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home > journal index > india diary april 2004

sightseeing & backpacking... - april 2004


08/04/04 All quiet on the Airport front
I am thrilled: a family visit, my sister Marion is coming for a month to India. Since I know how chaotic and unpleasant it is to arrive in Delhi in the middle of the night I pick her up from the airport. The EATS (Ex-Servicemen's Air Link Transport Service) runs an airport bus from Connaught Place, cheap and best I think. Unfortunately there's a breakdown in logic in terms of the operating times though; the bus is almost regular during the afternoon when there are hardly any flights, but in the evening or at night when most international planes depart or arrive there's one at 7 pm, the next at 10 and the last at 11 pm. But never mind. The arrivals procedure at Indira Gandhi airport has changed, probably partly as a result of the recent murder of Australian Dawn Griggs by a taxi driver near the airport. The Delhi Traffic Police Prepaid Taxi booth is now ONLY past the restricted area, just outside the arrival hall building. There is no intimidating crowd of porters and taxi drivers trying to pull us away. The prepaid slip is computerised, nobody tries to drag us to the wrong taxi. When the taxi leaves the area, the driver's name, the taxi number plate and our details are recorded by police. Once we're on the way the driver turns round and says "You give me 100 Rupees baksheesh." Aaah, so not everything has changed then!
09/04/04 Jama Masjid in Old Delhi
Muslims going to prayers at the Jama Masjid, the mosque in Old DelhiWith a capacity of 25,000 people the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi is the biggest mosque in India. We arrive around lunch time, just in time to see masses of men and boys streaming up the broad steps into the courtyard of the mosque to attend Friday prayers, considered the most important in Islam. As tourists are not allowed inside the mosque during prayer times we flee the scorching sun, have a chai and watch some late comers spreading their prayer mats on the steps of the mosque to practise their "submission" (the literal meaning of "Islam") to the will of God. When we come back later in the afternoon the mosque's courtyard is relatively empty, most people - including us - trying to race from one shady spot to the next to minimise burning blisters on the feet, so hideously hot is the ground. Shah Jahan - famous for the Taj Mahal - had this mosque built in the middle of the 17th century; it's a beautiful building with its red sandstone and marble, its graceful minarets and domes. One of the minarets gives good views over Delhi's green spaces and congested concrete residential areas. Women are not permitted to go up the dark narrow winding steps within the minaret on their own, but a British (male) tourist is willing to play our "protective" escort. Cheers mate.

12/04/04 Flowers on the spice market
flower market on Khari Baoli Road in Old Delhi, better known for its spice marketWith my sister around my latent North German qualities are awakened from their slumber: rise early - early to bed. It's only 8 am and we're amazed how busy it is around us on the Khari Baoli Road, in the Fatehpuri area of Old Delhi. This street is better known as the "spice market", retail and wholesale of all kinds of spices, dried fruits and nuts take place here. At 8 am though all shops are firmly shut and the street serves as a flower market instead. Bright orange marigold and some red roses line the pavements (great smell!), the rest of the road is jam-packed with people, cycle-rickshaws, parked handcarts, stacks of full jute bags piled up high, some bullock and horse carts; a very few brave drivers try to squeeze their cars or auto-rickshaws through this organic mess.
[See bigger picture in market & bazaar slide show]
14/04/04 Running from the gods
religious paraphenalia at the vashisht village festivalVashisht is not the best venue for one of the small village festivals, since its square next to the temple is tiny and very cramped. Nonetheless it's a spectacle to see some god statues with their ornate silver faces arriving and temperamentally greeting each other. On this occasion it's Kartik Swami, the local deity of Simsa village, who goes berserk. I ask some women whether Kartik Swami is not happy. Answer: " Oh, yes, happy, happy." I rephrase my question and ask whether Kartik Swami is maybe a little bit angry. Answer: "Yes, maybe a bit angry," as crowds of shrieking people disperse and flee from a wild and obviously unhappy god statue (carried by villagers) who seems determined to steamroll over at least some of the onlookers - including my sister. As we learn later Kartik Swami is speaking up for Vashisht Rishi, the local deity of Vashisht, who is disgruntled about a Baba (holy man) who has disappeared and therefore abandoned his duty of keeping watch over a special Shiva lingam in Vashisht. [See bigger picture in photo diary]
19/04/04 Bijli Mahadev
hazy hills around Bijli Mahadev temple, near KulluA common sightseeing trip when in the Kullu valley often includes the Bijli Mahadev temple on top of a hill near Kullu. Woody and I hadn't been there yet either (sad, after 3 years, isn't it?) - so including Ravi and Marion there are four of us bouncing in the car winding it's way up the twisting 15 km of road along the Kraal valley. The drive takes an hour from the bottom of the hill to Jansari village from where we have to stroll up some steps the last poky 2.5 km. One hour for this short distance is the local estimate; two hours of panting, puffing and bursting lungs, wobbly legs and numerous breaks is the tourist version. As Woody pointed out in his blog it gets really disconcerting when you are overtaken by an old woman with a walking stick. The Bijli Mahadev temple is set at the edge of a huge grassy meadow on top of the hill, certainly a beautiful spot with a theoretical 360 degree view over the Manikaran and Kullu valleys and the surrounding peaks - theoretical because when we finally arrive on the top the air is so thick with haze and dust that we only can spot a few nearby peaks rising eerily out of the haze.
[See bigger picture in photo diary]
22/04/04 Loma Dugh day trek
high altitude meadows at Loma Dugh on the hills above DunghriOur friend Ravi from Himalayan Caravan Adventure persuades us that Loma Dugh makes an excellent 1 or 2 day trek. And he is right; it's absolutely gorgeous up there on the hills above Dunghri at Loma Dugh, meaning "long low area". Fairy tale forests with twisted trees and huge boulders, overgrown with moss, vast meadows now covered in blue flowers, view onto snow clad mountains all around (though we certainly don't get the best of the views since it's cloudy yet again). The area comprises 4 to 5 meadows at an altitude of about 3,300 metres which serve as grazing grounds for sheep and horses during the summer months, brought up and cared for by "gaddis". These tribal nomadic shepherds received their grazing rights from their ancestors who got them originally from the villages to whom the meadow belong. [See bigger picture in photo diary]
25/04/04 Sand mandala and malai chaska
When Marion and I left for Dharamsala I got orders from Woody to buy a big stock of "malai chaska" (Indian cream cheese) since there is none left in Manali. I wander from shop to shop in McLeod Ganj, but in vain, neither this tourist metropolis seems to have any malai chaska left. Giving up on the cream cheese quest we head for the Tsuglagkhang Complex, around the Dalai Lama's residence, instead. For the 5th day of the 3rd month of the Tibetan calendar a sand mandala is produced every year in the Kalachakra temple which is located here. We are lucky and see about 6 monks bending over a sand mandala in progress. A kind of conical metal tube with a tiny hole at the tip is filled with coloured sand and gently tapped so that minuscule amounts of sand pour onto the sand mandala. By this process the most intricate patterns, figures and Tibetan letters are produced till the mandala is finished after 5 days; it's a work of art and patience, and an incredible steady hand - and of course quiet breath - is required. Suddenly I almost jump - there it is! - I've just discovered the last two surviving tubs of the yearned-for malai chaska cream cheese; in this Kalachakra temple, placed amongst butter lamps and a pile of biscuits in front of a picture of the Dalai Lama as offerings. Hmmm, would the Dalai Lama mind...?
27/04/04 Nyingtob Ling Tibetan school
a new temple for the Nyingtob Ling Tibetan Handicapped Children's Crafts Home in Sidhpur, near Dharamsala On the way to the Norbulingka Institute, well known for its Tibetan handicrafts and preservation of Tibetan arts, in Sidhpur, about 5 km from Dharamsala, we meet a volunteer teacher for the Nyingtob Ling Tibetan Handicapped Children's Crafts Home. She invites us to have a look around. About 30 Tibetan kids from all over India, either physically or mentally handicapped, live here. The dormitories, classroom, dining room and kitchen are fairly old and poky; since it is too small a new building has been constructed for the Children's Home, financed by donations. The inauguration of this spacious and bright looking building will take place middle of May 2004. Donations by the Dalai Lama have financed the construction of a new temple within the children's home compound, although criticism has been voiced that this money could maybe have been better utilised for upkeep, management, more teachers (they currently have only one permanent qualified teacher) or more facilities for the children; in particular since there is a big temple at the Norbulingka Institute, only 5 to 10 minutes walk away. But anyway: best wishes for the inauguration.
28/04/04 Bus, knees and good-bye
the front of a Himachal Road Transport Coorporation bus at the bus stand in DharamsalaIt's 2 am, I sit cramped in my little space which Indians optimistically call a "seat", my bum pushed firmly as far back as possible to allow my knees to become only slightly bruised instead of being mangled to a pulp by the hard board serving as a backrest for the equally uncomfortable tourists in front of me. I am on my way back to Manali for Woody's birthday. My "choti bahen" ("small sister" - well, she's taller but a year younger than me) has stayed in Dharamsala and is going to spend the rest of her holiday in Amritsar, Delhi and (obviously) the Taj Mahal in Agra. The first part of the bus journey I was cheered up by a 14 year old boy living in Kangra. He left school about 2 years ago and has since then worked at a chai stall at the Dharamsala bus stand, earning 1200 Rupees per month. But now I am alone (with the 187 other passengers on the bus) and outside it's pouring down with rain - the dry spell seems to be finally over; thunder and lightning chase each other and bathe the landscape in a weird red-purple light.
Kirsten may 2004 << previous   next >>
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