Good Bye India

9 12 2010

15 years ago. Apart from being mildly shocked that I (catherine)have a ’15 years ago’ I was also mildly saddened by the toll progress has charged Delhi – there is more of everything, more money, more carsautorickshawsmopedslorries, more urine. Even without the steamy summer heat, the acrid winy stench of urine drapes a greasy slick over everything and everyone.

In India there is a sense that one hand is grabbing for 1st world modernity while the other is struggling to earn enough to eat today. One foot is pushing upwards towards the glitzy heights of a Capitalist Utopia while the other is a raw, oozing, open sore struggling to stand let alone keep up. 15 years ago I was amazed by Delhi’s wide empty streets; I was in awe of its majesty and character. Now it just felt like a cheap pretender. In its hurry to be a ‘front runner’ it feels like it has lost its pride.

‘hellohello where’s your ticket? You can’t enter here without one, quick come with me’, ‘hellohello, what are you looking for? Nothing is open, come with me’, ‘hellohello if you want tourist information, it is closed, come with me’…….It is impossible to visit Connaught place or New Delhi station without being accosted by a constant stream of con men, who, with varying degrees of aggression, will try to manipulate you into engaging with whatever activity it is that will gain them a commission.

However there is an oasis in Delhi, it sits behind high grey walls and is surrounded by constantly tangling lines of grey traffic – it is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. This is where I lived 15 years ago and it has not changed. Though it has progressed.  A couple of days doing business retiring each evening to meditation and yoga in this blissful calm before returning to the road towards the North.

We booked our bikes onto a cramped train to land outside Delhi’s orbit. The North – a naked child defecates over the platform edge while his parents wait for their train, a man tries to get his foot into Liz’s toe clip, another pulls my speedometer receptor out of alignment; there are more cycle rickshaws, there are more people, and there is no sense of personal space. This is India at its stereotypical worst. We stop a night and move on fast.

Between Delhi and the Nepal border the towns are gritty, industrial and busy. Steamy landfill mountains squat menacingly by the sides of the road; dogs, cows, and children graze and pick their way though it respectively. The land is flat, the air is cool, we pedal hard, we cover bigger distances and soon the traffic wains, the smog lifts, and the clientele regain a tentative distance. We soon reach the Banbassa/Manendar Nagar border; a sprawling 6kms of non-road obstacle course. We  guess directions, pick our way round boulders and potholes; we wobble our way over a 2m wide bridge, pulling close to the open sides every time a car, horse-drawn cart or motorbike squidges past. Once over we nearly miss the poorly signed immigration hut to our right – no uniforms here, no armed guards, no hurry … the elderly chap we take for the immigration officer lazily finishes off the article he is reading, folds his newspaper, arranges a few pens, finishes off his tea, before turning his attention to us. Some 30 mins, an unfathomable number of leisurely perused forms later and we are free to rejoin the trickle of Nepalese workers who are also navigating the non-road obstacle course. ‘keep an eye out for the Nepal immigration – it’s on the left .. in about 2 kms’ the elderly officer mumbles at us through the rustle of a reawakened newspaper.