Told me that – Dhaka

(Delayed due to injury)

Friday 24 February: we take an all-day tour of Old Dhaka, which includes quite a few new bits as well. As Friday is the Holy Day for Muslims, most businesses and offices are closed and traffic is greatly reduced as a result.

Traffic observations: the same traffic ‘rules’ apply here as in India – he who has his nose in front goes first, regardless of which side he is approaching from. This basic rule is understood & we have seen no instances of road rage in any of the cities we have visited. I use the pronoun ‘he’ as we have seen no women driving cars or riding motorbikes in Bangladesh – no doubt largely attributable to the majority Muslim faith.

Motor cycle rules appear to be the same across the subcontinent – helmets, while supposedly compulsory, are seen as optional & even if a rider is wearing a helmet, it may not necessarily be
done up. Women (who generally sit side saddle) are not required to wear helmets (scarf hair is apparently preferable to helmet hair) & Sikhs are exempt if they wear turbans.

We have adopted a somewhat similar laissez faire approach to driving safety – most of our transport has not had easily accessible seatbelts & we no longer bother to check. Similarly, we take a cavalier attitude as pedestrians to crossing the road, the traffic is generally moving slowly, and not far in any one stretch, so we generally just walk out as it suits, patting the air in the direction of the oncoming traffic.

Points of difference: the auto rickshaws in Dhaka have caged in seating & the cycle rickshaws are decorated in colourful & elaborate designs & all vehicle number plates are written in Bangla letters & numbers.

Our guide Johnny takes us first to Parliament house which is a very modern building – Lea has previously been inside & states that it is very light & airy. Adjacent buildings of similar design provide accommodation for sitting members as many live far away from the capital.

Johnny comments that the opposition members are currently boycotting parliamentary sittings & only attend for an hour every 90 days to maintain their status as a parliamentary member. Can’t quite see the Liberals taking the same approach!

Next we move on to a local park where celebrations for Mother Language Day are being held. Language is the cornerstone of Bangladeshi identity – after partition, it was known as East Pakistan & it was decreed that Urdu be the official language. The later conflict with Pakistan led to the birth of Bangladesh as a nation with Bangla as its official language.

Next we move on to the grounds of Dhaka University – grand old buildings & a vast pool near student accommodation where we are assured students love to bathe in preference to their own ablutions …… looking at the water I’d choose the shower block every time!

Next we see a Hindu temple – not as impressive as others we’ve seen but it has a distinctive gate, and the usual Hindu acceptance of visitors.

We drive on to Kella Lalbagh, a 17th century palace & fortress which consists of an audience hall, a tomb & a 3 domed mosque as well as distinctive gateways.

Lunch is at a restaurant which has remained open for us with skeleton staff as most are at the mosque – Kerry & Lea have the opportunity to practice using the squat toilet, with unqualified success! Johnny is the first of our guides to eat with us, this reflects the pricing structure of the tour, and seeks our indulgence to eat with his hands.

Next is the distinctive blue & white tiled main mosque complete with geese in the pond outside, & then on to the Star mosque – Kerry feels conspicuous by her gender & returns to the car where Lea has remained to escape the heat.

Our next stop is a surprising find – an Armenian church built in 1781 by the then large Armenian community of traders. There are now only 9 Armenian families left in the city & the church & its grounds are tended by a Hindu man, just as it was by his father before him. He is more than happy to show us around & very proud of the work that he does. We light candles for our loved ones that are no longer with us & take the opportunity for some quiet reflection.

We also take a walk down Hindu Street, Ian and Kerry make an incense purchase. The nature of this street is especially familiar after our first two weeks in India.

We move on to Dhaka’s waterfront & wharf area – plenty of large boats being loaded with goods & many small craft ferrying people to & fro. The smell is quite overwhelming as is the amount of rubbish in the water & on the adjoining banks – we clamber on to one of the larger vessels, taking care not to fall into the putrid water – that would certainly test all of our vaccinations!

Our last stop is the aptly named Pink Palace where Dhaka’s nawabs lived a life not dissimilar to that of English Lords & Ladies. Our superstar status is again confirmed with Ian being swamped by children eager to have their photo taken. As our guide takes a group shot on the stairs, many others take the opportunity to snap a group of foreigners – I wonder how many photo albums we will appear in across the subcontinent!

We arrive home hot & tired, ready to rest up for the next day of shopping.

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His rival – Mumbai

So, Wednesday is planned as our sightseeing tour of Mumbai. However Kerry’s leg, injured at Amritsar eleven days ago is still causing concern. The bruising largely gone has been replaced by a red swelling lower on the calf. We cancel the tour early in the morning, and seek the hotel doctor. We ring him at 7.30, and by 8.30 he is with us. He conducts the basic tests, flexing the foot, twisting the foot, takes blood pressure and temperature and is confident that there is neither a fracture nor an infection. Nonetheless, he’d like an x-ray to make sure. It seems to me an ultrasound would be a better bet. We have an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon at 5.00pm.

Kerry stays at the hotel, foot elevated, cold pack applied, and sleeping mainly. Ian braves Mumbai streets again. Enquiries are made about some suits at a more reliable looking store, and continues his exploration of Indian attars, basically perfume oils, and purchases extra drinking water. Lunch in the hotel, and later in the afternoon, we take a taxi to the clinic.

We have the hotel doorman flag a taxi for us, we have the address written on a piece of hotel paper. I suspect the taxi driver doesn’t know the way. Even I’ve been here long enough to know to go straight at the roundabout, instead he turns left, and finds someone to ask, who of course tells him to turn right. We go left, do a u-turn, and start heading in the right direction at least.

The most obvious road to the clinic is blocked, and we say he can let us out to walk. The taxi driver opts to go around the block, and delivers us, more or less, outside the front door. The clinic we are looking for is not listed on any directory board. We ask, and are told the 7th floor. Inside at the lobby, our clinic is still not on a directory board. We try the building next door, but it appears residential, not medical. We go back and catch the lift. Our clinic is still not listed on the 7th floor lobby. We must look suitably confused because the old man operating the lift comes out and points us down a corridor and says ‘last door’. Bless him, for although the name of the clinic is still not sighted, the staff inside tell us this is indeed the place.

Kerry has an animated conversation with the medical receptionist and her offsider. An Australian drivers license is passed around the staff for inspection as a curio. Ian’s knowledge of the guru photographed with the practice head seems to illicit more amazement than admiration.

Finally we see the doctor who takes the same medical history, and runs the same checks as the hotel doctor from the morning. He too is confident there is no fracture, nor infection, but that the blood from the bruising is simple pooling under the skin due to gravity. Kerry has her leg x-rayed for confirmation. The doctor advises ice, elevation, compression, and ‘prescribes’ an anti-inflammatory, and an antacid. It isn’t Melbourne Street or Ward Street, but it is under $100 Australian.

We walk back to our part of the city, visit the ATM (Indian doctors deal in cash only), do more stall shopping, head to a pharmacy, have dinner and head for the hotel.

Tomorrow – Bollywood here we come!

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Pleasure to know – Mumbai

Tuesday, and we have the day to ourselves. Notionally we were going to the cricket to see the semi-finals of the interstate one day series here. But the BCCI website is spectacularly unhelpful about the venue or the time, so we hit the shops instead.

First stop, the Gateway to India facing the Arabian Sea. Like all monuments we’ve seen here, it is both imposing and impressive. Next the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. After the bombing and siege of a few years ago there is some security, basically a scanning arch as at the airport, and anything we are carrying is scanned separately. In we go. If only our budget stretched to this!

There is a display case of famous guests over the years, including the current and previous two US presidents, the first man to walk on the moon, Ravi Shankar, Roger Moore, the present Prince of Wales, and John and Yoko amongst them.

We rest up in the lobby, and then begin exploring the ‘arcades’ within the hotel. Dior, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Versace, Dunhill, Chanel, Zegna, and a Boss which was closed. There are lesser names too, and Kerry explores some jewellery options. I am sure we’re paying top prices (and then some), because of the real estate, however the salesman certainly knows his stuff. He has identified our country of origin, and correctly converts rupees to “Aussie” to save us doing the maths in our head. Kerry has jewellery brought in from the shop next door as well.

We’ve paid for the privilege, however the shopping has been leisurely, hassle free, the assistant knowledgeable, and we place faith in the location offering some guarantee of authenticity, if not quality. Kerry gets a little something for herself, gratis.

Ian goes next, for a not dissimilar experience in the world of shawls and pashminas. Again, I suspect we’re paying a price here, but we’re not getting the same level of attention (there is a Japanese man taking all of that). I take some convincing but I make the purchase. This is rather more cash than we collectively carry, and the store keeper lets me pay some on the credit card, with a (very small) discount on offer for paying the rest in cash. This requires a trip to an ATM, and the store owner is happy for us to leave with the goods, and our promise to be back after lunch with the cash. Mind you, he does have my credit card number, so his risk is zero.

For lunch we find a Belgian bakery and cafe. More international food, French press coffee which is the best we’ve had in a month, and a lemon tart with chocolate lining the pastry.

When we return to pay, he spies us in the lobby and is by my side in a flash, asking if I have been to an ATM. Indeed I have. I joke about his reputation being seen accepting cash from a foreigner in the lobby.

Back out into the streets, and even more shopping follows. Ian joins the Titan watch bandwagon – how is it that we both miss the Titan 40% off sale ? – and Kerry finds even more jewellery to buy. A few other stores are on our must-see list, and we do our best with a limited map, and haphazard street naming conventions.

Dinner at Leopold’s cafe, which appears to have been connected with the Mumbai attacks, and has a bag search on the door to prove it, and we call it a day.

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She’s a go getter – Mumbai

On Monday the alarm goes off at 4.00am in Dhaka so we can catch our flight to Mumbai. Neville has generously offered his work car and driver for the trip, even more generously, Kahled has agreed. Neville is up and about to see us off, and Lea comes to the airport with us. Check-in and immigration are blissfully smooth, and even the security checking isn’t over the top. We board on time, boarding is vaguely managed, and we even take off on time. The plane is pretty close to full, particularly of Bangladeshis travelling to Dubai to work. I am seated next to one who is an office cleaner.

We arrive in Mumbai early, and praise be, our car and driver are waiting for us. Mumbai airport at 10.0am is remarkably quiet, I gather that most flights here land after midnight. A doubtful moment or two at immigration; India has very strict rules about spending sixty days out of the country between visits, however we have the appropriate permission in our visas. My official double-checks, however Kerry’s seeks the advice of another officer before stamping her approval. Allowed back into the country we are waved through the next checkpoint, and through customs as the family ahead apparently have something to declare but have joined the green channel.

It takes an hour or so to reach our accommodation in south Mumbai, the area known as Colaba. This is actually very central to many landmark tourist destinations, and the Gateway to India, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel are just two streets away. Once we have registered with the hotel we take lunch, and Kerry takes an afternoon nap.

Ian hits the local streets. Colaba Causeway is full of shops, street stalls, and hawkers. This is hard sell city, and I am pursued relentlessly to make any purchase. I follow a man to a store for made to measure suits (what on earth made me do that?) and the owner works hard showing me fabric which he says is Armani and Boss, but unless those houses have taken to polyester and viscose blends, I think this just isn’t so. He asks how much I pay for suits in Australia, and I tell him the real figure. Reader, I am pathologically honest. He says he can do it for half that price. I suspect he could do it for half again, and still be making money. I am making excuses, like I know where his store is, I am in Mumbai until the end of the week, and I will be back. He offers his hand and asks me to promise I will return. I hold my hands up to surrender and say “I cannot promise”, and make my escape.

Back on the causeway I am greeted by someone who looks like a devotee at the local temple. Before I know it my wrist is tied with red and orange cotton for luck, I am, after a quick mantra from my assailant, given something sweet to eat, for even more luck. I am given more cotton to keep in my pocket (yes, even more luck) and to top it off, a marigold flower, also for my pocket. Luckiest of all is the one thousand rupees I am now expected to donate to the temple. How could I be so slow?

There are serious stores here, such as Nike and Reebok, and a Swiss Watches shop, into which I venture. All the female staff are seated behind their brand counter and each immediately stands when I enter. I am looking for a specific watch which they don’t carry, so my visit is short indeed.

I cross to the other side of the street, where the footpath is in shade, and there are no stalls lining the path, only stores. I take temporary refuge in the Wesleyan Church. It is marginally cooler than the hot and humid conditions on the street, more importantly it is blissfully quiet and peaceful. Restored, I return to the challenges outside. I do a lap of several blocks, and every single store holder tries to get you into their store. I find something resembling a supermarket to purchase additional drinking water, and much needed tissues, before heading back to the hotel at around 4.00pm.

We go out at around 7.00pm for dinner, to a hip little cafe at the end of our street, spotted on my earlier walk. It is so hip, it is not yet happening, at least not at this hour. The (international) food is both interesting and quality, and best of all, they promise espresso. And they deliver. Our first real and half-decent coffee in three weeks is a great end to the day.

No photos for this post.

Something we can’t neglect – the Sundarbans

We spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the Sundarbans, and getting to and from. We fly about an hour to Jessore (20 feet above sea level) and then are driven to Mongola (about three hours). The airline provides hand-written boarding passes. The road features rice paddy after rice paddy. It appears as though if there is a piece of suitable land available, one grows rice on it. We see women drying the grain by walking through it on mats outside their homes. So many homes appear to be no more than cane lattice work, with a roof of palm leaves. A short distance from the road we can see brick kilns, too. And of the small villages we pass through, about every fourth one has wood and timber galore. But it is genuinely difficult to know where the trees are logged. Some parts of the road are better than others, and some parts don’t exist at all. Lea thinks her internal organs are being rearranged, whilst Kerry thinks she is part of a test series for Berlei.

We reach Mongola for a speed boat trip to catch up to our cruising vessel. Reader, this is not the speedboat you waterski behind on the Murray. This is a fiberglass tinny, with a wooden floor, with an outboard motor at the back. Sitting in the harbor with we four, and our limited luggage on board, water laps at the beam of the boat, but somehow none spills in. Off we speed for some twenty minutes to get to the cruising vessel. Once on board we have an offer of lunch, which we accept. The guides for the trip also introduce themselves.

We spend the afternoon admiring the forest from the water, and the life on and adjacent to the river. Life includes a crocodile. And the forest is more than mangrove. There are all manner of palms, and a variety of other trees that are beyond my botany to name.

There are around forty other passengers on board, including a Brit, one Kiwi from Melbourne, and a man from Adelaide. Of the domestic tourists there is one extended family group of about sixteen.

The cabins have bunk beds much like our overnight train journey. Whilst the bunks are longer, my feet don’t hang over the end and they are not walked into every five minutes, the bunks are narrower.

On Wednesday there are three activities planned. A short walk on one of the islands, a trip to a beach, and a trip along one of the reaches of the river in a small boat.

We take the morning walk, although the boat crew appear to be operating in a different time zone, as we are all awake an hour early. The walking group has an armed guard at either end, although we think this is rather more for the potential human enemy than for shooting any tiger about to attack. We do the walk with the extended family group, and the handful of children under five don’t understand the need for quiet on a nature walk. Nor do some of their accompanying adults.

On the walk we are taken to three “tiger’s dining table”. These are relatively flat pieces of ground, slightly higher than the surrounding area which remain above the water in monsoon season and where the tigers will bring their prey to eat. Our guide points out many spotted deer, but otherwise we don’t see much wildlife. The trail takes us through a dense section of jungle, where it is especially hot and humid.

We arrive at a large clearing where there is a beach (reader, I use the term beach in the loosest possible way). Another tourist group arrives, from another direction. This second group comprises locals only. Over two weeks in India, we have been aware of the surreptitious photography of these two foreigners. On this occasion however there is no disguising the photography. Kerry and Lea are especially popular, and young children are posed with the four foreigners for the family album.

We return to the jetty to climb aboard the boat which will return us to the cruising vessel. We decline the option of the beach trip – it sounds like there is a fifty minute walk both sides of twenty minutes at the beach, and we find no appeal in that prospect.

Kerry opts out of our late afternoon cruise along a river reach. She has exercised her sea legs more than she thought possible, and isn’t prepared to do any more. On this trip our guide, who has the eyes of a hawk, spots many birds. These include a large white heron, who we suspect is on the payroll for he seems to be at every bend in the river, several kingfishers (a really beautiful bird), a hunting bird which we don’t understand the name of; and another which is very rare. We also see a green tree snake.

On the return leg we have pointed out to us some fresh tiger marks. The cynical westerners are not necessarily buying it, but the guide and the boatman are definitely claiming it. We have a bonus leg on this trip. We motor around around our cruising vessel to land on the other side where we can see spotted deer, monkeys, and a very large crane. After this, we motor past our boat again, and head into the protected waters of the Bay of Bengal. We think the guide is hoping to spot dolphins, but there is no luck on that score. We do get however, a great photo opportunity for sunset on the bay. Another minor detour for another look at a crane, maybe the same one as before and we finally return to the cruising vessel.

Another evening on board, and in the morning the boat begins its return journey. We reverse our arrival; leave our ship for the speed boat to Mongola, and then a car to Jessore for the flight home. There are more passengers in the speed boat this time.

At the airport, after check-in I take look at a small group of shops just outside the car park. I attract barely any interest. The same beggars, an old man and woman, who had done their best with Neville and Ian on Tuesday morning, are still working the car park. It must pay off, but not from us.

Lots of photos with this post, but it is accounting for several days.

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Came to me – Dhaka

A tip for young players. Just because the Jet Airways counter has “all flights” on the television monitors, this does not mean all flights. We lose twenty minutes before we head to the opposite end of the terminal for international check-in, and this is the longest, slowest moving line one can imagine. At check-in the woman asks if I am applying for a visa on arrival; I am not, and find my visa in my passport for her.

Then on to the immigration queue. This is the slowest moving line of all time. Someone has made it as far as the immigration counter without a passport. He has some kind of official letter with his photo attached. His case takes forever to resolve, but there is no management of the queue in response.

Our plane has already commenced boarding whilst we are in line at immigration. Boarding is very nearly over by the time we make the counter. And there is still security to deal with. We discover that gate 9 is a very long way away indeed, and we grab one of those airport golf carts to speed the journey. I have been factoring in that our bags will already be on board, and that the plane won’t leave with them and not us. We are the second and third last people on board, another victim of the Jet Airways queue who we recognize follows us down the aisle a minute or two later.

An easy flight, and a half hour time zone later, we land in Dhaka. The single line of immigration for foreigners is long and slow, and an hour after touchdown we find ourselves past customs. Lea has come to meet us at the airport with a car and a driver for the trip to her home. Lea asks us to identify any differences between India and BD. I say we haven’t been on a road as good as this in India, nor has any vehicle we’ve been in managed to move at such a speed. The cycle rickshaws have decorated canopies here, in India they all seemed a uniform and plain green.

We arrive at what will be home-base for the next week, and thanks to Australia Television International, an English-language news service, with an Australian accent. The news concentrates on the region.

Tomorrow we head, with Lea and Neville, for the Sundarbans, an area of mangrove forest at the great river delta which spills into the Bay of Bengal.

Fills your eyes – Amritsar

Our trip on Sunday commences at 11.00am. Bunty has suggested that if we go any earlier it will be standing room only at the Golden Temple. Again we drive to within about one kilometer of our destination. As we alight the car I am quickly adorned with a ‘Golden Temple’ bandana, which also costs me ten rupees. We know heads must be covered here, and Kerry comes prepared, and even tho’ she is wearing a headscarf she still has the bandana tied to her head, and another ten rupees paid.

The temple comes into view along the walk, and like so many monuments in India, it is very impressive. Not far from the complex entrance we remove shoes and socks to be collected later. The road between here and the entrance has coconut matting to spare soft feet. Before entering the complex we must wash our hands, and as we enter we walk though a shallow trough to wash our feet. There are different types of matting on the marble floor to absorb the water and minimize slippage.

The temple itself is situated in the middle of the pool of nectar, which has some very large goldfish in it, as well as a couple of other species we cannot identify. People also bathe in the water, and there is one particularly auspicious spot where in story at least, a leper has been cured.

The temple complex has a permanent soundtrack of readings from the Sikh holy book, and it seems as if readings occur in a number of places in the building which make up the perimeter.

We have a quick look through the kitchen which operates the 24 hours the temple is open. Anyone who wants to be fed, or a cup of tea is guaranteed service here. As we come back into the courtyard around the temple, we are part-way through the midday prayer, and all but a handful of people are completely still.

Soon comes our time to enter the temple itself. Bunty’s queue shortening skills which were so helpful yesterday, again come into play. Rather than joining the masses shuffling along the bridge to the temple we take up position near an exit point. Bunty talks to the official and it takes some time, and quite a few others move through before us, but eventually we too go in the out door. There is no photography past this point. We have joined a shortened queue near the front ‘door’ to the temple, when an official calls me and asks / tells me to go another way. I manage to attract Bunty’s attention “Is this okay?”. Yes he says, let’s go. We are at a a side entrance, which is not the traditional way in, but we take it. Inside, there is a square of wooden railing, inside the square two ‘priests’ are reading from the holy book for a live national radio broadcast, there is perhaps another volume of the book in a place of honour, and cash donations litter the floor. For a larger donation adherents receive a sugary confection wrapped in a saffron coloured cloth. Bunty says we should keep this in our house where we pray. I’m unsure if he means the sugar, or the cloth. I’m planning to eat the sugar at some stage.

Having walked around the square we exit the temple, to move to another entrance with steps to a mezzanine level. Kerry declines the steps. Upstairs people are seated on the floor, either praying, meditating, or reading the holy book, from the small library which is upstairs. The colours here are rich and deep, mainly reds and yellows; it’s beautiful.

We walk some more to complete the circuit of the temple complex, and reverse our entrance procedure to leave.

Our next stop is Jallinwalla Bagh, a memorial park for a large number of Indians killed on the order of some idiot British general in 1919. We move on to a Hindu temple dedicated to Durga. This appears, from the outside, to a miniature version of the Golden Temple. A gold domed temple surrounded by a holy water pool.

Finally we are taken for another shopping opportunity at India House Gallery, and if we had a shipping container we could easily buy many things. However, we don’t so we don’t. This business needs a wholesaler and a distributor, not low value retail customers like us.

We drive down Amritsar’s two best streets, and even allowing for the fact it is Sunday, I think there is room for improvement. We drive to the Crystal Room, one of Amritsar’s best restaurants for a mid-afternoon lunch, where we say goodbye to Bunty. He has adopted Kerry as his Australian mother.

A word about our guides, they’ve all been very good, and generally highly educated. For example, Bunty’s goal in life is to teach computing at Oxford, and to do something good for his parents.

After lunch we return to the hotel and ready ourselves to leave. Our flight was changed just before we left Australia, so we have paid for a hotel night we won’t be using, and instead opt for another night in the Delhi transit hotel. We are now old hands at the security and identity checks at Indian domestic airports. This time Kerry’s suitcase is selected for further investigation. They have Kerry open the case and promptly spoil our best packing efforts. They examine our electric toothbrush, and a couple of other items. Curiously the security guard is looking for an umbrella which Kerry doesn’t have, but which is in Ian’s suitcase.

An unremarkable flight to Delhi is followed by another remarkable display of security and identity overkill at the transit hotel, and an even more remarkable increase in price from Tuesday night.

Tomorrow we fly to Dhaka in Bangladesh to catch up with friends Lea and Neville. It is Neville’s posting to Dhaka one year ago which is the impetus for IndianInterlude’s journey.

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There’s no time – Amritsar

So, we join our new guide, Bunty to his friends, and driver and head the 40 minutes or so to the border. The border closes to traffic at around 3.00pm, and trucks line the side of the highway for a solid three or four kilometers before the border. The queue for the car park is something else, and we leave the car early and start to walk.

As we get closer to the entry point, we move to walk on the other side of the highway, where there is hardly anyone walking. We stop as we reach a member of the Border Security Force who is dealing with someone else. However, others have followed us, do not stop, and are promptly the subject of the whistle and some yelling to stop, which in due course they do.

These people have their passports checked are told to get to the back of the queue on the other side of the road. Our guide has a quiet word to the soldier and tells us that if we wait a few minutes we will be allowed to go forward. And we are, and this gets us a long, long way ahead in the queue.

In the makeshift concrete seating to accommodate spectators, there is a section roped off for foreigners. This section is close to the VIP section which houses some lucky locals.

The ‘stadium’ so to speak is packed, and even after the ceremony is under way, the crowd still enters. What follows is a display of controlled aggression, preparedness to fight, and military precision all to a backdrop of national pride. There is a cheer leader of sorts in a white track suit who leads the crowd in chanting “Hindustan” (India) and “zindabad” (long live), and then some other words and phrases which we cannot decipher.

There is some controlled yelling by the soldiers, and then soldiers, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs go off the long run towards the border, complete with high kicking (and I’m talking ankle to ear here) to pull up just inside the dividing line between two nations.

We don’t have a great view, (nor does anyone else) and anyone who stands to get a better look, or take a photograph attracts the whistle and rebuke of the soldiers on crowd control.

There is a formal element to all of this of course, closing and locking the gate and lowering the flags. Our guide has given us the instruction to leave when the flag is lowered to avoid the worst of the crowds. However, no one is going anywhere until the soldiers say so. And they have chained off our planned exit, which was the way we came in. I try once with the soldiers, pointing out that I had come in that way, surely I could go out that way, but no such luck. We join the throng and start walking for our meeting point with our guide. When we get there I explain that we hadn’t been allowed to move at the agreed time, which he understands.

On the trek back to the car Kerry falls, and has a multi-colored bruise and a sore shoulder as evidence.

We have the option of attending the Golden Temple this night, but given the unknown extent of Kerry’s injury we opt for the sanctity of the hotel, and cold compresses on bruises.

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Who you are – Rishikesh to Amritsar

Note to regular readers: You may wish to go back to the post ‘Getting in your way’ because IndianInterlude has now managed to upload the photos for that post.

Rishikesh is styled as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ and the Swag Ashram area is decidedly ‘new age’. The area is predominantly pedestrian, as cars and rickshaws cannot cross the suspension bridge. The number of non-Indians is noticeable, however most seem to be here for the long haul.

The thing absent from Rishikesh is cycle rickshaws by the way.

Also, Indian tea spoons are very large.

Rishikesh also offers white water rafting, trekking, elephant safaris, and somewhere nearby, a one kilometer long flying fox.

IndianInterlude finds it a really nice town, perhaps because it is not over run with people like our previous stops.

On Friday afternoon we head upstream to Lakshman jhula, the second suspension bridge across the river. This area is bordering on the serene, by comparison. There are fewer people again, less New Age, more higher plane I suspect. The non-Indians are in force here, and based on appearances again it is those who are in for the long haul, not day trippers such as IndianInterlude.

This is also the first place we notice any Tibetan presence. There are a couple of stalls selling Tibetan crafts, and there might even be a discreet ‘Free Tibet’ sign. We offer our support via a retail relationship.

This also the first time we see a rubbish bin.

Some explanation for some earlier photos. The hotel discourages feeding the monkeys and baboons, however the breakfast staff appeared not to have received that memo, and monkeys sit immediately outside our breakfast window.

On Friday night we leave Rishikesh by car for Haridwar, to take the overnight train to Amritsar. Haridwar seems bigger, and with many more western style hotels, than Rishikesh. The floor of the railway station entry hall is strewn with bodies, happily they are all alive, and under the most colorful array of blankets ever seen. Our departure assistance person says people will sleep at the station to catch late night or early morning trains.

We have a porter assist us with our bags. IndianInterlude admits that it is using every last gram of its airline luggage allowance, and our porter balances both suitcases on his head and leads the way. The porter seems to have a better idea of which platform to head for than our departure person. We have been advised to chain and lock our bags under our seat for the evening journey, and that we should be assisted with this. Our man does not think this is necessary, and in any case I cannot see anywhere on the platform which is obviously selling cable locks. We go without, as does, as far as I can tell, everyone else on the train.

The trip itself is uneventful. We are traveling in an air conditioned carriage in a six berth bay, three tiers of bunks on either side. We are sharing with two Spanish women, and one Indian of each gender, but they are not together. She gets off at some station at about two in the morning. When we get on the train it is full of chatter, however the Haridwar stop seems to signal bed time, as seats are turned into bunks, and blankets, pillows and sheets are unrolled. The carriage falls silent by about 11:30pm.

The train arrives early in Amritsar, maybe 15 minutes or so. Our driver fails to show again! Another phone call to Sindhu explains that we are waiting on the platform, and have not been met. She investigates and soon enough our driver appears, saying he was at the exit gate. For what it’s worth, our travelling instructions are to be met on the platform, and I’m sticking to them.

We have been met in a way. Two burly gentlemen are only too happy to carry our bags and take us to a hotel, if only I would agree. I explain more than once that I have a driver and a hotel, he is late, and I need to ring him. For the full half hour we are on the platform these two sit and wait, and one even bids for the business when our driver arrives.

There is a change to our itinerary for this weekend, which we are happy to accommodate. We have checked into out hotel, and had much needed showers and breakfast. The day, until 3:30pm is ours, when we head for the Pakistan border.

Here we plan to:

A) Cross the border and assist our Muslim brothers and sisters to defeat the Taliban and bring democracy and freedom to the people.

B) Cross the border and join the mujahideen to end US cultural imperialism.

C) Watch an exciting and colorful ceremony closing the border crossing for the day.

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Such a joy – Rishikesh

Thursday sees Indian Interlude get down to the serious business of this destination. Those of you of a particular persuasion will know Rishikesh as the site of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, where The Beatles came to study Transcendental Meditation all those years ago. We have a map which provides a location, but no directions per se. We make tourist mistake number one, we stop to look at the map. A man, who could be a sadhu, or is maybe just dressed like one, comes up to us. His English is more limited than our Hindi, but for fifty rupees he will take us there. I have previously been told it will cost me fifty rupees to get the security man to unlock the gate when I get there – already we are over budget.

At the gate, the man with the key wants 200 rupees. I do my best on price, but he won’t be unlocking that gate for less than 200, so he gets it.

The ashram is being reclaimed by the jungle. And the elephants. And I can see what a perfect place for a spiritual retreat it would be, even today (if someone restored it).

Our self-appointed guide leads us through. We don’t need him, the trail is well worn, and paved in most parts. And the only words he speaks which I understand are some basic mantras when he points out the meditation huts, and “all of Rishikesh” whenever we ascend a building for the view.

I recognize the views certainly from those old film clips, and the meditation huts, however I think it’s a real shame the ashram is being left to nature. Many of the buildings are in good condition, all things considered.

Next stop, a karma-cleansing bathe in the Ganges. This part of IndianInterlude is still suffering low-grade gastric distress, sweats, elvated body temperature and fever; so a good few minutes in the seriously cold waters of the Ganges actually feels pretty good.

We spend the remainder of the day in the Swag Ashram area, contributing to the retirement funds of local traders. We are paying so much over the odds, that one stall holder must feel guilty and gives Indian Interlude two free post cards.

We finish mid-afternoon. Our hotel has a mini-spa and we have opted for separate treatments to end the day.

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