Monday, December 12, 2005

Bound for Bara, Bihar and Border

Battling a case of recurrent Giardia and ever more recurrent procrastination, your correspondent heads south today for the "Buddha Boy" and Bara district, then the Indian border town of Raxaul, Bihar state, where I will - eventually - catch a train to New Delhi. I've done lots of scary things on this trip, but the reports of Delhi touts still frighten me. There's nothing like the smell of an Indian railway station - believe me, that's a good thing, and one thing I will not miss if India continues to modernize. But I love the big, lumbering, lived-in (literally) Indian Rail system. People, including myself, complain, it still does an amazing job moving millions of people a day.

I awoke early, breath fogging the air like a dragon, to kick around the streets with my new Sony T-17 camera. It's funny what people object to having photographed. A butcher had the entire torso of a goat (I think - hard to tell when it's completely skinned and headless) lying on its back, spreadeagled on a formica-topped table. The carcass was surrounded by various other chops of meat. I did get a few quick snaps before he motioned "no." Hey, you're gonna expose a headless, dead goat's genitals on the public road, and then act all modest?

Then I went to Mitho Cafe in Chhetrapati and had my first-ever authentic Nepali breakfast (a contradiction in terms since Nepalis don't really eat breakfast; I think they invented this for tourists like me who want to be "authentic"). "Ground maize powder with chickpea, soy and curd" turned out to be ground maize, chickpea and soy powder - that is, all dry powder, nothing but a bowl of sawdust - and an accompanying bowl of yogurt that you mix together to make a paste. Surprisingly tasty. The restaurant boys were so excited that I wanted to eat Nepali breakfast. They all enthused about going to see the Buddha Boy and said there were rumours that the King would visit the meditator sometime in the next few weeks. They also showed me a newspaper clipping that revealed (for the first time I had seen) the actual village I need to head for.

Kunda Dixit did a brilliant column this week about Nepal winning the "Conde Nasty Traveller Awards" in the coveted categories of "Place most difficult to get into" and "most difficult to get out of." I would have to agree. The road conditions, grounded airlines and nonexistent railways certainly go a long way toward preserving the Shangri-La mystique. Well, at least it's not in much danger of ruining the natural beauty. Some maintain that Nepal is under threat of invasion from China; having seen the map, my question is "How?" There's only one road that an army could even move down, the Kodari "Friendship" highway (just ask the Tibetans about having "friendship" with China). Personally I think they're going to pull an East India Company move, like the British did in India, and establish "business relations" first.

Currently I'm involved in a back-and-forth with my friend and fellow blogger Shinu about the fate of India, a huge question for anyone to even address. If sometimes my words sound too critical of India, all I ask is that people look at my photos. I think the photos show my real affection for the place and concern for the people; hopefully without overly romanticizing them.


Shinu Mathew said...

It is a great relief to know that there are countries that are worse than India. After reading the communications between us, I thought India is the worst place to get in. Or to get Out. What a comfort..

Shinu Mathew said...

Hi Caroline,
@looking at your photo to gauge your love for India
Looks can be deceiving!!
@About Sony T-17.
Is this a digital SLR? I tried to search but all I am getting is Sony Vaio Laptop and some crap. Tell me how this cam feels. I am planning to buy my second cam. I like it to be a Digital one. Present one is an SLR.