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INDIA RAJASTHAN VARANASI DELHI by Verinha Ottoni ©

This year was a dream come true with a magical historical tour of India. Falling in love with India was a kind of process. It came for me as a gift; a friend of Francesca could not go and gave the ticket to me. Nothing was organized before hand but the adventurous, globetrotting Francesca arrived with her Lonely Planet, where she is proud to have been nominated with her contribution for her first trip to South of India two years ago. I went around showing this to everybody I could in India. It gives me a sense of mother's pride to see the name of my bambina printed on India's Lonely Planet.

Flying with British Airways to India I was on a cloud – everything perfect. But on the way back I got the worst flight ever. This proves only one thing - it depends on the type of staff you get on the flight. Incredible India was pretty fantastic and beautiful but also shocking, traumatic and dramatic. India will be for many generations the country of Miss Universe - they are so pretty and the children even more so. Their selection of food is one of the best in the world and now I know that the Brazilian sweets originated in Goa. Whilst holidaying I could not fail to notice the diversity, where millions of people struggle every day for food. It is probably one of the most corrupt countries in the world judging by the mass of beggars and desperate people; the degradation, lack of infrastructure and services is appalling.

It is a country where the gap between rich and poor is so noticeable. It puts you in perspective so when you come back home tantrums count for nothing. Coming from Brazil with its favelas I am not patronizing. As soon as I left the airport my jaw dropped and I had to keep my mouth closed with an elastic band otherwise I would have been full of insects. We were there on the anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi and a stone memorial has been created for him. It was a very good move for the election too, as the TV speaker put on a "Gandhi Show". Sonia Gandhi is the fourth member of this family to lead India and the first foreign born. She didn't know much about India until she got married to Rajiv Gandhi. (Italians like to be imperator in other people's countries – hence Napoleon.) Three generations of Gandhi's family have ruled India at least for 35 years. With the intrigue and betrayal and the assassination of the other Gandhi leaders we just have to wait for her turn, then her son Rahul will become the fifth generation.

I was very intrigued to see how the Indians continually hold their feet whilst sitting on the floor, not to mention seeing them pee in the street all over India!!! They have a reverence for the monsoon, rivers, lakes and holy animals etc. Lovely the City Cows hiding from the Monsoon. I was very confused by the Holy Rats of Bikaner – masses of them playing like puppies around the temple dedicated to them. They were running over our feet. Francesca – of the Generation Jones – couldn't cope with the rats and they insist we take our shoes off, as the place is a sacred temple. We had to walk on their faeces!!! I jumped out screaming with terror at the first sigh of them, too terrified to look for the white one that brings luck. They say the rats will reincarnate as mystics or Holy Men – that is why they are so venerated. If the Black Death had been caused by rats India would be empty. I had nightmares about the rats for two days. Bless them, anyway.

Our man in India - Mr Bharat from Nepal – is also the best driver in Asia. Our tour was organized by the brothers Bittoo and Titoo (know as Bit and Tit!) from Kumar Tourist in Delhi. It worked very well for the tour around Rajasthan but for Delhi everything went wrong. We were being charged double for everything even though we had already paid. At one stage the police escorted us around Delhi trying to find our driver who gave us the wrong address.

My 48 hours in the Government Hospital of Jaisalmer was extremely traumatic, but I did have the company of the Holy Rats under my bed and little insects that came to say ‘hello' to me in my bed. I killed these with my decrepit hand, the only thing I could move! I could not walk because the dehydration had left me without the soles on my feet and hands. My feet had a strange black colour of death and the pain in my legs was that of Hell. Our Hotel Narayan Niwas Palace was a heritage hotel, owned by Mr Narayan Singh, of a very influential family in Jaisamer who personally took me to the hospital. Two men carried me with their arms crossed – me sitting in the middle. I must say thank you to Mr Narayan who talked to the doctors and as a consequence we were incredibly well looked after. The doctors were good as I did manage to walk back to the hotel. Francesca went many times to the pharmacy to buy my medicines, and change my crying body clothes. It was like a superlative performance of Delhi Belly in The Crying Body by Jan Fabre. Francesca also felt very guilty, as she didn't realize how very bad I was. Jaisalmer is the city Francesca loved most in Rajasthan!

The best place, at least for me, was Khuri Village in the Thar Desert, 40Km southwest of Jaisalmer near the Pakistan border. We were the guest of – and had dinner with – the charming Mayor of the area, and his Mama cooking for us. She also kindly gave up her bed for us. We had the Mayor's calves knocking their heads on our door all night long! They were attached to the door and obviously wanted to come in to say goodnight. Mama also had a clock that banged (didn't just tick!) heavily every half-hour whilst we were trying to get to sleep. That night was also the most treasured of our trip to India as the monsoon came down for the first time in years, so Mayor and the people of the village were so happy dancing in the rain! After the sunset and sunrise, including the great hospitality of the people dressed in very vivid colours really captured our hearts, Fantastic! Mama Guest House in Khuri Village has new buildings and they are very comfortable. Mama prepares her own butter and cheese each morning – this Guest House is the IN place to be. Mama and her son were very nice and kind people.

The only place we had problems with was in Udaipur that used to be known as the City of Lakes. Our Hotel Jagat Niwas Palace was quite nice, food OK, and the restaurant was overlooking Lake Pichota, which is drying out. We even had fireworks by the legendary lake at the palace-turned-Lake Palace Hotel. At the moment Udaipur Lake is an environment catastrophe as the lake is dying; three sides of the lake have already dried out. The couple that manage Jagat Niwas Palace were terrible rude, intimidating and verbally abusive because we dare to bring someone from outside the hotel to give us a massage, even though we had told them in the foyer that we were having the massage. The situation was so out of control that I asked for the police. But nobody in the area, including our driver, would call the police for us. It left me feeling very vulnerable. Those situations are particularly scaring when you are in an unknown country. In Varanasi we had our initiation and instruction on yoga, meditation and palmistry, all very enlightening. In Varanasi and Pushkar we had the Brahmist priest praying for us, putting the Holy Thread on our wrists and the red in the centre of our foreheads whilst intoning a blessing. Francesca and I still meditate daily to calm down our rages and tempers (very Elton John!).

The most enduring memory I have was of throwing butter at statues of the God Shiva and his wife Shakti for luck. In Varanasi we spent a lot of time in the Buddhist Temple. We met a very devout Buddhist who chose us to be privately showing the place where Buddha was resting. We were filled with joy! Altogether, a very emotional holiday! I did break down in tears and was absolutely petrified on the train from Agra to Varanasi. The train was not what the travel agent had described. We did not have our own couchette as expected; it was open, full of people even hanging on the roof, not to mention the famous Holy Rats also going on their travels and Holy Insects. I was in a state of: I am a celebrity get me out of here!

Every time Francesca and I were screaming at each other for some reason the children begging in the street used to tell us to calm down and that it was not good for our karma! We survived beautifully in spite of being accidental tourist. Even allowing for extremes, India gets to your heart. It was Francesca's second visit and is going back soon. I hope she finds a Maharajah to marry her says Georgina my friend. When we arrived back in Delhi on our way to Europe we had a day of treats – a complete wax, oil hair massage with young guys punching our head and back with their fists, a skin clean – great pleasure. We left feeling new again in jolly good bodies. They pluck the eyebrows with cotton held in two hands and the mouth – very tricky! It just shows that you travel and learn! Well done! The atmosphere of India is personified by the humidity, the incense, the sweets, the candles all culminating in Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights and the Hindu New Year which is celebrated with fireworks, greeting cards, the making of New Year resolutions (like us!) and, of course, vegetarian food! Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Elvina Francesca Vera



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