Maybe it was just the day I had. Saturday 12 May. My day began stopped in traffic just over the border in India from Nepal watching a child die in the back of a powered rickshaw. There was no mistaking the predicament as a family franticly but somewhat submissively massaged blood into the girl’s lifeless limbs. My day finished around 12 hours later slumped over my bike having just found the seconds to kick the stand out before I passed out. I came too with 100 Indians standing around throwing water on me. The in between was 324kms of almost unbelievable heat, dust and simply frightening road conditions.
What should be said of India is that the people are wonderful. Friendly, helpful and willing to help someone in need, as I found out in Varanasi, Indians display a heart-warming closeness. Almost certainly a result of being forced to live somewhat harmoniously amongst billions but either way it is incredible to see. Otherwise and sadly I must say that I don’t like India. I do not like it at all. In the three days I lay in bed in Varanasi and the subsequent days driving to Agra and onto New Delhi, I found myself asking what possibly there is to like. Entrenched generational poverty, chronic pollution, massive environmental degradation, rampant corruption, racial, caste based and religious tension, widespread public health issues and TV advertisements glamorising what should be the problem of organised marriage. If the western world considers a mobile phone ownership a sign of a developing nation then India is heading in the right direction. Likely we have it wrong. 80% of Indians own a mobile phone, 40% have access to a proper toilet. I was reliably informed in Delhi that in the last ten years and beyond, India has performed negatively in almost every meaningful development indicator available. From what I have seen the “emerging middle class” is a myth. 70% of the population live on less than $1 a day. Whilst a government with entrenched bureaucracy continually fail to find the answers it seems a whole population continue to be blind to the responsibilities of and not the notion of a democracy. I digress…
Varanasi is one of those ideal places to combine your activities by the waterfront. Have a swim, brush your teeth, do the dishes, throw out the rubbish and take a shit. Later on you can throw a dead relative in the Ganges, that is of course after parading them through the city streets. I can only best describe the place as putrid and on the first day I was able to move out of my guest house I must have made quite a sight stumbling along the ghats trying to find my way back, throwing up over myself, wiping it up with my sarong and then using that to cover my mouth because the smell of my own vomit was better than that of the available air. Despite Varanasi being a holy sight for Hindus alike it was a rather forgettable experience for me and I was glad to get out when I gathered a half strength and managed to drive 134km down to Allabadad on the on the 16th.
It took another two days to drive onto Agra, the famed location of Indias most widely recognised monument, the Taj Mahal. After arriving I treated myself to a spaghetti bolognaise at a Radisson hotel almost unable to come to terms with seeing such luxury after the last few days. I did however justify this pricey meal on account of it being my first proper meal in 5 days. Afterwards I marvelled at the best 500m of road I had seen in India, running between the Radisson Hotel and the Taj complex. Never the less there were still hundreds living in slum conditions along the stretch. I stayed over the night in Agra and headed out early the next morning to see what all the fuss was about. There is no use beating around the bush, the Taj Mahal is truly remarkable. True to word, I doubt photos do it justice and the whole experience certainly is a pleasure to the eyes. Of course what is glossed over is that it was built by Muslim invaders and 20,000 workers who took 20 years to finish it each promptly had a hand cut off so as to be unable to recreate such a marvel. Before leaving Agra mid morning I also checked out Agra fort, built 100 odd years earlier than the Taj yet still quite a sight. It was easier to imagine the fort being a living breathing palace rather than the mausoleum of the Taj. Ironically the bloke that built that built the Taj ended the last years of his life imprisoned by his son in the fort. It does seem however he had a good view of it from his cell.
I arrived in Delhi in the afternoon on the 19th, very glad to be being hosted by a friend’s sister who works at the Australian High Commission. There is also another Australian and a Russian girl staying here and it is certainly the best accommodation I have had since I left. It couldn’t have got better when I was offered a Coopers Pale Ale, yes real Coopers made in SA, and Tim Tams. With Australian chocolate, wine and Allen’s lollies in the fridge I seem to have found myself an oasis amongst the mayhem. Plan is to have Snow serviced at the BMW dealer here in Delhi coupled with a couple of days rest before heading onto Rishikesh and then Shimla, the gateway to the Spiti Valley and its famed perilous mountain passes.