Saturday, 30 November 2013

The real India stands up

I was in Indian cattle class, the unreserved 2nd class seating. Not too bad for the minute - just a couple of Indians who are attempting to speak English. Fair play to them. They wanted to see the photos on my camera. So I went through my trip so far. No, they want to see photos. So I showed them some more photos. No, they want to see pictures. So I showed them pictures.
Too British. Don't remind us of the Raj, they didn't say
Oh, pictures of people?

No, we don't tend to do the "stand in front of everything and take a photo with no facial expression at all" EVERYWHERE like the Indians do.

So I showed them all 4 pictures I had of people, and they seemed satisfied.

OK, camera away. Back in the bag, bag in the rack.

Turned out that would be the last time that that camera would work again, but who knows.

But on that note, fair play to them for actually speaking to me. It really got to me in the first couple of days: people staring, staring and staring, right in my face, and not stopping at all. Not getting the concept of discomfort or personal space at all. No, this is India, and when we are interested, it is intense interest - because everything about this country is intense.

Seriously, just talk to me. Make some attempt to communicate with me. Make me feel like I'm a human and not something that David Attenborough is whispering about.

The 4 hour journey turned into 6 hours, squashed into the corner of a train with a small child definitely trying to sleep under my armpit (not sure I'd recommend it) and people sat in the luggage racks. Oh, and of course large numbers of white cotton bags with who knows what inside.

Which get in your way when you try to get off with a pack on your back.

Jump, climb, no, don't step on the white bag.

OK, now get off on the non-platform side, because there are less people and packages to push out of the way and fall over.

I decided to walk around the front of the train to get to the platform, since I'm lazy and that was the shorter distance. Getting knocked over isn't an issue - they give a loud honk before they leave - which is great fun if you stay anywhere near a train station. Earplugs were made for this country.

So I walked to the front of the locomotive, which was a beast of a machine, and as I got to the front, of course the horn sounded.

OK, let's run across and try not to fall over.

In sandals.

On ballast.

Oh it's great fun.

The train didn't even move off for another couple of minutes.

Jumped into an autorickshaw and again white man subsidised the fare of a load of locals, even though I insisted that they pay the same as me before they get in. Of course not, this is India and every white man autorickshaw fare is 100 rupees. At least.

It got me to a hotel though, even if I wanted to go to the guesthouse of the same name because it was cheaper. Ah well, 500 a night won't kill me.

I wandered down the road into Orchha for a bit of food, and found a rooftop restaurant called Orchha Hut. I highly recommend the place - it's got a great view of the main temples, and the owner (and everyone else there) is incredibly friendly. Even if I couldn't really see anything because it was dark.

What a view. The detail, the intricacy.
So having seen the outline of the temples, I went into town to check them out.

50 metres down the road and I was accosted by an Indian girl called Puja. "Come into my home!"

After the last couple of cities I was a little sceptical, but went along with it. No, I'm genuinely being adopted by an Indian family. And they're feeding me again, even though I've just eaten. And my fingers and arms got attacked by the mum's jewellery. The mum, Mina, sold it on the market. Ah, now I understand.

It crossed my mind that maybe this was the plan all along, but what I realised was that this is India: everyone has a small business, and so they're always looking to make money. But in this case, unlike the uncle in Khajuraho, it was fine if I only spent 150 rupees. Or in fact, it was fine if I spent nothing at all.

"This one for your mama."

Ah, you're a good salesman. But my mum doesn't really do jewellery. But I'll buy her something, she'll appreciate it.

"Come back for lunch tomorrow? Promise? Promise? And celebrate the festival with us too."

Yes, definitely adopted by an Indian family.

So eventually I managed to leave and see the temples. I had a quick look, realised it was dark and that this is a slight obstacle to looking at temples, and turned around.
Doesn't quite look like this at night
Only to be accosted again. But the people here are genuinely friendly - they just want to talk, get to know me, understand me, and ALWAYS go for chai the next day.

Sorry Sachin, I'll go for chai next time I'm there. I also apologise for comparing you to Sachin Tendulkar, because that's basically blasphemy.

And his hotel did rooms for 300 rupees a night, like I was looking for in the first place. Dang.

2 hours spent in Orchha and I loved it already. It has the sights, the great architecture, and not too many tourists. Please don't tell the tour bus crowd. And people are genuinely friendly, as I learnt about India last time I came, and aren't just after my money. They're genuinely interested in me. Maybe this is the real India that I was looking for?

Day 2, let's go. But I'm minus a camera, because it broke at some point on the train journey. Just totally stopped working. But all the writing had rubbed off it, suggesting it got put under a fair amount of pressure. Indian luggage racks? Or maybe some kid decided to sit on it, or put his feet up on it. Because this is India, and lack of personal space extends to your possessions.

I digress. Blackberry pictures today then - the nearest camera shop is in the next town along.

I went back to the Hut for breakfast the next day. No, the view of the temples isn't much better, the sun's behind them. Oops. Enjoyed my omelette though. My cheese omelette. With cheese grated on top, just in case I didn't believe that it was a cheese omelette.

So on to the first temple. I'm a big fan of this type of architecture - Bundelkand era. And because I didn't have a proper camera, I have more reasons to come back. What a shame.

"Do you want to go on the roof?"

Of course I do.

I went up there with some French girls, which meant that it was an opportunity to pretend to speak French again. Among my "what's health and safety in Hindi" comments - no barriers, stairs that were bigger than the average dwarf and opportunities to fall over at ever corner.

But you got a flipping good view. Might have to camp out here at sunset at some point.

Dear Blackberry: this is one of the reasons that you're going under. Please develop a proper camera
And please, stop judging me for taking pictures on my phone. It's not my fault.

The guy who took us up was helpful enough, acting as a personal photographer a few times.

Even got a tikka. Aren't I just that cultured
So as we went down he did the usual Indian thing of asking for a tip.

But I only had 100s. I usually tip 20 rupees or something like that.

And you can't ask for change for your tip. Yes, I've tried.

OK, have 100, it's your lucky day. You're lucky that an Indian family have adopted me and are feeding me far too much. I'll head to the fort now.

To be fair, this is Orchha and he probably wouldn't have minded if I didn't give him anything.

Even on the market they aren't pushy. They show you what's on offer, offer you chai, and are genuinely friendly. Of course they want to sell - but they don't treat me like an ATM like I've experienced in the more touristy places. I bought a few old coins, and the price they gave me was hardly worth bargaining down. Shame, I enjoy a good bit of haggling.

So a good hour later, I actually made it across to the fort.

No, I don't have a camera, I don't need to pay the 25 rupee camera fee.

Aren't I just such a rebel today
My phone camera doesn't count, it's rubbish.

Talking of not touristy - the guides were sat down, didn't shout, didn't whine, weren't pushy and were absolutely fine when I told them I just wanted to have a wander round. Getting lost in forts is something that's still fun for me, given that I have a mental age of about 6.
Could be worse
I'm glad I just had a wander. The place is beautiful. So serene, so quiet, and so real! It was even falling apart in more than one place - the hole in the ground that meant I had to shimmy along a wall, perched a good 30m above ground, made me question what the Hindi was for "health and safety" once again. But only to myself, so it's acceptable.

To be fair, it's probably just "health and safety" in an Indian accent. It's always the amusing thing about languages I don't speak - how they've just adopted English phrases for things they don't have words for.

See you later
Either way, the place just seemed genuine. It's undiscovered, and I hope it stays that way - it could all too easily be ruined by the tour bus crowds. And that would ruin the whole atmosphere of the place - see any tourist destination in India for evidence. If this goes that way, they might need to open a mental hospital for me.

OK, I said I'd go for lunch at 1. It's 12:30, so I better leave. Given how many people I spoke to on the way, that was probably a good call. I even got invited in for chicken later in the day, which is always going to tempt a carnivore like me. Just better not indulge, as I've promised Puja that I'll join them for the festival later. And they'll probably over-feed me again. Not that I'm complaining, it sounds fairly heavenly to me.

So I made it for lunch as I'd promised. Then came the awkward moment a couple of hours later when I had to say "goodbye, be back later" because I hadn't quite seen everything yet. And given that I never spend anywhere near long enough in one place, that was a problem.

I wandered up to a hilltop temple, the Lakshi Narayan Temple, which had a few beggars outside. Except they weren't pushy in the slightest, and just played various makeshift musical instruments badly. All very civilised.

This temple was also decaying. And had Hindi graffiti, which amused me more than it should have. I climbed up the steps of the tower, thinking it would give me a better view. The steps were really dodgy too, and made the ones earlier look like a breeze - but I made it to the top.

This is a tower, in case you didn't know.
Only to find that the windows were bricked up.

I suppose I was due something like that.

I'll just have to settle for this then. Or the non-Blackberry'd version of it, anyway
Ranu, the owner of the Orchha Hut was up there too. Small world. Small town. I seem to know half of it already.

Though I found someone who I didn't really want to know that afternoon. A girl who looked about twelve definitely learnt her sales tactics from Agra or Varanasi, because she was pretty pushy! I had a "gift" foisted on to my wrist - some wristband with bells on.

Ah, so you've also learnt the "tag the tourist" tactic too. Great.

I should have pushed her away at that point, but unfortunately I pretty much got dragged across. She was a bit feisty. And her stall was crap as well.

So I chucked her 20 rupees for the "gift", she whined (of course) and demanded 50, and I just walked off and left her to cry alone.

And I eventually made it down to the Chattris (cenotaphs) as the sun was setting. They were meant to shut at 6, and it was about 4, so it should have been fine. I went for a wander inside them, tried to find the one I could climb to the top of, failed to do so, then eventually found it. At 4:30.

Someone shouted at me.

We're closing.

So I disappeared off around the corner to have a better look for a good 10 minutes. I've just found what I was looking for, so I will make the most of it.

THIS one? Who knows, they all look the same
The third time I got shouted at, I thought I'd better leave. So I slowly wandered out. It's definitely 4:30pm, not 6pm as advertised, so I will make you work a little bit longer likey you should be.

I went to watch the sunset from the fort instead. I genuinely considered taking an autorickshaw to get past fiesty salesgirl, but then remembered that I was a man and that I could probably deal with a whiny 12-year-old Indian girl. She just gave me evils as I walked past. Poor girl.

This seems like a perfectly relevant picture for right now.
I'd heard that the camel stables had a good view of the fort and some smaller temples for sunset, so I headed up that way, only to get told that the fort was closing and that I had to leave. So I continued with my rebellious streak and sneaked in, eventually finding some steps that hadn't been gated up and going for a look.


After dark I wandered back through the centre. I made a new souvenir-shop-owner friend, who was more interested in buying me chai than selling me anything. But I still took the painted metal camel that he'd been failing to shift for the past year since it caught my eye. 700 rupees was a bit of a bargain for what I got too. It can clutter my house with the other handicrafted animals.

Sorry, my parents' house. Having my own house requires a proper job. As if I'll have one of them for a while.

He taught me some useful phrases for Agra too. Cello means go!, while santi means quiet. CELLO, CELLO!

I tried to find my chicken friend from earlier, but lo and behold he was gone. Or maybe I just couldn't remember what he looked like and walked straight past him, but who knows. And someone let off a stupidly loud firework that I genuinely thought was a bomb going off - but that's festivals for you.

And there's always a festival.

This one was a festival of sweets, or so I picked up. The best kind of festival. So I went to my new Orchha family and oh they fed me well. I even celebrated the festival with them - they'd done their sacrifices and drawn the lotus flower (the people who sell the colours must do well) and so I joined them in walking around the fire 3 times. But this is in the back garden, so you have to duck under the washing line and not knock over the stick that's holding the fire up.

So THAT's what these are for
And always go clockwise. Always. Don't want Shiva to get angry at me.

Eventually I said my goodbyes, gave Mina a bit of money "for the family" (for my food!) and wandered back up to the hotel. And Puja, I will actually answer my phone at some point. I'm a bit rubbish at that.

It's a place I definitely want to come back to though. With a proper camera. So the camera fee better not go up, or I'll have to sneak it in again.

The real India has most definitely answered my call - and stood up.

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