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India II

I left Mumbai, the biggest city in India (20 million)on 29th Sept, and yesterday marked one year since I left NZ. Luckily missing rush hour on the suburban train to the airport! Even the ladies carriage is packed then, and I mean packed. I visited the laundry ghat, where thousands of men wash clothes. Chowpatty beach, where the ocean is black. Nasik, beside the brown holy Godvari river and where every other person asks “Which country?” and think that I say “Switzerland, next to Austria”. And you cant miss the slums, mountains of rubbish and people sleeping on the street even outside the flashest hotel.

Before this I re-visited my friend Subaj in Rajasthan. I wanted to look around town, but he wanted to drink. Indian bars are filthy, tiny rooms behind the liquor shops, and he managed to get so drunk I had to carry him home. But not before he rolled in the gutter, and believe me there is no gutter more filthy than an Indian gutter. I left town in disgust the next day, one last train trip on wonderful Indian railways.

After Nepal I visited Delhi again. For the 5th time on my trip I passed through this horrible sprawling metropolis. Mohammed says give to the poor, so outside every muslim worship place are hundreds of beggars. I think Ive now seen every deformity possible, but sickening are the children forced to crawl. Theres nothing wrong with their legs but after 5 years of crawling, they cant walk. And then there are the men with broken forearms, hand and half of the forearm dangling loosely but still alive. Its business.

Amritsar (meaning “Nectar”) is the holy city of Sikhs (people who wear a turban, knife, long hair and beard, and a special set of underwear). The golden temple is a haven of peace in the centre of an otherwise typically awful Indian city. Tourists and pilgrims can stay and eat in massive halls dahl and chapati, all for free. They feed over 25,000 people a day, its incredible.

From here I returned to Manali and at last drove to Ladakh, in the Himalaya Mountains. 4000m, dry and cold, it was a two-day jeep trip on the worst road. Mud, snow, ice, truck crashes, traffic jams, potholes and boulders. Luckily lots of tea stops in roadside tents. I went on short treks through rocky massive mountains, among yak pasture and apricot trees. Impressive scenery but I was chased away by winter, and made it back along the road just before it closed for good.

Ive changed my mind about India. At first the filth and hopelessness disgusted me. But after 3 months I think that India is the most rewarding of anywhere Ive been, and I miss it already.

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