Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Down by the river

After retiring into the shade over the middle of the day, I decided to try and find the river. You'd think that something like a river, sluicing right through the city, would be pretty easy to find. But you'd be forgetting that this is India. I walked up street after street, figuring that as long as I stuck to a vaguely north-easterly direction I would surely come upon it sooner or later. Luckily my sense of direction is better than Mummy's, and - more later than sooner - I found myself on a bridge. I found my way down to the riverbank and stood for a while just watching, too shy to pull out the camera and invade the scene. The water was low, and people occupied several grassy islands and islets. Three boys were trapping minuscule fish in a handkerchief, filling a cellophane bag with their catch. Brightly-clothed washerwomen beat sudsy clothes against rocks (the usual method for clothes-washing here), the now-familiar smacking sound echoing off the banks. Middle-aged men in loincloths soaped themselves in the weir under the bridge. Small children played and bathed - girls fully clothed; boys in varying states of undress (some naked save for a shoestring tied around their waist - I've seen this a lot, and I can't fathom the reason for it). A cricket match was playing out on the largest island. On the far side a man washed his autorickshaw.

I crossed a narrow channel to the nearest island. The river was bathwater-warm around my ankles. I hovered by a group of three washerwomen, finally asking if I could take pictures. They were bemused, but agreed.

It wasn't long before I'd accumulated the inevitable band of small boys, which in turn opened the way for their elder brothers. I took photographs, I posed for photographs, I took addresses, and as the sun got low in the sky decided to mosey back to my guesthouse. The small boys escorted me back to the main road.

I pulled out my map and squinted at it. The boys tried to help, which brought a helpful passer-by to my assistance. It didn't look far to my guesthouse, so I waved away his suggestion of a rickshaw, and set off. And then I spotted an interesting-looking lane...

When I finally emerged from the labyrinth of laneways the sun was low and I was on entirely the opposite side of town from where I wanted to be. But no matter - easy enough to find my way.

An hour later I was still trudging around. The sun had set by now, but I was sure it wasn't much further. Then I came to a building I knew I'd already passed, and realised I'd completed a full circuit of the temple. It was time to find transport. The first rickshaw I hailed wanted 50 rupees. My unfailing conviction that my destination is just around the corner comes in handy when negotiating with rickshaws, as I refuse to be bullied into paying 50 rupees for a journey which I am certain is only a kilometre or so. Three rickshaws later I managed to bargain my way down to 20 rupees, and was whisked through the darkness by pedal-power to the door of my guesthouse.


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