Dec 21, 2010

Ear cleaning, ma'am?

There is chaos all around, but in an organized kind of way - once you start getting the system. Walking on the streets of Haridwar feels like being in a movie about India. The air is hazy with the mix of dust, mist and smoke, boiled to around 30 degrees by the hot sun and the blue sky is nowhere to be seen - it is all yellowish white.

Getting somewhere means wiggling through the narrow strip between shops and traffic, dodging oncoming pedestrians. On one side a slow colourful maelstrom of vehicles of all kinds, powered by men, animals or petrol, honking their way through the rickshaw jam with pimped-up musical horns mixed with jangling Hindi pop music; on the other side: coal, socks, bangles, cucumbers, toothbrushes, offerings, buckets - you name it, we've got it! Ear wax removal? Shoe shining? Chai? You name it, we'll do it! There is no colour missing on any section of the market street and every imaginable service has someone to offer it. I personally didn't plan on letting an Indian boy anywhere near enough to poke around in my ears but I did see him in action from a safe distance. Dirty ears, ma'am! is a catchy phrase, I must admit.

All life happens on the streets. A shop, workshop or a restaurant usually means a hole in the wall, stacked with merchandise. Bananas jostle around on a cart as well as apples, papayas, potatoes along with various unidentifiable fruits and veggies. On the riverside you can get plastic bottles to scoop out some purifying Ganga water and take it home with you. I have no idea what they do with it - drink, wash or do whatever it takes to finally catch that longed-for cholera. Purifying means different things for us and them.

Can it possibly get any more colourful? Yes, it can! Especially at Diwali time - the Hindu New Year's celebrations. If adding more colours would make no more difference, there's always tinsel! And after you've done what you can with tinsel - fireworks! Our team of four western giants had trouble finding a safe enough way back to the hotel. In fact, it was impossible to find since the fireworks exploded constantly all around us at ground level so that the overall impression was that of a warzone. Thus we resigned and picked the street we already knew (and knew to fear) - the riverside - and made our way through it under a thick smoke blanket.

There's nothing quite like running from car to car, taking cover and screaming delightedly after throwing aside the fear for one's life because there's no way of coming out of it alive anyway. Might as well enjoy the ride! Our enjoyment lasted until a happy family chucked a bunch of fireworks and matches in our hands and made the more courageous among us go face-to-face with the explosives... which in turn lasted only a few minutes, cut short by a racing scooter that hit our lovely Basque and took a bite out of his shin. Hence we started a frantic midnight rickshaw-race, making reconnaissance with the indoors of two hospitals. The intelligence concluded that direct hit fireworks' victims were too abundant to accommodate someone with a petty scratch like that.

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