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Rhymer´s Travel Diary: Entry 6, March 23, 2002
Digusting old woman, the Ganges, Dog Eats Leg
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Coming from the UK, you tend to forget that train journeys (or in our case a combined train-coach-plane journey) can take four or five days. Still, big train journey number two, a piffling 3000km from one end of India to the other is, thus far, a considerable improvement on our experience of a month ago. Largely because we paid someone from our (surprisingly) swanky hotel to go to the train station and queue for our tickets. Sounds terrible, I know, but I just look on it as a valuable contribution to the local economy. Besides, this time we got the tickets we paid for.

Old Vomit

That said, the first leg, our coach journey (only 602km) from Katmandu to Varanasi, was the worst I have ever taken, mainly because the bus had no suspension. We drove through Nepal in the dark which was probably for the best - as there is nothing you can do about the 200m cliff on your right, you may as well not see it. The tedium of traveling in the dark was ameliorated somewhat by the usual succession of military checkpoints and the DOW (disgusting old woman). The DOW puked almost solidly from Katmandu to the Nepali border making a variety of noises more normally associated with the Alien films. Even when we stopped she continued vomiting, usually by sticking her fingers (or at one point, it appeared, her entire fist) down her throat. I know it’s considered insensitive to carp about those who are ill, but after five hours of solid (as it were) regurgitation, I had to conclude she was simply a revolting human being.

At the border we lost the DOW (along with anything that remained in her stomach) and switched coaches, finding ourselves seated in front of an Israeli couple. He was nice enough, she, sporting nose rings and garbed in ethno-tat, utterly obnoxious. When Jane went to put her seat back, she objected with surprising venom, shrieking that she didn’t have enough room for her legs. Well, replied Jane, the people in front of us have their seats back and you have your seat back, so it seems only fair that we should be allowed ours back. But this logic cut little ice: her Elle McPherson-like legs required Jane’s seat to be fully upright. Eventually a bad natured compromise was reached with several hours bitching and kicking from behind. Funnily enough, when we got off the coach, I noticed that although she was several inches taller than Jane, her legs were markedly shorter, giving her a curious, malproportioned aspect. Poor love, Jane’s inconsiderate insistence on having her seat back must have crushed them.

Staying with God

Arriving back in India is a culture shock in the rare real sense of the expression. Both India and Nepal are poor, but Nepal is small and bijou – cute, cuddlesome poverty. India is all chaos and casual squalor. And the Indians last took the rubbish out back in the early 1950s. We finally left our bus noir in Varanasi, Hinduism’s holiest city on the banks of the Ganges. I must say, I didn’t really give a toss about Varanasi, but Jane was interested and it turned out she was right. We wound up with a rickshaw driver who became our best mate (although he was probably ripping us off and from the term of address he was using I couldn’t tell whether he was being deferential or insulting). Our first stop was the ATM. Largely for cultural reasons the Indian banking system is underdeveloped and ATMs are a novelty in Varanassi - our man had a great keeness for them: ‘Very small box! You put in numbers! New currency comes out!’ he repeated with considerable enthusiasm.

Replete with he rupees we motored on to the aforementioned surprisingly swanky hotel, an oasis of calm amongst the usual frenetic mess. In Varanasi – and, to some extent most Indian cities – many of the hotels/ travel agents/ eateries are named after Hindu deities. Viz: the Vishnu guesthouse; the Ganeesh Garage; Shiva’s restaurant etc. This has certainly set me thinking about gaps in the home market. As soon as I get back to London I shall be casting around for investors in the Jesus Christ Hotel and the Holy Ghost Bar and Grill.

Yes, your Dog Would.

Disappointingly the Ganges - which is reputed to be filthy and full of corpses - appeared to be little dirtier than the Thames (though I suppose you can’t see coliform bacteria) and had a notable lack of floaters. But, by way of recompense, our boatman rowed us past one of the ‘Buring Ghats’ where, yes, they do burn bodies. Being a culturally insensitive tourist (natch) I took a couple of snaps, though hopefully from a discrete distance. Closer and we could see the burning ghat was covered in huge piles of firewood while down the centre steps the dead, wrapped in their finery were appearing every ten minutes, awaiting their turn to be burnt. Very moving, I thought, this vicarious sharing of private grief…but my attention was soon diverted by the cute baby puppy who was dragging something out of the embers of a pyre which he proceeded to attack with enthusiasm. Aieeee! It looked like a leg of pork, but not many pigs wear sandals…

Satisfied that we had we had seen a real live dead body (or at least leg) we left Varanasi and are now in Delhi waiting for the Kerela express which takes 48 hours to get to Trivandrum where we are meeting Dominic and Emma. I have to say I am greatly looking forward to seeing people who know the real – rather than the polite – me.