Posted by: jeanne | October 31, 2018

one more very long day on the road

well, more than one day, really.  starting with thursday, when we had a (ahem) 7 hour drive from khajuraho to orchha, on bad roads and good, beginning right after our good breakfast at a so-so hotel.  i slept most of that trip with my legs up on jim’s and my head sandwiched between the seat and the pillow.  jim read, and nodded off the way he does.  the driver did his thing admirably.

and then we arrived in orchha.  it’s called a medieval city in the guidebooks, and i suppose that means there’s not a modern suburban area, or a large industrial area.  it’s out of the way, several kilometers south of jhansi, which is a big city, and the road to it doesn’t go much of anyplace else, so it has been left undisturbed.  we went in thru the old gate, a massive stone structure about 15′ thick and twice as tall, and narrowing the road down to fit one vehicle at a time.  there were no walls, tho, nothing but random piles of stuff to keep someone from going around the walls.  perhaps they fell victim to builders centuries ago.

we had to go thru the usual gauntlet of vendors, but as we were in the car, we didn’t care.  the car went right down to the river, past a large complex of cenotaphs (memorials) and then turned up a back street to our hotel, which was massive.  i’d booked right before we got there, so the reception guy was confused, but gave the porter our key, and showed us to our room.  it was right next to the kitchen, which can be a total insult, but we didn’t care; i’ve worked in kitchens all my life.

your tour bus awaits

we were surprised at how large this hotel was.  we weren’t expecting a corporate hotel, but that’s what this was.  dedicated to large parties, and foreigners.  we were shocked to find the lobby full of white people, sitting around looking bored, probably waiting for their tour bus.  and inside on the verandah, a mess of british with their beers.  the whole idea of this hotel was to cater to the faded colonialists touring their heritage, so we were greeted with garlands of marigolds around our necks and addressed as sahib.

our room was nice, spacious, and quiet.  we told the porter while he was adjusting the a/c that we only wanted fans, but he didn’t listen, so we figured it out ourselves after he left.  then we washed some of the road dirt off us and took a nap.

when we got up, it was heading for sunset, so we took our cameras and walked back up to the market.  but first, we stopped at their conference hall (a musty basement room) where they were having an art show.  some nice work, some amateur, but all done in the spirit of raising the people up, which i guess means giving some advantage to beginning artists, which is always a good thing.  they followed us around the exhibit, making both of us edgy, explaining things whenever we stopped to admire something, and then they were bitterly disappointed when we didn’t buy anything.  i explained that we were artists ourselves, and nobody buys our work, but i’m sure it means a lot more to them when they don’t sell.  the exhibit was well advertised in the hotel, but we were the only ones to sign the guest book, so all the hundreds of guests never bothered to check it out.  how unusual, i thought.  nobody interested in art?

getting water at the pump

we walked up the road.  i wanted to get a picture of one of the other gates ashok had pointed out on the way in.  we took the back road, which was wide and pleasantly empty.  the locals here aren’t used to too many tourists, because they stared rather more at us than usual.  but we ignored them.  turning down thru a market, we crossed the very old, very famous hindu temple, went out the other side, and then walked down the street of vendors, being accosted at every turn.  they must not realize that their aggressiveness is a turnoff, because even tho there were some very tempting things on display, i wasn’t about to go in any of the shops, where they would have insisted on emptying their shelves to show me every little thing.  and i was just too tired for that.

we made it down to the river, and i walked right over and got my feet wet.  it’s a very nice river, the betwa, and reputed to be clean enough to swim in, because it comes straight from the glaciers without passing any big cities.  it certainly looked inviting.  crossing it was a bridge.  but a bridge unlike others we’d seen.  single lane, for sure, with no guard rails, and traffic backed up on the other side waiting for the pedestrians and animal carts to get past.


outdoor barber shop

around the corner from that were the cenotaphs, but the light was gone, so we left it for the morning and went back to our hotel.  jim took a nap, i took the computer out on the verandah after finding out the wifi only extended as far as that, ordered a gin and tonic (in memory of francis), and worked on sizing the photos of the previous post.  at 7:30 i saw the germans all troop into the dining room, exactly on time for the first cover.  a small group of french dawdled in several minutes later, and at that point the room was full, so i sat there and worked on my photos.

either an honest vendor, or they don’t know their english

they were setting up a long table in the garden, and a group of musicians were sitting themselves on a large plinth in the center.  goodie, classical indian music.  they had on traditional garb, with turbans, and when they started up, i couldn’t help but laugh.  the guy who did all the singing and played a harmonium (a boxed accordion), he was good.  the guy on the drum was an amateur with a hot-shot flair and the idea that he was supposed to lead the beat, so he kept on speeding up even tho the harmonium guy stayed with the same rhythm.  and the guy in the middle, with cymbals on a stick, he had no clue at all.  they’d drafted him in for the night, and he was so enthusiastic, and so heedless, that he shook his thing and wagged his head like he was the star.  the harmonium guy had to take it away from him at one point, and show him the proper rhythm, and he nodded agreement, but went right back to his own preferred timing.  funny as hell, and even funnier was the guests noticed nothing, meaning nobody there knew anything about indian music, except the wait-staff, who weren’t saying anything.

when the germans all left at once, i woke jim up, and we went in to an empty dining room.  jim ordered chicken fried rice, and i ordered safed maas, which is the most sweet and delicious of the indian food i’ve had, so i’ll be making it at home.  neither of us could eat everything, so we took a walk around the grounds (a swimming pool (with dark green water), a kid’s playground, extensive gardens.  then we went back to our room and prepared for a bath!  it was the first hotel with a bath tub, so we were very excited.  a card said that the hot water was only on for a few hours in the morning and evening, so we had to wait until after dinner, but damn, there was no hot water, so we just went to bed.  this is when we discovered that there was no water in the toilet tank, either.

friday.  we were up at 6, the crack of dawn, and down to the river, where people were bathing and washing their clothes.  we noticed huge vultures at the tops of the cenotaphs.  one of them was dragging a tree branch back to its nest.  i don’t think we got any photos of them, tho, they were pretty fast.

gigantic vultures

but the cows were climbing up to their pasturage, and we had spotted the main entrance to the cenotaph grounds, so we walked the very wide old paved street to the end (where it narrowed down to a trash dump), and saw in the distance some very strange mountain peaks that were nearly invisible in the haze.  even switching to the zoom lens didn’t help much.

no, you can’t see the interesting mountains in the background

the gate into the grounds had a motorbike in front of it when we came back, so we stopped and asked the attendant when it opened.  9, he said, which was hours away.  but then he told us one ticket was good for all the monuments in orchha, and if we gave him 50 rupees each we could sneak in.

so we did, and we were the only ones there, and wandered around taking pictures for about half an hour.  the attendant came by with birdseed, and spread it out in a center pavement, and by the time we were ready to leave, several hundred pigeons and parrots were covering the stones, eating.  a nice sight.

then we went back to the hotel and had breakfast.  jim had an omelet, and i had an indian breakfast – puri and bhaji, and they made us caffe lattes from a machine.  we’d told them about the hot water and the toilet when we’d gone out for our walk, and as if by magic, both things worked when we returned, but we didn’t have time, so oh well.  no explanation but that stupid gori look they give.  we checked out, but couldn’t raise ashok on his phone, so left all our stuff behind the reception desk and went to the fort, half an hour’s walk.

lots of room for all the wives and kids

it’s a very large complex, with palaces as well as forts inside the walls.  we could get to the top of the first two we entered, so we did, and the countryside is wonderful.  the stairs and parapets were scary, tho, so i went up to the very top of the second palace, and jim stayed on the next lower story.

on the ground floor we found several rooms with mural paintings from the 16th century, and took as many photos of them as we could get.  then we were hot and tired, so we stopped in at a hotel, right there in the complex, where i had thought we might stay, but chose the corporate hotel instead at the last minute.

too bad.  we had coffee, and when we were refreshed, we saw the last palace, also absolutely wonderful.

i got bounced off of by a baby monkey, playfully or i’d have scars

but then we were ready to go.  it was 11:30am.  as a parting gift, we passed a mess of golden haired monkeys, and one of the youngest ones decided to mess with me, and jumped up and did a spin off my leg as i was taking photos of the group.  i thought it was kind of neat.

our driver finally answered his phone and met us on the far side of the bridge to the fort, and we were off.  a ten hour drive, he assured us, unless there as traffic from agra to delhi, then eleven hours.  he was proud to point out that he’d washed the car while we slept.  nice man.  as if we cared.

farmers burning off their fields is why the air quality in delhi is ‘very poor’

the roads got very bad again.  this is the main road from delhi to mumbai, and all the big trucks go on it.  they’re building bypasses, but the roads go right thru every town and city on the way, where traffic is narrowed to two lanes and filled with rickshaws, bikes, pedestrians, and cows, vendor booths coming right up to the edge.  no wonder the roads are horrible.  it’s the way it used to be in the states before they built the highway system, only narrower.

ashok took several shortcuts; one on a bypass they were still building and no trucks were on yet (because it turned to dippy dirt road where they were still building a bridge), and another interesting shortcut directed by his gps.  gps directions can be horrible, and this was an example.  we detoured thru rice fields, for the most part, down dirt tracks, followed and passed by local motorbikes.  we passed thru a village where the women were making, and painting the clay walls, and saw things few foreigners ever see, especially those in tour buses.  it added a good hour on to our time, tho.

haystacks? housing? we couldn’t tell, because some were stripped away on one side, and some were hollowed out

he stopped for tea at a hotel up on the hill, away from the dust.  not the same hotel, but one with a great view of a very old, very famous palace of 7 stories.  we had tea, because they didn’t have coffee.  but they had clean bathrooms, and that’s saying something.  the owner, apparently, hovered, and when we were ready to leave, tried to sell us some trinkets set up in plastic boxes on a table.  but of course we weren’t interested, and waited near the car until ashok finished his tea and came out to us.

then we drove.  and drove.  the a/c was the only thing that saved us, and that’s such a first world thing to say, because we passed many buses where the windows were all open and people were hanging off the sides and the doors of the bus.  for hours and hours at a time, down those same nasty roads.  and when i mentioned the roads to gabi, who is currently in namibia or someplace like that, she told me the roads in africa are much worse.

at some point near sunset, we mentioned that we should eat something.  he had thought we’d get something at the stop, but we weren’t hungry then.  but by dark, we were starving.  he told us we wouldn’t find any place to eat until we got to agra, which was another few hours away, so when he pulled over for some chai, we made quick pb&j sandwiches and ate them in the back seat.

we finally reached agra, which is very large, but the roads are narrower, so there’s not as much traffic, and people don’t drive as insane as they do in delhi.  he found us a restaurant chain that he said was good for foreigners, called prince of spice, so we went in, and sure enough, there were lots of foreigners.  jim ordered fettucine, and i got fried rice and hot and sour soup, because my stomach was feeling a little delicate.  we couldn’t finish it, of course.  we were very entertained by the multiple tv sets on around the room.  they all showed the same channel, which seemed to be running a review of music videos.  the announcers were cartoon space aliens, or gods with 3 eyes; it was hard to tell.

jim was struck by how bollywood india is.   bollywood dances are all highly choreographed, with campy acting and flashy clothes, just like the rest of india.  even going back to the sculptures of khajuraho, which are exactly the same – flashy, choreographed, campy.  it’s rather amazing to see the culture of india laid out so plainly and constant.  it must have always been just like this, only different levels of technology.  and other thing that’s amazing about this place is that they don’t bury and bulldoze their history, the way they do in the states – especially atlanta, where there’s mostly nothing left of antebellum or reconstruction times, only starting in the last decade of the 1800s do you find anything still standing.  but in india, people are living in the same types of houses, especially in the villages, and driving the same cattle carts and wearing the same clothing as they did a thousand years ago.  all of it cheek by jowl with modern cars and houses, sometimes jarringly so.  there were brand new car dealerships in one half of buildings still being constructed, with nothing on the other side.  there were many new constructions of apartment and office blocks with 20′ or more of rebar sticking out all over the top floors, and everything not being hauled by a crane was being hauled by some man in a homemade hod carrier.

our driver, ashok

after dinner, we had a smooth ride on good roads all the way back to delhi, and it took a total of 12 hours.  ashok dropped us off around the corner from gabi’s house, and we thanked him profusely, and gave him a tip equivalent to half of what he was getting for the four days of driving us around.  we also intend to send him a drawing jim will do of him, so we made him gave us his address, and it embarrassed him, because he didn’t know what to do with a western keyboard.

so to bed with no preliminaries except brushing our teeth and peeing.  we were that tired.  and the next morning, saturday, i had 18 orders to fill, so after sleeping until about 10, it took until 3:30 until i had them all collected, packaged, and stamped, and then it was a rush to the post office.

the guy we selected to be our auto rickshaw driver ran like a bat out of hell for his 100 rupees.  we’d never seen anyone take more chances, and held on with white knuckles the whole way.  but he got us there in record time, and we arrived at the post office to find the gate half down.  nobody was inside except our didi, so we gave her an entire bag full of packages, some with the stamps coming loose.  she told us she needed more tape, because she tapes the stamps on after franking them.  she was having trouble talking, and pointed to her throat.  i could sympathize; both jim and i had sore throats and snot the whole time we were traveling down the country.  then i shouldered the bag with the camera and stuff in it, and gave jim the empty bag, and we went off to get an auto rickshaw back to the house.  the guy we approached said 400, but someone came up and said 80, so we went with him.  he asked where we were from, we said america, and he said best and richest country.  then he said he liked trump, and modi as well, which is kind of unusual for someone without a lot of money here.  most modi supporters are managers in the hotels, not workers in the street.  but he’s improving the roads, they say.

we came home and went to sleep early.  i ate cereal and jim made himself an omelet.  i had the beginnings of a migraine, and it only got worse in the night because i didn’t think to bring an ice pack, so i stayed in bed all day sunday.  36 hours in bed.  splitting, constant headache, nausea, hypersensitivity to light, sounds, and smells.  if i’d been on a softer mattress, my kidneys would have hurt, but they sleep on very hard mattresses here, and it’s really wonderful.  i’m putting a board under our mattress when we get back.

monday.  still not right, but the headache is gone, so i took only 3 naps, and got several orders filled.  i thought it was still sunday, but i was wrong, i lost sunday entirely.  eventually we went out around the neighborhood, partly to show jim the monday market, but mostly because he was out of books to read, and there is a bookseller down in main market.  so we got some pants for the boys, a belt for antonio and one for jim (buffalo leather, good for ten years or more), some more ayurvedic medicine for jim, and something for my stomach issues, and then 4-5 books for jim to read, including an illustrated rumi.

of course, it was now jim’s turn to get sick, so he had his usual episode of light-headedness and low blood pressure that the doctors call syncope.  we put him to bed and he rested all the next day.

we’re not at all sure we have the energy for more touring, and we’ve left old delhi for last, so it’s possible we just won’t make it.  we leave here thursday morning, which is only 2 more days.  so we’ll see.

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