A Travellerspoint blog

The final days (of Guru's and Gandhi)

25th-27th Jan

18 °C

The following are some of my favorite interactions with various people I've met throughout the trip...

After visiting the slums a guy at the hostel asks if I took a lot of pictures... I told him that I've never felt the urge to take pictures of anything less in my whole life. He asks why and I do an impression of a patronizing tourist. "Awww, look at all the poor people! Click click click click"

Tour guide at temple in Mumbai: Omar what are you doing?

Omar: Applying sunscreen. I've been burnt in the past

Guide: No no no this sun will not burn you

Omar: It looks very much like the sun that burnt me last time!

Trader: Hey you! You sir! Buy nice thing for your girlfriend! (Holds up knick-knack)

Omar: (looks confused) Parle vous Francais?

Trader gives up.

Events
It's 7am and 8 of us from the hostel are off to a temple on the outskirts of Mumbai. Some of the others have volunteered to be extras in a Bollywood movie but the thought of spending a day waiting around doesn't appeal to me. Upon arrival we watch a ceremony with lots of drums and repetitive chanting. We all clap along but I have absolutely no idea what is happening. It is interesting none-the-less. We pass through the inner sanctum of the temple, a square 3 meter square room with idols adorning the walls. When we emerge the other side we are given a tika (red mark on the forehead) and a bracelet made of several different coloured threads. We are each given a blessing and it all seems very nice. The holy man then ruins it all somewhat by asking for money for the blessing. I politely refuse and he seems a little offended. He say's something to me in Hindi and I do what I always do in situations where I don't understand something... Make up my own interpretation. I decide that he said "If there is such a thing as reincarnation, you're coming back as a potato" which I thought was a bit harsh. Later, my friend Raf asks Raj (our guest house owner) the significance of the bracelets. Raj's replies that "the significance is you take them off before you go to bed; they will dirty my sheets".

Next we are introduced to a Baba (holy man) who barely eats, drinks only water, has sworn off women, alcohol etc and who's job it is to smoke copious amounts of marijuana and meditate all day. We sit in a circle with him and some other men and he welcomes us all, passing round nuts and the hash pipe. Some of our group smoke and after 10 minutes or so we leave the locals and the Baba to it. Must be pretty cool to be that guy!

We head down to the center of the little commune and are guests of honour for lunch. The whole commune (minus the Baba's who are not allowed to see women) sits on mats on the floor in 4 rows facing each other with us in the middle and we are given a huge amount of food. At least 7 dishes arrive with men walking round topping up your plate whenever it looks like you are beginning to make progress. The food is delicious. I was certain I would have to be rolled back to the van. On the way back to the hostel, the discussion turns to music and I experience my most multicultural moment of the trip when an Argentinian MBA student teaches me the words to the French version of "Anarchy in the UK" (by British punk legends the sex pistols)... "Moi je suis lo antechrist, Mo je suis lo anarchist!!!!"

That evening Raf and I go to South Mumbai with the intention of seeing the sites, but instead I buy a copy (I later realize that it is literally a copy and has been Xerox'd) of Steve Job's new biography for 150 rupees (2 pounds) from a man sitting in the street. I then ask how much it will be for all the books he has (approximately 500 of them) and he says "If you can carry them all you can have them free". I promptly hail a cab and he says "No no no, you must carry them yourself". Never one to turn down a challenge I start picking up books and ladening myself with them. Raf joins in, piling them in to my arms. We only manage half before I realize that I'm going to drop them and admit defeat.

The next day I catch my overnight train back to Delhi for the last leg of my journey. The family sharing my bay seem to have misunderstood my English attempts at small talk to mean "As a foreign tourist in an unfamiliar country, what would really make me feel at home is if you could all stare at me for the entire 17 hour journey and talk about me in Hindi.

The next morning (Thursday) I arrive in Delhi and discover that all the museums/monuments and most shops etc are closed for the national holiday, celebrating the anniversary of the writing of India's constitution. I acquire a room, a shared dorm for 150 rupees/2 pounds per night, which incidentally is less than I paid for a meal at KFC later that evening and head off to Logi Gardens (Delhi's equivalent of Regents Park). At least 40 separate family cricket matches are taking place and I do a circuit of the park, ice-cream in hand, taking in the scene. When this loses its appeal I head to the grand stretch of road connecting India Gate (like marble arch without the marble, they used it all on the Taj Mahal) war memorial and their parliament. The entire road is still closed to traffic and is packed with people and I banter with a group of Indian lads pretending to misunderstand the meaning of the parade and all the flags is to welcome me (the British ambassador) back to India after such a long absence. "I mean, we left on such great terms last time, I thought you'd love to have us back".

It's Friday morning and with less than 24 hours before I leave for home I set out to see Delhi's sites that I was unable to visit yesterday. I saw and did many things today, but they all pale in to insignificance in comparison to the place I started the day. The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial. In all honestly, the exhibits in the museum here are at best... weird. It is a multi-media museum, supposedly about Gandhi although most of the "exhibits" are little more than abstract pieces of art with very little to do with the Mahatma. The memorial does have one massively redeeming feature however. It contains the room where Gandhi spent the last 4 months of his life and shows his footsteps from the room to the prayer ground 30 meters away where on the 30th January 1948, at 5:17pm he was shot dead. Many people cite him as the closest thing to a saint the modern world has seen and Einstein said "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth". I don't disagree. To see the place was a surreal experience and one of my favorites of the entire trip.

I'm very glad I came to India. It's been my first time out of the UK alone and in retrospect I could have picked an easier country to start travelling in. It was not always easy or enjoyable. The highs however, far outweigh the lows. If anyone wants to do the whole backpacking thing (even for a very short time like I did) I would definitely recommend it. I am happy because now I can look back without thinking "what if?" I shall remember this experience for the rest of my life. The only question remaining is, where to next?!

Omar

Posted by OmarInIndia 05:06 Archived in India Tagged temple train parliament mumbai delhi india_gate gandhi gandhi_memorial

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Comments

Hey man enjoyed reading your blogs. You have a fun, witty style of writing, I like it!

by KyleMac

Thanks Kyle! Just read your Jaipur and Taj blog. We have had very similar experiences and the Priest who got you "married" in the monkey temple is the same guy I met. Enjoy the rest of your travels bro!

by OmarInIndia

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