It’s official, Delhi is the city I love the most!

Heaven: An eternal state of communion with God; everlasting bliss.

We took the metro from Ramakrishna to Chowri Bazaar. This sounds simple but it’s not. The Delhi metro is clean and airconditioned and cheap. The downfall is Rajiv Chowk, the station where you have to transfer onto another line. Rajiv Chowk is already outdated before it ever began, a timebomb, a disaster waiting to happen. The problem is it can’t handle the crowds and I hate to think what is going to happen when the Commonwealth Games and the airport line are all up and running. We stepped into the carriage on line 2 heading north or should I say we were mauled down by the mob who were all heading north. Just as the train is about to leave and you hear the alarm signalling that the doors are closing everyone makes a mad run for it as if they are escaping from some sort of invisible Titanic. It isn’t pretty, I could hear a little girl screaming and another little kid in sobbing, I was pushed backwards. The other time my boyfriends shirt got all ripped in the commotion, we left buttons missing and bedraggeled. (Tip: If you are using the Delhi metro try not to transfer at Rajiv Chowk at rush hour, getting ripped off by rickshaw drivers is fun in comparison).


Magazine stall in Old Delhi.

We had brunch and then walked across the road to explore the Jain temple, Digambar.

Jain temples seem organic, as if they have just grown over the years, a shrine added here and a statue added there. Other places like churches and mosques are more regimented in design. Digambar is an oasis in the chaos, multi colored paintings all over the walls. Some people were waving candles infront of statues and it just seemed really neat.

Lodhi Gardens

We then left and wandered onto manic Subhash Road and caught an auto rickshaw to Lodi Gardens. My boyfriend tried his ‘Me-Hindustani-chai-wallah-Indian-Railways‘ on the driver but it didn’t work. Lodi Gardens is a little bit of heaven in the center of Delhi. It’s like the Botanical Gardens you get in Europe only without all of the glass and heaters. We just lay in the shade of a tree for a while, totally content with our picnic. A loud French family wandered through and were immediately surrounded by the balloon wallahs. We just seemed to blend in. I spotted an old European army officer with his medals going for a stroll and a group of Indian girls in their beautiful saris walking across the ruins of the 15th Century Bara Gumbad. The trees are full of green parakeets and there are mynas and kingfishers. We threw some cookies to the grey squirrels and just lazed around until it was getting dark. We stopped off at India Gate, by this time it was dark and the monument lit up. It’s like a skinny Arc de Triomphe, only it’s India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was buzzing with people, some children who were selling balloons and wind-up toys were agressive in their sales technique.

The Red Fort of Old Delhi.

I still have India in these last moments. Delhi is Sliver with it’s many cameras and i’m the voyeur, free to peer into as many lives as I wish before the movie finally ends. Sometimes I don’t understand what I’m seeing. I realise now the European place in which I live has been airbrushed beyond all recognition. India may have it’s faults like anywhere else but at least it’s real. Long Live India!

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New Delhi to Amritsar, India 07.10.2010

Bamboozle: To take in by elaborate methods of deceit; hoodwink.

Another day in dynamic Delhi. My boyfriend decided to wear one of the Indian tunics he bought in Vrindavan, funny, just by changing your clothes it can change how you are perceived. Instead of trying to sell us trinkets and egg whisks (which they reckon are head massagers) they were offering him narcotics “Hey man, nice clothes, nice hair, my name’s Baba, you want some hash?” Somehow, after losing it on Chelmsford Road Delhi doesn’t get to me anymore, kind of like I have an invisible de-stress bubble to keep out the noise. I thought “huh, I kind of like being here” as we stepped out infront of a truck making it screech to a halt and I knew we have arrived, we are Delhiites at last.

We got to New Delhi train station with a hour to spare and thought “uhm, what should we do to pass the time?”, looking into each others eyes and reading each others minds we laughed and pretended to look lost, I pointed to the left, my boyfriend pointed to the right and sure enough within a flash we were approached by a scammer.

Hello, you can’t go into the station, i’m an officer, please show me your tickets!” the smartly dressed man said

We are going to the tourist reservation to buy one” I said.

He led us to an abandoned part of the station and began filling out a white form, while signing a name onto it he said:

Take this across the road to the travel agents, they can help you“. He handed my boyfriend the white form and he in turn began ripping it up, the scammer looked confused:

You know, you are a liar!” my boyfriend said.
His face dropped and he was beginning to get mad “No, i’m not the liar, you are!”
The reply? “No you are, you are the liar!” even more adamant, I began to giggle as this ‘you-are-no-you-are’ game went on and then we walked away.

We bought an English copy of “The Hindustan Times” from an old paper seller sitting on the ground. He got excited and waved some men over, he was pointing to us and telling the men in English “these are my children, my children!!“, he looked like he wanted to stand up and kiss our foreheads. I didn’t understand why he would say this and thought he was either drunk or just very proud that we were interested in Indian current affairs.

We went back, into the main hall of the train station, a guard with a machine gun tried to stop us going any further. I knew he most probably wanted a bribe so I just noticed a police man and made sure the police officer could see that I thought he was my knight in shining armour. He waved the machine gun wielding guard aside and told us the platform number for the suburban train to Nizamuddin where the Golden Temple Express would be waiting. Indian train stations are kind of insane, the digital platform sign said the correct time but the wrong train while a suburban train was waiting on the tracks. Someone told us this was the correct platform for Amritsar but it turned out to be totally wrong.

Stepping onto the correct train I realised the man who sold us the tickets had never asked us what sort of carriage or class we wanted. The carriage was beat up with bars on the windows – an Indian Railways Sleeper Carriage! We were sitting across from an elderly Punjabi man, his wife, their daughter and her baby, a little girl with black ruffled hair. I noticed they had drawn a ‘C’ sign on the little girls forehead with black ink, a dot in the middle, this fascinated me but I didn’t want them to ask why incase it caused some sort of insult. The train pulled out of Delhi, while travelling through the northern suburbs I became a voyeur, peering into the tiny houses, lit either by oil lamps or candles, women cooking over little stoves “Ah this is India I thought” and I loved it. The elderly man in the white turban spoke:

Amritsar, you going Amritsar?”
We said “Yes, for a few days
Golden Temple, free place to sleep, free transport” he said proudly
The Golden Temple is beautiful” I said smiling to his wife and showing them the photo which is in the Rough Guide.

As the journey progressed he told us the train had travelled from Mumbai and that they were going to see their family in the Punjab. I began to tell them all I knew about Sikhism, “Satnam WareHe Guru ji” I said and they all smiled and laughed and said “Satnam WareHe Guru” back. I told them my Indian friends back home had nicknamed me “Krata”, the Punjabi word for sleep as I spent alot of time doing this. Later we discussed Operation Blue Star, the elderly man glancing to the floor, his eyes changing into distant dark pools, said “Yes, I remember, I was in Amritsar in 1984“. I loved this moment and thought of my grandparents and all of the times they had told me about the war in Europe. The Punjabi family offered us some food, they gave us orange flavoured cookies which I found highly addictive. Later I managed to get onto the top bunk, wrapped the passports and money around me and tried to sleep. We travelled on through the night, I woke up and looked down into the carriage at one point, the police were talking to my beloved, he had been caught smoking at the door of the carriage and they wanted 200 rupee. Ofcourse he talked his way out of it and seemed to become friends with one of them. “My home, Europe no good, people not happy” I could hear him say in simplied English as I fell asleep.

I woke up again in the night, I didn’t know how late it was, I was feeling bad, really bad and almost fell onto the floor while trying to get down from the bunk. I noticed the group of Spanish girls in the adjoining compartment had wrapped themselves in mosquito nets and didn’t  know if they were doing overkill in their paranoia or knew something we didn’t. I got to the toilet looking around in confusion, the railway company never cleans the toilets and I mean NEVER. The train jolted and I fell INTO the toilet, this was bad and I was stunned – I could have burst out crying had I not been so horrified about the idea of walking through the carriage covered in god-knows-what . There was no water coming out of the taps so all I could do was pull up my pyjamas, wake my boyfriend up and watch him laugh at me as I whispered. The incident came to a close with my boyfriend chucking my pyjamas out the train window and helping my get presentable. If I could explain how I felt? The Night Of The Living Dead.

It was around 7am and we were pulling into Amritsar, I could see people beside the rail tracks, squatting out in the open with bottles of water to clean themselves. I felt like a zombie, we wandered out of the train station and said goodbye to the Punjabi family. We walked, then they came, the pack of cycle rickshaw drivers:

Golden Temple, 50 rupee” they were saying. We told them we didn’t want to go there.
Another one said “Golden Temple, 100 rupee” My boyfriend was telling them to leave us alone. After one man had asked us if we wanted to go to the Golden Temple we said “No” and then the driver standing RIGHT BESIDE HIM who was listening would then ask if we wanted to go to the Golden Temple with him. When you are tired and in this situation you have three options, (1) laugh, (2) cry, (3) lose it.

We wandered along the main road away from the Amritsar Junction and tried 5 hotels. We couldn’t find a room, they were all full. It turned out to be one of the Gurus birthdays and the city was fully booked. I was feeling even more wrecked as we stumbled along, every now and then telling rickshaw drivers to get out of our face, tired and hungry without a clue where we were going. Eventually we saw a luxury hotel and thought “Screw it, lets stay here”. We checked in, it must have been about 10am, all I wanted to do was shower and sleep. Some television channels were playing Sikh Devotional Music (Shabad Kirtans) live from the temple, so we let this music be our bedtime story as we nodded off in the oversized and very wonderful bed. I woke up just as it was getting dark – my boyfriend was shaking me awake, I was burning up and freezing cold and very very confused, he looked worried. Not wanting to worry him anymore than he already was I told him I was okay and showered. Guru Nanak or God or Ganesha or Buddha must have answered our prayers as we found a western pizza place, the same chain whom i’m sure has tried to poison me in Delhi, I won’t name names. I had some tortilla and Bisleri as my boyfriend went through two pizzas, pasta and lots of Mountain Dew.

We took a cycle rickshaw to the Golden Temple. I felt confused, as if things were taking longer to register in my mind, I noticed shops selling washing machines and wide screen televisions, the shops actually had glass doors but it was all a halcyion haze! I realised we were in a very different part of India from Vrindavan, far more western, the people probably better off financially. A pack of teenage boys spotted us from the sidewalk and began shouting very excited as if they had spotted movie stars, they were all rushing over and I thought “Oh god, not now please”.

We got to the Golden Temple and after taking off our shoes and covering our heads we walked towards the Amrit Sarovar, the brilliance and christmas lights reflected in the water. I thought of the first moments of my own life, just when you begin to notice the evening news and the images I first saw of Amritsar, only it was 1984 and the complex had been burnt out and there had been tanks instead of tourists. I thought back to that age when I was small, realising at that age I never thought I would ever be there. We walked around, listening to the Kirtans, people were smiling. We headed towards the causeway and stood in line, watching the gigantic goldfish swim in the water of the Amrit Sarovar, the crowd moving forward only to be stopped by an old man in a turban who would every now and then pull the wooden bar back across, demanding that the crowd stop. As we reached the door of the Hari Mandir people were getting down and kissing the steps, it was very moving and I could feel a lump in my throat, overwhelmed by the spirituality of it all. Inside we approached the Durbar Sahib and spotted Guru Granth Sahib and threw money infront of it. We went to the first floor, in awe of the animal and flower motifs and the chandelier and sat on the marble floor, listening to the hypnotic Kirtans and feeling safe, the way you feel safe when you are home, the outside world blocked out.

The Golden Temple photographed October 2009

I have always wanted to visit Amritsar, this is my first trip to India and for me it is just as essential as visiting the Taj Mahal. Ironically and typically, nothing ever works out the way you plan. Instead of wandering around Amritsar, visiting Wagah and exploring little villages in the Punjab countryside I have been very ill in the hotel. I don’t know if there was something wrong with the pizza in Delhi, maybe falling into the toilet incident, or maybe I have malaria, I just don’t know. We went out again in the middle of the afternoon, this time it was worse. Normally I like the smell of the street food but this time it is making me want to vomit, the diesel fumes are even worse, and the heat, I feel like I haven’t been able to process things within my mind as I could before. I’m terrified that I may have malaria and all I can do is thank God that i’m staying in this hotel in relative luxury, if this had happened in Paharganj then i’d have just wanted to die.I feel really sad that i’m missing Amritsar and we have decided to not go into Himachal Pradesh but to go back to Delhi when I have more strength, I want to be nearer to the Embassy incase this illness turns serious.

Vrindavan to Agra, India 05.10.2009

You’d imagine the Taj Mahal to be a glistening white but it’s actually a nicotine-ish yellow as you can see here. This could be the natural marble or it could be pollution.

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Fairytale: a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins).

Even though there are things we want to see in India we still refuse to set the alarm clock. I woke up around 11am, the relentless noise of Vrindavan invading our room. I’m sure that yesterday when we checked into this “hotel” there were no auto or cycle rickshaws parked outside, now there is a pack of them waiting on the doorstep. We just took the nearest and told him we wanted to go to Agra, we didn’t want to argue about the fare, starting the engine he was laughing and made sure all of the other drivers could see that he had us. Are we some sort of trophy or just two wide eyed tourists easy to rip off?

I remember when we arrived at Mathura Junction yesterday we were shocked to see the queue in the main hall trying to buy tickets, the proportions were biblical, so I told the driver we wanted to go by bus. He took us to Mathura Old Bus Station where a group of men told us there were no buses going to Agra. An older man got quite angry with his friends and told us there was, he pointed to an old battered, blue bus with bars on the windows and told us that is what we were looking for. The journey to Agra was so cool, looking out of the window at the passing landscapes made me feel so happy just to be in India, like one of my dreams had come true. Every now and then a speckless bus with glass windows and no doubt airconditioning would overtake our old battered bus, full of western tourists and I felt so grateful that we were in our regional bus with real Indians. While a man who spoke very good English was showing  boyfriend photos of the Taj Mahal from his mobile phone I kept reminding myself not to touch the chair infront of me, I think someone had spat some sort of red seed onto it. We arrived at Agra bus station only to realise we were 14km from the Taj Mahal so we took what might have been a tempo (a shared auto rickshaw). We could hear thunder and see torrential rain and some of the streets were flooded, I could see the driver trying to work out how to get to Taj Ganj (the neighbourhood of the Taj Mahal) and all I could do was laugh, thinking nature was playing a game “If you try hard enough then i’ll let you see the Taj Mahal.” Then, in the flood the driver pointed to the horizon and said “Taj Mahal” and there, through the grey skies and mist from the rain I could see the silhouette of the dome and felt a rush of emotions.

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The driver dropped us off at the security barrier where we walked down to the west gate. Some guides offered to show us around but we declined, I already knew the non-romanticized truth about Shahjahan which I would tell to my boyfriend as we wandered around. I had his cigarettes in my bag (I don’t smoke myself) and when the woman security guard who was rummaging through bags saw Marlboro she confiscated them, slightly disgusted as if she had just learned that women sometimes smoke. We walked across the red stone of the complex and then suddenly through a gate we spotted the mausoleum at the end of the Lotus Pool. I’ve been to many places across the world and noticed that you can visit a place on a grey afternoon and hate it and then visit again at the height of summer and love it, but this was different. Against the grey sky the Taj Mahal was brilliant and dignified and awe inspiring. For me, the ultimate, the serene. As we got closer what seemed like an illusion, the building got more distant and mystical until we reached the end of the uneven red stone we had been walking on. Stepping onto the effortless white marble in one flash, in my mind, I had been transformed into a Lilliputian, stepping onto the frosted icing of the world’s largest and most fantastic wedding cake. The last time I had truly looked up in wonder at something was, as a teenager, standing between the two towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and now I became aware that India was seizing all of the absolute within my mind, taking the crowns for itself and I didn’t want it to stop. The tomb chamber was dark and claustrophobic which only heightened the contrast and wandering around I was reminded that I still was in the modern age, the grafitti and love hearts and names scribbled onto the walls. It had began to rain, torrential rain and I didn’t care, with no umbrella we explored the complex, clothes soaked to the skin, we were shocked that we only saw a handful of westerners, the garden packed with tourists from all over the sub-continent. We let the people, who didn’t attempt any small talk, photograph us when they asked and just before leaving my boyfriend and I turned around to take one last look, to absorb the final moment, hugging each other, knowing that this would be a moment, timeless within itself.

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The Taj Mahal is surrounded by equally beautiful, if less dramatic, buildings.

Leaving Agra, with the warnings the harrassed American girl had told us in Paharganj about Agra’s bag snatchers and crimewave we decided to head back to the bus station only to be told there are four bus stations!! We didn’t know the name of the bus station but a auto rickshaw driver promised to get us on a bus, he took us to a part of Agra we hadn’t passed through and waved down a bus which was heading to Mathura. We headed back along the highway, I used the air from the open window to dry my drenched hair. At one point we saw a yellow fence with spikes seperating the lanes of the highway. It was pouring down and at the exact moment our bus stopped in a traffic jam right outside our window was a young man, maybe about twenty and out of it on drugs or alcohol climbing on the fence. Just as I was thinking “he shouldn’t be climbing there, it’s too slippery” he lost his grip and one of the spikes went through his chest. I screamed and the woman in front of me turned to see what was going on, and when she saw what was happening she looked mortified so I guess for Indians (who seemed to never get freaked out about anything) on the scale of one to ten this must have been pretty bad. Just as the mans eyes were rolling back the bus moved on – we saw at least two trucks that had crashed along the way and one which had just toppled over. In my mind I could see the Earth rotating and while looking closer at India the country was being shaken by a massive earthquake – that is how it feels to be in India. Turbulent.

Rather naively we assumed we knew all there is to know about getting from Mathura to Vrindavan. We stood beside a road which went under a railway viaduct, it was flooded waist high and I became aware that no matter how rich or poor, nice clothes or not, we are all the same. Everyone was forced to pass through the water if they wanted to continue their journey and I kind of secretly laughed to myself watching a woman who most probably thought she was alot better than many trying to wade through the water. While this theatre progressed we stood waiting for the local bus to Vrindavan while a pack of rickshaw drivers, harrassed us. “We are taking the local bus to Vrindavan!” we said and they laughed and said “There is no bus to Vrindavan.” We were getting mildly irritated “Yes there is, we took it yesterday!” They all burst out laughing like hyenas. We waited and waited and still no bus. Maybe they were right? We walked towards Vrindavan but the roads had turned to rivers of mud and eventually I told my boyfriend I couldn’t go on, I could walk yes, but trying to get across the mud was impossible. We agreed on the fare of the auto rickshaw to Vrindavan, this time the driver looked about 13 but I guess he was about 18, he had the best rickshaw, it was gleaming and new with different coloured disco lights inside. He looked at us in the mirror and switched on the sound system, it was western electro mixed with Indian pop and sounded exotic yet familiar, we laughed as he put the music on full blast and he began driving through Mathura like someone who was driving without brakes, in a vehicle spiralling out of control and it was both terrifying and very very brilliant. We raced by the little shops, people cooking infront of them, children playing, everyday India at the moment of dusk. These visuals with the music combined and the driver with a death wish made it a moment I will never forget, a moment I loved and never wanted to end, the music was so loud that people were looking, in all of the commotion I could see Indian boys and men looking at me with a “Wow, look at her!” and others just shouting “Oh my god!” in their funny accents. The driver would stop briefly along the way, in what looked like areas where rickshaw drivers park and made sure that the other drivers could see that he had us in the back. We felt like we may have been movie stars and grudingly stepped out of the rickshaw infront of our “hotel” in Vrindavan. I wanted to tell my boyfriend to ask him to come back this evening to drive us around town but knew it would all be lost in translation.

This evening we wandered through our favorite place until now, the alleyways of Vrindavan. I never thought in a million years that India could be compared to Kyoto but in a distorted way it could. The veiled women from last night wore clothes just as elegant as the Geigi who wander around Gion, and the shops in the alleyways are all a feet or two above street level, they don’t have wooden floors but resemble white mattrasses where you have to take your shoes off and kneel on the floor while the shop keepers show you the goods, reminding you of the tea houses across Japan. My boyfriend bought some clothes, they are beautiful, the shop keeper laughed and said “Ah, you want fancy?” and brought out what could be tunics, beautifully embroidered. I can’t remember what they are called but he bought one in gold silk and another blue. They have white baggy trousers which may be called “dhoti” or something similar. We stopped off at the “hotel” where he put on the gold tunic and then we went out to eat, back to that place called “Foods” something or other. Later we wandered down to the Yamuna where we met a group of old men in western clothes smoking cannabis and they wanted to show us the “gold temple”, we had never heard of it, they took us through the streets only to abandon us along the way when they ran into another group of friends. We were lost but I spotted a water tower and knew we were near to the place we are staying, but still we couldn’t find it. We saw a group of about 20 police officers (or soldiers) and they all crowded around trying to understand where we are staying. We described that it is near a restaurant with glass doors which sold Chinese and South Indian food and eventually they figured it out. It turned out to be 3 km away! The police told the rickshaw driver to take us there for 30 rupee, the poor man looked heartbroken but we gave him a 100 when we got back to the area we recognize.

We want to go to the Punjab and then onto the Himalayas, we have so much to see so tomorrow we will try and travel onto Amritsar via Delhi.

New Delhi to Vrindavan India 04.10.2009

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.

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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.

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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.

Arriving in New Delhi, India 03.10.2009

Fatalism: free will does not exist, history has progressed in the only manner possible.

Whether it is fate or just the consequence of my own travel plans I do not know but I have always loved India, the idea of India, for as long as I can remember and now it is day one in this bewildering country. We landed at 4am and got through the immigration without any fuss and arranged a pre-paid taxi at the counter within the terminal.  Cashing travellers cheques (at excellent rates) within the airport was simple. I don’t know where my mind was during the flight and customs experience but just as I stepped into the sunlight I thought to myself “Wow i’m finally in India...” and a fraction of a second later a crowd of shouting men descended on us trying to grab our backpacks and hustle us into various taxis. I knew about “The Mob” at Indira Gandhi Airport but even still it was not so much scary but overpoweringly freaky. We ended up with some smooth talker who took us away from the terminal to a taxi and not just any old taxi but an ancient Hindustan Ambassador – India’s legendary car! I have always wanted to be driven in an Ambassador so one of my wishes granted as we stepped into our first Indian taxi. As everything in life it was nothing like I had imagined, the immaculate dashboard of my mind had been replaced by tangled wires of every color, the chairs were ripped to shreds and the seat belts non-existant.

Driving on the quiet, dusty roads into Delhi I had the feeling that we have sneaked into India while the country slept. The sun crept from the horizon into a pinkish blue smog filled sky. The sidewalks deserted except for groups of construction workers working on the new line of the metro transport system, some women in saris sweeping the street with what seemed like brooms made of twigs and i’m sure I spotted someone walking with no shoes. How to describe the air….diesel fumes mixed with burning cow dung and sewage. The taxi driver got persistant about taking us to a hotel so I told my boyfriend in Dutch to pretend to speak to some Indian guy on his mobile phone who was waiting for us in Paharganj – ofcourse, this worked as the driver didn’t hassle us any further. We got to Paharganj with no idea of a place to stay and stopped the first westerner we saw, a blonde American girl with a slightly harrassed expression on her face. We asked her for advice on hotels and she told us to follow her. While she was telling us about the place she teaches in Jaipur and her plans to go to Bangkok for a few days (to be able to re-enter India on a tourist visa) I spotted a dead puppy with a mangled leg just lying there in the middle of Main Bazaar. I instantly had the feeling that in the wee small hours alot of horrible things must go on here. Nearby a group of men were huddled around a small bonfire drinking tea and noticing my expression were talking amongst themselves in Hindi about who would either call the Animal Ambulance or maybe here they’d just throw the carcass onto one of the bonfires. Our hotel is in a back alley between the Vivek and Ajay Hotels. We asked to see three rooms and still I wasn’t happy but eventually boyfriend chose the room beside the room of “The Agonized Voice” – the voice which every now and then screams obsentities. Why he chose this room I do not know.

Once we threw our backpacks onto the bed we knew we wouldn’t be able to sleep, we had travelled all night and were hungry. The flight on Turkish Airlines had been delayed for hours and my boyfriend at one point sneaked into the galley of the plane and helped himself to a sealed packed meal that must have been reserved for a no-show. We headed towards what I thought was Western-Shopping-Mall-Beverley-Center Connaught Place but C.P. (as it is nicknamed) turned out to be a confusing series of inner and outer streets seperated by multiple rows of cars and in the center of it all a dark, underground shopping arcade called Palika Bazaar. We wandered around Connaught Place and asked passersby for a cafe or a place to buy food. This seemed to cause confusion amongst the Delhiites and no one could give us a proper answer. We found a small hole-in-the-wall tuck shop – the only place open – where we bought Mountain Dew and a packet of chips. I was so hungry at this point we just sat on the steps of a closed store, beside some people who may have been begging, and had our measly breakfast.

In the back of my first auto rickshaw

After our “breakfast” we felt confident enough to head towards Old Delhi and Chandhi Chowk with the knowledge that we would surely find some western restaurant there. We got to Chandhi Chowk and when leaving the metro station we found ourselves on the grounds of a temple and this was the moment that India hit us. People were sitting on the street, some with no legs, others no arms, we saw women with naked babies all pleading to us for money, a group of small children were pulling our clothes asking for money the heat and constant drone of car horns overwhelming. I just thought, “oh God, is this it?” but we decided to visit the temple anyway. As we got nearer the beggars were laughing and signalling at us not to go in and in that moment I had the realisation that maybe we were in some Indian version of a soup kitchen for the destitute. We left and found ourselves in Chandhi Chowk, holding onto each other and trying to cross the road, it must have been mid afternoon and we became aware of the crowds. We visited the Red Fort, while we were resting in the shade of a tree I began to notice the beauty in India, groups of women in vibrant colored sari’s against the backdrop of Mughal architecture, the little kids earning a buck by selling postcards, other groups  just staring at us – us as alien to them and they were to us.

We spent a good part of this afternoon trying to get bottled water – can you imagine endless alleyways that sell nothing and I mean NOTHING but engines and carparts or flashing lights that you put on Christmas trees? It is no joke, it really is like that. We couldn’t find water anywhere in the small alleyways of Old Delhi and were becoming desperate. After about an hour we found a shop selling water and that was probably the best part of the day, to find water and to be aware of it’s importance. The rest of the day was spent wandering around Old Delhi, visiting the Jama Masjid mosque and we took a heartbreaking ride on a cycle-rickshaw. Heartbreaking because stepping into the rickshaw we didn’t really pay attention to the drivers age and physique – he was on his last legs! Confronted with the reality of life on the flyover at Gupta Road. Small groups of men with their carts, overloaded with boxes, furniture, trying their best to get across that flyover which for a good part is uphill. I had refused to remain seated in our cycle rickshaw and with boyfriend we helped the driver push the rickshaw across the flyover. Every now and then I spotted overweight smartly dressed people on the back of their cycle rickshaws, seated and adamant, and just thought how heartless of them just to sit there while their drivers tried their best to earn a couple of rupees.

The main street of the backpacker area called Paharganj

Around nine we decided to head back to the hotel, some shops were already closing, the Main Bazaar wasn’t as manic as it had been in the afternoon. While we were walking we noticed a dead man lying in the middle of Main Bazaar. His death was as easy to read as a book – he had been walking and carrying a small plastic bag, and had at first almost fallen on his knees but at the last moment fell to the side. The plastic bag was still clutched in his hand, his shoes exactly on the spot where he had took his last step, a stray dog was barking into the poor man’s face. At first I tried to understand the situation, it was only when I noticed the pool of urine that I realised what had happened. A few meters away a group of police men were standing, talking and now and then laughing nervously and a little further along a group of children were playing as if nothing was happening. A shop keeper came and tried to convince us to visit his store but we pointed to the man and the shopkeeper told us the man was dead and in the same breath asked if we wanted to visit his store. We started walking towards our hotel and I started crying as the ambulance passed us, I thought of the puppy in the morning, and now the dead man.  Is this a sign that in India when you think something is bad it can get a whole lot worse? Today Delhi has been nothing but a series of tragic truths about the cruelty of life and the cruelty of mankind towards their own species all set to a backdrop of stunning architecture and telecommunication cables as men tell lies and harass you into buying things that either don’t exist or you don’t need.

After seeing the dead man we have decided to remain in our hotel, I’m really upset, I can’t get the image of the dead man’s gaunt face out of my mind and at the same time have so many questions. Had he come to Delhi to follow his idea of a good life only to die so suddenly in a dusty hell? Was he a refugee stranded here post-Partition? Had the stress of Delhi killed him? Will his loved ones ever know his fate? Realising all of this, I’m thinking now that maybe I should never have come here. Maybe I’m not uncaring enough to cope with this reality, maybe this is a place only for people who like to live on the edge of a materialistic abyss.