Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Jodpur

Cuando llegamos descansados y frescos a la estación de Jodpur después de una noche en el sleeping tren, pensé ingenuamente que íbamos a pasar por esta ciudad sin pena ni gloria. Juicios apriori que hace una! En la cabeza tenía la idea que estaríamos allí solo para hacer escala mientras íbamos hacia Jaipur.

Unas horas después, la ciudad me contradecía desde sus calles por las que circulan camellos cargados de mercancías, desde sus andenes cercanos a la estación de tren donde viven decenas de sadhus envueltos en sus túnicas color azafrán, desde su mercado amurallado donde se consiguen las especias más olorosas, los textiles de tonos más vibrantes y claro, donde también se venden horrorosos muñecos de plástico que Oisín insiste en inspeccionar con detenimiento, cortaúñas como para cóndores, y muchos los puestos de comida frita. “India nos enseña cosas todos los días” me dijo Paola, una chica Chilena que conocimos hoy en Jaipur. Y después de tres semanas aquí me doy cuenta que faltan sentidos para explorar este país que nos asalta a cada paso con experiencias, imágenes, y olores intensos.

Creo que Jodpur ha sido el lugar donde hemos tenido una oportunidad más directa de experimentar algo de la vida rural de este país. El hotel donde nos quedamos, el Govind Hotel, ofrece tours para visitar comunidades Bishnoi que viven a una hora en carro del centro de Jodpur. Bish (dos) noi (nueve) según nos explicó nuestro guía hace referencia a 29 principios o leyes que regulan la vida de la comunidad. Los principios en general están relacionados con la convivencia armónica con el medio ambiente. Son estrictamente vegetarianos y como prueba de su responsabilidad medioambiental hacen referencia a un incidente en 1730 cuando más de 360 miembros de la comunidad murieron al oponerse a la tala de árboles impuesta por el maharajá de turno. Como resultado no solo la tala de árboles sino la caza de animales están prohibidas en las áreas habitadas por la comunidad.

Visitamos varias de las áreas habitadas por los Bishnoi (ver el video Bishnoi Scenes en el post anterior) no sin algo de prevención, pues el status de turistas nos convierte en espectadores pasivos de las escenas que han sido predeterminadas por quienes organizan las visitas. El tour mismo está dividido en secciones que permiten observar las actividades tradiciones de la comunidad: vimos a una mujer reducir a harina, en un molino de piedra, los granos que luego se amasan para hacer el pan Indio Chapati, bebimos manotadas de té de opio (que se toma con la palma de la mano, nunca en taza!) visitamos a una familia que hace telares enormes con lana de camello, a otra familia que hace telas impresas con bloques de madera y tintes naturales y almorzamos cebollas deliciosamente cocinadas con cominos y semillas de mostaza en casa de una familia de tejedores.

Para mí el mérito del tour estuvo en las escenas que vimos mientras llegábamos a las áreas Bishnoi y los comentarios del conductor del carro que muy atentamente respondía a mis interrogatorios. Grupos grandes de mujeres con el rostro cubierto con velos rojos volvían a sus casas caminando bajo el sol de las 9 de la mañana, casi todas con azadones cortos al hombro. Según entendí, el gobierno les paga para que trabajen de 6 a 9 de mañana abriendo canales y sacando arena de los lagos cercanos para almacenar el agua lluvia del monzón que llega esta semana a estas áreas áridas de Rayastan. El rostro cubierto de las mujeres, que hemos visto más aquí que en Delhi o en el norte de la India, y en general la actitud pública de las mujeres de la India merecería páginas enteras.

En la actualidad cubrirse el rostro hace parte de una seria de prácticas culturales relacionadas con la honra del esposo y la familia política de la mujer. Los orígenes de esta práctica se remontan al arribo de los musulmanes a la India. Para ellos poder mantener a sus mujeres encerradas y sin trabajar era muestra de su capacidad económica, demostraba que la familia no dependía de un salario femenino para sobrevivir. La palabra persa purdah significa literalmente cortina y hace referencia a mantener a las mujeres alejadas de las miradas masculinas El guía nos explicó que si la mujer camina por la calle en el pueblo de su marido sin tener el rostro cubierto, la comunidad entiende esto como un desafío a la moral y la familia política tiene que enfrentar el escarnio público. Las mujeres, sin embargo, pueden caminar sin cubrirse el rostro cuando están en el área donde vive su propia familia. Valiente gracia! Ya que una vez casadas tienen que vivir en la casa de su familia política, otra de esas excepciones a las reglas que sirven casi de nada.

En dos de las casas que visitamos vi como las mujeres jóvenes, que viven con sus familias políticas, tienen un estatus casi de empleadas domésticas, la suegra asume el rol de anfitriona (en ausencia de un hombre de la casa) o está presente en las conversaciones si hay un hombre en la casa, mientras la mujer de su hijo limpia o cocina alejada del contacto con visitantes como nosotros.

Cuando regresábamos al carro después de visitar la familia que imprime telas con bloques de madera nos encontramos con una escena bastante fuerte. Un grupo de mujeres estaban congregadas en círculo alrededor de un niño de unos diez años que además de estar muy pálido tenía una pierna cubierta con vendajes untados de sangre. Nuestro guía nos contó que el niño había sido picado por una serpiente y que las mujeres lo habían traído al lugar donde estábamos para rezar al dios serpiente para que la herida se curara pronto. Yo le pregunté si había un hospital cercano y me dijo que sí, pero que con los rezos el veneno saldría en dos o tres días así que no había necesidad de llevarlo al hospital. Creo que él malinterpreto mi angustia y se apuró por asegurarme que la picadura había sucedido en un pueblo LEJOS de donde estábamos nosotros, que ahí no había porque preocuparse. Yo quise saber los rezos al dios serpiente en ese momento porque además de rezar no parecía que ellos contemplaran otra posibilidad.

Salimos de Jodpur el lunes por la mañana en un tren rumbo a Jaipur, la ciudad rosada, y aquí estaremos, hasta mañana cuando tomemos otro tren que nos llevara a Agra la ciudad del Taj Mahal.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Bishnoi scenes

Bishnoi, Rajasthan from Gareth Gordon on Vimeo.

Bishnoi

We’re on the train from Jodhpur to Jaipur and I’ve just seen the most surreal piece of signage since I got to this country, possibly much longer. Stencilled on the wall next to the (European) toilet at the end of our air-conditioned carriage, in both Hindi and English, are the words “Gentlemen will lift seat”. Given that most gentlemen round here are happy to hang their arses over the edge of the railway track and take a shit in public, the idea that they’d be concerned about the finer points of raising and lowering the toilet seat seems oddly out of place. Stiff upper lip though, pip pip.

Yesterday we did a tourist thing. We rented an air-conditioned car and driver to take us on a tour of the villages around Jodhpur, populated by the Bishnoi people, a religious group whose origins go back to the 15th century, and whose belief system is centred on vegetarianism and protecting the natural environment around them. For the princely sum of £25 we had a five hour trip through villages that would have been inaccessible to us on our own, with introductions to their inhabitants, and entry right into the heart of their homes. At our second stop, Shanti welcomed us into the family compound, where her daughter-in-law was keeping house while ten grandchildren ran around and eventually took Oisin off our hands to induct him in the arts of involuntary diplomacy in the face of overwhelming odds. Shanti showed us the stone millstones that she uses to grind the millet for making chapatis, and then brewed some opium tea, the traditional method of receiving a guest in your house in this area. Although secretly hoping, á la Thomas de Quincey, for some opium-induced lunacy to take over my blogging as a result of this brew, I’m sorry to report that there is probably more of a kick in a tin of coke. That’s a disappointing coca tea in La Paz in 2001, and a disappointing opium tea in Rajasthan in 2011 that we’ve clocked up. It’s as if Nancy Reagan was right all along. Just say no to (rubbish) drugs.

Once Oisin had established that he couldn’t play cricket by himself in the face of a well-drilled band of ten cousins, who took his cries as further encouragement to tease him, we said our farewells. At the next stop we watched a potter who spun up his huge 100kg stone wheel by hand, and then while it imperceptibly slowed down, threw his clay and in seconds had produced a pot and matching lid, a piggy bank and then a flower vase. Five days in the sun, then a day in the oven, and they’d be ready to paint. We didn’t wait. Across the dust road a Muslim family showed us their cloth-printing business, with patterns cut into wooden blocks that had been passed down through generations. Here Pati weakened, and we left with a 2 metre square elephant print cloth, along with a present of a handkerchief for Oisin. I might pinch it to mop the endless sweat from my forehead.

The last stop was a weavers cooperative, where we were fed with millet chapatis, curried onions and yoghurt. The work that they produce on a handloom was strikingly similar to the sort of designs that we had seen in South and Central America. Our host, Chottu, lavished his best efforts on us, but we couldn’t take anything away as our rucksacks are still full to bursting, despite already having ditched a couple of bricks on the way. (The Hanif Kureishi collected short stories were sacrificed in the face of his refusal to write about anything other than middle-age sex. Like middle-age sex, it got predictable after a while.) It turns out that Trip Advisor is the new global currency. In lieu of a purchase, Chottu wrung a promise from me to write the Pukhraj Durry Udhyog cooperative a glowing review.

As we left our hotel this morning to catch the train to Jaipur, the receptionist told me that Jaggi, the owner, was waiting to speak to me. He dialled a number, spoke briefly, then handed me the receiver. “Thank you for choosing our hotel. I hope you’ve had a lovely time here. Can I ask you one favour – just two lines on Trip Advisor, please.” Next time I’ll get in first and offer a five star review in return for a reduction in the rates.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Mehrangarh Fort musicians

Mehrangarh Fort musicians from Gareth Gordon on Vimeo.

These two musicians played us a raga as a taste of the sort of music that would have echoed through the courtyards of this astonishing palace in previous centuries.

Friday, 24 June 2011

McLeod Ganj

Después de mis tortuosas experiencias en bus para llegar al norte de la India tuvimos una semana tranquila y sin mucha actividad en McLeod Ganj, justo lo que necesitábamos para emparejar las cargas. McLeod Ganj es un paraíso para los viajeros en busca de experiencias espirituales. El gobierno Tibetano en exilio vive ahí así que el lugar está rodeado de monasterios. Pero además de los monasterios hay muchas escuelas de Yoga y de meditación y centros de retiro que ofrecen cursos hasta de varios meses de duración. Por todos lados se ven monjes con las típicas túnicas tibetanas y el pelo rapado. Los tibetanos laicos también se identifican fácilmente por los rasgos físicos tan diferentes de los Indios.

Apenas corrí las cortinas de nuestro cuarto de hotel me di cuenta que estábamos justo en frente del Hospital Tibetano de Medicina Herbal, que ganas de conocerlo por dentro! La oportunidad para conocerlo me la dio Oisín un par de días después de llegar. La uña del dedo gordo de su pie derecho se infectó después de que se le partiera jugando y en cuestión de horas el dedo estaba inflamado, rojo y bastante infectado. Inicialmente le limpie con aceite de árbol de té que tenemos en el botiquín, pero después de un día de infección fuimos a sacar una cita en el hospital Tibetano.

Sobra decir que todas mis expectativas fueron superadas. El lugar funciona con una precisión increíble. La cita me la dieron inmediatamente y en menos de 15 minutos estábamos en la oficina de un monje Tibetano sereno y sonriente. Después de mirar la uña de Oisín me dijo que él no podía hacer nada al respecto porque la infección ya estaba cediendo, total le cogió los cachetes al mejor estilo Indio y me dijo que el niño estaba bastante saludable. Entonces “ya entrados en gastos” como diríamos en Boyacá, le pedí que me hiciera un chequeo a mí. Antes de hacerlo me habló de los principios de la medicina Tibetana y me explico que aunque ellos son médicos con formación académica formal, complementan su educación haciendo investigación con las plantas tradicionales de sanación tibetanas. Cada médico dedica un día a la semana a hacer consultas y el resto a hacer investigación en laboratorio. Me tomo el pulso, me miro la lengua con detenimiento y me explico los motivos, según su opinión, que han ocasionado mi dolor de espalda en los últimos años. Me hizo acupuntura y me dio una fórmula médica para 10 días. Ir a la farmacia del hospital a recoger las pastillas fue igualmente fascinante. Las pastillas son bolitas compactas hechas de hierbas combinadas. Están deliciosamente ordenadas por tamaños y colores en recipientes circulares de vidrio en estantes de madera que alguna vez estuvieron pintados de verde. Total, placebo o cura, estoy tomando mis pastillas de hierbas y la uña de Oisín se curó solita.

La otra buena cosa de estar en McLeod fue que Oisín consiguió comida sin ají, parece que después de unas semanas aquí él ya no quiere comer nada picante. El restaurante de nuestro hotel no solo tenía un menú continental, como llaman a la comida que no sea India, sino que además estaba lleno de opciones deliciosas. Uno de nuestros favoritos fueron los momos, unos pastelitos rellenos de verduras (los de espinacas con queso fueron los mejores) que se pueden comer al vapor o fritos y que se complementan con salsa picante y salsa de tomate.

Tuvimos el gusto de conocer gente linda, en especial una pareja de Neoyorkinos con una bebe preciosa. Con ellos nos fuimos una mañana temprano a caminar por las montañas. Después de más de dos horas de ascenso y una lluvia magistral que no nos dio tregua durante la última media hora, terminamos tomando refugio en una tienda con el mejor Chai (té con especias) que hemos probado. Fue tal la mojada que nos pegamos que a mí me toco abandonar la camisa empapada y comprar una de las camisas que el señor del Chai vende en su tienda. Los pantalones me toco reemplazarlos por una sabana medio rota que el mismo señor nos prestó y a Oisin tuvimos que comprarle medias de lana (hechas a mano y ahí mismo por la esposa de Mr Chai) y una camisa de adulto que muy convenientemente le cubría todo el cuerpo. Después de casi dos horas y muchos Chai la lluvia cedió y empezamos a descender.

En un punto del ascenso, cuando los truenos y los rayos eran más fuertes y más frecuentes y el camino se volvía un arroyo, cuestioné nuestra responsabilidad de salir a caminar por un sendero tan desconocido y cambiante llevando a un niño de tres años; pero luego al mirar a los dos Neoyorkinos con su nena de 5 meses y su actitud estoica me llene de ánimo para continuar en el último trecho. La experiencia fue sin lugar a dudas de lo más bonito que nos pasó en McLeod.

Después de una semana en McLeod Ganj tomamos un bus rumbo a Delhi. El sleeping bus como lo llaman lo único que tiene de sleeping es el nombre, el aire acondicionado estaba super frio y las sillas reclinables eran una tortura, no solo para quien intentaba descansar en ellas, sino para la persona de atrás a quien se le clavaban en las piernas los botones y tornillos puestos detrás de la silla sin motivo aparente. Llegamos a Delhi a las 8 de la mañana y compartimos un taxi con un gringo que venía en el bus quien confesó estar “friquiado” con India, el pobre no tuvo nada bueno para comentar del país. Una muy pequeña parte de mi siente simpatía con el pobre.

Esta vez me alarmo la cantidad de gente durmiendo en las calles de Delhi, creo que no habíamos visto la ciudad a esta hora de la mañana. En cada avenida, debajo de cada puente, en cada glorieta o andén dormían o empezaban a despertar centenares de personas, en la mayoría hombres según pude ver. Gastamos el día entre la estación del tren y tiendas con aire acondicionado, también visitamos el Museo Nacional que aunque contiene artefactos maravillosos, está en un estado un poco lamentable. En la noche fuimos a la estación de tren Old Delhi Railway Station. La cantidad de gente en este lugar es alarmante, no le cabe un tinto, y como mencioné antes cada espacio del suelo está tomado por gente que duerme o descansa mientras llega su tren. Ahí es cuando uno recuerda que este país tiene dos billones de habitantes. A mí esa estación de tren me agobia un poco a decir verdad, preferiría no tener que estar ahí, los olores son muy fuertes, y se ven perros infinitamente flacos y tristes escarbando cada centímetro de las líneas de tren, también micos agresivos, grandes y chicos meciéndose en las líneas de los cables de la luz. Las filas que hay que hacer son interminables y a 40 grados centígrados dentro de la estación los ventiladores parecen no funcionar. Después de un par de horas de estar ahí y con la falta de sueño de la noche anterior en el sleeping bus, Gareth, Oisín y yo terminamos viendo la gente pasar desde un cuadrado libre que encontramos en el suelo debajo de un ventilador, esta vez éramos nosotros los que recibíamos las miradas curiosas de la gente, ya que, aunque es normal descansar en el suelo, no es normal hacerlo sin poner primero una cobija o un pedazo de tela. Nosotros a esa hora estábamos tan agotados que poder poner nuestras maletas como almohada ya era lujo suficiente. A las 9 de la noche subimos a nuestro sleeping train, esta vez el nombre si correspondía con la descripción, teníamos una cabina grande y cómoda con un camarote amplio y limpio en el tren con destino a Jodhpur. Descansamos bien y llegamos a la ciudad azul, a las 8 am del día siguiente.

Delhi Traffic

We’re back in Delhi, kicking our heels here for the day as we wait for the night train to Jodhpur. Yes, it’s the place that gave the name to those posh riding pants. The temperature has definitely increased since we left last week, and I’m coming to terms with having to spend most of my time outdoors with perspiration lashing off me. And as we’re heading south to Rajasthan, I suspect the desert environment there is going toast us. It is a relief to get into a rickshaw and have the city breeze come at you through the flapping plastic roof.

I think I’ve sussed the governing principle of Delhi traffic, what it is that prevents the whole thing turning into one gigantic pile-up at each roundabout. I’ve christened it the “elephant hierarchy”. It doesn’t seem to matter how quick you can go, or how urgent your trip might be, or what sort of prestige you might be expected to command on the road. No, it seems to work along the lines that if the vehicle coming at you is bigger and heavier, you get out of its way. As you would with an elephant. So our rickshaw drives at the outer ring of traffic on Connaught Place, and manages to open passage in front of the cycle rickshaws and the various scooters that in my head notionally had the right of way. But then, halfway across the roundabout, a car appears from behind and drives directly across the front of us. Without even a toot of the horn the rickshaw driver slows to allow it past, and then weaves to get back in front of the smaller vehicles nipping at our heels. And the cars give way to big buses, and the big buses give way to plodding goods vehicles, and nobody seems to lose their temper anywhere in the middle of this. They mightn’t make great time, but they definitely have some sort of unspoken understanding about avoiding each other, and it seems to work.

The shame!

Pati and Oisin hide their faces in shame at the ludicrous outfits that they ended up wearing down the mountain. We may well never be able to show our faces in Himachal Pradesh again.

Soaked


Leaving the ‘Kora’, the clockwise walk peppered with shrines and prayer wheels around the side of the mountain upon which the Dalai Lama’s residence is perched, we got talking to a delightful north American couple who were carrying their 5 month old daughter in the same make of baby carrier that we have. Despite my generic, ideological suspicion of most things American, we ended up having lunch together, and left with the expectation of bumping into each other again soon.

After a snooze we headed back out for the afternoon. We flopped down in the tea shop of an Indian woman who’d grown up in Leamington Spa, and Oisin played delightedly with her immaculately groomed cocker spaniel – about the first dog we’d seen that didn’t look like it was a walking collection of fleas held together by dog skin. Will and Maura appeared, with the enchanting Muiren in the baby carrier. They’d been making plans for us, and invited us to go hiking with them the next day up to Triund, the jumping off point for the big 5-day hikes across the Himalayan passes. They’d been up a few days earlier with their guest house owner as a guide, and had discovered that the route is easy to follow, and not the most challenging of walks. A date was made for 7.30am the next morning.

Our preparation was extensive and meticulous to an equal degree. We had run out of cash, and the next morning I found that the cash machines are still locked up behind their roller shutters at dawn. We had one 2litre bottle of water and half a bag of almonds. After much agonising about sweaty feet, we opted for the walking boots over the sandals, and leaving our Berghaus raincoats behind, we set off for the rendezvous. Late, obviously, we’re on latino time here.

A rickshaw to Bhagsu meant we were a mere quarter of an hour late. Will, Maura and Muiren appeared, with a single rucksack that bulged so much it already had me convinced that our half a bag of almonds would prove insufficient. Setting off, we picked our way between guest houses and terraces sown with corn, before we finally got to the start of the trail and began to climb. The going was steep, at times dizzyingly so, yet our little man tramped up and up, delighted with Will’s generous exclamations of admiration. Soon Bhagsu was reduced to a few tiny corrugated tin roofs visible below us, while in front of us the mountain continued to rise nearly perpendicularly.

During a short snack stop, white mist started rolling up the mountain behind us. By this point Will and Maura had confessed that they guide groups of students from the college where they teach in Tamil Nadu on treks in the local mountains. Any inclination I may have had to offer an ill-informed opinion about our situation withered in my throat. Will got us back on the track with a promise that not too far ahead there was a tea-shack where we could rest up and take stock of the changing weather. Those of us who had neglected to procure cash before climbing the mountain silently wondered just how embarrassing it was going to be to have to cadge a loan at 2,500m above sea level.

The rain caught us before we were anywhere near the shack. The few first drops came as a gentle warning, but without any further preamble it started to tip down in earnest. Will, it turned out, had brought not only two raincoats but two umbrellas as well. I started to wonder how much of my innate ineptitude I expose at first glance to complete strangers. Maura took an umbrella, as with the Muiren in the sling she couldn’t fit a raincoat on, I took the other, and Will and Pati had a jacket each. With Oisin in our sling on Pati’s back, the raincoat hardly fitted over her, so I tried to trot alongside as the umbrella wallah, with the predictable result that none of us received any protection from the rain at all. The path turned to a torrent, and I felt a fleeting moment of vindication when I realised my feet were still dry, as opposed to Will and Maura’s sandal-clad sogginess.

The rain just kept coming down heavier and heavier, to that point where everyone in the group falls silent wondering if they are the only one worried about the turn events are taking. We were past the point of trying to keep anything dry, and I had handed our camera over to Will to wrap up in the plastic bag he’d brought for just that purpose. Then we turned a corner on the ridge and in front of us on the other side of a small ravine was the tea-shack of lore. Magic View they call it. The proprietor was a friend of Will and Maura’s guest house owner, and recognised them from their previous ascent, so nothing seemed to be too much trouble for him. Endless cups of chai were sent in to us, while our delighted son cavorted semi-naked as we stripped his dripping clothes off to dry.

A group of Israelis were sharing the refuge with us, and I sat there like Basil Fawlty, trying not to mention the war. I’ve just finished reading John Pilger’s Freedom Next Time, and had been moved nearly to tears by some of the accounts he provides of the suffering of the Palestinians. When the Israelis discovered that Will and Maura were Americans, one replied “ah, we’re your best friends”. All prejudices confirmed and safely still in place then.

An hour and a half later, we had got to the point where Pati, eschewing her own sodden clothes, was dressed in the “Mountain Cleaner” t-shirts that the tea-shack owner sold, with one of his sheets from the floor of the refuge wrapped around her legs like a sarong. Oisin had another one of the t-shirts on, down to his knees, with an enormous pair of thick purple woollen socks up to his thighs, like some sort of Tibetan reject from an audition for The Kids From Fame. The photo will duly be produced for the first girlfriend he dares to bring home. Will had consulted with the tea-shack owner, and they’d decided that as the rain had held off for more than half an hour we should take our chances and head down.

There came a point that I didn’t notice, about halfway down, where the rainwater that had soaked my t-shirt was replaced by perspiration. It all felt the same, except that I was now warm. The conversation on the walk back turned to matters geo-political, and it was a new delight to find myself in conversation with two Americans who got as far as considering if it was shame they felt at the passport they had to carry in life. Now it was my prejudices that had to take a knock, and so on we went, discussing our governments’ various, unending, foreign policy imbecilities, as we slowly wound our way back down towards their guest house. Soaked to the skin I was, but buzzing with the delight you only get from unexpectedly sharing a worldview with other decent human beings. As well as a small sense of relief that we’d perhaps just got away with clambering over a mountain that could have turned out less forgiving.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Buddhist Prayer Wheels

Oisin loves the Buddhist prayer wheels. They have a paper inside with the words of a prayer, and if you spin the wheel, it sends out blessings in all directions. How did I get from "No Gods No Masters" to spinning Buddhist prayer wheels, can anyone tell me?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Jogiwara Road, McLeod Ganj, by night

Untitled from Gareth Gordon on Vimeo.

Todo Se Arregla 1

Uno se da cuenta que está de vacaciones cuando tiene que recurrir a la prensa local para saber en qué día de la semana está. Así me enteré, con un día de anticipación, que al día siguiente estaría de cumpleaños, ojeando el Hindustan Times mientras almorzábamos en un restaurante a la orilla de la carretera de camino a Dharamshala.

Salimos de Mandi con rumbo a Dharamshala a las ocho y media de la mañana y sin más certeza que la palabra de un señor amable nos subimos en el bus que él nos recomendó. Error. El paradero de bus estaba correcto, la calidad del bus mochilero sería la misma, pero el bus que tomamos paró en cada lugar habitado por más de una familia. Total un viaje que se pudo haber hecho en cinco horas nos tomó casi siete. Y dos horas de diferencia se sienten como una eternidad cuando la constante nube de polvo, calor húmedo y hacinamiento dentro del bus lo ponen a uno a pensar por que carajos no escogimos viajar por Noruega.

A mí particularmente los viajes por carreteras serpenteantes se me han dado mal desde chica; mala cosa para alguien que nació casi a tres mil metros de altura en los Andes y que decide viajar de mochilera con un hijo de tres años y un marido de roble a los que parecen no afectarles las maniobras dementes de los choferes de los Himalayas. Pero nos bajamos del bus en el destino final y apenas empiezo a ver las caras con rasgos que no reconozco todo aparece en perspectiva y me alegro de no estar en ningún otro lugar. Mi mareo se va y todo se arregla.

Un fotógrafo comento en algún lado que India no es un lugar de paisajes sino de rostros. Qué manera de complementar los rasgos que ya tienen con turbantes, barbas pobladas, cabellos rojos y naranjas de hena, frentes ungidas de anilinas brillantes, narices perforadas que se conectan con cadenitas a orejas multi-perforadas. Y luego los trajes con detalles intrincadísimos, las mujeres envueltas cuidadosamente saris y otros vestidos en los que la correspondencia de los colores nunca es arbitraria, los hombres Sikh, con sus barbas frondosas y los coloridos turbantes. Un sentido de la estética muy diferente.

Ayer bajando por la orilla de un rio casi seco de piedras grandes, vimos a un grupo de hombres mayores de la religión Sikh, sentados sobre una piedra enorme y conversando. Yo desde lejos los “romantice” de una, y especulé que seguramente discutían asuntos teológicos (¿por qué, qué más podía hacer un grupo de hombres así en un lugar como éste?). Gareth y Oisin que iban adelante se detuvieron para hablar con ellos. Después de las preguntas de siempre, edad del niño, país de origen, llegué yo para darme cuenta que entre todos intentaban persuadirlo de “echarse unito”, un whiskey! le repetían claramente, uno chiquito insistían, nosotros aún no estábamos ni pensando en almuerzo!!

Así que al final todo se arregla, las cargas se recomponen. Mis dudas de los motivos del viaje desaparecen apenas me bajo del bus, los estereotipos de la gente-símbolo se esfuman cuando entablamos conversación. Hace dos días una monja Tibetana se nos acercó indicando al niño (no se ven muchas mujeres monjas a propósito) Gareth y yo nos hicimos al lado para facilitar el encuentro. Le cogió los cachetes, le agarró las manitos entre sus manos y al irse volvió a indicar las sandalias de Oisin que estaban puestas al revés, y se fue despacito, enroscándose la mala (el rosario) en la muñeca.

The Blond Piper of McLeod Ganj

Even the Tibetan Buddhist monks have surrendered to the charm of the blond-haired child god of uncertain gender. Things were not helped by the fact that last week a woman outside a backpacker café in Delhi gave him a henna tattoo on the back of his right hand. Henna tattoos, I learnt about 3 days later from an amused Indian, are exclusively for women. (At his age I think Oisin is still struggling with the concept of gender, never mind subverting it.) I really don’t know what it is about my son that particularly pushes the Indians’ buttons, but they just can’t get enough of him. It started in earnest on the air-conditioned bus on which we spent most of last Thursday in Delhi hiding from the heat. They call it the “HoHo bus”, short for “Hop on, Hop off bus”. (I’m guessing they never ran the abbreviation past any north Americans, for I can only imagine the disappointment of a queue of Yank college brats upon discovering that the bus isn’t a love service crammed with scantily-clad Indian women.) First it was playing with the daughter of an Indian family that was on the bus with us, then it was sitting next to her, then it was taking turns as the whole family posed for photos with him, one after another. Once they got off the bus, another family got on and the entire routine started over again. Given that he is stuck with his parents as sole company for the next six months, Oisin is seizing any chance he gets of playing with people his own age, and so he jumps straight in when the opportunity arises. This then leads to indecent levels of squealing and running around madly. All of which the Indians feign to find endlessly entertaining.

Their mode of physical appreciation of a “cute child” is cheek pinching. It is not so much a hard pinch as a gentle squeeze between thumb and first finger, but it can be anything from a passer-by’s hand trailing lazily across his cheek accompanied by an indulgent smile, to an energetic mother gripping both his cheeks, one in each hand, looking for all the world like she is going to lift him off the ground in her thrilled enthusiasm. We got off the HoHo bus to eat at a craft village in the south of Delhi, and by the time we got to the entrance, he was being mobbed. There was a crowd around him about 3 deep, with small girls elbowing their way to the front in order to get a handful of those cheeks.

Miraculously, he hasn’t tired of this yet, despite being photographed repeatedly. At times it seems that the likelihood of a photo opportunity is directly relative to the speed with which we walk – if we’re dawdling, there’s enough time for the adults to spot the child, overcome their awe, hit upon the idea of recording the encounter, and approach us with a smiling request. The idea of refusing always seems needlessly churlish, but we both wonder if there will come a moment when he will get fed up with it.

On the bus here he established playful relations with a boy in the seat in front. This child had a tic-tac box, but one with a whistle as part of the plastic lid. He shared a sweet with Oisin, and thus made an indelible impression on my son. When it later came our turn to provide him with his very own tic-tac box, the sweets became a distraction from the joy of his new whistle. The whistle has become the sound that accompanies us as we walk the streets of McLeod Ganj, where we arrived a few days ago. It is the small town above Dharamsala which is home to the Tibetan government in exile, along with the Dalai Lama. The town is populated with what seems to be an equal mix of backpackers, Buddhist monks, and stall-holders selling everything from prayer beads to Bob Marley wall hangings. The streets are so narrow that it defies belief that they manage to facilitate two-way traffic, but two-way it is, although it only seems to flow if there is a constant screech of horns. It’s as if the Buddhists have deliberately chosen the most unlikely place to seek nirvana – I can’t even get a night’s sleep for the constant racket from the street below.

Oisin’s response to the incessant din of car horns is to whistle back at them with his tic-tac box. He does this with great animation, leaning forward from the edge of the road and aiming his tic-tac right at the driver of the passing car. The two of us sat outside a cyber-café while Pati called home on the night of her birthday. The sound of the whistle drew the café owner out onto the pavement, and then the man from the shop next door, and then another neighbour who produced a packet of biscuits and insisted Oisin took several. The more he blew his whistle, the more adults seemed to appear and flock to him. They sat on the pavement outside the shop and played with his toy cars with him, they fed him, they feted his every word. I’m just worried the child will get used to this level of pubic adoration.

At first I thought the monks would be severe, austere, above the mindless blaring of horns in the tiny streets of this hill station. But even they have been seduced by the cheeks of my little boy. Their level of English is much less than the Indians, so we have had several mutually incomprehensible conversations which have revolved round pointing at the child and expressing awed delight. The most memorable encounter was a couple of days ago when we stepped out of the hostel onto the street. Oisin had dressed himself for the afternoon stroll, and we bumped straight into a Buddhist monk who began to make a signed fuss of him. Eventually it dawned on us that she was pointing at his feet, in what seemed like gales of friendly laughter. The child looked up, awaiting enlightenment. He had his sandals on the wrong way round.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Nice scaffolding

The statue of the monkey god at the Jakhu temple was getting a bit of make-over while we were there. But there was something familiar about this set-up. Ah, yes, I remember. I've seen scaffolding like this before - under the seating blocks at Sherman Cymru's production of Measure for Measure! (If you want an idea of scale, you might just notice on the fifth level down from the top, below the statues shoulder, one of the painters wearing a blue shirt.)

Cinema on the Toy Train

Shaun the Sheep proves his international appeal as we travel with other children on the Toy Train to Shimla!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Toy Train to Shimla

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Robbed, attacked, micturated

Nobody warned us that monkeys are aggressive vermin. We took the paved tourist hike up out of Shimla to the Jakhu Temple this morning. This is where Hanuman, the monkey god, apparently stopped for a rest in the middle of some mythic undertaking a long time ago. Since then the latter-day monkeys seem to have taken over running the show. We should have been more alert - the signs were there for us to see, the shops hiring “monkey sticks” for use on the trail. Now, what could a monkey stick possibly be for? No, not for keeping time with a marching monkey band of sashed up little orange monkeys, but for beating the ground so that the noise clears them from your path.

The climb was steep, and as we neared the top, the numbers of monkeys increased. Ever the unwary, I tried hissing at one who was staring hard at me, only to be met with a much fiercer show of teeth and angry eyes. I moved on smartly. King of the swingers I’m not, apparently. At the temple it was another round of photos with the blond-haired child-god of uncertain gender. “You’ll be on Facebook”, one Sikh family cheerily called back to us as they left, pleased with their trophy snaps. If Facebook India has facial recognition installed Oisin is going to end up being delisted as spam, the number of times he’ll be posted in the coming weeks.

We took our sandals off and edged into the temple. Lots of bells were being enthusiastically struck amid a thick smoke of incense. Pati and Oisin got the orange paint on their third eyes, and we went back outside. As I stood to take a picture of the ancient Indian symbol, precursor to the swastika, that was carved on the entrance arch of the temple, I heard my name called. I turned in time to see a large male monkey loll up to Pati and reach a hand directly into her lap as Oisin screamed in blind panic. I’m not quite sure what drove the monkey away, but it wasn’t me waving a feeble piece of pine branch at him.

Once we’d recovered our calm, we sat down at the food stall to try our luck with the fried delicacies. Three rounds of pakoras later, we were thinking of moving on when some water dripped down onto my leg. Pati looked up and pointed to the guttering, which had started to leak directly down onto us. As we moved our chairs further back, the urinating monkey perched on top of the railings above the guttering was revealed to us. The stall owner came running with a stone, which sent the monkey scurrying, but by this time we’d all had enough. We may never watch Jungle Book again.

Burgled!

Our hearts sank as we opened the hotel room door to find our few remaining possessions scattered around chaotically. Oisin seemed the most upset: even some of his toys had gone.

We’d arrived here in Shimla, an old colonial hill station, the previous day. Along with most of the Delhi middle-class, we were seeking to escape the heat of high summer in the city. We’d survived the night train to Kalka, and changed for the “toy train” (that’s what they call it!), a narrow gauge train that take over five hours to pull you up through the most gorgeous scenery (and 107 different tunnels) into this town that seems to have been built on the side of the most ludicrous gradient. There are no two roads the same level, and the steps up and down to the different levels of the town are eye-wateringly steep. No surprise, then, that we are in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The hustle went entirely according to the plan detailed with total accuracy in the guide book. We hired a porter to help us with our bags to the hotel. We’d planned ahead and not bothered our arses to book a room in advance, mainly due to not having sorted out credit for my newly purchased Indian mobile phone with which to make the call. So we asked the porter to take us to the YMCA where, fingers crossed, we’d find a clean double. Halfway through town he stops, pulls a tattered brochure out of his pocket, and starts elucidating the joys of the Dreamlands hotel. The hustle went like clockwork. There was a problem with the water at the YMCA, the place was fully booked, the other hotel was going to cost the same but had beautiful views over the mountains. It’s amazing how much your determination not to be hustled wilts in the face of a man who is carrying both your rucksacks up a 60 degree gradient in the midday sun.

Dreamland wasn’t the worst hotel we’ve ever stayed in, and the enormous double bed would have happily accommodated a number of generations together, so we stayed. And true to the porter’s word, the views of the snow-capped Himalayas this morning when we stepped out after the midnight thunderstorm had cleared the skies was spectacular. But we’d bumped into the two Bristol lads from the train, and realised that we were paying well over the odds for a mediocre room. So we packed up and headed under our own steam for the YMCA. Clean room, immaculate shared showers and bathroom, and breakfast included for half what we were paying in Dreamlands. Yes!

Pati had hand-washed some clothes and we hung them out on the window barsto dry in the afternoon sun. We headed off for something to eat, pleased that we were finally finding a rhythm that included feeding the child at regular intervals. We strolled through the town as the Delhi middle-classes made endless fuss of our confusing child, with his female henna tattoo on one hand, his strange name, and his bizarre behaviour. Having his cheeks pinched has become a way of life for him now in the space of two days. And then we returned to the YMCA, and opened the door to our lovely new room to discover we’d been burgled. Our stuff lay scattered about the floor, a tube of toothpaste had been burst and white marks dotted the carpet, and as we ran to the window, a monkey ran off with one of Oisin’s t-shirts in his hand. The ticket from the reception had a list of instructions, mostly about good behaviour (it is the YMCA, after all), but also one point which we’d overlooked: beware of the monkeys, and keep your windows closed. Oisin has lost about a quarter of his toy stock, along with Pati’s contact lens case, and my friend Michael’s little mini-maglite torch that I’d been carrying with me. From the landing on the stairs we can see out a window onto the corrugated tin roof to where Oisin’s little harmonica, bought not four months ago on a whim in Cardiff Bay, lies forlornly out of reach.

Hotel 12311

It wasn’t quite what I expected – never mind the traffic. I’d left us just a little short of time, and despite paying ten times the price of an auto-rickshaw for an air-conditioned 4x4 taxi to take us to Old Delhi railway station, the price proved to be no guarantee of speed or timeliness. “45 minutes in traffic”, said our Sikh chauffeur. The train was due to leave in 38.

We made good time across town, and then immediately got snarled up in Old Delhi traffic. This is the traffic that they show you on the travel documentaries. The traffic that pulses and swirls around idiotically placed obstacles such as traffic lights and roundabouts. Traffic that seems to eddy with a collective consciousness – of the impossibility of getting there on time. My pulse slowed as we drew level with the station. Three minutes later it was racing worse than ever as we hadn’t moved an inch and still had to make an impossible u-turn to the other side of the carriageway. Drastic action – we paid the driver and squeezed out of the 4x4, racing to get our rucksacks out of the boot. The car behind had stopped so close that we couldn’t open the door of the boot fully, and its driver helpfully sat with his finger on the horn for the whole 45 seconds that it took us to drag the luggage out and sprint for the central reservation.

Pati carried the boy while I had my rucksack on my back and hers hanging from my shoulder. It wasn’t the elegant ergonomics we had rehearsed in Cardiff, and with the seconds ticking down, I pushed our way through the throngs outside the sparsely lit station. We made it to the platform entrance, and were relieved to find an elderly official waving people left and right. “Where does the Kalka train leave from?” I asked. He blanked me, and then shouted for our tickets. After an agonisingly long time scrutinising them, he shrugged and pointed to the enquiry office, where we’d have to go to ask for our platform. My heart sank. There was a 5 metre long queue at each of the three counters. We had about 4 minutes left. I shouted something else at him before his attention darted to someone else and we pushed past and hurried towards the blinding neon departures board.

With several complete minutes left we made it to the platform and found our train number, 12311, displayed on the overhead signs. About forty minutes later it finally rolled in to the station, all blinding headlight and gut-shaking thunderous horn. That is probably just as well, for of the thousands of Indians pushing to get to the endless platforms, many took the most direct route - straight up and down over the tracks.

The berth was a shared four berth, which meant that on each side of the compartment there was an upper and a lower bunk. We had one side, and it turned out, two young men from Bristol had the opposite side. Clean sheets, blankets and pillows were sitting out waiting for us to make the beds up. Once we’d settled down, the boy finally went to sleep, and then the dots started to move. The little black dots that scurry away when your eye catches them and you wonder if you’d just imagined it. There was plenty of litter underneath the bottom bunk, but I hadn’t anticipated cockroaches. Pati went into homeopathic chemical warfare mode and began spraying the entire carriage with citronella. I protested that if cockroaches are one of the few beasts that will survive a nuclear war, citronella was probably not going to force them to the negotiating table. I took a more direct route, and started squishing them with a now surplus map of Delhi. The smaller, younger, oneswere easy pickings, but the bigger, savvy older ones raced off at the first sign of incoming map. The train pulled off. I twisted and turned, trying to wrap myself up in the sheet in such a way as to make me inaccessible to cockroach incursion. The map dropped to the floor. I gave up. The cockroaches were always going to win anyway.

En los montes Himalaya

No tuvimos tiempo suficiente para ver Nueva Delhi con calma; después de tres días empezamos a buscar lugares en el norte del país donde las temperaturas son más bajas, ahora estamos en Shimla una ciudad construida sobre las laderas de bosques de pinos en los Himalayas. Ya lejos de Delhi dan ganas de volver, a caminar despacio bajo el calor por callecitas estrechas inundadas de comercio vibrante. Y es que aquí todo parece palpitar, todo esta tan vivo que no alcanzan los ojos para ver tanto color y tantos contrastes en cada rincón. Los olores también sorprenden, las calles son muy sucias. Aunque existan ejércitos de gente humilde barriendo en silencio con escobas hechas de ramas los olores de las cañerías, de los rincones que se usan como baño público son sobrecogedores. De camino a Shimla, viajando en lo que aquí llaman tren de juguete, daba pena ver los montes inundados de basura, y los cauces de los arroyos y ríos secos y retomados por los deshechos. Pero también hay los otros olores magníficos, los de la comida deliciosa, él de los inciensos que se venden en cada esquina y que en los templos la gente quema como ofrenda. Me ha costado no llenar la maleta de frasquitos de vidrio elaboradísimos con aceites de olores maravillosos, pero tres o cuatro frasquitos pequeños han logrado infiltrarse en recodos del morral que apenas empiezo a descubrir.

El Oisin es la estrella de la fiesta a donde vamos, me imagino que por ser de piel más clara que los niños de aquí, y de cabello ligeramente rubio la gente lo encuentra exótico… y lo alzan, lo abrazan, le dan besitos, le toman mil fotos. A el parece darle lo mismo, y esboza sonrisitas mediocres prefabricadas,pero han habido un par de momentos donde decide no cooperar con la sesión fotográficay nosotros con una disculpa en la boca, nos alejamos diciendo que pena pero esta vez no se pudo.

Mañana martes salimos temprano para Mandi, a cinco horas de aquí, aun mas frio y más al norte, la idea es llegar el miércoles a Dharamsala, sede del gobierno Tibetano en exilio y residencia del Dalai Lama. Las distancias en India son enormes, esperamos que una vez en Dharamsala podamos quedarnos por un periodo más largo; hasta ahora hemos estado tres días en Delhi, uno viajando y tres aquí, y nos haría bien dejar de viajar y descansar bien unos buenos días antes de empezar el descenso de nuevo… Jaipur, Agra y Varanasi están en el itinerario antes de irnos de India.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Humayun's Tomb


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humayun%27s_Tomb

This is an 18th century observatory


Jantar Mantar, 1724 Mughal science, telling the time still accurately today. Biggest sundial I've ever seen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jantar_Mantar_(Delhi)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Delhi - day three

The Times of India reports this morning that the day we arrived the temperature was over 43 degrees, but that yesterday it uncharacteristically dropped 5 degrees to just over 38. Not to worry, Delhiites, it’ll be back up to seasonal norms within a day or two.

“This is quite bearable,” I mused, as we walked through the plush, enormous arrivals hall of Indira Gandhi airport. “It’s air-conditioned,” she shot back with a look of barely contained scorn. The a/c slowly faded with the memory of the uncomfortable airplane seats and rubbish food, so that by the time we were outside looking for our taxi driver, it was starting to feel like we’d arrived in a place that was biding its time before turning us into little, dribbly, melted wax sculptures of our former selves.

The heat is the only topic of conversation with the taxi drivers. Our first driver assured us that the monsoon hadn’t started yet, but was due that afternoon. This was a little too close for comfort to the sardonic forecast that I had been making in Cardiff. So far he has not proven to be a reliable guide to the rains. It is still dry, and very hot. It seems that the rains aren’t expected till the third week of June – just time for us to get used to the heat, before being drenched on a daily basis.

The ride in from the airport revealed nothing so much as a striking resemblance to some of the huge Latin American mega-cities that we have been through. While the airport is a bubble of first world development, it can’t push back the tide of underdevelopment that laps right outside its front door. Construction site refuse lies piled up in corners, where resourceful labourers have used it to make the foundations for their corrugated tin shacks.

It’s an established fact that local lane indiscipline and a naked ignorance of the basics of braking distances account for 72% of the opening comments in all travel blogs that visit Delhi. The other 35% discuss digestive concerns. (We’ll get on to that later.) The roads are astonishing, but not for the degree of “madness”, but rather for the degree of mutual comprehension that is displayed, albeit to a cacophony of horn-beeping. People stand in the third lane of a six-lane motorway trying to flag down the next bus, indifferent to the horns and swerves of the passing traffic. At roundabouts cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians compete for the limited space, but there appears to be no anger, no road rage, and the use of the horn seems to be entirely post-facto – you get beeped if you’ve been a bit rude, but only as an acknowledgement, not a rebuke. The traffic moves slowly, but reasonably fluidly, which in itself seems like something of an achievement, given the numbers of vehicles.

Once we got to the hotel, we were left to melt for nearly four hours in the reception, as they don’t allow check in till noon. I suspect they’ve had a few unwary Brits turn up from the 6.20am British Airways arrival, expecting to find somewhere to crash, and have decided to enforce the rules with a rigour that excludes any element of human sympathy. Moving on from the hotel has provided its own little challenge. Once we stepped out to wave down an auto-rickshaw to the local tourist office, it becomes immediately apparent to the driver that we don’t know where the tourist office is. Hence he then takes us to a different office, where he’ll collect a commission for delivering unsuspecting foreigners. This is vaguely amusing the first time, when you are dropped off outside such a ramshackle, run-down, side street bolt-hole that it is inconceivable that it could be the official Delhi tourist office. As soon as you insist on your destination of choice, you are met with a barrage of smiling apologies and another trip. This time we were dropped off outside something that seemed like it could indeed be the info-nirvana of the DTTDC. Assuming that the auto-rickshaw driver wasn’t going to give us a tour of all the dodgy tour shops, we took the plunge and entered. It wasn’t the DTTDC, but the fact that we still haven’t discovered where the DTTDC office is is a testament to the resolution of the local rickshaw drivers to take us to where they want. The only comfort to us was that despite spending more than half an hour in the office, and being regaled with bottled water, chai tea, crisps for the boy, offers of ice cream (politely refused) and the free map that we sought, we left (after offering to pay for all the blandishments – refused in turn with great mock indignation) with only a hand-written itinerary and a business card. The sound of laughter as the door closed behind us was, I swear, the sound of the man’s colleagues laughing at him for failing even to extract the price of a bus tour from us. But now we’ve pulled the trigger on the gastronomic Russian roulette, having no idea of the provenance of any of the foodstuffs brought to us, so we’re waiting to see if the chamber was loaded with cryptosporidium.

Salimos... llegamos...

Aquí estamos finalmente, en nuestra primera noche de hotel en una Nueva Delhi que supera los 40 grados centígrados… Gareth y Oisin ya duermen y yo, alebrestada por los efectos de la citronela, me busco ocupaciones que no involucren alejarse de nuestra habitación/oasis con aire acondicionado.

El tráfico es una sinfonía caótica de rickshaws (moto autos) carros, bicicletas y peatones que logran evadirse por un pelo. Cada vez que pensaba que era inevitable la estrellada contra otro vehículo, los reflejos impecables del conductor evadían el choque con una calma y - unos frenos - inimaginables.

Las similitudes con mi país son muchas, por momentos me sentía paseando por la entrada a Palmira desde Cali, los lotes baldíos y secos, los buses de transporte público atiborrados, las motos frenéticas, el polvo y el humo de exhosto en las vías.

Comimos poco hoy, el clima parece quitarnos el hambre, al final de la tarde después de habernos subido en tres rickshaws diferentes sin haber logrado que alguno de los tres conductores nos llevara al lugar sugerido (todos nos llevaban a tiendas turísticas o a oficinas privadas de turismo donde les dan comisión por llevar turistas) terminamos comiendo en un restaurante fresco y agradable, dos platos pequeños entre los tres y litros de jugo de mango frio y fresco.

El ruido del aire acondicionado me adormila a las 9:30 pm, mañana tendremos la cabeza más despejada para lidiar con planes y organización de un itinerario; hoy la ausencia de sueño en el vuelo y el calor nos anestesiaron.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Putting out the rubbish...

Hwyl Fawr Cardiff

Leaving Adamsdown for the last time - how many years have we dreamed about this day, wondered how victorious it would feel? And yet it came in a turmoil of emotions. So many happy memories, so many good friends left behind us. One last look over my shoulder as we pull away from the house where we wrote masters and doctorates, where we plotted direct actions, where we made a baby boy. This little man took us by the hand as we walked through the house for the last time and took our leave of spaces that have been more than generous with us, even if at times they have stretched our patience well past the point of sleep and reason. He seemed happy with the idea that we were saying goodbye to his only home in the world, and so we struck out for the bus station in the comfort of the car of one of my best friends. As if in harmony with our feelings, the car's wipers stopped working yesterday, and so the tears in my heart found their reflection in the unwiped raindrops blurring up his windscreen.

As the bus pulled out the police were leading a black woman away after a random stop and search on the street. Some things about this country will not be missed. Half the journey was spent with a 3yr old draped over my legs fast asleep. I have the feeling that this will become a regular occurrence. Tomorrow the Colombian embassy for a last piece of paper, and then off to Heathrow. Flat out, we are exhausted, adrenalin nerves have only just topped out, now I can stop fretting about the move for we are now moving. So hopefully Delhi will prove a quiet, relaxing, unhurried, unfussy rest stop where we can unwind and find a little bit of calm.

Won't it...?