India: Tombs and Temples and Booze

Alright, I’m reasonably sober and fed and hydrated now. So, before I jump into the narrative of what’s gone on, let me first list interesting things I have found in Indian culture:

  • A monk wearing converse
  • Everybody calls celebrating Holi ‘playing Holi’
  • Bhang is a marijuana smoothie that will fuck you up
  • The men all hold hands and casually caress one another while they chat and this is completely normal and expected
  • Cows have right of way, always, and go wherever they damn well please without obstruction
  • Sex massages are readily available, if my last tuk tuk driver is to be believed
  • There are stray dogs everywhere, always, and they lounge around in packs of 5 or 6
  • People stop you in the street constantly to sell things, but also to take photos with a white person. I’ve not turned anyone down so far, which I suppose means my time here will be immortalised in the photo albums of some 25 Indian families spread across the sub continent
  • When someone greets what you are saying with a positive/affirmative response, they don’t nod, they wiggle their head from side to side, like those toys people put on the dashboard of their cars. I love it.
  • People randomly wave and say hello, and it’s lovely, but I’ve no idea why
  • People stare, always, constantly, without any embarrassment if you catch them. I’ve taken to simply nodding and smiling politely and carrying on walking
  • The food is delicious but I’ve no idea what any of it is. I just had a lunch consisting of rice and potatoes because I thought the potatoes would come in a sauce but alas, no
  • I watched a fly dutifully clean its wings as I ate my potatoes and rice and realised that they are surprisingly dexterous, and we should give them more credit
  • There are occasionally armed guards, but they just lounge in the shade chatting. Just now I saw one reclined in a deck chair with his gun left idling between his legs, aimed squarely at his own face

That’s most of it so far.

So, the morning after Holi I woke up and realised I hadn’t eaten all day. I totally blacked out the previous night and woke up panicked, with no idea where I was. Was painfully thirsty but had no idea where to get water from. I considered drinking from the tap but decided dehydration was preferable to dysentery.

I had a meagre breakfast and sat with the guys from the previous evening; Emma, Caitlyn, Mariya and Fran. They invited me to join them in with their day’s explorations. I tagged along and we left the hostel at 11am, straight into the heat and chaos of New Delhi. We hailed tuk tuks to Humayan’s Tomb, a Mughal emporer of which I knew nothing and still know nothing of because there are no signs explaining anything. The tomb was nice though; my first taste of ancient Indian architecture.

It struck me how unstruck I was by the mayhem of Delhi. I was a little disappointed at the fact that I felt quite chilled about it all, but I suppose after Berlin, after Havana, after Hanoi and Saigon and Nadi, I’m fairly used to frantic, noisy cities and human-made grime. However, the level of destitution in Delhi – and India in general – is astonishing. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands – fuck it, if not millions of people living in Delhi are on the street. It really puts into perspective how tightly we hold our government to account in the UK. Furious speeches are made in parliament every week over homelessness, but it is absolutely nothing compared to India. It’s unbelievable how the government here hasn’t been ransacked and overthrown a hundred times over. People seem to just accept their lot in life here – you are born poor, you stay poor, you get on with it, you die. I feel more privileged and lucky than ever before in my life.

After the temple we headed to Connaught Place, which is a district with shops and restaurants and bars, all cramped in together, crumbling. We chose a cheap looking restaurant that I would have been far too scared to enter were I on my own, and had Tali, which is a lunchtime spread of 7 or 8 different curries and India treats. Every mouthful was delicious, at once complex and tender yet spicy and bold. Mariya told me that they spend hours and hours preparing the ingredients here, even in cheap establishments; they toil over their food and strive for perfection. The only downside to this is that hygiene standards are abysmal and Western stomachs take time to adjust to the new foodstuffs, so I fully expect to loudly shit my pants at some point.

After eating we hit up a market. Now: I hate markets. I hate shopping. I hate buying things and browsing and sales people and haggling and every aspect of acquiring new shit. It just bores me, it always has, and as the years go by it bores me more and more. But whatever, the others wanted to shop – to very slowly shop. Fran bought some harem pants, the girls bought trinkets, I got a book called The Alchemist on Emma’s recommendation. I’ve read 10 pages; seems cool.

We walked to India Gate as the sun was dipping lower and took some snaps, but got far more taken of us by the other India tourists. People wanted me to pose with them for selfies, with their kids, shake their hands, you name it. I won’t lie, I quite enjoyed the hubbub. It was certainly surreal.

After, we got a taxi to Akshardham, which I understood was some kind of enormous temple and grounds. We queued up for an hour, and got in just after sundown, walking around the complex in bare feet and enjoying the warm evening air. The temple was achingly beautiful and impossibly ornate, however the impact was dulled somewhat to learn that it was only completed in 2005. It was still impressive, of course, but what gives mammoth structures part of their mystery is wondering how on earth ancient folks constructed them. With Akshardham, it was just like: cranes. Still though, very pretty.

The inside of the temple was a glittering acid trip of Hindu mythology, filled with gigantic golden statues and towering white marble ceilings, every surface painstakingly detailed with tens of thousands of marble figures, all adorned with outrageously colourful jewels. I actually gasped when I entered.

We attended a water and light show in the western wing of the temple’s grounds after, with some four or five thousand people in attendance. There weren’t any white tourists in the temple, which made me feel like we were being treated to something a little more authentic – as opposed to the previous day, when their didn’t look to be many local India people at all at the Holi Moo festival. We were treated to 25 minutes of Hindu lore, accompanied by dancers, jets of light and water and flame, and 4 storey projections of the gods. It was breathtaking; it really was.

We made our way home after, our taxi taking around 40 minutes to cross the madness of the city. We’d missed dinner at the hostel so skipped eating and bought a ton of booze instead. Two bottles of rum and a bunch of beers. We sat on the roof, looking out over Delhi, orange moon high above, warm evening breeze, twinkling fairy lights beneath twinkling stars, and we got shitfaced.

Barely been in the country 48 hours. Two months of this all to come.

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