I have just been treated to the most delicious food I can remember eating, well there was that hotel restaurant in Trichy but the staff were a bit weird and I little up their own backsides and that in my book makes a whole world of difference to the taste. I’ve been sat in the Manmarin Restaurant and the staff are so sweet curios and have been wonderfully attentive.
I’m back in Aurangabad after a day out at Ellora. The Manmanmir restaurant is just around the corner from the Ammadeep hotel, it’s admittedly a dark badly lit dusty and polluted corner which makes it seem a little further that it actually is. On the way two kids on a motorbike narrowly missed hitting a cop as they took the corner at the junction, another cop went to push them, clipped them, they wobbled, lost control and came tumbling off. Not a good scene and I just managed to skip out of the way. everybody seemed shook up.
I’d been sat downstairs when a waiter tried to serve me but when I spoke he totally panicked and ran away. It was very odd, another guy came up and explained that they have a Manmanmir Thali happening upstairs and would I like to try as it was only 130r. I wasn’t quite sure what it was but off up the stairs I went. It was a surprisingly clean cream and pastel room with red and yellow table cloths, glass windows so you looked down on the café below, nice. There were mostly families and with kids all well dressed and a whole row of beautifully dressed women having an evening out without the husband who took the whole of one side up. I swear to you the whole place stopped and looked at me when I walked in, I didn’t know what to do so I just did what I always do, I said
“Hello” to the whole restaurant and waved and smiled and sat at the nearest table. Some waved back and some just looked I’m disbelief.
“Hey it’s that guy Michael from the moon” I heard whispered.
The waiters and there are about 6 or 7 of them and a guy in a multi colored turban who seems to be in charge of the sweets. I have round silver tray in front of me with 5 other little silver bowls, all of a sudden they get the nod from the guy who had told me about it downstairs that I am there for the Thali and I don’t bite and then they are all around me like a strange curious swarm some smiling and some just open mouthed and some don’t know what to do so they just pile food onto my plate. I was taken back by all the different dished that are were served up, Farsan, Sabji, Dal, Roti, Rice, there were chopped salads, mint, currys, sauces, yougurts, chapattis straight of the pan biscuits, deep fried chili in batter and cheese in batter, but the cherry on the cake was the sweet Dollar Jelebi when I bit into it my face must have been a picture, because a woman with her family a few tables away started laughing. I was too. I was just going
“Uum Uum delicious” With my mouth full of syrup.
Not than anybody in the place knew what I was talking about, I probably sounded a bit mental. I am not really sure what it actually was or how any of it is made and nobody here would know how to tell me anyway. With two large coffees and a bottle of water it has come to 200r. A delicious and unexpected treat and a well needed one.
I’d slept right through the alarm today, and couldn’t shake the mood again that seems to have persisted from yesterday. I had had some breakfast a Masala Dosa and some upma, which was nice filled a corner and then I was at the bus station. Of course I was hit left right and centre with
“Hey where you going, what’s your name, where you from, you want a rickshaw to the caves” I was batting well today they scattered after a few tries. I think I am just starting to get a little worn down by the barrage. I don’t think it was this constant in Tamil Nado.
Anyway I made the bus, and we were lurching out of the station. It would only be a short ride today. We passed through some sort of celebration at some town on the way it felt a little uneasy there was a charge in the air, I’m not sure whether I was imagining it but there were no women around, there was a distinct lake of color except for green flags flying everywhere. It was odd and set me thinking about the habib and the Sari and about what is culture? It seems to me that a lot of what people call culture are simply waves of political or religious ideas that take hold for a time, some stay a little longer than others as people cling to them but they all fade and crumble to dust. We all need a little guidance, everybody has questions they need answers too and that is what language and discussion are for, but many a beautiful blossoming idea has been hijacked and molded to fit the will of a politic or ideology. I thought maybe culture is a deeper thing, maybe it is the way a cup of tea is or made and poured or the way a meal is served the nod or shake of the head. Maybe culture is rhythm, there is nothing you can do about the way you move, you cannot lie about it. I realize it is rather a large subject but I concluded several days later that in fact the rocks around you, the soil under your feet and the air that you breath contain the secrets to your culture. It is where you came from and what you are made they dictate culture, these things get into the blood and into the bones all the rest is personality and ego in all its light and all its delusions.
We got to Ellora at around 12ish I think. I met the French girl who I have bumped into every day I have been but seems a little hard work, but still the travelers network works and I’d tipped her off about the open and closed dates at Ajanta and Ellora. I had thought at first her reserve was due to the fact that she was a woman travelling on her own but it turned out not to be at all, she was just French, culture you see, we Brits are really generous with ourselves and open and the French are a bit po faced, right. They know it and so do we.
So somewhere in there we vanish from each other and I’m actually quite relieved, now the temples are just extraordinary. I am running out of words to describe these things. The first caves excavated here are the Buddhist caves from around 500-700AD about 12 of them in all. They are all carved straight out of the brown volcanic rock. The remarkable thing is that they were excavated front on but the pillars statues and reliefs along the halls walls were all worked from the top downwards, and done with such beauty and precision it is hard to say. Everything was plastered at the time and painted but it was the people who carved the walls that gave the bodies and faces their real expression, really beautiful to see the Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas there. It was hard though at times to stay in my place as there were so many people running across the place screaming shouting, radios’ playing and the constant
“Hello, what’s your name, where are you from, can we take photo, will you take photos” Some I interacted with and honestly some I just couldn’t be bothered, I have shaken hands this last week with more people that I have in my whole life time, taken hundreds of photos only to delete the vest majority of them as soon as I have moved on. It is lovely at times and at others when it is constant it’s a little tiring.
The other really wonderful thing I liked about the afternoon was the hundreds of bats in the ceilings above in just about all the caves, I thought it must be a great place to come in the evenings when they all take to the wing. I would be stood under them looking up watching them there little delicate bodies curled up swaying gently or crawling nimbly to a better darker spot with a little squeak then somebody would come into the particular hall or spot and scream or shout or have a blaring radio on and the bats would all shudder, I could clearly see just how sensitive they were. They didn’t get any rest the day I was there but it must be daily and if they really didn’t like it I supposed they would find a different location.
The next Brahamanical group or Hindu group there are about 17 of them but again to call them caves is a real disservice. All of a sudden there is an explosion of movement, a riot of gods and goddesses .Again all would have been plastered and painted, it is real genius. There are too many splendid things to list but cave 16 the “kailasha, Shivas mountain abode” is staggering. Carved from the top down through the volcanic rock, it is said it took a hundred years to complete. The temple has a court yard around 3 sides, the front is a covered walkway. The cliff walls of the mountain have been excavated into a sheltered pillared walk ways the walls of which are covered frieze by frieze of the Hindu gods and legends. These look across at the temple itself whose base rests on rows or huge elephants (most of which have been smashed over the years by some mindless or jealous, shall we say culture, or person?) The walls above covered in jaw dropping splendid figures of gods and cherubs. Inside a dark and mysterious pillared room with blackened ceiling and then the very central the holy of holys, The Huge shiva Lingum. Above this hall are other room and shrines I believe 3 stories in all 4 including the elephants leval, though I think there was more. The whole thing is a monument to human accomplishment and vision, to think that somebody actually came up with the idea had the confidence to begin and the will to finish it. Fabulous, there were so many other surprises it is really hard to keep listing them and I really would have liked a longer day or a couple of days to absorb it all properly. It was getting late and I wanted to see the Jayne caves and their saint Mahavira which was at the far end which was a long walk in the baking sun, but walk I did, past huge bees nests and along the way I seemed to make a friend, a young lad who seemed to want to just walk and talk and practice his English. He told me that in fact Jainism predates Hinduism and Buddhism, which was news to me and I will look into that when I have more time. The Jayne caves were remarkable as well though on a smaller scale than the kailasha Hindu monument they were remarkable for their finery and detail. It was a little more peaceful up there too and I only wished I had more time but I had travel arrangements to sort back in town.
I said good bye to the lad and his friend and began to put some pace into my legs and almost as soon as I had done a rickshaw passed by and the driver called
“Hey you want a lift?”
“No thanks” I said
“Free of charge”
“Free?” I said
“Free free, I am going back to entrance get in” so I did and he never tried to sell me a thing, so I gave him 10r anyway, he was well pleased and so was I. It was around then when I realized that my mood had begun to fade and a lighter Mick had started to come up for air, though like I said there are things I had seen that deserved a little more of my love and attention, but I had been deeply quiet all day and not been able to shake it off. I was awe struck for sure but I hadn’t enjoyed myself, does that make any sense. It was on the way to the Jayne temples that I noticed light again. It is just the way it is sometimes isn’t it.
I walked out of the car park past the gates where the road swings towards Aurangabad. There was a great deal of activity, people haggling people. stood around cars, rickshaws coming and going. I walked to the road edge and saw a stocky broad shouldered European in a pink t shirt, looked a little broody and anxious. I asked him if he was waiting for the bus. He turned out to be a French guy called francois who had been waiting an hour but hadn’t been able to get on the bus and the was a crowd growing. He suggested sharing a ride back to town, cool said I. So I went off to try and hustle a price, they were asking 500r and I was saying 300r for 4 people as there were quite a few pale faces around. It went back wards and forwards and I began to enjoy myself and felt myself getting animated again. I dawdled back to Francoise who was getting a more agitated with all the hustle that was going on, I found myself surprisingly calm and centered. I heard a thought
“This is when you are at your best” The eye of a storm.
I noted that where Francoise and I had been stood originally a great scrum of rickshaws and Europeans and Indians had gathered and there were all sorts of voices being raised. Apparently the direct road to Aurangabad was closed due to the celebration in that town. Oh well I was giving a rickshaw ringleader a gentle wind up and said
“If the road is closed why are all the goods carriers going though” at this point Francoise stated to get really animated and he looked like he could pack a punch
“I am not paying 100r for a ride to Aurangabad, I am not paying zat”
I said “I tell you what I’ll go and look back in the car park and you see what you can come up with here and I’ll meet you back in 15mins ok”
“Ok” he said gruffly
I had a mission and was alive again. Back in the car park I had a few haggles, wound a few of them up and of course nobody was going to Aurangabad because the festival was blocking main road back. Minimum was 500r one guy was particularly belligerent he got it straight back, I mimicked his moves and hand signals the lot, he was a picture of disbelief and I was just laughing.
Just as I arrived back I saw the Germans and the two Japanese doing a bunk without me, but Francoise had waited as he said I was trying to sort a ride for all of them. I didn’t miss the fact he had waited for me for a second. I still wasn’t fazed and so we just began going the other way to the next town as we could apparently get a bus there, we’d literally got to the other side of the road when a Rickshaw pulled up and about 5 young guys got out and all wanted their photos with me, I’m telling you it’s the Wranglers and the Docs, so laughing I posed with each one of them Francoise seemed none plussed and really so was I. Then I almost heard myself say
“Hey are you guys going to the next town, to the bus stand”
“Yes bus stand” they said
“Will you give us a lift?” well they couldn’t really say no. So I just went get in and called across Francois and we pile in. Now there’s already 4 guys and the driver in this 3 wheeler, I slip in the back and Francois hangs on the side. The guys faces were in shock but then once over it everybody was laughing. I tell you what those little rickshaw engines can take some stick and pull a load. Francoise said
“We should watch how much he charges the Indians when we get out.” It hadn’t crossed my mind.
Then we pulled into this town we get out and I reach in my pocket and they all yell including the driver
“No, no money, no money” Francoise mean time had paid driver 5r. Then they all drove off waving. I kept thinking do they all remember The Fits or something because I have no idea why they did it. Then we walked a little up to the main road to where we’d been told the bus stop was, but it looked a long and dusty road to me, so I spun round and ask a lady on a stall who obviously turned us the wrong way, we took a few steps back when a guy on the stall next to us called us back and pointed back the other way we were originally going, I thought for a split second all the traffic at that moment was going at walking pace so I just bend down to the window of a car nice looking car that was just rolling by and asked the guy and a young lad in there if they were going up to the bus stop. I said
“Were going to Aurangabad and need to get to the bus stop” I was actually aware of my energy and I swear something went to him, I saw him pause then decide we were no threat, he said
“Get in we are going to Aurangabad”
“Francois come on” I called, he’d been looking really upset, but he jumped in.
I said “Did you say you’re going to Aurangabad?”
“Yes that is correct he said” he said. Francoise and I just looked at one another. How utterly perfect, I honestly hadn’t doubted for a moment. The guy was chatty and spoke good English, he had some French friends as well, played us classical Indian music, we got a great view of the ‘Daulatabad Fort’ standing majestically out on the plains on a conical hill with its sheer sides. The countryside on the way back was a treat too tree lined roads golden yellow fields and eat my words good company. Francois turned out to be a very sensitive guy clothed in a tough looking body and a wide weathered face. He was a fork lift driver and had worked hard for 2 years with no holiday to save the money to get here. I watched him visibly unwind as we sat there.
“We are very luckee” he kept saying. I agreed but thought of the chain of events. It was more than luck. I told him how I’d been in a bad mood all day and he said he had too, we had both arrived after long 13-14 hour journeys. Then he’d been woken at 5.30 in the morning after only a few hours sleep with 25 Muslim guys in the next room praying and singing in the new day. He had been outraged as there was a mosque literally across the road and the hotel had all these ‘no can do signs’ on the reception and one of them was guests cannot bring friends up into their hotel rooms and he said
“25 people in one room eez for sure bringing friends into your room. It eez very very selfeesh” He had a point, in fact he had a very good point. I would have gone nuts.
It turned out that we were going to the same booking office me to pick up my ticket to Lonar and him for his ticket to Goa so the guy dropped us at the big roundabout with the swastika monument in the middle, it still takes a bit of getting used to seeing that symbol everywhere, it was really nice to walk with him and have a chat, it was another coincidence and of course I ate and eat all my earlier words about the French, it was only a wind up anyway and something the English and the French always do. He’d been the only one who’d waited I really appreciated it and I think he appreciated me, a little bit of magic happened at Ellora to Aurangabad.
We said our good byes when I came out my feelings were that we’d both liked to have had a coffee but it was already late now, we both had early starts, and I had work to catch up on before I left. I am becoming quite torn about it. I liked Francois he was straight talking and loyal. I felt that I a corner his friends could rely upon him.
Back at the Armadeep, I made a call to Lonar hotel. The staff were all so sweet they had helped with a last night and I realise that in fact they are just simply country people. They’d asked what I did and I told them I was a musician, so I thought what have I got that might add something to their day. Yeah, I can sing, so I asked the receptionist who is painfully awkward if they would like me to get my guitar and sing them a song,
“Where” they said
“Here” I said
Then when I came back downstairs with my guitar, it seemed like they’d not seen a guitar close up before. So the guy who looked as if he was in charge took me in the dinning room and began closing all the doors. So I said
“No leave them open, so they could all listen”
It took a couple of bars then heads started popping up around doors and around tables. I was really on form and sang and played note perfect. If it meant carrying the guitar all the away across India for that moment it was worth it. I think I made them all really happy and myself into the bargain, give what you got when you can and it will all come back 10 fold.
Later when I got back the sweet receptionist
“Where has sir been we have been waiting to serve sir dinner, but we think you are not coming back so we not wait, so sorry we missed you, dinner we wait for you” a few days ago I was irritated with them, but it just takes a few contacts and people begin trying, me included and the world is again a changed place. I have to say I don’t like Aurangabad I don’t hate it but a person could get very ill here. The people I met there though seemed sweet and simple and honest.