Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A three-hour tour, a three-hour tour....

Location: Nagarjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh
Photos still on hold

Excursion Diversion

Wow, the middle of the day is so hot here, all I can do is sit under the lone table fan at the lone internet terminal. The local folks walk around with bare heads in the mid-day sun. I stagger from house to net shop protected by sunscreen and my umbrella.

Thursday I took a bus trip with a bunch of Tibetan newcomers to a Buddhist pilgrimage site, Nagarjunakonda. It was a four-hour bus ride on the old shake-n-rattle wooden seats to the manmade lake, Nagarjuna Sagar, where we took a boat to the manmade island that houses archaeological remains of the region (from before they made the dam). They enjoyed it - for most of them it was their first time ever on a boat - but they suffer tremendously in the heat and many are covered in mosquito bites. There were 6 cases of malaria during the Kalachakra event and malaria clinics were set up all over the site. Five elder Tibetans died (not of malaria, but various other fevers)during Kalachakra. Most of the people on my bus were new arrivals from Tibet, which means they spent about 29 days crossing the mountains back in November. Then in December they took refugee status in Nepal and came down here for this event. Others came legally on Chinese passports with a normal visa and will go back to Tibet, so they didn't have such a hard time getting here - they came on trains and buses like normal travellers.

Museum musings
Nagarjunakonda itself is weird. It was previously a vast Buddhist civilization - with temples, monasteries, stupas, residences all in ruins, but yet to be fully explored. President Nehru decided to flood the valley to make a dam for local irrigation. I am glad that the surrounding land is now green and fertile, but sad to see the pathetic tiny clay "replicas" of the irreplaceable ruins in the museum.

The museum itself, like most Indian museums, was a joke: strictly No Photography (like photography would hurt a sculpture?), yet the sculptures themselves were completely unprotected so that everyone could, and did, run their hands all over them. Of course they cry poverty, but where is my "foreigner's ticket" price, which supposedly goes to maintain the monuments, actually being spent? A few panes of glass to protect the ancient sculptures would be very cheap indeed. One year in an Indian museum with all the finger traffic probably does more to destroy the artwork than a hundred years sitting in the desert. The local authorities claim they have a campaign to have more Andhra artwork returned from the British and Chennai museums. For the sake of the art itself, and Buddhist heritage everywhere, I hope they don't succeed!

And there are the completely information-free captions: no dates, no place of origin. Signs everywhere saying "Please do not donate anything" (what??). Again, what are we paying for? I could learn more in a book about the place. (And I did, on the bus ride home, thanks to an English-speaking monk who bought the guide book.)

Ragged clothes
The new arrival refugees look very bad, thin, sunburned and straggly hair with ragged clothes (and they have been here now a month or so). Traditionally they wear a lot of beautful silver, coral and turquoise ornaments but they must have sold or traded all of them for bribes in order to escape, because now they look like beggars. That word is not really appropriate, though, because they refuse to beg - their pride is very admirable. By contrast, there are Indian beggars lining the streets here - some were bussed in by their "bosses" specially for the occasion. These shameless local beggars are even hounding the monks (who take a vow of poverty)for money, and the Tibetans (who are political refugees). However you very, very rarely see a Tibetan beggar, it's not part of their culture. They are very tough and self-reliant.

On the bus a little grandmother in front of me was scratching her hands to bits, the mosquito bites were really bothering her. She was holding her hands out the window just to get some cool relief from the bites. I happened to have some ItchGuard in my bag and showed her how to rub it in. Someone had to tell her in Tibetan not to put it into her eyes. Finally I just gave her the whole tube, I figured she needed it worse than I do. Before we got off the bus she gestured that her hands felt better and said something in Tibetan. Almost every exchange with the new Tibetans begins and ends with an ear-splitting grin (on their part), and this was no exception.


Anonymous said...

Mail me to, if you stays for an hour or two at Vijayawada in your following trip.


Anonymous said...

They're good people.



King Amdo

Shinu Mathew said...

Tibetans do not beg because of their self-pride and Indians do because of the lack of it?
I admit that Indians are more prone to it because of the poverty here and the lure of easy money. This comes before self-pride. But there is a big racket indulging in this BUSINESS. They smuggle children and disable them and make them beg. But what they get is perhaps a meal and some old cloths. These Beggar-mafia sharks eat the money. And despite being well aware of this, our govt doesn't do anything about it. On No-Beggars area, you could see a lot of beggars going about their JOB.

Aadil Desai said...

Good to see your write up about the beggars. About the old lady you gave the Itchguard tube, isn't it more for treating skin disorders like ringworm or something similar and not for mosquito bites? Hope to see the pictures soon, thanks for sharing your lovely stories here.