Off to Sanchi for the day today to see another of the Indian world heritage sights; the Bhuddist Stupas the only reason I have travelled so far south.
First port of call is yet again the railway station as Sanchi is connected by rail to Bhopal. I enquire at a closed booth as all the others have the usual massive queues. The guy tells me that the next train is at 10.20. I really do not want to wait nearly 3 hours so off to the bus stand.
The bus stand is close so 10 minutes later I’m sitting on the front of another old crate with the conductor yelling out of the door yelling their destination at the top of his voice. Off we set at a snail’s pace the conductor exercising his vocal chords to the maximum. It occurs to me after 20 minutes of this that I might have been better to wait for the train. Never mind, in India you roll the dice and take the consequences. Besides I really can’t face another train ticket queue.
The bus is an old Indian Leyland and is as stripped out as you can possibly imagine. I am sitting beside the driver. On the dashboard only the temperature gauge is working the speedo needle is missing and the odometer stopped at 430274km god only knows how long ago. The driver has to turn the steering 45 degrees to get any movement of the wheels at all. Only the Cubans can compare with extracting longevity out of their vehicles.
The bus stops in a scrubby little town some 10km from Sanchi and the driver gets out and disappears into a hut presumably for a lie down. A westerner on a local bus must emit some sort of cash machine energy as the moment the bus stops at the door appear beggars. “Bapu jee” they will cry with their hands outstretched.
Beggars are everywhere in India. It has changed in recent years as you do not see anywhere near the number of cripples and lepers on the streets that you once did. I guess that india is richer and the worldwide success of Slumdog Millionaire and it’s depiction of the creation of beggar children must have spurred the government into action. the beggars you see look dog poor but seldom starving India feeds it’s poor.
Forgive the pun but the stupas at Sanchi are stupendous. Sympathetically restored with some fine early carvings per dating the time when Bhudda was depicted as a person. In addition the stupas are sited on a low hill where it is peaceful and the air is fresh. A break from the relentless noise, dust and pollution of the city.
My hopes of returning on the train are dashed at the rail station as the next train is not for 3 hours and I hoping to see just a bit of Bhopal this afternoon. So back to the road to flag down the next passing knackered old bus.
Bhopal is not as bad as say Calcutta but it is still dusty, noisy and polluted. The bus stand is on the edge of an area called Chowk a warren of small dirty streets clogged with people motorbikes and rickshaws. The whole area is stuffed completely full of little shops selling everything the westerner would never want.
Chowk is in the between me and the old town mosques which I want to visit so in I dive. It is a very dirty, run down area. Interesting to see but not something one could call fun.
Bhopal has one of the most concentrated populations of Muslims anywhere in India. Here you are as likely to be greeted with Salaam as Namaste. What sights there are in Bhopal therefore are generally Islamic. There are many mosques in the old town but the more interesting are Jama Masjid and Moti Masjid, both 19th century. Provided it’s not Friday non Muslims are welcome to stroll around inside. It’s incredible how these mosques rising from the mayhem of a busy bazaar below can be so peaceful inside.
In an Indian city you walk your legs of and so is the case today as I work my way south to visit Bharat Bhavan one of a group of cultural centres sited in state capitals. It features Indian contemporary art. One of the new artists featured MF Hussein presented a simply stunning series of contemporary portraits of mother Theresa caring for the poor. The centre does not have a shop otherwise I would have probably spent fortunes on a print.
To save the legs I hail a passing rickshaw to take me to the last of the mosques I want to see. Same old routine: rickshaw wants to charge 3 times more than the journey is worth. You counter offer a third of the asking price which is refused. A little to and fro ensues before say no and you walk off. Rickshaw follows and agrees to the price. No rickshaw will carry you for below the rate and you are almost certainly paying well over the odds despite negotiation.
One golden rule with rickshaws: never expect change. Despite the average fare being a few rupees and despite being paid by small denomination notes a rickshaw driver will never have change. He may have a pocket stuffed full of 10 rupee notes but give him a 50 note for a 40 rupee fare and he will pocket the 50.
I’m dropped at the Tajul Masajid in the new town. This is reputed to be the 3rd largest mosque in the world and clearly based upon the mosque in Delhi. It’s huge and the prayer hall has extremely impressively laid out with symmetrical columns. What’s most impressive though is the friendliness of the people inside something that is sadly lacking in greater Bhopal.
I decide to walk back to the hotel which means another dusty, dirty fight through the morass that is Chowk.
Got to get up rather early tomorrow as my train for Allalahbad leaves at 3.10am. This will be my first true long distance journey as the train does not reach Allahlabad until 3.30pm the same day