I am writing this message from Varanasi, a holy city where old Hindus come to die, be burnt, and be thrown into the Ganges. Hopefully my words will flow from the keyboard in the same way that the filthy Ganges spews it’s cargo of rotting animals, rubbish, excretement, and charred Hindu bodies into the Bay of Bengal – though let’s all hope that this message is more savoury than the aforementioned.
Our desert camel ride in Jaisalmer was more comical than inspirational, as we were led a few hundred metres away and parallel to a bituminised road, then crossed the road and doubled back down the other side, before going a few hundred metres away from the road to a sand dune for the night. At one stage Tim and I had to seize the controls of our lazy beasts, and point them over a dune – the camel owners were reluctant to have the camels walk up any dunes, but we demanded our 1000 rupees worth. These lazy and maingey lumps of furry flesh brought shame to “Ship’s of the Desert” the world over with their incompetence and petulance – if Australian camel’s were a Toyota Landcruiser, then these were surely Suzuki Mighty Boys. The night in the desert was hilarious too looking back – we got absolutely sandblasted and completely caked in dirt, thanks to sticky skin (sweat plus suncream plus facial hair) and a roaring wind. Needless to say, there was a lot of writhing around and very little sleeping, especially when a wild dog fight broke out about 10 m away in complete darkness.
We then hightailed out of Rajasthan all the way into Delhi, which was so furious, noisy, and polluted that we only spent one night there before continuing on to Agra. We looked at the Taj Mahal on the first morning and intended to continue our mission to West Bengal pretty quickly, but ended up spending 3 days there because we couldn’t organise a train ticket out – I mistakenly thought that we had the train system sorted, but Agra was something else. I went to the station alone, expecting it to take 5 minutes and returned to the hotel 5 hours, two trips to the station, and several corrupt middle-men later a broken man, and honestly on the verge of tears…. and no ticket. Next day I sent Knighty to get the ticket and he returned 5 hours later with one – an extra 300 rupees, and a vacant seat magically appears. Anyway, the days in Agra were a blessing in disguise because it made us chill out, and we had a great time with our trusty rickshaw driver Rambev, and push-biking the backstreets.
I need to devote a whole paragraph to the Taj Mahal, which was the most amazing man-made thing I have ever seen and will ever see. We went there a little bit sceptical, having been unimpressed with a few dilapidated Indian monuments, but this thing was incredible. The three gates that lead to the main building are spectacular enough on their own, but the main building is absolutely inspiring in scale and detail, and is actually indescribable, hence this paragraph will now end.
Now we are in Varanasi for a couple of days (again, a bit longer than expected due to train dramas). The Ganges and the “ghats” (where people swim, get cremated) are an absolute juxtaposition of the best and worst of India – friendly happy lively Hindus mixing with a slow-flowing cesspool of sewerage, charred remains, rotting cow carcasses (we saw one getting eaten by a couple of dogs about 5 m from happy swimmers), and general filth. Like many things we’ve seen in India it’s bizarre and amazing, but there are stark contradictions and incomprehensible things happening all around you.
I had a sitar lesson here too and it was AWESOME – don’t be surprised if I bring one home!
We’ve got one more day here, then we are escaping to what has become some sort of highly-anticipated promised land for Tim and I – the tea-country and mountains of Darjeeling and Sikkim, where we hope to chill out and cruise for a while. We have been picturing ourselves there for a couple of days now! These hot, humid plains are extremely draining even for the Indians, and especially because it is in the “build-up” to the monsoon.
After the hills, we will be heading for the southern part of West Bengal (the Ganges delta), where we hope to ride an elephant and see a tiger. I’m really excited because it’s also the home of The Phantom! I hope to either see him in the jungle hanging out with Old Man Moz, or else in Kolkata (Calcutta) where, of course, he will be “walking the streets as an ordinary man*”. Apologies to non-Phantom fans, but shame on you for not revering the purple-jumpsuited hero.
Oh well, we’re gonna get a few beers and go for a row down the Ganges now – ciao!
* Old Jungle Saying