Friday, November 16, 2012

Patrolling Jhansee Fortress

My Thursday morning was one of commuting: an early morning bus and then a train back to New Delhi to transfer to a train to Amritsar the day after.

The first stop, after the five hour bus ride from Khajuraho, was in a city called Jhansi.  I had a few hours to kill, so I let my driver to the railway station talk me into visiting the city's famous hilltop fortress, and I'm glad he did (though I really need to step up my game when it comes to my haggling skills).

The fort was a popular destination for young lovers.  They tucked themselves away in arch peaked doorways and ancient balconies overlooking the now modern city.  Were I a local, it would certainly be a favorite haunt of my own (it costs a local a 10 Rupees entrance to my own 100).  Moments after entering, I was beset upon all sides by "hello sir, rupees?"  The beggar children were charming but very persistent.  I let them follow me through courtyards and single file down narrow passageways.  They followed me to the first steps of a stairwell falling into perfect darkness, and that's where they stayed.  I used my hands to explore the belly of the fortress, and that's when my game began.

Inching along in the dark, I was a foreign spy with primitive explosives concealed under my pashmina cloak.  Creeping slowly along, the ground becomes softer.  A stale pungency climbs up my nostrils.  What's that chirping?  Look up.  Bats!

On the ramparts overlooking the inner sanctum, I was a pike wielding sentry, scanning the merchants in the bazaar... hmm... that squirrel looks suspicious.  By the drawbridge, I was an archer, taking careful aim upon a great siege of bicycles, rickshaws, and donkeys carrying bags of rice. And in the gardens I was a prince, welcoming dignitaries from distant lands.

These were my first steps off of the main tourist circuit and I was regarded with greater respect and curiosity from the locals.  A trio of young men asked, "Please, will you take picture?" but when I reached for their camera, I realized they wanted to take a picture with me.  Two tiny sisters in blue saris squeaked timidly, "Hello uncle! Kyaa aap ko Hindi aatee hai?" to which I had to offer a reluctant no.  The girls were so very cute; I wished I knew all the Hindi.

Another train ride and I'm back in my favorite place, Paharganj.  Something's different about it though.  Is it cleaner?  Are the touts missing?  The drivers, are they quieter?   More polite, perhaps?  As I strode confidently across the main avenue before the railway station, it occurred to me that the culture shock had worn off.  This is the same New Delhi, but I was no longer bewildered by it or suffering from jet lag.  And somehow, for the third time in a row, my hostel had overbooked their dorms and upgraded me to a private lodging -- each time in a room and bed larger than my own in Brooklyn.  I had just enough time to doze, shower, shave, and edit some photos before my train to Amritsar, home of the Sikhs.

1 comment:

Terri L said...

Feeling less like a white boy from New York, are you?