I have about 15-20 more minutes of being able to ward off the encroaching cold, and recount some of what has happened over the last three days of travel and discovery. Since leaving Yogjakarta on the morning of the 12th, it’s been one memorable experience after another…all without precedent in my life thus far.
So for starters, the flight from Jogja to Jakarta worked out perfectly, even though I fretted about it on-and-off ever since making the reservation. If this flight was delayed and my 90 minute connecting time shortened, I had a good chance of missing the flight to Bangkok, which meant I’d miss the flight to Delhi and have to rebook everything.
I left the GQ Hotel’s “honeymoon suite” eyeing a bank of clouds that threatened an on-time departure but no rain fell as the boarding time came and went without an announcement. When it finally came 20 min. late, we hoofed it to the plane on the tarmac, only to sit another 30 min. while local Air Force flight training took place. By then it was 40 minutes past departure time, which was cutting into my connecting flight comfort zone of 1 p.m. Once we were airborne, however, the pilot made up for lost time by speeding and landing only five minutes late. I couldn’t believe it, and made the connecting flight easily.
In Bangkok, I had 3 hours to kill, and so spent half of it at a restaurant where girls wearing Heinekin beer mini-skirts tried to pull in customers. They were such a contrast from the conservatively dressed Indonesian women I’ve been around the past month, and reminded me again of the “swamp of unholy loves” that is associated with Bangkok. Glad I could get on a flight going elsewhere.
As we cued for the bus that would take us out to the giant Boeing 747, a group of Hindu priests from Bali appeared in their white sarongs, navy blue tailored jackets, magic walking sticks with all kinds of carvings and crystals, and their long hair done up in a bun on the very top of their heads. That little bun was further decorated with charms, dangling strings, and efficacious colors. Several of the men were probably pushing 70, and it was entertaining to see their faces when the buses pulled up to the jumbo jet all lit up like a five-story building with wings.
Delhi landing and transition to the hotel was surprisingly easy…although I had to un-cross my very tired eyes at 12:30 a.m. to try and find the driver and sign that was supposed to be waiting for me. 30 min. after landing, I was checking into the Hotel Impress, just outside the airport zone and therefore deeply in the city.
Rather than strain my physical capabilities, I opted for a one-day layover in Delhi to decompress and see what the neighborhoods around my hotel had to offer. No sooner had I made the initial plunge into a maze of buildings, pathways and the occasional street where motorbikes and cars honked their way through the flow of people than I ran into the hotel’s front desk clerk who checked me in last night. Pawan seemed happy to see me, remembered my name, and asked if I’d like to see the neighborhood where he lived. He was chatting with a cousin who ran a small quickie-store (and by small I mean a 6′ x 6′ space, which is standard for many businesses) and was offered a coke immediately. I’d just finished breakfast and so declined as politely as I could, and then we were off.
Pawan explained to me how the open space was owned by the state and how plans were to build more housing, but the land was neither fenced nor protected in any way and so it had become a major trash dump. I’d spotted the open area on Google maps which said there was a “traditional vegetable market” in one spot. At one time, perhaps, but now the area was one of those heartbreaking scenes where probably 20-30 people scavenged the trash for scraps of recyclable plastic or metal. Dogs roamed as well looking for food, crows descended and fought, and the corpse of a dead cow was starting the slow process of decomposing, aided no doubt by an army of insects, rats, and other vermin. Fortunately, the chill in the air kept the smell at bay, and we headed down another street, talking about the infrastructure of Indian cities and the shortcomings of politicians to get anything done.
Our next stop was the “Goodluck Hotel” run by one of Pawan’s relatives. Business was good, he said, even though there are over 100 hotels in the area. Pawan mentioned briefly that he’d planned to start his own hotel but “things didn’t work out,” and I could tell this was a setback for him he was still recovering from. I thought later that a person of his communication skills, intelligence, and confidence in speaking with foreigners should be working at a major hotel…and wrote a letter to him from Dharamsala to encourage further ambition.
My next stop was a Hindu temple I saw on the other side of the wasteland. A crowd of people were clustered around the entrance, so I went to a side gate and cautiously wandered in, encouraged by an elderly man with giant handlebar mustache I later discovered was the resident priest. I watched the group for a moment as an elaborately dressed woman (bride-to-be, I assumed) did a kind of circular ritual dance with several men and then her fiancee, each of them with a short tree branch that served as a kind of whip administered to the backside.
The elderly priest and his overweight long-haired son ambled up to me and said it was a “first marriage,” then offered to show me the temple. We went from chamber to chamber visiting different deities, with Shiva and Lakshimi, the primordial couple) dominant. One chamber was fantastic with colored glass and a cosmic eye, and that’s where I got out the camera.
Upon conclusion of the temple tour, I was given water to drink (which I touched to my lips only), four rice balls colored saffron yellow, and blessed with a crimson bidi mark between my eyes that, when I saw it in a mirror 30 min. alter, looked like a big splotch of blood! Yikes. I gave one priest a donation of 200 rupees, and then the old man held out his hand as well. Stupidly, I gave him the equivalent of $7–a day’s labor for many people in India–because it was all I had and at that moment I was truly grateful for the experience. Oh well….an educational expense.