Shimla

Kalka-Shimla railway track

Kalka-Shimla railway track

It was the first time when I visited Shimla and I was so excited for this visit as I was going for vacations after a really long time and heat was just killing me in Varanasi and the weather was really nice in Himanchal Pradesh. We took an overnight train from Varanasi to Delhi first and then took another train from Delhi to Kalka in the evening and stayed overnight in Kalka because we wanted to go to Shimla by a toy train and the next train was only in the early morning time. We had tried to book the tickets online for this toy train but all the seats were already booked.

The world heritage train

The world heritage train

There were other options also but we wanted to take this train only because Kalka-Shimla train route is world heritage site and we wanted to experience it. We showed up at the Kalka railway station in the morning time and they told us that there were seats vacant in the train which would be leaving after only ten minutes.  Our hotel was at least five minutes walk from the railway station but we decided to take a risk by buying the tickets. We ran to the hotel, packed all of our luggage and showed up at the railway station within ten minutes.

Open compartment of the train

Open compartment of the train

We had to do everything very fast because the railway officers told us that the train was going to leave within ten minutes but the train left  after an hour. Anyways, we were able to catch the train. We were told that it would take about six hours from Kalka to Shimla but it took about ten hours, but still we enjoyed it actually. I was amazed to see how the British had built this railway line on the mountains. There were 102 tunnels and 988 bridges only during the small railway track of 96 kilometers. Some of the bridges just shocked me. I have heard that many photographers come from all over the world just to photograph those bridges and engineers come from all over the world to see those bridges to learn about the construction.

Vire from the train

View from the train

The nature was just awesome all the way starting from Kalka till Shimla. The train was running all the time on the mountains. It was green everywhere. There were several stations in between Kalka and Shimla where the train would stop. I tasted a lot of different kinds of fruits which are available only on the mountains. Finally we arrived in Shimla after eleven hours of tiring but nice journey. We decided to leave all of our luggage at the railway station and go looking for hotels. As we started walking out of the railway station, one porter asked us if we need a hotel.

Beautiful bridge

Beautiful bridge

We told him that we would find the hotel on our own but this creepy man did not want to leave us alone. He was following us continuously. We went to a few hotels but could not get any room. This porter was still following us so finally we decided to give him a chance and asked us to take us to some hotel. He took us to a few hotels and all of those hotels were expensive and did not want to sell the room alone and they said that they would give us a room only if we take the taxi from them. It was crazy. Then we decided to go to any travel agent to book the hotel and taxi both because we wanted to hire a taxi next for the couple of days.

Such writings were everywehre on the train stations

Such writings were everywhere on the train stations

Then we went to a travel agent and this guy was asking just too much money. Actually before leaving Varanasi once we had contacted a car rental service in Chandigarah and they wanted to charge Rs. 14,000 for the taxi and these guys in Shimla were asking for Rs. 24,000. This porter was continuously following us and we started feeling uncomfortable with it. I told him several times very politely to leave us alone but he was just too much. Once I got angry and started shouting at him but he still wanted to chase us. It was getting late and finally we decided to get cheated and buy the hotel and taxi from a travel agent.

Another writing

Another writing

The major problem in Shimla with us was that neither the hotels nor the travel agents wanted to sell the room alone; they all wanted to sell the room, the taxi, sight seeing and guide all together. You ask them for a hotel room and they tell you rates for all those services. It was a very well organized crime by the hotels and travel agents. Finally we paid Rs. 22,000 for the taxi for five days and two rooms for one night in Shimla. The travel agent showed us a video of the hotel room but once we arrived there, we realized that the room we were shown was different than the room we got.

Shimla

Shimla

After all these problems we decided to get out of Shimla as soon as possible.  We slept in the same hotel and when I woke up I found that my glasses were gone somewhere. I searched for my glasses everywhere in the room but could not find them. Then I called the hotel reception and asked them if they knew something about it and their answer was really shocking. They asked me if the room’s window was open and I said yes and then they said: monkey took your glasses. I was like how is this possible? I asked him why did he not inform  me if there was such problem in that area or why did they not screen all the windows but those crazy people had no answer.

Look at this word

Look at this word

I bought some new glasses in Shimla, took the taxi and left Shimla immediately. We just did not feel like staying there even for a few minutes. I just hate Shimla because of the people working in the tourism sector there. They are criminals. But there were a few good things also. There is a place called Mall Road in Shimla which had the cleanest street I had ever seen in all of India. Even vehicles are also prohibited in Mall Road. The architecture was completely British. Attila and his wife Dora told me that Shimla looked exactly like European cities. Especially the architecture of the buildings and the English word they were using in Shimla were complete British.

People also looked different

People also looked different

This always strikes me that although British updated themselves but we still follow all the British things. The buildings were nice but what about their crazy rules that were never updated? We had to come back to Shimla after visiting Manali and Tirthan valley. I left for Chennai to work and Bunti, Babu, Attila and Dora stayed in Shimla for two more nights because they wanted to see nearby places. Attila looked for some hotels in lonely planet and we found a really nice and honest hotel in Shimla called Hotel White. The location was just awesome, it being hardly 2 minutes from the Mall Road. We asked our driver to take us to the Hotel White but he did not know about this hotel. We asked a few locals and somehow reached the hotel.

View of Shimla from the Hotel White

View of Shimla from the Hotel White

This was the first hotel we had been in whole Shimla that had mentioned all of their rates clearly on a board near the reception. I always try to get a discount in hotels by showing my tour guide ID card and did the same with this hotel also but they did not give me any discount but I was happy that at least I was not over charged. I asked them why not many people knew about their hotel and they said that since they do not give any commission to the drivers or travel agents, nobody knows them. I felt like staying for some time in Shimla after finding this hotel but unfortunately I had to leave because of my work in Chennai. I would like to go to Shimla again and stay at Hotel White in Lakkad Bazaar and explore the town.

Rohtang Pass

the traffic jam

After Shimla and Manali we went to Rohtang Pass which was the only place in whole journey where we could see snow. We were all so excited to be there. Our driver told us that we have to leave early in the morning otherwise there will be a huge traffic jam late in the day time and we won’t be able to reach to the snow. We woke up by 5 am and were ready to leave by 6. The driver told us that we were already late but it was only 6 and we thought that he was joking but in reality he was right. We were stuck in a huge traffic jam starting from about 15 Kms before the snow. I had never ever seen that huge traffic jam in my whole life.

people enjoying the snow

I could easily see the vehicles lined up for kilometers on the mountain, it was just a disaster. I just could not believe on my eyes. We were stuck in the traffic for hours. Before we started our trip, our driver asked us if we had brought some warm clothes for the snow. We showed him our clothes and he said that it was not warm enough for the snow and we needed to either buy or hire some special clothes for snow. Attila told me that he had already been to several places where there is regular snow and he thought that I did not need any special clothing for Rohtang but since my driver was keep insisting me to rent a special cloth, I asked him to take me to some shop where I could either buy or rent the clothes.

Buddha

I was mostly worried about my baby and wife. He took me to a shop where they were renting all those custom rejected long jackets. They were renting those jackets with a pair of shoes for Rs. 1000. It was very expensive that kind of clothing. I asked my driver to take me somewhere else but he said that there are only a few shops and after we leave that place, we wont find any shop on the way to Rohtang. After bargaining they agreed on the Rs. 500. I knew that I was paying them extra but I did not have any other way. After renting the clothes we moved to Rohtang pass which was still about 40 Kms.

it was everywhere

After moving from there I realized that my driver had cheated me. There were hundreds of shops everywhere on the way to Rohtang and they had a fixed rate of Rs. 50 for the clothes I had rented for Rs. 500. There were shops even in Rohtang pass and in any case it was not that cold that we needed such clothing. We did not use those clothes at all because it was just not needed. Anyways, we arrived Rohtang and it was nice. There was snow but people had ruined it with the garbage that they brought with themselves. The snow was black, there were animals shitting and peeing everywhere and of course plastic everywhere as usual.

really sad

There were people renting snowboard, snow bikes and there was some hand pulled service also. This pulled thing was really sad and I was thinking about the people who were enjoying it. It was already kind of hard to breath there and a lot of people were hiring this service where they sit in a chair kind of thing and then two three people pull the chair up on the height and then bring them down. It was really hard work and I did not understand how people could support such service?  Anyways, the snow bike drivers were also crazy. Although the whole area was full with people but they would still drive the bike like crazy.

snow bikes

The skiboard guys were more crazy. They had only one pair of shoes to wear with the board and they wanted all feet size people to use  this same shoes. I had never skied but it looked strange to me so I asked Attila about it and he said its very important to have right size shoes when skiing otherwise it can brake your ankles. A lot of were hiring those ski boards and were struggling with it. It was so funny to watch them.  We were on the snow for almost four hours  and enjoyed it a lot. We drove back to our hotel around 5 PM. It was a nice experience except the driving cheating us for a few hundred rupees.

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Driving License in India

I have gotten my driving license about 8 years ago but I thought to write my experience at the RTO (Road Transport Office) office today. Actually my friend was talking about applying for a driving license today and it made me remember my experience and I decided to write about it. I was 20 years old when I applied for my driving license so about seven years ago. The RTO office was about 25 KMs from the city area and the city transport system crazy as it is now so I asked my friend to take his motorbike to go there. We reached at the RTO office and this office also looked as crazy as other Indian government offices.

The office was so crowded, full with people and animals, believe me there were dogs and cows sitting inside the office premises. People were chewing paan and spitting all over the office, the whole floor was red because of spit of the paan. There were touts (commission men) wandering here and there, looking for new confused face like I had. One of them came to me and asked if I needed a driving license and of course I wanted one so I told him yes. And then he said that he would help me getting the license but he wanted some money for it.

My other friends had suggested me to not go to RTO office to get license as fake licenses were easily sold in the market but I did not want to do any illegal work. I had met an advocate asking about the procedure of getting a license and he told me that I could get it even without going to the RTO office only by giving some extra money. My advocate said that money is everything at RTO office, if you spend money, you get whatever you want, otherwise nothing. But I had thought to go to the RTO office and let things go on in front of me.

So I told that commission man that I did not want his help but he kept coming to me asking if I needed his help and I told him again and again that I did not want any help. We were looking for any information center but actually there was no such place where people could get any information. We asked someone among the general public about the procedure and they told me to get a form first. We went to the form counter and there was a long queue. I was in the queue for a while and when my turn came, I saw a blind person giving the forms.

I was surprised to see a blind person working with such an important work of giving right forms and dealing with money. Actually government has a scheme of providing jobs to handicapped people which sounds fine but giving forms and dealing with money job to a blind person? Well, he was doing fine. He had different kind of forms for different kind of licenses and other works and he had organized the forms in such a beautiful manner that he knew where what kind of forms were kept. I asked him to give a form for a learning license, they issue learning license first and after one month permanent license is issued, and asked him the price for it. He said Rs. 10 and I gave it to him and came out of the queue.

I was looking at the form and I noticed that print rate of the form was only Rs. 2. I went back to him asking why he charged me Rs. 10 instead of Rs.2 and he said that he gave me a wrong form by mistake. He asked my form back and as I returned him the form, he returned my money saying that form for driving license was already sold out and he did not have it any more. The commission guy I had met earlier showed up again saying that it is true that the print rate is only Rs. 2 but it is sold for Rs. 10. I did not have any other option than paying him Rs. 10.

So I offered him Rs. 10 and he just did not want to sell the form to me. Finally I asked my friend to go in the queue and get the form and this is how I got the form. We filled up the form and went back to another counter to deposit the fee. The counter was supposed to get closed at 2 PM and it was only 1.15 or something and the counter was already closed. I saw a fat lady sitting behind the counter glass and eating something. I asked her why the counter was closed only at 1.15 and she said that it was not 1.15 but it was 2.15. I told her that it was only 1.15 but she said yes, 1.15 but in my clock, it was 2.15 in her clock.

The guy standing behind me asked me to show her some money so I showed her a bill of Rs. 20 and she opened the counter and this is how I was able to deposit the fee. Now it was turn of a written exam but I was a little bit concerned about it because there is not traffic rule in practice in Varanasi and I was not very well aware of them. I saw other guys offering some money to the examiner and we decided to go for the exam first and then give money according to how exam would go.

Exam was not tough and I was confident that I would pass it. After the exam, I went to examiner and asked him to see I was pass or not and he asked me to come later. But then I said that I had not given any money to him and I wanted to make sure that I was pass otherwise I would give some money to him. He looked at my paper and said that I was pass. I think he was the only honest person I met at the RTO, honest in the sense that at least he told me the reality that I was pass rather than asking for a bribe by saying that I was fail. He asked me to come after three days to see the result.

I again went to the RTO after three days and saw the result and I had passed the exam. Now I was supposed to get my learning license. The person giving the license wanted Rs. 100 but I bargained and finally I ended up giving Rs. 50 and got my learning license. After two or three months, I went to the RTO again to get my permanent license. They put me in an interview. The interview was not tough at all. They just asked me my vehicle registration number and a few other basic questions. Actually they are supposed to put all the applicants in a practical driving test but they just don’t do it.

After the interview, they asked me to come after a week to collect my license. I went to the office again after a week and had to bribe an officer again. The officer giving the license looked at my name and asked if I was a Bramhin and I said yes and then he said that he was also a Bramhin and in fact he lived closed to my home but we did not know each other. He asked for a bribe of Rs. 150 but I did not want to give this much. I started bargaining by saying that I was a student but he did not want to hear anything.

He said something really interesting that he charges Rs. 200 to other people but since I was a Bramhin, same caste as him, he was charging only Rs. 150 to me but I had also decided that I would not him Rs. 150 for sure. We talked for a while and I finally I gave him Rs. 75 and said that this is all I had. He took this money and gave my license but asked me to not tell anyone that I had given only Rs. 75 as rate for others is different. I am happy that I have a license but I still think about that blind man, that fat lady and that crazy Bramhin guy who gave me discount only because I was also a Bramhin.

Sometimes I think that I should have given some money to my advocate and get my license at home but then I think that if I have to live in India then I must need to learn to bribe and that experience at RTO at least taught me how to buy a government officer in India. I always think that I will not bribe any government officer but when it comes to getting some work done, there is no hope at all and I bribe again and again. But I hope that technology will change something, maybe not in my life time but someday for sure.

Airtel mobile phone scam

The SIM card I use for my mobile is an Airtel, which is the biggest service provider of India. I had received a call from them a few months ago which was about choosing a caller tune for my mobile. The computer played some songs first and then said to press the button 3 if I wanted to choose the song as my caller tune. It said that if I press the button 3, I will be subscribed for the service for next week and they will charge me Rs. 10. I wanted to hang up but by mistake I pressed button 3 instead of red button which was just above button 3 and got subscribed for the service.

But I did not mind it as I knew that I had got subscribed only for a week. The next week they sent me a message saying that they had renewed my subscription which I did not want to do. I tried to contact customer care but I could not because I had a lifetime validity plan. I went to their office and they said that lifetime validity plan customers can not talk to the customer care, it was crazy. I think they do this because life timeplan customers pay less money.

It continued like this for three months and I kept loosing my balance but I did not know where my balance was going. I used to recharge my mobile and did not get proper balance. I used to think that somebody had used my mobile and my balance was negative and when I recharged my mobile, they deducted the previous balance. After few months I changed my plan. I chose a monthly billing system where they send the detailed bill. I was shocked to see my first month’s bill. They were charging me Rs. 68 per month for that caller tune.

If I had subscribed for a caller tune on a monthly basis, then I would have paid Rs. 30 per month but since I had chosen this weekly subscription they were charging me Rs. 68. They used to charge me Rs. 10 per week for the caller tune and Rs. 7 per week for an SMS which was sent automatically to renew the service for the next week. I never sent that message. Computer used to send the message and then charge me for it. It was crazy. This amount of Rs. 68 was not a big deal but I did not like the way they cheated me.

I went to their office to get unsubscribed from this service and the representative there asked me to call on a number. I asked her to unsubscribe me from that service by using her office computer but she said that it could not be done by any office; it could be done only if I call that number. I called that number and it was really crazy. I still remember when I had subscribed for that service that the computer was talking to me in Hindi. Actually there was an option for choosing the language but when I wanted to unsubscribe, there was no option for choosing the language.

The computer was talking in English. I hung up the call and connected again just to see if there was any option to choose language or not and again it was same- no option for Hindi. The thing that made the process more difficult was the accent; it was a very hard American accent. Even though I often talk with the Americans and am very familiar with the American accent but still it was hard for me to understand what the computer was talking about. The computer was speaking too fast with some strange accent.

I listened to the computer’s voice twice and then I could understand and could unsubscribe from the caller tune service. But I wonder what the people can do if they do not know any English or are not familiar with a foreign accent. What they will do, keep paying Rs. 68 per month for nothing??? These crazy corporations can do anything, just anything to make money.

Kali temple, Kolkata

I experienced something really wild in Kolkata, maybe it was the wildest experience of my life. There is a Kali temple in Kolkata which is one the 52Shaktipeeths and is one of the most important temples for Hindus. According to Hindu mythology when Parvati died, Lord Shiva became so angry that he put her body over his shoulder and started doing Tandav. He also opened his third eye which started destroying the whole universe. All the gods were so concerned about it that they went to Vishnu to help stop Shiva’s Tandav.

Vishnu used his weapon to cut the body of Parvati into 52 different parts. The places where these body parts fell are called Shaktipeeths now. So the Kali temple of Kolkata is also one of those Shaktipeeths. I had heard a lot about this temple and was really excited to go there. I had a very busy schedule in Kolkata but I still took some time to go to this temple. I also asked Seranna to come with me and she also said that she wanted to visit some Hindu temple. Both of us were so excited for visit to this temple.

There is one very famous thing about this temple- the priests. I had heard that they are really thieves and looters. They usually target outsiders of Kolkata and I was a little bit concerned about it. I had already dealt with some other Hindu temples where priests were thieves so I thought that I would be able to deal with these also. I had already warned Seranna to not entertain anyone at the temple. At the time when we reached there, a bunch of people jumped at our taxi and were looking at us through the window.

I knew what they were waiting for. We got off the taxi and found ourselves surrounded by 5-10 people who were dressed like priests and wanted to take us to the temple. I told them that I did not want to go with them, but they did not want to hear anything. They just wanted to take us at any cost. They were telling that it was some very important day of the temple therefore there was too much of a rush in the temple. They were asking for Rs. 50 for each of us to take us inside the temple without facing the rush. I was pretending that I was not hearing.

I was looking for some policeman to ask him the way to the temple. And suddenly one of the priests came in front of me and showed me an alley and said that the temple was inside that alley. I could easily see other people going straight, not towards the alley he was mentioning but he kept telling me that the temple was in that alley. After I did not entertain him, his voice turned loud and it seemed like he was getting angry now and he started yelling at me. He just wanted me to go with him but I had already decided that I would not go with him.

I usually look for police at these kinds of places and it always works. He held my hand and wanted to take me forcibly to that temple. Now it was enough, and enough was enough, I also turned loud and I turned kind of rude with him. By this time I could see a few policemen. I went to them and asked the way to the temple and they told me that I was on the right way to the temple. Those priests wanted to take me to some wrong place for whatever reasons. I wonder what would have happened if I would have gone with them.

Somehow I reached the temple after dealing with all those crazy priests. Now again I was surrounded by some priests who were asking for Rs. 20. I had decided that I would go to the temple on my own but after watching thousands of people lined up, I gave up and decided to hire one of those priests. I had chosen a fifteen-year old guy because I thought he was a new player in the business and must not be as big of a looter as the others. He was nice at first, took me through some secret gates and finally I was in front of the statue within three minutes.

And here wild things started. The priests standing near the statue were real looters. The whole atmosphere was wild there. There were too many people pushing each other, and shouting. It was very noisy out there, the priests were shouting, kicking people out who did not want to pay and take in new people who seemed rich to them. Seranna had fell down from a wall 5 feet high while coming to the statue place. She was also in pain. The whole atmosphere was wild. The priests were shouting at me. They wanted me to give them whatever I had.

I gave them Rs. 20 but they wanted more. I just wanted to get out of there but they were not letting me go out. More and more people were trying to come in but a few other priests were pushing them out, shouting… oh my God. I had never experienced such a thing before. I lost my mind, I did not know what was going on. One of the priests was trying to take my walletout of my pocket, one of them was holding my hand, he was shouting at other people at the same time… it was crazy. I gave him Rs. 50 but still he was not happy. He wanted more and more.

Finally I had to borrow some money from Seranna. I don’t remember how much money I gave him but when I came out and checked my walletI found that I had nothing left in my pocket and Seranna had also lost something like Rs. 200-300. Right after I got out of the statue building, I was still inside the temple premises, and I saw people lined-up and all of them had goats. I was shocked and then the priest helping us explained that these people were waiting for their turn to sacrifice an animal. I knew that Kali temple of Kolkata is one of the very few temples of India where animals are sacrificed but I did not know that that much of people do it. A lot peoplebelieve that Goddess Kali becomes happy if you sacrifice a goat in her temple.

There was a priest who was slaughtering the animal. I saw many people washing their goats, putting flowers on them, offering them food, showing incense, repeating mantras for them and finally bringing their animals to the priest who slaughters animals. After the animal is slaughtered, they would bring the body to the other priest who was supposed to cut the meat into small pieces and then finally this meat is distributed as a blessing to other people. I saw many people who were going to the temple with a goat and they were playing drums also.

I talked about this animal sacrificing to some priests in Benares and they said that according to Hindu mythology there was a demon named Rakhtbeej ( Rakht means blood and beej means seed) which means his blood would work as a seed. He had a boon that if his blood ever touched the ground, it would grow a new body of that demon. He started taking benefit of this boon by killing people, doing anti-religious activities and doing all sorts of bad work. Finally Goddess Durga had to come to the earth in the form of Kali to kill this demon. But the problem was that as Durga would cut off his neck, a new fresh body of this demon would appear because his blood would fall on the ground and create a new body.

So he would get new body every time Goddess Durga tried to kill him.Finally Goddess Kali (incarnation of Durga) cut off his neck and collected all his blood in a pot and drank it. She did not even let a drop of blood reach the ground and this is how she was able to kill this demon. Priests told me that since most of the Kali photos show Kali killing this demon and drinking his blood, and she has body parts wrapped around her body, a lot of people think that she likes the blood which is not true according the priests I talked to. Priests said that these body parts are of the demons, not of some innocent people or some innocent animal. They said that she had to drink the blood only because she wanted to kill this demon, not because she likes the blood.

They said that it is the most important reason behind this belief of the people that Kali likes the blood and it makes them sacrifice an animal sometimes when they pray to Kali. I don’t know to what extent this reason could be true but it made sense to me. I talked to my friends also about the animal sacrifice in the Kali temples just to get the idea of how strong this belief is and they said that if you have any wish and if you sacrifice an animal in the Kali temple, then your wish would come true for sure. There would be no onein this whole world who could stop your wish from coming true.

They gave me the example of the ex-captain of Indian cricket team who was kicked out of the team because of internal politics in the team. He tried everything for almost two years to get back in the team. He performed very well in the domestic cricket but he was still not selected. Finally he went to the Kali temple and sacrificed an animal and within the next fifteen days he was selected back in the team and this time his performance was also better than the previous times. This shows that idea of sacrificing a animal is very strong in people who have belief in it.

According to the Hindu mythology offering a coconut and breaking it in the temple is also a sacrifice which what I usually do. Once I was reading a Tantra book that said that in ancient times mixture of a certain kind of lentils and curd was called mans which literally means “meat” in present Hindi. And this book says that in ancient times it was a very good thing to offer meat to the God and Goddess but now people think that thismans means meat and they sacrifice animals in the temples or use animal meat for the rituals. Whatever the reason maybe behind sacrificing animals for rituals or making the wish come true, a lot of people do not believe in it and personally for me, I would like to sacrifice a coconut better than a animal.

After watching animal sacrificing, and facing all the looter priests I was completely out of sense now. I was not able to even talk. I had helped Seranna coming inside the temple but now I was not able to even move. Seranna held my hand and took me out of that temple. I went outside, sat somewhere for twenty-thirty minutes and when I got my sense back, I just wanted to run out of there. I knew that there was a Mother Teresa home somewhere nearby. I asked a police about it and found that mother Teresa home was just the next building to the temple. I immediately moved to that home and sat there for a while.

It was something very nice. Mother T’s organization does awesome work all over the world. I love their work. I was just sitting there, watching the real social work and was trying to forget what I had seen earlier. After spending some time there, I was the able to move and talk properly. I just left that place and did not even look again at the temple. People say that priests of this temple have done only one good thing in their whole lives that they donated some land to the Mother T’s organization. In fact the land to open thier branch in Kolkata was donated to Mother Teresa by the priests of Kali temple.

I still have high respect for the Hindu philosophy and feelings of the people but I did not like the way I was treated by the priests. The thing that disturbed me most were the looter priests. They were crazy and jungly people. I again got an opportunity to visit that temple after few days with the camera crew and I went to the temple but I did not find myself brave enough to go inside the temple again. I stayed out of the temple premises and did not go inside. I have been to several temples where priests try to loot visitors but I had never been to such a temple like this one. I was so shamed to bring Seranna with me. She said that religion is the same everywhere- the religion loots people-which is not true, but I had no answer because of the incident which happened with both of us.

Tabla lessons in Varanasi

A student named Allen Roda from University of New York came to my guest house on the 12th. He is doing research on Tabla making which sounds like nobody has done before. He is going to write about everything about tabla making e.i. where does the skin come from, who makes them, where does the wood come from… just everything. He already knew few people in Varanasi and had already contacted them before. I thought it would be good for him to meet Mr. Deobrat Mishra. I introduced him to Mr. Mishra and Allen told me that he really liked Mr. Mishra’s suggestions.

I wanted to introduce Allen to Mr. Praveen Uddhav who is senior lecturererof Tabla at BHU and by chance Mr. Mishra also advised Allen to meet him. We went to Mr. Uddhav’s place and met him. Mr. Uddhav seemed a little bit concerned about Allen meeting with other Tabla makers in Varanasi. He introduced us to a Irish guy named Steve at his place who had been cheated by a tout a few days ago. Steve said that he came to Varanasi to learn Tabla. He wanted to do M.Mus. from BHU.

He met a guy named Siddharth who told Steve that he will have to buy different instruments even if he just wanted to learn Tabla at BHU. Steve believed him and went for shopping with Siddharth. Siddharth made him buy 30-40 different instruments worth $23,000. I don’t know why Steve believed him. He paid this big amount and bought all kinds of instruments that were available in the shop, even he bought western drums and other instruments. After it, Siddhrath stopped meeting him. After few days Steve went to BHU for admission and met Mr. Uddhav. He said Mr. Uddhav that he had bought all the instruments and wanted to get admission in M. Mus.

Mr. Uddhav asked him whey did he buy all those instruments if he just wanted to learn Tabla and Steve explained what had happened with him. He still did not know that he was cheated. Finally he came to know that he needed only a pair of Tabla to start learning which is something like $100. He went to the police and lodged a FIR against Siddharth. Police arrested Siddharath’s father because he was now not in the city. Siddhrath’s father gave Rs. 4,00,000 ($8,000) back to Steve and promised to give the rest in next few days. I feel so sorry for whatever happened with Steve but it happens in Varanasi.

I think this is the reason why Mr. Uddav did not want Allen to meet too much new people. I think it is Okay with Allen to meet as many people as he wants. I am sure he will never ever give even $23 to anyone without making proper enquiry. We saw Mr. Uddhav’s 8 years old daughter playing Tabla. She was too good on Tabla. Mr. Uddhav said that she can play all the different sounds. She just needs to boost up her finger’s speed on Tabla and she will be just like other famous players.

I think Allen met at least fifteen new people which is very good for his research. He is leaving on the 18th and will be back again for his research in June when he will spend one year in Varanasi. He wants to come with his wife, Nikki, who works for Federal Reserve Bank. Nikki wants to spend her time in Varanasi volunteering. She was looking for a organization that can give her some work related to economics and she found found one called Cashpor India. They are a micro finance trust and give small loans to poor people. I think this trust will be perfect for Nikki.

Gwalior for tour guide training

I went to Gwalior on the 27th to get counseling for the tour guide training program. I reached Gwalior at 10.30 AM as my train was delayed by 2 hours. Counseling was to start at 3pm so I had almost 4 hours to visit the city. I had already heard about Gwalior fort so I took an auto and reached it at about 11.00pm. Gwalior fort was huge, I had already been to a few forts but I had never seen any fort like this one. It was situated 300 feet up on a hill. There was an inclined road starting at the entrance gate to reach at the fort.

Gwalior Fort

I think the road was almost 2 kilometers long. There was a beautiful Mansingh Palace, Sas-Bahu Temple, Sikh gurudvara and a Teli temple. Since I had 3 hours left when I reached there, I thought that I would be able to visit the whole fort, but I was wrong. This fort was huge and I could not visit all the places inside it. I was looking for a guide book or some information about the fort but there was no assistance for tourists. There was a ticket counter at the entrance gate where it was written that ticket costs only twenty paise. We stopped using twenty paise coin about seven-eight years ago, so it seems like they have not updated anything since then. There was only one coffee shop in this whole campus.

They organize a sound and light show every evening that I really wanted to attend but I could not because I did not have enough time. I liked Sas-Bahu temple a lot. There were lots of carvings on the walls of it. I was amazed to see those carvings which were made about 500 years ago. I saw a lot of Sikhs in Gwalior. There was a group of young Sikh guys inside the fort who came to me and asked to take their photo. After taking the photo, the youngest guy, only thirteen- fourteen years old, came to me and said that I must begin waking up early in the morning. I was shocked to see that how he knew that I don’t sleep in the nights and wake up so late.

Then he said that my friends are not good, they never feed me and always look to get fed by me (Hindi expression when somebody wants to loot you). As I heard this, I immediately realized that he was also a looter. He was also telling the same story that all the looter astrologers say. Then he asked me for money, he wanted fifty rupees. I said I don’t want to pay him, then he asked for twenty five, then ten, five and finally he wanted only two rupees but I didn’t give him any money. He was a young crazy looter person.

After Sas-Bahu temple I moved to Man Singh Palace which was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar in the year 1508. Later Mughals won this palace and used it as a Sahi Jail (sounds like a jail for important people like kings). This was the only palace I had ever seen that had colored tiles on the wall of it, it was beautiful. A few people met me asking if I would like to have a guide but I did not take them as I had only thirty minutes left but now I think it was worth taking them. This palace was very confusing like Bada Imambada of Lucknow. Finally my time was over and I had to leave for the counseling place.

As I reached at the Institute, I saw a lot of people over thirty five years old and a few of them were over 50. I thought they were parents of the students but I was wrong, they were they guys who had qualified the exam. A few people told me that these old guys have been working in the tourist sector for years. I think they did not need to go through any training because they were already working in this sector for years. But they are often stopped by government guides and ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) officers at monuments, therefore they also wanted a license.

The institute was very nice, very fancy. It had a computer lab, library, auditorium and a lush green apartment. All the rooms and auditorium were air conditioned. The counseling was divided in two parts- document verification and registration. The registration process was going on in auditorium but I had to get my documents verified first in a different room. There were three employees of the institute checking all the documents of the students. I had to show them attested Xerox copies of all the certificates along with the original one.

After completing this process, they gave me a form where I had to write my name, roll number, marks obtained in the exam, choice of batch, and center. They told me to fill up that form, and go to the counseling hall. I wanted to get training at the New Delhi center in the second batch but there were only thirty seats for New Delhi center, which were already taken by other students. So, I got selected for the second batch training at the Gwalior center. They charged Rs. 2000 as a training fee which includes library, computer lab and teaching fee as well.

My training will start on the 5th of January and will last for 45 days. After this period there will be a one week tour. After that I will be given a city or a tourist region and I will have to write a report about the history and monument situated in that city. I will get ten weeks to complete the report. After writing the report they will organize an exam and the students who qualify on that exam will go through an interview. After passing the interview, the tour guide license will be issued.

It was 5o’ clock now and my train to go back Benares was at 8:40 so I left the Institute and walked to the Railway station. The Railway station was about 5 kilometers away from the institute but I decided to go on foot so that I could see the city. Gwalior seemed like nice city; obviously it was not as big as Benares but it was much more organized. The traffic was nicer than Benares; housing seemed better; there were gardens; trees; I think it was more like other big cities of India. Benares is completely different from Gwalior.

I met a Benares guy on the train who had also qualified on the exam. He has been working as an escort with Japanese tourists for the past 2-3 years, but he was not happy working with he said that Japanese don’t give money. But now he was so happy that he will get a license, and he said that he will not work with Japanese people anymore. He wanted to work with either American, British or some other rich country’s people. He said that Spanish are also like Japanese people, dont want to give money.

Spain is the eighth largest economy of the world and the fifth largest of Europe, and they sound like nice people. Japan is also a very rich country but he didn’t like either of them. He said that over 75% of Japanese- speaking government guides in Delhi can’t read or write Japanese. They learnt language by speaking only and later they qualified on the exam, which happens only in English. But it will not be possible by next time, because next time exams will be conducted in different languages for different language speaking people.

It was a short but very busy and successful trip. I completed the counseling process, I visited Gwalior fort, and I took a walk in city. It was nice, so I think I will enjoy my time in Gwalior during the training period.

Stupid Coca-Cola manager

Once were passing by Coke’s plant in Mehndiganj and saw one house just next to it. My researcher friend was very much interested in interviewing someone near the plant so she told me to ask people if they would permit us to interview them. We were right in front of Coke plant and as I got off the taxi I saw few security guards at the plant gate. They saw me and went inside the plant but I never thought about why then went inside the plant after watching me.

I found one old person in that house who wanted to be interviewed because he was really in deep trouble. I called my friend to come and at the same time I saw the same security guards watching me from roof of the plant. They were standing there and watching me and as they saw a white girl coming towards me then immediately they went downstairs. I thought they just wanted to see what I was doing there.

After five minutes a car came from opposite direction of the plant and one very well dressed guy came to us with 4-5 security guards. He said that he was regional manager of Amar Ujala, leading news paper of India, and doing some research about Coke issue for his next article. He showed me his id card also which was issued by Amar Ujala and after watching this I became sure that he was from Amar Ujala.

He asked my friend about her research and offered to work together. My friend was so happy to meet a Indian researcher who was interested in same subject as her. They both shared contact details of each other. At the same time our interviewee was abusing Coke a lot. He said that he used to be a land lord before Coke came to his area but after Coke he could not grow enough crops even for his family.

Amar Ujala guy said that Coke provides a lot of job to locals but interviewee was not agree with it. He said that his son was a graduate but he had no job so Amar Ujala guy gave him a written paper and said to contact Coke manager with that paper to get job for his son. He said that Coke’s manager was his very good friend. Our interviewee was so happy hoping that his son will have a job tomorrow.

After a while he left and we also completed interview and left. Then we contacted Mr. Nandlal Master to inform him about it and he said that Amar Ujala guy was not Amar Ujala employee but he was the Coke’s area manager. It was shocking for me, I was little scared because they were asking about me to my driver and I had already watched some videos of protest against Coke where bribed police was beating people. I didn’t understand why he told us a lie.

We also did our research and found that he was really Coke’s area manager. His name was Mr. Amit Sinha. He used to be regional manager of Amar Ujala but left the job few months ago and now he was Coke’s employee. The id card that he showed was issued by Amar Ujala when he was working for them but he never returned it.

He called my friend again evening time and asked to meet her tomorrow and they fixed the appointment. He again called night time and this time he was so rude talking to her. He was telling my friend to come and stay with him at his place that night but my friend said that she would feel better if she meets him in any restaurant. Then he said that they will have fun whole night if she stays with him and again my friend said no. But he was kept asking her to come, have drink and fun.

My friend said that she was married and did not want to stay with him and then he said that her husband was not watching her so why not stay with him and have some fun. After hearing this my friend started shouting at him and he hanged up the call. She was so disturbed, I had never ever hoped for this kind of behaviour from a Coke manager.

After this everybody started pressing me and my friend to lodge a complaint against him. But she was not comfortable doing it because she was worried about her name to be public. Mr. Nandlal Master contacted Amar Ujala also and they were also wanted to lodge a case against him for using their name but they wanted a written complaint from my friend which she didn’t want to do.

After few days we visited Coke’s plant after special permission from Coke US and I found his name in the employees list. Everybody was trying to butter up my friend, they took her to all their near by rain water harvesting sites, they had sent over 5 people with her. We visited their three rain water harvesting sites and none of them were near the plant, the nearest one was about 8 KMs away.

After few days Coke’s manager started contacted Mr. Nandlal Master offering some money to get everything settled but obviously Nandlal Master didn’t except it. It was more than 15 days of drama, everybody was contacting me to tell my friend to lodge complaint against Mr. Sinha but she was not agree. Finally she left India hoping that Coke’s manager will be fired someday because all the Coke officers knew about it. But he is still Coke’s area manager.

Because of the privacy, I have not used her name in any of the posts related to her work.