Indian Impressions

No One Calls Me “Sir” Anymore
September 1996

Victoria Rail Station, MumbaiMumbai FerryCave Carvings (Buddhist), Elephanta IslandSharma & Cedric in Thar DesertBear & TrainerOxen & CartI note that in our travels, my perceptions of events and places are coloured strongly by my prevailing mood. If I am short of sleep for example, or ill, all I will see (and write about) is the worst of a place. Probably quite normal. Or not.

Arriving in India for the first time, at a major city such as Mumbai (especially jet-lagged) is a shock to the system for most. However, this fascinating country and its people do grow on you, to the point where we, at least, are very keen to return. It may be best, if possible, to ease the entry shock by entering the country at a lesser port or city. Mumbai and Delhi are ‘in your face’ culture shock experiences for the uninitiated. (JCW)

First Impressions: My God this Mumbai (Bombay) is something else! We haven’t been here more than 3 hours, but words like ‘hygiene’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘poverty’ are foremost in my mind. It is very humid: which was to be expected – this is, after all, the sub tropics!

Our first impression of the indigents of Mumbai, even in the dusk of early morning, confirms all we have previously seen or heard about their condition. Obviously many are having a hard time just surviving. ‘Living conditions’ would be a misnomer. Life is a lottery eh? Accidents of birth, as I like to think of it. I was lucky.

Rachel is trying to catch up on sleep. I’m raring to go. I’ll fade out later this afternoon no doubt. We have to find another hotel for the following two nights of our stay in Mumbai as the Centaur Hotel, our complimentary first night’s accommodation, is far too dear for our budget at $US120.00 per night. We brace ourselves to face this incredible place. The early morning arrival was just a tantalising taste.

Downtown: Well … ! There is no word suitable really. Here we are at the end of the rainy season, humidity 200%+?! The air is THICK with exhaust fumes. There’s a continuous cacophony of motor vehicle horns. The roads are clogged. A seething mass of vehicles: bicycles, motor scooters, 3-wheeler cars, 4-wheeler cars, buses, trucks! Also competing for road space are hand and bullock-drawn carts (yes, old wooden wheeled ones), cows, the mangiest dogs you ever did see, and people, people, PEOPLE, PEOPLE. A … a seething mass of humanity! And most of these people seem to have drawn a particularly bad ‘lot’ for life. The words, ‘the struggle for survival’, take on a new dimension here. This city makes an awesome impression on one’s senses. ALL of them!

We hired a taxi for the day (not air conditioned), for the grand sum of about $AUD25-30. Nanhe, the driver, is showing us all over this vast, complex city. God knows how it all works, but it obviously does.

Colourful Sari-Clad Women working at roadsideMeherangarth Fortress PalaceIn spite of my considerable driving experience, I would NEVER attempt to drive here. The taxi drivers especially, are a breed apart. Fuelled by leaded exhaust fumes, Well Laden Truckthey beep, honk and toot their way about, negotiating unimaginable obstacles (that after a while seem perfectly normal), making headway through unbelievably busy streets. All of this at 3 to 5 abreast: and I mean abreast – wing mirrors are as scarce as hens teeth here.

The beggars are a bit of a problem – for us I mean! Tiny children, adults – human misery. Near intersections, when the traffic congestion regularly congests, one gets used to tiny, dark (and pretty) faces staring pleadingly up from outside the car window. Hands, often malformed, upraised to hold coins, intrude snake-like through the open windows.

Today we broke 2 or 3 of the don’ts for new visitors to this Megalopolis. In a delicious fresh lime and sugar drink we drank unboiled water (from a street vendor). We Drying Dung Patties for Fuelate unwashed guavas with masala salt from a village roadside stall, and I used a communal comb in a hotel toilet (from the attendant). We have also both eaten meat, though not from a street vendor. So, if we manage to get out of bed tomorrow morning and my hair hasn’t fallen out, we will have Mustard Field in Bloompassed the test! We’ll be indestructible.

Taj Mahal, AgraOur faces became literally filthy from just the exhaust fumes. This is serious pollution! My throat is raw. We also walked in and around Victoria Railway Station in central Mumbai. This soot-stained, cavernous edifice was built at the height of the British Raj, when ‘The sun never sets on the Empire …’ etc. It is currently teeming with bodies. A seething throng of Indians inside and out. The surrounding footpaths serve as a general market and accommodate vendors, beggars and their families. Curiously, the interior of the station bears a strong resemblance to the Auckland Railway Station. (N.Z. was just another British colony Red Fort, AgraI suppose.) The exterior is really striking. Gothic. Somewhat bizarre in this location.

Well, day one ends for us – and what a day. Club Med this is not. Tired now. Jet lag. Have to check out of our hotel at 0600hrs! More tomorrow …  if I’m spared.

Elephant Taxis, JaipurDay 2:  Hallelujah, we have survived! In opulent surroundings we take an early morning breakfast (included in our air fare) at our 5 star Hotel. Coffee and muffins! Hmm. This being my first experience with this standard of hotel, I was shocked at the prices of our meals here last night. There is a vast disparity between this and ordinary Indian restaurant pricing. The hotel food Indian Tour Carwas not local fare anyway, so it was an all round disappointment. More reason to avoid these expensive tourist traps.

We hired our taxi driver again today. Same deal. Found an adequate hotel: a small room with air conditioning, overhead fan, floor squat toilet, good, clean-ish hot and cold shower, all for $AUD30 per night. We then Camel Riders in Thar Desertheaded out of Mumbai city, through the busiest streets I have ever seen. This city seems to be in an advanced state of decay. Yes, that’s it. Decay. If it was a tooth, you’d stop trying to fill it and pull it out. Streets lined with the most abject poverty and squalor that there must surely be on this planet. Actually, the word ‘cesspit’ frequently springs to mind. In some parts it literally is. However I hear Calcutta rivals it. Rajasthani Flautist & Singer, Thar DesertYes, in many parts, the roadside is the toilet. Nobody bats an eye at this which is, of course, the most natural of functions. They don’t all have their backs to the street either. ( ‘Public displays of pissing and defec’-tion.’ … Get it? As in ‘Public displays of kissing and affection.’  Oh dear. Never mind,  it’s the heat!)

On the outskirts of Mumbai we reached a vast expanse of weathered highlands where some 2000 years ago, a Buddhist village with its temples, habitations, water catchment and channelling system etc. was carved into the rock. Some of the temples Camel Bone Art - Sumptuous lifestyle of a Maharaja & Maharaniare cavernous and extend deep into the solid rock of the hillsides, their walls decorated with large, intricately detailed sculptures of their deities. Awesome. So ancient. We also took a ferry out to Elephanta Island, the site of a Hindu settlement of the same era. Here we saw more amazing engineering, architectural and religious artworks hewn Mud Housesdeep into the rock. Intriguing. Mumbai is also a major and very busy port.

JodhpurAnother pleasure was meeting and talking with some of the Indian tourists on that ferry trip, but the contact with an impressive, enterprising 12 year old boy was special. He is one of the (too) many ‘children of the streets’. [See the film ‘Salaam Bombay’] His grasp of several languages, his enterprise and energy was inspiring, though saddening. I doubt he had the wonderful boyhood I had! There are thousands of such Lake Palace, Udaipurchildren in Mumbai alone.

We have begun eating out at local restaurants (incredibly cheap) and to taste street vendor delights. We wander through the bustling crowds of the street markets at night with no one hassling or hustling us. A real delight. The Indians are a gentle race, and in spite of the squalor and poverty of the Raja Hindustani - Bollywood Movielives of many (most?), they, both male and female, take great pride in their appearance and cleanliness, and for the most part, possess a languorous beauty.

Our little sample of India has been most seductive and we are both looking forward to our return here, for which we have allowed a stay of six weeks.

January 1997

“India, India very good, very good.
Indian system very bad, very bad.”

The chant of our driver Mr Sharma, who we hired in Delhi for 2 weeks, to tour and guide us around the north west region, and to leave us in Ahmedebad. He fast became a friend. (His other favourite chant was ‘Buffalo Soldier’,  by Bob Marley.)

Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra: Women carry baskets of cattle dung (to make into fuel cakes) on their heads. There is intense manual labour, both male and female, on road works and such like. Well kept Brahmin cattle, young and old, amble up and down alleys and streets whither they want. These big beasts, along with oxen and buffalo, are the main beasts of burden in Delhi. In the northern rural areas however, it is predominantly camels that pull huge, rubber-tired carts: usually well overloaded.

A big, dead pig is wheeled along on the carrier of a push-bike. Motor scooters carrying whole families of four or five people become a common sight. A broken tricycle rickshaw being carried across the seat of another rickshaw looks artistically bizarre. Buses and even motor tri-shaws bulge with people.

Heavily laden trucks, tractors and the strangest assortment of vehicles we have ever seen carry firewood (for small factories or the village tandoors), farm produce or building materials, and more people.

At the roadside, a big black bear stands full height, attached to its owner by a rope through its nose. It’s a cruel business, the bear made to perform on cue for those tourists who would stop for photographs. Incidentally, the larger percentage of tourists in India are Indians.

As in Morocco, there are many more pedestrians along the roadways here than in western countries. Here though, the clothing is more colourful, often with bizarre mixes. In rural Rajasthan, dress is mostly of the wraparound sort. A length of cloth thrown over or around the head, with an assortment of garments and wraps to cover down to the feet. The women tend to wear much more colour than the men and look beautiful with it, but male/female garb is frequently similar. My attention is frequently drawn to women and girls at the roadsides walking elegantly erect. On their heads they carry assortments of big copper and silver urns (full of water) or bowls, dishes etc., their colourful saris contrasting vividly with the surrounding countryside.

There is a row of vultures hunched along the top of a farmhouse wall. Hundreds of beautiful peacocks (the national bird) are grazing in the countryside. Their tail feathers are used to make exquisite fans sold in the bazaars and on the streets. Bald arsed peacocks are everywhere! No, I jest! However, we are reassured that the feathers are only plucked from the dead ones found in the bush! (Yes, but how did they die?) The Indians do not eat peacock.

We see the odd, rare modern car. Most vehicles (trucks and buses especially) are old, colourful and belching fumes. Hence a large part of the pollution problem in the cities. Donkeys and horses (along with cattle) are widely used. Garlands of marigolds and other bright flowers, as well as being used for religious offerings, are frequently seen hung around the front of vehicles (or horses, cows, camels, bicycles, scooters etc.) along with glittering, colourful tinsel tassels.

The small country towns and villages are an improvement on Delhi (and Mumbai). No tragic beggars. Cleaner air. But the villagers are still obviously dirt poor. Washing (including commercial laundry) is laid out on the ground or on branches to dry. We see fields (devoid of grass) covered with drying laundry. Roadside tea houses/restaurants, besides having chairs and tables outside, usually have several bamboo beds. Very thoughtful. These are for truck drivers on long hauls I’m told, but can be and are used by any customer.

In deepest rural India, one cannot avoid or hide the fact that we travellers are simply voyeurs. I feel we could never breach the gulf: to get chatty with the local folk. They follow a lifestyle and farming methods that remain unchanged since the dawn of time, and are far more attuned to nature than we are. We are so obviously ‘foreign’ in this ancient land with it’s magnificent cultural past. It is intriguing, fascinating, but we are poles apart. It would also be unlikely that they speak English.

The land is littered with old, grand (and in many cases stunningly grand) palaces, tombs, mosques, temples etc. These were built in the times of the Mughal (Islamic) Emperors, direct descendants of Ghengis Khan. Within their walled cities, they lived in fortress palaces which they shared with their harems, wives, armies and retinues of helpers. These palaces were equipped with ingenious systems of air conditioning, running water, heating, steam baths and even efficient pigeon postal systems. This was also the era of the (Hindu) Maharajas with their equally opulent lifestyles, exquisite buildings and architecture with stunningly fine – detailed stone carvings, inlays and artworks. It is still palpable. It was, after all only the 16th century or thereabouts. Wealthy merchants, whose fortunes were built on the camel caravan trading routes through to central Asia and beyond, also built splendid Havelis (mansions) which tended to rival the architecture of the palaces. Fortunately many are still standing, as stone was and is the predominant building material. Ah, but what they did with that stone. The standard of stone masonry, carving and sculpting is just unbelievable. Oh, the Taj Mahal in Agra, constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal and completed in 1653, is very pretty and well worth a visit too: but we thought the Red Fort there was far more interesting and noteworthy.

The Maharajas used to battle amongst themselves for territory. These battles are depicted in much of their art work: vast armies of foot soldiers and herds of trained elephants, both splendidly and colourfully bedecked and armed with an awesome array of contemporary weaponry. Elephants even, were trained to wield huge swords (which can be seen in the museums), held in their trunks, to devastating effect. The Hindu Maharajas and their armies also battled for territory with the Islamic Mughal Emperors. Then came the   British … ! It is difficult today to imagine these warrior Indians of old. But warriors a large percentage of them most certainly were. The history books, art and weaponry in the museums attest to this. The weaponry intrigues me. Centuries of warring inspired mankind to create the most horrific, lethal yet beautiful instruments of death. Fascinating. It’s hard to consider modern rocketry and firearms ‘beautiful’.

I’m seeing so many stacks of dried cow patties in the villages that I’m thinking cattle’s prime use here may be fuel production. For indeed, that is what dried dung is used for. These stacks of drying dung are often works of art, built into spiralling cones, or singly slapped onto walls, trees and houses in attractive geometric designs.

As we head deeper into Rajasthan, monkeys become a common sight along the roadside. Cattle, camels, pigs, goats and dogs abound in the villages, most of them having free range around the housing compounds. Don’t think of housing ‘western style’. These are mud brick, thatch roofed and mud floored houses with low mud brick walls, dividing yards and compounds.

Many women here wear their head scarves completely covering their faces (and they still look beautiful). This serves to show respect around family members and elders, as well as it being a dust filter. Faceless women! In their vivid coloured saris they appear as beautiful splashes of colour against the background of the countryside, which at this time of the year, in this area, is almost blanketed with the yellow bloom of the mustard plant. A group of women together makes a wonderful, colourful sight.

Another thing we see with frightening regularity are trucks (so far only trucks) crashed off the road, over banks, into trees, through walls etc. We’ve only been on the road two days and have clocked up eight so far. This is a recurring problem in India we’re told. (We were to see many more on this journey.) The wholly Indian made motor vehicle is called, intriguingly, the T.A.T.A., which of course bemuses us English speaking people. Cows also, ambling across or along busy highways and byways take some getting used to. We visit Agra, taking in the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, then on to Jaipur. Myriad kites are flying in the air (with many tangled in the myriad overhead telephone and power cables). Today is a kite festival day India-wide, celebrating independence from Britain.

Jaipur is a very attractive, dusty, cluttered and ancient pink city. Pink being the colour of the local stone. This bustling city has numerous ancient forts, palaces, temples and tombs. Not tombs in the English sense, but a much more grand statement. Small, striped squirrels scurry about and around buildings searching for food. The usual beggars and hawkers abound. Cows walk anywhere and everywhere. Vividly coloured Bougainvillea flourishes here. We pass through many ancient, ornately carved city gates. All gates and entrances are designed for elephant passage as this was the way the Maharaja and his lot entered and departed the city.

Now, by elephant taxi, we ascend into the Amber Fort (another fortress-palace). Apart from the unusual swaying movement and the elevated position seated on the howdah (these are big elephants), there is no real sense of being on an elephant and I found it uncomfortable. It would have been better to have been seated astride the elephants neck, feet tucked under its ears, but there was already a mahout (driver) there. There was a strong smell of marijuana about him too, and I thought:  Wow! Stoned in charge of an elephant! Way to go!

From the heights of this sprawling, stunning structure whose grandeur and magnificence is still evident, we were able to see the encircling defence wall which snaked along the tops of the ragged ridges surrounding this valley. A lake below, sets off this splendid example of Rajput architecture. The Rajputs were a Hindu warrior caste and royal rulers of central India. Monkeys (we’ve seen two types so far: the black faced and the red bummed) scramble freely all about the maharaja’s palace. Elephants, most with their heads and trunks painted with colourful designs, amble with their drivers along the streets. Downtown Jaipur also flaunts its Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace, another architectural gem from the past.

Already, only one week into India (we are now leaving Jaipur, going to Pushkar) I have concluded that for castles and monuments, India surpasses Europe. The sheer quantity of temples, tombs, palaces, forts, walled cities etc. is awesome. They thrust up all over this ancient land in varying states of dramatic grandeur and decay. Yet we have seen only a tiny speck of India so far.

India has been much invaded and has a history of assimilating invading nations and their creeds. The Hindu, Persian (Islamic) and Christian (Jewish and Catholic) architecture attests to this. Thus the blend of styles: intricate marble and coloured stone carvings, lattice and inlay work (wood and stone), painted murals, mosaics and designs of at least three major religions are often represented in the one complex. Sometimes on the one pillar. Or perhaps in a palace as we saw: Persian quarters for Islamic wife number one; Christian theme carvings for wife number two in her quarters; and Indian religious symbols and sagas intricately rendered into the building materials of the Hindu wing, for wife number three. Tactful!

In the palaces the furnishings of old were opulent, but have since been removed and much is on display at museums. The architecture usually incorporated airy pavilions with breathtaking vistas. The beauty of the design, the settings and the quality of craftsmanship of these palaces, with their pools, air-conditioning and animal pumped piped water, is so awesomely beautiful that I do believe the Maharajas, the Mughal Emperors, their wives, harems, body guards, staff, soldiers and the thousands that lived inside these walled cities, were indeed living in paradise. Exquisite living. I have since learnt that their lives were fraught with all the usual threats to their security as was the lot of their aristocratic and royal counterparts in Europe. I should have guessed that the sights chosen for these regal cities, such as on the banks of broad rivers or in vales surrounded by rugged ranges were more for defensive purposes: the scenic splendours incidental.

Flocks of Nubian goats with their huge noses and long floppy ears graze along the roadsides. Men and women fossick for small firewood for their tandoors, or are squatting or lying down just watching life go by. Others scrupulously wash themselves at various water sources, managing never to show any of their private parts. Quite an art. Women in wonderfully coloured garments labour at the roadside, spreading and levelling coarse rocks they have carried over in tin pans on their heads. Roads in general are in a very bad state. There is very heavy truck traffic, and overloading is endemic.

Our driver Sharma is from the distant northern state of Himachel Pradesh at the foot of the Himalayas where his wife, children and mother look after his family farm. He is small, dark skinned, moustachioed and handsome, with an ever cheerful disposition. Thoughts of his farm, his wife and children spur him on as he battles the appalling road conditions in his Hindustani Motors vehicle. (These are modelled on the old Morris Oxford.) Out of economic necessity, he lives in Delhi working as a tour driver. We found that this sort of arrangement is quite common in India. He is wonderful company on the journey.

We’re in mid-west Rajasthan, heading for Jaisalmer, an ancient desert fortress city close to the Pakistan border. The land about is arid and parched looking. Tomorrow we will be in the Thar Desert. We stopped for two nights in Pushkar, a town built around the small and beautiful Pushkar Lake. It is a very important pilgrimage centre for Hindus, and is renowned for its annual camel fair. Unfortunately for me, European tourists seem to home in on this place, there being more here than we had seen in a long while. This, and the fact that I was bed-bound trying to shake off some kind of flu, spoilt this part of the journey for me. Rachel went for a three hour camel ride and came back with a sore bum!

Jaisalmer, centuries ago, used to be a very prosperous city. It was on the main camel trading route to and from Central Asia. Today that prosperity is evident in the remains of the many Havelis that were built by the wealthy merchants of that period, and in the many temples. The stone panels and pillars on these buildings are intricately and exquisitely carved. It is a very hard stone, and in this area is a golden colour. Hence Jaisalmer is called ‘The Golden City’. High quality marble is also abundant and is still used today.

The high level of art, design and craftsmanship throughout India is very impressive. However it is always from a bygone era – from some high point of their civilisation. Today, at a quick glance at these inhabited part-ruined cities, there is an air of decay and neglect. The razor back pigs and piglets rooting about in the rubble and rubbish are cute though!

The Thar Desert was what you would expect … sandy! But one cannot expect to get the feel of it in half a day. Our car, on arrival at Sam, a small desert settlement, was swamped by a ragged band of howling men and boys, each insisting that we hire their camels. Even Sharma was looking fearful and wouldn’t get out of the car for quite some time. One can hardly be the humble, nondescript traveller when one arrives in a tour car! In fact, this was an extreme example of the down side of travelling in this manner. We were inevitably taken to be more affluent than in fact we are. I’m certain we disappointed a lot of Sharma’s contacts along the way, it being part of his routine to take us to small art and craft factories along the route. We hadn’t planned on it being a shopping trip – but we did buy a few very nice things.

Once the hullabaloo settled, we really enjoyed the company of the local people. We capped the day by riding out into the desert (on camels) and watching the sun go down from a suitably high dune: Sharma and I drinking the local Kingfisher beer, and local musicians adding to the atmosphere. One man played two flutes, one upside down as a chanter or drone with continuous breath (like the Australian Aborigines on the Didgeredoo), while on the other he played an incredibly intricate, rhythmic tune. He was accompanied by his tiny son, singing his heart out. It was an achingly beautiful example of Rajasthani music. Oh how I wished I had carried a tape recorder! It was worth the journey just to hear them alone.

Jaisalmer  to  Jodhpur: The red stone is so plentiful in this area as we head further south, that great long slabs of it are used as fence posts! These slabs are also used, likewise on end, to form shelters and huts. Conical, thatch roofed structures with mud plastered walls are common in the villages.

We eat in extremely modest, but busy local roadside eateries. Not for the squeamish. I’m finding the food in this region far too hot. I am currently craving Western food. Rachel is not. We find the odd hand-cranked sugar cane crusher and quench our thirsts on this fresh nectar of the gods. I don’t seem to tire of this juice.

Vast sand dunes slide past our windows. Most however, have some vegetation clinging to them. The tiny ass, the most diminutive and sad looking of all the horses seems to be native to this area and can be seen roaming the land far and wide. It is also used as a ‘pack horse’. The wildlife of outback Rajasthan (that we have seen) includes gazelles, ‘forest cows’ (which look like a type of deer to me), camels, squirrels, and of course peacocks. Otherwise, the terrain is similar to outback Australia.

Whenever we stop to photograph interesting huts in this outback territory, the women and children scurry out to plead for goods. Money, clothing, anything will do. It’s not like your city begging, which is a career, here it is more of a supplement:  a passing bonus to a hard, sparse existence. There are not that many tourists out here stopping to take photographs, (we’ve seen no tourist cars all day) but these villagers know a good opportunity when they see one. There is a gulf here that can never be bridged. No matter how basic a traveller you claim, or see yourself to be, the disparity between your proclaimed poverty and that of the indigene is only too evident. You will never be their equal. (And there are times when you wish you could be. The appeal of the ‘simple life’.)

Jodhpur: More forts, palaces and museums. Very interesting but we’ve reached saturation point with these buildings. Lifestyles of the very rich and famous of antiquity. And what lifestyles!

Jodhpur to Udaipur: Heading south into the hills. Many small farming communities. The land looks more productive. Small walled fields and terraces. The stone colour changes as we travel through the land.

The farms are cleverly irrigated by buffalo or oxen driven water wheels. There are hundreds of these ancient, neat, circular, stone-walled systems dotting the landscape. Timeless. Slow. Circular. One sees a pace of life here so vastly different to ours, so appealing, that one can’t help but question our Worry Hurry More mentality.

We pass ancient village water wells, the women filling their urns to carry away on their heads. More recently installed communal hand water pumps are also seen.

Hotel in Udaipur, the Lake City: Very nice view but the usual shortcomings. Fittings falling or fallen off. Toilet seat only hanging by a wire. The shower sprays all over the place. Bathroom floor and walls have never been given a good scouring. Power cuts. Limited hot water. Aaaaahhhhh, INDIA! No matter what price range we slot into, Rs 300 – Rs 750 per night, we still find these problems. It’s a bit wearisome for me.

At this hotel the room service boys are between 8 and 12 years old. Dusky little urchins, barefoot, in a sort of uniform. They look really cute, but as in Morocco, lack of education equals poverty.  So the rich Indians get richer on the backs of this inexhaustible supply of cheap labour: their own race. Child and young labourers on a nearby building site have my heart in my mouth. Working high up, leaning out over the edges. No scaffolding. No rails. No safety standards. No unions. More examples of the greedy rich abusing their own kind. No escape, no hope. These towns tend to depress me a little sometimes, in spite of their grand heritage.

It is apparent that the slowness of improvement (if any) in the lot of the average Indian is caused by endemic corruption on a massive scale: from the highest levels of Government down. I’ve learnt this from the daily newspapers (plenty of local papers in English), daily features on television news, and in talking with some of the many well educated locals. This corruption can mean, for example, that an aspiring commercial driver simply ‘buys’ his licence. This probably accounts for the many truck and bus wrecks littering the roadsides, many of them horrendous (yes, we’ve seen many more). So it goes on. I’m not comfortable in this system. It’s a dog eat dog world. It is very interesting, but can be wearisome.

It is pleasing to note that the highly developed artistic skills of the past may not have been lost after all: superb craftsmanship is still evident and available throughout Rajasthan. This craftsmanship, often depending on locally available raw materials, is highly specialised and specifically regional.

We went to see an Indian film last night. For sheer all-round general entertainment, music and beauty, it took the cake. It was wonderful! (We bought the sound track on tape.) We are looking forward to seeing more. It was ‘Raja Hindustani’.

We have spent some cold and uncomfortable nights on this journey, but as we progress further south, it becomes gradually warmer and I notice the food is a little less fiery. We are both looking forward to southern, more tropical India.

Copyright © J Cedric Watkins 2009