Good Horn, Good Brakes, Good Luck
To coincide with my launch of a new collection of Fine Art of Ancient India I wanted to give a detailed account of the experience which to this day is still on of my favourite trips ever.
Please enjoy the collection HERE , and enjoy the story with it below.
India is changing. The rate of change and the consumerism becoming available drives a mentality and a desire like nowhere on earth i have thus far seen. Everyone is out to make money, and everyone can somehow get 3 meals a day. The density of the population is huge, the dreams in the cities are big and so are the slums where a lot of people end up. Amongst all this mayhem and energy I can safely say I took a piece of India back with me, I am undecided if it was the former of the latter. Sensory overload, is how I described it. I think after a few trips you may become immune, I hope I never do.
I landed in Delhi and I drove out to Rajasthan, well I hired a car and it came with a driver, no options. The journey was well off the tourist trail and was littered with sites and stops in places where the frequent question was “why are you here?, no one has ever come to see this place”. In fact at one stop we pulled up to a new fence that had no access through to some amazing ruins. A remote police station was based near the wall of the structure. The officers were amused, they said no one had ever been there asking about the place and why did I want to go see some old rocks. The fencing was up because they did not want villagers stealing the rocks for building as it might make the structure unstable and kill someone. This happened a few times, which made me fall in love with Rajasthan even more.
A popular destination and normally associated with crowds and busy. I happened upon an undiscovered marvel.
I never get tired of seeing a cow on the motorway. I am not talking about in the either side of the lanes, in the fields, I mean in the middle lane, often going in the wrong direction to traffic. The driving style is to avoid them by swerving cars and everyone accepts this as common practice and quite normal. I know the cow is sacred, common sense says they should do something more to protect it rather than honking at it. But actually honking works. I never saw one cow in an accident, just about 30 cars.
Honking as you over take is a requirement, else if you get hit its your fault for not warning them with a honk. At any one time there are 100′s of cars in the same stretch of road, all honking, its constant until 3am, then at 4 am it starts up again. All trucks have HORN PLEASE written or stickered on the back bumper. A warning not to forget to HONK ! How can you ?
I met a local, Ballu (perfect name) and was taken to the local ashram, to meet the religious Babas who where spiritually enlightened. My translator explained that their trance was most likely the smoking of substances to use the enlightening smoke. My donation to the ashram saw one of the boys shoot off to the village for more weed. My colleagues were more convinced these Babas were fake, basically pot smokers. I refuse to believe this, as the place felt holy enough and who would choose to live under a tree if it was not for enlightenment and a god.
I tracked down a Kund, a holy place where people go to bathe in the holy water. There I found a temple, and apart from this place never having had a visitor i was ushered in to see the revealing of a God. In a Hindu temple, reveal basically means moving the curtains back. I had expected more. What appeared was a tasselled painted plastic doll. It was accompanied by chanting, banging, clanging and singing. Apparently this happens 3 times a day for 30 minutes. It tends to happen less in the big cities due to noise pollution or the chance of obscuring the honking. Brings a new meaning to living in the country. I had had enough after 24 minutes I must say. I then had to somehow avoid the food they had prepared for the God and chanters to share with me. Graceful rubbing of the abdomen and indicating I was not feeling well did the trick, however the priest was a little disappointed I did not want the milk, local water and rice mixture. I was happy not to see the inside of a hospital, almost guaranteed and with no support from the God.
Unlike Africa where everyone wants to shake your hand, in India everyone offers you water or food which clearly is a hazard for the western traveller. The polite excuse is to explain or indicate you have a stomach issue and should not sample the offering. I guess this leaves Asia believing all westerns are weaker stomached, or perhaps there is no real issue with accepting local food or filtered water as no one has ever tried it. If this is unobserved, it will quickly lead you to the toilet experience. Toilets outside of western hotels are long drop with no toilet paper. You use a fresh bucket of water and your hand. I guess it’s more hygienic than sitting on a seated loo which would have 1000′s of butts in a week. But everyone does eat with their hands so I guess family style eating means many things. Luckily tissue paper is available at most counters.
In Matura I visited Lord Krshna’s birthplace. Its now a temple opposite a pond called a Kund where they allegedly washed his clothes. If he was there today he would be disappointed. Its over crowded, disgustingly dirty, over priced and the Kund is like an organised refuse tip. This is the religious and spiritual capital of India. It needs a good clean, i thought cleanliness was next to godliness.?
Matura is the spiritual capital of Asia. The muslims believe it is where Mohammed was born the Hindus where Krishna was born. Today its full of face painted, pseudo holly men all high on the moment and substances. The place is the dirtiest place on earth. Cleanliness is clearly not a route to godliness in Matura.
I arrived in Agra late one evening, The Taj Mahal is a marble mountain marvel. When it rains it stays open. Seeing the amazing place can only be done barefoot. After i saw the 4th lady take a wonderfully comical tumble, I realised that Health and Safety gone mad is sometimes needed to help make sense of it all. Sadly corruption is still an everyday occurrence and where ever you are there seems to always be an official on the take. I know that sounds a little generalised but the day after a 15 day hunger strike by locals in the centre of Delhi, a police officer was making random decisions on where we could park our taxi. They took the drivers licence and walked off getting their note pad out, I thought this process was audited, how westernised. Turns out it was just the policeman’s personal journal and likely he was making a shopping list whilst it appeared he was writing out a fine ticket, £1.20 in rupees bride later and we are off.
I moved onto Mumbai which has become even more famous in the west through the work of Danny Boyle in Slum Dog Millionaire. Actually Mumbai is one big slum with opportunity. For those that know it as Bombay basically there has been a movement in India to remove the colonialism and the words that the British used for Cities and return them to the local dialect. So Bombay become Mumbai, Bangalore becomes Bengaluru and Calcutta became Kalcutta. I guess the last one was more effort that it was worth. When I landed in Mumbai I was told I would be picked up by an Eco Taxi. Thinking Prius Hybrid nope I forgot this was India and commercial creativity that was ever present. A converted van turned up with glass windows retro fitted. Eco meant you can get 12-15 people in it nothing to do with the engine or planet friendly attitude.
If you ever stay at the Mumbai Hyatt it is next to a wonderful mosque, chanting all day and of course prayers 5 times a day. I felt I had converted to Islam after a while as the tunes and words were becoming familiar. The northern cities of India are slightly more cosmopolitan and tolerant. The further you travel south I found people to be more reserved but equally as keen to honk their horns and avoid cows, camels and elephants on the road. A typical journey you would witness ladies talking in the slow lane of a motorway, standing actually in the first lane to avoid the mayhem that was beside them on the footpath. The driver honks all the way towards them from 50 metres and then has to swerve last minute to avoid them. The default in India is you get out of the way, whatever the object may be. It’s crazy but I quite like the responsibility placed upon people. You learn quick. Cross a road in a big group to better your chances and never assume that anyone will stop. They won’t.
My second phase of the journey was all about temples. I observed that a monkey at a temple gives it a stamp of authority and antiquity from an observers point of view. An absence of monkeys at a temple generally means two things, one there are no people visiting and therefore no easy pickings on the food front. The other is explained below. I love to discover and driving along the road one day I saw some partially hidden ruins across padi fields and into an overgrown forested area. We stopped the car and embarked on a trek to get to them. We navigated tight foot holds and the swampy paddy fields of rice to get close to the ruins. I was ready to move in when locals working in the field told us it was best we left. When questioned about how to get closer to the ruins they informed us we were likely surrounded by Cobras and King Cobras that inhabited the area we were standing in, there were no Monkeys at these ruins. There were quickly no tourists either.
I met amazing and friendly people all across India. The collection of moments above are just a small snippet of experiences and stories I have in trying to gather photographic images that would aid in my documentation of the trip and of course the Fine Art Photography. I hope to return this year at least once if not twice, I want to shoot in keeping with the theme that I love to discover angles and places that others have not seen.
Lastly to the title of the blog. If you ever get to experience traffic and driving in India, whether its behind the wheel of the car or as a passenger my driver, translator and now friend gave me those few words of advice. To survive the roads of India as a driver you need a “good horn, good brakes and good luck”. – Krishna, Delhi 2011
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