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Sharon McRae
India and Nepal 1998 (with kids)




The Main Bazaar (or Main Bizarre, as it is affectionately known) in Pahar Ganj is the centre for budget backpackers, and a kind of living, breathing circus. There are a large number of foreigners here, some of whom may have been here for years! Just about anything goes on PaharGanj, body piercing, green hair, no hair, tattoos, weird clothes, no clothes (picture a six foot tall German dressed like Ghandi), and the de-rigeur includes the smoking of various mood enhancing substances. Many of the hard core residents here are surviving (and I use that term in its truest form) on little more than five dollars a day, we have a budget that makes us seem positively flush! I had been recommended a hotel, by a Brazilian man on "the net", and so "Hotel Starview" here we come. The hotel seems fine, actually downright luxurious, with a western toilet, a teensy TV and 2 beds. The price is settled at 400 Rs ($10) after I mention the name of my "friend’ in Brazil, and the price drops to half. We stow the bags and head off into the "Bizarre".

The traffic was one of my concerns with the children, but they seem to adapt amazingly well. Urban traffic in India involves, cows, trucks, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles and people, the right of way being granted in that order, followed by dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens. There is method to the madness, and as a pedestrian you need only leap left at the sound of a horn or bicycle bell, to avoid being hit. Leaping left could of course involve a dance to avoid many obstacles (manure, chickens, holes, rubbish heaps and small fires to name a few) or perhaps a collision with the master of the road, the cow. It makes even a mundane stroll an adventure, so onwards we stroll.

The sheer numbers of people in India are amazing, and the one place you can usually find relative peace and quiet is a rooftop. We spy a sign to a rooftop restaurant and head in. Once again, what should be relatively mundane becomes "interesting". To our delight there is an elevator, but it only goes up part way. Upon exiting the elevator you have to wind your way through the kitchen (not known to whet the appetite), and the toilet area (ditto) before ascending a dark stairway to the roof. The rooftop itself is quite adequate and we are afforded a great view of the jumble of our neighborhood. While scooping up our dal (lentils) and rice, we begin discussing the itinerary for the next few days. The stopover in London has eaten into our precious days. We decide to price out another wonderfully affordable Indian "luxury", hiring a car and driver. The premise of hiring a car and driver is that you basically pay for renting a car, and the driver escorts you anywhere and sleeps in the car at night. The cost is far above the price for train tickets, but with four of us traveling together...we may not pay much more. Finding a car and driver is as easy as asking your hotel owner or any cab driver, we opt to ask our rickshaw driver from earlier today, Baboo.

Finding our rickshaw "friend" is as easy as standing still for no more than 2 minutes on the Main Bizarre, and here he is. Discussing business while wedged four to a seat in the back of a rickshaw in Delhi traffic is no easy feat, but we manage to get our point across and are soon discussing details in a small office somewhere on a back street. We strike a great bargain for six days covering Pushkar, Jaipur and Agra, including train tickets to Varanassi, all for less than we would have paid for train travel alone.We head out tomorrow morning at eight. With the knowledge that we’re set and back on schedule, and with gratitude for Baboo (who has no doubt received a cut anyhow) we agree to a mini-tour for the afternoon.

The first stop on our tour is the Jama Masjid; a mosque built in 1644 by the great Shah Jahan. Rattling up to the entrance we are descended on by the usual plethora of "guides", snake charmers, holy men and beggars, nonplussed we proceed to the entrance. Mosques in India are open to non- Muslim visitors, however the "dress code" is quite stringent. Don and I are fine, but the kids’ shorts show a tad too much skin. The boys have been amazingly adaptable to this point, but it takes a little cajoling to convince them to don the sarongs provided: " But they’re skirts, Mom!" Finally, appropriately clad and barefoot we enter the mosque. The interior is solid marble, its minarets towering forty meters above the courtyard, and the amazing lack of noise is startling. We spend an hour or so hotfooting it (literally) around the marble courtyard (which can hold 25,000 people), before heading off to the Red Fort.

The Red Fort, or Lal Qila, is a huge red sandstone edifice dating from 1638, again one of Shah Jahan’s masterpieces. The walls of the fort stretch for over two kilometers, and one can easily imagine the Moguls riding through the gates on elephants’ backs. The forts of India are all huge and all have a wonderful feeling of peace and solitude within their walls. I do not know if the peacefulness of the forts has to do with the enveloping opulence, or, a contrast to the din and hustle outside the walls; it is, however, magical. With the sun starting to set as a fiery orange ball amidst the smog, we decide to head off "home" to the "Starview". We wish Baboo farewell, and agree to meet him in about thirty days when we return from our tour (I have no doubt that he’ll be waiting!).

Into India
To Pushkar
  Sharon McRae - Bio and Journals
  India and Nepal 1998 (with kids) - Intro Average Rating of 10 Viewers
Chapters of India and Nepal 1998 (with kids)
  And we're off...
  Into India
  To Pushkar
  The Taj, Reptiles and Cows
  Train to Varanassi
  Border Crossings
  Nepal/ Pokhara
  Trekking the Himalaya
  Whitewater Rafting
  Back to Delhi & Home( the end...alas)


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