Through India to Diu island
A boy playing cricket, an Indian national sport
It’s Wednesday and the deadline is tight as we have an appointment in a few days on Diu island in southern Gujarat. To get there we have to cross nearly half of India! There are no highways. We transfer in Jaipur, known also as ‘Pink City’. Not for no reason. The entire city center has been entirely painted pink, according to a decree issued in the eighteenth century by Jai Singh II, the then ruler of Rajasthan.
Buildings, walls, all types of architecture is pink. We carefully watch the process in which the Pink City comes to life. At the beginning there are merchants passing by. They have big carts pulled by camels going towards central marketplace. Wherever I look around I see monkeys. The animals seem to have successfully taken over the city. They are rampant on rooftops, terraces, windows and facades of buildings.
Having some more time, we visit several places, including Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds). Palace as well as tourists flock around rather not do impressions. Instead we make friends with one of the poor and very pretty Hindu girls selling postcards.
A holy cow lurks around the corner
We stop for a lassi at a first place open on that early morning. Salty lassi is served in a kind of a clay pot the size of a large glass. We are the first customers that day. Seems to be quite a remote place.
On the other hand a few blocks away there is an European looking place. I can see the plastic windows and a comfortable artificial leather sofa for the first time in several weeks. We decide to come in just out of curiosity. Despite the elegant decor and well cared for setting the coffee prices are still decent. I have a great cafe latte with chocolate and whipped cream along with a an ice cream dessert. A bit of luxury, which I eventually can afford.
I mention it only to illustrate the extent to which the city stays in contrast to the other parts of India. Poverty on streets, close to 70% illiteracy rate (among the 2 million residents of Jaipur!). I see the clothing stores where you can buy original Lee jeans and a dilapidated city hospital in a backyard where some goats graze.
The last couple of hours before the onward journey we spend looking for the postcard girl. Unfortunately we never find her again. However, her penetrating and sincere look has inevitably became my memory of Jaipur.
A short anecdote about Indian banks
A bunch of Indian kids
We take a bicycle rickshaw to a station, where southward buses leave towards Gujarat. I think to use the changing time in Ahmadabad to exchange some dollars. I go to Bank of Singapore, the only bank in the vicinity of the bus station. It’s a few story building, nevertheless there is nothing more wrong than an assumption that the exchange of U.S. dollars would work here smoothly.
The whole procedure starts with a need to hand-fill special form and photocopy of my passport to be taken. To accomplish the latter, the employee of the financial institution has to go to the building next door. Well, the bank does not have its own photocopier, it might happen sometimes, I thought. Upon return the employee reaches out and opens a great book to record my transactions. The book looks as if it included in the all transactions which have taken place within the last 200 years. Suddenly a worker disappears and does not reappear for the next fifteen minutes. I try to speed things up somehow by getting other bank employees’ attention. Unfortunately it does not help. Therefore I conclude to get things fixed by myself. I take a walk down to the treasury and ask security to hand me the cash. I go walk inside with one employee who takes out a small bundle of money, counts it and finally gives it to me. I can not imagine being a customer entering the treasury in any European country. However in India that is how you should take care of your business. Despite the humongous delay we manage to catch a direct bus to Diu.
the Diu island adventure
Transportation on the Diu island
Along the way I admire the rice plantations, which are easily recognized by their characteristic patterned beds. There are also fields of cotton, the thorny bushes with white beads. Once in a while, even just by the road, we pass wild colorful peacocks. It’s getting a bit late, but finally we reach Diu island. With rice and cotton far behind, we meet Pat and Ula at the bus station. They arrived a bit earlier today from Calcutta. In our hotel we get to know Lana, a very nice Mauritius girl with whom we spend the following days.
The first day of islander’s life begins interestingly. In the end of November we have at least 30 degrees heat and the great Arabian Sea just nearby. The water is warm, but the bottom in the vicinity of the ruins of the Portuguese fortifications is rocky, overgrown with algae and full of irregular holes. It’s merely a local problem, because two kilometers further we have a first class sandy beach, ideal for bodysurfing.
Unfortunately the second night on this subtropical island I contract malaria. Although I usually set up a mosquito net for night there must have been a way for the malicious mosquito to bite me. I suppose this is a common malaria caused by species of plasmodium vivax. This is a very nasty feeling, heavily weakening the body, while absolutely not related to cough or running nose. I have a fever, headache and I feel apathetic. Actually I lose the willingness to do anything, so I just anticipate what comes next. I take a couple of doxycycline pills and the following day my body functions return to (a nearly) normal.
We stay in Hotel Jay Shrinker, a Portuguese emigrant’s place who leads a peaceful life in this ex-Portuguese island. It’s a decent place, so honestly the only drawback I can think of is brackish tap water.
We rent out mopeds, which are small, but responsive motorbikes. Driving on local roads is pretty enjoyable. Mopeds are excellent for narrow streets nighttime racing. And if needed, they would perform well going straight.
Fishing boats, Damman & Diu
BBQ on a beach
The evenings on island are among the most memorable. We got to know a number of backpackers from around the world. We split in groups to arrange some necessary things. Early, before dawn, we drive to the port to buy fresh fish from fishermen. On the marketplace we supply with local spices, vegetables and fruits. Some other organize firewood, salt and foil to grill.
We start our feast at noon. For the first time I eat a freshly grilled barracuda, manta ray and flying fish. These are true rarities. Hard to believe, but here these fish are as common as Baltic herring back in Europe. We also have crabs, shrimp and eels on our big BBQ party. Lana prepares spicy vegetable salsa. They is also roasted eggplant, grilled corn and baked potatoes prepared by others.
The whole day passes in this aura. It is very sunny today, so we take often breaks for swimming and bodysurfing on the waves of Arabian Sea. As the sunset is approaching, there forms a unique atmosphere. The sun hangs on for a moment to disappear below the horizon. Only the moonlight and the sound of breaking waves is left behind. Suddenly I hear a gentle tone, which becomes a melody. The conversations fade out. I see only the silhouette of the traveler who is playing on the crab legs, deftly holding it with both hands together with his lips. It is a Frenchman looking like Robinson Crusoe. He is thirty some years and travels with his wife for several years already. One of his stories began with the words “When I used to live in Polinesia (…)". That is only a one place among many where the inspiring traveler had lived. So, inspired, I also take in a lot of traveling desire.
Life on the island
Flip and Flap
We cruise the island around peering at life of local people. I come upon a shipyard where a several workers are building up a wooden ship using traditional tools and methods only. Going a bit further I see hard working women threshing and sifting rice.
A man with a plow, curious about our presence in a field, stops for a while to share a friendly look. There are many inaccessible places avoided by visitors. To reach these places it is enough just to turn into a country dirt track and stay away of paved roads. There is, however, no concern about possibility of getting lost. Diu Island is only ten miles long and two miles wide.
We leave the island for a few hours to enter the land. There are a few quiet settlements, where we evoke interest within villagers. Here and there women hang laundry. These are colorful textiles of very vivid colors. Children play cricket, the most popular game in the country. A little girl sitting on a porch in front of house is dedicated to drawing in her notebook. A curious boy and his younger brother in a child’s suit (still about four sizes too big) are closely watching us while picking nose.
Back on the island. In the evening we get hold of even more folklore. I hear loud drums coming from the distance. A crowd of people appears forming procession. The leading couple has extraordinary attire. It’s an Indian wedding. Blended into the crowd we accompany them until the newly-weds enter a chapel. There they will spend their wedding night (among other things, praying together). It is very individual, complex and closely followed tradition, in comparison to which the typical Catholic wedding is more like fixing next on an assembly line.
Indigenous people of Sasan Gir reserve
Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary
Sasan Gir is a reserve of Asiatic lions. Yet, we are not lucky enough to meet these, as on our safari we encounter only deers, peacocks and buffaloes. A few hundred leopards is said to live here, however over the area of 1,500 square km it gives little chance of seeing any. Most of the is park is a dried ground, however the landscape is enhanced by fields of sparsely growing timber, small ponds and streams passing through the road. The teak trees, which grow here, provide the most enduring and hardest wood found in the world. These trees are highly sought-after on the market, fortunately, are under strict protection. Therefore many trees eventually survived.
Our visit is takes longer than initially planned. So we take efforts to eventually find our way back with indirect buses. One of the buses is in a seriously fatal shape. I wonder how it is possible that the bus still operates. The motorcycle part from Una to Diu island is a bit more demanding. It has became pretty cold and I have no extra clothes but for my only t-shirt. Still an hour long motorcycle ride in the dark and we are back on the island trembling with cold.
Ahmedabad is a huge, yet modern and underdeveloped city. For me is just another place to change trains. Following one of the streets I see many banks and investment fund sales offices. A nice and elegantly dressed female representative tells me about the average 80% annual return on investment. Can you believe it? Housing prices in India are also promising and shockingly cheap. Especially if you look at the upscale market. The only catch is a limitation for non-residents, which is possible to overcome by temporarily moving to India.
I walk a few blocks away to change my point of view. It is not yet another profitability chart in a colorful and glossy brochure. These are the hundreds of thousands hungry people in the streets of Ahmadabad.
Young salesman at a vegetable stall in Ahmedabad
Interesting facts and cultural differences
- in India you would never hear the question “do you have siblings?” but rather “how many brothers do you have?”
- no matter where and no matter who asks. The very first two questions you would hear go exactly like this: “your name, sir?” and“which country you from?”
- not every whiskey has to be a good one.“Green Label” definitely is not (150 Rs for a large bottle)
- Kingfisher is a popular local beer sold in 650 ml bottles. What is so special about it? In order to avoid headache it is recommended to turn a beer upside down in a glass of water to wait for a perservative substance to drain
And how much does it cost?
$1 buys about 45 Indian rupees (Rs)
- a hotel room for two 150-300 Rs
- a dinner at a restaurant 60-120 Rs
- one liter of petrol 50 Rs
- moped (small bike) 150 Rs a day
- Sasan Gir Wildlife Tour Sancturay 2400 Rs / 4 person (expensive!)
- a repair of punctured inner tube in a motorbike 25 Rs
- Coca-Cola 20 Rs
- fresh juice of a machete slashed coconut 5-10 Rs