As usual, I was the only member of my family who bothered to turn and listen to what the airhost (I’m assuming this is the correct term for the male version) had to say.
-“I’m sorry but it looks like we may have to land in Mumbai instead”
Aghast, I quickly commanded my parents to pay attention to his announcement (as Mexicans, everything tends to be very dramatic with us). Unwilling to understand, we made to poor man repeat this several times before we gasped (and whined) “but WHY?!” Apparently north Indian fog was pretty heavy, and if it didn’t clear in 20 minutes we’d get a free 16 hour road trip to Delhi. On top of arriving at 2am. Now I’m conscious that I’m sounding snobby and pretentious, but I was really looking forward to staying at our (only) luxury hotel of the trip (complements of the awful attacks- which to our advantage lowered prices). I generally live on a minimum of 8hr sleep (preferably 10) with an extra 2hr beauty nap. Before this flight I managed a record average of 6hrs for an entire month plus a couple of bottles a night (round of applause please).
While the drinking may not have been abnormal, the lack of slumber was. I had only managed this because of the detox dream India’s capital promised. I was flabbergasted. I thought he was lying. The airhost was a conspirator. A colluder with a hidden agenda. Who ever heard of thick fog in India anyway? Hadn’t they seen the sunny tourism adverts? I’m wasn’t so easily fooled… But obviously, even after 60 years of independence, India hasn’t quite yet freed itself from British weather…
The acrid smells of rotten eggs and chemicals welcomed me as I made my entry into the land of incredible things. I remember the chaos. Visual and phonetic chaos. It reminded me so much of Mexico. Lines and lines of men holding mini blackboards expecting the many Smith’s, Jones, Schwartz’s, Klein’s, Saint-Antoine’s and Antonini’s. My lips were pursed as I absorbed all the sights and sounds. Occasionally I would chuckle at their signs. For instance: the main company of the formerly-turquoise-now-brown buses claimed to be ‘the world’s largest eco-friendly transport system’; road signs asserted that ‘lane driving was sane driving’ and others pleaded to ‘say no to bear dancing’. It was all so surreal.
You’ll be glad to know that my ideas of sipping cocktails and soaking sun by the swimming pool were soon dispelled. No bikinis and mini-skirts for me. I realized this at the market the next day. Taking a tour on a rickshaw (a bicycle carriage) it soon became evident that the men could not rip their eyes away from my mother- more specifically, her half-covered calves. They dribbled on them as if they were her exposed cleavage… and that was the end of that. My furious father condemned us to ali-baba pants for the rest of our stay. I now own every possible colour: purple, red, black, beige, white, mustard; you name it. Thanks to the conservative customs of Delhi I have now acquired an extensive library-wear wardrobe. Thankful as I am for this new supply of garments, I was much surprised to see the situation of women. This booming industry, future powerhouse of the world, barely had a female on the street. I was expecting the boisterous Bollywood dame- I found no trace of her. The Business vixens? No way- silence their potential power with marriage. The general belief of their demeaned worth is so bad the government feels the need to create TV-ads with father’s who claim that ‘girls are great in a family too’. The only working women I observed hauled the heavy loads men usually carry. It was to job given to the untouchables. Yes. Everybody has equal rights in India, but the caste-system is still very much alive. In villages, each group has their own well, own diet (vegetarians at the top, pork lovers at the bottom), own hygiene. Cohabitation in some areas is pretty peaceful- but in others, such as Bihar or even in the surroundings of Bangalore, caste violence is evident. As a result of being ‘hunted’ for the sport of it (yes, you read correctly) or having their homes purposefully burnt, Dalits (at the bottom of the caste-ladder) have retaliated and killed upper-caste youths. And now they’re all stuck in a spiral of revenge.
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression of India. Its beautiful, its amazing. Take the Taj Mahal. I was personally not bothered to pay the 750 rupee entry fee (an outrageous price by Indian standards, they only have to pay 20)… until I saw it. Ok, that sounds over-the-top cliché, but you get my point: it deserves its ‘wonder of the world’ title. And not everyone gets their guide to sing Ricky Martin near Lady D’s bench…Agra (the Taj’s hometown) is another thing altogether and I recommend you leave once you’ve checked the pearly tomb off your list. Besides, there are nasty restaurant complots going on. After eating a yummy and cheap snack, you double over with sudden pain, probably in your belly, whilst on a rickshaw. The driver, or maybe even your hotel manager, take you to a doctor who immediately prescribes ‘the’ antidote. You don’t feel any better. The doctor assures you that its ok, he’ll take personal care of you in his private clinic- just hand over you’re insurance number. While you suffer and squirm, the doctor, the driver, the hotel and restaurant managers are rinsing Endsleigh. Now who would want to risk such a horror story?
Go to Orchha and see the sunrise (something you end up doing a lot).
Or Kajurao. That’s the temple complex where sculptures distort their bodies in impossible sex poses. Sensuality surrounds you and you even begin to envy the trees- who somehow seem to reproduce the intertwining of limbs on the body of their trunks. Isolated temples at the
other end of town are still active (i.e. people go pray). There was a time when newly wed couples would spend their first night at the temple…what they got up to I can’t say… But the buttered Brahmin diet clogged a groom’s arteries with cholesterol and the excitement was too much. His bride was widowed by dawn, and naughty nights at the temple came to an end forever- officially at least.
Or Varanasi. Go there. See families burn their dead relatives. Observe the smoky incense rites by the river. Light a floating candle and make a wish. Admire the sunset. But don’t, whatever you do, drink the Ganges, don’t bathe in it- even if it insults your guide. Varanasi locals should be subjected to scientific study as proof of
evolution. There is no way a foreigner could survive ingesting even two drops of the holy water. Waste lines the shore, rocks keep rotting leper bodies at the bottom of the river, human ashes cover the chemical waters. The Ganges is God for them. Maybe they’re right to see it that way- it’s a miracle they don’t all die from it.
After I finally arrived home I realized that India’s fog had added 37 hours to my travelling. But the delays of trains, planes (which also got cancelled), and driving taught me so much more and allowed me to see stuff that no guidebook could suggest. They say ‘the fog of war’ because all the variables of war are so complex no human can fully understand it. Well I don’t like war, but the phrase seems entirely appropriate to this place. I learned to love the fog of India, both metaphorically and literally.