A Capitol Idea
I finally pulled myself away from Bodh Gaya. I checked out of the International Meditation Centre and my clean, quiet, cheap room where everything worked (24 hour hot water - 125Rs donation per day). Sadly, I turned in my trusty blue Avon bicycle, delivered a few books for resell to Kundan Bazar, and took a night taxi to the Gaya train station (the train for Delhi was at 11.30pm, and autorickshaws aren't safe on that route at night). It was really nice staying in a community in which so much of the activity is oriented around meditation, monasticism and spirituality. Not to mention, a sort of living zoo. Each morning as I pedaled down the dirt road toward the main road, I was confronted by snuffling black hogs, scratching chickens, moseying cows, waddling ducks, strutting long-legged water birds in the mosquito swamp next door, and tail-wagging street dogs.
Sigh, back into the noise, sophistication and rush of big city life.
I'm en route to McLeod Ganj and the Dalai Lama's annual teachings. The tiny hill station of McLeod will be positively swamped because of this. I still haven't managed to book a room via phone. Hopefully things will improve when I "land" from the overnight stomach-churning bus. Everyone I have gotten to know over the past 2 months in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath will also be there. By now I feel like they are some kind of family, which I suppose is true. Anna, the wonderful Croatian journalist who sat next to me the first time I shook the Dalai Lama's hand. Lilian and Simon, two dedicated volunteers who are travelling and teaching about global warming in Indian schools. Schahel (spelling?), the Israeli Buddhist with whom I shared the taxi from the Varanasi airport, the very first day. And Ina, the Russian Buddhist who was my next-door-neighbor in Kathmandu in 2005!
It's still quite decent in mornings and evenings here, weather-wise, but the mid-day is already getting too hot for me. The semi-annual (twice yearly) planetary conjunction of Mercury Retrograde is underway, with all its attendant confusion, miscommunications, goof-ups and misconnections. Laugh if you will, but I just about went under during the last two. It will all be over on 7 March, but that's two more weeks of confusion away.
I don't see why people grouse so much about Delhi, but then, I have never had to live, commute and work here. As a stopover it is really quite civilized.
No need to mess with the many touts and hawkers at the railway station. I just head directly for the Pre-Paid Autorickshaw stand, where a trusty uncle behind the desk asks my destination and determines the "karrekta" fare. I pay him, and he writes my destination and name on a slip. At the end of the drive, I hand the slip to the driver. No muss, no fuss, and no argument over price. If I stay in Tibet Colony (Majnu ka tilla), the ride is about 60Rs from New Delhi and less from Old Delhi station. There, I can get a swell, clean room for about 300Rs (seven dollars) a night or less, depending on availability. However, it is far from any offices or errand-running places. So, I take a cycle rickshaw to the spanking new Delhi Metro - Vidhan Sabha station. That costs 10rs (about twenty cents).
The Metro is a great example of what modern India can do when it puts its considerable brains to work. It's spotless, safe, cool and well lit, and the trains run on time so as to put Switzerland to shame. A ride from Vidhan Sabha to Rajiv Chowk (a central stop) is 11Rs. Damn, the New York subway never looked so good! Amazing. You are not allowed to eat or drink on this metro - that helps, a lot. I pity the NYC cop who would try to part a Manhattanite from his morning bagel.
Rajiv Chowk is essentially the centre of Connaught Place (they still haven't successfully given this a patriotic renaming). I find "CP," essentially three concentric circles connected by covered arcade walkways, to be very easily traversed and the covered arcades make a welcome respite from sun or rain. And compared to other places, it's so clean!
I can't afford to buy a darn thing, but if I could, I would head directly to the State Emporia complex on Connaught Place. Here, all the best of Indian fabrics, clothing, handicrafts and such are laid out in orderly, browsable fashion. No digging through piles of fabric or dusty stacks of prints in a crowded, badly-lit shop. Glorious silk sarees of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, each with their distinctive weave patterns, shimmer in the shop windows.
And, my favourite orange ice-cicles are on sale on every corner. Five rupees each.
Travelers complain about central Delhi, I think, because they arrive here first and have yet to see the rest of India. So they think Delhi is nasty. They have no idea how bad it's going to get elsewhere!
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