Roger Wolens writes about the delights of India – environmental and otherwise
A startling, swirling, superb circus of life
In Jaipur we were taken into the middle of that heaving human maelstrom and turned loose. It was THE highlight of a tour absolutely crammed with highlights.
We were dropped off in the middle of the busiest crossroads. Not on the pavement. The middle of the road. Had we not been momentarily frozen by shock, we couldn’t have moved straight away anyway.
Cannon to the left of us. Cannon to the right of us. Into the Valley of Life strode the 600. (Well, 12 if we are not to stretch the boundaries of poetic licence too far.)
All human life was here. And animal. And mechanical. And probably several other sorts too.
In the middle of this swirling, splendid pandemonium was the traffic roundabout. I never actually saw it, although I could have been only inches away from it. I doubt it has ever been seen in the hours of daylight.
Bikes and tuk-tuks were come at us from all directions. And people. Certainly people.
I was Davy Crockett back at the Alamo. Naah – he had it easy.
First we had to pick our way gingerly around the cow (and its droppings) which had simply laid down in the middle of this incredible bedlam to form a second (and third) traffic island.
First objective, the gutter, to avoid most of the traffic, but only to find involuntary human chains of bodies walking in every direction.
Your body is in constant unavoidable contact with different parts of the anatomy of three or four Indians. All the time. Personal space? Forget it. Within minutes you don’t even want it.
You are enjoying a unique, warm, human experience. Unique to us anyway. A way of life for them, but they don’t see that many white faces. They want to try out their English on you. They want to see the variety of facial features. They are intrigued by the hi-tec cameras, fascinated by this group that has suddenly appeared in their midst.
Where are you from? Come see my house. My second uncle in England. Want bangles? Very cheap. What price you want? Where you go? Your ears are bombarded with questions. All your senses are stretched to the limit, and the adrenalin is pumping as if to the drumbeat you can hear.
A drum? Bloody hell, it’s a wedding party’s marching band going with the flow of the human tide.
Alongside all this is the battery of open shopfronts. All identical sizes, but all built from different pieces of junk, planks, bricks, corrugated sheeting, anything that will take a nail.
Here you will find absolutely anything you want. A pin? A car door? Clothes. Food. And while you are trying to see and savour all things, you can’t help but stand on some of the thousands of tiny bar feet vying with your shoes for the same space.
You feel one underneath your heel and all you get is a round-eyed sparkling white smile from the victim urchin, acknowledging your apology.
Get into this stampede. You’ll love it.
You just soak up the atmosphere. You see piles of nuts, pulses, fruit, veg, rice – everything. So colourful, even though it is all crawling with flies. This is the home of ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’.
While your eyes are darting here, there and everywhere in the impossible hope of seeing everything, your nose is twitching in other directions – pungent and subtle aromas of every imaginable spice. Again all piled high in an array of dazzling colours in the brilliant sunlight.
We managed to stop long enough to buy a sparkling 10 metre sari for less than a fiver – and what’s that noise on the roof? Wild monkeys playing. Of course! What a place!