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 didn’t really have any resolutions for 2013, because I was going to be making enough big changes in my life as it was – leaving the Army, travelling to India. I’m making several for 2014 though, and this is what they are:
1. Read and see six Shakespeare plays.
I’m OK with all the big names, like Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, but beyond that my knowledge of Shakespeare is woeful. I need an intensive familiarisation programme, so I’ve decided to challenge myself to learn six more plays in a year, by both reading them, then seeing them performed.
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