Monday, March 24, 2014

Cows, dust and horns...we must be in India!

Traffic jam

India, a land of many random sights, sounds and smells, fascinating and confronting at the same time. Cows EVERYWHERE, make sure to watch every step, as well as camels, dogs, pigs, goats, and the occasional monkey. Cows rule as the traffic, human and otherwise, just flows around them like a river flowing around the rocks. And the dust gets into everything.

Frantic and frenetic the road rules appear to be suggestions as the traffic seems to take no notice of speed, lanes and right of way. For instance at a railway crossing cars and motorbikes fill up both sides of the road as they wait for the train to pass, facing off against each other. As the gates go up they all surge forward, squeezing between each other like a throng of human traffic at a pedestrian crossing. Horns go off continuously and loudly but are more informational than for danger; they seem to be saying, 'I need more room move over' or 'I am coming through so try not to bump into me'. There's less anger than you'd expect, though a brief read of the paper in Delhi gave the impression that road rage is on the rise.

Chickpea flour with a
chilli surprise
But crazy traffic only adds to the experience as the people are friendly, a new cultural experience is around every corner and the food fits me like a glove. Indian food is mostly gluten free as the spices do not contain gluten and there are a lot of products made using chickpea or lentil flour. As long as I stay local and traditional in my food I have plenty to choose from. I can also eat at street stalls where pakoras (vegetable filled patties) and a fried dish with a chili in the middle called mirchi vada, are both made with chickpea flour.

Qutub Minar

We arrived in Delhi at 2 in the morning and by the time we found a taxi, and the taxi found our hotel (not an easy feat as he seemed totally lost and stopped several times for directions), we got to bed around 4+. At 8 we stumbled out of bed to officially start our Wonders of India and Nepal tour with a basic buffet breakfast. After meeting our tour group we all decided to go out together to see as much as we could on our only day here (we are back after the tour, but just us). Sleep was put into the luxury basket and we zipped around the city visiting the Qutub Minar (world's tallest brick minaret), Humayun's Tomb and the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib temple.

Elizabeth catching some zzz
First up was a local train trip to Bikaner. Not like any train I have been in before, they had benches across and along the train and up, with the option of making three levels for sleeping. Once at Bikaner we quickly high tailed it to Karni Mata Temple, affectionately called Rat Temple. The reason being abundantly clear as thousands of rats were sitting, fighting each other, eating the free food or running across your path (sometimes over your feet). The rats here are considered holy, possessing the souls of Karni Mata followers, so they treat them reverently with some people sitting on the ground with rats in their lap and around them. Some of our tour group had to overcome some fears to come in here. Elizabeth, like usual (she finds rats 'cute'), took the place in her stride and we had trouble getting her out.

Our tour group
The next day we mini-vanned to Jaisalmer, but this was not a normal day; it was the day of Holi, a religious festival (also known as festival of colours or festival of love). Part of the celebrations is to take bags of coloured powder and cover other people with it. Most of the locals were considerate and would only attack you if you were happy for them to. The same could not be said for our tour leader and some of our fellow tour members, who were a tad too enthusiastic. A very friendly day with smiling children at every turn exclaiming 'Happy Holi'.

The next day we were off on an overnight camel safari. This entailed riding camels over the desert to a camping spot where we spent the night either looking up at the stars or in a tent. Elizabeth chose the stars. I chose the tent. The desert looked beautiful. The textures and contours of the sand dunes were strongly defined in the early evening light and there were green bushes dotted around, some with bright purple flowers. We sat on the dunes to watch the swift sunset, subdued except for a few seconds when the sun turned into a golden orange ball, and black beetles burrowed into the sand around us. Dinner was a traditional meal cooked on site comprising a mutton roghan josh and vegetable curry which was ravenously polished off while sitting around a campfire. Stories were told, toilets were pointed out: 'girls on that side of the dunes and boys on the other side', and everybody had a well deserved sleep. India was turning out to be a lot of fun :-)

Around the campfire
The morning after

Camel ride as seen on the camel

Kuldhara - deserted overnight in 1825,
dropped in on our way back from camel safari

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