A few day into India

“A horse is like a man, they never get old.”

Quote’s from our driver, who’d earlier offered to procure us weed, and went on to offer pimping services. We declined both.

“In India, anything’s possible.”

From a man who, after dark, kindly helped my rickshaw driver find our hotel, went on to offer girls in the same breath, and when I declined suggested I should watch out for my camera.

“responsible luxury”

So claimed a signpost leading to a plush resort, from a roadside that was as far removed from luxury, never mind the responsible kind whatever that might be, as you could possibly imagine.

And the rollercoaster of life still far exceeds what any slogan could hint at.

Sometimes quite literally, as in a hair-raising rickshaw ride we had earlier today in Jaipur, with the driver mostly driving on the right side of the road (in a country where you normally drive on the left), or occasionally on the left side in one-way streets going the other way. I didn’t know whether to be concerned at being driven by a bloke mad as a hatter, or to submit to destiny, or to a driver who just might know, kind of, what he was doing in a place operating by strange, malleable rules.

Rewind a couple of days back to Delhi. We were walking along Rajpath, up to the Secretariat buildings and the presidential palace. A rickshaw comes up to us, driven by a portly Sikh gentleman. We hadn’t finished our walk, didn’t have a clue where we might go next, and said as much to the rickshaw driver, who wouldn’t take “no” or “I don’t know” for an answer, and quite unnervingly began to follow us, occasionally reminding himself to us by identifying the Secretariat buildings as, well, the Secretariat buildings or providing similar nuggets of information.

When we were done in this particular location, we didn’t have much choice but to hop into his vehicle, especially on account of the seemingly unbeatable fare he quoted to us to a particular Hindu temple we rather wanted to visit.

Driver insisted on first giving us a tour of a large Sikh temple (or Gurudwara) on the way, and we happily went along, curious about Sikhism and Sikh temples. We were really given the full monty, from the courtyard to large pools of holy water to the prayer hall inside to a suite of private rooms where gurus were reading the holy book 24/7, to the communal dining hall, right down to the immense kitchen.

In certain regards, this struck me as quite an attractive creed: its monotheism attractively simple in comparison to Hinduism and its countless deities; people of all creeds welcome to free meals in the communal dining hall and working in the adjacent kitchens; women and men praying together.

Whilst seeing and taking in all this however, our driver cum guide was providing constant information concerning all manner of rituals going on in various locations throughout the temple. People filling bottles with holy water; others queuing to receive blessings from a holy man; yet others queuing to purchase holy food (not sure about the ingredients but it looked and smelled rather like peanut butter); others still queuing to have blood drawn from their hands by holy men wielding holy daggers, in exchange for a bit of holy food. Godliness, it seemed, lay in manifold details and rituals, scattered around the temple and whose meaning likewise appeared scattered to the outside observer, unable to piece it together and make sense of it all.

This sense of utter bewilderment was neatly summed up by an exchange I had earlier today with a jeweller in Jaipur: he showed me a pair of earrings that were a little overdone to my liking; I said I found them too complicated, and without missing a beat, he responded: “India’s like that, It’s a complicated place”.

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All photographs on this site copyright of Antoine Boesch