Tuesday, February 27, 2001

India - 73 Days, Please Stop The Rain

We left DELHI for the Himalayas. The journey started with the "honor" of getting a ride on India's fastest Rickshaw (a kind of motorbike with 3 wheels and a bench for passengers) the driver certainly didn't know the word limit or fear. I have to admit that I was scared in the beginning, but after a couple of minutes I couldn'tstop laughing.
Dashing in a rickshaw through the streets of OLD DELHI - like in the set of a cheap gangster movie - we passed cars, taxis, buses, trucks, cows and everything else that was moving. We cut through turns with squeaking tires, and as the" icing on the cake", our driver was leaning out of the rickshaw and shouting victory calls in Hindi to all his opponents. he must have said something like "where did you learn to drive, sissy" after the 20 minutes Rickshaw Formula 1 Race, we decided to award our driver with the name "Rickshaw-Rambo".

The next day, having recovered from the race through DELHI, we arrived in NAINITAL, an Indian honeymoon destination... We were greeted by ice cold winter weather.... Wonderfull, especially since we only had our beach clothes with us. Have you ever tried to layer swim suits and shorts to achieve warmth? Socks make great gloves and beach blankets turn into shawls!
Dressed for Nanital
We definitely didn't win the fashion award among the honeymooners. Okay, NAINITAL is 1950m (6000ft) above sea level, but we never imagined that it would be only 2°C (35°F). We actually ended up spending 5 days in NAINITAL, but we have not seen much of it. Since the sun only showed up for a few hours each day and was instead hiding behind the mountains most of the day. There was not much time to go out to explore. We spent most of the time in our hotel room under a big pile of blankets dreaming of the 30°C (85°F) in GOA. There is another detail that I forgot to mention... Hotel rooms in NAINITAL do not have heating, who would want that anyways?  Therefore we spent the time bundled up in bed, watching Satellite TV, and observing our breath turning into steamy haze (it was truly freezing cold).

Our next Destination was RANIKET, where we stayed in a Shiva Ashram for a few days. A memorable experience especially since we, by chance, were there during Shiva's birthday. Shiva is one of India's most important gods, the master of creation, birth and destruction. In the Ashram we were told that there is an Ashram that was founded by Babaji (an Incarnation of Shiva) in the 70ies nearby. It is as they said very special and peaceful there. We left for the Babaji Ashram the next morning. Our journey started wit the most efficiently utilized taxi in the world.
The Ambassador: Taxi or minibus?
In India they have shared Taxis, which basically means you split the cost with fellow passengers.So we got into this Taxi that already has 4 passengers on the backseats and the driver in the front, we thought that if we sit down in the front is 6 paying passengers plus the driver and that’s it. Well the driver certainly didn't think so and we waited for some more passengers, eventually we took of with 8 adults, 9 Schoolchildren and 2 babies!!! of course Julane and I were amongst the 19 passengers!
Now the big question: what type of Taxi was it, no not a minibus! Not a jeep but an ordinary car. If you've ever been in the UK you might be familiar with the traditional Ambassador Taxis, well that's just was it was. If you don't know the Ambassador, just take a look at this picture.

Babaji Ashram in Haidakan
After our sardine taxi express, and a some more hours in a bus with an unscheduled break (the street was blocked  from a land slide) we finally arrived in a small town near HAIDAKAN. From there we had to walk the remaining 3 Miles to the Ashram.
The  Babaji Ashram in HAIDAKAN was great: an incredible landscape, no noise, no pollution, a very positive energy and many interesting people!

We unfortunately had to leave for DELHI after two days. The night bus to the capital was another example why India leads the world’s statistics road fatalities. Our bus had not windshield wipers… not a big deal right… unless it’s raining. That’s exactly what happened, we were in a downpour. I know what you think here. I wrote earlier about no rain in India. Well on Day 73 it finally happened, I wish it could have waited one more day. I have no idea how the driver managed to see and stay on the road, I definitely could not see anything out that windshield. Every 30minutes or so he would stop, take a dirty rag and wiped the windshield, I don’t know what was cleaner afterwards, the window or the rag. I can just say: “don’t try this at home”
During the whole trip Julane was just dozing on the seat next to me, asking in the morning why we had stopped so much. Did the driver have a weak bladder?

The next couple days in DELHI were flying by.... savoring the food, last minute shopping, and a visit to the National Museum before leaving for Japan…

Good bye India… 
You are truly an incredible country offering an experience of contrast and extremes, stimulation for all senses, truly unforgettable.