I came back to France for a month. On my return night, I was way too knackered, but the day after, I organised a JFK at Les Souffleurs and put a bindi on all my friends' forehead, it was great. So many people I like who came for me, it was so good. I squatted at friends' (thank you Marion, Romain and Guillaume, thank you Ywen for giving me your flat during your Mexican holidays !) and I went out a lot, sorted out a few things... I am very lucky to have all these friends.
I gave a lot of presents, to family, to friends...
I went very briefly to London to give Ada and Peter their presents.
I saw my shrink again. And then I left without even thinking.
I took one last rickshaw to the train station and took the train to New Delhi. I arrived late, alone in the night with my bag full of presents, in a guest house I had previously checked in the backpackers area. I spent a comfortable night there. In the morning I took my breakfast and gave my hand sanitizer to two frenchies (maybe a straight couple) who were just starting to travel in India. I took the gorgeous metro through the fog, checked my luggage in, went through customs without any problem. The stamp said "11 jan 2014", beside the entry stamp "22 oct 2013". Nearly 3 months. I was taking my anxiety killers and recounted the adventure.
The plane left and I had no regrets. I wouldn?t miss India. There has been magical places such as Kundle Beach in Gokarna, Rajasthan and McLeod Ganj, great encounters (Bart and Stefani, Laurie, Sam and Yann, Abbie, Richard, Hinda), amazing moments (oh shooting that movie in Hampi, the cycle-rickshaw ride with Pandi, and most of all the pilgrimage from Tirupathi to Tirumala !), and Mumbai, India didn?t blow me away though. I expected the lack of hygiene, but not the rickshaw drivers' attitude... These will have been 3 intense months.
I have the feeling everyone finds what they need in India. I learnt how to get mad at people ! I also wanted to prove myself I could do it and I managed. I am very happy and very proud of it.
I posted the pictures on my Picasa account. I should make playlists of what I was listening to (mostly the latest Midnight Juggernauts, then the latest Jackson and his Computerband and the latest Boards of Canada) and photo albums summing up the whole thing on Facebook. But now I'm in Australia and I am very busy !
I will still say : THANK YOU INDIA ! That is exactly what I needed at that time.
I kept Varanasi for the end. The sacred city where hindus come and wash away their sins in the Ganges and burn their loved ones.
After a complicated trip (4-hour-late train because od the winter fog, missing the next train, meeting an indian guy going to the same place, sharing a rickshaw to the bus stand and stuff), I arrived in the Old City area where I saw a corpse being taken to the ghats (stairs on the riverside where people wash their laundry, take a bath and stuff). It was covered with embroidered textiles and carried by several men on bamboo sticks. No one seemed moved, it's normal here.
The first evening I went to the daily show on the main ghat, it was beautiful.
I then let myself get tempted by a street massage (on a plastic sheet on the floor, fully dressed, at night, two meters away from a cow...) and it was the best of my whole life ! If the massage guy didn?t set a price, his friend made me clearly understand how much he expected and it was not a small amount ! And I was soft like marshmallow, so...
I met a lot of travellers in the guest house, where they would play tablas and cithar (probably the two best instruments of India) every night.
The morning after, I went for two hours on a boat ride to see the ghats with a nice girl I met the day before. We saw the hindus doing puja (ritual) by bathing in the Ganges and see some burning bodies from far...
We then went to the ghat where you have most body burnings. After some arguing with the people there (some give you information about the thing then tell you they are guides and make you pay fuckloads of money), we could watch the fires with the corpses burning. You feel a bit like a voyeur but then you keep in mind this is public, that families don't seem to attend and that there's no tear or cry... A strange experience that enables you to conceive how little we are in the end.
The following days I walked around, sent my last postcards, bought my last presents... It was the end of the trip.
Ah, Taj Mahal, at last !
I woke up early to be able to see it without too many people. I got in at 7am and after getting through the big gate, I finally got the long expected view on... the fog ! A very dense fog that took two hours to start getting away !
Nevertheless, visiting the place in the mist was interesting because it gave it a more mystical atmosphere.
Then loads of tourists arrived...
But at 10.30, the fog fainted away and I could take THE picture !
I had little time for Jaipur so I just stayed two nights and one day for a tour. It was very nice, the palace, Nahargarh Fort, Amer Fort, etc. By the end of the day I was knackered though, and it was a bit of a shame I didn't get to walk in the street of the "Pink City" (which is more like "Terracota City" actually).
By the way, did I tell you that the Indian way of spelling English was not really great ?
But the thing I liked the most was... the guest house ! A nice atmosphere, a crazy staff and some characters ! I met very nice people ! It is called "Tony Guest House", I highly recommend it.
There are places you like instantly. And others you hate very quickly ! I disliked New Delhi a lot.
I didn't like Connaught Place, the indian Oxford Street where super expensive shops lay beside the highest misery. I didn't like the metro where people nearly step on one another. I didn't like the begging children who caught my arm while I was buying my metro token. I didn't like queueing for the metal detectors in the metro although it's completely inefficient. I didn't like getting hit by a motorbike while I was crossing the street (thankfully nothing bad happened) because of the traffic chaos. I didn't like how foreigners are targeted by untrustworthy travel agencies. I didn't like how there was no party at all for New Year's Eve !
Fortunately I met cool people in a bar-restaurant that was closing at midnight !
Anyway, I left earlier than planned.
I had two days to kill before New Delhi. I landed in Haridwar, a sacred city on the Ganges upon which people come and lay candles at sunset to get a blessing.
My stay wasn't extraordinary but at least I could upload my pictures and update my blog.
When I went for the candle, they made me pay a lt of things. So when the guy who made me put my candle on the river said : "Good for family, 500 rupees !", I corrected : "Good for family AND friends, 100 rupees !" So I only gave 100 rupees but I blessed you all.
I wasn't sure whether I should go to McLeod Ganj, given the cold temperatures. But actually it was a very good decision !
First I met a very nice french girl on the bus called Hinda. It was the 24th of December and when we arrived, we went to a restaurant and then a bar to celebrate !
I received a phone call from my best friend who was in NYC at that very moment, it was very cool :)
The view from the hostel wasn't bad at all !
The day after we went to the buddhist complex, where the Dalai Lama lives. The Buddhist temples are truly magnificient. We also rolled the prayer wheels :)
We did some shopping and Hinda showed me how much you can bargain, it was impressive ! I bought a mandala in this very nice shop.
Oh, a singing bowl !
We also saw "Kundun" in a cinema close to the hostel. (Yes, as we were alone, we brought our pizza and our coke !)
The following day, Hinda motivated me for a trek. We got up super early for the Triund which happened to be garder than Internet made it believe (probably because it was winter and the path was covered with snow). But what a pride to reach the top and enjoy this magnificient view on the Himalayas. Thank you Hinda !
Coming back was difficult !
I spent one last day in McLeod Ganj and I saw the headquarters of the tibetan government in exile before heading to Haridwar.
After a long bus trip (took 3 buses for 21 hours), I arrived in Amritsar.
The morning I went for world famous Golden Temple, surrpunded by a marble complex and a water tank where pilgrims bathe and fishes swim. The cleanliness differs a lot from hindu temples, which are covered with flower offerings and paint.
I then visited the monument to the victims killed by the british rule during a uprising for independance (watch the movie "Gandhi").
In the afternoon I went for the Wagah border with Pakistan where they lower the flags every evening, which turns into almost a sports game : Indians applause indian soldiers, Pakistanis pakistani soldiers... It lasts about 20 minutes but it's fun.
I met a very nice Australian girl called Abbie.
The evening I went back to the Golden Temple then I had dinner with Abbie.
I took a cycle-rickshaw to go home and I felt... like a little god !
It was very cold though compared with Jaisalmer. I spent the nights in my sleeping bag and my clothes.
The day after I went to the Mata Temple which looks more like from a Disneyland manor with its maze, its mirrors, its lion- or snake-shaped doors, and then I left !
Traveller's sickness, this terrible diarrhea hitting you while you're travelling, is very common in India. Everybody I know who's been there has had it at least once ! All in all, I will have had it 4 times, including 3 times the first month. The third time, yes, I was really tired of it, it was the day before my pilgrimage to Tirumala but thanks to anti-diarrhea pills (thank you Imodium !), I could contain all that ! I had to see two doctors (you must get checked after two days of diarrhea) and in the end I recovered every time (even though I have needed antibiotics).
The fourth time was the most epic one though ! I was on the bus from Aurangabad to Ahmedebad when, two hours before arrival, I felt bowel movements in my stomach. I thought I could wait until Ahmedabad and that I will use the time to find a bus to Udaipur and go to the toilets. Unfortunately, I happened to meet a rickshaw driver when I arrived in Ahmedabad who pushed me to follow him if I didn't want to miss the bus. And as an idiot, I followed him, although I could have taken time to rest and relieve myself. Furthermore, he took a big commission on the ticket. Thus, I had to get back on a bus very quickly and didn't have the time to the loo !
Oddly enough, there was not one but several assistants to the driver, selling or controlling tickets. I first asked them when we would stop : "In two hours". Then I realised I couldn't hold it much longer and I harrassed them : "Can we stop now ? Can we stop now ?" ! I went to the driver who didn't wanna stop. Thankfully, young people sit behind me had understood my problem and started laughing. They then askmed me if I needed to go to the toilets and I answered dramatically : "I need to shit right now !" So they went to the driver and talked to him in whatever language and they were laughing (they probably said something like : "he's gonna paint over your bus if you don't stop right now !") and so the driver accepted to stop 15 minutes later.
Indeed, he stopped by a field. There was a range of trees but there was a grid in front of it, it was then impossible to hide, except behind some small tree/bush with a very thin trunk and very thin branches. So I left my dignity on the bus, came down, dropped my trousers and emptied my bowels. I thought to myself, just like in horror movies : "Don't look back ! Don't look back !" but I had a little look and I saw these grandpas and grandmas staring at me taking a dump. WOW.
I wiped myself, I put my trousers back on, washed my hands with some hand sanitiser, went back on the bus and smiled to the driver while thanking him for stopping, went back to my seat while thanking everyone for their patience, especially the young guys for their help.
OH THAT FEELS GOOD !
That's it, it was one of the most memorable stories I have lived in India.