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Published: March 21st 2013
India 9 - 'An Indian Swansong'
Pong and Amritsar 15th March 2013 'An Indian Swansong'
Mumbai-Udaipur-Ranakpur-Jodhpur-Nagaur-Roopangarh-Jaipur-Ranthambore Keoladeo-Fatehpur Sikri-Chambal
We're going to Pong. I’m not at all surprised; we have been travelling for nearly five weeks now and it’s been quite warm every day. But never fear, the dhobi wallah has returned our laundry and we’re as fresh as a daisy once more.
It’s the town of Pong we’re heading for today. It derives its living from local resources of fish in the huge reservoir and lumber on the hillsides, and its lakeshore hotel provides a convenient stopover on our taxi ride from Dharamsala to our final destination, Amritsar.
Lush fertile valleys line our route, and beyond the pot-holed roads the pink and white blossom of cherry and apple orchards, deep rocky gorges, boulder-strewn valleys and river-beds reduced to a trickle awaiting the monsoon waters from the glorious backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Our hired car and driver from Dharamsala will be with us for two days as we enter the Punjab of bright coloured turbans and long grey beards, buffalo- and
pony-drawn carts on the road and bustling townships selling nothing but the necessities of life. Green terraces rise from the valley floor in veiled mountain sunshine, bright with acacia and the yellow of mustard fringed with the dusky blue of wild ageratum, and monkeys fleeing from our path as our driver hoots his horn.
The miles are long in India. The roads are busy with lorries, incredibly dusty and lacking in maintenance and it’s impossible to expect an average speed of more than 20 mph (33 kph). There is some hope of better things to come, for amongst the billowing dust and disruption new roads and town fly-overs are under construction in an effort to speed the nation’s prosperity. But travelling by car is remarkably cheap, with diesel at Rs47.12 (0.59p) and petrol Rs73.55 (0.92p) per litre and our journeys shared between the three of us.
Faded and jaded advertising on hoardings, shops and homes (and anything else that stands still), bring forth the virtues of restaurants, mobile phones, cement (an important ingredient for building a new India), red-oxide paint to stop the country rusting away, motorbikes, and schools promising a host of qualifications
as education sets India on course for a new sunrise. I’m not too sure about the ads for ‘Crash Courses’ though, assuming it has something to do with driving, for which many seem to have passed with flying colours.
The Lodge at Pong promised much. Our hotel in the sky, an afternoon of wildlife boating on the reservoir and sunrise from our balcony set the pulse racing. But the reality was an anonymous 80’s concrete building perched on the top of a hill like a bunion and a dilapidated tub of a boat the owl and the pussycat would be reluctant to set sail in, with little-or-no access to the reservoir whilst local fishermen tended their nets in the afternoon of our arrival. That bit, they didn’t tell us. Their website doesn't reflect the reality. At least we had half an hour on the lake sucking diesel fumes, we did get to enjoy the sunrise from our rooftop room and the break from a long drive was welcome. Our driver finally left us at our hotel in Amritsar the following day , turning the car around to face the long journey all the way back to Dharamsala
on his own. Amritsar
The Golden Tulip Hotel offered a welcome touch of class and extreme politeness fit to rose-tint our glasses at this final hour of our travels in India. I stand accused of such sunset-pink ramblings by some skeptics on Travelblog, though I truly do my best to paint the pictures as I see them, including all shades of grey and beyond.
I recall as a child the days of German bombings in London, huddled in school shelters, watching V1 rockets plummet to the earth, the constant rattle of anti-aircraft guns and the nightly roar of warplanes overhead. But I have no recollection of fear. That’s how it was, and I suspect that’s how it is for those who live here in India. Life stands bare before our eyes.
Through the eyes of a visitor, I see open drains and litter-strewn streets. I see poverty wherever I look; those with no home other than a sheet of plastic, yesterday’s newsprint or a shoddy blanket. I see those scratching a living along with scavenging pigs and wandering cows. I see a fast-growing middle class enjoying the fruits of their labours. I also see
Indian high kicker!
a wealth of beauty in art and architecture. I see a sea of colour to make your eyes pop, a drama-filled history and glorification of faith in all things mythical and religious – and I see underneath all that a wealth of happiness in people’s eyes. That’s India, and that’s how it is. In India, this is the norm. Money doesn't buy happiness but merely another way of living.
With 500 million in India still classified as ‘poor’ and making no visible contribution to the economy, the Welfare State, as we know it, to support them is a long way off. Interest rates on your savings can presently earn you some 7 - 9.5%!r(MISSING)eturn, but inflation is running at 6.8%!a(MISSING)nd that makes borrowing for home-loans for the growing middle class Indian out of the question for most.
After a brief stop to unpack at the Golden Tulip we were off by taxi to Wagah on India's border with Pakistan for an evening's rowdy entertainment. Amritsar will wait for another dawn. Wagah
Tension continues along India’s border with Pakistan here; that thin line drawn in haste when this sub-continent was given
its freedom and the British finally left. There is a lighter side to be witnessed though, not far from Amritsar at the Attari Border Post at Wagah. It's a bundle of fun for thousands of flag-touting tourists, 99%!I(MISSING)ndian and Pakistani, from both sides of the border; military bugle blowing and order calling, cheer-leaders whipping up the fervor of cheering and shouting crowds waving their arms and chanting for their country. This is a noisy, nightly, border-closing ceremony, high on the list of family outings, there to witness the high-kicking and posturing, foot-stamping, silly walking comedy from cockaded-hat-wearing, smartly attired, uniformed soldiers on both sides of the border gates. And it all culminates in a friendly hand-shake between the last two men standing, as the sun sets in the west and the gates finally close for the night! We’ve no idea how it all started, but it’s a lesson in cross-border diplomacy we could all learn a thing-or-two from. I’ll be first in the queue for the Israeli – Palestinian event and be prepared to wave two flags for reconciliation. The Golden Temple- Amritsar
2013 marks the first day of
the Nanakshahi calendar and for Sikh devotees this is an auspicious day to take to the waters of the 16th
Century, Sri Harmandar Sahib, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion; the Golden Temple in Amritsar as we in the West would know it better. With its four entrances a new faith was created, Sikhism, accessible to every person without any distinction of caste, creed, sex and religion. Brightly attired ladies and colourfully turbaned men with fine beards milled around us in their thousands, the unexpected crowds drawn to the Holy waters to bathe on this special day. Shoes removed and heads covered, we entered the temple complex through an ornate archway, spellbound at the vastness of the calm blue pool ( the Amrit Sarovar from which the City of Amritsar is named) surrounded by stunning pure-white buildings - and the centrepiece, the glistening Golden Temple itself, its golden dome shaped like an upturned lotus. We circled the pool twice that morning, breathing the soul and colours of Sikhism, though saddened just a little by our inability to view the inside of the temple; the ten-deep queue an eternity to navigate.
the cloud of dust that hosts our fond memory of India there are pictures of crumbling buildings, dust and decay, reinforcing rods and concrete, 34 days of clear blue skies and glorious sunshine clouded with the grey of poverty beyond belief and jostling bazaars of colourful people. Our white faces have been the subject of considerable curiosity and brought us a wealth of new friends in the blur of India’s towns, villages and crowded cities and the joy of the same spicy food for breakfast, lunch and dinner will surely be remembered forever. We’re starting to think of going home.
Next stop Delhi and Heathrow Airport, London. There will be chewing gum all over the pavements and it will be raining if it’s not snowing. It will certainly be dark and cold whatever time we arrive. London’s M25, once considered manic, will be reclassified as ‘placid’, there will hopefully be no cows on the central reservation and all traffic will be travelling in the same direction. There will be pavements without holes, manholes with covers, we can drink water from the tap and there will be TV we can understand if we can stand the rubbish we’re
expected to watch. Passengers will not be allowed on top of the National Express coach and we’re unlikely to see sari-dressed ladies in pink wellies mixing cement, despite our stringent equality laws. We can now stop taking Colostrum, Mike's magic pills as they are politely known by his friends in India, that have surely saved us from the ravages of Delhi-belly, and we’re pleased to say we had no need of the three packs of Immodium Plus we took with us for emergencies. At great expense we did take our Malarone as prescribed, though we failed to see a mosquito. Better safe than sorry as my doctor will tell me.
Now for a good English breakfast: two eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms - and wholemeal bread, lightly toasted, with marmalade. It’s good to be home.
We must give enormous thanks to my younger brother Mike, for his supreme knowledge of India learned through love, his congenial company, his excellent organizational skills and for the great care he has taken to ensure we should love India too. For Mike’s take on India, you might like to follow him here: Keep Smiling
Goodbye India. I
should like to think we’ll be back someday.
David and Janice
Pong: The Lodge at Pong. Nothing to write home about – so we won’t.
Amritsar: Golden Tulip Hotel. Great!
Scroll down for more pictures – and up for more panoramas!
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