Mother India - Corbett Tiger Reserve to Agra PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Smith   
Saturday, 11 April 2009 11:13
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 Day 38: Tuesday 30th October - Corbett Tiger Reserve to Agra  

It was confirmed at breakfast that we're not going back to Delhi, thank goodness, but instead going straight to Agra for two days. Also we heard another beating this time in the kitchens behind the dining room as we were having breakfast. The sound of cane smacking bare skin very hard and whimpers and pleas is not the most pleasant of things to hear. I'll be glad to leave these awful people who run this place. It says a lot about what I've seen so far of this country. I expected to be ripped off in Pakistan and not in India. Everywhere we go the prices are English and we have to argue to get basic facilities and services; not what I expected at all. We could understand the beating over the theft, in some ways a short shop shock is better than court and prison and it is their custom, but the ones in the kitchen are not the best way to encourage tourism.
The journey today is long again, it really does make a mockery of the information we were given before setting off that there would only be a few long journeys. However, the scenery is quite different from the one to the reserve. The line of shops, stalls, shacks and poverty are replaced with farmsteads, many thatched, with yards full of oxen, laying belly flop flat on the ground from the heat of the day and flapping their long ears to cool themselves and in the process disturbing the dust, the insects and the birds. Alongside are the cows, goats, dogs and people all quietly sharing the spaces between little igloo shaped thatched stacks of straw and pats of dung neatly reshaped and laid out in handmade patterns which add a pleasant artistry to this every day scene of poverty.
Dung seems to play a very important role everywhere. Yesterday from our balcony we observed the workings of the two little farmstead nestled by a dried up river bed. While the farmer of the larger of the two ploughed one of his strips using a wooden plough pulled by two big white oxen the women occupied themselves with the dung. I have noticed how people here spend an enormous amount of time and effort sweeping the soil/ floors around their shacks and tents with twigs tied together: a kind of broom bessum. I assumed they just needed a flat surface to sit on or work from but the women on the two farms seemed to be working to a larger agenda, at least, it looked as though they did but who knows what individuals do after generations of poverty stricken boredom. Firstly one woman from each farm carefully and painstakingly, in backbreaking fashion swept all of one field. While they were doing this others carefully and strategically placed piles of fresh dung spaced out on the fields in question. Once this was complete a woman poured water from a bucket in small patches to wet the ground and then slapped a helping of dung and started to spread a thin layer of wet mixture across the field. This process took them hours and one of the women actually smiled at Anne as she watched her through the binoculars as she mixed the dung and water with her bare hands before spreading it with a large flat kind of palette knife. This process was long, arduous and precise and therefore had an important purpose but what I don't know. I think the fields were rice fields because they were divided into about 15 foot strips segregated by raised furrows or mounds so if flooded they would hold the water. The process may be a way of creating a hard baked surface that protects and nourishes the soil and then makes it easier to plant the rice crop when the time comes. But probably not.
These little medieval farmsteads kept giving way to yet another bygone scene this time from early pre-industrial England: steam powered threshing machines. The black smoke puffing little wonders seemed to be fulfilling an important role threshing sugarcane to pulp. I said the day was going to be long but I was exaggerating what I really meant was very, very long. Set out at 8.00am and arrived a 8.00pm just twelve hours to cover 400 kilometres. In order to miss going back through Delhi we took a grade 2 road and paid the full price covering the distance at an average speed of 25 mile an hour. I had to stop writing because of the bouncing and jerking about the bus was doing.
The hotel Tara Palace ships its guests out to a restaurant up the road because its owner owns both. This didn't make sense to me either. The hotel had a large dining room and prepared and served snacks later on. It was without doubt the most expensive and the worse meal we've had so far. Because it was so late I decided to have something lightish and settled for Tikka Afghan and Anne had a vegetarian specialty containing seven farm freshly vegetables. Mine was cold and consisted of 6 chicken pieces surrounded by slices of tomato and cucumber and came without the chutney sauce. Anne's, Zoe's and Caroline's on the other hand were disgusting. Anne's looked like a cow pat and tasted how I imagine one would taste and was uneatable. The date paratha was dateless and after trying and failing to convince Anne and Katy they had ordered the bread below on the menu he admitted they had no dates. We actually thought that the uneatable dishes consisted of a strange vegetable that should taste like that but when we asked the waiter to taste it his face told us we were wrong. Even after taking Anne's meal off the bill it still came to 800 rupees which is not much in English terms but in India its a months wage. I'm afraid to say this country is leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 April 2009 20:05