Sunday, April 6, 2008

Agra to Jaipur - Golden Triangle 5

Agra’s emptying as we leave town. Whole families are on the road, picnic baskets slung between them, paniers on their heads, trailing young, straggling behind. Red flags festoon the dingiest of alleyways, and youths have tinselled fillets bound in their hair. Something’s up.
We ask Sanjay, as the car noses along the gaudy streets. “Ram Nomi,” he says, as if that meant anything to any of us. “Ah, Ram Nomi,” we say, knowledgeably. “Of course.” It’s the celebration of the birth of Shri Ram Ji, I find out later, but Sanjay’s English isn’t up to it for now. Neither, to be honest, is our Hindi.
We drive for mile after hot mile, still passing pilgrims. The route’s punctuated by impromptu resting-places, chairs and decking set out, with refreshment available for weary travellers – like the village hall, without the walls. The celebrants from Agra will take days to reach their destination on foot, but journeying’s all part of the fun.

We pass a pond by the railway, where buffalo are cavorting like teenagers, and get out of the car to take photos. Passing locals, picnics in tow, take a moment out of their Ram Nomi procession to watch us, wondering, laughing. If you found someone taking a photo of a person buying bread at Greggs, you’d laugh too. Although, some of the loaves are wise to the tourist trade. Mr Andrew and I lean out of the car, to photograph a flock of sheep - when it says ‘lamb’ on a menu here, it usually means ‘goat’, so we want substantive evidence of some ovine commitment. The shepherd has his hand out for rupees before the shutters click.
Dual carriageway’ is a very fluid notion, in Uttar Pradesh. If they’ve dug up your side of the road, you just slip across to the other for a bit. It’s disconcerting, to find traffic hurtling towards you in what you thought was your overtaking lane – motor bikes, camels, trucks – but Sanjay has the measure of it. We even pop across to the other side ourselves, occasionally. In our new Innova, with AC and liveried chauffeur, we’re quite well up the wayfarers’ pecking order, but I wouldn’t argue with a laden camel-cart.
A man on a bike has a monkey riding pillion, its hand resting companionably on his shoulder. Another cart carries a huge bullock, instead of vice versa. One camel stands, ever patient, while its driver sorts out the spilled load of chaff, blocking the road. The chaff fuels the kilns, in the local brick-factories. Field after field of bricks are stacked to dry in the sun, before being processed through the kiln. No wonder Mumbai’s not finished yet.
By the road, we see women, carrying loads on their heads, with perfect poise. My walk is so uneven, my hair only stays on because it’s attached. They carry any and everything, from a pot of water, to a fardel of kindling. It occurs to me, that, if a woman’s marriageability is measured by the weight she can bear, hereabouts, I’d be an old maid.

And everywhere, there’s poo. It shouldn’t be a surprise, with all the bullocks and goats and camels grazing on every porch. We ask Sanjay, about the little “huts” in all the fields. “Cow, buffalo – latrine,” he says. There’s a pantomime moment, as he tells us what we’d been reluctant to understand. Apparently, the poo’s collected (in handy pats), dried, and stored for fuel. Makes sense, really.
So, if they ask you to a barbecue, in Uttar Pradesh, say, “No.”