Sunday, April 01, 2012

Time for a change of scenery

My last full day in India. This has been the longest I’ve spent here after a camp. It’s
really been enjoyable. I feel it’s the first time when I’m able to be on my own in India and explore it without being managed by others or had 40 Afghans connected to me. India can be an overwhelming place, but I have come to appreciate it and really like it. The people are wonderful, the food is great and there are so many beautiful places to see.
Being kicked out of Turkmenistan has not been a shining moment in my career and it upsets me
that I’ve let my colleagues there down. Yet everything happens for a reason. Maybe I’m just not cut out for living in repressive regimes. I don’t know whhat’s going to happen next but I do know it’s going to be all right. Maybe this is a sign to finish my book as I promised myself (yes I think that’s a plan). Given free time to roam about the world for a bit is great. I’m looking forward to two weeks in Ethiopia visiting Bob and Denis. I really know little about Ethiopia and am looking forward to exploring this new and exciting place. Not everyone looks at Ethiopia as such a place but it should be a great trip. In a few hours I’m off to the Ethiopian embassy to get my visa and tomorrow it’s goodbye Delhi and hello Addis Ababa!
I found out on Friday morning that my yellow fever shot was out of date and I needed a new
one. So I furtively searched the Internet looking for places in Delhi to do that, which there were but none on Mondays (my only day to do it). In a blog entry, there was a doctor in Chandighar, 4 hours away, that does yellow fever shots, so I called him found out where he was located at 1 pm was on a bus down the hill to Chandighar. Now the last thing I wanted to do on my last day in Shimla was spent most of the day on a bus, but this was important and needed to be done. Plus after a week up in the hills, I needed an adventure. The bus flew down the winding roads though villages and towns, filling our half empty bus with more and more passengers. By the time we got down to the bottom in Kalka, the place was packed. At the bus station in Chandighar, I negotiated a car to take me to Dr. Gupta’s clinic and then back to Shimla and off I went. Dr. Gupta is a pediatrician who also provides yellow fever vaccinations to wandering foreigners like myself. His office is tucked upstairs in a shopping center, very clean and nice. At 2,800 rupees a shot, the yellow fever business can be very lucrative. So after four hours on a bus, I had 15 minutes with Dr. Gupta and then was back on my way up the mountain to Shimla. My driver was a young guy named Ishan. His English was not great but we practiced along the way up the twisty, winding roads. He has a nasty sounding girlfriend who kept calling and yelling at him. I told him I’s throw the phine out the window if she kept calling or talk to her myself. He seems like a nice guy and doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. He told me all she wants is money (which he doesn’t have a lot of), I told him to get rid of her.
Ishan is from Dharamsala but has come down to Chandighar to be a driver. He’s been here for about a year, and doesn’t really like it. He’s always working and earns a mere 7,000 rupees a month (about $125). I guess that’s good in some places but with a rent and other things, it doesn’t leave him a lot left over. He dreams of going “foreign place” as he says, like Australia or Europe to work, but his English is not so good. Along the way we stopped for dinner at McDonald’s, my treat. It’s probably the first time he’s been invited to dinner with a client, sitting at the same table, and havng the client pay for it. He deserved it. We arrived in Shimla around 10:00 and he had to turn around and go back down the hill, poor guy. We met a friend of his along the way who was driving some people up, so at least he had some company on the way back down.
On my last morning in Shimla, I wanted one last walk up to the Jakhoo Temple to pray to
Hanuman. Early to rise and up the hill I went huffing and puffing along the way through the forest. This mountain air takes something out of me. Got up to the top amid lots of monkey activity around the main temple. They were jockeying for a prime position, and the dogs were barking at them to keep them at bay. It was breakfast time and they were looking for a handout of halwa or some other treat from the worshippers. While sititng on a bench, suddenly a monkey leapt up and snatched my glass off my face. I looked over at this monkey by a tree, my glasses dangling in his hand. There’s a trick to getting them back—you give the monkey something else and they drop the thing they’ve snatched from you. So one man handed the monkey a bit of food and voila he dropped my glasses and ran off with the food instead. Clever little system they have figured out.
The small café I usually have tea at was open and advertised breakfast, of which there was nothing really exciting (Instant noodles for breakfast? Yuck). So I opted for tea and one last quiet moment up on the hill. My solitude was not to be for I was almost immediately joined by a Hindu wise man who had eyed me inside the temple and tried to get me to sit with him. He was one of those devout Hindus who roams form temple to temple, living off the kindness of others. Harmelss yet a little crazy. His robes were of white and orange and his hair was long and matted in the back. The café worker eyed him suspiciously as if him knew the man’s story and didn’t want him bothering me, but he was really benign. He sat with me and offered me some halwa and channa. If I couldn’t have pranthas for breakfast, I might as well have so halwa. He told me he has two brothers in Chicago and that’s about all he could tell me in English. We took a picture together, I ate osme of his food, finished my tea and was off down the hill to go pack and get to my train.
One of the highlights of coming or going to Shimla is the toy train that takes you up and down the hill. Built by the British, this little train winds its way up and down the mountain. It
really is a pleasant train ride as you rumble slowly through the forests and small towns. It evokes the time of the Raj and in a way you are transported back to a different India. The journey is slow, about 5.5 hours but overall is worth it. In tiny cars you get to meet others and enjoy the scenery. By the last hour
everyone seems to be over the trip and ready to get off, but for most of the time, it’s a great train trip. At the end of the line in Kalka, I had about two hours to spare before my train to Delhi, so I had a
bite to eat and sat around people watching. It was a beautiful time to be on the station platform, in the late afternoon with the sun making its way down towards evening. I really enjoyed that time on the platform watching the different people go by. The train to Delhi was quite comfortable and they
amount of food they served was amazing. It seemed like every 10 minutes they were giving us something to eat; snacks with tea, soup, dinner, ice cream, a bottle of water. It was great. Arriving in Delhi, a driver I met last week, Ashok, came to pick me up at the station and take me to the Vishal, my home in Delhi. Some tandoori chicken and a cold beer and I was ready for bed. A nice ending to an enjoyably long day!

1 comment:

LadyLucas said...

So interesting and so brave ;) I never met anyone in my life with such wanderlust! I miss you! Have fun!