India, Horn OK Please!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2002
My time here in India is coming to an end... I've been here for about a month now and I leave tomorrow to spend one day in Bangkok on my way to Sydney. I just booked tickets online to climb the Sydney bridge!! Anyway, my trip here has been fantastic! I couldn't have dreamed up a better way to spend one month than what I have been doing. We arrived into Bombay and tried to become movie stars overnight... well, the outcome isn't good! We bailed. They wanted to us to wear these skimpy little red dresses and dance on the bar!! No thanks!! They also left us in the corner "to await further instructions" for ages. We decided that we would have a much better time meeting up with all the hashers who were descending upon the city instead.... so I went on a sleuthing mission around the hotel and planned our exit route. They never even knew we left.... at least not until we were long gone anyway!! In Bombay we got our first tastes of what the Interhash would be like. Hashers everywhere!! The only tourists in India right now it seems are hashers. Thousands of them everywhere!! It was great, everywhere we went in Bombay we met more people. There's nothing like visiting a World Heritage Site in India and bumping into someone you met in Malaysia. It was hilarious! We went on a few runs on the outskirts of the city and went to a few parties sponsored by the Bombay hash. I got to see the traditional art of forming wax into bracelets. Of course, I had to get one made and it was so cool! My favorite thing in Bombay was checking out the "laundry facilities". There's this place in the center that does all the laundry for the entire city. It's like the Disneyland of washrooms. It's unbelievable. It's all outside and it's the size of a whole neighborhood! These men stand in these cubicle like things made of concrete and they stand in about a foot of water. Somehow in all the chaos going on down there, they string up perfectly white sheets and clothes! How they can make such clean clothes in a place so dirty I have no idea!!!

The Interhash committee organized a party for everyone before we took an overnight train down to Goa, where the main event was being held. The party was great, and it was where I got my first taste of really good Indian food. Still probably the best I've ever tasted! Then the few hundred of us who were there hopped on the buses waiting for us outside and went over to the train station. The hash actually commissioned a special train - the only people on that train, approximately 1000, were hashers. On regular Indian trains you are not allowed to drink.... but by having our own train it was like a 12 hour party on wheels. An experience I'm not likely to soon to forget.

When I finally got to Goa (site of the World Interhash!) the hotel my friend booked over a year ago, had long since closed. Hmm. So much for using the official tour agency of the interhash! Oh well, we sorted things out and found another hotel within a half hour and all was well. We stayed right on the beach! The interhash was amazing! The venue they they set up was the main meeting place for everyone. The erected a huge tent, complete with all you can eat dinners and beers every night for three nights. There were four thousand people there every night!! The beer cans even had the interhash logo emblazened right on the can! Each day there were organized runs and buses to take you there. It was a great way to see lots of little villages and scenes of Goa the average tourist doesn't get to see. The World Interhash is held every two years in a place voted on by it's members. A representative from each hash present at the event (I got to place the vote for Boston!) decides where the next one will be held. Those hashes who want to host the event put in a bid. It was narrowed down to Auckland, Perth, and Cardiff, Whales. Each hash placing a bid puts lots of work into the planning... and in the end Cardiff won! I already got my registration... so in July 2004 you know where to find me!

Once the Interhash was over, my trip was really just beginning! Carla and I signed up for a 2 week tour (with the hash!) of the state of Rajastan. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it was phenomenal! We stopped at quite a few places including: Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Sam, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Agra and Delhi. At almost every stop we stayed in the nicest places in town (a deviation from the usual, to say the least!). Lucky for us, the nicest places in town are always the Maharajah's Palaces. When India gained their independence in the forties, the Maharajahs no longer got money from England, so they had to start supporting themselves and their larges estates, or go bust. Many went bust! There used to be a few hundred Maharajahs and now there are under 50. Those that still exist have no power, but still carry their title and in order to support their estates turned them into 5 star hotels! At the palace in Bikaner, we actually had 2 separate bathrooms in the room! It was also the place where we turned the lawn into a cricket game! The Brits and the Aussies taught the Americans how to play, and since many of us couldn't even claim we had ever even watched a game it was a big undertaking.

I visited a rat temple where the local citizens treat these rats with utmost respect because it is believed that everyone in the town will be reincarnated as a rat. I have to admit, I was a little squeamish at taking off my shoes.... but I made it out alive. In all temples you have to cover your shoulders and knees and leave your shoes at the door. I also watched a camel parade at the camel breeding farm! The camels get fed at dusk every day and they all march out in a big line from their large pen to the food area. They are very funny to watch.... and even funnier to ride! We drove to the desert to a place called Sam (60k from the Pakistan border!) to ride camels, watch the sunset, and sleep in the desert for the night. It was probably the most hilarious part of the trip! They had traditional Indian entertainment for us (including a private fireworks display!) and I tried my hand at balancing the big bowls on my head while dancing. I failed miserably. How they do it, I can't ever be sure... but they make it look easy enough!!

Cows in India really are sacred, and they roam everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE! Even when the owner of the cows lives in a city, he let them out to "graze" in the city streets all day. They are trained to return home in the evenings after picking through the garbage throughout the day. Traditionally, an Indian family won't have breakfast until they bring some food out to the cows - everyone feeds them, not just the owner. You'd think this might make them big and fat - but just the opposite is true. Most of them are the scrawniest cows I have ever seen! Allegedly, the cow is so sacred here that if a person driving a car is faced with hitting a person or a cow... they'll hit the person first. So watch out!!

Driving in India, and crossing the street for that matter, is an art form. There are no lanes, no particular fashion for who has the right of way, and generally no rules. It's up to YOU to barrel down the road without hitting any pedestrians, cows, camels, people, goats, rickshaws, motos, bicycles, cars or other things that maight have found their home on the road. In order to assist you in your quest for driving and surviving, India has given new meaning to blowing your horn. You NEVER pass someone unless you lay on the horn. You proceed to lay on that horn from the time it occurs to you that overtaking that car or truck or motorcycle is an option until you are in full view of whoever it is you have passed. Most trucks have painted this on the back of their vehicle like a bumper sticker, "Horn OK Please!!!". Passing a car is just one example of when to use your horn... they also just honk, generally, all the time or just to let you know they are there.

One day I even saw a BEAR alongside the road on the outskirts of town.Someone (and the copycats down the road) got the brilliant idea that a bear would attract tourists. The scheme being that if you pull over to take a photo with the bear, you have to pay them for taking the photo. The bear is a dark brown, smallish sized one called a Himalayan Brown Bear, which they drag over from the Himalayas. When they see you coming down the road they drag the bear out on the road, right in your path! Be on the lookout, because you have to swerve in order to not hit them. Strange, very strange, and not all that humane either.

The tour also took us through Agra... home of the Taj Mahal! What a fascinating place. It's bigger than I thought it would be - grand is the only way to describe it, although there really are no adjectives that do it any justice. It was built by the Maharaja there to honor is wife. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It took 22 years to build and during the entire construction, the Maharaja was in mourning. He watched it beeing built from across the river at the fort. Poor guy. Everything in the entire place is symmetrical except for one thing.... when the Maharaja died, they buried him next to his wife. That wasn't supposed to happen, but everyone knew how much he missed his wife, so they put him there anyway. He's either pleased to be placed there, or he is mad that the perfect symmetry of his masterpiece has been ruined by his casket. We'll never know.

The day after we visited the Taj Mahal was our last full day on the tour. We celebrated by having our own nightclub at the hotel. Complete with DJ and all. It was great! Everyone showed up wearing stuff they bought while in India. All sorts of cross dressing ensued - most of the men showed up wearing saris. Saris are the traditional Indian clothing for women. They are made up of NINE YARDS of cloth, usually silk. It was a really fun night, and a great way to say goodbye to everyone we met. Almost all the people on the tour were either British, American, Australian or New Zealanders.... but hardly anyone lives in their own country! Seems as though everyone we meet is a nomad! This works out well for Carla and I as we get to visit many of them in the next few months. From Agra, everyone on the tour went to Delhi.... except for me and another Boston hash named Austin. We rented a car (and driver!) and went back to Jaipur. Jaipur is known for being the silver capital of India, so I went back and spent two full days stocking up for Silversisters. The last night in Jaipur was the final day, day ten, of a Hindu festival. I have no idea what the festival was for, but the point is you burn lots of stuff to get rid of the evil spirits. Everywhere we turned their were little pyres of things going up in flames.... yet another thing to watch out for in the roads of India.

I'm now in Delhi, my last stop in India. I fly out tomorrow!! I've had a great time and thanks to everyone I've met for making my first trip to India so memorable!

PS. Here's a few more random things of interest to assist you or distract you in your daily life:
  1. I found out a handy thing here that gets me past many language barriers: a hand signal that announces you have to use the bathroom. Extend your hand up in a fist and raise your pinky in the air. Kind of like hitching for a ride, only a different finger.
  2. Met two people in the Guiness Book of World Records. The first painted the smallest tree with the most number of leaves; 17,000 or so. The second guy has the longest moustache in the world, got a photo.
  3. When an Indian performs a magic show he often says, "Shumggli Muggli!" right at the end of the trick! Something to keep in mind in case you ever perform magic in India.
  4. It's bad luck to walk counter clockwise around a temple. You must go clockwise.


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