From Dharamsala to Nepal
It’s my 5th time in Nepal in just 4 years. Indian visa was ending so I bought tickets on bus from Dharamsala to Delhi, on train to Gorakhpur in advance and then planned to hire jeep to Nepali border.
The bus journey from Dharamsala to Delhi I make several times a year. Himachal Pradesh’s right-wing BJP government prohibited sleeping coaches, as narrow mountain roads are not designed for movement of these comfortable behemoths. So passengers have to struggle normal deluxe buses with reclining chairs if they’re lucky. Friends put me in such bus, and almost all the way to Delhi I slept, even missed dinner and chai breaks.
Delhi grows rapidly, “the city of jinns” described by William Dalrymple it is no more. Old Delhi disappearing before our eyes.
Upon arrival in Majnu-ka-Tilla, Tibetan village in the north of the city, the first thing I noticed was disappearance of small adjacent park. To be fair this grove on the banks of the Yamuna was not cared for a long time – it was used for illegal parking, private, then public buses that ply between Delhi and Dharamsala collected travellers every evening. Passengers were followed by enterprising Dilliwallas with carts of cold drinks and snacks. Now it’s all gone, trees were cut recently, instead monstrous flyover rose to the sky.
My transit via Delhi coincided with BRICS summit, among presidents who came to India was old enemy of Tibetans Mr. Hu Jintao. Tibetan refugees obviously didn’t want to miss chance to protest Chinese policy in Tibet, and Majnu-ka-Tilla looked strange – deserted streets, everything closed, even lively tea stalls greeted me with blinds. Whole area was enclosed by Indian security forces, policemen stood on all entry points, and on the main road I noticed trucks with commandos in dark blue haki uniforms.
Morning’s Times of India reported arrests of Tibetan leaders, one noted poet was taken into custody right from the stage of Habitat arts center, during round table with participation of eminent Indians. Ordinary Tibetans, who live in different parts of Delhi, were locked down by police, students not able to go to exams, employees of call-centres in Gurgaon – get to work.
But today residents of Majnu-ka-Tilla seemed able to go whenever they liked. Many planned to gather at Jantar Mantar, a sort of Indian Hyde Park, place of dharnas (sit-ins) and hunger strikes. Most famous recently was by Anna Hazare of course. Tibetans planned to sit there and chant prayers to make their voice heard.
My friend Karma, manager of Green House, informed me that Tibetan who self-immolated yesterday is still alive, fighting for his life in hospital. I read in Twitter that he expired late evening. Since last year in Tibet more than 30 Tibetans set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese policies.
For me, who lived among Tibetans many years, how to respond to self-immolations is not easy question. Certainly ending any life is sin according to Buddhist principles and should be condemned. On the other hand, Chinese leadership IMHO should roll back some draconian measures in Tibetan areas, for it’s real reason behind spate of self-immolations.
Chinese rulers suspect these desperate acts if not premeditated then promoted, supported by separatist exiles from India. I believe that Tibetan issue should be resolved by Tibetans. Time will tell whether they gain independence or reach compromise with Beijing. But humanitarian issues, human rights in Tibet, can and should be discussed in international community, including Russia. Raising awareness of the plight of Tibetans in China has nothing to do with interference in internal affairs of sovereign states.
Meanwhile I had more pressing task concerning with one community of Russian writers bez_vody and one troll durdom_ok who was attacking some old-timers savagely accusing them in poor writing skills. I am moderator of the community and old-timers demanded to ban her. My reply was negative – since she is not attacking them in community pages I can’t ban her, while what she’s writing in her own blog I can’t control. Everyone has right to express her opinion. When there is controversy or ad-hominem attacks the better strategy is to adhere to few principles like freedom of speech. I just needed to spell publicly my point of view.
For that I needed cafeteria with wi-fi, however in Tibetan village not only establishments were closed, there was no electricity, and I could not recharge my netbook. Where to go? Paharganj was obvious choice.
Delhi metro expanding quickly like fire, sprouting branch routes in every area. I caught cycle rickshaw, paid 30 rupees to drop me at nearest station Vidhan Sabha. One trip in Delhi’s underground costs 12 rupees. When I got inside I snapped picture, which angered policemen who were sitting near scanner. So I was detained, my camera taken from me. Such thing happened to me in India several times. Before they could rip even new roll film from camera. Happily cops are not yet acquainted with digital technology, could not delete offending pic. So I was told about complete ban on taking pictures inside metro, my camera was returned.
Paharganj, the area opposite old New Delhi station, well known to backpackers, myriad of dirty cheap guesthouses, shops with souvenirs and Indian textiles located there. I heard authorities wanted to erase this eyesore before the Commonwealth Games, but it survived. Somehow. According Indian custom few illegal establishments were razed to the ground before TV cameras, and then life returned to usual way.
I chose wrong exit from metro station and was walking over the bridge from where I could see streets teeming with all kinds of life, beggars, touts, cows, stray dogs included. These crowds always scared foreigners forcing them to think about overpopulation of planet.
I took simple Indian breakfast of chai & alu parantha at the roadside canteen and then walked to the main shopping area Connaught Place.
Circular roads were clogged with cars. Demonstartion of railway workers was under way. Traffic jams not so common in Delhi unlike in Moscow but on the day of BRICS summit some roads were likely closed to traffic causing disruption to usual movement.
Colonnaded facades of restaurants and shops of Connaught Place were finally repaired, metro fences removed but as always heaps of construction debris can be seen here and there.
Why in India reconstructions never end? I knew it’s rhetorical question as I could not find clear answer after many years. Maybe it has something to do with Indian state of mind. Fittingly, cafeterias like Barista, Coffee Day and others near Palika Bazaar were closed for repair. Again bad luck. And where I can find place with electricity?
I went further south to Khan Market. Now it’s easy to get there as metro station opened recently. Despite early hour cafes were packed to capacity. Coffee Day, Subway, couple of others, no seats. I started to wonder what’s going on. Are people of Delhi have nothing to do than sit in cafes since early morning?
Then I remembered Café Green Turtle on the top floor of Full Circle bookstore. I never liked it, prices almost European, coffee $ 3-5, cakes and pastries even more, but it seemed I had no choice.
Inside cafe, I took photos and uploaded them to Twitter. My readers were asking why the cafe called Green Turtle. Green apparently because of granite plates, which were put on wooden tables, also painted green, but what turtle represents? Timelessness. Indeed, nothing has changed in 9 years since I was here the first time.
My train left Delhi from new railway station Anand Vihar which was built on the opposite bank of Yamuna on the way to Ghaziabad. The station relieved overcrowded old hubs in city, now most Eastern-bound trains leave from here. The station looked great, but I had little time to wander.
Next morning the train arrived in Gorakhpur, large industrial city in Uttar Pradesh. UP had undergone regime change recently – the Dalit Queen Mayawati, famous for her giant statues (complete with Gucci handbag), was deposed and supposedly Socialist Party came to power. Supposedly, because in India nothing is what it seems and Socialist (Samajwadi) Party – is just a vehicle for ambitions and business interests of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family and henchmen from his caste. Mulayam did not reclaim post of Chief Minister, instead he put his 35-years old son Akilesh.
The Yadav family still not sorted out affairs of the state and roads around Gorakhpur were in poor condition. Three hours trip on jeep I remember for bumps and potholes. Co-travellers were all Nepali. I talked to two guys – Mongolian looking Ram from the plains and Indian-like Praveen, who said he was from hills. Normally in Nepal it’s opposite.
I took shared jeep this time because 2 or 3 years ago I was nearly robbed here. I had arrived to Gorakhpur in the middle of the night and chartered jeep near train station. Driver with accomplice drove me to some remote place and started to demand extra money, Rs 5000 when agreed price was just 1200. Since I am wary of going alone in Gorakhpur. Either shared jeep or taxi from good hotel. Last time I took taxi from Ellora Hotel opposite railway station, and it was safe and cheap.
With so many Nepalis nothing dramatic happened on the way, however on arrival jeep drivers (there were two of them as usual) started to extort from me additional Rs 100 for luggage, threatening to drive away with it. My suitcase was put on the roof so without fight (or meekly paying ransom) I could not hope to get it back. I was furious and said would go rather to police. Ransom price has fallen to 50 rupees, then they threw suitcase on the ground for free.
I could not get hands on it though – the suitcase became bone of contention between gathered cycle rickshaw drivers. The winner took it and brought to his vehicle. I agreed price – Rs 40 till Nepali border in 200 m further on the road but poor chap started cringing demanding more. “100 Rs, OK”? In such situation travelers need determination and patience and pay exactly what was agreed before.
In crowd of assorted vehicles, tractors, cycle rickshaws, huge trucks and buses I passed the border gates and arrived to Nepal.
Goodbye India, I love you and see you again!
To be continued.