On the Road with Wally: Travel Tips from India

Only 31 years ago this week, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were standing on the moon, representing our species on the moon for the first time in history. If you are lucky, some day you will get a chance to read about the moonshot in the best book about it yet written, Apollo: Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox. In fact, it’s just one of the several books you can get at the newly-opened Paracelsus Bookshop (catchy name, eh?).

Actually, I overstate my case a little. The Apollo book is out of print now, but it is a great book, and one day it will be back in print and you will be glad I told you about it. Plus, there really is a Paracelsus Bookshop, powered by Amazon, ready to recommend only the highest quality paper-and-ink products for your high quality paper-and-ink needs.

It’s been a busy week here at Star Chamber World Headquarters, because we’re also launching the new Paracelsus Rambles weblog, powered by the friendly folks at Blogger.com. The weblog scene is very big and very entertaining, and if you haven’t heard about it anywhere else yet, then you heard about it here first.

Finally, and as if that weren’t enough, our correspondent from the field, Bendy Wally, has just returned from India, and we have secured for the Star Chamber the exclusive coverage of his trip. Don’t look for it anywhere else on the web, because you just won’t find it. And besides you only have to scroll down the page a little bit to find it here.

On the Road with Wally: Travel Tips from India

by Wally

As my newfound Australian mate Shane said, “Ah, India. You either love it or hate it. Or love to hate it. Or hate to love it.” After being in the country for a month, doing a yoga course, I’m learning all four. I alert Paracelsus to the fact, and he says, “Write something up — travel tips from the field!”. So here goes. We’ll call this one

Lessons Learned/Reiterated from Indian Travels:

1. Mellow-ness is not an option. It is a must. Being uptight, type-A, or trying to apply western standards to existence here will not just cause you mental duress, it will cause your head to explode. Slowly. Painfully. As the elderly British gentleman said to me as we were waiting in line number two, to exchange money at the State Bank of India, (after already waiting in line number one upstairs) “You know, it used to be even LESS efficient.” As an introduction to the necessity of mellow-ness, the driver from the airport to my hotel never showed. The hotel didn’t have the reservation. The drive from Mumbai to Pune the next day was interrupted by road construction causing a two hour backup (I got lucky — an accident later in the day caused the backup to stretch to 10 hours). Due to the backup, going up the large hill to ascend to the upper plateau, we had to turn off the A/C — luckily I didn’t know how many degrees over 100F we actually were. Traffic rules are non-existent, at best. But hey — I made it to a hotel in Pune, and determined not to let anything faze me. And as my aforementioned elderly British friend said upon parting, “Ah well, there’s always tomorrow…”

2. Prepare for stares. Okay, inherent goofiness aside, being 6’3” tall, having reddish blonde hair and incredibly fair skin, and wearing shorts around makes me fair game. I stand out, I admit it. Sometimes though, from the looks, I think they expect me to start dancing a jig… maybe I’ll start soon…

3. Be flexible. This doesn’t just apply to yoga — After wandering through the Pataleshwar temple (impressive — carved out of a single rock, it’s a temple complex with a Nandi shrine in front, and three small shrines inside) I wanted to stick around, and observe the local customs. I was hanging out on the lawn, chatting with a couple of Indian gentleman, sharing life experiences, when I noticed a sadhu (wandering holy man) out of the corner of my eye, staring a hole right through me. He came over, exchanged some words with the two gentleman, and a couple of others who by this time had wandered over (see point 2.) I asked if I should leave, and although they politely said “no, no, babu…” I took it as a signal that my time was done. OK, so change in plans, back to the hotel. Looking out the side of the autorickshaw, I passed by a building that said MUSEUM in big welcoming letters, and as my hindi/marati is sketchy at best, I convinced the driver to stop by wild hand gestures and gutteral utterings. (ok, ok, see point 2 above again…) I went inside, and it was one of the best museums I’ve ever been in. Not because of the slick modern displays, no siree, but because of the sheer jumble of exhibits, in totally disorganized fashion. Unexpected treasures around every corner. Displays that look like they were created in 1883, and have been collecting dust ever since. A “nail painting” done with a fingernail. Stuffed lions that looked the worse for wear. Models of hydroelectric dams. A mosquito model that was a foot long — now THAT convinced me to use the bug spray… Actually the exhibit on “The Many Uses of Plywood” was probably from the 1950s… and the armory, with exotic antique weapons was fascinating.

4. Right. I’m getting carried away. Lesson 4: Think Creatively. As a left brain dweller, data base administrator, I’m constantly being challenged to move more into my right brain with the creative thinkers. Get away from all the thoughts of organization. The museum above was just a warm up for the bookstores. Don’t get me wrong – I like wandering around the stacks in bookstores. And I’m getting really used to the fact that Julia Child could be classified as Hindu literature here. Is that the yoga section next to Java Programming in 10 Easy Steps, or just today’s random classification of several titles sprinkled in and amongst the disparate categories to reward those who have learned not to think like westerners? Example 2: Advertising here, well, let’s just say the term “Truth in Advertising” hasn’t really caught on. Let’s just say “Overt Deceit and Deception in Advertising” is more the norm. An example: A large sign advertising “New 10 Story High Rise! Best Part of Town! No Slums in Sight!” is on the side of the road. Turning around approximately 165 degrees, and hurling a tennis ball across the street will strike some of the poorest third world shanties I’ve ever seen. (Not that I tried this — wouldn’t want to invoke point number 2. above again!) Example 3: On our way back from an Ayurvedic retreat center, where the group of yogis was treated to massage, good food, and an escape from the city, we stopped for a view. Upon getting out, we noticed a puddle forming under the engine. We quickly ascertained that by the amount of petrol spewing from the carberateur input line, we’d probably make it just past that cow in the road up there. Action was needed. As the western-thinkers discussed it, the driver was wrapping a piece of cotton cloth around the split hose, but that just produced a wet, smelly piece of cotton cloth. In a group of 9 mello and massaged travellers, we came up with 2 swiss army knives, a roll of medical tape, and ta-da! a small roll of duct tape. With Shane/McGyver springing forward, the rest was easy. Yes, it actually held past the cow, and the 50kms back into the city. (Lesson 4b: always travel with a small roll of duct tape. Even more important than a towel.)

5. Accept the fact that you might not be in control of every situation. Is this getting to be a theme here? Autorickshaws: a wonderful transportation device, if only we could find a way to get away from the little two stroke, single cylinder, Pollution-Meister 2000 engine in the back. You don’t want to actually look out the front, and see the traffic weaving in, about and around you. In fact, between the large trucks, busses, autos, autorickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, other autorickshaws, cattle, hand carts, pedestrians, even more autorickshaws, dogs, and kids you really don’t WANT to even TRY to be in control of the situation. Just sit back, relax, and remind yourself that this is just one of many lives… Example 2: Say you want to get across the road to your hotel. Say also that it’s Monday, June 26, and there are loads (estimates at half a million) of pilgrims walking though on that very road, near the beginning of their 248km journey from Alandi to Pandharpur. Say (aloud) for example, “four-hour constant stream of humanity”. Best to sit back and get out the camera. The big one, and watch people (who assume you’re with National Geographic) pose.

6. Practice Pratyahara: Control/Withdrawl of the Senses. One of the articles I read before coming here discussed the fact that India is an assault on the senses. All of them. At once. Pratyahara can help. By controlling the sense of smell, you don’t notice the open sewer or the overwhelming traffic fumes… you just notice the incense, sandlewood and delicious jasmine flowers. By controlling the sense of hearing, you don’t notice the horns or dogs barking, you just notice the lovely bells and the incessant “Hello”s of the passers-by. By controlling the sense of sight you don’t notice the incredible poverty or dirtiness, but do notice the immaculately maintained temples that adorn almost every corner. By controlling the sense of touch, you don’t notice how wet you’re getting in the monsoonal rains, or the crush of many people against you. Later you do notice the feel of the wind on your face, the same wind that lofts the kites up above your head, flying high over the city like the hopes of the people here. And sense of taste — well, I love Indian cooking, and lo and behold — all the restaurants here serve Indian food! I’m in taste heaven.

7. Prepare for beauty. You see it in the temple carvings and paintings. In the palaces. In the fabrics. In the people’s faces. In the sandalwood handiwork. In the forms of dance and music. Striking, unusual beauty from a country that is, in many respects, our most direct link back to the ancestry of People. Beauty that has been around for ages, and has withstood the test of time. And will likely withstand the assault of the new McDonald’s that opened on Jangli Maharaj road today…

Love it? Hate it? How about all of the above…

Reporting from the field,

Bendy Wally

One thought on “On the Road with Wally: Travel Tips from India”

  1. India – a place that I wanted to go so badly. But on the other hand, the hygiene is a bit of concern. Thanks for the article.

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