Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Three days in one go...

Here goes... This will be a long one!

Well here we are in India. In spite of many rave reviews about Virgin Airways the flight was mediocre to bad, leaving 45 minutes late and then waiting a further hour and fifteen minutes for any trace of food or drink to arrive. Whilst the crew could not control the flight being delayed (presumably) due to issues on the ground, a little communication and an attempt at an explanation would have been most welcome. To rub salt into the disgruntled old fellas wounds I had two howling kids in front and an epic snorer behind. I guess the highlight was as we were coming in to land and watching the air crew’s tact and diplomacy in action.
Stewardess: “I really don’t care if you need to use the bathroom, Sir. You need to sit down. NOW.”
Punter (who it has to said had had a couple of whisky’s, but wasn‘t plastered by any means): “But I have been standing in a queue waiting for the toilet for over fifteen minutes now.”
“I don’t care. Sit down. Now.”
Sheepish punter mutters and slinks away, reclines into chair, crossing his legs.
But we got there and that is really all that matters. On arrival in Delhi the first thing that struck me was the air smelt different. That is not to say it smelt, just that there was a definite difference from London. It was more humid, hotter and pungent, slightly sulphuric? We made it through Delhi immigration, my best Hindi being wasted on the scowling official served us. “Nameste!!!” I cry. Grunt. Stares at Nipun and then stamps her passport with far more force than necessary (immigration officials the world over love doing this, not least of all in South Africa where they must need to change the immigration desking weekly) and then beckons to me dispassionately. Same wilting stare and hostile stamping of my passport. As a parting shot I offer a diffident “Shukria!” (thank you) and a smile, only to be met by a patronising smirk before he turns swiftly away. Ok then, nice day to you too buddy.
Having made our way out we were met by Nipun’s Dad. We were delighted to see him, as the alternative would been finding the train station and making our way to Ludhiana ourselves, which would have been no issue but a friendly face at the end of a journey is always welcome. What we did not realize was that it had taken him seven hours in a taxi to get to us. That began to impress on me just how vast India is. Delhi and Ludhiana on the map look pretty close to each other, they are however seven hours apart by road. We jumped into the taxi and began the journey through Delhi which was great. It is so refreshingly different from the UK but pretty hectic. The roads are crazy. Four people on a scooter weaving through traffic, two guys on a motorbike carrying large coils of copper piping, a young street kind selling copies of Vogue to the more affluent at the traffic lights. Ok maybe that last one was not so great but illustrated the great divide.
The journey to Ludhiana was long. About eight hours long which was longer than our flight from London. We stopped just outside Delhi for Narial Pani (an unripe coconut with the top hacked off and a straw stuck into the milk) which was not entirely to my delectation, though Nipun was more than happy with it. Further on we stopped at Haveli for dhal and rotti with chilis on cocktail sticks, happy days!
I guess the most memorable thing about the journey was the driving. I have jotted down my rough understanding of the rules of the road, no doubt imperfect but nonetheless:
1) On a dual carriageway the fast lane is the lane that you are in. Conversely, if you are chatting on your phone, changing CD’s, lost or just in the mood for driving slowly, the slow lane is again the lane that you are in. Either will do, no worries. Overtake in any lane you like and do not worry about doing 30 km/h in the outside lane. It’s all cool eksei.
2) In a similar way you should not be put off by having to drive on the right side of the road. It is ok to drive brazenly into oncoming traffic, especially if you have a motorcycle and wearing no helmet.
3) Talking on your mobile whilst driving down the road is no problem whatsoever. In fact it shows your popularity and you should not attempt to be discreet about this. This applies whether you are a truck driver, in a car or driving up the wrong side of the road on your motorbike with no helmet on.
4) When driving at night lights at the front of your car or truck are desirable but not essential. Tail lights are less essential and even pretentious at times. This is especially true of heavy vehicles and tractors hauling heavy trailers.
5) At a round about do not concede right of way to anyone. Give an inch and they will take a mile. Expect to fight your way on and fight your way off again. Courtesy is a sign of weakness and will be met with contempt.
6) Above all hoot incessantly. Your car horn is every bit as essential as your brakes and infinitely more important than indicators. It is not employed to hoot at those nasty people cutting you off or stalling at the traffic lights, but rather to let everyone else know exactly where you are on the road. This works quite well but can seem like mayhem!
Overall the system works well and far better than the M25 in London on any given Friday afternoon or whenever you are late for a meeting.
The other thing that struck me was that for us to get a taxi for the fourteen hour round trip it worked out to about £50.00, or to out that in perspective the same that it would cost for us to get a taxi home from Central London which would take about 490 minutes.
We are now back at Nipun’s folks palace, sorry I mean place. It is beautiful. Ram (Nipun’s dad) has advised me that there are a couple of rules regarding our diet and the drinking water, most importantly to finish each day off with a whisky in order to kill off any harmful bacteria that is lurking in your system. I am off to do that now. Goodnight.

A couple of days have gone by now and we have been settling rather comfortably in Ludhiana-ian life. We have spent the last couple of days meeting family and generally eating for too much. The aloo tikki is a hot favourite at the moment, coupled with some delicious home cooking by Nipun’s mum. Today was my Mum’s 70th so we went to find a man with a STD, and no that does mean Sexually Transmitted Disease but rather Standard Trunk Dialling. There is a man with a STD on nearly every street corner (you could be excused for misunderstanding that if you had not been forewarned) and we got through to her first time with no problems. It was easier than phoning from the UK funnily enough. In other news Morgan Tsvangerai’s wife has just died in Zimbabwe which is cause for sadness. Time will tell what the causes were.
Tomorrow we are driving to Julandhar to meet more family and then continue on to Ameristar where we spend the night. More to follow then.

The drive to Julandhar was good. We got a taxi to assist to drive and being a man about town he knew all the short cuts. This entailed going through a few rural villages which was really interesting. It appears that everything in India is recycled, even the cow dung which is moulded into briquettes which are then used to fuel fires. I cannot attest to the smell but assume that as they are completely dried out they are odourless. One would hope in any case. The villages are a refreshing change from the cities which tend to be very dusty and polluted in my admittedly limited experience. The villages we passed through on the other hand were quite green with a lot of cultivation taking place.
Julandher itself typified the type of city mentioned above. There appeared to be a couple of modern buildings but by and large it was dusty and hot and not entirely clean. We were met by Nipun’s Gran, cousins and uncles from her Dad’s side who were most welcoming. Nipun’s Hindi is coming along in leaps and bounds as she spends more time here and she provided some much needed translation for me. Her Gran is amazing, in her nineties and very alert and active. Like my Gran so we have longevity on that side of the family!
I am typing against the clock at this stage as we are off into town shortly to use an internet cafĂ© where we can upload all of this. Hopefully. As such a brief summary of our movements up until now. From Julandhar we travelled towards the border with Pakistan, very close to Lahore. The nearest town is Attari for anyone following our movements on the map. We went to the Wagha border post to watch the nightly spectacle whereby the Indian solders antagonise the Pakistani army by speed marching up to the border point and then stomping back. The Pakistani army then do the same, to much cheering an jeering from the massive crowds on either side. The armies display massive curled moustaches and there is an element of ridicule from each side which is pretty amusing. The Rough Guide describes it as “Pythonesque” and this is a pretty good description. Unfortunately we arrived a little late and only caught the tail end of the spectacle (just in time to see the lowering of the Indian flag for the day) , but the atmosphere was one of great conviviality and amusement. Nipun and I were hauled up on to stands by some very friendly Indian guys (“Come up here, we love the British!”) who proceeded to talk in Hindi whilst looking at yours truly and busting a gut laughing. Oh to understand the local lingo, though maybe it is better to be in the dark sometimes.

Wagha was great fun and after a massive traffic jam to get out we were on the way again, this time off to Amritsar, home to the Golden temple. Having finally managed to find accommodation (£15 per night) after getting lost a couple of times we went off for dinner at the Bharawan Da Dhabba, a vegetarian curry house. Around about now my belly is crying out “Meat, I must have meat!!!” but I am sure this is not doing me any harm. It has to be said though that every type of bean and lentil known to man must have passed through me by now.
9th March.
Up at dawn and off to the Golden temple to take some photos. Give in shoes at gate and then don a very stylish, bright orange bandana in line with the temple’s rule about covering up your head. Not entirely sure that orange is my most flattering colour but go with it. Dawn breaks and offers up as much colour and life as a high street goth. Flat and dull dawn, damn! Nevertheless as the sun gets higher and begins to hit the temple walls the colour begins to burst forth. I take a few long exposures using stacked ND filters (20 seconds) and then switch to a polariser which works much better. Meet back up with Nipun and then we go to join the queue to get into the temple itself which entails a forty five minute wait. Nipun’s mum and dad join us before we walk up to the Jallianwalla massacre site, where General Dyer ordered his soldiers to open fire on 20 000 unarmed Indian protestors in 1919. I was feeing quite grim about the whole affair up until the point that someone chucked a water bomb at me from a roof top (Westerners are double points?!) which made me laugh. It is a very sad place though, what the hell was he thinking? Onr of the walls is still pocked with bullet holes and you can see the well where many people threw themselves into whilst trying to avoid the hail of bullets. Then back to Bharawan Da Dhabba for lunch, duly bought back up in the evening. Nice.
Today we are off into town to book tickets to Shimla and then Delhi. We will be going off to Agra, Jaipur and then down into the South of India in the weeks that follow. Until then, laters!


  1. I can assure you that there is no way they get rid of the smell from the brickettes.

    However, as you do not seem to have noticed so far, maybe they have found a way!

  2. An epic snorer, eh? Wonder who that could have been, J? ;-)