The 2014 Indian general election is currently under way. With over 800 million people eligible to vote, it’s a long and complicated process: polls are being held on different dates across the 543 parliamentary constituencies, over the course of five weeks. The first were held a week ago, on 7 April, while the last won’t be until 12 May, with the final result due to be announced on 16 May.
With that ongoing, I thought I’d record my observations from travelling around the country at the end of last year.
In Shimla, a dodgy internet cafe virus wiped my SD card, and I lost all the photos from Nainital, Haridwar, Mussoorie and Dehradun that were on it. The ones I was most upset about losing were the ones from my day in Dehradun and the two couchsurfers I’d met.
When I got back to the UK, I used Recuva to recover the data from the SD card. Some of the photos were immediately recoverable in perfect condition, while others were corrupted to differing degrees: some were completely destroyed, while others had bits and pieces still salvageable.
I’m afraid I may have given the impression, from the tone of the blog, that I didn’t like India very much. That’s not true. In fact, I enjoyed it immensely. Here are some of the highlights of the trip:
Eating fresh, ripe guavas straight off the trees while picking fruit with Ashpak and Chacha, two of the workers on Bobby’s organic farm in the hills south of Nainital.
Being chased by a charging elephant across a bridge on the road to Haridwar, and escaping by motorbike.
So, that’s almost it for my India travel blogging. I got back to Delhi, visited a few more tombs, the Ashokan Rock Edict and the second Ashokan Pillar, did a bit of gift shopping and accidentally ran into a demonstration for the establishment of Gorkhaland state. They don’t want an independent country. They just want part of West Bengal to be detached into a separate state within India. Can you imagine getting this worked up about local administration boundaries in the UK?
Gorkhaland protest in Delhi
At Indira Gandhi Airport, I thought I’d made it, and the insanity was over. Until I got held up by the most absurd piece of airport security nonsense I’ve ever encountered.
While I was in India, I grew to hate Delhi with a passion, and by the time I left for Bikaner I’d already spent more time there than any visitor ever should. But since I had to return there after Lucknow for my flight home anyway, I thought I might as well add a few more places to the Delhi Tomb Review (original review here and first update).
My last stop in India, before returning to Delhi, was Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh. It was also my last couchsurfing experience: I stayed with Alex, a former artillery officer turned property investor, with an interest in colonial history. We got on well.
Lucknow was one of the key locations in the 1857 Indian Mutiny (which I wrote about previously in the Jhansi and Gwalior post). It was the capital of Awadh (or Oudh to the British), formerly a Mughal province, later a quasi-autonomous kingdom ruled by a Nawab. It was the British overthrow of the Nawab and annexation of Oudh which was one of the causes of the Mutiny. The British garrison in Lucknow were besieged in the Residency complex (the official home of the Resident, the East India Company‘s equivalent of an ambassador to a native state) and held out for six months of intense fighting until relieved. Afterwards, the scarred but still standing Residency building became one of the symbols of British tenacity. I imagine that in India, it was equally powerful as a symbol of continuing oppression.
Sarnath is a religious/archaeological site a few km out of Varanasi. It was originally a deer park, and was where Buddha preached his first sermon after achieving enlightenment. It’s one of the four pilgrimage sites of the life of Buddha, the others being the places of his birth (Lumbini in Nepal), his achievement of enlightenment (Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India) and his death (Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, India).
The place where a thing happened often isn’t very interesting, but in the case of Sarnath (and the other sites), the fact that many people believe it has value has made it interesting, because they’ve built lots of stuff there. It’s not currently a World Heritage site, but it can’t be long before it becomes one, so I thought I’d bag it pre-emptively.
I took the late train out of Sultanpur to go to the great city of eastern Uttar Pradesh known as the “City of Light”, due to its supreme significance for the Hindu religion. Variously called Varanasi, Benares or Kashi, it’s one of the oldest cities on earth and has beguiled and disgusted visitors for millennia.
“There is no sight more wonderful in all the world than the crescent sweep of the Ganges on a bright morning, when Benares is at prayer.” Unreliable Indophile Francis Yeats-Brown, Bengal Lancer
So, I’m back. Already India feels like a surreal dream.
I have three travelogue pieces still to write and post: Varanasi, Lucknow and Delhi.
With all the backlog of admin to deal with, a wedding to attend, and of course Christmas, I probably won’t get a chance to do these before Christmas Day. I’ll try to post them in the week between Christmas and New Year.
In the longer term, I’ll be doing a few general posts about aspects of Indian society and culture as I see them, but that won’t be until January at the earliest, by which time Tom Bell Dot Net will be back to normal, and I’ll be fitting them in between posts about stupid news items and general annoyances.
Merry secular winter festival everyone, and a happy arbitrary time measurement boundary!