India - Day #12 - Khajuraho
09.10.2006 - 09.10.2006 32 °C
Last night while we were writing up our blogs at the Zen hotel we noticed a few bugs crawling around. Then some more. And more. Then they were deep in my hair, burrowing into my scalp, exploring my armpits and claiming my navel in the name of their beetle lord. A plague had descended.
Someone had mentioned a few smelly bugs might be coming to dinner after the sun went down, but we had no idea of the scale of this nightly biblical event. They blanketed the ground and almost every surface. They waltzed into the the internet cafe, braving certain death from a mouse wielding Deano. Some of their buddies attacked the face, my face. Some foolishly went for the legs and became putrid gravy. They are like Australian stink bugs in their formidable scent (when crushed) but look like black lady beetles. But their sheer numbers and persistence drove me into a frenzy trying to keep them at bay.
We chilled (the bug beating faded into subconscious reflex action after a while) the rest of the night at the Zen restaurant and had some pretty nasty pizza. Side note here. I think we have learned that the best food in India is the local food, hands down. We almost always stick to it, but every now and then cave to Western urges and usually regret it.
The next day we took it easy and thought we'd just leg it into town and walk around the Eastern temples. We only walked a few hundred meters down the road, after dodging a disgruntled wallowing water buffalo, before a car offered us a lift, for money of course. We palmed off the usual offers for guides and trips.
You honestly can't just walk somewhere and not gather a toute. We did just that as we entered the old town. For some reason we let this guy, Shiva, and his friend's son show us around the place. I guess he was pretty relaxed so we felt comfortable. The eastern templates are spread further apart, but we enjoyed Shiva's shortcuts between them. Often passing goats, pigs, dried lakes and wells. There are mountains in the backdrop so its quite picturesque.
Shiva took us into a primary school, were all the kids jumped up in unison and yelled out a well rehearsed "Namaste!" to me. They give you tour and you donate something. After all of that we stopped at an out of the way cafe called Fat Albert. We had a drink or two there with Shiva and the kid. Shiva was giving us the lowdown on some of the intricacies of their culture and gods. It was quite enlightening though when we got onto Muslims it started to get a bit biased.
Shiva was about the most relaxed dude we had met. He was pointing to this tree with white flowers (called Muhgwa) and telling us he made Muhgwa wine from them. Then he invited us to dinner that night. You always want a real local experience but its very difficult to trust people (in touristy areas anyway) here. But we gave him the benefit of the doubt and agreed to dinner at his house.
The kid outright asked for some money, fair enough, so we gave him some. Then later down the road he tried it on again - cheeky bugger. As we neared Shiva's place, Shiva stopped at a bunch of chickens walking across the road and asked us to pick one. We were a bit stumped and let him decide. After showing where his house was we gave him 200 rupees to cover getting the main squawking ingredient.
About beetle plague time, once the sun disappeared, we set sail across the smelly sea of crunchy beetles for the indigenous dance show. The costumes and intoxicating beautifully decorated girls were quite mesmerizing. One guy balanced on various objects like plates and spikes while balancing three metal vases on his head the entire time. The dance troop did dances from most regions of India and the music was played live. The whole show was highly talented and well worth the crunchy walk the entrance fee.
We bought a few beers and walked through dark streets to Shiva's place for dinner. It was about 9pm and he wasn't there yet. His relatives let us in. In a few minutes a slightly lightheaded Shiva (from a bit of home wine quality control) rocked up all smiles. His house was like a scaled down Sydney terrace house, made from brick and cement, but with a big area without a roof. We sat down there cross legged on the concrete and he pulled out a water bottle with some murky translucent liquid, his famous Muhgwa wine. It was more like a distilled spirit, a bit like Oozo or Raki, but with a floral taste (Jasmin like perhaps). It was actually really nice and very drinkable. We had about half a glass to every 2 glasses Shiva had.
The dinner was finally served on metal trays (military style), with Chicken curry, rice and Japarti's (I think?). It was all very tasty. He said his wife was at her Father's house, so he could "party" with us. We had a good laugh and it was then getting late, so we had some slurred negotiations trying to get a ride back to our hotel 4 kms away. A friend of theirs secured a autorickshaw and hit us for a hefty fee to get home, but we figured they'd split it among them as a tip for the night, so it was cool.
We spluttered off into the BMZ (Beetle Military Zone) with a firefly for front light. Its pretty much just luck we didn't hit something like a buffalo or cow, since they love just splaying themselves across the middle of main roads on a whim. The ride home was very bumpy and Shiva was very happy and seemed to enjoy the night as much as we did. We got his address and promised to send him a postcard or something from Australia.
It seemed our punt on a local fellow had panned out and everything was cool. The hotel staff had their nickers in a twist that we were late back (it was only about 11pm), because a local travel agent was trying to contact us about our car pickup the next morning to drive 4 hours to Jhansi to catch a train to Delhi. We eventually sorted it, but were a bit perplexed why they couldn't just take a message.