Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Last delhicious days

Hi all,

In the past days and even between the previous entries, we got to see 'n experience many things. Time to reflect on it before it goes into the recycle bin of our heads.

We've met some genuinely nice folks through the vast couchsurfing network, either guiding us through Delhi, sharing tea or dinners, interesting talks and even a couch/bed to sleep on. On our third day we went to the Kailash area of southdown Delhi, which is the part of town that is more upclass compared to the centre and other parts of the city. There we met up with some CS (CouchSurfing) people, coming from various Indian states and a few female travellers from Latvia, cs-ing their way Indian style. At the Punjabi restaurant (nice food btw!), we looked at the prices per dish, around 150 rps, and naïvely thought *wow, expensive here!*. Idiotic thoughts indeed as the dishes still did cost less than 3 euro's, and that in a classy restaurant...but because we were used to eating dishes around 30-40 rps (less than 1 euro!), we realized we were spoiled by our own budget means.. ho-hummm.

On the next day, we met Aman who is an English teacher in a government school and he guided us to a south Indian eating place for pancake styled veggie food (dosa's) and got talking about thoughtful and provoking literature, us learning more from the Indian side and he from our western side. Inbetween going to a seriously good restaurant by Aman's recommendation (as if eating is all we do here...errr) Clare from New Zealand and Shai from Mumbai joined us, also part of the global CS clan. After that we all went back to the Pahar Ganj area to drop our stuff at the hotel. Upon arrival, a big noise came from the narrow streets; chanting, cracked PA's overloading and fanfare bands strutting about. I forgot the name of it, but it was a celebration for a special hindustani day and the whole area erupted with sound, locals flooding the street in jeery manner. Maarten started filming all the scenes of the decorated wagons where teenagers dressed as hindu gods stood upon, while many marching brass bands with big drums and variously shaped trumpets turned it into an Indian carnival. The brass bands nearly sounded the same as a Balkan brass band, except that their rhythms were less intricate and pacey, more leaning on old style military traditions than their western brothers. Though when trumpeters are dressed in a nice silk suit and with a trademark moustache on their face, it's hard to not confuse them with brass blowing gypsies.
I tried to make some recordings of the bands but soon enough the kids spotted my microphone and just started singing into it or screaming *I love you*, over and over again, it kinda became impossible to get any good sounds. Not that I became angry or anything, but I was rather passive about it and enjoyed the parade as a spectator instead, ah shucks. Maarten had the advantage with his height that he could still film at a higher arm's lenght and blank the rowdy kids out if they wanted his attention. Good footage I must say, especially bits where he could film the bands from trough the front as they walked past him.

Next day we met Shai again to interview her as part of Maarten's sudden improvised couchsurfing docu plan, while being interrupted by doctor/surgeon Harpal (hi there Harry!) which led to a long session of talking and sitting in the cafe of Oxford's upperclass bookstore, drinking spiffy energetic Ayurvedic teas. Living the high life indeed, lured away from our beloved street eating diners. Whatever way we experienced it, Delhi is a big hotbed of contrasts where you balance between filth and poverty of self-made ramshackle stalls and bazaars towards neat and enriched surroundings only to be entered by people if their social status or wallet allows it. In our case, as outsiders holding an unbiased ticket in our hands, we experience both sides and take it either way as it comes without any prejudice to the given situation. We hope to keep it like that, not to get stuck in a certain need for plush commodities.

Saturday. There was a themed concert night at the Max Mueller Goethe institute, for free to all as long as you were allowed in by the guards that is. On the stage 2 bands, both following the band-with-dj concept; one from Berlin, one from Delhi. The Berlin band overplayed its set by far, me, Maarten, Clare and Shai quickly got bored of their sound except for the quirky tricks of their dj. The Delhi crowd seemed to like them much more. I reckon that in a city without many new sounds, an foreign impression leaves a thicker footprint, whether biased or not. The Delhi band had even 2 dj's, one of them being one of the Goa sound originators of the mid 90's. Their sound, albeit more on the house/trance side of things, felt more special to us as tabla's and african drums were played live alongside electronic beats and occasional hindi chanting. Logically, their foreign-intercontinental touch left its new footprint on us so there goes the bias.
Afterwards we went to Koshek's place who had a little party on his rooftop and tasted some Indian wine (quite nice!) and ate some Chinese food, -Indian styled- so it was savagely spicier than your normal Chinese dish.

Btw: In Delhi, cafe's and nightspots can only stay open till midnight due to strict laws, so that doesn't make the city a good place for going out, unless you can afford to spend a hefty 3000/4000 rps entry fee (60-80 euro's) into a posh nightspot where you can rub shoulders with the rich n famous and dance to tacky house music. bleh.

Sunday. Aman took us to the Dilli Haat market, famous for clothes and silks from allover India, as well as cuisine stalls from every Indian state..south,north, east, west. So yeah, we did as tourists would do in such a place, eating new dishes and buying clothes. A quick visit to Valery, friend of Clare, to see if she could help with Maarten's impulsive Bollywood dance idea that seemed nice to do, but too short of time to chase it. We didn't do much afterwards except for following 2 dodgy Kashmiri guys into dark alleys, who perhaps might (not) have tried to rob us. Vague story, so we turned back to the hotel before it became even more vague.

On monday we stayed with Inder, our first experience with CS as we had been staying in central hotels at first and Inder could only host us after he was back from a business trip down south.
We found ourselves in the Malviya Nagar area, which was an area where after the 1947 independence, plots of land were given to people who came from Pakistan. An immigrant area for immigrants victimised by the India - Pakistan divide. Kinda like a homerule, but without the fascist connotations that we see in Israel/Hebron/Gaza. It was also another special hindu day, Karwa Chauth. At a hindu temple we met friendly Bobby and his family. Bobby had been living in Zambia for 25 years and only returned from Africa a few years ago and keen on international contacts as he spotted us. He explained us the meaning of Karwa Chauth, how it's intended for married women to honour their husbands with their chakra (since a positive female chakra guarantees natural success to the man and hence their own family according to hindu belief). The women have to fast all day, no water nor food untill the moon climbs around 9pm. Nowadays, a lot of men join their wives in the fasting since every family have their own rules or personal preferences. The women have to complete the ceremony in the evening by burning a candle of grease and dough (or clay) and holding it in front of them while they can't look at the moon directly, either trough a veil or holed plate. They then pour watered down milk (or water) behind the flame so that they can see the reflection of the moon in the poured milk. After that, the whisper a few prayers and look straight and solely at their husband, so that his success for the coming year can be achieved through his wife's ceremony. It's -despite what some feminists might think- not a macho or a plain male orientated custom, but actually one that brings husband, wife and child(ren) together in a union that balances their life into positive manners. It's also in that way, many hindu ceremonies carry the same ideal of enhancing balance in every day family life. Maarten got to film nearly every step of Karwa Chauth, such as the night before all the women and girls got henna prints on their hands and feet. Also the temple offerings in the early evening and we even got invited by the priest and received a blessed banana, hah. No pun intended. When Maarten filmed in the temple with Bobby's sweet guide-like help, an elderly woman objected our entry as she was some high ranking caretaker of the building. Whatever reasons she had, racist or religion-based ones, we duly retreated not to make matters worse, though all other attendees had no objections. Ah well, such is temple politics ;)

Phewwww, that' s enough for now. The amount of times that indian folks came to watch/read over my shoulder or *kindly steal* my mp3player, all with good curious and nosey intentions....hmm, I lost count ;)

Warm Delhi leaving goodbye's go out to Aman (thanks for the book!), Inder (thanks for letting us crash in the Inder Inn, hehe), Shai (see ye in rajasthan?), Clare (keep CSing your way around girl!), Tridivash, Koshek, Ajit, Valery, Katerina and Bobby.

Tonight, a 9 hour night train ride to Ajmer, Eastern Rajasthan, long trek and snooze on wooden bunkbeds.

(We could only publish this entry now in Ajmer, which is why this submission date might not seems realistic if you checked yesterday)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

#2: Dante dreamed about Delhi noons

wednesday, 2nd part

Right after the previous entry, we went to look for a place to crash as our sleep deprived minds were starting to play tricks on us. For some reason we became an instant magnet for Indian hagglers to approach and wanting to help us. Helping us in the way that helped themselves, but such is the bustling life of a commission shark in Delhi. One after the other had their own best help to offer -as they put it themselves- and each a different story that led to us being taken to a new tourist booking agency. Same scene, different scenario. The deja-vu high was wrecking our mind.

Also the fact that most delhi people seemed baffled that we intended to stay more than 5 days in Delhi, as if we were out of our mind. *Why you stay in Dilli so long, is nothing here! you go elsewhere!*, is what we got told a lot. Ofcourse, the sharks wanted to get their piece of commission to send us to a long Rajasthan trek or a voyage up to the Kashmir mountains.

Imagine you are in such an agency and you sincerely tell them you want to have a train/bus to place A. You will get an answer that tells you can get to place A when you first go through place D, C and B, with D ofcourse being the furthermost place with only a little detour of an extra 500 km's. Oh yes. It didn't happen just one time but a few times during the morning and noon.

Normally we could have made light of the situation and hassle them back, but in that state our comical senses had abandoned us.

At last to get a hotel, we just followed a fella to yet another booking agency, though this time we got decent enough help, double the price that is. No chat about about detours, just the hotel booked for one night to recharge our own and the equipment batteries. And we even got a ride to the hotel by the agency. The moral of this experience? When exhausted, just don't linger around and become the easy prey tourist and get some good rest first.

Here a little glossary of standard delhi phenomenons.

On coughing. People like to cough here and need to. No gentle coughs, but a straight-up cough with a rattle of throat scraping n spitting after. All to the smog and dust, with also our throats feeling the delhi air all too well. Coughs up! Especially Maarten's cold cough has gotten more than rough over here, with enough nasty effects from the lung poisoning pollution. That's not even talking about the smog dirt that sticks to your skin and the greyness out of your nose. Over here it's a hot Dour festival every day. ;)

On traffic. Honking, screeching, swerving and shouting. Navigation isn't done by the rules as in the west, but the chaos of the traffic here has it's own pattern which is enjoyable to watch. So far we have seen no accidents, despite riksha's, motorcycles and tuktuk's race through the narrow streets, in the melee of the people's swarm. Near-accidents however, happen all the time when collisions in any combination of transport/person are just averted a the last gasp. Sometimes you deviously just wish... nah. ;)

Yesterday we saw our first cow crossing a busy intersection when the green light went on. The vehicles rode up to the holy horned white and started to honk crazily. The cow however just does one slow step after the other while the traffic behind the holy animal can pass again. Fun to watch.
The waiting time people give to cows isn't as it used to be, as we might believe, 'cos times in India have changed and there's even talk off banishing the cows from the city centers and continuous traffic spots.

We have been doing a lot more..... but short of time just past midnight here in the world of internet cafe's while the owner wants to lock up this shack. Below some photo impressions of the last few days:

view from our hotel balcony in the notorious Pahar Ganj area. gold and diamonds allover.

Maarten and his friends forever pic with buddhist monk

the cheeky gecko that crawled into our room. lively and sleeping animals enough here.

squirrels in India Gate park

Maarten pestering/filming kids swimming in the park's fountain, showing off their splashing moves

schoolkids at the walls of the red fort

Maarten talking, with view on the big Delhi mosque in the distance

woman selling indian pin flags for *charity*, I suckered in for 2 rupees.

streetscene Pahar Ganj, taken by Maarten this morning as I still lay asleep.

More stories next time...they're stacking up by now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

so it begins....

hi all,
-wiriting bit while in the plane-
our travel has started and we are still on our way eastwards with a stopover coming soon at Bombay/Mumbai, for an all nighter 8 hour wait and early bird flight to Delhi.
We've just passed by the northern border of Iraq and entered Iran, with snow peaked mountain rangesshining from below. The flight has lured us into a jawdropping multimedia comfort with personal LCD touchscreens that open up a boredom-banning time with movies, music and games at hand, or at a touch, that is.
I had expected to sleep all flight long, except for the tasty dish, but instead have been listening to punjabi and bollywood music, watching punjabi and gujarati comedy opera's crammed with bizarre sound effects and watching a punjabi movie as we speak, errr write.
I couldn't resist to bootleg the opening tunes and interludes of these comedy shows and already gathered some sounds on the recorder. Battery empty now, the musical belly filled.
As for Maarten, he's been filming whatever he could from the screens or around our seats, one tape fully filled and exchanged. Soon will try to put up some sounds and clips whenever we can get a web connection in nightly bombay.
-updated bit-
No internet in Bombay, or just too hard to find. Instead we wandered around the airport outside and ate at an indian open aired canteen, being the only white tourists doing so at 3am. Gorgeous stuff, as surely nearly every meal will be. After a 2 hour sleep on the marble floor we took our flight to Delhi and got here early in the morning. Heat, exhaust fumes, chaotic traffic, monkeys and cows sitting next to the road, people sleeping on the road, constant honking and people clamping you; it's all here. We do enjoy it, though being well wrecked from lack of snoozetime and we got a head massage at a barber stall.
Ok, off to find a place to crash, anywhere. For the next few days it will be Diwali, the hindu holy holidays, which means a lot of places will be closed. Hope we can post stuff now and then. We don't know what we will do the next days, but likely won't stay in Delhi though we do intend to be here in the weekend and visit some bhangra or bollywood dance nights off the beaten path, if possible. After the weekend, we'll make a move to Pushkar, to start the Rajasthan docu project.
That's all for now, hopefully some uploads later this week.