum and also spent sometime around Connaught Place.
When I was about to get an auto rickshaw I saw some ladies selling paintings. I stopped to look. They were better than I saw in Jaipur and cheaper. They were very insistent and made sure I felt that they were going out of their way to show me everything that they had just packed away. Having paid 250 rupees for two from the first and 250 for a single painting from the second I said my good byes - in Hindi - and walked off. I got followed around the block by the first lady trying to sell be two more paintings for the price of one. I resisted, even though she persisted and argued in both Hindi and English. My mistake for the 200 rupees I should have bought them and worried about who I would give them to later.
I had been looking for another shawl, to give as a present. I found one, but none of the right colour. I should have bought it when I saw it in Varanasi. But I did buy more silk scarfs, cheaper than those from Varanasi, but of lesser quality. I wanted to buy some leather goods as presents for Terry, who was looking after my car and Ng who was watering my plants in Kanpur. There was little choice in Delhi so I bought two wallets.
I got my travellers cheques replace on the Tuesday. This entailed another long wait. So a talked to a Canadian young lady and her mother. An Indian 'friend' had offered to take them with him and be their guide. It seems that he backed out at the last minute, and took most of their money with him.
I got my new passport on Thursday followed by a rush around to get my visa before they closed. I met a Sikh auto rickshaw driver whose Uncle lives in Chesterton Road, Cambridge, a small world. At the embassy I met others who had had their passport and valuables stolen. One couple sat opposite a man playing with a video camera. They described it so well that it could have been my camera. When they discovered the theft, again at Lucknow, this man when around the passengers to collect money for them.
Many people had thought that my ring would not turn up. It arrived by registered post on the Wednesday. Not 100% perfect but very close. I doubt that anyone else would have been able to get close to what I wanted.
The flight back involved a stop over of more than 12 hours at Baghdad. I tried to sleep, but at about 2 am (Indian time) the flight from Dacca, Bangladesh arrived and a business man on the way to London questioned me at great length about my impressions of India and Eastern Europe. I repeated the criticism that Hindus had expressed about Moslems. Later he borrowed my Indian shawl to use as a prayer mat.
I sat with an English nurse, a young man who had arrived in India on the same flight as her and the son of an official in the Indian Embassy in London. They talked at great length about their sight seeing, adventures and impressions. I was puzzled that their India was so different from the India that I had seen.
Back in England, at 16 degrees, warmer that New Delhi, I got a cab and borrowed his A-to-Z to find out where Terry's house is (no address!). The cab driver swore at me when I didn't give him a big enough tip. The cab fare was £15 and I had only £20 and probably needed petrol to get home. He said I was ripping him off. It just goes to show, cab drivers are the same everywhere.
Paranoia was setting in, I was expecting to arrive home to find the place burgled. Terry had gone to work with my car keys, although he had left the car behind and got a cab to send them over. Everything was fine and I need not have worried.
As I have said the photographs turned out disappointing, but the
video has made up for it. Some shots could not be seen properly
in the small black and white monitor of the view finder and were
too far off to see unaided now come to life on a large colour
monitor. Next time I will know better what to carry, and what
I need to film. Next time will arrive soon, considerably less
than 18 years, I hope.
The GFG home page
Last updated 29th July 1996, photographs added 10th June 2002
Colour photographs include a couple of postcards and others taken with a Minox EC, black and white with a Rollei 16s and the film was 7 years out of date, other slides photographs where taken with a Minox LX and have not been included here.