A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A fantasy wedding and honeymoon in Asia

I was feeling nervous about India...

I was excited too...

About the rainbow saris, the curries and breads and pickles.

The epic train journeys, the tigers and elephants and monkeys and crocodiles.

India – home to over a billion people – sounded like an encyclopaedia of experiences.

But in the few days before leaving Australia for India, I was feeling THE FEAR.

It was time to take some action!

So Adam and I had a fictional wedding...

China Town, Kuala Lumpur, was where I invented Adam back in June. So it seemed fitting to have our fictional wedding there.

I promised Adam I’d learn to cook samosas. Adam promised he’d make me look like Angelina Jolie in photographs. Adam’s a talented photographer – there MUST be an angle, godammit!

Our wedding breakfast was chicken curry puffs, purple dragon fruit and cold coconut juice.

Our witnesses – two cheeky monkeys.

Why a fictional husband?

Maybe I won’t need Adam in India.

I believe that most people in this world are kind.

And I trust that by applying common sense and asking for help where necessary, everything turns out well.

But the advice I’d received from experienced solo female travellers was to act married in India.

So when I stepped on board the Air Asia plane from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi, I had my back story with Adam all worked out!

First stop on the fictional honeymoon – Delhi...

The streets of Paharganj. Walking down Main Bazaar from New Delhi train station is like moving house in a carnival. I’m part of the traffic with my 15 kilo backpack and 6 kilo front pack – in between tooting auto-rickshaws, squeaky bicycles, revving motorbikes, honking taxis.

I find a bed for the night then I head straight out to eat potato paratha with lime pickle and curd at Cafe Nirvana. And of course a cup of chai.

Throughout the first day in Delhi, a wave of new sights and sounds and smells wash right over me.

A dustball of heat and feet and wheels and bells. Clothes shops with psychedelic saris, trimmed with gold thread. School dress material down a tiny lane.

A man with a tray of spices on his head. Brown dust up my nose holes. Horns, horns, horns!

A bright orange beard. A small child in a doorway, smiling at me. A wrinkly man with a wooden leg. The bang of a drum. Three brightly dressed ladies, happy-chatting in the road.

A man with a bright pink and brown face – like he’s been splashed with paint - he has vitiligo, the skin disease that affects many of India's poor. A man selling cap guns. A lady with a bag of firewood on her head. Bicycle bells. A guitar shop.

Sandalwood incense. Men in smart shirts and red turbans. A baby in a bicycle basket. Two teenage boys with their arms around each other. A lady in a bright pink sari with a rolling waistline. Women holding out their hennaed hands to dry.

Cows pulling carts loaded with boxes. The smell of fresh-baked shit. Cows window-shopping down tiny side streets. Goats. Dogs. Pigeons. A baby cow, chilling by the side of the road.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

With new friend Sonja, who I meet at New Delhi train station, I take in some of Delhi’s sights.

Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in Delhi. It welcomes in tens of thousands of people for Friday prayers.

Kids swing on the monuments in the fluorescent heat.

Men face the wall inside Jama Masjid mosque. They bow, kneel and touch their foreheads to the floor, stand up, repeat.

The red sandstone courtyard and marble floors of the mosque have a calmness that offers respite from the maze of streets outside packed with bodies of every shape, cars, bikes, hanging overhead wires and always those horns!

The Red Fort, Delhi

This sandstone fort is a Shah Jahan creation. He’s the guy who conceived the Taj Mahal.
There’s a colonial past to this place – the British took this fort during Empire, finally handing it back to the Indians at the time of independence in 1947.

Prayers and qawwali at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah

The tomb of Sufi Muslim saint Nizamuddin Chisti and the daughter of Shah Jahan. Locals come in their thousands here to worship.

When Sonja and I arrive here, we don’t have a clue what we are doing. We are in the middle of many hundreds of Indian families, stepping off buses and into the narrow lanes leading to this Muslim shrine. We are adopted, thankfully, by a laughing family – we are swept along a twisting maze of tiny streets, past stalls selling samosas and lime juice. There are bright pink flowers, guava scented incense sticks and bags of sweetened puffs – we buy these for the proceedings inside.

The lanes zigzag to just a metre wide. Market traders sit cross-legged on their stalls to make way for the sea of people. We leave our shoes on a rack at one of the market stalls. There’s tooting behind us – a motorbike – really?

Inside we sit in the women’s section of the shrine, the men are allowed to go right inside the tomb. The women must look at the tomb through gaps in the wall. We offer up our prayers, hand over our pink flowers to a man in white robes and burn our guava incense sticks.

Later, we meet Pri, a very cool Indian chick in her twenties with bags of style. She is with her friend Lakshmi, coming to see the qawwali for the first time. Qawwali is the devotional singing of the Sufi Muslims, at once haunting and celebratory.

Pri works in Delhi for an education company. Pri tells me she wants to live in Barcelona. She’s friendly, funny and helpful – she does some cut-throat bargaining for me at the end of the evening for an auto-rickshaw. Pri believes in ‘helping circles’ – she helps people then people will help her.

‘It’s how it works,’ Pri says. ‘I help you in Delhi then someone will help me in Barcelona.’

And fictional husband Adam did come in handy a few times in Delhi...

For example, I made a new best friend in Paharganj, a very chatty guy in a smart shirt and trousers who followed me up the street, in and out of shops, he wanted to hold my bag for me, no thank you. He walked with me, talked to me, he followed me into a cafe, sat down next to me, started to plan my day for me. I mentioned Adam after several attempts to steer the conversation in a more comfortable direction. It's a confidence trick, it makes me feel better and chatty-man backs off.

But overall, my first days in India are INCREDIBLE...

The surprises around each corner, the smiles on people’s faces, the sensory feast. The rough and the smooth.

And yes, the cows...everywhere the cows...God bless the cows!

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