Well, that’s it for another six months minimum. Yesterday I arrived back to a Britain I’d heard absolutely nothing about for over two weeks. It’s not that they didn’t sell UK newspapers in India (albeit dog-eared and at least three days old), it’s just that I was having such a good time that I didn’t really care or concern myself with what was happening here. It was my third trip to India, and hopefully they’ll be others in the distant future.
We took off from Heathrow Terminal 3. As anyone who has travelled from Heathrow will tell you, it is expressely forbidden to hire white British people to work there. We were checked in by a Pole, served drinks at the bar by some Portuguese dude, and had sweeping brushes pushed over our shoes by an army of Asian workers even the Delhi and Bombay airports couldn’t match. It was nine hours to Bombay. Nine hours! When I first went in 1985 it took over twelve and a half. But the miracle of aviation means the world has become a much smaller and more easily accessible place. And the ‘green’ loonies want those of us who can afford to travel widely to take a 7-night break in Saltburn-by-the-Sea? Yeah sure!!
For when you arrive in, and travel through, India you realise just how potty and pointless all this Western crap about separating milk cartons and keeping food scraps in designated bins in order to save the planet really is. Bombay and Delhi are big – very big. 18 and 12 million respectively, with the populations swelled by literally thousands every day, chiefly by the arrival of migrants from the countryside, creating disease infested slums the size of a small British town. There are also 4 babies born in India every second!! Both Bombay and Delhi have streets clogged with beat-up old Indian-built Ambassador cars, buses older than the Golden Hind, and autorickshaws that haven’t had an oil change since Nehru – all spewing out dirty great globules of thick, black exhaust fumes. After three days I had to go to a doctor with a serious throat infection caused by the dust and the pollution. For the remainder of the holiday I wore a mask over my mouth when venturing outside. Please remember that the next time some long-haired hippy starts pontificating about Britain making a valued contribution to saving the planet. Our efforts make bugger all difference – and never could.
On our first day in Bombay (we were only there two) my mother and I ventured down to Colaba to see how things were progressing on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. You’ll recall it was bombed and torched by followers of the religion of peace last November. Although, sadly, we couldn’t go in and sample the fabulous Harbour Bar (India’s first licensed premises, which opened in 1933) like my mate and I had done almost two years ago to the day, it was brilliant to see just how much hard effort had gone in to making the hotel look as splendid as it was prior to that awful event. Like the reconstruction of the Grand Hotel in Brighton after the IRA terror attack in 1984, the restoration effort had the distinct and defiant impression of ‘we’re not going to allow those bastards to keep us down’ about it. We missed the reopening of the Taj as we were airbound for London when it threw open its doors yesterday. Jolly good luck to every guest and worker who goes to make that place what it is.
We spent the first week in Delhi, seeing all the sights (Connaught Place, India Gate, Rajpath, various museums, the zoo) and catching up on the gossip with my Manipuri friend who now lives and works in the city. We then travelled on to Agra to see the greatest monument ever built in the name of love. Like or loathe Islam, the Taj Mahal metaphorically knocks you sideways. It is one of the few places I’ve ever been to that bettered the pictures and the impressions you get from them. When you enter into that garden in front of the mausoleum, you can’t help making a sharp intake of breath and saying ‘f**k me!’ in a loud voice. There were thousands of Brits, Yanks and Aussies all swearing and sucking air simultaneously. It’s a wonder we didn’t all suffocate. What the information boards at the Taj are curiously reluctant to tell you is that the wife, in whose honour the Taj was built, died giving birth to her husband’s 14th child (the dirty, perverted swine)!! That was Islam in the seventeenth century. Has anything changed?
All this brings me neatly on to the subject of Islam in India. Yes, Muslims have the freedom of worship, sufferage, expression of thoughts and way of life. But foreigners are left without a doubt that India is a Hindu country and is determined to stay that way. There is no way 88% of the population is going to allow 10% to dictate the requirement for special laws and exemptions that run contrary to general Indian culture. What a shame we in Europe can’t be more like them. Many in Islam seek world domination? I think India will have something to say about that.
We then moved on to Jaipur – the pink city. It was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales in the late 19th century and apparently gets a fresh lick of the stuff every year. However, my most abiding memory of Jaipur was a woman who thrust a malnourished baby through the taxi window and asked that I adopt him. That’s India I’m afraid. You need a tough hide to cope with some of the sights you encounter.
Jodhpur (you see, it’s not just a pair of trousers!) was our next destination. Whereas Jaipur is painted pink, Jodhpur is painted blue, but for reasons I could never really find out. It was like being immersed in sulphur. Finally, after a gruelling day and night train journey, which was about as comfortable as lying on a bed of top soil, we arrived in Varanasi. I admit this spot by the Ganges is sacred to Hindus, but I wanted to go there just because one of my musical icons, George Harrison, had his ashes scattered there after succumbing to cancer in 2001. George, we miss you.
So I’m home, jet lag-free and ready to go. I understand there were some floods in Cumbria whilst I was away. I also read that the argument between Sinn Fein and the DUP over the devolution of justice is continuing with gusto. What the DUP party as a whole needs to appreciate is that when you jump into a pit of viscous slime, it will both stick and prevent you from getting out of it. In other words, they have only themselves to blame for their predicament.
So that’s it for today. I’ll browse the web and be back with some blogs starting tomorrow.