Friday, May 25th, 2007

MUMBAI, India — At least 11 farmers have committed suicide in the past two days in a western Indian state after failing to repay bank loans because of crop failures, an activist group said Thursday.

Three farmers hanged themselves, while the rest swallowed pesticide in seven cotton-growing districts of Maharashtra state, said Kishore Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, or People’s Movement.

… “The farmers’ deaths were due to distress at crop failure and worry that there was no money for the coming sowing season,” Tiwari said. “Many have defaulted on bank payments. When they can’t pay back bank loans, farmers are killing themselves.”

Delhi March 21-24
Agra March 24-26
Jaipur March 26-28
Jaisalmer March 29-April 2
Haridwar April 4-6
kesh April 6-11india-museum.jpg
Rajaji NP April 12
Haridwar April 13

Delhi April 14
Kathmandu April 15-20
Pokhara April 21
Jomsom April 22
Jomsom Trek, Annapurna April 22-May 1
Pokhara May 2-5
Royal Chitwan Natl Park May 5-7
Kathmandu May 7-12
Varanasi May 12-14
Mumbai May 14-17

Pahar Ganj


Jama Masjid


humayuns-tomb-2.jpg Humayun’s Tomb

Our tour of the former British Empire continues. India is by far the most colorful country, the most exotic experience (which is not quite the right word: alien is wrong, too, somehow), we’ve seen or had. It’s hard though to think of it as challenging. Different, confronting, somered-fort-4.jpgtimes surreal – but less challenging than we expected. Much of the worry we had coming here was unfounded: food, sickness, “cultural” differences. There are just as many beautiful things as terrible: India is about the volume of sensory events.

The poverty though is crushing and unrelenting. Filth, disease, are rampant. There is a real disparity of opportunity that is right on the surface, right in your face and it takes a while to adjust to it. I get the sense that for those Brits who might like to fondly remember their country’s glorious past India is in many ways the crowning achievement among the Crown’s colonial enterprises, if only because of the vast differences here to anything in the Western ken. It’s not hard to see the stamp of colonialism in the Ambassador cars, the Enfield motorcycles, the Enfield rifles still carried by the ever-present municipal troops, the propensity for everyone to refer to us as “sah” and “madam,” many other small things.

safdarjangs-tomb-5.jpgBut you quickly stop thinking about the British. The wildlife requires your attention. The Urban Bovine is a new phenomenon for us; we’d just gotten used to him when we had to deal with the Urban Elephant, and then the Urban Camel, and finally the Urban Monkey. We learn much in a short time about the temperament of these beasts. Also of course there are the packs of dogs, docile by day, renowned killers at night.

The food is amazing. We’ve been strict vegetarians — not hard to do — but that hasn’t prevented occasional bouts of illness. But fleeting. Keep your Cipro handy kids!

In Delhi we get our bearings. All the places you’re supposed to go, we go: The Red Fort, the Jama Masjid, the National Museum. We see Safdarjang’s Tomb, and Humayun’s Tomb, a model for the Taj Mahal: the delicate traceries of Sanskrit script across the wide vaulting, a Mughal speciality, and below, the cold marble sarcophagus of the forgotten ruler. All these places have the same echo that seems to come from the stone. We stay in Pahar Ganj, a market area, supposedly “seedy,” mostly just run-down, neglecred-fort-dome-6.jpgted. Elephants and Brahma bulls use our street as a thoroughfare.

Bicycle rickshaws and autorickshaws and hyper-gesticulating store owners take up the rest of the space. And the touts. The touts are aggressive but we’re used to touts. The beeping from taxis trapped behind swarms of bodies, human or otherwise, is constant and that’s another thing that doesn’t bother us so much anymore. We sit on rooftops, sipping lemon sodas, watching the birds – parrots, crows, hawks, pigeons – swoop across the city skyline in the fading light, just beginning to realize that this is a city full of birds, a giant aviary, of very possibly limitless diversity.

The honking horns remind us of Hanoi: an announcement, not an admonishment. Delhi and Hanoi are sister cities for sheer volume of noise. And for the Golden Rule of Pedestrianism: Make no sudden lateral movement, lest ye should die.

Guess the location of the four photos on the right and win a Special Prize