Writing in the style of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ – I’m not just being ignorant, promise!
India is hot. It’s not the usual hot, it’s big-style hot.
I’ve been in warm places before; Dave and I went to Magaluf in 2010 and had those big glassed cocktails with the little umbrellas by the pool for a week straight. Coming from Wolverhampton, where God puts a layer of cloud between him and the people on a constant basis so as to not see the misery of human kind, Dave didn’t understand suncream. He managed to burn nothing other than his nose and his man-boobs and looked like Santa wearing a bikini for the best part of the week.
But India isn’t a Magaluf type of hot at all. India is the type of hot which means your trousers are sticking to parts of you that you didn’t even think they could stick to and having an ice cream every ten minutes is not just a holiday indulgence: it’s a life or death necessity.
So the thought of going into the midst of Delhi on one of those HOT afternoons was not at the top of my “to do” list, but Mayank, my tour guide told me we needed to see the Karunya Mahaganapathi Temple. Today was the beginning ofGanesh Chaturthi, a festival where Hindu’s drown loads of statues of the elephant god Ganesh for ten days and the temple was Ganesh’s Delhi HQ.
We walked towards the temple and I was stopped by what looked like a beggar who told me to give him my shoes. After living in Birminghamall my life, I knew what to do. Immediately, I put my hand in my bag and shuffled round for the pepper spray, only to be abruptly stopped by my tour guide himself on his hands and knees pulling at my laces.
After I forced Mayank off my shoes, he told me, at pepper-spray point, everyone had to take their shoes off 100 meters before the temple. He said I should give my new Timberland trainers to this grubby man on the side of the street, contently sat next to a chap selling chickens. Otherwise, he said, we would be cursing ourselves and the house of Ganesh.
I told him I’d only leave them with this man if we got a receipt – like when you go to the cloak room. Mayank rolled his eyes at me and translated to the shoe-hoarder, who looked bemused and then pulled two chicken feathers out of a bird from his neighbour’s stock and put one in my shoes and another in my hand.
‘Now you know you are the one with chicken shoes’ he smiled.
I don’t know why he thought it was funny. I knew that this wasn’t exactly ‘Tesco customer promise’, but I put the feather in my pocket; I didn’t want any old person with a feather coming in and rocking my Timberlands.
So dodging the cows, people and rikshaws, Mayank and I made our way to the temple with the heat of Indian concrete against our feet. About 50 metres before the entrance, a busting crowd of people appeared to come from nowhere. Everyone here had no shoes on and were scrambling towards the temple, desperate to see Ganesh.
We moved through the crowd of people which seemed to be circulating around a central object. Slowly, as we pushed on, we saw that this object was a statue of Ganesh. This statue was open at one side where two monks sat before a large table on which there was a container of prayer water and a bowl full of tika. People were queuing towards this opening and then being blessed by the holy men. Their prayer bowls (a load of coconut and flowers) were then put by the monks on the side of a small, beautifully ornate version of Ganesh that sat inside the opening.
I got to the front of the queue. My bowl was taken from me by what was the holy man but who had the sentiment of a conveyor belt teen. Whilst chewing chud-like pan, I handed him my bowl, threw the contents on the statue with the vigor of a man who was getting repetitive strain, and then motioned me to greet his neighbour to be blessed.
Now, this guy looked more promising. He was tall but slightly narly looking. I don’t know what it is about people who haven’t aged well, they always seem to be more wise, which is absurd as they’re clearly not wise enough to wear sun protection. Which reminds me, must teach Dave the value of skincare. I don’t want people thinking he’s wise when we get older.
The old man talked animatedly to me in Hindi, which Mayank translated in my ear. He said that I should drink the holy water from the bowl in front of him. Now, I’d already seen a load of people drink from this bowl and wasn’t entirely certain of the health and safety regime they had in place, but nevertheless I took a gulp. It tasted sweet and slightly musty, kinda like kissing my nan. The man looked at me, smiled and then put the tika on my forehead. I don’t know what it was, whether it was the heady incense smell or the bacteria in the water, but I felt…well…pretty good, actually.
Surprisingly, when we returned to the outside world, the shoe collector was still there. I gave him my feather and in return was greeted with my timberlands. They seemed a little moist when I put them on but I was dead chuffed to have them back in one piece.
I told Mayank that he should tell the shoe-man that this method of receipts clearly worked and perhaps he should subject other foreigners to this in the future. But I don’t think he did tell him, as the man only smiled and proceeded to absentmindedly pluck a chicken through the holes in the cage.
We went home and I had my third curry of the day. At least I’m staying hydrated I suppose, having to guzzle down so much water after eating a particularly hot chutney. Now to bed with a dicky tummy and an aching head. Don’t know how much longer I can just eat curry for, at night I’m dreaming about being attacked by Pan and masala.
But, no rest for the wicked, I’ve already seen the maid preparing what I’m eating in the morning and it sure isn’t coco-pops.