India

The Eighth and Final Tale from the North East – Khajuraho and Delhi

By Nick Goslett
Cycling to their village
Cycling to their village

I rented a bike for 70R, thought I might need the bell with the crowds of Shiva worshippers still filling the streets, tried it, no sound. Went back to the bike shop: the price of cycling doubled as he eagerly fitted a new bell He opened the old one up and it must last have rung when the British Raj ruled India. The first 8km were on the main road to the train station but no traffic and it was almost like being in England with wheat and mustard (which looks quite like rape) fields stretching into the distance and what looked like oak trees from a distance … but in England you don’t see 10 women in sarees walking along with pots on the heads. I finally got to the Bani Sadr Dam and was happily cycling along enjoying the view of the lake and birds when a truck came along the road some 30 feet below where I was and beckoned me over to a shack on a hillock. I shakily made the descent and walked to the hut whereupon a plastic chair was brought out, taken to the lakeside and there I sat watching some more birds and looking at a rust-bucket of a boat brimming with fish. At this point another six boats set off from the island and since they were coming my way I assumed that they wanted to take me for a trip for a rupee or two, which I most certainly was not going to do. However, this time it was not the tourist they were after but the man in the truck who was the local warden and paid them for their catches. They had all caught a lot of fish but the warden told me, as he weighed them, that they all lived below the poverty line.

The village Headman


I had spied on Google Maps that there was a way back to the main road over the fields. Cycling on I came upon two boys in what looked like a pumping station so, as usual, I stopped for a natter. They showed me giant bees nests and the system for getting water to Khajuraho and told me that they lived in the hut with nothing in it. As I was to find out, actually unearthing where they did live was not easy since there English was so poor. I set off again and now had two boys in tow. I indicated the path over the fields but imagining no tourist of sound mind would go that way they almost shouted “Come. Come. Main road”. (I do so enjoy the Indian request to follow which is that “Come” and a beckoning with the hand sweeping forward.) Well, of course they followed me! After some time, in the distance was what I thought to be either a smart hotel or temple but it turned out to be the railway station so I bought water, they chose some teeth rotting turkish delight and we were off to see where they really lived, now with a motor-cyclist and a friend in tow as well. The motor man said it was his birthday but I think that was just a ruse. We visited the motor-man’s village first (which thankfully had a shop so I could have a small packet of biscuits for lunch) and he lived in a really nice hovel painted light blue with dark blue doors. Finally we went to the first boy’s school in his village which was probably a bad move on his part because school was in operation and he should have been there!

Their little temple


Today’s aubergine crop


On my way back I detoured through the Old Village which is a delight: windy narrow streets, clean as can be, most of the houses white or that lovely light blue. Now another young boy entreated me to see his school, which I did and with it a story which reminded me of Kovalam. A Dutch guy had visited some years ago and thought there were too many kids on the streets. So he gave enough money to build a really high quality school for 300 of them, which the headmaster proudly showed me round with pictures of before and after. Heart warming. Those kids, however, will not be able to afford university.I had a neck and shoulders massage with a man Dave recommended and so good was he that I actually slept well and was persuaded to go back the next day for the works.

On this trip I have been more adventurous with my eating places (this morning’s was a dump by the train station but an excellent masala omelette which I saw him cook, and coffee, all for 60R) and have only had two hours of a bad tummy, after eating a potato pasty and two vegetable samosas but I think the killer was some unknown red source he mixed into them without me knowing and I was too hungry to send them back. So that night I had a spaghetti carbonara and delicious it was. I was accompanied for a short time by Phil and Ruth, Newcastle retired teachers who were ever so nice and ever so well travelled .. and ever so …

The fishermen’s homes


The family having a domestic


Local fisherman


Pleased with his catch


Inside the motorcyclist’s blue house


One more day in Khajuraho and the Eastern Temples were the target. What none of the guide books tell you is that inside these temples it is really dark and you can see hardly see any of the carvings unless you see them in the early morning when the sun shines straight into them. Glorious. The insides are all small and the tops have a distinctive shape to remind one of the Himalayas, quite unlike the temples in the south like those at Hassan and Hampi.Well, I have to say that I thought the Eastern and Southern Temples uninteresting, especially after the wonderful Western ones but I did pick up a farmer on the way (“I will be your guide. No you will not. OK, I will be your friend”) who took me to see his plot down by the river: the wheat is a superb crop and his wife had just picked two enormous baskets of aubergines and the papaya were flourishing, one of which we ate. However, there must be domestic problems because: when we arrived the daughter scowled at him and me; when I asked to take a photo of the family, he was allowed no neared than three feet from the wife, daughter and son; when we left the wife asked me for money and when I said I would pay him she yelled at me somewhat unnervingly. The daughter is 19, about to be married off and live 40 kms away, is happy about it according to him but not from her demeanour. Saw two magnificent Indian Grey Hornbills. He showed me a tree whose leaves they used to boil up to ward off malaria (which they don’t have any more so I wasted some money there).

Such passion


Look at their hands


Had a one hour full body massage by a youngish boy wearing a mask. Was it in case I had not washed? Anyway, it was most enjoyable and I hoped that I would sleep on the train, but I didn’t.I decided to go back to the Western Temples and study the carvings at peace with my binoculars, and found details I would never have noticed with the naked (!) eye. Well worth the 250R. These are great temples, but I have to say that I prefer the ones in the south, especially at Hampi and Hassan.

No worries with the train this time. Arrived at Delhi a bit late, got to the Master Bed and Breakfast which Dave had recommended, met Shrutika from Konark and a friend, Palak, who had been head of Time Out in India and was an excellent guide for the Red Fort (Shrutika should not have been there as she is organising a big marketing event and it is proving difficult – Liza, ring any bells! – so I was very touched that she came at all). Used the metro which is really impressive and shows what India can do when starting from scratch. Landed up at the Sikh Gurdwara (Temple) after one thing and another and did not realise until I walked back to this place some time later that is was only 400 yards away! It is a stunning temple. Guru Nanak, born of Hindu parents, started Sikhism in the 15th century. It is monotheistic, is happy for you to believe in what you want, rejects all forms of discrimination, rejects all forms of rituals such as idol worship, fasting, pilgrimages and superstitions and seems to be rather a sensible religion! The temple is vast, all white marble with occasional flowers and leaves but no colour outside apart from gold on some of the temple towers. A man playing the tabla with two singers was quite superb.

Shrutika and Palak


The Sikh Gurdwara


At one point I took a bicycle rickshaw. These spindly men, dressed in rags, peddle decrepit old bicycles with no gears and if they hit an incline of one in a hundred they practically grind to a halt and if they get any speed up they hit traffic and have to stop, and they are never able to sit and peddle because they need to stand up to get the leverage. I find the experience very distressing. Some philanthropic inventor could surely come up with a better design.I forgot to mention that during Shrivaratri, four policemen managed the crowd around the lake in a bright yellow pedalo!

That’s it for this trip. I do hope you have had some enjoyment from my ramblings.

Lots of love to you all

Nick

My retinue


Indian Roller


Cycling to their village


The Dutchman’s school


Bringing in the catch


A giant beehive


An excellent breakfast in Delhi


An Eastern Temple, Khajuraho


A village shrine


A Temple Guardian


Another giant beehive


A fisherman


A cormorant


A bird’s nest


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