Heading home

Location: Jaipur, Barala, Kuala Lumpur

My flight to the Gold Coast leaves from Jaipur. This was a deliberate choice when I booked back in August. I wanted to come see my friends at Chillout Hostel on my way home.

Coming back from Rishikesh I had 5 days before my flight. Decisions. Pushkar? Udaipur? Somewhere else?

Ready for the wedding procession

As I said a few posts ago, plans are for wusses. Counting days isn’t of much interest, but I would guess that I ended up spending maybe 1/3 of my time in Jaipur. And oh, what fun.

Or, as it turned out, one option, and the one I unintentionally took was to I just hang in Jaipur. There is plenty of adventures to be had, some when you least expect it.

Having paid for a bag in the hold I decided I might as well buy some gifts for peiple – something I don’t normally do – and found something that is unique, exotic and actually useful. Also light, easy to pack, not expensive and a couple of other check boxes ticked.

Some great hipster hair options as worn by no one in India.

The concept of me as part of the Singh family was being strengthened and Mumma Ji is now my sister, I am an uncle. It is actually quite special and I am honoured to be loved and included by everyone.

Here is an example, out of order chronologically but a good place to include it. My last day in Jaipur. I am flying out at 2315hrs and not sure what to do with the day. Chilling is a good option.

With Ballu and Shaked

In the morning Ballu, my “nephew” asks if I would like to come to the village. Of course I would, having no idea who, what, why or where is involved. As long as I am back my 1800hrs it is fine.

In the car is Ballu driving, Mumma Ji, a cute young girl whose name I forget already but she is my great niece nowadays. We are going to Mumma’s village of Barala.

Unfortunately Mumma Ji is out of focus, but you get the idea of how gorgeous she is.

It isn’t where she was brought up, that is Mohchingpura, site of the wedding. Barala is where Mumma lived after getting married. It is traditional that the bride moves in with the groom’s family.

Barala is only 30km from Jaipur and most of the roads are pretty good. Most. One section would qualify for Worst Road Ever and included a partially collapsed bridge…or it may have been partially constructed, it can be difficult to tell.

First stop is at a shrine where respect is paid. This is for men only, women must remain outside. I don’t know how they know this as the shrines have no obvious markings. It is just knowledge.

Then to another shrine. This time it gets more serious. We are first there and over the next 30 minutes or so people keep arriving. Men inside, women outside. I say outside, but we are all out in the open, women are outside of a wall around the shrine.

Most people arrive with a bag with what I assume to be an offering. There is wheat, young coconuts, incense, sweets, cigarettes and ghee.

One man is responsible for preparing everything. He has a fire burning the coconut meat, feeding it with ghee and what looks like tea.

Another man develops what looks and sounds like the hiccups. He is getting louder and more frequent when he suddenly jumps into a small mattress and is on his knees bowing.

Everyone bows and Puja begins. There are many rituals, I don’t understand any of them. I have so many questions.

Kite shop. I wish we had a fighting kite culture. Just about everything you see are spools of string, including glass coated for cutting your opponent’s line.

The most intriguing is where and individual would lie prostrate and the holy man (I assume) would “sweep” from the altar toward them about 10 times with a bunch of peacock feathers and then use it to slap them on the back. Some people got a gentle tap with the feathers, others got quite a whack with the other end.

We left before it was finished, interestingly there was no red dot put on foreheads or the string around wrists. So many questions.

We head off and getting answers to the questions was no longer important. It was incredible just being there.

One thing I did want to know was whether the ceremony was because Mumma came or it was on and Mumma came for it. I know, but it doesn’t matter.

Next stop is at Papa’s home, where Mumma would have spent many years. It is a farm growing wheat mostly. I meet Ajeet and Ballu’s grandmother and aunts and they sit and catch up while I sit or wander.

Eventually we drop Mumma at a bus, she is heading to Mohchingpura, where she grew up. We head back to Jaipur.

That was Friday 15th. Thursday 14th is Valentines Day and if you think it isn’t celebrated in India you have no understanding of the spread of western culture.

Heading out to the “club”

Chillout is planning a party and it was fun helping set up. The guys bought a big bag of rose flowers (no stems) and we hung them around the place. Candles were lit. It looked great. I even managed to convince them that party music was needed, not the love ballads they were playing.

Not a lot of outside people came but finally, some dancing! I had also prepared for the night with some fireworks and a bottle of rum. Thanks Shaked for asking me to not get drunk and fall asleep because we are going to a club later…that’s what friends are for – seriously. Not that I was going to. After the last party where I wrote myself off I was taking it easy this time.

Hmmmm…the club…India style. Fact is it was a cool place, done quite well with a big curved roof but no walls upstairs. But the recently deceased Martian rover likely had more atmosphere. All it needed was background music and some lighting. Instead it was like a venue that had just opened for the day…except it was midnight or so.

The owner was a pretty great host. There was food and drinks, not sure who paid, I didn’t order it.

Then we went downstairs and after I spent some time in the kitchen (maybe my favourite place in India) I found the others in a small room with some decent dance music happening…loudly. REALLY FUCKING LOUDLY! This Is Spinal Tap did the “turn it up to 11” scene, this was at 12. But we danced. A lot.

Shadow dancing…the photo kind of worked.

Playing with the photo in the Snapseed app. Easy and fun.

At 0130 I had had enough and decided to head back to Chillout. No tuk tuks were around (incredible!), maps said it was 1 km. My new shoes were hurting so a peaceful barefoot walk got me back.

Oooh…I nearly forgot. When we arrived 8 or so of us squeezed into a tiny lift to go up to the club on the 2nd floor. The light indicated we were going up but we weren’t. For around 10 minutes we weren’t. I admit to having a moment of claustrophobia but kept breathing and it passed.

Eventually someone opened the door from the outside and we thankfully went up the stairs. I suppose it should have been obvious only 6 people could fit in, but at least we didn’t plummet to our deaths. I went to the lift on the way out but one look and I changed my mind.

I need to get this video from Agra in somewhere…this will do

My plan is to write this on the plane between Kuala Lumpur and Gold Coast and publish it while waiting for my bag. Am I being ambitious? Over confident? (I ended up publishing at home).

KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2) is a big place. Arriving at 0430 isn’t fun. Arriving at 0430 when your next flight is at 2315 is really not fun. I got a room in the capsule hotel in the airport. Too tired to go into the city I could sleep, shower, rest and enjoy the delights of an airport that is just like all other airports.

I did find this gem in a toy store.

Epilogue:

By the time you read this I will be back in Australia.

Each time I go to India I expect it to be my last. Each time the place is more amazing than ever. I am already invited to Ballu’s wedding, he just needs to find a girl ;o) I have promised I will come, and I mean it.

It’s been a deeply personal trip for me for many reasons. If you don’t know, my wife Sheila and I separated late last year, after I had booked tickets. I am not sure I would have come had I known how life would change. In retrospect, not coming would have been one of the greatest mistakes I could make.

I was invited to the wedding in Mohchingpura after I had my flights booked and I contemplated whether or not to go, it would turn my plans upside down. Not going to the wedding would have been a huge mistake, it was life changing in ways I don’t yet understand. I still can’t speak about the event without getting emotional. I may never be able to.

Other small aha moments, one big one which I hope to stay focussed on to be a better human.

Although I start and end alone and love travelling alone, this has been a trip of friends and family.

Thanks to my new Indian family for welcoming me. Ajeet, Jyoti, Ballu, Gopal (?), Mumma, Swati & Anant and so many more. I can’t possibly list you all but you have touched me deeply.

Shaked, Anouk, Tom & Laura, Mimmi, Fernanda. Will we ever meet again? I so hope we do, somewhere. You are always welcome in my home.

I travel alone but people at home helped when I needed it. Megs and Aaron with the card, Jasmine with medical advice for me and others. Thanks to those who stayed in touch Lesley, Dave and George, Tiff and Dawne, Tina, Di, Erna and you.

Namaste.

Note to self

Location: Jaipur

Hotel: Chillout

Just because rather than only carry on and I have paid for 1 bag in the hold for my return flight, I am not a failure.

This is not my extra luggage

Who said “it’s the journey…”?

Location: Jaipur, finally

Hotel: Chillout Hostel

I have a Citibank debit card. I deposit $AUD and can withdraw local currency from ATMs anywhere in the world. Exchange rates are reasonable (3% fixed spread) and zero fees. It is perfect for travelling and it is all I use the account for. I pretty much only use it in ATMs.

One day I noticed a transaction for $1.36 from January 29th. No big deal, hardly worth the effort of disputing but if these people do it 1 million times it is lucrative, so plan to dispute when I get back.

Random photos as you may not find lots photos of train compartments too rivetting.

February 1st a transaction for $71.48. on the 2nd $74.05 but I don’t notice at first because I don’t need to check the balance ever. But now they have my attention.

I am unable to put the card on hold via the app so need to call Australia which is harder than you think…at first.

Did you see my call for help on Facebook? I have since deleted it to stop people responding, but it was a shout out to someone who had some time who could call the bank for me. Thanks Aaron and Megs for the ideas and willingness to help.

It wasn’t until Alecia was going to ask me some questions to be certain it is me that I remembered the scam that is likely still going but I haven’t seen for a while.

Your Facebook or email is hacked and they send a message “I am in (somewhere) and have been robbed. I need some money to get to the embassy and have my passport replaced”. Except the person who sent it from (somewhere) was sitting with me. It sounded just like my situation.

Eventually I find the Rebtel app that gives free calls anywhere in the world for a week, then $5 a month. I call the bank and have 2 options: block the card or leave it and end up with no money in the account.

Blocking it there and then was not possible, I had little money. It took a few hours to find an ATM that worked and I withdrew what I thought I would need for the 10 days left: R1000 for a bed plus R500 for food per day + some travel plus some breathing room.

I call back and get the card blocked. Later I check the transactions and there is one more for $322.51. Crap. I will get it back but not having a card and now having something to sort out is a hassle.

Cut to Rishikesh. Specifically leaving. How am I going to buy a ticket online without a card?

A couple of people offer to pay and I will give them cash, but a weird thing is that many Indian web sites won’t accept foreign credit cards.

Eventually an Indian guy in our dorm at Live Free Hostel offers, we buy a ticket for R1210 and I give him the money. Sweet. The train leaves at 1840hrs, arriving in Jaipur at 0700hrs. This is why a comfy bed is a good idea. But, unfortunately, it is just an idea.

I am 9th on a wait list with a suggested 74%+ chance of getting a ticket. Good odds I reckon.

With plenty of time to spare, I am on the back of a Royal Enfield motorcycle heading for the bus station. Still on the waitlist, now 3rd in line.

A 40 minute ride to Haridwar and the train station. Still 3rd.

In a miracle of modern India the train is going to leave on time. I am still 3rd in line. If I don’t get on board, I am stuck in Haridwar again and I know the train is full tomorrow night. I get on board and innocently sit in the 2AC car where I have booked.

There are several different classes of rail travel. 2nd class is cattle class – it can be crazy. Here is a video from a previous trip.

Up one level is Sleeper class. Three high, no AC or any frills. On the way to Haridwar I was in Sleeper and it was freezing at night. Windows didn’t close. Everyone was wrapped in blankets.

Next is 3AC. Three high but with AC and you get linen.

Better is 2AC which is 2 high, AC, linen and curtains for compartment privacy.

There is also 1st class, but not on every train. Small private compartments with doors.

Since I don’t actually have a ticket I don’t have an assigned seat, so I plonk myself down in an empty one and hope for the best. Pretty soon a bunch of Uruguayans show up and I have to move. This is to become a recurring theme.

The train departs, I am on board, on.my way. I breathe a sigh of relief that turns out to be premature.

It isn’t long before the conductor comes around and I play dumb tourist who can show the app saying “booked” and that I have paid. But he says I am not on his list.

He is genuinely as confused as I was pretending to be. One would have thought he would have this down pat, but he was looking up my PNR (ticket reference) on a commercial site rather than India rail. It wasn’t working.

A passenger comes to the rescue and it is determined that my ticket hadn’t been issued, so it was cancelled. I feign shock and disbelief and stop short of outrage. None of it works.

What about the money I have paid? He doesn’t care, I will get a refund. But I paid it to someone, not my card. If it is possible, he cares even less and I am banished to a hard wooden seat outside the heat in the area between carriages. This was not going to be fun for 10 hours.

Uruguayan tour guide is cool. He comes out and says he had overbooked and I can have a spare seat. I am back in on the same one I left earlier. Soon, so is the conductor and he explains that because of the no shows, the seats have been reassigned.

However I can have it until Delhi, where the people are boarding, for R1350. I only paid R1210 all the way to Jaipur. I don’t have money, can you take a card? (I don’t have one) Of course not. Is there an ATM on board? I actually said this with a straight face. Did I mention how much he cared?

Now I am sent to 2nd class. His care level had plummeted. My survival instinct had increased inversely proportionally and I stealthily grabbed a blanket as I don’t have one.

I walk along the train in that direction and 3AC is absolutely full. But there is an empty compartment in Sleeper. Not perfect but by now it is getting late and I am tired.

At some time during the night, not late enough to have had a lot of sleep, the people whose seats they are get on board. I move to the next compartment. This was fortunate because it isn’t often you get to hear people having a loud mini party through the night.

All along I am.doing my best to cover the railway blanket with my own stuff as I reckon conductor will kick me off the train if he spots it. At least this is successful and I am quite warm.

In Delhi most people get off along with the pressure I feel. Conductor prods me every time he passes and I say I am here in 2nd class and he moves on until next prod.

I am at the bottom of 3 high and an easy target. Someone gets off and I climb to the top berth. My only fear now is sleeping though Jaipur, there are no announcements or indication of any sort. Thank you google maps for helping out.

There is no need for this adventure to end yet. I am so fearful of missing my station I get off one too soon in Jaipur. It is only 10 minutes to Chillout Hostel. I estimate R100 tuk tuk ride is generous. Interestingly autocorrect first suggested rude instead of ride which is appropriate since driver said R300. I laughed and started looking at Ola where I was quoted R102.

Now he was down to R150 and would do it for R100. Too late. Ola was on its way and instead of an open tuk tuk I would be in a car for the same price.

Uber and Ola are a big problem for tuk tuk drivers and normally I only use them, they don’t make a lot of Rupees. But he has tried to rip me off, I was tired and keen to get there.

Which I did.

Now what? Maybe Pushkar for a night or 2. Maybe hang here until I fly out in Friday.

I don’t know yet. Stand by.

Rishikesh, the original destination

Location: Rishikesh

Hotel: Live Free Hostel

If you read the previous post and thought it ended kind of abruptly, you were right.

I had spent 2 days trying to write what I knew would be a long post. The photos on my phone are a mess, I can find a specific photo in one app but not another, I am not certain where they are exactly. It was frustrating. Add to that so many distractions; talking and eating and walking. I eventually had to keep my word to publish yesterday.

As close as I got to the Taj Mahal this trip

The rest of the mob was heading back to Jaipur, I reluctantly left them in Agra, heading to Rishikesh. This was my original destination and the reason I flew into Amritsar in the first place.

Rishikesh is likely the yoga capital of the world, it is almost compulsory to walk around carrying a yoga mat wearing yoga pants. There is a vast number of yoga schools and plenty of people qualifying as teachers.

The location is beautiful, on the Ganges River in the hills. Very relaxed.

It is also the location of the best aloo (potato) parantha I have had in India. This costs R30 (60c) and is soooo good.

Getting here turned out to be a mission. Dropped off at Agra Cantt station at 1015 for a 1050 train the first thing I see is that the departure is now 1300hrs. Sigh…the others have gone, I have 3 hours to kill. It turns into almost 4 hours.

This isn’t too bad normally except arrival in Haridwar was 2130hrs then a bus to Rishikesh and tuk tuk to the hotel. But buses stop at midnight so after arriving at 0045 I had to find a hotel.

On the suspension bridge at Rishikesh

After getting turned away from a bunch of hotels that seem to not want foreign tourists (there is a lot of paperwork), a cycle rickshaw driver offers to take me to a hotel for R10.

I forgot that a R10 trip isn’t far and this was about 50m to a hotel that claimed to be full. Driver urges me back into rickshaw and stops at the next hotel. Ten metres down the road :o) It would have been quicker to walk. Then it dawned on me that he wanted it to look like he had brought me so he could get a commission. This place had a bed…expensive for 7 hours but can’t complain.

Fernanda from Brazil (L) and Mimmi from the UK are artists who barter their art at hostels in return for accommodation

Fernanda makes unique macrame pieces

Mimi with her mural growing up the wall

After the intensity this was a place to chill and it has been. I like dorms rather than private rooms because I get to meet the Mimmis of this world.

But there are so many excellent distractions from catching up with the blog.

This relaxing view is from the Shanti Shanti restaurant (I thought of you Dawne, Jane and Tiff). I was sitting sharing a meal with a British woman when she suddenly said “no! no!” and suddenly a monkey swooped through and grabbed 3 or 4 chapattis from our tray and was gone. I was about to take a swipe at it and thought that giving up food (which was replaced) would be a better option than it getting aggressive.

It has been a couple of relaxing warm and sunny days.

Though not so relaxing these men who entered all a pouring slab.

Tonight I am booked on a train* to Jaipur from where I fly home on Friday. I may head to Pushkar for a couple of days, maybe Udaipur. I may sit and drink chai and stay in Jaipur.

* Because T.I.I. I am actually only wait listed on the train. Number 9 on the list. I haven’t missed a train yet and am optimistic I will be sleeping my way to Jaipur.

Road trip to Kumbh Mela – Part II

Location: Khajuraho and Prayagraj

Hotel: read on…

This road trip with Ajeet, Shaked and Tom has been incredible and so much fun and we aren’t even at the Kumbh Mela yet.

Google maps is excellent and I wonder how I managed on trips years ago with paper maps and no navigation app.

But it does have weaknesses that can be a bit annoying. Sure you will be given the most direct route to a destination, but you may be taken via a permanently closed road (beside the Taj Mahal), down city streets that are too narrow for a car, or to the wrong destination that is associated with but not the yoga centre where you plan to sleep.

Khajuraho is the location of the Duladpeo Shiva Temple which was built in the early 10th century, only 25 or so of the original 84 buildings are left. What a shame…

This is the appropriately named Kama Sutra temple featuring erotic carvings.

And what would a road trip with a bunch of friends be without an attempt to recreate the carvings…fully clothed unfortunately.

From here to Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad. Many places in India have changed their names in recent years. Some the reasons is obvious e.g. Bombay to Mumbai, some not so obvious as in this case.

Another horror road made worse by the ever increasing traffic.

Finally we arrive with a hostel in mind but no booking. I love an adventure and do try to stay positive but was a bit concerned about this.} The chances of finding 3 beds at the largest peace time gathering of humanity seemed close to impossible. Especially in India.

This was one hotel’s version of an omelette. The omelette part was actually really good, but the white bread…

We had an address but it is not unusual for there to be no obvious signage. It was about 9PM and we were in the right area but no one knew the Kumbh Maya hostel. The booking website doesn’t give contact details until you have a booking so I booked a night 6 months ahead (keep this in mind) and found a phone number.

Getting to the place wasn’t easy. Many roads were closed but Indian police barriers fell to the privilege of being a foreign tourist.

After an hour of going circles asking for directions, we discovered it was a school we had passed a few times. Once inside it turned out to be home base for the hostel which is inside the Mela (fair) ground.

We speak to someone on the phone and eventually are following a car into the Mela ground past rows and row and rows of tents and people walking and more.

Left, right, along, right, along, left along seemingly random – in retrospect it was random. When we leave it was a single turn and we were on our way out, though a long way.

But I get ahead of myself.

We arrive at a gate beside a restaurant and into what is an oasis in the chaos outside. Bamboo huts, an attempt at a peaceful space.

The actual room was a small plywood bungalow that smelled like the paint was still wet. It was the only room so 4 of us crammed in so tightly that if someone wanted to come in, everyone had to stand in a bed. But we agreed with the manager to pay the price listed on hostel world website of 13 Euros = R1000 = $20 – another winner. But there will be a protest…

Once again, how to describe the place and event is difficult.

It is what I imagine a refugee camp would be like. Sort of organised crowded temporary housing with vendors and all the resources of a city. This city has a religious purpose, full of pilgrims.

The next morning we are up at 5am because there are things happening. Ajeet is going to immerse in the Ganges and must be done before dawn. Needless to say everyone is going to the river before dawn and it is too daunting to try to get over the crowded one way there bridge across the river.

So foreign privilege to the rescue and we are allowed to walk there on the back bridge, it was too early for many returnees.

The reason the there bridge was so crowded was due to a procession of Babas and their followers.

There are a lot of them here and I imagine a Baba of the Year competition as they try to outdo each other with colour and the number of followers and other events.

We hit a police pedestrian block, but foreign privilege prevails and we are soon making our way to the river in-between the fences as part of the Baba procession.

Busker

Once we reach the river it got a little scary. There suddenly a crush of people and we are in the middle or maybe near the edge, no idea. It was probably more of a push than a crush, people trying to get through in different directions. But it was tight.

A lady fell down and I was really concerned to get her on her feet as the crowd surged. Of course it dissipated in the end and suddenly we are at the river, Ajeet disrobing. That’s the point I noticed my glasses are gone.

If you don’t know, these are magnetic Click glasses and have miracle glasses (TM) properties. That I have had them for nearly 2 years is proof of that.

But now they are gone, lost and mangled for sure. By describing them as miracle glasses I have preempted the outcome besides, I have mentioned it in Facebook.

This is the not-so-auspicious part of the river. You should see the other side.

We are there for 20 minutes or so, the throughput of people is captivating, intense, incessant.

The Babas and their followers are coming through. Ahhh, now that I think about it, the crush was likely caused by the arrival or departure of a Baba and his followers clearing a path. Because they just push through often with a protective circle around the revered one.

Tom, Shaked and Ajeet insist on looking for my glasses. I am convinced that even if we find them, more than one of the thousands of people will have stood on them. Of course you already have figured out that the Ganges will provide what you need and I needed miracle glasses. Ajeet found them and they were undamaged.

We are walking back and there is a kerfuffle (no relation) with the police putting up a rope barricade, pushing us off the road we are walking on. They keep moving us back and back, then a row of soldiers with a sniffer dog (I assume) come through, clearing more.

Next is police on horses, pushing us further back. I am signing to mounted police Shanti Shanti (calm, calm) as the horses did their thing.

Then along the road comes a crowd. It is the next event in Baba of the Year. Named for the running of the bulls, I call it Running of the Naked Saddhus. They are running to jump in the river, a couple of hundred of them.

Watch for yourself

Talk about being in the right place at the right time, it was incredible and all over way too fast. Shaked managed to get this wonderful shot.

The continuing coming and going of people across the river was endless. The number of people in the river was countless. Except they did do a count and apparently on the day we were there so we’re 30 million other people! No shit!

Kumbh Mela structure

A temporary structure built for the 1 month festival.

Kumbh Mela 8nside temple

Inside, 100 fires are lit at night, one in each of the hearths.

This place has a bigger population than the whole of Australia. All in one place. At one time.

We are going to stay 2 days but it was so intense we all agreed 1 night was enough.

I refer you back to the protest being lodged. When we went to pay R1000 we were met with a quizzical look and news that the “room” was R7,000

Uh oh. We didn’t get very far talking to the man who wasn’t the man who agreed to the price. Thought it good to get him in and discuss it, so we go for a walk.

Plenty of things to see and do and when we get back guy is there. There is a lot of back and forth since we expect to pay the advertised price, but he doesn’t see it that way. We settle for R2000, noone completely happy.

I could go into the long version of what happened but this post has already taken me 2 frustrating days to write. So many distractions.

And then we are out of the Mela ground, the easy way, and on our way to Kanpur. Where not much happened.

Overloaded truck full of pilgrims

This is the trip home for some people, it must be awful over Indian roads.

But that is for another day.

Oh, that hostel booking? I cancelled and got a refund. But the booking was for 1st July, months after the Kumbh Mela is over and the city dismantled. T.I.I.

Kumbh Mela Road Trip

Location: Orchha

Hotel: Hotel Sunset

The plan was to hit the road for Kumbh Mela at 0700hrs. But T.I.I. and between India time and Ajeet time I was glad our departure slipped back to 0930hrs.

You see, last night was Ajeet’s son’s 7th birthday party at their home in Hathroi Fort.

I am sort of embarrassed to admit that despite staying at Chillout at least 6 times over 4 years and walking the streets around the hotel dozens of times, I had never spotted Hathroi Fort.

It was actually a soldiers garrison and is now the home to 10 families, including Ajeet’s.

Ajeet, his wife Jyoti and their kids live in the wall of Hathroi Fort.

The night was such great fun made a little more fun with a bottle of rum.

Foreigners really do need their wits about them here…as they do anywhere. The guy wanted to charge us R1,500 for 2 bottles. We pointed out that the price marked on the bottle was R400 each. He wasn’t fazed by this and we paid the right price.

There was plenty of dancing and setting off of Gorilla Bombs. It. Was so lovely to see Jyoti let her hair down a bit. Beneath the modest Indian wife exterior is a gorgeous young woman wanting to have fun. She was a great dancer.

But I paid a big price. I don’t remember walking back to the hotel but I must have because I do remember Balu putting a blanket over me as I slept on the seats in the rooftop restaurant.

Well, this post has been sitting gathering more dust than my clothes. There is no way I can fill in all the details nor can I put them in order, so here are photos and bits and pieces.

At great personal risk I had a haircut. There is not much curly hair for them to practice.

Great lighting provided by a Jaipur sunset, with the gorgeous and talented Anouk from France. What a singing voice. She has albums that I am going to track down.

Our first stop on the road trip, apart from for food or chai or to pee was in Orchha.

Ajeet and Shaked – I wish I could rotate this slightly, but not on my phone.

One of the major contributors to the truly awful air quality is using cow dung as fuel for fires. But poor people and those in rural India don’t have much choice. Who would have thought cow shit could be unintended art?

All over India there are brickworks with tall chimneys. When on a bus it is impossible to stop and check them out, but not when you are in a car.

Thousands and thousands of bricks, all made by hand, one at a time.

They get paid R1 per brick apparently and the bricks then sell for R3.

The whole place pretty much stopped when everyone came to check us out. This is just the kids.

Yes, young kids working too

It was all interesting and we were having a ball, but these must be the worst roads in India, maybe the world.

This screenshot is the last stage, into the Kumbh Mela but it gives you an idea. 7 hours to travel 260km. I thought it must be a mistake. It wasn’t.

It was exhausting but at the same time.it was one of the more beautiful drives. As idyllic as India can get with simple villages, fields of yellow flowering mustard plants, hills and animals.

We weren’t quite hurtling along a road when Shaked called for us to stop and back up. There was a wetland with a pair of Sarus Cranes and about 30 of the smaller unidentified cranes. It was very cool to see.

There is always something to see.

The next day over roads just as bad if not worse than the worst roads, we headed to Kajuraho which also was full of surprises.

Hmmmm…I think I am getting locations of things mixed up. But checking is too hard. I am currently on a train from Agra to Rishikesh and am happy to just get this post done.

In no particular order and without naming the city in case I get it wrong.

Raja Mahal is not only spectacular, it is a photographer’s dream. An old palace with lots of narrow stairs, a bit of a maze. Huge.

And some very old painted ceilings.

Right next door was a temple complex with beautiful buildings

And well maintained. The more observant will notice that the right hand edge above is the left hand edge below. Try to imagine I have the software tools on my phone to make a panorama.

That was great. But what makes this place special is that for some reason I don’t know, a species of vultures that is critically endangered roost and breed there. It is a conservation area for them.

The last one is a downy chick. And when they flew overhead? Bird watcher’s heaven!

A combination of motion sickness and had enough means I have had enough. There is so much more to tell I can never get it in a blog.

I could devote one post to all the times we have laughed hysterically at something. But you had to be there.

Plans are for wusses

Location: Jaipur

Hotel: Chillout Hostel – my favourite Indian hotel

After the wedding I have returned to Jaipur. Not part of the plan at all, but neither was the wedding.

To recap: When planning this trip I wanted to go to Rishikesh as my main objective. Flying into Amritsar made it convenient to stay in the north. I also really wanted to catch up with my friends at Chillout Hostel in Jaipur, so booked my return flight from there. This was perfect.

Then Ajayraj invited me to the wedding, just near Jaipur, right at the beginning of the trip, so I ended up in Jaipur on day 5 instead of day 28. But it was worth it, so worth it. Read about the wedding if you haven’t.

I have bought this dhoti as my primary souvenir. Getting it back in hand luggage under 7Kg will be a challenge 😛

Of course Rishikesh is still possible and I hear that Fernanda, a talented macrame artist from Brazil is heading there by bus the next (Tuesday) night. COOL! We get along like a house on fire immediately and I get Ajeet to book a ticket. Great plan indeed.

Have you heard about the Kumbh Mela? Wikipedia describes it like this:

The festival is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, and considered as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”. There is no precise method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims, and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary. An estimated 120 million people visited Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 in Allahabad over a two-month period,[ including over 30 million on a single day, on 10 February 2013

Out of the blue Ajeet said “We are going to Kumbh Mela, do you want to come?”. He must know how little I like crowds, but in the spirit of my India travels I say “yes, of course, as long as you can cancel the bus ticket you made 12 hours ago” which he can and does.

Firewood stack Jaipur, India
Oh, to be able to stack firewood like this.

So that is the new plan. Leaving tomorrow (Friday) for 5 days. This gives me a couple of days in Jaipur to explore new places.

This is not sped up at all, though it sure looks like it.

I have made some great new friends here. Tom from Germany also with me at the wedding, Anouk from France, Shaked from Israel, Fernanda from Brazil, Isabelle from Scotland/New Zealand/Australia and a chance to catch up with the wonderful Anant and Swati. So having a chilled time at the Chillout Hostel has been awesome.

So, you think you work hard…

People set off fireworks every night, mostly rockets. Being a boy, I had to buy some and did. I have mentioned the bombs in previous year posts, here is a bit more detailed explanation of the fun and danger associated with Gorilla Bombs.

I am not exaggerating when I say they would blow your hand off. They are frighteningly powerful and I give them the respect they deserve – which is most unlike me.

I don’t think I have included this video from the wedding. My understanding is that this guy is an itinerant musician. He showed up at the house and started playing in the family temple. No doubt he had a plan, knowing that the wedding was on might improve how many tips he received.

The instrument is incredible and many people say they have never seen it before. I know he made it and suspect it might be a one of a kind. Obviously it is played like bagpipes, inflating the bladder and then squeezing it. But it is the bladder that is special, it is an entire goat skin. The animal must have been removed through the neck as the skin is intact. The mouthpiece is at the end of one leg, the playing bit (technical name) is another leg. It even has the teats visible. Yet another surprise in India.

The world’s largest sundial dates back to about 1724 an is accurate to 2 seconds! This is a pretty unique view and will give you absolutely no idea of what it looks like. Check out Jantar Mantar somewhere on the web.

OK. It is 2PM and I haven’t eaten yet today, not such great planning but I find I am not nearly as hungry as at home. However it is time to find something to eat. FYI, India is 4.5 hours behind Brisbane time.

Next post should be during or after Kumbh Mela. I have little idea of what to expect in any aspect of this. Where we are staying, what we will see, how it will be. So ultimately there is hardly a plan at all.

Well planned.

Four unspeakably amazing days

Location: Mohchingpura, Rajasthan.

I don’t quite know where to start with this post and I know I am never going to be able to do the story justice. I am never even going to be able to tell it all, so much happened and it was deeply moving on many levels.

First, some background, and if I have covered this before I apologise.

I have some friends made through staying at Chillout Hostel (formerly Hathroi Palace Hotel). Ajeet owns it with his brother Balu and Ajayraj, a cousin, used to work there. After I had already booked and planned my trip, flying into Amritsar and out of Jaipur, Ajayraj invited me to his brother’s wedding, about 100km East if Jaipur. Given that the wedding was at the start but the location was the end and I had planned to stay in the north, it was a dilemma for a few days. But the more I thought about it and discusses it with friends it was obviously an opportunity too good to miss – I wasn’t even close to how good it would be.

The wedding location. I was staying in the house at the bottom near the marker.

I am not exaggerating when I say I don’t know how to tell this story. I keep trying to think of which bits to share but there is so much that happened each day.

The location is am easy beginning. As you can see on the map Mohchingpura is very rural. To get there we drove along some of the worst roads ever. Winding, narrow, bumpy, cows, dogs, people, water filled pools and mostly too fast with the horn blaring (of course).

The family lives in a cluster of 7 or 8 houses where 5 brothers are all neighbours. This is not poor rural India, the houses are big and well cared for and life is, for the most part, very simple.

Cooking is done over a small fire. This is milk straight from the cow being prepared for the kids. I had some, the crap we are sold is nothing like this.

There are uncles and brothers and cousins and kids. Given there were (literally) hundreds of visitors and plenty of people staying I am not 100% certain who actually lives in the house. It seems to be about 10 people, it isn’t crowded at all.

I was sleeping in an outhouse where there were 8 beds and a newly installed bathroom – it was still being finished as people were arriving.

Dressed for the wedding. There isn’t time or space for the kurta buying story

At first people weren’t sure about me. Most of the kids and women were shy. But hey, breaking the ice with people is what I do for a living and it wasn’t long before I was king of the kids and the women were getting used to me. Since I am make I was accepted by the men once they saw the kids demanding more magic tricks.

Some of us settled down to a rum and whiskey session late at night. I left before it got out of hand 😛

I have to keep emphasising that this is about 10% of what happened and how. There is just too much.

The next day was preparation for the pre wedding “party”. Out the back a team of “chefs” was setting up and preparing food all day long. The place was being spruced up, lots of activity.

Rotis being cooked for a late night meal

Decorating the outside of the house

The groom was covered in a turmeric paste by women. This happened a couple of times. There were many and continuous rituals.

A big henna session for the women.

The DJ setting up to play Hindi pop music. If you think it was loud, you aren’t even close.

A couple of hundred people came and were fed. Yes, sitting on the ground, they would eat and move on and the next lot would sit down. The food kept coming and coming.

I could go on but I must move on. And quickly or this will never end.

I didn’t mention that a kid said he was going for a walk to the shop. Intrigued I joined him.

You can’t begin to imagine how in the middle of the back of nowhere this is. It is essentially a farmer making a few extra Rupees from kids and locals who need a pen or some sweets or something. That it is even there is a complete mystery.

Oh…so much more to leave out. A guided tour though the farms by the kids.

This is mustard seeds. They also grow wheat and chick peas and each house has a vegetable gardens.

The wedding.

It is being held at the house if the bride’s family, about 50km away over the worst roads in India. We leave early because Ajeet’s sister in law is also getting married and Joitee (his wife) is being taken there. This is 50km in the other direction over the same roads.

At the wedding there are more rituals and lots of food. There were about 10 different foods to eat, each one was awesome. I am having some of each and someone tells me that this is just the snack. There is a meal later! I immediately cut back to a taste of each instead of a small plate full.

No one could take money from Bhanu :o)

More rituals at a building (actually a school) over the road from the venue and then the groom is hoisted onto a horse for the ride there.

This is accompanied by the worst band in history, loads of fireworks, and lots of dancing. People wave money over heads and the “musicians” try to grab it. It was a hoot, and it took about an hour to make a 200m or so trip.

Eventually the groom touches the top of a door with his sword and he is allowed into the house while we stay out.

But, where are the women? I hear you asking. Good question, as usual they are invisible. Apparently they are in the house, but I didn’t see them at all.

Oh, and there is no dancing as we know it to all. The women will dance for each other, the men will dance during the procession. But the idea is every getting together and dancing and having fun? No. I can put it any more simply than that.

The next day was more food and awaiting the arrival of the bride and groom to the house. Oh dear. The poor girl. She is literally being led by the groom on a – I have to say it – leash.

More rituals including what I am told is the wife being beaten by the groom and a cousin. They have some switches and I am really not looking forward to this.

It turns out to be a game where a couple have a stick and they have to try to whack the other on the legs 7 times. Cousin is a bit too enthusiastic for my liking, I had urged him to be gentle and he reduced a woman to tears, he ended up getting a kick in the arse from Mumma.

Aside: I had discovered that there is a stepwell nearby and had been gently pestering people to get taken there. As well as the 26th being India republic day, is is also the birthday of Ajeet and his mother. Mumma is just gorgeous, the sweetest woman and though we couldn’t talk, we really connected.

Ajayraj is going to drive to Dhousa, about 20km away over the same worst roads in India and offers to go via the stepwell. It was almost dark, but mission accomplished.

It was in the back of nowhere, I can’t even find it in the map again. Leaving there we continue to Dausa, following our noses in the dark. We are following a motorbike as we approach an intersection and aren’t sure whether we should go straight or turn right.

Ajayraj honks his horn and the passenger on the bike immediately points to turn right. Given how much people honk their horns, it was hilarious that he knew exactly what we wanted.

We got our cakes plus some black market rum for later (liquor stores are closed on Republic Day) and you can see that a fun night was had.

Jump to final day and a pilgrimage to all the local themes with the bride and groom.

I am lost for words about this day. At one point I made a video but it is so personal I can’t share it.

Suffice to say we went to places that are so obscure and hard to get to. So old. So spiritually important for these people. So incredible. Photos is the best I can do.

It is a small shrine in a paddock, but very important.

A supposedly endless tunnel which in fact goes for several kilometres. The story is that someone went in to check it out and never returned.

Down a dirt road behind some houses is an old temple and a Baba. People put some of the ash in their mouths.

Up the steps to…

…a very old abandoned house/fort.

…where there was another shrine.

I just can’t tell you about this place.

It is 10am in Jaipur. I need to get out.

This guy showed up unannounced at the house and sat in the family temple playing his goat skin “bagpipes”.

Father and uncle enjoying a pipe in the morning sun

My next destination is a surprise. To me too. I have no idea where I am going to head tomorrow. I’ll figure it out today.

T.I.I. & O.I.I.

Day 4: Amritsar and then by overnight train (with optional stress) to Jaipur.

Readers of previous India trip blog posts may recall the two acronyms in the title.

This Is India is used when resigned to something happening that is pointless trying to get stressed about as you can’t change the outcome.

Only In India as the statement implies refers to something that could be good or bad that typifies India for a foreign tourist.

I may be referring to these during this post, now you kind of know what I am talking about, but you can’t really unless you have been here.

With a forecast maximum of 16C and some early rain I was in no hurry to get out of bed or the hotel. Also checking out means having to keep busy until the train left at 1750hrs.

Change of tack: I thought I would be going to the wedding tomorrow, but I am now leaving 2 hours ago India time. I likely won’t have internet for 2 or 3 days so here is a quicker post that I expected.

My train was scheduled to leave at 1750hrs so I had a day that was overcast and threatening to rain to kill.

There was one direction I hadn’t really wandered and my map showed the Mata Temple and Gobindargh Fort in the same direction.

When a building behind a big fence is intriguing and you can’t read Hindi/Punjabi that might give a hint to what it is, I find it advisable to follow orders and leave…quickly…when the soldiers stationed at this soldiery place use their weapons to indicate you do so.

Around the corner was the Mata Temple. It meant nothing to me apart from a place to check out.

As I approached it was obviously a popular place. Shoes off (at all temples) I went in and before getting to the main part of the temple where there were lots of people sitting and chanting, I was directed up some stairs.

I had no idea where it would take me or what I would find, up I went out onto a landing where there was an idol of a god. A path led along the verandah passing other gods and through a door. There was a tunnel, then around a corner, then down some stairs, through a gap, back past where I was. I was in the most incredible maze that took almost 25 minutes to get through. Think of it as a Hindu Ikea.

That this place is not on the tourist trail is amazing…or maybe it is, I don’t pay much attention to such things.

If you get motion sickness you may not like this video, to keep it brief it is does up 5X – and despite the numerous “no photo” signs, I was assured it was fine.

VIDEO ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN UNTIL I GET DECENT WIFI

Apparently there are 100 rooms, by that I think they mean alcoves with gods in them. Another hidden gem discovered by absolute chance. O.I.I.

On the first day everything seemed such a long way, today after leaving the temple I walk aimlessly and suddenly, there is the cow hospital again. From the opposite direction. The city is getting a little smaller.

Freak out #2 when I arrived at Amritsar station for my train to Jaipur. Someone told me it had gone, an hour prior to scheduled departure (it is as possible as being late). In fact about 5 people told me it had already gone. I am wondering whether to jump on a train that is about to depart for Delhi or abandon the wedding.

Needless to say, when I found a railways guy who spoke good English, the train hadn’t left at all

Now I wonder if I was being set up by the first guy “your train has gone, but I can take you to Jaipur in my taxi (for a lot of money)”. O.I.I.

Seventeen hours in a train, including witnessing a subset of Indian OH&S, Indian food handling.

Yay, Jaipur and the Chillout Hotel (formerly Hathroi Palace) where I reconnect with Ajeet and meet his brother Balu who will be leaving for the wedding in 3 hours (which of course becomes 5 hours)

But this gives me time for a meal, a shower and finding an ATM that will cough up Rupees. I can’t get money from one that worked in the past, but one just down the road works. T.I.I.

And suddenly I am in Mochingpura, Rajasthan. I urge you to click here and then do a satellite view to get an idea of how far in rural India I am. But that is for the next post.

Neither words or pictures are going to come close…but here is a teaser. The groom and his aunt.

It’s like Melbourne in India

Day 3 – final day in Amritsar

It is cold and wet. Apparently it is snowing in the mountains. This is not the India I have experienced in the past in October/November. I don’t want to go outside yet, but India.

Posts are usually about yesterday written today. This one is a bit of a mess in that respect as the story was yesterday but the weather and rain is today. Even I can’t follow, so do your best.

Tonight I catch an overnight train to Jaipur. In class 2AC (2nd class, air conditioned) you are given bed linen. It hadn’t ever occurred to me that someone somewhere was washing it all.

Yesterday (blog subject day) it was threatening and forecast to rain so I didn’t want to venture too far. I headed off in a random direction following my nose.

As I crossed a railway bridge I noticed steam coming from a building and decided to investigate. I am not sure that if you wandered and looked through a window in a factory in Straya that you would be excitedly invited in.

So this is where they wash the train linen! I was given the guided tour (it wasn’t very big and all one room 😉) and people posed for photos (over) enthusiastically.

Tonight I will think of these people as I am rocked to sleep

Do you ever tire of your job? I might start a “be thankful” theme because for a lot of people here and likely many other countries, life is tough.

He is smashing small electronic motors and solenoids to recover the copper wire. I can’t imagine how much work is involved for not a lot of money. But I do love the photo.

Not doing it quite so tough and I wonder how many clocks he gets to fix/sell. Unintended art.

Eventually a storm came through and I took refuge under an awning where there were a few food and chai stalls.

Bought a yummy chai and while I was waiting the chai wala next door started some good natured, broken English banter that his chai was better.

Thats him in the background. I love this sort of play so it was back and forth and I asked him for a small sample so I could decide who was #1.

They were actually very different and truth be told I liked the first one better, it had obvious anise seeds in it. But diplomacy ruled and I said they were both very good.

Then it got weird. I paid R10 for my chai and looked for the other guy to pay him, even though I think it was complementary. He wasn’t there. A kid was running the stall so I started to wander off.

A Sikh man from behind a counter shouts to me that I haven’t paid.

I often find Sikh men a bit intimidating. The turban, the beard, they are often big men. I wonder if this is a look they have embraced and enhanced over time, a warrior thing.

Of course I wander back and of course original guy isn’t there. Of course I am happy to pay. But he says R50 which is outrageous for chai. I couldn’t tell if he was taking the piss or not. There was some amusement amongst the now interested locals when he would say stuff in Punjabi.

I kept smiling and playing with him trying to work out what was going on. Happy to pay but it was odd.

Then a misunderstanding was cleared up. He was saying R15 not R50. Indians often say a P for an F and pipteen and pipty…well it confused me me, but I am pretty deaf.

It dawned on me that the chai I paid for was likely R15 too so I went and gave them another R5. I think they were too polite to say anything.

Back to the other guy and I figured he was teasing me so I offered him the R5 coin. He laughed. So I went the other way and offered him a R500 note for R15. I think he laughed, but he waved me to go.

I didn’t look back.

Different chai wala

It wasn’t fun with the weather and shops dont have verandahs so I retreated to the hotel for a while.

The rain eased in the evening, I decided to go back to the Golden Temple and I am glad I did.

Fewer people (because it started raining again) meant it was easier to talk to the guards – they aren’t really, more helpers – and I found out that photos are OK except inside the temple.

It was beautiful during the day, and it is more so at night.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned they feed 40,000+ people per day. I wanted to eat, check out the food production and help. Again, I was given a guided tour.

About 50 people were sitting chopping onions, peeling garlic and ginger.

Whereas at the gurudwara in Delhi they made rotis by hand, here they had several machines. Unfortunately they were just finishing for the day so I didn’t get to see it in action for long. But they put flour in one end and rotis come out the other. Not quite as good as hand made but an incredible process.

They are then brushed with ghee before being served.

Of course with 40,000 meals there are 120,000 items to wash (plate, bowl spoon). This needs to be efficient and it was. I rolled up my sleeves for a while to help. Everyone is a volunteer, so I gave a little back for my meal.

My first attempt at video editing on a phone 😛

It is time to pack and brave the outdoors. Next update from Jaipur.

And the exciting possibility of going to the Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of humanity. I didn’t realise it is on now.