The Prettiest and Ugliest of India

I cried in India. More than once. For its astonishing beauty and despicable ugliness.

在印度,我哭了。为了她最牵动人心的美好而哭,为了她最令人切齿的丑恶而哭。

Bird’s-eye View and Worm’s-eye View of the Ethereal Powai Lake of Mumbai

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Spotted a buffalo enjoying itself in the cooling water

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漫步瓦伊湖畔

The Phenomenal Taj Mahal

After 13 hours on the road, the Taj, the magnificent Taj, the magnificent Taj in its glowing beauty, stood before me. It was such an emotional sight, beyond any words can adequately describe.

清晨4点从孟买的旅店出发,经过2小时的飞行与7小时的车程,我站在夕阳下泰姬陵无与伦比的庄严面前,热泪盈眶。

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A sight to remember.

The magnificence of the Taj in sunset

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血染的天空映衬出泰姬陵的婀娜多姿

Himalayas – Where Earth Meets Sky

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One thing I learnt from my trip to Shimla (a hill station up in the towering Himalayas), was to take online weather forecasts with a pinch of salt. Especially when you are about to visit the mountains.

But, the coldness and unpredictability of the weather and the weariness of my body, were long forgotten, in face of such awe-inspiring grandeur of Nature.

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终于终于,14小时、600 公里的车程,我置身在喜马拉雅山脉之中,呼吸着高山上沁人心肺的空气,看着满山满岭如五彩蘑菇般的房屋,再疲惫的身躯也会瞬间焕发神采。

It’s the People That Make the Place 

I met a few locals who touched my life.

#1 – Vicky

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Owner of a tribal antique shop and an anthropology lecturer, Vicky, and I became friends during my short stay of 2 days in Shimla. I met him in his shop and subsequently bumped into each another on the street. Call it coincidence call it fate, I was shown to the most sincere form of hospitality in a land that was most foreign to me. If not for him, I might have missed many highlights of this incredible trip, be it witnessing the world’s tallest high-altitude statue, ridding a horse in the Himalayan valleys, or experiencing a hailstorm on a rainy March afternoon (yes, in March!).

He was not only an amiable friend, a knowledgeable guide, an eloquent translator, a personal photographer, but most importantly, a knight in shining armor when I was being cheated by a despicable local travel agency (read on a few more paragraphs to find out).

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Under the persistent encouragement and “coaxing” of my friendly guide, we embarked on an exciting and tiring climb up the Jakhu Hill to pay visit to the Jakhu Temple (Monkey God Temple) – situated on the highest peak of Shimla. And… in the midst of a hailstorm! Totally unprepared and under-dressed (with only a singlet, shirt and cardigan), I contemplated the probability between catching a cold and missing a rare opportunity of lifetime. It wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that the former had to give way.

在我的无比热情的当地新朋友的鼓励与“怂恿”下,我们很即兴地去登山!坐落在海拔2455米的哈努曼庙宇是西姆拉的最高峰。虽说是三月的凉爽天气,但山顶上的大雾与掺杂着冰雹的细雨可不是一般的冷,尤其是在我只有3件单薄的上衣的情况下!但是,在这个难得的机会面前,我的抉择其实一点也不难。咬咬牙,管他三七二十一,爬吧!

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Deemed to be world’s tallest hilltop statue at 108 feet at the highest altitude of over 8100 feet, the Hanuman statue even surpassed the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ in Brazil. I was fortunate to have taken a clear shot of the statue in such heavy fog. Vicky said it must be that the Hanuman God had taken a liking of me and my sincerity, and therefore 30 sec of clearance. After which, the thick fog started rolling back again! How unbelievable yet amazing!

海拔8100尺的哈努曼佛像据说是世界上最高的山顶雕像,比巴西的救世主基督像还要高。 在浓浓的大雾中,我们几乎看不到上山的路,但是在攀爬到寺庙的时候,天空竟然突然放晴大约半分钟!我也就很兴奋地拍下了这一难得的哈努曼雕像。Viki说,一定是力量之神哈努曼被我的诚意所感动而让天空为我放晴。呵呵!

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A stray dog from the Jakhu Temple walked us down the hill on our way back, stopping and waiting for us whenever we paused for a break. What a lovable and faithful guide!! I was exceedingly amused. Sometimes, I do feel that fate exists, in an indescribably charming way.

下山的路上,一条来自寺庙的流浪犬一路带领我们下山。一路伴着我们走走停停,仿佛是个踏实可靠的领队。直到抵达山脚,它才回头看了我们一眼之后缓缓离去。

有时候,我真的觉得缘分与机遇是个无法比喻的神奇魔法,摸不着、听不到,但却有无法否定它的存在。

#2 – Vashal

Vashal & His 3 Ponies

Vashal & His 3 Ponies

Vashal (hope I’m spelling his name correctly), a shy 13-year-old and a owner of 3 ponies, stopped schooling after Primary school and is now earning his own money from tourists like me. For SGD$10, he had to walk us and his ponies for 4 hours in the mud and along steep valley paths. We couldn’t bring ourselves to have him walking the same arduous journey back and freed him with some simple biscuits. Thinking as though he committed a mistake, he stood by the roadside reluctant to leave. It was only when Vicky assured him in local tongues, he let out a contented megawatt smile.

So bright was his smile that it touched the softest spot of my heart, leaving it bittersweet.

13岁的Vashal小学毕业后便出来赚钱。牵着3匹跟他一样娇小的白马,他每天的工作就是招揽像我这样想在喜马拉雅山脉中体会骑马的乐趣的游客。为了十块钱,他不止要在时而泥泞时而尘土飞扬的山路上走上好几公里的山路,还得时刻确保马儿不会掉队以及照顾游客的安全。不忍心让他继续吃力地领路,我们下马继续接之后的旅程,并为他买了几包廉价的饼干。知道自己可以提前“下班”的他,咧开嘴笑得好满足,好满足。

这般纯真的笑容,这般纯朴的孩子,这般辛苦的工作,让我看得有些心酸。

#3 – Friendly youths from South India

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Yes,you’re right, that’s snow. And I was wearing only a pair of jeans, a inner top, a shirt and a cardigan. Cold? Try it for yourself! Excited? Needless to say!

是的,这是三月的余雪!别问我冷不冷,问我好不好玩!

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Met a group of fun-loving South Indian youths halfway through the horse-ride. And they were so excited seeing me doing a jump shot by myself and flocked around to join in! We could not communicate in the same language, but we certainly had fun laughing at each other through frantic and hilarious hand gestures!

骑马骑到半山腰,遇见了一群来自南印度的热情学生。他们看我一个人孤零零地拍照,便兴奋地问我能不能让他们也加入其中。虽然语言不通,但并不阻挡我们在比手划脚中寻找欢声笑语。

#4 – Detestable Kaushal Bagadia from Glory Travels

After my business meeting in Mumbai, I was planning my travel itineraries to the Taj and Shimla. As I experienced some difficulties in booking the air ticket from Agra to Shimla and the Toy Train ticket from Shimla to Kalka, I approached the Mumbai Renaissance’s Concierge for assistance. Instead of helping me with the online bookings, the staff called up a travel agency named Glory Travels and told me that he “couldn’t help me, but Glory Travels could do the job”.

Claimed to be the “official travel agency of the Renaissance Group”, Kaushal Bagadia from Glory Travels met me in person at the hotel lobby and settled all my travel plans swiftly.

Need a clean and comfortable hotel in Agra and Delhi? Sure, let me book you into 3-star hotels. Want to enjoy your experience on the Toy Train? Sure, let me get you a First Class window-seat, with air-conditioning and served meal to top off the pleasant journey. Oh no, flights from Agra to Shimla are sold out! Fret not, I’ll provide you with a personal driver who can drive you to your destinations, best option for a lady traveling by herself in India!

Impressed, I went back to my room with a driver confirmation letter and an e-ticket for the train ride.

How was the 3-star hotel room in Agra? It was a tiny room on the first floor, right next to the kitchen. Not to mention the broken shower head.

Where was the personal driver who was supposed to wait for me at the Delhi airport? Missing without reason. And his “brother” Pradeep called me up instead to inform the arrangement had been changed last minute and he would be my driver.

How was the other 3-star hotel in Delhi? A badly lit room with a strong scent of smoke and the dirtiest bedsheet and pillow covers I’ve ever found in a “hotel”.

Worse of all, was the tempered e-ticket. It was only during boarding that I realised it wasn’t a First Class window seat waiting for me, but an aisle seat by the stinky toilet. And of course, there was never meant to be any air-conditioning or served meal. The cost of the train ticket was a mere $3.50, but was artificially inflated to $50 at the point of purchase.

Imagine this scene – holding onto a tempered/void ticket in my hand, thinking about the rest of my luggage that was being driven away by the driver (he was supposed to pick me up at the Kalka Station after I got down from the train and then drive me to Delhi), and trying very hard to surpress the discomfort of an aching stomach and feverish head…

If not for my new friend Vicky who came to send me off and helped me explain the situation to the station master who helped me switch to a less crowded carriage, I dare not imagine the consequence that might happen next.

From US $3.50 to US $50, that's how Glory Travels miraculously inflated my train ticket. Stupid me and despicable them.

From US $3.50 to US $50, that’s how Glory Travels miraculously inflated my train ticket. Stupid me and despicable him.

听别人说,外国人去印度肯定少不了2种经历 - 泻肚子与受骗。它们就像鬼魅般地来无影去无踪,无论如何防范也逃不了它们的魔掌。开始还不信,但最终还是没辙地跟这两个“鬼魅”面对面了。

跟酒店串通好并打着 “Renaissance Hotel指定旅行社”的 Glory Travels假装专业地帮我处理了我6天行程所需的专人司机、旅店住宿、与火车票。最后接二连三地发现所有的安排都与承诺的有很大所出入!司机最后时刻被换人、所谓“3星级”的旅店是连许多汽车旅馆都不如的邋遢住所、应该是有着冷气与午餐的头等火车厢座位也完完全全是个天大的谎言。最可恶的是,火车票竟然被动过手脚,价钱被提高了十多倍不止,还让我差点上不了火车!每当我想到那个叫 Kaushal Bagadia 的人大言不惭地称Glory Travels为印度首屈一指的旅行社时,他情何以堪?

可能是我这个人傻人有傻福,离开西姆拉的那天还好有个热心好客的 Vicky 来送行。发现我的车票被动过手脚的他帮我跟站长解释我的不幸并帮我从原本厕所旁边的拥挤位置换到了另一车厢的靠窗位置。

我气奸商的没心没肺,气自己的过于天真与粗心大意,气这个外表堂皇内心杂乱的国家,气这两个在我正准备带着一箩筐的美好回忆回家时非得让我吃苦头的“鬼魅”。但同时,我却又深深深深地被我所遇到的朴实友好的当地人而感动着。在没有任何预警地情况下,我的眼泪就哗啦啦地毫不客气地流个不停。Vicky半开玩笑般地拍下了这一幕,为我对印度既爱又恨的感觉做了个完美定格。

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I was mad at the travel agent, angry at my own gullibility, touched by the kind souls who offered to help, and embarrassed by my unstoppable tears which were so eagerly gushing out to greet the public. And it turned out to be such a hilarious scene that Vicky couldn’t help but to snap a picture of my flustered face. This photo, has become a frozen moment that has never failed to amuse me over and over again. :)

#4 – A Nepalese housekeeping boy

During my last night in India, I stayed in the shabby “hotel” which Glory Travels booked me into. As I arrived only past midnight and was feeling a wave of nausea and stomach discomfort due to the Delhi Belly, I did not bother looking for another hotel. But the room condition was so bad that I had to make the poor housekeeping boy changed my bedsheet and pillow covers 3 times before I even wanted to go anywhere near the bed. He was a hapless victim of my foul mood.

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Feeling a little guilty for venting my accumulated frustration on a pair of helpful and humble hand, I softened and started talking to him. What amazed me was that this Nepalese young man came to Delhi a few months ago with all his parents’ savings to further his studies in Business Accounting, but only to find himself robbed in broad daylight by a few motorcyclist robbers on the very first day of his arrival. With all his money, ID and academic documents gone, no one believed his story and no policeman bothered to help him. At his wits end, he found shelter and a job at the hotel which he now calls home.

Were you not angry with what happened to you? Why do you seem so calm talking about it now? How do you find your current job and living conditions? I asked.

“Of course I was mad and I tried many ways to retrieve my documents, those were the most precious things to me. But this is India…and it made me slowly realise there is nothing I could do but accept the fact with an optimistic heart. Things happen for a reason, and maybe this is a test which life has set for me. I’m very grateful, that I’ve found a place that’s willing to keep me and pay me. I’m happy. Maybe one day I’ll save enough to go back to school.”

在印度的最后一晚,我拖着又累又病的身子住进了这辈子住过最糟的“旅店”。虽然已经气得咬牙切齿,但已经没有精力与时间换旅店了。但因为实在受不了肮脏的被单,我火气冲冲地叫客房服务换床单。可怜的客房服务生在我的黑脸下毫无怨言、满脸笑容地为我一遍又一遍地换新洗的床单。觉得有些过意不去,我缓和了情绪跟他聊起天来。这才惊讶地发现,站在我面前的是一位几个月前所有行头被摩托车劫匪抢走的尼泊尔大学生。原本带着父母积蓄打算进修会计课程的他,顿时一无所有。除了肯收留他的旅店老板,没人相信他的故事,连警察也懒得管。

他说:“刚开始的时候我当然十分愤怒,想尽了所有办法想要找回我的身份证明与文凭,那可是我最重要的东西啊。可是这里是印度,没办法的。我慢慢地看开了,每件事的发生一定有它的道理,也许这正是命运给我的考验。能找到栖身之处又有工作可以赚钱,我已经万分感激了。也许有天我存够钱了,就能够继续念书了。”

A Nepalese $10 note. My most meaningful souvenir from India.

A worn-out Nepalese $10 note. My most meaningful souvenir from India.

To hear a story as such right after being cheated, I was skeptical, I must say. But I decided to believe him just as I believed there’s always more goodness in this world than bad. Compared to his grief encounter, my hapless encounters became so marginal. Before my departure, I left him the remaining of my money. SGD $30 might not be a lot to many, but to a young man like him, it might be a step closer to dream. As a token of gratitude, I was given the only Nepalese note he was left with – he said it minded him of home.

刚经历了一次受骗经验后,不难会对这样的情况感到怀疑。但也正是因为体验到了“受害者”与“受帮助者”的心情之后,更倾向于相信这个目光清澈待人真诚的小伙子。在离开之前,我把身上所剩的印度卢比留给了他。虽然30对很多人不算什么,但对这个山穷水尽的年轻人来说,是雪中送炭。这也是为什么他把皮夹里珍藏的唯一的10元尼泊尔币送给了我。他说,这上面印着家乡的味道。

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During my crazy and spontaneous week traveling across 4 different cities in this foreign country, many were wary about my personal safety. I will not attempt to deny the latent danger that a foreign girl faces in a land where she has never been before. Especially after the many heart-wrecking rape cases that shocked the world. Be it traveling in group or solo, please please please, take triple precaution and always stay vigilant. Have a handy pepper spray on your body and wear money belts instead of loose wallets.

However, I never regretted a single moment in this incredible land, so much richness it has brought to my life that I could only be grateful. Iill-intentioned people and danger are indeed everywhere, but often than not, there are more heavenly angels scattered around different corners of this mortal world. They live different lives and breath different air, but occasionally, our paths would cross. When that happens, never underestimate the rippling effects of a lifelong inspiration and friendship that would come along most unexpectedly.

来印度之前,很多人都劝我放弃独自一人在这么多的城市穿梭。毕竟,一个女孩子第一次来到这个截然不同的陌生环境,是很危险的。尤其是后来读到各种女生被侵犯的不幸报道。不过回头看看这段奇妙之旅,我很庆幸自己的坚持。坏人与危机无处不在,但跟更多的是那些散落在各个角落的人间天使,他们真实地生活着,时而不经意地触动你我的心湖,带来的微波有时足以荡漾好久, 好久。

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8 thoughts

  1. 安全了就好,我走过很多地方,但是我觉得万事还是得小心。我也刚从印度回来,参加会议和婚礼。最有意思就是到甘地的故居,在Ahmedeabad. 我感动的流泪。7月还有一场婚礼要参加,在南印度。之前是北印度的婚礼。
    祈泉

    Like

      • 在Ahmedabad参加了婚礼,跳了三天的舞,在家跳,在街上跳,一路跳到婚礼的场。还有就是甘地的故居,就是那个让我感动的地方。故居简简单单,可是对我来说在当时的情况来讲,房子的条件还是非常好的,尤其是印度当时那么穷。让我感动的都是甘地的话语,虽然我的印度朋友说他不是一个好父亲。印度是特别的,是地球上天堂与地狱,生与死最交错的地方。说是好的感觉也不是,不好的也不是,就是让人情感很纠结的地方。

        我到过好多地方走了,不知道有一些算不算探险当自己一个人在深山野林,或骑了2千公里的路。我现在都是告诉人,自己一个人走的路,就是一维的线,两个人走的路是条成长的大道,和家人朋友走的路,是通往爱的路。旅程,要带着心一起。话多了,对不起啊:)。

        期待你新的旅程的故事,一个不一样的,关于心灵的。那一定是最不可思议的旅程的故事!

        祈泉

        Like

        • 不会,你说的很好啊。尤其赞同那句“让人情感很纠结的地方”!
          我想,不管是独自的旅行还是结伴的旅行,都各有各的精彩。:) 
          你的旅行经历也一定很有趣,有机会也要在博客上分享哦!

          Like

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