India seems to be the primary travel destination for hippies. In Paharganj, the main backpacker precinct of Delhi and which bears a surprising mirror-world resemblance to Bangkok’s Khao San area, almost every second foreigner on the street wears the hippie uniform. I guess it makes sense that if Thailand is yobsville, then India with its mystical spiritual auro should attract the more new-age inclined.
Anyway, we arrived in Delhi at around ten after catching a six am train from Agra (the always available seating only Intercity express costing 71 rupee) . There is nothing quite like watching the India dawn from a carriage, the way the sun rises over neat pre-green revolution farms, mudhuts and the squatting figures of men and boys dotting the pastoral landscape, each one having their morning dump in the open air as intended by nature (the women will only defecate in the dark). I’ve made a note to myself to get SG to take a photo the next time as my phone clicker lacks zoom functionality.
From an article in an excellent Indian weekly news magazine, Outlook, the open defecation and universal urination issue appears to be quite a recognised problem at least in government and NGO health sectors. It quotes a staggering 75 percent of rural households lack toilet facilities. Public toilets whether provided by the extremely incompetent bureaucracy or more effective NGOs face cleanliness, maintenance, funding, corruption, patronage problems and cultural taboos hindering public discussion.
But I digress from the subject of hippies. The ones in Paharganj seem to be a particularly hardbitten lot. There are many fresh-faced peaceniks but the older ones have the lean drawn-cheeked look that comes from too little food, too many drugs, not enough money and too much broken trust. Many stay in the cheapest guesthouses which have tiny dark rooms, no external windows and toilets that make one wish for an open field.
SG and I are staying in one such guesthouse but we got the best room on the top floor with massive windows opening out into a large courtyard. It’s even freshly painted. However, the bathroom/toilet is absolutely disgusting and we’ve had to buy some dettol to clean it out with.
Anyway, with a somewhat liveable guesthouse, even if the passage up to our room is an obstacle course of flies, filth and dodgy men in their underwear hanging out on the landing, we plan to stay in the city for a few days to stock up on supplies, take in the sights and luxuriate in the rather meager (when compared to Singapore and Bangkok) big city comforts that are available here.