Friday, 9 January 2015

Indian Life

Over here I am a huge curiosity for the Indian people.  Everywhere I go people will look at me simply because I am so different.  Often the look is a prolonged stare and when I look back at some of these people it's like they've seen a ghost.  Quite honestly, I feel like a celebrity.  I have people everywhere I go staring, smiling, waving, greeting me, wanting to shake my hand and find out where I'm from.  Often I've been talking to one or two people and before I realise it, there'll be a group of six or eight just looking and listening to me.  I've almost lost count the number of times people want their photo taken with me. 

I find most of the children adorable here.  With big brown eyes and smiling grubby faces, they call out to me, come running over, ask me all kinds of questions and often put out a hand for a few rupees.  Despite the difficult living conditions they still have much of their innocence and charm.  As they get older, they'll sadly become burdened by everyday life and lose these endearing qualities but at the age they are now I love chatting and laughing with them.
Waiting at a level crossing

For many Indians life is unquestionably hard.  It makes me grateful to have grown up in a country like New Zealand.  There is a huge gulf between wealth and poverty and to be honest I haven't seen much evidence of the wealth.  The poverty though is everywhere.  For the past two nights in Agra I've been staying in what I consider a luxury hotel.  (It was part of the package put together for me and wouldn't have been my choice)  I couldn't help noticing that immediately adjacent to this accommodation, locals were living on the dirt under tarpaulins.  The stark contrast of this didn't escape me...      

People have to eke out a living in whatever way they can.  This often means selling things from a tiny shop or perhaps even more commonly from a cart or awning shelter on the side of the street.  Footpaths as we know them hardly exist here.  When you walk you usually have to share the road with everything else that may be moving along it!  During my time here so far I've only found one place that you could refer to as a shopping mall.  In India, you get whatever you need from the countless tiny places which are on virtually every street.

Typical street scene - anything goes!

Many men operate rickshaws of various types.  The lucky ones seem to be drivers of the auto-rickshaws...a three-wheel contraption instantly recognisable by its green body and yellow roof.  The driver sits in front and up to three people can share the passenger seat comfortably.  But India being what it is, I've seen anything up to ten people riding these things!  The less fortunate men ride the pedal rickshaws - big, old things with only one gear.  If they're not carrying people then they'll have (often huge) loads of various items.  The drivers sweat and strain to deliver their consignments and the slightest incline usually means they have to get off to push.    

The noise of an Indian city has to be heard to be fully appreciated.  It's a ceaseless commotion of vehicle horns, engines, shouting and if they can be heard above all that, there are the animals which placidly wander about in the traffic.  Road rules seem very vague and rarely adhered to anyway.  Often it seems that the vehicle with the loudest horn will get the right of way.  Watching a roundabout is amazing.  Forget about giving way to traffic already on it because you'll never go anywhere!  I asked my driver one day what the basic rule was and his reply: "We only really have one rule for driving in India.  Drive like everyone is blind"!

Indian street market

It's hot here in India but in all honesty it's not that bad.  When the Delhi forecast indicated sunny and 36C I was expecting worse.   I find it's a pleasant heat over here and more comfortable than my stopover in Kuala Lumpur.  The humidity is very low and the sun isn't nearly as harsh as we're used to in New Zealand or Australia.  I'm drinking 4 or 5 litres of water a day and already starting to leave a trail of plastic bottles around the country!  I don't trust the water at all unless it's from a sealed bottle.  I've had no hint yet of the dreaded 'Delhi Belly' but not getting complacent in any way...there's a long way to go yet and the sanitary conditions are no better in Nepal

So, here I am in Agra now.  I'm getting a train tonight to Gorakhpur so in a couple of days I should be in Nepal.  I've loved India so far but it'll be nice to have a change of pace in the serenity of Nepal.  I'm really looking forward to the trekking and stunning Himalaya scenery.  For now though, I'm off to get a curry and catch my train.  I'm sure that will be another adventure in itself…

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