Photographs contributed by Ronni, Mike, Margaret, and Angela.
Note: this is a personal report: my comments on people, living or dead, are subjective and should be taken with two grains of salt.
Friday 13th November
Lunch at the airport with Vera was followed by an uneventful flight. I caught the Skybus (after a 20 minute wait, bad timing) into the Melbourne CBD and walked from the bus station to the CAA office, in light drizzle (confirming all the Sydney stereotyping of Melbourne's weather). I had left the wet weather gear out, having checked the climate statistics for Maharashtra and Rajasthan but completely forgotten about Melbourne! On the way I stopped off in a coop bookshop and bought PD James' Original Sin. (I ended up taking five books with me in the end. I had the space in my pack, and I was paranoid about being stranded without reading material on a plane or train or bus.) I also took an inadvertent tour of Brunswick St following bad routing advice from a passerby.
When I arrived Margaret (from NSW) and Ronni, Annette, and our fearless leader Mike (from Queensland) were already there; Angela (from South Australia) turned up soon afterwards. We went to a nearby Chinese place for dinner and Jill (from Canberra) turned up during dinner. Then we had a long wait at the office as all the Victorians (and Tony) straggled in.
It was a long bus ride in the dark to Eildon. I sat next to Sophie, who didn't talk much. Many people were falling asleep already - a good few of them had only just finished assignments for university courses, in one case at 4.30pm that day! We picked up Nicole on the way; Helen and Karyn were to join us the following day. I was pleased with myself for having learnt everyone's names already, since normally I am really bad at remembering names.
We arrived at around 11pm, but Tony and Mike and I ended up sitting in the bar till around 1am, talking with our bus driver about work he'd done for World Vision once and what was wrong with society and how to fix it... I shared a room with Tony, who snored just a little but failed to keep me awake.
Saturday 14th November
I was up early for a morning wander: Sophie (a bit of a fitness fanatic) was doing exercises in the common room and Angela was also wandering around. We were in a largish complex, a caravan park with a hotel and other buildings. (There was also a pool, and some people went swimming.)
After an introduction to CAA, the day was spent getting to know one another. We broke up into smaller groups to discuss our lives between the ages of 7 and 12, for example. One interesting exercise involved placing ourselves on a line to show our positions in various categories - this gave us a chance to find out who was single, who had children, who went to church regularly, and so forth. On "politics" Ronni and I, as anarchists, ended up alone at one end together; later when I suggested a "censorship" question we ended up together again, with everyone else bunched in the middle (and with Nicole jumping around like someone had put a rat in her trousers). It turned out that Ronni had had first-hand experience of the South African censorship system.
The food was ok. [That's what I wrote in my notebook at the time, anyway. As it turned out, it was probably the worst food of the entire trip, with the possible exception of certain aberrant "Italian" dishes in Jaipur.]
After dinner most of the others watched the Capra film Mindwalk. I'd thought this was ugly and pretty trite the first time I'd seen it and it didn't improve on a second inspection. Everyone else seemed to think quite highly of it though (and it was obviously dear to Tony's heart), so I kept quiet.
Sunday 15th November
Noelene talked to us about learning (which is what she trains people in at Coles Meyer). This was the usual mix of possibly useful practical ideas (using the idea of pumpkin soup as an aid in memorising things?) with confused pop psychology and cognitive science.
That evening we watched a film on the damming of the Narmada River and the opposition to it. This was much more powerful and informative than the previous night's ramblings. Some of us resolved to find out what the current situation with this dam is, but I forgot all about it while we were away. [Action hasn't stopped. "Thousands Occupy Maheshwar Dam Site, Halt Construction" (January 1998) and Earthquake Hits Narmada Valley (June 1997).
Monday 16th November
James Ensor came along to talk about CAA's campaign work. I got a chance to talk to him about the web site, and to push the (controversial) goal of putting all CAA publications - including the ones we charge for in printed form - onto the Web.
I managed to get some laundry done just before we left (thanks, Angela!) so I left with only clean clothing in my pack. The bus stopped on the way to the airport, giving me a chance to stretch my legs. Matilda had locked her pack and found that the combination lock wouldn't open -- but when Mike took up a stone and made menacing moves towards it, it came open immediately.
At the airport we scattered into small groups and I ended up taking a quick lunch all by myself, and buying some chocolates to share around - Helen was the only person who showed signs of a serious chocolate addiction at this point! When we queued up to check-in for the flight to Singapore, I was with Angela and Ronni, but Ronni asked me first so I ended up sitting with her. Bad movies (Armageddon) are much, much better without sound!
We faced a delay of some three hours in Singapore, so Air India paid for our dinner there. The smokers lured us onto the cactus garden on the roof, where the tropical temperatures were very apparent. Jill, an experienced traveller, had headed straight for the showers, and joined us refreshed: we all made notes about the showers for the return flight.
From Singapore to Mumbai we were scattered across the aircraft. My conversation with the woman next to me provided an interesting lesson in ethnic stereotyping - she thought I was Singapore Chinese and I thought she was an Indian returning to India from Singapore. It turned out she had been in Australia for almost 30 years and lived in Surrey Hills! Some people with window seats saw what there was of the Leonid meteor display. I finished reading Original Sin.
Tuesday 17th November
We arrived at Mumbai early in the morning and I raced off the plane, since I had just the one piece of hand luggage and there was no customs check. I had finished changing money and left the airport before anyone else even collected their luggage (Natasha's had been unloaded at Singapore, which didn't help things). Jayant, the CAA India staff member who looks after the CLP, was waiting outside, but he wasn't carrying a sign so I had to wait for Tony to come out and identify him.
My first impression of India was that it felt just like Indonesia and that it was a lot quieter than I expected (there were only a couple of beggars and no insistent taxi drivers, perhaps because it was so early in the morning). Ronni and Anne and I tried to find a toilet. A man with gun went with us, then (despite our lack of success) tried to ask for a tip while we were all in the lift... we didn't pay, but this freaked Ronni out a bit, and it was certainly an abrupt introduction to one of the less pleasant sides of India.
Then it was straight onto the bus for the ride to Pune. This gave us a good look at slums, industrial parks, building construction ("the fastest growing industrial area on the planet"), and so forth, as we skirted the bay, with Tony providing commentary. We stopped for breakfast/lunch, giving us our first look at the glorious variety of food available: I had an uttapa (rice pancake). There were some good views as we climbed up the Western Ghats onto the Deccan plateau, but some people were too tired to take much in. To try and raise flagging spirits, Mike organised a sweepstake on our time of arrival. I stayed awake the whole way, but Pete went to sleep on my shoulder towards the end (much to the amusement of some of the women).
We were staying in the Hotel Ashiyama, right opposite Fergusson College. After a quick break to unpack, some of us headed off to the Gandhi memorial in the Aga Khan palace - I caught an auto-rickshaw with Helen and Pete (with whom I was sharing a room). There was a brief argument about the fare, which I stayed out of (I eventually found the official mapping from meter readings to actual fare, which inflation had complicated). The palace/memorial contains rooms where Gandhi and followers lived while imprisoned, as well as exhibits and the sadathi where his wife and sister's ashes are.
I always like to walk around a place to get a feel for its size and to see things which one misses being driven around all the time. So I got the rickshaw to drop me off on the way back, in an up-market area near the Blue Diamond and Koregaon Park. Using a tourist map the hotel had provided, I then visited the Tribal Culture Museum (fairly ordinary) and walked some 10-15km back across the city to the hotel. The map was pretty awful (it showed the museum on the wrong side of the railway line and had no scale) and I'd left my compass behind (doh!), but I got back eventually, with only a few detours. The walk was notable for the complete absence of beggars, even in the obvious slum areas. Indeed the only people who made any approach at all were a pair of girls on a motorcycle who called out to me!
I later learned that I'd walked right by the ashram of the Bhagwan Rajneesh, which is one of the major "attractions" of Pune.
I got back to the hotel just in time to avoid an unseasonal rainstorm (the monsoon should have been well and truly over) and had a mandi (splashing water over myself from a bucket). Pleasantly surprised to find there was hot water! We were all supposed to meet for dinner at 8, but Mike and Tony were caught up (celebrating Tony's recent marriage with the CAA India staff), so eight or so of of us ended up having dinner in the restaurant of the adjoining hotel (which was rather plush).
Wednesday 18th November
The bed seemed a bit hard, though it was a lot softer than I'm used to camping out! After a morning wash I wandered off to have breakfast by myself (I hadn't yet realised that almost all our meals were to be organised and paid for centrally).
The briefing sessions and breakfast/lunch were in another hotel just around the corner (photo). The morning lecture (professor Vora) was on Indian politics and the afternoon one (Milind) on Indian culture and society. These were sort of interesting, but most of the material was familiar to me. I think a couple of hours reading by everyone before the trip could have saved us most of a day here, but it seems that some people just won't read briefing materials sent to them. (When I first applied to go on the trip, I queried Mike for suggested background reading, but he seemed to think that having read five or six books on India was good preparation, and all he provided as extra reading was a paper by Carolyn Cox on the Pune wastepickers.)
Three people (Tony, Milind, and Pillay) then spoke on community development.
I waited in a nearby Internet access place for the computer to become free, but gave up eventually and went to dinner with the others, up on a restaurant rooftop. It seemed very flash to me at the time, but I was used to eating at roadside warung in Indonesia, and hadn't yet realised how comfortable our trip was going to be. I suggested to Ronni at one point that Angela looked like the model for a Da Vinci Madonna with her shawl wrapped around her. I forgot my Lariam (anti-malarial drugs) and actually pretty much gave up on the stuff at this point, simply forgetting all about it. (Most of the group were on doxycyclines, which they were taking daily.)
Thursday 19th November
I slept well, finally got online, sending off my first cyber-postcard. I set up a group hotmail account (yes, yes, I know Charlie, there are perfectly good alternatives to using M$ services, but some of the others had used hotmail and were familiar with it), so we could print out email for one another and check each others' mail. 45 minutes online cost 55 Rp, or just over $2, which was a pretty reasonable rate. I failed to find any postcards, though.
We were briefed on the specific projects we'd be visiting, but in a plenary session: Sharish on SAK, Pillay on DST urban projects, Mini on SEWA, SJSM, etc. Somewhere here I noticed that Nicole was writing her personal diary during the sessions, rather than taking notes! I'd thought that Karyn and I were the only ones not taking notes.
In the afternoon we visited local urban projects. My group was split up and I ended up with the Indore group (Angela, Margaret, Nicole), visiting the SNDT waste-pickers' project (the one I'd read about), We didn't actually go out into the city, since the Indore people were leaving that evening and the timing was bad for disturbing the waste-pickers themselves. Instead a lively young woman called Lakshmi talked at us at a great pace (making a pleasant change from the more sedate speakers we had been subjected to). We also fitted in a visit to the CAA (India) office (photo, from Margaret).
Anne and Ronni and I failed to get online once again (another queue). Most of us went to MG Road (the most prestigious shopping centre of Pune) for dinner. On the way there one of the other auto-rickshaws ran out of petrol, so our driver pushed it with his foot for about a kilometre to a petrol stand! Kabir's restaurant, where we ate, was right opposite Manny's bookshop, which was a real eye-opener for me.
During dinner I asked Mike if there had been any CLP romances. Apparently there hadn't been, but there had been several divorces... We also talked to Natasha, whose parents were insisting that she get married - and to an Indian! After dinner Ronni and Helen and I walked down MG road, stopping to inspect a god on the footpath. (I was later to speculate about whether Australian customs would allow the import of gods or not <grin>.) We returned to the hotel in a slightly scary night drive through windy back streets.
Friday 20th November
I slept soundly until 5am, when the mosques started up. After breakfast in the hotel, Mike, Ronni, Anne, Jill and I checked our email. (The group of net-addicts was one "subculture" that regularly self-assembled within the group; the smokers formed another.)
We now split up into groups of four for our project visits. Noelene, Matilda, Karyn, and I made up one group, with Pillay (from CAA India) as our interpreter and guide. We were to visit an organisation called SWAPNA, working around Miraj, an 8 hour train journey south of Pune. Our train didn't leave till 1.30pm, though, so I had time to send off another brief cyber-postcard. In the end we were very close to being late for the train, - in fact we would have been if it hadn't been 10 minutes late itself!
We settled ourselves down in a non-AC compartment (with fans), but moved when the conductor told us we'd made a mistake. The AC compartment wasn't as nice - it had unopenable tinted windows, which restricted the view of the landscape (the air-conditioning wasn't too bad, though). The landscape was dry - it looked a bit like parts of Australia and even contained the odd eucalypt - and largely flat, with interestingly shaped hills. I knew nothing about the geology or ecology, unfortunately.
Coming off the plane I'd felt a cold coming on, but that was now gone, to be replaced by a slightly congested nose and throat which were to persist for the rest of the trip. Air pollution seemed like the obvious explanation.
Miraj is a small town (50 000 people?) close to the district capital of Sangli. At Miraj we were met by Salunken (nicknamed "Captain"), the coordinator of SWAPNA. We were staying in the Hotel Akshay, which was quite flash, with hot water and televisions. I had a room all to myself, as the three women shared. Dinner was in an equally flash place just down the road, where we talked a bit about the history of SWAPNA and its relationship with ESK, the organisation from which it had split. There were donkeys all over the place, rooting through the garbage the way goats did in other places.
I watched the highlights from the first Ashes Test before going to sleep.
Saturday 21st November
After breakfast we drove out to visit the SWAPNA office, to meet its workers and to learn how the organisation worked and what it did. They gave us chai and lunch.
In the afternoon we visited one of the villages in which SWAPNA works. This was a formal event, in a temple, with more than 50 people present, including the head of the panchayat and the police patil as well as women from the self-help groups. The women put garlands on us and sang beautifully for us, and generally were so warmly welcoming it was embarassing. We reciprocated with a very amateur Waltzing Matilda. Some of the group leaders spoke and then we had a question and answer session.
Returning to Miraj we went for a night stroll through a fair being held for the festival of a Muslim saint. There was far less English on street signs than in Pune and only one "where from?". We ate in the hotel restaurant, after having to queue for some time for a table. I recovered some laundry. (Throughout the trip, the first thing I did when we arrived somewhere was to hand over a load of washing to the dhobi-wallah. Sometimes, since we tended to stay three nights in a place, I'd get two loads done.)
Sunday 22nd November
The next day we went to Palsi, a rocky village in a hilly area, where goat- and sheep-herding seemed to be the major activity. We had another big formal meeting, at which the group leaders got up and talked about what they had achieved. (It looked like they were using our visit as a morale-boosting exercise, which was fine by me, though I don't know how much say they had had in the timing of our arrival.) They were curious, observant, and rather elegant in their bright saris - apparently some of them would starve themselves to buy new saris for our visit <shudder>.
A bank official had come along, and he talked about a decree by the central Bank of India that banks should support self-help groups (by allowing informal groups to open bank accounts, for example). The details weren't entirely clear, but it looked like there was a proposal to lend money for income-generating activities at 8% instead of the more usual 13 or 14%.
Our afternoon visit fell through (the women had to go back to work, and there may have been some problem with it being a Sunday), so we drove back through Miraj to the southwards (possibly into Karnataka), where we had a glimpse of the industrial side of India. We were shown around a sugar cane mill, a huge factory (the second largest such in India) which processed 6000 tons of sugar cane a day.
First we entered the company compound, complete with supermarket and security gates, and noticeably cleaner and tidier than outside. Then we saw the thick, dark smoke plumes being belched forth from chimneys only 15 metres or so up, and saw the queue of trucks waiting to have their cane weighed and dumped onto the conveyor belts that carried it into the factory proper. Entering that, we passed Stakhanovite work totals chalked up on a blackboard: tons processed today, downtime over the last fortnight, and so forth.
Inside we saw all the stages of the process: the cane being cut up, the sifting for impurities (which were burnt to power the boilers), and tanks where the liquid sugar was refined, and the sewing of the crystalised sugar into 100kg bags at the end. The factory itself was almost 30 years old and was quite run-down. There was a fair bit of rust and some repairs had clearly been jury-rigged. Also, it was clear that work safety wasn't a big issue!
On the way back we stopped in Sangli and Pillay found me an English primer (for speakers of Marathi) which I could use to learn the devanagari script (which I'd mentioned I wanted to do, since it seemed useful to be able to read place names even if I didn't know any of the languages). Though we hadn't done much physically, it was still really tiring being driven around country roads in a jeep. Matilda went straight to bed: Noelene and Karyn and I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant again.
Monday 23rd November
The train from Miraj to Mumbai went back through Pune, where Pillay got off. We had curry chicken for lunch, watched the monkeys from the train, and enjoyed the same scenery as the trip out. Trains are vastly more pleasant than buses or jeeps!
I read a lot - probably more than on any other day of the trip, finishing Murder on the Appian Way and A Grotto for Miss Maynier (F.C. Ball, Penguin 1970), which I borrowed from Noelene. For much of the trip I stood near the open door and talked to Matilda (a smoker). Darkness fell as we were reaching the Ghats, but we had some good views.
The train seemed to take forever to get through the suburbs of Mumbai, but we eventually reached Victoria Terminus and took a taxi to the YWCA, arriving around 11pm with other groups. The four of us had dinner with Mike, Peter, and Helen in Leopolds Cafe.
Tuesday 24th November
I woke to the chant of "left-right-left" from Catholic school children doing their drilling in the oval behind the Y. Shudder. Ronni and Anne and I walked to the Gateway to India and then through the streets to the south, where I finally managed to find some postcards.
Mini and Tony talked about linkages between NGOs.
We also offered feedback on the logistics of the CLP so far. I was concerned about being pampered. Others disagreed, and some groups had obviously been worked a lot harder than my group was.
In the afternoon, when the sessions were over, Ronni and I walked out to Nariman Point and had a drink (photo: the water), and then, clambering over piles of the famous tripods (which I'd just been reading about in Midnight's Children), north and back to the Y. It was pretty hot. We found a Net access place - there weren't many around compared with Pune - but I couldn't telnet out (telnet only worked on one of the two computers, since they were using a web proxy rather than IP masquerading). Some of the group (Natasha, Angela, Sophie, Matilda) went to Bollywood and tried to get in to see their favourite "hunks", but without success.
After dinner twelve of us (three cabs worth) went to Chowpatty beach. I used a "cooee" to find one cab-load who were separated. The hawkers were a bit much and the beach wasn't that exciting, so we found a bar (where there were no women other than those in our group) and sat around and talked. Jill, Sophie, Margaret and Jenny (?) went back early. I left at 11 to walk back to the Y, which was a pleasant trip along the esplanade in a reasonable temperature, with the homeless under pedestrian overpasses on my left and courting middle class couples on the sea wall on my right. (I have to confess that I think the Seine is considerably more romantic, though it did occur to me that maybe I'd prefer to be part of a couple here than solitary in Paris.) The others (Pete, Ronni, Matilda, Angela, Anne, Nicole, Karinda) stayed on drinking till the place closed at midnight, and didn't get back until 12.15, a quarter of an hour after me. (Matilda and Ronni came up with Pete to check that I had got back ok - I was beginning to wonder if all seven of them hadn't been abducted!)
The laundry service in the Y was hideously expensive.
Wednesday 25th November
More "left-right-left". Annette tried to tell me that Australia needed more of that sort of discipline. But then she was a Catholic.
Some eight of us (Jill, Margaret, Jenny, Sophie, Matilda, Nicole, Karinda, and I) caught the ferry over to Elephant Island, which was quite a relaxing trip, even sitting on top in the sun. The path up to the temple from the wharf was surrounded by stalls selling souvenir trinkets, but it didn't seem too intrusive. I escaped to the east, away from the tourist area (there are three villages on the island, as well as the temple) and saw my first wood-pecker ever (I heard it first, then took a few minutes to spot it).
The temple itself, carved out of the rock, was cool and simple and an obvious place of power. (Here and in a few other places, I appreciated having read Micki Korp's Sacred Art of the Earth.) I spent quite a while just sitting there, and then ate lunch by myself in one of the stalls. Some of the hard core shoppers were still shopping when the rest of us went back - I hope they found time to at least glance at the temple! Back in the bustle of Mumbai, we had lunch and then I went for a quick walk around the university by myself. There was a queue at the one Net cafe yet again.
Some of the others spent the day visiting the Mahalaxmi temple and Malabar Hill (which sounded like an excellent trip); another group (Annette and Karyn and Noelene) went to visit fashion houses (not my scene). Tony and Mike, as was usual when we had a free day, went off by themselves.
That evening we bundled the whole entourage into cabs and headed for the station, where we assembled in a kind of laager with the luggage in the middle, protected from over-eager porters. (This wasn't a problem for me, of course, since I just had the one daypack which stayed on my back: I usually ended up helping others with their luggage, though, so I wasn't as free as I might have been.) Ronni and I went off for a drink - if she wasn't hanging out for a smoke, she needed coffee!
We were in the sleeper section of the train, which was a first ever for me. Our "compartment" contained me, Jill, Anne, and Annette, along with two Indians, but we arranged for the latter to swap with two strays from our group, Nicole and Pete. Angela and Ronni were in the next compartment along. Some of us played cards, but only five hundred, so I didn't join in. (I did ask about bridge players a few times, but I don't think there were four in the group.)
We had a good dinner, served in nifty little metal containers with lids, held together by a contraption - just like fancy camping gear. There were some cockroaches around, which people were killing (this seemed totally pointless to me).
Ronni and I talked to Mike and Tony for a while, and we had an encounter with an endearing young boy selling drinks, who was distressed because he couldn't give us 4 rupees change (we thought he wanted 8 rupees more originally, which gives you some idea how bad our language skills were).
I used the small padlock I had taken along for the first and only time during the trip (to lock my pack shut and attach it to a bag tie), though I can't imagine it was necessary. I slept well, on one of the upper bunks - it was one of the best nights of the trip, in fact, and vastly better than any of the buses or planes. I think we all had a good trip except for Mark, who was sick and spent the night in the toilet throwing up.
Thursday 26th November
My first overnight sleep in a train was very restful. We had breakfast and sat and talked, watching the scenery of south-east Rajasthan go by. This was very flat and dry (more eucalypts), with the occasional hill sticking abruptly out of the plain, usually topped by a fort. Military thoughts were reinforced when I went and sat with Ronni and Angela - one of their neighbours was a retired solider (a lieutenant-colonel, I think: he was met by two soldiers at Jaipur, so he must have been reasonably important) from the Rajput Rifles, going to Jaipur for a reunion. He talked about his unit's history and honours (and their defeat fighting the Chinese in Kashmir).
On arrival at the station we were met by people from CECOEDECON. I wanted to walk to the hotel (Mike had a map), but they kept me under control and we were all fitted into a bus, a jeep, and an auto-rickshaw. The hotel, Arya Niwas, was probably my favourite among the places I stayed in during the trip. It was clean, had great rooms with bed-linen and toilet paper and soap and papers provided daily and the beds made, a verandah and garden for people to meet and sit in, a restaurant with reasonable food (snacks, anyway), a shop with some craft items and lots of books and maps, phone, fax and Internet facilities, and friendly and helpful staff. All for 500 Rp/night (about $20) for a deluxe double! It beat the YMCA in Delhi (which was 3 times as expensive) on almost every criterion.
The streets were full of animals - camels pulling large loads, donkeys and buffalo and people pulling smaller ones, cows and dogs just standing or lying around, and even the odd horse. (Unfortunately the regular camel market, which usually coincided with CLP trips, had been moved, so we didn't get to see that.)
We had sort of planned it already on the train (using Jill's Lonely Planet guide), but I used the room phones and herded four of us (Angela, Jill, Ronni, and myself) into hiring a car and driver (arranged by the people at reception, Rp 300 for three hours) and heading off right away for the Amer fort. This was a great trip. We drove through the old city, giving us a feel for its size and extent, and then past a lovely lake up into the hills to the north-east of Jaipur. There were walls everywhere along the ridge tops - whole valleys had been protected - and a series of forts covered the ridge all the way from Amer back to Jaipur. (Photos: forts along the ridge, approaching Amer.)
An elephant ride from Amer up to the fort was an option, but we didn't really have the time, so we took a jeep. The fort (really more of a palace) itself was quite extensive, with a maze of rooms and passages; it was in the process of being renovated. I had thought about walking back cross-country to Jaipur (via the Jaigarh and Tiger forts), but thought better of it. We walked back down to Amer and drove back to the hotel. (Photos: from the fort, Amer town from the fort, Amer fort outer courtyard, with hills.)
Ronni and I managed to get net access in a place next door to the Hotel, but Jaipur seemed to lose connectivity with the universe after a few minutes (I showed off by playing with traceroute and ping). We then went and washed and relaxed, before everyone assembled for dinner. Ronni told me there were rumours going around about us.
After a vote in which I was on the losing side, we went to a nearby "Italian" restaurant, Mediterraneo, for dinner. Margaret ordered lasagne, which when it came looked nothing like any lasagne I or anyone else had ever seen. The mushroom pizza I had was edible, but nothing to write home about. The beer drinkers had the "special tea" - beer served in teapots to avoid problems (I don't think the hotel had a licence).
Ronni and I went for a night walk. Trying to use an alternative road back to the hotel we passed through some very affluent areas - the houses had garages and gardens - but the road was closed by a brick wall with broken bottles on top, less than 20m from our street. (We were consistently the last to go to bed, but still among the first few up each morning. In Australia I have two sleeping modes: 1am to 10am usually and 10pm to 7am on bushwalks. In India I managed more like 1am to 7am, but didn't seem to suffer any adverse effects!)
Friday 27th November
After breakfast (with real fresh orange juice!) I managed a quick browse of the hotel bookshop. We then went by bus and jeep to the CECOEDECON campus (1 hour drive south-west) where we were given a guided tour of the campus and a briefing on Rajasthan, the organisation's history, and the projects we were to visit. Ronni swapped projects with Annette, meaning that the group going to Didwana would be the four of us that had self-assembled the previous day - Jill, Angela, Ronni, and I. (Photo: Tony and Angela at one of the sessions.) We also met Mishra, the CECOEDECON staff member who was to accompany us.
After lunch I wandered into one of the rooms with a computer and talked to the staff about setting up a web site for them. The others went to visit a nearby temple. I passed them on their way back: some of them had joined in a cricket game with the kids.
In the afternoon Tony provided still more theoretical frameworks for community development. We went back to Jaipur in the jeep, which was somewhat less crowded than the bus. The Internet connection was still out - apparently there was only one server and two dial-up lines in all of Jaipur!
That evening we had a session from Tony on the personal psychology of CD, in which he told moving stories, talked passionately about Tagore and Gandhi (E.M. Forster: "happiness not possession, difference between success and victory, love"). This had a bit of the feel of a laying on of hands.
The group then had dinner at Handy's tandoori restaurant. Afterwards Ronni needed debriefing, so the two of us wandered around (I had some icecream) and discussed Tony's session at length. For relaxation we did the Indian Express crossword, sitting first on the verandah and then on the roof, until it got too cold.
Saturday 28th November
Today was a free day. I woke up late, which was not surprising given how late we had stayed up. Tony and Mike and Angela and Jill and Ronni and I had a leisurely breakfast. Everyone else did what we had done two days earlier, hiring cars for sight-seeing (and shopping). Matilda was sick, but went off with the others,
Mike and Tony then went off and did whatever it was they did during our free days. (Hey, if people wanted to spread rumours!) The four of us went around the tourist attractions of the old city. (photo). First stop was the observatory, which was really quite amazing, and is certainly the "must see" if you've only got an hour in Jaipur. It is in a peaceful garden protected from the bustle of the city and consists of a variety of stone instruments - some of them 15 metres high - for measuring time and declension and altitude and so forth. The finely chiseled gradations on the marble were still visible and the structures still usable. (photo (Angela): Ronni on one of the instruments.)
We skipped the City Palace and went to the hawa mahal or wind palace, an airy structure built to catch the winds, from which the royal women could look out on the streets without being seen. This had a small but interesting art gallery and museum. For lunch we went to "LMB", a vegetarian (no onion or garlic) restaurant with amazing 50s decor (especially surreal given what was outside). At 125 Rp per person for a meal and drinks it wasn't even that expensive, and it was one of the most pleasant and relaxed meals in the whole trip.
Next we finally joined in the shopping (some of the group had been shopping-mad for some time and were already carrying extra bags around). But I wanted to climb up to Tiger Fort and Ronni decided to come along, so we left Angela and Jill in the first shop and caught an auto-rickshaw to the Tiger Fort gate (30 Rp, after I threatened - and intended <grin> - to walk there). Actually we were taken to the wrong gate, and ended up climbing the ridge to the east of the Royal Gaita, a temple/palace complex in the valley (photo).
An initially broad paved path with steps turned, after we passed a turn off to a temple to the east, into a vague dirt track following the ridge upwards. I grew increasingly sure we were on the wrong track as we climbed, but I had hopes we would hit the road from Amer to Tiger Fort sooner or later and thought Ronni would be game enough to make it a short distance across-country if necessary. It was dusk, and most pleasant walking: bird-song all around, peacocks wandering all over the place, no people for once, and great views - to the east over the lake (photo), back over the city, and of the sun setting over Tiger Fort to the west. It was going to get dark rapidly, but I had a torch and I was confident of being able to reverse our route if necessary. (There was no real danger, but it felt like a real adventure.)
We came to a telecommunications tower with a pretty serious barbed wire fence around it. While sidling around it, we joked about the security forces turning up in helicopters to find out what a pair of foreigners was doing inspecting the installation. Then a minute or two later a jeep came roaring up on the other side of the tower, giving us a bit of a start! Staying out of sight we made our way to the road, where a pair of young men looked at us very strangely as we emerged from the scrub and headed off towards Tiger Fort.
Two kilometres on the road, passing scattered vehicles going the other way, brought us to the fort complex and, now in darkness, to the restaurant there, where we had a quick drink (no coffee for Ronni). They were preparing for a big party and some kind of dance performance. We then wandered off and explored the fort a little (in the dark, though there was some lighting), going out to the western tip and getting great views of Jaipur by night (it has almost 2 million people, and we could see most of it).
Then we hunted around trying to find the direct track down to Jaipur (the one I had intended to come up in the first place). It turned out to be a solid stone-paved road, not just a track, but one that zig-zagged so precipitously down the hill that rocks had fallen all over it (we guessed it had been closed for safety reasons). Sitting enjoying the view a little way down, we were passed by a young man on his way home from work (he lived up at the fort, where his father worked) and he asked me the usual question "are you Japanese?" followed by "is she your wife?", "no", "girlfriend?", "no", sister?", "no", "just a friend?", "yes". This was all rather ironic, because I think it had well and truly dawned on both of us that we no longer knew just what our relationship was.
Rather than catching a rickshaw when we reached the bottom and returned to crowded streets, we walked back through the centre of the city. Eating places were hard to find, but we eventually found a little coffee shop where Ronni got her coffee fix, I had a chai, and we ate some condensed milk sweets (all for 22 Rp; in this sort of place, way away from the tourist areas, the prices were noticeably lower). We dropped into a clothing shop where Ronni bought two Punjabi suits (together 420 Rp, or all of $17). We ended up getting back to the hotel just before 9pm, though it felt like far more than five and a half hours since we'd left Angela and Jill!
I had a shower and talked to Jayant a little about Australia. He was going to bed and wanted to know why I stayed up so late. Then I visited the hotel shop (which was still open - many shops stayed open till 10pm) and spent about 1000 Rp on jewellery as gifts for people back in Australia. We sat on the verandah and fixed my torch (the bulb had gone, but it came with a spare).
We hadn't had dinner yet, so we headed off down to the "Indian Hut" on MI Road, where I had a nice masala dosa. Afterwards we sat on the roof for a while, going to bed well after midnight yet again. Ronni told me I had beautiful eyes?!
Sunday November 29th
I slept poorly: I was unable to stop thinking and it was on the hot side. And there was the customary early morning call to prayer, of course. In the morning Jayant performed lengthy ablutions of some kind in the bathroom (though he did stick his head out half way through to ask if I wanted to use the toilet).
Pete and Mark had woken up at 5am and climbed up to the Sun Temple to watch the sunrise. I was most envious, though there was no way I'd have made it up that early - we were due to leave too early as it was! We had packed all our luggage into our respective jeeps, but had to wait some time for Jayant, since no one would leave without him.
Our vehicle seemed spacious until we realised that two more people had to get in, as well as Mishra (our guide/leader) and the driver - Usmana, who ran Suksham Vigyam Samitti, the organisation we were visiting, and RamKumar, who ran another NGO in the area. But we managed to make enough room amongst the luggage in the back for two people to sit there, so it wasn't too cramped. (Fortunately our group didn't have that much luggage: the other three had small to average bags, while I was carrying less than a third as much as anyone else.) Ronni went to sleep on my shoulder during the drive to Didwana.
When we arrived in Didwana, we had lunch first (in what was, apparently, the only place to eat in town). The three women decided pretty quickly that they were going into "purdah", since if they didn't keep their heads/hair covered they were stared at open-eyed by all the men. Didwana is a pretty conservative small country town, and a largely Muslim one to boot. (Mishra - who was there for the first time himself - found out later that most of the income of the town came from expatriate workers in Iraq.)
We then went to our hotel, arriving around 2.30pm. This was a fairly grungy place upstairs over some shops, right in the middle of town. There was some uncertainty about the rooms, but Angela grabbed the nicest one, with a balcony overlooking the street (photo), and Ronni and I shared a room to the side (Ronni thought it would be quieter): both of these had their own toilets/bathrooms. Jill switched around twice, but eventually ended up in the room next to Angela's, also with a balcony but without her own toilet. We ordered coffee and chai by yelling across the street from the balcony to a little chai shop, from where a lovely young boy brought it up.
Unpacking, we found some kind of animal droppings on the beds. I thanked the Goddess for my sleeping bag liner. I joked that we had better shut the doors to the bathroom and toilet (which were separate) in order to stop the rats getting in. It was freezing cold in the bathroom - even colder than the room itself. Also, neither our bathroom or our toilet had lights in them, but they had the only windows for the room! Not the ideal arrangement, really. And the power dropped out quite regularly, for anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour, so our torches got quite a bit of use. (The staff had the strange habit of dashing into our rooms, without warning, to clean the toilet or sweep the floor or remove a bucket. Apparently this is normal in country hotels.)
When I locked our door as we were leaving, the hotel manager gesticulated at us and clearly wanted us to do something. When Mishra translated, it turned out that he wanted us to close the "mouse gate" - my earlier suggestion about shutting the bathroom and toilet doors to stop the mice had been right on the ball! We later watched a mouse running in and out of the drains and up and down the steps... This was definitely more the sort of place Angela and Jill and I were accustomed to than the luxuries of the rest of the trip.
We went out to the salt lake to look at the salt "farms". We picked up several task force leaders (all men) on the way; they were joking about the election result (one was a BJP supporter). We went to a building which contained both a temple and a mosque, sharing a common wall, and the BJP supporter and one of the Muslims posed for a photo together. We stood around in the eerie setting and then wandered out to looked at the "carries", learning a bit about the background and the economics of salt production. (Photo: sunset over the salt pans.)
After returning and relaxing for a while, we all went for an evening walk. There isn't much to see in Didwana: the highlights were a public library (a good thing to see, anywhere) and a geology college (Ronni and I wanted to come back when they were open to see if they had any geological maps, but we didn't manage it). Afterwards we sat on the balcony and compared our notes from earlier briefings. We saw a pig hit by a jeep. There was only cold water (I didn't think to ask for a bucket of hot water) so I washed just my head.
Ronni and I read for a while before going to sleep. There was a loud thud somewhere outside (another nuclear test in the Thar Desert?), followed by strange hammering noises that went on for a while.
Monday 30th November
I slept ok until the morning call to prayer and shallowly afterwards. After waking, Ronni and I lay in our beds and talked for quite some time. The boy came around with chai, and it was really very comfortable - until I threw cold water all over myself for my morning wash, when the "yeech" must have been audible in the main street! Breakfast was fruit (apples, bananas) supplemented with some muesli bars Ronni pulled out. We had to wait for Usmana, who was supposed to come at ten but had been called away on some emergency, so we sat around and Jill talked about her experiences in Indonesia and told a ghost story.
When Usmana finally turned up we went to a meeting with the salt farmers. Some five or six of the task force leaders (older men) sat with us and spoke, while maybe 30-50 others (including small boys) stood around and listened (photo). There were no women at all (and just one young girl). Mishra did most of the talking for us, Usmana interjected only a few times, usually in a kind of calming role, and the men told their history.
At the end of our meeting they asked what we could do for them: they wanted to know if CAA could lend them money (to get salt production started again), and were sure they could repay it. Ronni (as the CAA staff member) felt obliged to answer that one; she directed them to Mini Bedi. I offered to create a web page for them.
At lunch, back in the same place, I ate only a little (one chapate) as I was feeling nauseous. We ordered boiled rice for the following day (yes, I kid you not - plain boiled rice had to be ordered specially in the best restaurant in town!). I slept a little, had some chai. We then set off in the late afternoon, driving southwards. We visited the shrine of a Muslim hero, which was under repair and an obvious point of pride for locals. Then we went into more arid country, along a very dusty road, to an area with steep hills where blackstone mining and sheep herding seemed to be the major activities.
The goal of the trip was, quite unexpectedly for us, a dam/flood break built with CAA funding, to stop erosion during the wet season. I climbed a small hill for great views (it was around sunset) and we saw some kind of deer wandering the slopes (they told us it was "dangerous, like a tiger", but I think this must be akin to the Australian invention of dropbears or bunyips). Mishra showed his romantic streak: he talked about building himself a small hut and living there. (Photos: in the hills - note mine excavation near top left; Ram Kumar, Usmana, Mishra, and Jill.)
Having returned to Didwana, we walked to Usmana's house, where we met his extended family, which gradually assembled (must have been more than two dozen people all told!). Had chai and sweets and refrained from drinking the water (hard!). The jeep was there to take us back to the restaurant (everything carefully planned for us), where I ate half a chapate and a ras molai.
Mishra sat with Ronni and me in our room and talked about advocacy work and related things. In the middle of it the bucket of hot water arrived and we took turns disappearing into the bathroom to wash. Looking in my wallet for something to write my contact details on (I really must, must, must get a business card made up sometime), all I could find was the card Ronni had given me, so I wrote on the back of that. Mishra queried whether we lived at the same place and then whether we lived nearby: I explained that Brisbane was a thousand kilometres from Sydney, which obviously left him mystified, but I didn't go into details (there weren't any to go into). Earlier he had asked the group whether we'd known each other for only two weeks and Angela had said yes, and then quickly made up an exception for Ronni and me. (On her first project visit Ronni had already decided against trying to explain the complexities of her life history.)
Tuesday 1st December
A morning massage was relaxing, but I was still a little bit ill. Mishra raised the possibility of leaving for Pachewar that afternoon, but eventually decided against it. After a late start again, this time because the health worker couldn't be found, we went to look at Usmanaji's other major project, women's reproductive health groups.
Afterwards we went to Ram's house, where we had lunch in his office. I found an old district census, which Ronni and I had great fun poring over (it had an introductory section which answered some of our questions about agriculture and geology and ecology and meteorology and everything else). I also found an interesting journal put out by an environmental NGO: I wrote down the email address as it looked worth following up. It was a Rajput household, so Ram's wife was in purdah and only the women could go in to the living quarters and visit her; she came out only as we were driving away.
Then we went "sightseeing", going some 40km to the nortwest, to Ladrun. There's a Jain Shiva temple there, complete with a giant snake statue. (This put off Ronni, who doesn't like snakes at all. One of the other groups visited a rat temple complete with masses of live rats, which would probably have freaked me out a bit.) But the main attraction in Ladrun was the Jain university. This had a really peaceful campus with lovely gardens and peacocks everywhere.
The library and museum were shut unfortunately, but we got a guided tour of the meditation centre, along with invitations to stay for a course ("minimum ten days"). I was afraid we'd lose Jill... Angela, Jill, and Mishra went to be blessed by one of the holy Jain sages, but Ronni and I stayed away. I joked about our auras being incompatible with his, but Jill countered with the suggestion that he'd have taken one look at our auras and rushed us off for emergency treatment in the meditation centre <grin>.
We had a quick drink in Ladrun and then headed home. Congress was holding a victory party in the street just down from our balcony. I ate a bit more at dinner that night (the boiled rice was good): my stomach was better and the headache was going.
Wednesday 2nd December
I slept solidly and had an early morning chat with Ronni about CAA and about organisational structures more generally. (I learnt a lot about CAA on the trip, but almost all of it from Ronni, not from the official program.) The four of us then sat on the balcony and watched the town waking up (most of the shops opened at around 10am) and the cleaners sweeping the dust backwards and forwards.
Then we commenced a long, bumpy, and rather arduous jeep ride to Pachewar, across country. It took six hours or so, with one stop for chai and another when I simply insisted on getting out and walking for five minutes. We talked to Mishra about marriage in Australia, de facto relationships, and so forth, staying safely at a statistical level. Our route took us past working salt extraction operations.
We couldn't find Pachewar on the map and were beginning to worry about it - especially as Usmana didn't seem entirely sure where it was and kept asking passers-by! If Didwana, population 50 000, couldn't do better than the hotel we had stayed in, what would a small village that wasn't even on the map offer? It turned out that Mike and Tony had been just as much up in the air as the rest of us, since CECOEDECON had booked the Pachewar Hotel for us without providing any additional information.
We had guessed that it had to be some kind of resort and this turned out to be correct - it was a converted fort, with a lovely lawn courtyard and a series of stepped rooftops. (Photos: Danny, a woman carrying firewood, the group assembled.) Some of the rooms were simply sumptuous, with high painted ceilings and elaborate decorations and fittings - some even had individual names and had once been throne rooms or suchlike. Ronni and Jill had a room like this; mine was more mundane (but probably more practical, too). I was supposed to be sharing with Jayant, but he seemed to strike up an instant friendship with the woman running the place (some kind of religious thing?) and whisked himself off somewhere we never located, probably in the family quarters.
We had a late lunch, after which the Didwana group said goodbye to Mishra and Usmana, giving them all the remaining gifts we'd brought from Australia. Ronni and I went for a walk through the village, where we ran into Karinda, who I mistook for a school teacher since she was surrounded by children! Soon we were all completely swamped. The three of us went and sat by the lake, only to have an instant shade curtain appear, with several dozen children standing in a ring around us, some of them quite forcefully insistent on our attention, and eventually we gave up. Ronni managed to buy a pair of traditional Rajasthani shoes on the way back, though, again with a large crowd looking on from about half a metre away.
We watched the sunset from the roof, which offered great views: the fort was only on a little hill, but the surrounding country-side was so flat we could see for miles in all directions (photo). The Didwana group reassembled briefly and it occurred to me that if I'd had to pick three people from the group to travel with, they would probably have been the ones. I obtained a big bucket of piping hot water - so hot it had to be mixed with cold water to be usable - and washed thoroughly. (There were hot water "urns" in every room, but they were unplugged and we weren't supposed to use them - the power was obviously unreliable as the voltage was fluctuating visibly, but it only actually dropped out once or twice during our stay.)
We sat around the fire and drank before dinner. After dinner Ronni and I went back to the roof to sit and talk. At some point loud music started up from various points in the village, and showed no signs of abating. One of the staff (or possibly another guest?) told me it was a religious celebration, with a different god being honoured each weekday! (And that noise regulations weren't enforced because, let's face it, who wants to be responsible for the prayers being offered to Shiva being of lower volume than they could be?)
As it got darker we sat on a small tower at the northern end of the fort and watched a strange figure performing some kind of ritual (it was very close to a full moon) at a table on the lower rooftop. The figure wandered towards us and then disappeared... We found our way back to our rooms via the back passages, avoiding the staff at reception. There was just one break in the music during the night - around 4am, to make way for the mosque's call to prayer! It was odd sleeping under felt bed covers with no sheets, but quite comfortable.
Thursday 3rd December
I woke up early, opened my window (my room was right on the main courtyard/lawn), and wandered out. Jayant and our hostess were up, Jill was on the lower rooftop. Nicole and Annette and Ronni soon appeared. Nicole quizzed me about what we had been doing the previous night... it turned out the strange figure we had seen was her. (So what was a good Christian girl doing wandering around the rooftops in the small hours of the morning during a full moon, huh?) I sat in the sun on the lawn: it was a very pleasant morning.
Breakfast was egg (our choice of omlette, poached, scrambled, spiced omlette) and toast/jam, served by tables, slowly. They seemed to have only one set of pots, as coffee, tea, and chai always took forever to arrive and were never served to two tables at the same time... (Photo: Danny, having eaten his fill of egg.) After breakfast finally finished we did the project debriefing - first in groups (the four of us actually discussed exchanging photographs and email) and then split across groups.
After lunch (an Indian "smorgasboard", and much better than the Western-style breakfast) I went with Ronni on a cigarette run to the village. There were no kids around (school-time) but the shop would only sell her one packet.
In the afternoon we had a session where Tony fielded general questions. I asked about the lack of political analysis, which was turned into a strawman before being demolished -- one can believe in the necessity of political action without calling for a capital-r Revolution, believe it or not! I also complained (stupidly) about a silly piece of quantification. Everyone must have thought I was mad, but misuse of mathematics - improper quantification, linearisation of complex structures, etc. - is one of my pet bogeymen, and I'd been accumulating a certain amount of frustration at it throughout the trip. Among the other interesting theoretical questions was one about violence versus non-violence, in response to which Tony discussed Alinsky.
Green parrots sat on the walls and squawked loudly enough to be annoying.
Mike then talked about the origins of the CLP and its goal of building a people base for CAA. Some of this revived my concerns about the reification of "the CLP" as a community and the devices used to maintain it: esprit de corp, rites of passage, liminal experiences, initiation ceremonies, and so forth.
Next we were supposed to have a relaxation workshop with Annette. But Ronni and I went up to the roof again to analyse the previous session, and decided to skip the relaxation. So did everyone else.
Sheets of cardboard for each person had been placed in the throne room, for us to write messages on. I thought about a few for a while but got writer's block - how was I supposed to think without a keyboard? <grin> Ronni ended up just drawing a small flower and writing "Love, Ronni" on each card. I put the Indonesian "selamat jalan". (Jill suggested both these ideas, I seem to recall, but she herself wrote substantial messages for everyone.)
At dinner I sat with Pete, Mark, and Jenny (an notably unusual sex ratio for this trip!) and the conversation sprawled over relationships, politics, religion, philosophy, astrology, ... (I was a bit bemused to find that Mark didn't know what "epistemology" meant - what do they teach in law school?) Then I sat with Jill and Angela and Ronni until Jill and Angela went to bed around 10pm.
Ronni and I walked through the village and out along the lake on the other side. We sat behind the embankment in the moonlight and enjoyed the near-silence, with just fish, ducks, and other birds (and the occasional road traffic and dog barking, but no music!). I left my torch there and didn't notice till half way back to the hotel, so we had to double back to get it. We sat in my room and talked a little longer.
Friday 4th December
I slept very solidly and was the last to breakfast (omlette on toast again).
After handing around the "inner beauty" cards, Mike discussed our involvement with "the CLP" and CAA. I was still perturbed by all the work that seemed to be going into building a separate CLP community, though.
I went back to the village with Ronni for more cigarettes, braving the gauntlet of school boys. Then we had lunch and climbed back onto the roof to read (I finished Midnight's Children) and to listen to Ronni's music (she wrote down the songs/artists, planning to give me the tape). Back down on the lawn, Angela handed out some chocolate she'd picked up in Indore - good quality solid dark chocolate, and I got two pieces. Yum, yum, yum. Some of the group were only just discovering the rooftops ("how did you get up there?") where we'd spent so much time.
That day was Mark's 40th birthday as well as the closing ceremony for the program, so a big party was planned. Helen (CAA event organiser) and some of the others spent a lot of time scheming with one another and with Jayant and the hotel staff.
Then came the closing ceremony. We sat in a circle with candles burning in the centre, which we used to burn papers with bad thoughts on them (a pagan idea, Ronni told me). We then took turns handing out people's cards and reading out anonymous "good thoughts". Everyone also received informal awards, given out by a committee of five.
Then it was party time, with singing (Nicole and Mark himself), candles, drinks, dinner with custard (much to the amazement of Peter, who had been wishing for custard only the previous day) and a cake brought all the way from Jaipur! The organisers had excelled themselves. After dinner we went up to the lower roof and sat around the fire drinking. A group of local musicians/dancers performed and we all joined in, with Jayant really getting into the dancing. (Photos: the table set for dinner - note artwork for the occasion, sitting around the fire, Ronni, Jayant, and Danny dancing, one of the musicians.)
As the night wore on, some people started going to bed, but others lingered on, sitting around the fire. Some of us were singing all kinds of songs. Ronni said that if they sang Cumbaya she was going to burn the building down (she checked with Jill before she went to bed and apparently got authorisation from her for this). Fortunately things didn't come to this.
The servants were all standing around, lurking behind corners. To watch the mad westerners? In case we needed to be served something? It turned out that the mats we were sitting on were their bedding! We were very apologetic and let them replace them with spares from empty rooms.
Eventually everyone else drifted away to bed (despite Angela's best attempts to stop them). Ronni and I cleaned up a bit, securing the fire and piling the bedding together, and then crashed on the futon in her room, some time after 3am.
Delhi & Agra
Saturday 5th December
7.30am breakfast - cold omlette on cold toast yet again. (Despite having pre-ordered, they still came around and asked each table what we wanted.) We took a lot of group photos and farewelled the hotel staff, who seemed to have enjoyed the experience and were eager for suggestions as to how to improve their service - the hotel has only been open for a short time.
Pete was the first to leave the group - we dropped him off when we reached the main Ajmer-Jaipur highway at Dudu - he was heading for the forestry institute in Jodhpur. We stopped once for drinks, and then in Jaipur for lunch, going to the same Italian restaurant we'd been to before. Ronni and I shared a mushroom pizza (ok) and some grilled eggplant with cheese (which tasted fermented) and a poisonous pineapple juice (I'm sure it would have glowed in the dark).
We switched to a larger bus for the trip to Delhi. This was more spacious but hideously uncomfortable, with seats that provided no lower back support at all. Even borrowing Margaret's pillow it was hard for the two of us to make ourselves comfortable trying to sleep. The trip seemed interminable: the traffic was bad, some of the group were getting slightly hysterical (they started singing again), and I thought Mike was going to run another sweepstake on the arrival time (but I don't think he had the energy, fortunately). The air pollution was also getting worse as we got closer to Delhi - the moon was an eerie red.
We had sorted out the room arrangements at the YMCA on the bus: Anne would share with Ronni, Mike with Tony, and Mark with me; the next day, when Tony left (he was going early) and Anne's husband arrived to join her, we would swap around. Natasha was staying with a friend and Sophie went with her. Before going to sleep we also sorted out the details for the trip to Agra the following day - this involved waking up at 4.30am. But Helen and Ronni and I still went for a short walk before going to bed, sometime before midnight.
Sunday 6th December
We got up at an ungodly hour for the trip to Agra: a quick breakfast in the rooms (toast and jam), a taxi to the station, and a comfortable train trip (vegie cutlets for breakfast). With us were Karinda, Margaret, Matilda, Angela, Karyn, Nicole, Annette, Jenny, Noelene, and Mark (who had organised the trip weeks earlier). Sophie and Natasha hadn't planned on going originally, but they managed to get tickets and met us at Agra station. There we hired three cars and a guide, meaning there were six in each car (14 of us, a guide, and three drivers).
We started the tour with a long drive out to the abandoned city. This was a real white elephant, having been built kilometres away from drinking water! (When I used the term "white elephant", the guide started explaining how elephants were used to trample people to death.) The hawkers were a real menace here. We toured the palace living quarters, with Ronni explaining the theory behind the decorative motifs to me, and then went into a large open courtyard containing a shrine and adjoining a mosque (photo). This was a real place of power. The security forces were out in numbers - it was the sixth anniversary of the Ayodhya demolition.
Next we visited the Agra fort, which had some great architecture (photo) and offered views of the Taj Mahal (photo). I was feeling a bit queasy and had mild diarrhoea, so I didn't properly appreciate the lunch (which others said was really good).
Our guide wanted to take us shopping (for the commissions, of course!), but we were running out of time so we went straight to the Taj Mahal (where some of us managed to go via the shopping centre anyway). There were long queues to get tickets, but Matilda queued up for us all. Our guide got into a shouting match with one of the security guards over something. Once into the garden, there was a longer queue to get through security, where they confiscated any food we were carrying!
The Taj Mahal was pretty spectacular. Ronni and I walked around it, went inside, and then sat and watched the sun set on it - along with a few thousand other people. We had different approaches to architecture: Ronni seemed more interested in the fine detail - decorative motifs, patterns - and I was more taken in the presentation of space, in the large-scale structure of sacred places. (Photos: the Taj Mahal, Danny, Ronni.)
We had some spare time before the train left, so we were taken to a carpet shop. I bought a two foot by six rug for our hallway. The asking price was US$250 but I got them down to US$150. (I think I did ok, since at that price they stopped being happy to ship it home for me and were eager for me to pay with travellers' cheques rather than credit card!) Mark bought a bigger carpet for US$300 (down from $350). I joked about all the serious shoppers being men for once on the trip, but of course it's just that we were the ones with large disposable incomes. Karyn was sick, possibly from stress at not being able to get in touch with her family back in Australia.
We went to Pizza Hut. Sigh. I didn't want to (when Mike mentioned Pizza Hut back at Eildon I'd resolved not to go anywhere near one), but it was late and we were in a hurry so I went with the flow. Ronni and I shared one of a wider than usual selection of vegie pizzas and it wasn't too bad. Doing the calculations to pay for the hire cars, we had to divide 2100 by 14. I said "150" without thinking, but Mark either didn't hear me or didn't believe me, and after some cogitation he decided it was "about 145" ("no, it's exactly 150") and then borrowed a calculator from Nicole to work out the exact answer. Sigh. It's a good thing most meals and transport during the trip were included in the program, or the bistromathics involved would have started looking like the supercomputer support for the Indian nuclear program!
Travelling from the Pizza Hut to the railway station, there was a sudden cry from Ronni and I caught a glimpse of someone on the road in front of us. The car squealed as the driver hit the brakes, and there was a thud as we came to a halt. We (Noelene was with us) were convinced that we'd hit the person, but then a bearded figure waving a bottle got up and yelled at the driver through the window before stumbling off, apparently unhurt. The driver said he was drunk, but Ronni thought he had laid himself down deliberately, and I wondered if he wasn't some kind of sadhu playing a version of Russian Roulette... It left all of us shaken up, anyway.
I finished The Allingham Casebook on the train: pretty frivolous but a good choice for easily digestible short stories.
The laundry I had handed in the previous evening still hadn't appeared. (It didn't help that I had been in room 306, planning to move into room 304, when I handed in the laundry, but was now in room 310.) And we had no soap, and I'd left my shampoo in my old room... but Mike came to the rescue with some soap and Mark had found my shampoo. Ronni discovered paise - the subdivision of the rupee - when she tried to use my small change to pay for a coffee and the laundry, which turned up while I was showering.
Monday 7th December
We lay in our beds until the sun was at a safe height... and then had breakfast with the others downstairs (including Anne's husband Adrian). We weren't the only late risers!
Finally we bowed to the inevitable and went out with no purpose but shopping. (Some of the more serious shoppers in the group never seemed to have stopped!) First we went to the state emporia along with some of the others. These were expensive, but I saw some scarves I liked... and got the price down to 850 Rp from 1000 before giving up.
We then wandered off my ourselves. We went past a college bustling with young students and into an underground bazaar which was relatively tourist free. We sat and had drinks under some trees, in a very pleasant spot. Then we wandered across the park at the centre of Connaught Place and went around it looking for a bookshop. We found quite a good one, but didn't buy anything - there was too much to choose from, and I figured I could probably order most of the titles online anyway, or sweet-talk the publishers into sending me review copies. Ronni bought some pillow covers and some silk cloth, while I bought one shawl. It was a bit hot and sticky and I think the air pollution was getting to us.
Having returned to the Y, I found a spare 500 rupee note in my medical kit, where I had stashed it for emergencies on first changing money. So I went back to the first shop we'd looked at and bought two of the cashmere scarves I'd looked at earlier for 800 Rp ($32) each - I had to go to a money-changer to change my last $25 in Australian currency to do that.
We then wandered over to the Mughal observatory just across the road, finding the entrance by going around it the long way (and getting a glimpse of the backstreets in the process). This is a poor cousin of the much bigger one in Jaipur and in far worse condition, probably due to the air pollution (photos: 1, 2). We ran into Karinda (who had failed to arrange a trip to Varanasi and was flying to Darjeeling instead) and spent the last of our money on icecreams, sitting in a small park next to the observatory to eat them.
Neither Ronni nor I had enough money left for dinner, so we had to borrow 100 Rp each from Mike. Dinner was in a Middle-Eastern restaurant - a smorgasboard with really excellent food for 170 Rp per person. We got back to the Y at 8.20pm and departed for the airport at 10pm.
Tuesday 8th December
At the airport I felt as if I were at the end of a long flight, not at the beginning, which didn't bode well. I had hold luggage now - Margaret had bought an extra bag, which held some of her purchases and my rug. We were frisked as part of the security checks. They were also confiscating batteries, following a bizarre Air India directive - that is, they took the ones in Ronni's tape player, but not the ones in my torch or my first aid kit.
When we got to Mumbai and changed planes, we had a three hour delay waiting on the tarmac to take off. Ronni slept a bit on the flight to Singapore, but I didn't (I half-watched a Hindi film, subtitled). The delay didn't matter too much, as we had had a five hour wait at Singapore, but it meant we didn't get to shower and refresh there as we had planned.
In Singapore we said our goodbyes and Ronni and I went up to the rooftop cactus garden, but it was raining and we didn't have long. Margaret and I were going to Sydney but couldn't get seats together, so we met up at the baggage claim in Sydney. Vera and Peter were waiting for me when I came out. It was about 6.30am.
I had managed to grab a couple of hours sleep on and off on the flight, but after a brief afternoon nap I didn't manage to get to sleep till around 3am. Going to sleep that night, the hum of my computer fan sounded just like the Hindu religious music on the first night at Pachewar.
I had a wonderful three and a half weeks. I learnt a good deal - about India, about CAA, about community development, about myself, about architecture, ... - and had some memorable experiences. I also met some really interesting people and made some friends I expect to stay in touch with.
December 20th 1998