January 4th: India
Hello rupee!! Hello chocolate!!
Holland welcomed me with a cool breeze and the German words “Noch immer Radarkontrolle” along the highway. It wasn’t a feeling of coming home at all. I missed the palm trees and the crowds walking the streets at night. Back home the doors are closed all day, even in summer people take care that nothing gets stolen. After nine days I didn’t feel too bad about leaving again for Delhi.
Air France managed to lose my backpack “somewhere”; they were not able to
locate it. After some negotiations they gave me 3000 RS to survive the first days. I only had my two cameras, a roll of toilet paper and a pen in my cabin luggage. The money was more than sufficient, what I needed most was a toothbrush.
The traffic in Delhi is terrible, what’s most annoying is the pollution. Breathing is really difficult. People that want to sell me something, from hashish, opium, to a Kashmir home stay, constantly approach me on the streets. One seller had great lines; “Money is like a headache, it comes and goes.” Another of his remarkable ones; “Life is like an ice-cream, you should enjoy it before it melts.” I complimented him and he humbly remarked; “I’m a philosopher.”
My Pakistani rickshaw driver took me to the Mahatma Gandhi museum and it impressed me highly. Some macabre things like the bullets that killed this great man; his blood-stained clothes under a glass plate made the history come alive. Just across the street is the place where he was cremated, just like his daughter Indira and two nephews. All of them died by assassination. It sure is a peaceful spot in Delhi, you forget about the pollution and crowds.
I made a deal with the driver. He would take me to an interesting sightseeing spot and I would visit a souvenir shop in return. It worked well. The first shop I left too fast, so he told me to spend ten minutes there and ask some questions, look for the best price. He got his commission then for bringing me there.
I was unable to reach the Jama Mashid, the great mosque of old Delhi on that Friday afternoon. Thousands of people were inside and sitting on the surrounding streets. The police were omnipresent with their big poles in their hands; they don’t hesitate to hit people with them I already knew.
As I finally got in I noticed something, my zipper at the back of my pants was open but my wallet was still there. A young girl ran away. I can’t blame the people for doing this, India is the proud owner of nuclear weapons and satellites, but to make children go to school for some years is too difficult for India. I sometimes think that the powerful few are content with the caste system, the only ones that profit from it are those “well to do”. I see children of 8 to 10 years working everywhere for about 16/20 RS a day. Humanity is apparently not an Indian word and this in the year 2000.
The entrance fees that the government charges for its historic buildings are something special too; $5 is about the least, it goes up to $10 for the Red Fort in Agra to $20 for the Taj Mahal. Fewer visitors visit the Taj now; locals have to pay 20 RS, not even half a dollar. It’s a blatant rip off, Friday is free but government wants to change that too. Local people demonstrate against the high fees as fewer people visit Agra and the rickshaw men in the street have less income as well. The government gets its dollars and tourists leave India with the feeling of getting ripped of.
Bunti, the son of one shop owner, asked me if I wanted to earn $100. He offers to bring me to a town just north of Agra, I can stay in a good hotel, free food, free beer, hmm… tv and video in the room. I just have to give them my medical papers. They will contact the insurance company back home and tell them I’m in hospital with severe stomach problems. Hmm, no way… “A lot of people get sick in India! Let them pay you back now!” he tries to persuade me. This medical scam doesn’t work in Agra anymore he tells me, too many people got “sick” in Agra.
Time to get back to Delhi to pick up Dew, then the journey continues to Jaipur.