For the past few days I've been to the most visited places in India, Delhi, Agra and finally Varanasi. Unfortunately I forgot to remove the tattoo from my forehead which reads 'Need Hashish, Guide & Hotel. Please help me !' as the touts just won't leave me alone.
After eight weeks traveling in India, I was beginning to wonder if there was much more to surprise me. Conclusion ? Your never far away from your next surprise, as I found out when I met a street Baba in Varanasi this morning.
This guy is your main man if your in need of any dentistry in Varanasi. You name it, he does everything from false teeth to fillings, crowns, teeth extraction, caps ... well he does the lot. And all at the 'Indian' price ... as much as you can afford. There was a queue and I was reliably told he knows your 'price bracket' before you've even opened your mouth (no pun intended). This chaps main qualification, I'm reliably told, was sitting outside a dentist for a good few years learning the finer arts of the trade while 'window shopping'. He now is, apparently, one of the main guys plying dentistry in Varanasi, even for the well off who want to get their teeth fixed fast, with no need for an appointment ! His shop sports a ever so scientific chart proclaiming 'The key to good health is good teeth', now a dirty shade of yellow, thanks to the rickshaws hammering down the road just a few meters from his dentists chair ... which is, errrrrrr, technically speaking, actually in the road.
Sadly this Baba nor many of his clientele are very clued up on HIV nor any of the other nasty infections transmitted though needles, which are rife in India, such as Hepatitis. For anything requiring anesthesia, you get a choice of needles, used or new. Of course the new ones cost, and you have to wait for someone to run off and buy one. As I milled about on the street watching, a young girl arrived for a filling in what was obviously a very sore and rotten tooth. I could see her thinking about the choice of needle. She choose new. And it was not a happy yelp she gave when the needle went in. At this point, I did not stay any longer. This evening, I did however get a view of my Waiters new front teeth. He was very happy thanks to baba. It does make me wonder what he Indian government, NGO's and humanity can do to help the poor of India with their teeth, which seem to be in a very poor state through years of drinking super sweet Chai and Chewing Paan, all leading to no choice but Baba if your poor. I am sure allot can done though education on prevention.
Thanks to my protracted stay in Dharamsala, i didn't get much time in Delhi other than a whistle-stop tour of the sights, which did not impress me much, probably as they are dwarfed by many of the places I have already visited in Rajasthan. I did however meet some money changers on the street and they were interesting.
These chaps change money. Lots of it. Trade in your old wrinkly notes for new ones ... only for a 5% commission. Even better, trade them in for coins and get more for your money ! We struggled a little thought the Hindi-English language barrier, but I understood a 10 rupee note will get you something like 11 rupees in coins. What a great way to make money (pun intended this time). I just wonder what cut the policeman in the booth next door gets ?
After less than 24 hours in Delhi, I headed for Agra, home of the Taj Mahal and you guessed it ... the quintessential shot from India that everyone expects. This Photograph nor any that I have seen do any justice to the magnificence of this building. Its simply stunning, especially in low light.
Thankfully there were not many people there. But then it was 5.45am.
But sadly I don't remember Agra for the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri or even the wonderful Mausoleum of Akbar. I remember it because I got sick again. Another bout of Delhi Belly, this time with dehydration throw in for good measure. On the eve of leaving India being sick has to be absolutely the WORST thing about india. I'm not sure you can avoid it during eight weeks, without being a hermit. It what i hate the most. This being the third time I've mentioned my bowel movements on this blog, I would like to apologise for the repressiveness.
I bolted for a AC room in Varanasi, saw a doctor for yet another bout of medication and settled in for some rest and recuperation. A day or so later, I was ready to venture out and discover the Varanasi that I've read and heard so much about. Its one of the oldest spiritual cities of the world, maintaining its religious life since the 6th century BC. Ands its a fascinating place to watch the world go by; Thousands of Pilgrims coming to the banks each morning and evening to spiritually cleanse themselves in the sacred waters of the Ganga (Ganges); Brahmen performing Puga (worship) on its banks; Pilgrims letting burning candles float off down the Ganges; 24 hour cremations at the burning Ghats; the scattering of the ashes; Children swimming and playing; Mother watching on; Cricket being played in every available space on the Ganges Banks; Cows blocking the narrow alleyways; Dung everywhere; The hustle and bustle of life in the alleyways .... Its was a great place to recover.
Tomorrow, I'm off to Katmandu so it is time to say goodbye to India. I have given a lot of thought to my original plans to visit the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan following China. With the recent terrorisim in Pakistan, with a bombing in Lahore just a few days after I left, I've decided to pass on Pakistan and I hope to return to India. I will head to the wonderful himalayan kingdom of Ladakh which is high and dry, away from the effect of the monsoons. I hope it will provide a memorable alternative.
I will miss India. Its an enchanting place, which has me hooked... albeit not while I was sick.