Monday morning, a little before eight am, walking across the footbridge at the edge of Lake Pichola, there is no rush hour here in this little backwater away from the more modern streets of Udaipur, this city of half a million in Rajasthan. I pass little temples and shrines alongside the lake, the aroma of incense is carried on the morning breeze, it mingles with an alltogether more pungent smell of the filth that lies in the road and the gutters, this is the india that at once repels and draws, the smells and the colour and the noise, the assault on the senses, on the steps of the Ghat leading down to the lake I can see the women washing themselves and their clothes, a riot of colour, thirty metres along the men do likewise, though with them there is less work and more play, boys diving into the water, swimming, though the colour is missing, big baggy underpants abound, along with grey vests, why do so many Indian men do bad underwear, I’ve never quite understood.
A flock of birds peck at the crumbs scattered along the lakeside, I pass cows grubbing through the rubbish and detritus at the side of the road, ferreting for scraps of food amongst the plastic.
I head to Edelweiss, one of those cafes one seems to find in so many places in India, catering for tourists, real coffees, pastries & breads. I seat myself at a table right next to the street, me and my double expresso, with hot milk, I sit there and watch India, the mundane minutae of the everyday India unfold before my eyes. Everything happens in the street, constant comings & goings, but all of them rather gentle and easy in this little backwater, a guy rolls up on a motorbike, two large milk churns are slung on the back of his machine. He pumps his horn and a minute later a young woman pokes her head out from an upstairs window and lowers a bucket on the end of a rope, the milkman pulls a ladle out of the rucksack and without moving from his seat decants milk into the bucket, moments later it is hoisted back up and he writes in his notebook and scoots off to his next customer. It’s an exercise in efficiency, smooth and sleek. Shortly afterwards another guy comes into view and parks a barrow on the opposite side of the street, it is covered in onions & tomatoes & potatoes. He blows his horn and waits for customers, they come and peruse, their purchases are weighed & paid for and on he moves.
The street is full of garbage, I look at it and think what a bloody mess, that such a beautiful city is awash with filth, then along comes an old lady, a plastic sack in hand, she goes through the garbage and picks out all the paper & cardboard, five minutes later two young lads no more than six or seven also go through the pile of rubbish, they pick out all the plastic into the sacks they each carry. I watch them, they are shoeless, covered in grime, their trousers are full of holes. I cant help thinking that in England these young boys would at this time of day be heading off to school, they are working for a living even at their tender age. I wave my phone at them and ask if I can take a picture, they get excited and pose for me, I show them the picture, give them a few rupees each and they charge off clutching the notes & chattering loudly to each other, I’ve made somebody happy today,result.
I finish my second coffee & take myself off through the streets towards the market, as I get closer the traffic and the noise increase, the people become more numerous, in a few minutes I am in a seething mass of people, I notice that my nostrils are heavy, the pollution in the air has accumulated in my sinuses in the week I have been here, this too is India, the tranquil and the turbulent, one never far from the other. I walk along bustling streets full of life, past shops unfamiliar, entire stalls selling nothing but ropes and string, or tin housewares, barrows of jaggery*, of powder colour, and the faces I pass, the faces, so wide and varied, the proud,the meek, the brightly dressed in saris, people in rags, the mass of it all, the turbans, men with hennaed hair, muslim caps, the young boys with slicked bollywood hair and best repro mirror shades, its a pageant of humanity right there in front of me. I get totally lost on the narrow streets, it doesn’t matter, I am just here to explore and to see, I walk for a couple of hours, stopping wherever and whenever something catches my attention, I turn a corner and there in front of me is the backside of a bloody enormous Elephant walking down the street, I follow him and his Mahout for a while, just watching them both and the reactions of the people he passes.
I eventually find my way back to where I am staying, walking has become a kind of habit, I’ve worn through a new pair of Birkenstocks in a few months, this has been a big change for a bloke that not so long ago would drive a car two hundred yards down the road to the corner shop. Last week I discovered that my phone has an app which has been recording my footsteps since last September. I’ve walked 1700 kilometres in seven months, I think it’s a good thing to keep moving, you never know what lies around the next corner.
- jaggery: A kind of unrefined sugar: