drinking tap water in central India

28-Mar-2002

I've tempted fate. I fought the law and actually, I won. Three times now I have drank normal tap water in Jaipur, one of the busiest and most polluted cities in central India (unfortunately, as it's beautiful and really worth a visit otherwise) and I've had no ill effects or explosions down below. :-) I call it 'walking the thin line' because the first thing anyone ever tells you when you say you're going to India is, "don't drink the water." I mean, duh.

It's like learning to first tie your shoes before you decide to take that year-long, 3000km walk across Canada. Just buy bottled water, of course. Of course. Sure I've been in India for almost five months now and this is my second trip too, but still I don't take this stuff lightly. Old (good) habits die hard.

But it's more complicated than that. I was staying with a very kind Indian family. They can't understand why the water might be bad for me but not for them. I mean, we're all the same, we're all human beings and there's only one race of people anyway and that's the human race. Plus they have a kind of natural filtering system that involves letting the water sit in a series of different metal containers for at least 24-hours before they drink it themselves or use it for cooking. Plus it was the day of the big national Holi festival and there were about 25 middle-aged Indian men sitting around with me and none of them could understand my issue with the water either. So I gulped down my pride and some delicious tap water & whisky mixture along with it. Cheers. Bottom's up. No problemo. But I still can't recommend it for you and your friends, sorry. I guess in some places the water is fine, others it's not. You just don't know.

Incidentally, I met a guy in Goa back in November who drank the local water and fell very ill for two weeks and lost 30+ pounds along the way. Anyway. Good news and I learned something along the way, too.

Where were we? It's been over a month since my last update. So today I'm going to double-dip into my special sauce and give you a double-dose, two special travelogue updates emails for your enjoyment and pleasure.

My last update found me at Osho's Commune, and what a strange sad place that was. Maybe once upon a time it was alive and exciting and also Osho's Orgy Central for all the world to see, but it sure ain't that now. It's serious meditation classes for serious people. For mostly unhappy, grumpy people as I discovered. I'll admit, the classes seemed to be of good quality, even if they were extremely expensive by Indian standards (and lots of better, cheaper Indian alternatives exist elsewhere). Everyone must wear a maroon robe in the ashram, you know. Everyone must look the same. Those are the rules. It's quite weird at first but you get used to it. And no pictures are allowed. I got just one photo of me wearing a maroon robe and beads and nothing else, outside the ashram.

I wanted to visit Osho's Commune *not* for the orgies but for the strange cult-like atmosphere, which helps fuel the fire for my book I'm writing. I stayed and experienced things with an open mind. I wanted to give it a fair shot and I stayed for quite a number of days. But all I found was mostly unfriendly people and an environment which I believe is far different from what Osho whould have wanted himself (Osho died in 1991 and the ashram lives on as a strong money-making business).

I did meet many great and beautiful people in my guesthouse, who were there checking out Osho's Commune out of curiosity just like me. But the place is like a sad beaucracy in my opinion... That's the only kind of organized fucking that's going inside. Plus, I decided that I simply don't look good in maroon.

One last thing about Osho's and then I'm done with my rant. On the last day it occurred to me that not only do I not look so good in maroon, I think I actually hate that color on me. And the robe is not flattering at all. So I changed into all brown. Not maroon, but brown. They look very similar and to the untrained eye they might appear the same. But brown is not acceptable in the ashram, not acceptable! I found it highly entertaining to wear all brown amid a sea of maroon-clad soldiers walking around outside the ashram. I walked around with a perma-smile until it was time to leave. I took the first bus outta there and headed back to Goa for a few days of R&R before I headed north.

Goa was great. I rented an Enfield, India's ancient answer to the loud and throaty Harley Davidson. Man, I felt like a superstar. Stayed in Vagator at the Yellow House Guesthouse, a fab place for only 100 Rupees ($3 Cdn), and made some long day trips on the bike to see other parts of the state.

I took the long drive to Palolem on the far southern shore, which they say is the most beautiful beach in India. It was beautiful, shanti and relaxing (no parties!), but I still have to give the edge to Om Beach in Karnataka as the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. Picutres to follow.

From Goa I took the train to Mumbai (Bombay) and ended up sleeping on the dusty floor of the grande Victoria Terminal Station (CST), along with a few hundred very poor Indians and a few dozen police with rifles and a few machine guns. This was less than a week after the riots in Gujurat (which has sadly claimed over 700 lives) and so security was tight.

I went out of my way to avoid traveling through Gujurat, as all the express trains from Mumbai pass right through the heart of all the riots. At one in the morning I had only about five hours until my next train was to depart, so sleeping on the floor seemed like a good idea... but three times I was awoken to what sounded like a serious riot brewing just outside. It was somewhat frightening. But that's just India, it was nothing special, and that's what you get for trying to sleep on the floor in the train station in Bombay.

I made it to Arungabad (in Maharastra) and found the people unusually coy and nice. Some female travelers I met in Tamil Nadu had told me that it was a miserable place for them, they didn't want to tell me why (but it wasn't for me at all). Then it was to the Ajanta Caves, some magnificent caves carved out of solid rock in the side of a small mountain. Some of the caves date back to more than 2000 years. Very impressive. But it took me only two hours to walk through the entire site and I walk slowly (hey, I'm on Indian time), and so I was soon off towards Rajasthan and the romantic city of Udaipur, via an interesting combination of government local bus, slow train and auto rickshaw.

After some long hours on a very slow train (having met up with some new friends back in Ajanta who were headed the same way), I made it to Chittorgarh, and then took the bus to Udaipur. Along the way for nearly a day we ate only fresh oranges and an assortment of mixed munchie crap (it was all we could find to eat in these tiny train stations). Ten fresh oranges for ten rupees ($0.30 Cdn) -- we were passing through Madya Pradesh, where they apparently grow a lot of oranges. :)

In Udaipur I stayed at the Lalghat guesthouse, worth mentioning because it was the nicest place I've stayed in India after four months of cheap hotels in the south. For the low-low price of 80 Rupees (about $2.60 Cdn) a night, you get a nice soft bed, crisp white sheets, ceiling fan, mosquito screens and a net. There's a large courtyard and a nice big table in the centre to socialize with other travelers from around the world, and even the bathrooms had marble floors and hot water and were impeccably clean. They cooked breakfast for, had a large well-stocked convenience store, Internet access and even a small swimming pool on the roof which overlooks the lake. I've paid more than the $2.60 a nice for a crappy cup of joe in Starbucks.

Udaipur is a great city to lose yourself along the narrow, winding hilly streets. I stayed only 4 days but I could have stayed a week or two. It has such a relaxed, shanti feel to it and many of the people are truly frienbdly. I bought two bamboo flutes (as I lost my other flute in Goa) and had a tailor make me some cool cases with shoulder straps to carry them in, for cheap. "As you wish." he said about the price, meaning, whatever I wanted to give him. Wow.

Udaipur is where they filmed the James Bond movie Octopussy in the 70s, and there are permanent signs everywhere that read, "Octopussy movie tonight, 7pm!" and they really do play it every single day. If you rent the movie you can see the City Palace where I spent a good afternoon walking through the museum. Great city to see the sights, temples and just walk around and get lost.

After Udaipur I went to Chittorgarh to visit some relatives and met some new friends. Hi to Dhamma and Anu at Electrocom Internet, to Nikky's friend Deepak, and of course to the whole Anand family who were very gracious in having me stay with them (and sharing with me lots of beer).

From there I headed to Pushkar, one of the holiest places in India and home of the only Brahma temple in the country. I stayed only a day, unfortunately, but it's worth a week at least I think. I had to move as I wanted to be in Jaipur for the great Holi festival, a national holiday... (see next email).

I'm in Jaipur at the moment, staying with the Arora family who are treating me very fine. We visited the palace on the outskirts of the city where there is the Kali Durga temple... only a hundred years ago the King used to sacrifice one human being every single day... they'd behead him and offer the bludgeoned, bloody head to the gods as sacrifice. Fortunately with Indira Ghandi that ritual was quickly cancelled. Now they sacrifice an animal everyday instead as a gift to the gods... it's called freedom of religon and to each his own. As I've been finding out, there are many, many different aspects to Hinduism (some good and some bad, just like Christianity and every other religion out there). I like to visit the temples and there are sooo many of them in India...

I'm off to the great golden city of Jaisalmer tonight, near the Pakistan border this evening. Maybe I'll go on a camel safari into the sand dunes... Stay tuned... k

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kelly martin www.redbeet.com CANADA



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