Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Foggy Day in Delhi Town

I'm back!!!! I had a totally lovely time in the UK seeing a few friends and spending Christmas with my family. Sadly it was all too short; there were many other friends I would have loved to see, so apologies to those whom I missed, hope you all had a lovely Christmas too.

The only downside to going home was that, having spent the first three days not going to public restrooms, even in dire circumstances, owing to the (mistaken) belief that it would be an Indian loo with no loopaper, in the remaining few days, I managed to unlearn the necessity of carrying bogroll in my handbag, a fact which was brutally brought to my attention at Colombo Airport whilst seated in the 3rd compartment of the Ladies Lavatory.

It was lovely to be home, to have a cold nose, to speak English rapidly without (too many) people looking at me blankly and not having total strangers asking me my "good name". Although, there was a Lancastrian man on the train to Barrow, buoyed up with Festive Spirits who, whilst leaning across me in order to help with my sudoku, asked me where I was from. I was really, really confused. I started to say Eng-uh-land (my default response for the last 4 months) and then realised that probably, even in his inebriated state, he would have worked that out and was enquiring because I didn't sound Lancastrian. We then had a complicated conversation which befuddled him and confused the hell out of me before we agreed to abandon the whole line of equiry and concentrate on the sudoku instead, at which he was irritatingly good.

I flew to Bangalore to fly to Delhi to meet my sister and a few friends for New Year in a tiger sanctuary where no-one had seen a tiger since 2004. Despite the manifest lack of tigers, we had a lovely time. In the afternoon, we took a trip through the wildlife park and saw loads of birds. My newly brought out binoculars and newly acquired Christmas present of "Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" proved handy and our driver, who was adorable, was very knowledgeable about birds and told me all their names. We saw painted stork, shrikes, herons, treepies - who ate out of Robert's hands - bulbuls, babblers as well as sambar, antelope, wild boar, jackals and monkeys in a very beautiful setting, so it was well worth the trip.

In the evening, we celebrated New Year's Eve with a show of Rajasthani dancing, including a fire-eater, who must have swallowed gallons of kerosene over the years, and a man who balanced a few spinning bicycle wheels on various parts of his body whilst either perched on a column of upturned metal cups or crunching over broken glass. We then sat round the fire until midnight, chatting to the locals who mostly couldn't speak English, but with whom we still managed to have fun and laugh. It was a lovely peaceful evening and great to have Lottie and Robert there too.

The next day, feeling a little jaded (and also freezing) we had a spectacular drive through some remote Rajasthani villages where still groups of rug-enshrouded men crouching around heavily smoking dessicated cowpat fires, and beautiful, clear-eyed children, wearing a selection of novelty headgear - including one with a bright yellow bra like a pair of ear muffs - watched our progress with intent interest. We passed camel carts so heavily laden that the usual expression on the camel's face was for once appropriate. We drove through a khaki world where the breaths of the watching villagers and their various beasts of burden mingled with the hovering mist, creating the illusion of a land of emerging genies. It was quite beautiful.

After a few hours driving - the beauty of the scenery was at least partially offset by the bumpiness ofthe road - we arrived in Agra to see the Taj, a must for Ture who after 4 1/2 months is leaving soon and hadn't yet seen it. Of course we had to choose the busiest day of the year. Not only that, but due to fog delaying our inbound flight, we only had half an hour in which to see it. I am ashamed to say that for the first time in my life I bribed my way to the front of the queue. Shamelessly. Of course we had to go through the rigmarole of pretending that it wasn't bribery, but a "fee-for-service" the guard was offering and it all took place through a middle man while the guard turned his back and pretended not to be a part of the whole sordid process. We then got to the front of the queue where the person in charge of ripping the tickets provided another obstacle. We referred him to the guard (who was still feigning ignorance). The ticket man said he couldn't let us through or the other Indian women would fight (there were two queues, a gents' queue and a ladies' queue). I apologised so profusely and loudly that the lady in front turned round and said,

"What happened?"

I confessed to my shamless queue-barging, whereupon she stood aside with a huge grin and said,

"Well, do more so. Go in front!"

Thanks to her generosity of spirit, everyone got to see the Taj, albeit briefly, but even a transient glimpse is worth it. It really is beyond words. As you pass through the darkness of the gate, revealing itself little by little through the arch, a pale delicate facade shimmers. Then suddenly, across the heads of thousands of equally awe-inspired visitors, it emerges, subtle and magnificent, fragile and strong, substantial and ethereal. An astounding achievement.

There then followed several more hours of driving to Delhi airport to catch our plane back to the South. Luckily, we arrived in plenty of time to check in. Unluckily all the flights out of Delhi were cancelled due to fog. So, along with a million other people, we hacked and wove our way through the endless queues, luggage trolleys, screaming children, irritated, frustrated travellers and TV cameras trying to capture the chaos, to discover that the next available flight back would be in 4 days. We are catching a train. It will only take us 33 hours and then, on arrival in Chennai (Madras), we have 5 minutes to make our connection to Vellore. I'm sure a train which has been travelling for a day and a half will not be more than 5 minutes late. After all, this is India.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's weird, I was wearing a bright yellow bra like a pair of ear muffs on New Year's Eve too...