An Indian Epilogue
Trip Start Jan 29, 2003
44Trip End Feb 01, 2004
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This evening , we decided to go on the boat with Poppy again, what with it being so cheap, and to see what the fuss was about in regards to the dancing festival or whatever the noise was? We took the boat with Poppy and a couple of his mates to Dasawamedh Ghat, where we pulled up next to a load of other boats, and watched the show! Now if anyones ever been to this, they will know that its quite a strange affair! There are about 5 people on raised platforms playing with fire sticks and in attempted synchronisation ringing bells, and generally making a noise. As well as this, at the same time there are other people banging drums, waving flags, and the most obscene amount of bell ringing you could ever wish to witness. Now, this is all well and good. I mean whatever flicks your switch, I suppose, but what annoyed me was that nobody seemed to be thinking or asking Why? This was most frustrating for me, as I like to find out the reasons for things which make me curious, but nobody seemed to know. Not Poppy, certainly not Nick, and no-one else in the town on my reckoning? I can only assume it was in celebration of one of the Gods, or the famous river Ganges. Coincidentally, the Indians call the Ganges, the river Ganga, and much to my amusement and deemed worthy of a picture, a big billboard had the profound words 'Ganga is part of our culture'! I was once again disappointed not to witness a floating corpse, but it was too dark anyway so I may just pretend that I saw one, with mouth open and skin flailing everywhere to indulge with guests at future dinner parties, and obviously I may elaborate on this story as time goes by, with vivid description about the corpse that was still alive, talked to me and tried to grab me into the river! I'm losing it a bit, maybe its the sun-stroke?
After waking quite early about 8, I showered & dug into the bottom of my bag for my Marmite and treated myself to 4 pieces of Marmite on toast, much to my satisfaction! After buying a bracelet on the market for 3 Rupees, and realising that I must have been stung in Pushkar when I paid 80 Rupees for a necklace! Anyway, after leaving the market we visited Manakarnika Ghat, the main burning ghat for cremations. This 4ft Indian chap invited us on to his balcony for a better view, and was most descriptive in explaining everything that went on! Apparently the colour of cloth that the corpse is wrapped in signifies whether it is a man, woman or child. After wrapping the deceased, the 'outcasts' douse the body in the Ganges, though I thought petrol would make a more suitable alternative, then stack the body with timber. The short Indian told me that they need about 200 kilos of timber for each person, but he also told me that it costs about 130 Rupees/kilo, which I don't believe. That would mean a cost of about 26,000 Rupees! Actually thats only about 350 quid. Maybe he was telling the truth after all! Another interesting point is that depending on your caste, depends on where your body is burnt, ie. if you belong to a higher caste (social status/wealth) then you get the privelege of burning higher up, and as it goes down, the poorer and more unholy the people! The one other very interesting thing was that if a body is a pregnant woman, or the deceased has smallpox or leprosy, the body is classed as 'unburnable', and instead of burning, they attach stone weights to the body, and then send it out to the middle of the Ganges to sink! This must make up the majority of floating corpses! It was a very interesting and awe-inspiring place which has to be seen to be believed, and though there was very much a business approach to the whole situation, it was still very religious and cameras were absolutely banned, and it has been known that if you are caught taking a picture, they will chase you, bugger you, and break your camera and then throw it into the river! Well, I'm not too sure about the buggering part? I gave the little Indian 2 Rupees for his trouble, and he was most offended, and told me that he was not a beggar man, and wished bad Karma upon me, whatever that means! Though later on, I saw him in town and gave him another 10 Rupees (perhaps out of guilt) and he was most grateful!
After lunch, we lugged our backpacks to the market, and got a most terrifying ride in an auto-rickshaw to the train station. The roads weren't the main problem, but the fact that our driver had only one eye! This was OK, until we had to turn right, and I held my backpack with fear, and white knuckles, though he got us there eventually!
At the station, an 18 year old Indian medical student befriended us, and was most excited at talking to us. My sun-tan must really be kicking in now as the first question he asked was 'Are you Indian'? He was a genuine really nice bloke, and we had quite an audience of Indians who seemed fascinated that one of their own could have a conversation with the white men! One question he put to me was 'Why did I come to India'? At first I had to think, and told him to experience the complete difference in culture and religion, though on contemplation of this question, it led me to think that with only a few days left in India, I had expected to be asking myself that very question rhetorically almost every day! Though I haven't so either I have been to busy or I really have enjoyed myself so far! After an hour or so of talking he asked to take our picture to which we obliged, and he was most appreciative! He even wanted our e-mail address, though this was too much so we bade him farewell! I also got to see an Indian midget at the station! My first midget sighting in India, though sadly I didn't get a picture and try as I might I was unable to fit him into my backpack as a present for Mike Jones! Our train was 2 hours late, though I am fairly tired so hopefully I'll sleep through most of the journey!
Strangely enough this train journey which was estimated at 15 hours actually was only 15 hours and this made it a shorter trip than the 11 hour journey from Agra - Varanasi!?!
Unlike our last journey, there were no apparent English speaking Indians in our compartment though it was occupied by a family who went to bed at 9, which was OK, as it gave me a chance to read on my bunk, though as well as being the Indian snoring champions, their early retirement made for a ridiculous early rise at about quarter to 6! I was woke up at this time by some kids running about, throwing curry at one another. I wasn't sure whether I was dreaming or not, but after picking the bits of lentil from my hair realised this was really happening. After getting in at Howrah station, Kolkata. We walked out and for the first time used the pre-paid taxi booth which means you don't get raped by the drivers, and you pay the correct fare, which was a very cheap 43 Rupees to Suddah Street. We found the Golden Lodge, a hotel reccommended to us by a Scottish couple in Jaipur, which was cheap and not too cheerful, and not very accommodating staff, who incidentally slept only 10 feet away from us!. First impressions last, and it must be said I really like this city. Though it doesn't have the culture and religious sanctity of some of the other places we have visited, this is very modern, and made for a welcome change back to civilsation! I went for a walk, and almost seemed invisible to the Indian folk, who didn't batter an eyelid at me, and I could also look at the market stall goods without any pressure to buy stuff! It is really hot now, and hits over 30 every day in the shade, though ironically I have managed to pick up a stinking cold! There are even bars in Kolkata, proper bars. I even found a Karaoke bar, offering pints of beer for 25 Rupees a go, though on closer inspection that evening the bar was very much an Indian majority, and very Indianised, and so the chances of me blasting out 'Summer of '69' seemed quite remote! Have found a delicious restaurant by the name of Zachariahs or something on the main street, Suddah St. I have had chicken fried rice there twice which is a must! I am really enjoying this city and look forward to doing some shopping, on my last day to get rid of some final Rupees.
We got up early this morning & whilst Nick went for a walk, I decided to check for rooms at the Royal Plaza guest house. They had 1 double left, with private bathroom, TV, and leopardskin bed covers to boot! They wanted 300, but I managed to get it for 250 which is good for this area. After breakfast of poached egg on toast at the Blue Sky Cafe, we strolled up to Singapore Airlines where I thought we may have some trouble confirming our ticket, but No. It has all been done. We just need to turn up at the airport tomorrow night! Excellent! Went into the Nike shop, where I bought a head-band I will probably use in Thailand for the treks for 100 Rupees, just over a quid. I felt a bit guilty about this spontaneous splurge until Nick informed me he had bought a pair of Pepe jeans, a T-shirt, a Nike tracksuit top, and a Nike hat! We then visited the Kolkata Planetarium for their English showing at 1:30pm. Its worth doing at only 20 Rupees each, though the Indian chap spoke in broken English, and you could vaguely follow what was going on, but as to completely understanding him, you had no chance! As far as I can gather, we (Earth) are in a Solar System, orbiting the Sun, within a Galaxy, within a Cosmos, within our Universe, but after that its a blur! Got some passport photos done, just in case for a fanatastic 30 Rupees (40p, compared to 3 pounds 50 at Heathrow)!
I also weighed myself today and found out that contrary to my beliefs I haven't lost any weight at all, and came in at 74.4 Kilos, which is roughly what I was when I left. Though I did find out that if I was on Jupiter I would weight 2.36 times more.
Returned to hotel and watched Bayer Leverkusen v Newcastle, then a cracking relegation battle of West Brom v West Ham followed by Football Focus! After dinner, I bought 3 beers which I consumed whilst watching the Grammies, then went to bed!
Woke up early this morning for my last day in India, and asked myself a few questions:
Have I enjoyed India? Yes, I would definitely reply to the affirmative on this one, I have found it mentally strenuous at times, and physically exhausting, though it has all been worth it. Some of the things I have seen will stick in my mind forever! Though we didn't meet as many other travellers as I would have liked, I think India is a country for the more experienced, interesting traveller who is looking for something spiritual or who is having their own 'India Experience'. Not enough people who are easy-going and just looking to enjoy themselves!
Was it everything I expected? Yes, and some! There are innumerable sights, sounds and smells, and although its now a cliche in India, it really is a feast for the senses, though not all good! I slightly over-budgeted India, but this was mainly down to the fact that we hired the driver and looking back, I am very glad that we did this, as there is no way we would have seen half as much without Amit!
Would I ever come again? I definitely wouldn't rule it out, though not necessarily to travel. It would be a great 2 week holiday if you spent a week shopping kitting your house up with ridiculously inexpensive objects, and maybe a cheap ring, as the jewellry here is especially cheap. And then finish off with a week on the beaches in Goa!
If anyone cared for my advice I would say go to India, it is definitely worth doing, and is not quite as difficult to travel as most people are led to believe!
Well, thats it for India. Think I'll go for a spot of shopping now, maybe buying a silk sleeping bag liner and some flip-flops!
Off to Singapore tonight, and meeting Stevo tomorrow! What lies in store for the next chapter of my adventures? Only Smarties have the answer!