Friday, December 28, 2007

On the Road to Bikaner

Jodhpur to Bikaner, December 27, 2007

150 miles of clear traffic with semi desert conditions especially the last 50 miles or so. At least 3 major accidents, two trucks seemed to have hit each other outside a tiny town with the trucks and a pile of garbage still smoking from a burn. A boxy SUV against a tree, and another tractor trailer flipped on its side. We passed piles of cow and camel bones drying fetidly in the sun. The bizarre and nasty Karni Mata Temple is filled with rats, which are believed to by the living embodiment of the souls of dead storytellers. I was lucky enough to see a good luck white rat after fighting my way into a closet filled with broken feed bags. Did I mention you have to walk into these temples barefoot while the rats run all around. Lovely. For some reason, Clara decided to stay outside.

Bikaner has another beautiful if not quite perfectly kept fort of another Raj clan. It also has the nasty water pool a couple blocks away filled with trash, green water, and nasty, nasty smelling stuff. We were “befriended” by two young guides who showed us into the old city where we saw some beautiful but boarded up havellis, before buying some basala tea spice in the market and seeing another old Jain temple.

I have been pretty immune to the abject poverty but I was taken today by a man with no legs and just shorts rolling through the filth filled streets, while a woman who was with him called out for donations. She also only had her pelvis covered, and it seemed as if her breasts had been hacked off, with just bad scars left. The dirt, grime, cow feces, piles of garbage, horrid smells and poverty here are found in every city. The air is filled with dust, dirt, diesel and gas fumes and is noxious. I feel quite healthy but my throat and nose are constantly running and coughing up stuff. We have just not experienced anything like this in the world, if we aren’t painting a pretty picture, we’re doing our job.

Benazir Bhutto was killed this evening, and within a couple hours our rickshaw driver knew it and reported it to us.

One of the nicest and wisest people we have met was the maitre’d at The Whistling Teal in Udaipur. He started by talking about how the rains used to come on time every year, but now nature seems to be unsettled. I said the pollution was terrible in India and he said there is nothing that can be done about it. I disagreed and said that the problem is that people can do something but they don’t. He said the problem is that “rich people get too much favors” and that they get richer while the poor get poorer. He then pointed to a book on the counter and said “we have good laws on the books here, we just don’t use them” clearly indicating both the corruption that everyone says is so prevalent, and also that Indians don’t use the brains and knowledge that they have. He told me that the beggars at the temples are really businessmen, and that the real poor are out in the countryside, but that even though they are poor they are happier inside. He is from the country and comes into the city to work for 4 or 6 months a year. He left me with “you can live a short life, or a long life, that is what is important”. Hopefully, man will decide that we want to live a long life on this planet.

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