I hear a giggle behind me and turn back my head to see two beautifully glimmering brown, wide eyes staring at me. We are sat on a cramped bus with our stuff piled on us. The baby is standing on their mother’s lap, a huge grin smeared across the face and reaching a wobbling hand out in a struggle to stand, even with mum’s support. Giggling again, I get a smack across the nose. “Hahaha.” Now people are staring, smirking. I politely bow and say “namaste” to the little fellow. Smack. “Gahaha heh.” Mummy sits the child in her lap indifferently. Turning back to the face the front, I sit comfortably once more. Then I feel a tugging on my hood and notice the baby pointing outside. When I look the finger is whipped back and fits off laughter erupt. I can imagine the child thinking ha, fooled you so I pull a silly face and turn around again. The rest of the journey from Old bus stand to New bus stand in Shimla is filled with such confrontations. Maria’s only comment? “Well, with a face like that I’d laugh at you too.”
It is strange how the smallest thing like that can brighten your day – sometimes when travelling and boarding your second 10 hour over night seating bus you have to ask ‘Is this meant to be fun?’ Of course, it is actually fun. It is truly inspiring, thrilling and an extraordinary experience. But it sure is a tiring at times too!
Here is an A to Z of my travels, 30 days in
A – Angrez aka gora – those white people walking around with a lot of luggage looking a little confused. (I would like to think that with a combination of Hindi and 7 and a half months experience we look a little less confused but I am not sure how true that is…)
B – Bun butter – meeting the girls from PT in Ahmadabad in a dodgy cafe selling delicious butter buns. It was interesting hearing their experience of India and fantastic to see them again – they are doing an incredible job working in their project by the sounds of it. Kudos to them.
C – (lots and lots of) Chai – CHAAAAI CHAAAI BUDIYA CHAAAI – you want chai? Sometimes our journey is less of a tour of India than a tour of India’s numerous chai outlets.
D – Dead man walking? 4am arrival. Next to no sleep. Is this our destination or the set for Walking Dead?
E – Eating at Bakerys – India is filled with them if you look in the right places. Heaven is finding real cheese once more
F – Free Food and the Golden Temple – the kindness of Sikhs is really commendable. Meals are served to anyone whatever their status. And the best part? If you want more rotis (bread) to eat with then you have to put your hands out almost like a beggar to receive them.
G – Gandhi – both his Ashram in Ahmadabad and the quaint little museum in Delhi… poignant monuments to his life and legend
“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj (self-rule) for the hungry and the starving millions?
Then you will find your doubt and your self melting away.”
H – Hindi – that’s right, I can pretend I can understand everything you are saying because I understand every 2 or 3 words and impress foreigners and Indians alike with my linguistic majesty. In all seriousness, knowing even some Hindi is the most useful thing – and the gateway to successful bartering at times
I – (strolling a long a Himachali road we see locals pushing a policeman in his police van down the hill to give it a traditional kick start. Spluttering to life it wheels round and the man inside cries) “Indian police very poor” …but they have nice hats.
J – Joint, you smoke joint? No thanks… 2 minutes later: Joint, you smoke joint? No thanks… [repeat]
K – (the mountain peak of) Kheerganga – natural hot baths on a snowy mountain peak, staying in a wooden log hut and getting cosy for warmth
L – Lights off – No Indian style burger is complete with electricity. A romantic candle lit meeting with an elderly man who we would end up meeting for days on end – driving us to trek up mountains in Himachal Pradesh!
M – McLeod Ganj – if you like hippiness, tibetan food and kind people coupled with beautiful mountain views this is the place to be. Not to mention Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. (If you get the chance to read it I recommend his book ‘Beyond Religion’)
N – Newspaper – after a long hunt to find one of these for something to read on a bus/train journey getting one feels like victory. India proves they’re not just for reading too..
O – Octopussy – Shamefully never watched the full Bond movie while in Udaipur but we at least spent several days in the city of its setting?
P – (missing our) Project! Having two sets of people to miss is new. It is incredible to be travelling but there is so much in Maheshwar and at Ahilya School I miss; not to mention our amazing headmistress
Q – Queues, or lack thereof. Waiting outside. There is a rabble. We are British. Need I digress?
R – Religion and spirituality. Whether it is a baba beckoning you over to deliver a lecture on nature, the bus driver pulling over to place some incense at a shrine, or even the morning god songs acting as your alarm clock religion and spirituality permeates Indian society and life. Right outside your door and in such variety, it is an inspiration and a testimony to the common humanity of man.
S – Spreadsheet city – Chandigarh in a nutshell. India’s cleanest and greenest city is fantastic (every city should be that clean and green) – if a little unnerving from all the prison style names (sector 42a etc) and perfectly square layout reminiscent of Microsoft Excel
T – Toilets – by far the best part about a budget trip to India is finding a nice one. General tip for foreigners: Just hold your nose and try your best not to fall over.
U – U and me together – travelling means spending your time with someone even more than usual. By now our PT arranged marriage is fairly solid though.
V – Vasundhara (Vasu)… proved to me that ‘An Indian welcome is always genuine’. We gatecrashed her and her flatmate’s life for a few days and had a fantastic time because of it. A huge thank you to you once more!
W – Well well well – (in Hindi) we are looking for the well – you want swimming pool? – no no the well near here – hotel? I know hotel with swimming pool – where do they want to go? – they want a swimming pool – no we want to go to the well – *crowd gathers muttering* – sit inside rickshaw bhai – ok I ring my friend –
Vasu what was the name of the ancient stepwell we were going to?
It is called Rani ka vav
Rani ka vav?
“Ohhhhh” the crowd reels back in realisation
…So you don’t want swimming pool?
X – (e)Xtra Charges – especially in Delhi. Bartering is like a game you can take in good spirit or well… no you simply have to take it in good spirit to maintain your sanity. Shout out to the rickshaw drivers who give you a straight up honest price
Y – Yak Yak Yak Yak Yak – not us getting bored of each other but that furry beast wandering through the street. A picture with him will cost you 50₹ though
Z – zindigi pyar hai (life is love) a line from one of the many bollywood songs that are the soundtrack to a tour of India. India does music well (I’ll confess I am lured by the prospect of learning the legendary sitar…)