Blog,  India

“Guests are Gods”

I have to ruin the dramaturgy, there is no other way. I have to start this story with the finale. Anything else would be disregardful, silly. Because there is a “before Sawarda” and an “after Sawarda”.

The small village (∼2.600 people) is visited by GAdventures groups every two weeks. So they are used to tourists but live their ordinary village life. In the bus to the countryside we finally get a Hindi lesson to at least say our name and a proper “Thank you”.

We are greeted with drums at an old and vast villa at lunch time. 20171124_132038After the music has stopped, we suddenly notice, that something is missing: noise. It is all just peace and quiet and if you breathe in air it does not feel like torturing your throat and lungs – except for a little bit of natural dust. We enjoy an Indian lunch and in the late afternoon we start our walk.

If people live below the poverty line, they have a yellow painting at the door. They get subsidized food from the government and money to build toilets. As we walk further we are surrounded by children with big smiles on their faces. Their expressions do not seem fake just because “the tourists are there” but they radiate happiness indeed. Some are hesitating, curious, others want us to take their picture. I would love to know what they really think but they do not speak enough English and my Hindi from the bus ride is gone already. More than a “Namaste” (The divine in me bows to the divine in you) or a “Dhanyavaad” (Thank you) is not feasible – embarrassing. Come walk with Jai ⇒

 

Some kids play with kites on rooftops – a very popular game in India. Sometimes it is not only about holding and steering a kite nicely in the air and watching it but also about bringing others down.

We pass a house where there is cloth is stretched in a rectangle – girl are working with it. Jai tells us that women play a key role in the village – not only in the family but also in the community council of Sawarda. We meet a family in front of their house – the girl speaks a little bit of English. She learns Bollywood dancing at school, she says. That’s probably fun!

 

Come walk with Jai ⇒

 

We walk through the streets like in a museum or a zoo and there are these moments when I feel extremely awkward. I cannot believe that this is real and not just a setted scene in the theater – but it is real, genuine. We pass a pottery and we greet the local doctor (man in white ;)) who is hanging out in front of a grocery store. The tiny supermarkets look like the ones in Delhi: an open window with colorful stripes of cracker packages hanging in front, boxes with candy and gum on the counter, uncooled drinks, sometimes cigarettes, no alcohol (not visible at least).

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There are public, but also private schools (with a fee) in Sawarda. The villagers grow and sell fresh vegetables, meat is butchered and sold within only a few hours and drinking water is brought to the village twice a day by governmental tank trucks. Everybody seems occupied with something. There is a beauty salon, a sewer, and somebody dealing with wheat flour. We also walk past a clinic that trains midwives and provides polio vaccination. We are stunned. Come walk with Jai ⇒

 

Wedding is all over in India (seems to be a good season for that) – so it is in Sawarda. This time we almost crash one. We stumble into wedding preparations. The party floor is prepared and in one corner the presents for the bride and groom are piled up: refrigerator, pans, a flatscreen tv, a bed, a dressing table. We decide to have a group picture. Although we cannot talk to the people surrounding us, there is so much communication going on with smiles and gestures and “Namastes”. We see the house of the bride. Because of the expensive wedding (something between 10 to 20.000 Dollar) they decided to not finish the roof of their home. What a trade off. Around the corner family and guests are already gathering, a woman starts playing the drums spontaneously and everybody starts dancing. They have internalized Bollywood! Except the stiff tourists (well, two or three of us try).

Come walk with Jai ⇒

After a little detour through the “industrial zone” (carpenter, motorcycle repairs) we bump into another groom’s family. They have a huge house and seem to celebrate already. Come walk with Jai ⇒

The teacher invites the 16 of us us to have tea in his garden. The kids urge us to climb up to the terrace to have a nice view of Sawarda.

On the rooftop I talk to 15-year-old Veschali. She wants to become a mechanical engineer, she tells me with a smile. We enjoy the panorama and step down the steep stairs again. While the tea is prepared, we have a little talk – and are challenged to use our Hindi skills. Our host says the sweetest thing: “Guests like you are Gods.” Come walk with Jai ⇒

“Hinduism is not a religion, it is a philosophy”, Jai told us. This sentence has become more and more apparent in everyday situations once again. The villagers live a simple but happy life – as far as we can see. We return to our hotel full of warm feelings, touched, and end the day with a bonfire and – again – tasty Indian food.

Another traveler has made similar experiences in Sawarda…

Yes, there was a “before Sawarda”. A before that quickly has blurred after having seen the village: Jaipur. We arrive in this fast growing city at sunset and – again – there  a hustle and bustle in the streets. Three million people live here. The buildings in the old town are pink, that is why the town is also called “Pink City”.

Our hotel is extremely pretty: the Madhuban. The interior is unique – with padlocks for the room doors, stucco and canopy beds. When it is dark we tuk tu to the Moon Gate (“Chand Pol”) to throw us into a local bazar. The market mainly offers spices, clothes and food. I get some black pepper – one of the main ingredients for spicy Indian food – and a whole bag of samosas, falafel (sort of) plus a potato pancake with dhal. The latter only with help of an Indian woman eating in front of a street stand – the boy behind the huge pan seems to be rather intimidated by my attempt to make grand gestures and pointing eagerly into his pan. My street food dinner is fantastic and it is nice to escape the restaurant atmosphere for once. 20171123_080513The next day we warm up with a photo stop at the Hawa Mahal – the “Palace of Winds”. Parking is not allowed so we do it the cliché-tourist-way: hop out of the bus, take a picture and leave.

Next stop: Fort Amber. We are early, as usual, and that saves us from the hassle of elbowing our way through crowds of tourists. But we cannot escape the bumpy jeep ride up the hill (some tourists take an elephant) and – again – so many sellers in front of the entrance who want to get rid of their wooden elephants, bed linen, umbrellas, dolls, postcards, books – you name it. We meet our local guide for the fort visit. He says “Call me Mr. Singh” and I do not at once understand whether this is a dry joke. But I did not hear what he said before – so from now on, I actually call him Mr. Singh. He shows us, among other things, the remarkable mirror palace – a hall with multi-mirrored ceilings and walls –  and a wooden door with ivory ornaments.

The breakfast at Madhuban is served in the garden, the background grove is the tweeting of a bunch of caged budgerigars. At the buffet one of the chefs explains to me how to make green coriander chutney: “So easy, you can do it at home! Just take green coriander, green chili, red chili powder (but just a little!), juice of fresh lemons. No oil, no cooking!” I am convinced to at least try and imitate it back home. A typical sweet of the town is “Jaggery” – cane sugar mixed with peanuts. After a another photo stop at a asmall water palace (not worth it) it is time for shopping. We rive to a shop which does woodblock printing and they present us bed sheets and blankets – beautiful. But anyway,  time for me to run away. I make myself comfortable in a restaurant – Green Pigeon – nearby, write and read a little, drink a lot of sweet and salty Lassis and watch tourists are coming in and out.

The next day in the morning we meet a local historian: videotogif_2017.11.24_12.15.06Hemang Singh Rajawat. He talks about the history of the rajputs, kings and maharajahs in India. He stresses that the system of castes and sub castes still has a major influence and that there is also a reverse discrimination, because there are capacities reserved in higher education for backward classes and castes. Especially medical students of forward classes protested against this system. And the historian also elaborates on the garbage problem, family values and politics in India.

Some other impressions stay in my head, some more random than others. Take the greeting or thanking somebody. Indians often wiggle with their head from side to side after a sentence as a sign of approval – the head bobble might be mistaken as an “No” or “I don’t know”, but it is indeed the opposite. Then there was this advertisement of the Indian army, saying: “Usual jobs want you to met targets. We want you to take them out.” Wooh! Then there is this small-change-paranoia. It is almost impossible to pay with a 2.000-rupee-bill anywhere, a 500-bill is at least suspicious. This habit is born out of a currency cut that was enforced 2016. The 500- and 1000-rupee-bills that people had as cash in their homes were devalued. The only chance to safe them was deposit them in a bank within 30 days. This measure was meant to fight corruption and dry out black markets.

Coming back to the “after Sawarda”, I have to mention that I reallly had missed hot showers – and it was the first thing I did in Delhi, back in fancy Piccadily. India also teaches you cherishing German every-day-stuff on top of lessons for life. I am curious which lessons Nepal has in store for me.

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