Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2001 11:44 AM
"You are going to stay?
In Fatehpur Sikri?"
These questions, or their close confreres are followed by looks of bewilderment that suggest we were saying 'Yes' to the question "How would Sir like to make love to the camel, on top or underneath?" and the bewildered looks have been a frequent occurrence in the last couple of days. Though Agra sees plenty of travellers it sees more tourists whose dance around Rajasthan moves to an altogether quicker rythmn than the travellers slow two-step.
If it's on their itinerary at all Fatehpur Sikri (FS) is a half-day excursion crammed into their busy timetable and this, in turn, preprogramme the expectations of the auto-rickshaw drivers, waiters and others who have looked so askance at us when we say that we are planning to stay there for forty-eight hours.
Today is the story of a road, the bus journey from Agra to FS and our walk along the continuation of the road by which we arrived as it narrows and burrows into the centre of this small town.
Firstly you have to understand the importance of the horn. We may find other countries where it has equal importance but I promise to grow a David Seaman style pony-tail and matching cartoon moustache if we find somewhere where the horn is of greater importance than India.
Never in the history of humanity can a monotone have been used to convey such a variety of messages, except, possibly, in the case of John Major.
All of the horns' messages are, by definition, exclamatory but they range from the polite:
"I'm about to pull out now" (usually performed in mid-manoeuvre)
through the mildly upset:
"What do you mean you had right of way, what the chuff is 'right of way' anyway?"
and onwards too:
Oi! Shift yer chuffin arse. I don't care that we're in a complete logjam through which I will progress at an entirely predictable rate of 1 foot per second whatever I actually do to try and make it otherwise. I intend to regain the open road much faster by leaning on this horn until SOMETHING damn well happens!" (this literal translation gives some idea of the length of PARP involved)
You need also to take account of the huge range of competing mono-tones. We had a particularly exciting auto-rickshaw ride driven by the reincarnation of Emerson Fittapaldi who struggled with a horn that made a noise like the death-rattle of an electric toothbrush. Emerson leaned on the horn button exactly as normal, pulled all the manoeuvres as if he had sounded a foghorn and cursed magnificently when other road users appeared surprised at his sudden appearance in their midst.
Mismatches occur, similar to when when those huge blokes on Britain's Strongest Man open their mouths and invariably out comes a Yorkshire accent that ought to have a pre-pubescent 12 year old on the end of it rather than a small building called Brian 'The Dumptruck' Parkinson. So it is here. Yesterday a rather tiddly but persistent little 'PARP' behind our auto-rickshaw proved to have a 20 tonne army truck attached to it whose driver bore a look of castrated frustration.
The traffic has so many component parts. Today we pass, in this sequence:
A group of three pedestrians
A cycle rickshaw with 6 schoolkids on it
A Cargo-cycle rickshaw with a purple faced driver straining to turn the pedals under the weight of 4 heavy sacks on the flat-bed of his vehicle
A cow, as skinny as all its' Indian kinfolk. As Sausage says 'Until I came here I had no idea that cows had humps'
A barrow boy pushing a hand-barrow laden with vegetables
12 cyclists, 3 with more than one person on the bike
And a cart being pulled by oxen.
Whilst overtaking all of the above in our auto-rickshaw at 7mph, we, in turn, were passed by scooters, motorbikes, cars, a bus and a lorry.
The scene that plays out before you on an Indian road is like a twitching, arythmic modern dance, performed on a conveyor belt, or maybe we are trapped in a particularly bizarre arcade game where the only rules are:
1. There are no rules
2. Head in the direction you want to go irrespective of minor considerations like carriageways, other traffic or common sense.
3. Don't forget your trusty horn.
Arcade game or not, lives are lost. We passed a huge sign in Delhi that said"
Number of dead on Delhi's Roads:
This Year: 1267
The two sources of comfort within the maelstrom are that the speeds are low and vigilance is incredibly high, which almost allows you to sit back and enjoy the ride.
When the fear subsides we stop holding on for dear life and eventually allow our gaze to wander sideways instead of rigidly straight ahead. The street scenes are truly something to behold.
In built up communities there is inevitably a dusty verge occupied by parked, crashed and abandoned versions of all the vehicles I have mentioned above, including cows. Beyond this lie shops of every co0nceivable kind, conveniently grouped together so that 5 stonemasons will be followed by 6 woodcutters and they, in turn, are superseded by 15 scooter workshops. In between these miniature industrial estates will be stalls piled high with food: fried, sweets, fruit and veg, all sat in the heat and the dust, and also general stores, chemists, tyre menders and on and on, ad infinitum. And everywhere people, people, people. Shouting, calling, sitting, lying, sleeping, pissing, chatting, getting by. As we make our way through the outskirts of Agra, on a local bus to Fatehpur Sikri (32km, 16 rupees, 22p each) it is really noticeable that there are fewer beggars and disabled people now that we have left Delhi.
The strangest, and saddest, example so far of a trade gathering together to offer its' wares occurs as we bowl along the open road having left Agra behind. Over a 5km stretch of country road we pass no fewer than eight separate Dancing Bears and their keepers. I feel angry but impotent as our bus overtakes a car full of tourists who, as they slow to a halt, are preparing to pay to watch a broken-spirited, mangy bear dance for its' supper. Whilst the suffering of the bear is less than the suffering of a number of people we have already seen in our first few days here I find it easier to form an opinion that the bear is better off free or dead than enslaved. The questions of human suffering feel much tougher to fathom and may prove to be unfathomable.
As the bus nears Fatehpur Sikri a new mode of transport is added to the list as a camel passes us (going in the opposite direction rather than overtaking!) puling a laden cart.
Having found a hotel we stroll up the main drag which narrows after the Bus Stand down to a width of maybe 10 feet. Again the groupings recur, material shops giving way to pots and pans and they to precious metal merchants, all working out of identical cabins approximately 8 feet cubed. The kids in the street bound up to us just to laugh and say 'Hi' rather than to beg or tell us about a restaurant and we add further wildlife to our urban safari as pigs wander by on a porcine shopping expedition rooting through waste for a snack on the hoof (is a trotter a hoof? I'm not sure, but there's something biblical about the differentiation. Anyway, you get my drift). Sausage continues to be the focus of special attention for her blonde barnet and is looking forward to the outcome, if not necessarily the process, of getting her hair cut in a couple of weeks time. The double-whammy of blonde bint and Pudsey Bear resulted in a group of guys wanting their photo taken with us in the Fort at Agra and there are innumerable near dislocations of the neck amongst those, particularly women, who stop to stare.
And now we will rest up for tomorrow we will see what the Palaces and Mosque of Fatehpur Sikri have to offer, abandoned 400 years ago and preserved in the stifling desert air.
If you like the words from India please feel free to keep us informed about goings-on back home. All news welcome.
Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages