Today I’ve rented a bike. It was on top of my list of things I miss. I nice bathtub, polish on the nails, pizza, movie, and a bike ride. It’s a shame the saddle was the most uncomfortable on earth and after 10 minutes I was already tired of riding.
I’m in Kochi, the capital of Kerala. Nice town, with buildings of Portugues, Dutch and British architecture, coming from the colonial past of the region.
I have diarrhea again, it looks like it wants to keep me company until I go back home. It’s raining. Good, it was very humid. In a few hours I have a train to Chennai, on the Eastern Coast. From there is my flight back to Italy in less than a week. A nice bath and pizza the first night, aubergine parmesan on Christmas eve, on Christmas Day anything that the house has to offer, and then… I have a lot of dishes I miss.
Aleppey is a small town South of Kochi, in Kerala, built on water. Very charming. I stayed only a couple of days because accomodation was more expensive than the rest of India (20 euro), but I would go back.
I didn’t like Jodhpur too much. I’m glad I was there only for one day. I don’t know if it’s because I was very tired because I didn’t sleep much on the train and I might have had some fever, but people were particularly annoying. A man kept looking at me while walking in front of me, with a not-so-nice look, and I had to tell him to fuck off to make him stop. Kids kept coming to me asking for money and pulling my shirt. A kind man invited me to his blue house and at one point he asked to exchange one euro in rupee to pay for his wife medicines, a wife that was on the terrace sunbathing. Another guy started laughing while looking at me. The special saffron lassi is not that good at all. Restaurants are more expensive. So, nothing good.
The fort is nice, built by one of the many mahrajas. Jodphur is also called “the blue city”, because many buildings are painted in blue. A nice shiny blue. Inside and outside. In the past it was only brahmin houses that were painted in blue, one of the highest chastes; today anyone can paint his house in blue.
Now I am in Pushkar, on the shores of a sacred lake. People come here from far away to bath in the lake. I haven’t seen much yet, but the little I’ve seen relieved me. It seems a nice holiday resort. People is relaxed and happy. My room is beautiful, painted in lilac, with green, white and blue strikes. And a warm shower (at least the first two minutes). I haven’t had a warm shower in two weeks.
Pushkar is in Rajasthan, a region in the North-West of India, near the border with Pakistan. In Rajasthan you can also find Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, where I was in these last weeks. On the bus coming here we passed villages where the elder men were wearing turbans in the most bright colors. White, red, red with white dots, yellow, orange; fluorescent greens and fuchsia. Some women wore their sari (the long shawl that they wear on their head and that they knot around the waist) of a super bright yellow. At first I thought it was muslim women who wore the sari on their face, but it’s actually quite common, so to avoid men’s looks. But why do men have to look at women lasciviously in the first place? Why don’t they look at their dirty nails?
There were a couple of trucks on the road that had had an accident. It didn’t surprise me. Here the only rule is that of the strongest. The largest vehicle has all the rights. So when our bus was overtaking another vehicle, if from the other side a motorbike was coming, this last one had two options: either stopping or going out of the road. Pedestrians are treated even worst. Pedestrian crossings or not, it doesn’t matter. The problem comes when you have to cross a large road. To cross a road with many lanes you have to do like in that frog game on the Commodore 64, when you cross the first lane, than the second, you wait among the running cars that the third is free and so on (the same is in China actually). Roundabouts have no rules. You don’t actually do the whole tour if you just have to go left or right, bike or car or pedestrian. And you don’t need to stop to see if a car is approaching when you enter a new road; it will be their duty to see you and anticipate your moves and let you in. But the most dangerous remain overtakings. If there’s a bump or a bend, it doesn’t matter. If another truck comes from the other side you just slow down and go back to your lane. If it’s only a car or a motorbike approaching, it will be their duty to stop or go out of the road.
I was walking on the street and from an open gate I saw a group of people dancing at drums rythm. A bit further there was a procession, with drums and trumpets and people dancing. Men in the front, women following. At the very back, a guy on a horse, dressed like a Mahraja; he was probably someone important. On the side walked some poor guys carrying lamps that seemed very heavy. And behind them a chart with a generator, for the lamps. The noise of the generators fought with the drums, to see who could be heard more. At one point they stopped, while music and dances continued, and from a gate people brought yogurts, that here they call curd and that they eat at any time (it’s the main ingredient for lassi), to refresh the partygoers. I would have liked one too, but strange enough I wasn’t offered one. When the procession started again the street was full of the empy packages. I don’t know if it was a wedding or a religious celebration.
I went out for dinner, but I had to come back to wear some shoes, it’s too cold! Why? We are not that heigh.
I survived two days in the Thar Desert, near Bikaner. On a camel. My butt and thigh are aching. No more camel rides for me, thank you. They asked me to go back. Ok, I might, one day, if you give me a bike instead of a camel.
I was on a tour with two French guys and a Dutch-Portuguese couple. These last two were interesting. She’s a bag designer, that uses recycling materials. He’s an artist, that to pay the bills owns a coffee shop in the Netherlands, somewhere near the border with Germany, and earns quite some money from the business. Six camel men, a guide and his son. The youngest of the camel men, Umad, 12 years old, is basically everyone servant. He’s called around everywhere, to wash dishes, peel potatoes, wait. And he runs forth and back always smiling. These desert guys are beautiful. Except maybe for the red-brown teeth colored by tobacco. That are not as bad as those of their camels, anyway. The oldest camel man, Kesudan, is 53 years old. He looks 20 years older. I guess life in the desert is not that easy.
The tour started with a visit to the Karni Mata Temple, a temple dedicated to mice. It was quite impressive. And a bit disgusting, if I can say. At the entrance you have to take off your shoes, like in all temples, and than you walk amid mouse shit and food. It’s good omen if a mouse runs between your legs, and even more if you can spot the white mouse. I waited for 10 minutes at the entrance of the white mouse house, but nothing. No luck for me. I’ve never seen so many mice in my life.
These two days in the desert were a completely different experience from what I had in Wadi Rum. There I was traveling on a 4×4, amid mountains and red sand. The Great Indian Desert is a great extension of dry spiny bushes and sparse trees. Camels walk very slowly, so you don’t go very far. And I think that is the point, to spend two days with a different space-time perspective. That is actually unnerving, when you are used to rush and do everything quickly. But I guess it has its advantages.
The plan was to sleep on the dunes under the stars. But the weather wasn’t too good, so the guide took us to an abandoned building, to sleep under a roof. This was built as a school, but was never used because the Indian government never sent teachers to the place. So is the Indian bureaucracy, explained the guide. Money is spent on infrastructures, then teachers are left without jobs and children without school because there is no communication between the various offices. He doesn’t vote, because everyone is corrupted, so there is no point in voting. He’s the first person I’ve met that doesn’t like Sonia Gandhi. When I mention that I’m Italian, everyone smiles and says “like Sonia Gandhi!”. Edvige Antonia Albina Maino was born 30 km from Vicenza and married a descendant of Mahatma Gandhi (the Gandhi family has had important roles in the government for decades; Sonia Gandhi in 2010 was president of the Indian Natioanl Party and could have become Prime Minister if the opposition didn’t complain that she’s not fully Indian).
So we slept under the porch of this building. Getting up was awesome, surrounded by fog, with the noise in the background of camels chewing nearby and the desert men preparing chai on the other side of the portico.
Lionel, one of the French guys, coouldn’t find one of his shoes. It was 10 meters from the porch, a bit nibbled at. Some animal must have taken it during the night, probably a goat.
I went a bit away from the group and tried to do the 5 yoga exercises I learnt the previous day. But this thing of being calm is not for me. I should have done every exercise for 5 minutes 3 times, instead I did it one minute once. I kept thinking at the others that were cooking breakfast and I couldn’t wait. I have to try again. Only when I play solitary games at the pc I can spend hours without doing anything (this was in 2010, now I spend hours playing candy crush). Which annoys me, because I waste time that I could spend reading or doing something else. But playing on the pc helps me to think. I get some good ideas sometimes (like going to Africa).
Another day on a camel, but after half an hour I couldn’t take it any longer. I don’t know how people can enjoy this. I spent the rest of the time on a chart, pulled by a camel. I was laying on the hay that they use to feed the camels when we stop, letting the sun warm me up, cradled by the chart and the camel men dirge. Much better.
Kesudan was on the chart with me. At one point he stripped a piece of string from the towel he was wearing around his waist, and weaved a bracelet for me. Now we are brother and sister, explained another guy. Next time I come to Bikaner he hopes I’ll call him, he gave me his address. He has a handsome son, so I might really go back. But it’s better if I wait until the son grows older…
I have always loved traveling, since I was in my mother's womb. I love to see new places, meet new cultures, eat the food of the world. Recently I discovered that pictures can sometimes show more than I can do in words.