India Three

I have completely given up maintaining a separate electronic log as well as occasional blog posts. Instead, I seem to have switched my thinking to focusing my own personal journal of events and activities into the blog as well. This naturally makes the posts longer, and with occasional more frivolous detail, but a large part of it is to be my own personal record of memories for when I’m too old to get out of bed, (much less travel). I won’t feel the least bit slighted when people skip large sections. Exceptions of course are for my parents, Keizer’s, and the Gauthier’s. There will be a test on everything later to ensure your complete absorption of every word and punctuation mark.

A couple of responses to my last post about India’s omnipresent filth necessitate some further explanation. The origin of the feces common everywhere is not limited to animals sadly. The second worst smells encountered are the horrid stench of rotting discarded food. The abundance of roaming animals (dogs, cows, pigs, goats, monkeys, camels, elephants and occasional cats) seem to eat a lot of these food scraps thankfully. Rotting food smells still abound everywhere one walks though. Even though it’s “winter” here it’s nicely warm enough during the day to wear sandals. We are hesitant to though, due to the refuse everywhere and the possibility of getting it in our toes and on our feet so easily. The worst smell I alluded to a few sentences ago is urine. The stench is constantly overpowering. Obviously it’s mostly from men, (we’ve walked or driven by many) but we’ve even seen one woman hike up her dress a bit and squat and go. We saw a few women go in the street or alley in China though. Anyways, the ridiculous controversy last summer of a few public urinals along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton (removed during the daytime) seems crazy when considering the alternative smells that will offend everyone long after the fact.

Back to the animals for a moment. We had long heard stories of cows roaming the streets etcetera, but were really unprepared for the immensity of them everywhere. I think that the kids have counted more dogs here in India so far than the rest of the world combined! After the tonnes of roving K-9’s in Latin America and Southeast Asia, that’s a whole lot of dogs!!! The cows are numerous as well. What a huge shame we can’t get a good prime rib on any menu here. The interesting thing is that they are not skittish at all, having grown used to just being there. Cars drive past both sides of a cow standing and relaxing in the middle of a road without slowing down to less than 60KPH. There’s no swerving either, if I rolled down the window and reached my arm out I could touch the animals as we race past. Goats and pigs are equally un-startled, but usually stay in the ditches or along the sidewalks nosing around for scraps. Driving in India is bad enough, but to create a good traffic jam, one would only have to dump a bunch of old rotting food in the middle of the road. Drivers would be stymied waiting for the huge crowd of animals sure to gather in the area and blocking all accesses. At least the elephants and camels had “drivers” as they plodded along.

Alex and especially Luke have had a tough time (mainly since entering Asia) not petting dogs, or touching other animals even though it would be easy to. The diseases, filth, fleas and mange are just rampant. The mange especially is horrible! So many dogs we’ve seen since entering Thailand have just scratched themselves raw and have open wounds from the mange. It is terrible and very sad to see. It also took frequent explaining to Luke to convince him to just say a prayer for them rather than helping them scratch.

I had forgotten also in the previous post to describe our guide in Jaipur. He was certainly the best one we’d had yet in India so far and was very knowledgeable. Still though, he took us to some pretty high pressure shops which was quite annoying. One other thing he did was also a little sneaky. At the original Jaipur Fort and Palace just outside the city proper we have to walk a ways up the hill to get to the entrance. The hill has stairs for people, and a switchback ramp for vehicles or elephants. At the bottom in the parking lot, the guide said we could either walk way up there, (just over 110m vertical maybe) rent a 4WD jeep, (with emphasis on the excitement of a 4WD) or take an elephant ride, (with the most emphasis on this option). Walking in the end only took us just under fifteen minutes. The jeep option was only $6 for the five of us (including the guide of course). The elephant was $16 for only two passengers, so we’d need two for $32 for a little walk up the hill. There were LOTS! of people taking this option though. Many were old and needed to save their energy for getting around in the Palace I guess. Most were just doing it for the experience though. The part where the guide disappointed me though was his heavy emphasis on the two money options. We had hired the Toyota wagon and driver for the week though. So I asked the guide if we couldn’t just drive up there with our current vehicle rather than paying for a 4WD. The switchback road looked entirely doable by an old Austin Mini, never mind our six cylinder wagon. The guide stumbled a moment, and then agreed that, yes, if we wanted he supposed we could just drive up to the entrance. I guess they just have to spread the tourist wealth around. I’m sure I saw a little wry smile from our driver though, since he’s been incredibly fair and respectful of us so far. He also seems to know that we are not filthy rich and appreciate not getting screwed over. As Alex mentioned though, the driver can’t really object to the guides suggestions in front of him though.

While shopping at one textile store I abandoned Claudette a few minutes early while she was being shown the progressively nicer works. I had seen a tiny kite store a little ways back down the alley and wanted to have a look. It was about 2m x 3m, but the guy had a lot of stuff. Reels, (plastic, wood & homemade bamboo ones) string, and all kinds of basic designed kites. The homemade bamboo reels were about $0.58 while the plastic ones were about $1 (string for bot6h sold separately). The kites were made of two splintered bamboo sticks with a rectangular piece of heavy tissue paper glued on as the surface. They were only about thirteen cents each. Most had strips of the colored tissue paper cut out with different colors glued in. In Jaipur there had apparently been a big kite festival a few days before we arrived. There were hundreds of kites flopping around in all kids of trees and in the massive tangle of power lines snaking every which way through the city.

After having a look at the little store I walked back to outside the textile shop. It was on a corner of alleyways (really considered roads here). Down the side direction was a local boy, clean and well dressed, trying to fly a kite. He had difficulty getting it higher than about 5-6m though due to the narrowness of the buildings, trees and power lines encroaching his makeshift playground on both sides. I was vocally cheering on with oohs & aghs as it went higher or lower. After a few minutes I was playfully shouting at him and waving wildly to get it away from the power lines. After a few futile minutes of deft maneuvering he lost the battle and it was tangled. I knew I couldn’t buy a kite for Alex and Luke (no matter how cheap they were) but I jumped at the opportunity to run back to the store and pick one out for this other boy. I picked out a nice purple one, but clearly my kite pre-purchase analysis skills are utter crap. So I proudly took this new pristine purchase back to the boy and gave it to him. He readily accepted, and began poking small holes in it to attached the string line. I held it up while he ran the string out about 10m for its maiden flight and on the count of three I tossed it straight up while he pulled the string to birth this majestic paper into the wild blue yonder. We were as a well oiled machine, but the kite did not participate in our desire to have it soar with the pigeons. (No eagles here, but thousands of nuisance birds.) The purple pig-headed kite took a quick U-turn at 3m and nosedived straight into our car. Balgit, (our driver) was chuckling at our earnest yet failed attempt. I avoided all further contact and possible jinxing of the kite after that. The boy tried again a few times on his own with his tried and tested techniques. After a mere six attempts the nose was tattered and the bent bamboo was splintering too much and loosing the flexing elasticity needed to maintain a taunt flying surface. Disgusted with myself I pulled another five rupee bill (thirteen cents) from my pocket. I stomped on the kite before the boy could pick it up again, gave him the money and pointed him down the alley to pick out his own with hopefully better results.

Alex and Luke came out to see what was happening sometime around here, and watched the boy bring back the new and improved spoils. He came back with a plastic one that I hadn’t even seen in the store. It was recycled bag plastic and was the same price as the tissue paper ones apparently. I still chose to have nothing to do with this new launch though, just in case… It was flying with 30m of string out in no time! I then went back inside for a moment to check on Claudette. When I returned outside the kite was so incredibly high up that it was barely visible. The immense smile on this boys face was prominent for anyone to see though. He gave Luke the reigns for a bit too which was pretty cool. I came in second in a kite flying contest when I was about eleven or so. It was open to all ages, and first place went to some early 20’s guy who made a 3m square behemoth (sp?) that didn’t even fly. I used my plastic drugstore $2 special and kicked butt against all of the 30 or so other entrants. I should have remembered the lessons of flying with plastic, but I guess I’m old and it had slipped my mind. I tried telling the boy that I’d won this contest when younger, but I think the significance was lost on him. I won a $50 voucher for the toy store in Bonnie Doon mall that had sponsored it by the way. That was 1978ish and huge money for a kid in a toy store! It was also significant since my Grandpa James was in Edmonton visiting and got to see me do very well along with my Dad. K, sorry… enough childhood reminiscing.

Along the same kite story lines we enjoyed our un-guided fort visit yesterday afternoon. This one was at the high hill directly adjacent to the new Jaipur city. We climbed the stairs to the roof and had a spectacular view of the city. Being Saturday, there were lots of kites flying way below us. We were quite a ways up, and the hill was very steep, so buildings of the city were just below us, and not too far (50-60m) laterally. As we looked further off in the distant horizon we could actually see several kites at our level. These were actually the tissue paper kind and obviously of superior construction to the one I had previously bought. Then, I’m not sure why but I turned my eyes even higher and spotted a few more kites flying a ways above even our heads! The ones even with us must have been bare specs in the sky to the kids on the ground. The higher ones though must have been completely invisible! They could probably only feel tugs on the strings as the wind carried it too and fro well beyond their eyesight. The fort we were at was about 220m to 250m elevation above the city. This means that those kids had probably a whole roll of 1000′ of string spooled out! Oh what a life…

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