Labyrinth: an intricate combination of paths or passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way or to reach the exit.
Our second day in India and even before we left the hotel another one of our questions was answered, what was the voice from the darkened room? We could see him, standing in the hallway of the hotel, the inhabitant of the darkened room. We said “hello” but he was far away, his body twitching, mumbling to himself, every now and then smiling at something only he could see, he was dancing, shaking his long straggled greasy grey hair, his beard yellow from years of nicotine. My boyfriend said “that man is on one longggg trip” and we both laughed and walked out of the hotel having been taught the dangers of too much LSD.
Main Bazaar didn’t seem so bad, we passed the spot where the man had died last night, there was no sign of anything ever having happened. We made our way to New Delhi train station, the heat was already overwhelming. While we were walking I felt something and turned round just in time to see a middle aged Indian man quickly wipe some perspiration off of my arm with his fingers and then lick his fingers before dissappearing into the crowd. We got to the train station with no tickets and no idea of how to get to Vrindavan. A man stopped us from entering the main hall and said he was an officer in plain clothes there to help tourists. I told him he was lying and he insisted it was all true. He got a document out of his shirt pocket, it was all in Hindi. I tried to grab it and this seemed to have made him furious “Madam, I can arrest you for that...”. I felt so bad and gave him the benefit of the doubt. He told us the Tourist Reservation Center was closed and we would need to go across the street to the small travel agents. While walking I decided I wanted a coffee and then he got more persistant, “Madam please go to the travel agents, you can drink coffee there“. Thats when I knew it was all lies, we managed to get away from him, walked the LONG way around with our backpacks back to the main hall and eventually found the reservation center on the first floor. We told our story to the woman who printed out our tickets “Ah, a professional tout” said mumbled she kind of chuckled to herself.
I was surprised at how fascinating an Indian train station really is . We could see the boys in rags who were collecting plastic bottles, other kids playing cards in the middle of the rail tracks, they invited us but we declined – being mauled down by an express train is not my idea of a good ending. We looked at the book stall, most of the books were either about astrology or politics and later photographed a little girl who had the most beautiful eyes, decorated with kohl. Our train to Mathura left exactly on time. We were sitting opposite an Australian Hare Krishna man with his Thai wife, as we passed through the suburbs of south Delhi we could see shanty towns. The Thai woman started crying, the poverty was too much for her and her husband, the large Australian who looked like he could have been a famous boxer was on the point of tears too. My boyfriend and I were just glad to be away from the chaos of Delhi and relaxed as we passed through the countryside, watching the chai-wallahs and all sorts of other wallahs come through the carriage. Mathura was a big surprise, the auto rickshaw drivers were even worse than Delhi! Maybe it was because we were the only tourists, or much more of them for us to deal with. We ignored them and spoke to an Indian family, they told us to pay no more than 70 rupee to Vrindavan. They drivers were quoting us 200 so we decided just to board the local bus and paid 10 rupees each.
Boy on the tracks at New Delhi Central Station
We passed through Mathura which seemed like a dusty chaotic type of place. I had told my boyfriend so much about India but never bothered to mention the driving, rather opting to see his reaction “The man’s a psycho…hey, stop driving like that!” as the bus drove towards, and almost into, oncoming traffic. I found it all exhilirating, glad to be alive, if it was our time to go then it was our time to go. The driver dropped us off at an intersection and we took a cycle rickshaw to what may be the center of Vrindavan. We wandered around for a while, everything was in Hindi, no sign for a hotel anywhere. We asked some people and they took us to a hotel but the receptionist said we couldn’t stay there as we were not Indian. We tried another “hotel”, same thing. Eventually we found what may have been a hotel, a large glass door and a desk and a couple of sofas in the foyer. They gave us a room, it is quite nice and i’m quickly getting used to showering in a room with no curtains while the people in surrounding buildings peer in.
We began to wander around Vrindavan just as it was getting dark and I was getting tired of chips and Mountain Dew. We still hadn’t ate anything decent until a few hours ago, we found a restaurant and due to sheer desperation I nibbled some pakora and my boyfriend had chicken and rice. We felt better and decided to explore, the alleyways of Vrindavan are alive, now and then a cow will wander along, and the monkeys. The monkeys! They are everywhere, I love the little baby monkeys who hold onto their mums, we saw an older one jump down from a window, push a woman (who screamed in shock) out of the way, grab some fruit and dash back up to it’s view point. I think in somewhere like Vrindavan a map is pointless, we just wandered further, past shops selling beautiful little Krishna dolls, some of them were painted black, their eyes peering out from under layers of psychadelic cloth. I want to buy one. While we were walking we noticed the alleyways were getting narrower and quieter. We could hear chanting, it seems every building is a temple. Suddenly we ended up somewhere where street lights and most probably the 21st Century ran out, we wandered through alleyways, completly dark, only the moon and light from temples to guide us, and then there, as we turned a corner into a deserted courtyard standing on the steps of a temple were four women, their long red veils covering them from head to toe. These veils weren’t ordinary, they were exquisite and imagined would cost thousands back home in Europe, I could see the jewels embroidered onto the veils sparkling in the moonlight. The smell of perfume floated across the courtyard, you could have heard a pindrop. In that instant I thought of Marrakech, I thought of the 13th Century, it was breathtaking and in a split second it was as if India has captured me for eternity. I became aware of the build up since we arrived in Vrindavan, everything has been building up to that moment – wandering through this little town with its shops open for the evening crowd selling everything from kitchen utensils to Gods and, further back in time, past building after building signposted by the Archaeological Survey of India until we were in place where time didn’t matter anymore. When the women had passed us my boyfriend turned to me and told me that one of them had whispered to him to follow them – which ofcourse we did. They took us through a maze of alleyways to a temple which was very crowded, people were mass chanting in some sort of religious delerium. The four women took off their red veils to reveal white dresses underneath, just as ornate. I noticed very quickly that they were transvestites, known as hijra and they began to spin almost trance-like in the middle of the temple reminding me of the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. It was hypnotic. After a while we left the temple and wandered through alleyways that were so narrow that you had to rub against other people walking the other way until we found ourselves on the banks of the Yamuna. The whole of this evening has been overwhelmingly beautiful and now I understand completely why people love India so much. As we wandered along the Yamuna we met some men smoking cannabis under a tree, I don’t know if they were sadhu’s but they were almost naked. We wished them namaste, hands clasped together, and they stood up and walked with us to the river. They tried to explain about the tree that was growing into the walls of a temple but the meaning was lost in translation. My boyfriend walked further with them towards the river while I stood mesmerized by a temple built from red stone. Boyfriend shouted in Dutch for me to follow and one of the semi naked men repeated the exact same words, we both laughed as we realised the Indian man had assumed that was my first name.
Dancing hijra in a Vrindavan temple
My second night in India and I really love being here now. Everything has fell into place, the street, the culture, the past, the little children with their unwashed faces have the biggest smiles and look a million times happier than the children back home. Everywhere you look there is something beautiful, like walking down a street and watching a group of people dressed like characters out of the bible who are being mesmerized by old fashioned televisions which show some sort of scene from the Mahabharata. We have been smiling so much at everyone. Some women have been looking at me and saying hello and touching their foreheads and then their lower necks. We asked someone what this meant and he told us that they are blessing me. It is autumn in Europe, those long, dark nights where most people stay at home, but here is is colorful and alive and I never want to leave.
Tomorrow we are going to try and get to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. We don’t know how to get there but it is suppossed to be about 30 mins away so we will figure something out.