Part 11- Last steps on the Rajasthan highway

Day 15 of my walk with Max; my last day, and we walk for a couple of hours in contemplative silence.  I am thinking about how on earth to process this all, alone in Delhi, and how to pitch this blog without getting overly sentimental.  I can tell Max is totally exhausted, and I don’t know how the final push to Delhi will fare for him.  We stop at a fancy hotel for lunch, with confused looking staff and slow service, surrounded by naff Christmas decorations!  Max immediately checks his facebook account, as it’s a true lifeline for him to see potential supporters out there, beyond his highway world.  He says it’s a good measure to see how people regard his updates and his work, and fills him with encouragement when he can see people are taking an interest.  It is such a solitary and endless journey, with no other way of communicating, sharing, and receiving support, so I quite understand, and I leave him to it!  We have chai and aloo parotha, and a whole day of walking ahead of us.  It feels strange, as it is my final day, and it feels sad, as I realise Max will have to carry onto Delhi alone

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It’s a more interesting walk, as we edge closer to Jaipur, with many new housing sites being constructed, and different kinds of drivers on the road towards the city.  We stop at a site being constructed, and I can’t wait to take my shoes and socks off and walk around bare foot in the grass.  There is a gardener nearby, shearing shapes into hedges, topiary style.  He acknowledges us from afar, with an inquisitive smile, and leaves us to rest.  Max collapses on the grass and we sit as if staring out to sea (the highway!), while gaining the momentum to hit the road again soon.

Heading into Jaipur, there is so much work going on, with shanty areas full of people banging, shaping, soldering and melting huge nails.  There is an intense walk past an endless gathering of men, with my scarf firmly over my face, while also trying to look out where I’m going! I’m feeling encouraged, walking past a road sign confirming to me that I have 10 km’s to go!!

ImageWe head onto the flyover into central Jaipur, with hardly space to walk, and the atmosphere full of noise, pollution and traffic.  Onto a bridge and under us, are a collection of tin roofed huts, loads of washing hanging wherever there is space, and a whole family sitting on one bed.  I am guessing it is probably too hot and cramped to sit indoors, and all life is displayed before my very eyes.  They are all living there while doing construction work for the multi- story department store we approach from the bridge.  The place is brimming with life and work, of children and babies, and women in elegant saris carrying cement in baskets on top of their heads.  It makes me think about this kind of way of life- a life determined by where they can find work.  Whole families move towards places they can find daily work, and live their lives each day as it comes.  And with each day that comes, all the people never have any kind of access to healthcare, education or services that can provide a safer and more stable existence.  This leaves them extremely vulnerable and without any rights; living on the margins of society and left with few choices.

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Max has seen that there is a café coffee day close by so we head towards this to gear up for whatever may or may not be at the statue at 4pm.  I decide to ditch my tintin trousers, and change into a nice long purple kurta I bought in Pushkar, with blue trousers (the dye making my legs blue for days!).  We have no idea what to expect, as we haven’t heard personally from the press officer today, only from his friend who will meet us.  It’s already a bit of an anti- climax, me knowing that I have just completed quite an epic journey personally, but it being overshadowed by a possible disappointment for Max at 4pm.  I still feel very proud of myself nonetheless!  We walk towards the statue, a long walk with both of us feeling nervous and exhausted, and wandering what on earth will hit us upon arrival.  He makes me laugh again, by exclaiming ‘My beard’s got more life than me!  I should have just sent the beard along!’  My last day brought another 28 km’s under my walking belt, and a total of 365 km’s altogether, which is 226 miles.  This is like walking from Aberdeen- Shetland!!!

Nothing happened at the statue, as we reached it, walked around it, and no- one batted an eyelid!  Just as we turned away, a man patted Max on the back, and introduced himself as the guy’s friend.  They shook hands and had a brief conversation, which I video recorded just for prosperity.  Another friend appeared, and a stilted conversation was had, Max patiently trying to divert the talk into his walk and his foundation.

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It was a waste of time and a real downer, so we left, and went to where we were staying that night.

I am so thankful to have been able to step onto the highway with Max, and to get such an immense insight into him and his work.  I feel that in some ways, my life is changing, and that there is so much to get involved with and be a real part of at last.  My travels and work overseas this past decade has taken me on my own personal journey of research and discovery, mixed with a lot of frustration and disenchanted feelings at times.   Finally, I have managed to tap into something I firmly believe in, and can commit myself to.

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I am also really thankful to have been able to express this to all of you, and provide my insights and experiences.  My aim is that this can be used as a tool, among other things, to expand ‘One Step’s’ momentum and focus, taking Max’s mission one step further and beyond.  I invite anyone who feels moved to become involved in any way they feel.

Max’s email:osaat1@hotmail.com

Helen’s email: onestep.helen@gmail.com

As part of the global awareness campaign of ‘One Step’ I am holding the first ever ‘Walk with Max’ sponsored walk in Scotland on June 22nd.  This is an independent initiative, where funds raised will be taken back by myself in September, to go directly into the ‘Friends of our Highways’ Project in Rajasthan.  Having walked through and interacted with many many incredible people, families and children living on the edges of society, who showed me nothing but love, and generosity, I cannot wait to return and spread some of the same later this year.

My funding page: http://www.gofundme.com/2chcoc

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Part 10- Nearing the end

Another cold start to the morning, but Max making me laugh, saying, ‘Come on sun, time you got yourself out of bed’.  We find a roadside café, with bench swings, and I happily sway up and down while slurping my chai.  We have parotha, but these ones are crispy and in wedges, served with ketchup, and it’s almost as though I am eating pizza!  We head off, Max a little in front, and I take out my harmonica for the first time.  My brother sent it to me, and it’s a great little blues harmonica.  I feel like I have the highway blues, so I tinker away, making up tunes and enjoying the time pass.  I play until I get a headrush and my lips feel numb, and I notice that Max has stepped off the side of the road for a break.

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I sense a real tiredness and questioning with him today, and his low morale is very disheartening.  I wish there was some kind of way that he can feel more supported, and not left to doubt his intentions.  There needs to be a bigger momentum building, something needs to shift, to pick up somehow.  I know he chose to do this walk, and do it alone, but I really feel his loneliness and I don’t think facebook support, family and friends is really enough to completely lift this.  Today was a day of mutual silence, with not much going on in the highway, no settlements or people, just clumps of men having chai or sorting their trucks.  A few waves come our way, and one young man holds his hands in prayer while hanging out of his truck, with us smiling back.  I’ve noticed one or two days like this, when there isn’t much happening, and everything seems to be the same.

It’s boring, and Max reminds me that half of his walk is like this, and that many days can pass without anything happening atall.  We get to another place exactly like last night, but with a family restaurant with a friendlier feel, so he leaves me there while he sorts out rooms.  After some really good South Indian food and fruit juice I’m feeling much better, and ready to just chill out in my room after 22 km’s of walking today.

My song for today: The Doors: Roadhouse Blues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XWQrt00_NM

Day 14 of my walk with Max- the second last day, and I wake to a heavy fog-like har in the sky that reminds me of the coastal har in my hometown of Aberdeen.  Yet this is not coming from the sea, but of pollution!  I stare sleepily out of the window, watching all the men outside sipping chai with their shawls wrapped tightly around them and arms folded.

Stepping out into the darkened chill, we were excited to remember that a café coffee day would be in the next couple of km’s but unfortunately it wasn’t going to be open till 9am.

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After an hour we stop at a chai stall, and I take off my shoes and sit cross legged on their bed.  (Literally; they lay bed bases out, with a slab of wood in the middle for the food).  I love this simple style that works, and enjoy time to have shoes off, feel elevated, mind meditated..!

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About 12 men surround us, looking very intrigued.  Max is in his element, as all the men ask the usual questions in broken Hindi and English, and he gets a real sense of brotherhood with them all.  They talk with an honest kind of understanding despite the language barrier, for over 20 minutes, and it is sweet to observe and switch off at the same time, while they converse with Max.  They take some great photos, and Max is amazed at how much he is starting to blend in with local people now.  It means a lot to him, and many people are calling him affectionate terms like ‘Baba ji’.

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The sun is coming out, and it’s not too long till we can stay in a really nice place.  There have been bill boards advertising ‘King Highway’ with ‘nice rooms and multi cuisine’ for days, and now we are 19 km’s away from it!  We just feel to get the walk done today, and enjoy the afternoon!  Max’s body is kind of shutting down, and he says he is really feeling it.  I ask him why he is doing the walk specifically, so I can try to explain it on this blog, and he talks with such ease, precision and honesty that I am touched and inspired again.

‘I’m doing it to show that it is possible to push yourself beyond measure, and to persevere.  I want my actions to become my words for the bigger picture, and I believe in what I am doing so much that I am willing to do anything to show this.  It’s a matter of taking the time, and I have this.  I hope that with time people will understand what I’m doing, and a momentum will build.  It would be easy to stop in Jaipur- my body is already shutting down, and I’m suffering on all levels.  But I must block this out, and focus on putting one step in front of the other’. 

By doing this over a long period, he invisages a supportive following and respect, building a continuous story that is not disgarded nor forgotten.   It will serve as a solid foundation upon which to carry out long term partnerships and appropriate project work based on mutual trust and understandings.

The last 7 or so km’s are really tough, and we didn’t even stop for breakfast or lunch.  Walking into the King’s Highway, and into my room after a day of walking 32 km’s, I make a bee line for the menu!  Soon I am relaxed, watching television and eating a Rajasthani dish with roti before having a hot shower!  Wow.. Bliss!

Max got a phone call from the press officer who wanted to arrange a party on our arrival at Jaipur.  We’ve to meet at a statue at 4pm tomorrow, bringing the end to my walk, and a boost for Max’s achievements.  This also marks an amazing achievement for me, which I will always carry within me and feel strengthened by.  The fact of walking for such a long time every day, and covering such distances, boosts me immensely.  Let’s see what tomorrow brings!!

My song for today: Bob Marley: Keep on Moving: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gfNG2Qh0j4

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Part 9- A difficult time

Well…this morning; it’s the eve of Christmas, so I woke to a different version of a Christmas song in my head- ‘So this is Christmas, what have I done?  (the walk’s not over…!)  It’s another early start, with a different edge.  I woke with a sigh over my usual pains, but with a little smile over the song in my head, and simply got to it!!

Had chai in the room and headed off into a cold, dusty and dirty start, with my head scarf on, head firmly downcast!  I’m able to smile to lots of children and mothers as they are doing the morning school run, which breaks up the dull tiredness I am feeling.  Our first real chai break presents itself, and we sit in contemplative silence, me thinking of another long walk ahead.  Max is very serious today, and in a lot of pain, solely focussed on keeping going and checking that I’m doing alright.  We pass bright orange S.O.S posts, with phones, and I joke that I want to send a message to Mum to get me off the highway in time for Christmas!

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We push on, without passing anyone, which makes for a solitary, tiring and tough journey.  There are many new development and housing sites being built for the middle classes.  They are all in the middle of nowhere, and promise ‘Paradise, safety and happiness’.  There is a technical college in the middle of nowhere aswell, and I try to imagine what these students do in their spare time.  2km’s later, we notice a McDonalds, which solves that question, with a trail of disgarded McDonald’s litter for a long stretch later.

There are loads of trucks passing, transporting huge slabs of marble, granite and quartz.  I spend a few km’s distracting myself from the walk, by looking for neat pieces of quartz discarded on the road.  We pass a long line of army trucks with Indian men cobbled together at the back, on top of their gear, eating lunch.  One officer ‘Ant Ram’ is out on the roadside smoking a hookah, which he eagerly passes onto Max!  We laugh, refuse, and keep walking, with me wandering what might actually be in that hookah, and glad to keep going!  It was good to greet them all though, and I think it lifted their spirits!  When we arrived into the place, it was covered in white dust, with small handicraft shops full of marble, granite and quartz pieces.

We walked the wrong way over the fly-over and into a really seedy looking part of town, so we turned back and stopped for directions over some cloudy looking chai.  We are 5km’s out of town, and led into a huge, opulent white marble palace, with a smart turbaned man at the door!  My dusty bag is taken into the reception, and the usual questions ensue.  I don’t think they really know what to think, but they are very respectful, and take us up to our rooms.

I catch up with the news, and it is full of stories about the gang rape, with some protests nationwide turning violent, and police reacting with tear gas and water cannons.  There seems to be immediate measures being taken to ensure women’s safety, with everyone talking about it, and feeling extremely impacted by it.  I do sincerely hope that real change will emerge, along with a huge attitude shift, amongst other things.  It saddens and overwhelms me, thinking of how violent and unjust it was, and how this kind of thing happens all the time, the world over, time and time again.  Tears spill out as I think of her and her family, aswell as my own family at home on Christmas Eve.  It all gets a bit too much sometimes, especially after walking 30 km’s and another 46,292 steps further!! Nice one Helen and Max.

My song for today: Police- Message in a Bottle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbXWrmQW-OE

It’s Christmas day morning!  Very early, with no little presents around a tree!  Yet.. I am very happy to have coffee x2 in my room before heading out for a Christmas stroll!!…

I get a picture next to their tree and brass giraffe, and we head out; soon to be perked up by a cafe coffee day stop!  Chocolate cake and a real lathe in a mug, and I am set!

The inevitable dip happens a little later down the highway though, and I am feeling really low and exhausted.

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I know I’m affected aswell because it’s Christmas Day.  I’m thinking about the women’s empowerment NGO’s I was working with; and knowing that they will be super busy, and affected emotionally at this time.  We talk about women’s issues, moving onto my thoughts about how it feels to be a woman with Max on this walk. Max was saying before that it brought a softer edge for him, as I was engaging with many women and girls that he usually would walk past.  I think it also brought a darker edge though, and with some interactions being a distraction about his work and mission.  Many wanted to stop just to take a photo of me, and shake my hand, rather than asking about what he was doing.   It sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable, and a little annoyed.  I am constantly aware of myself, and how I act, with my eyes downcast, headscarf on, avoiding eye contact and smiles.  It’s strange; in one sense it feels like I am in the limelight, while also being in the shadows.  It’s as though I am invisible sometimes, with men automatically gearing any questions, demands and conversation towards Max, as though I don’t have my own voice.  I understand why, and accept the situation in this context, but it does make me think about the many many women who really don’t have a voice atall.  I believe that all women around the world should be seen, heard, valued and respected.  I digress!

We stop for lunch, a roadside café full of staring men, as Max orders food and I switch off to it all. It’s another 80 plus km’s to get to Jaipur, which will take a few days, and then I will step off the road.  Max is not in good shape today, and is feeling very low.  He still manages a sense of humour though, exclaiming, ‘I’m like a car on its last legs, spluttering about on the highway’, giving me a humorous image that keeps me going for the next few km’s.

Today we are literally venturing into a place which is 15 km’s from Dudu- so the place we land, is really no place to call itself a settlement.  I call it- no man’s land.  Or maybe no woman’s land is better!

The nearest I feel to anything Christmassy today, is seeing a dead deer, to which we break out into a ‘Rudolph the dead nosed reindeer’ version!  My grandma used to make clootie dumplings for Christmas, a plump round Scottish cake which she stored in a white cotton cloth for months!  I walked past a man with a huge white turban, and smile to myself as a second Christmas themed reminder hits me!

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We find ‘The Pink City Hotel’, just a stop on the highway for the usual truckers, and those making their way to Jaipur.  It has a very depressing feel, and there is no power for a while, and no hot water.  I sit on the marble floor, wrapped in a shawl and call home.  It’s strange, and I feel a million miles away from their festive cheer, but good to hear their voices none the less.   They probably feel a million miles from me too, and probably can’t imagine me on the highway doing all this walking!  The power comes back on, and I give myself a Christmas treat of a hot water foot soak with salt crystals!  Waaa, another 22 km’s walking and my wee feet are loving the soak.

My song today; another classic to keep me going.  These songs seem to come from nowhere! (‘earworms’ as my brother says)- ‘He can play the honky tonk like anything’!

Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFHQcLHKFHM

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Part 8- Pushing on into Pushkar

Today is a really amazing day for me.  It starts off with me ridiculously tired though, and so much so that I ask Max to take a picture or two of me to show this!  I think you get the message!

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The walk out of Ajmer is too overwhelming for little tired me, with so much dirt, pollution, filthy rivers, rubbish piles everywhere, and street children sifting through it.  Sometimes it really is too much to take in, and I do try to take everything in as I walk.  I love interacting with everyone I pass, but it’s a whirlwhind; a constant flurry of all too brief glimpses into people’s day to day reality.  I just keep walking past, and this morning I didn’t know how to process it all.

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The atmosphere completely shifts though, which creates a real lift within me.  It is a serene and beautiful walk, through what feels like another ancient civilization, as we meander around the Aravelley mountains.  We pass many Hindu temples, some in ruins, and with the usual colourful and pleasing display of turbaned nomadic cattle herders, and sari clad ladies.  A jeep full of orange- robed sadhus (holy men), stop to get out and look at us, with the only intention of stating their pilgrim status and ask for money.  It makes me laugh out loud, rather inappropriately, but it was an interesting juxtaposition.  Their robes are immaculate, as is their Delhi registered jeep; alongside Max’s only faded and dust clad outfit, as he walks the length of India.  Both parties aren’t interested in donating, and we walk on with kindness, planning for a next stop break under a tree, for chai and glucose biscuits!  The final walk into Pushkar is lovely, as we continue to wind around the mountains and into the place itself.

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As we walk up to our palace- like abode, Max’s knees seem to have finally given way.  He has said for days that they are both feeling like they are ready to ‘pop’ and the steps leading up have done exactly that.  We carry on…

Spent the afternoon doing a bit of a brainstorm and schedule for the year ahead, including awareness raising and fundraising arts initiatives, and global awareness campaigns in the shape of  a sponsored ‘Walk with Max’ programme.  Looks like it’s going to be a very interesting year, and I am so excited and happy to have become ‘an intrinsic part of One Step’ as Max put it.  A press officer he had met on the highway from Jaipur, called to say he is organising a big welcome for him, with a member of parliament, some press photographers, music and food to welcome him into his city.  They will put a press release into the local paper, and it gives Max a much needed boost.  This kind of media attention and support is instrumental to his walk and cause, and something that he doesn’t necessarily seek out, rather that he hopes that he is sought out.  In this way, he feels it is more of an organic and sincere process, having people who have taken the time to understand his work, and genuinely want to get involved.  This particular person seems extremely keen, and has offered his support spontaneously.

Sitting down in the palace is a reminder of how tired I am when I stop, as I take my shoes off (and quickly shut them away in a cupboard!), and check for blisters.  My eyes hurt from the sun and constant dust, and I notice that Max’s eyes are permanently bloodshot.  It’s always interesting to see how people take to him, especially as we enter a place we want to stay.  With his bloodshot eyes, dusty gear, sword- like stick, and serious face with beard, he has been known to be turned away from many places.  I often sense a lot of fear, judgement and lack of understanding, and try to overcompensate by smiling heaps, and being overly courteous.  It is no surprise the kind of looks he gets, when he has literally walked on the highway all day, and appears as if from nowhere, looking exhausted and just wanting a room.  When some staff become comfortable enough to start asking questions, it always amuses me how much their body language and face expression changes.  Most are simply utterly baffled, their arms folded as they check him out, then hand over their mouth, as they comprehend the fact that Max is walking all across India.  I love being the quiet observer!  I always end up laughing while this kind of conversation is carried out, as the atmosphere lifts, and we all start to become human again!  We have moved beyond the usual formalities, into a much better understanding, and I always delight in this shift!

Well!… After another 15 km’s and over 23,000 steps, I’m delighted to shift into resting mode!

My song for today: Bjork- human behaviour

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDbPYoaAiy

Woo hoo! Day 10, and it’s the eve of Christmas eve, and time to not step onto the highway.  It’s a rest day, which leaves good time to amble around to soak in the atmosphere of the place (a little amble around and more sitting preferably).

Over lunch I ask him about what took him out to India, and what brought him to the idea of the walk.  It’s fascinating for me, and one not without the usual tears!  I’ll leave his story up to him to tell though.  I am certain he will write a book!  We move onto our aches and pains, and the health implications these walks have manifested for him.  Again, I am moved to tears, especially when he says it in such a humble way, and with a touch of humour.  Despite his explanations with humour, he does take his health and his body seriously, and accepts that he has to listen to it at times, and not relentlessly keep plowing on.  Out of the many health side effects from his walks, the fact that he had a seizure and nearly died is one not to be brushed aside.  His second walk ended with him collapsing on the highway, and onlookers taking him onto a bus and into hospital, to which the doctor said his kidneys had shrivelled to the size of an 80 year old.  He wears emergency tags around his neck now, so people can be contacted should anything occur.

As I write this now, almost 5 months later, I am very aware that it was exactly a year ago when this happened; and that 3 days from now, he will be embarking on the next leg of his walk- quite possibly the most challenging in many many respects.  So do hold him in your thoughts, and send him alot of strength, encouragement and good health for his next walk on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/onestepatatime.in?fref=ts

I digress!….

Despite the chilling conversations, it was a great afternoon on a rooftop restaurant, staring down onto the maze of lanes, with children on their roofs flying kites, and temple music wafting through the air.  We were around a sacred hindu lake, where many people gathered to bathe their feet, and pray near the water’s edge.  It was restful, but in a weird way it felt strange.  I already missed the routine and rhythm of walking along the highway, and was already looking forward to getting back on it.  I don’t know what’s happening to me!  We are heading back to Ajmer this evening, to start from there again tomorrow, so with a walk around the lake before sunset, we head towards a rickshaw.  Oh not without being rudely interrupted by a wandering cow, to whom I had to step back to allow him to pass (these pesky sacred cows!)  So much for the ‘ladies first’ attitude it seems!  It’s either a man’s world or a cow’s world around these parts!

My song for today- James Brown ‘Man’s World’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd1-HM234DE

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Part 7- The World Still Turns!

Day eight, and it’s the 21st December; I am alive and wake up in spectacular style!  I was woken with the temple songs and clanging bells of the ‘laxmi mantra’ and ‘om namo shivaya’, my favourites, followed by the Muslim call to prayer and then my usual 5.45am alarm!  The start of the day took us through an army base while we stocked up on glucose biscuits and drank our customary morning chai.

It was a tough morning for me. My body really hurts and Max says that this has become normal for him. Imagine that. Waking up to pain every morning and then having to walk a marathon. I don’t know how he does it.  I do worry that some of his ‘normal’ pain might not get back to normal, with his body taking a serious toll day in and day out. I am glad to know that he is due a full check- up in Goa once he finishes his walk in Delhi, which he thinks will be in two to three weeks from now. Another irritation for me is that there are very few ladies toilets on the highway and when I ask where there is one, I get a pointing gesture and a one word response – “Jungle”. Thank you very much!

Well, we’re still standing, (‘I’m still standing, after all this time’!) another song in my head for today, and the world as we know it seems to still be turning….

The world as we see it approaching is like stepping into an old one, with miles and miles of scrubland, cattle herders, bullock carts, camels, water holes, and traditional thatch homesteads.  Then onto another world; with people on the roadside; men, women and children all busying themselves with manual labouring work. They are smashing concrete, collecting gravel, sweeping and smelting metal. I happen across a photo opportunity with a serious looking man whose face softens when I stand next to him.  I was happy at being able to stand by his side, and he looks as if he is secretly delighted as well!

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Our walk into Ajmer is welcomed by a group of street children running towards us, eyes wide and their hair wild, grabbing at us and holding their hands out.  It’s always difficult to just keep walking when facing this scenario. I want to acknowledge them, but I know this will encourage them further.  In the background I can hear their mothers shouting at them to keep running after us for money, and it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is.  I definitely sense their need but handing out rupees just normalises their begging and I don’t know where it will go towards. But then is it for me to judge or decide where the money goes?  In time, reaching out to these people in a practical and on a more long-term strategy is the ultimate aim of One Step. I keep walking, smiling at the children, but not wanting them to feel that they can expect money from every foreigner that walks by.

Ajmer is an interesting concoction of religious sites and sounds. There is a colonial feel as we walk past a huge fort- like railway station, Christian churches, and a Victorian clock tower. The city is very busy and noisy with local traffic and people, which is a bit of a shock to my senses.  I notice a man, decked in huge rings and medallions, who is eyeing us both up and down, and seems very keen for a photo opportunity. I point him out to Max to photograph, and the model poses proudly without flinching, except for his eyes, as he winks at me from behind his sunglasses! Ah, the people you meet!  I love it!

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We set off to find another place to stay, which turns out to be really good and comfortable, all clean and with a hot power shower!  I think the excitement of finding a nice place to stay got me on a high and I eagerly started to look at the menu, ready to order room service. I could not stop laughing as I sifted through the menu.  Every Indian menu that I have looked through has, without a doubt, always had interesting typos causing much amusement for me. I know I am going off on a tangent now, and it’s not about the walk, but I have to share some of these amusing dishes with you!

Paneer Hariyali

Ironic marination of cottage cheese and hung curd

Lemon Coriander Soup

Fresh herb soup with sourness of virtual main soup : to which Max retorted, “Well that’s not going to fill us up is it?”

Paneer Bhurji

Greated paneer tossed in road style : again Max, “Sounds like our kind of dish!”

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Shame…. looks like the South Indian options are off the menu!

There is an array of complimentary boxes in the room, including a sewing kit, which gives cause for further excitement as I am able to stitch the underarms of my top together again as they are tearing apart constantly from too much wear – and tear! It is such an effort to even thread the needle let alone finding the focus, and strength, to stitch a small piece of material together.

After eight days of walking with Max and today’s 25km and 36,528 steps I am absolutely exhausted as my body kind of seizes up on me once I sit down.  I appreciate that I came into this walk completely unprepared, not just physically but mentally as well. From reading about Max and One Step through the Facebook page I could see how hard Max trains, knowing that he would lose all of his strength by the end of each walk. But it’s the mental challenge that is equally as difficult. Seeing all the poverty, walking along noisy highways, the solitude that he must go through. I find myself going into solitary even while I walk with him so being on his own must make it so much harder. And then he is not just walking as I am, he is working for the charity as he walks, seeking ways forward, planning the next post, connecting with people where he can to keep the connection.  It really does makes me wonder how on earth Max does this every single day and will continue to do so until he reaches Delhi. And then on to the next 2,000km walk which takes him over the Himalayan Mountain Range, and then the next from Delhi to Kolkata, and again, and again. It’s too much!

As he tells me, this is his full time job, the one that he has chosen to commit to.  From what I have witnessed he takes each day as professionally and productively than any other person would or could under the circumstances. I am in awe.

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Song for today: Laxmi Mantra (Laxmi is Goddess of wealth and abundance)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=579O0ebQHsg

The subtitles seem to be wrong, here are the words- translation welcome- as my learning of hindi is still a work in progress!

Om maha laxmi namo namah

Om vishnu prayayi namo namah

Om dhan pradaya namo namah

Om vishawa jannanya namo namah

 

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Part 6- Taking its Toll!

Early start to the day, simply to get away from this truck stop!  Another beautiful but cold start, with the morning star to greet us, and the surrounding mountains silhouetted against a changing background of dark blue to bright yellow.  After an hour of brisk walking, we stop for chai, gulab jamun (very sweet sweet!) and Parle-G to warm us up.  I discovered these tasty and cheap glucose biscuits in Dharamshala and they are everywhere here.  Thank goodness because they really help keep me going!

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We ask for a large chai and get a nice big glass but it smells and looks like gravy! At least we have the Parle-G and sweets to wash it down with!  We walk into a refreshing change of scenery, passing by a reservoir encircled with greenery with sprinklings of orange, pinks and violet flowers and the awakening songs of birds all around.

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The tranquility is too quickly overrun by the usual highway trucks with their carnival of colours, loud music and hootings thundering by, and I notice many with punctured tyres flapping on their underside.  I worry that one of these flapping tyres might come loose and crash into Max at some point.  He did say he got his ear clipped once, by a wing mirror from a truck. The more he walks, and the more trucks that pass him, must raise the odds of some loose tyre crashing into him….

We are both really tired today but plodding onwards.  I feel lifted by the sight of more beautiful women in their bright saris with gold embroidery shimmering in the sunlight and the luminous green and orange turbans that the men wear.  I began entertaining myself with thoughts of an Indian- based Super Mario game.  I called it ‘Super Rajasthani Cart’ with mushroom turbaned men meandering about on their bullock carts!  It kept me amused for the next few kilometres!  We plodded on with the glucose biscuits and water being our fuel, and made it into the next place, walking next to a lady and man on their very own ‘Super Rajasthani Cart’!

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Walking through the main street of this town made me feel instantly at ease. The street had many market stalls on each side, and there were more ladies than usual, as families gathered on doorsteps amongst the stalls.  The buildings were tiny and old looking, with beautifully intricate carved wooden doors.  Women wore long flowing skirts and neat shirts, with mirrored belts and chunky silver anklets as their accessories.  One older lady (mataji) had three anklets on each ankle and a huge golden nose ring. Her hands are in prayer and upon catching a glimpse of me peeking at her through the folds of my scarf, she gives me a beautiful smile.

After an afternoon of chai, chana and chapatti I do my laundry, Chinese style!  It was great to have enough time to wash a heap of dusty clothes which I then hung from the propelling fan above my head!  Not sure what the staff thought about this but I was impressed with my efforts!  I am easily amused at this stage it seems!

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I’m excited for the next couple of days when we will be crossing over the mountains and into Pushkar.  Who would have thought?  I didn’t really think this whole walk through, I simply felt to join Max and offer my support.

I presumed that I would walk a few km’s per day with him, find out where he would end up, and then catch a bus and meet him after.  Ha!! 200 km’s or so and a week later, and here I am, walking up to eight hours a day with an average of 30km’s a day; with today being 34km and 51,748 steps!  It’s true that there were always buses and trains I could catch, but I actually preferred to walk to gain as much as an insight into what Max goes through, and to learn from this, and all that I see around me.  However, when I stop walking my body is absolutely exhausted but my mind is so wired with images, sounds and thoughts of the day. This is an amazing experience, one that I will always cherish and be grateful for.  I end the day in contemplative silence, gathering my thoughts and prayers for whatever may or may not pass tomorrow – the apparent end of the world.

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Ha ha ha- walking into Jaipur is not as easy as 1,2,3!

My song for today: REM ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it’. (I don’t really like this song but it rattled around my head towards the end of today!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0GFRcFm-aY

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Part 5 : It’s all coming together- One step at a time!

There is an ease about Max that gives great comfort and confidence in sharing ideas with him. He speaks from the heart, and from experience, taking a few moments of thought before elaborating on an idea, and with every idea moving forward rather than sinking. He is an optimist, with endless determination and belief.  Hearing his ideas are so inspiring to me, as there seems no end of possibilities in achieving a goal. With this comfort, confidence and openness in speaking with Max I find myself overwhelmed by everything that has been unfolding within myself over this past week, and it’s nothing new now for Max to see me shed a tear. In a way it’s immense, every single thing I’ve ever thought about, encountered, felt, believed in, and wished for in my life seems to be coming into focus through our conversations.

Time passed quickly this morning as we had another great discussion while walking along a section of the highway that was barren of people. We started at 7:30am and it was suddenly 10am and time for chapatti and chai at a quiet chai shop just off the highway. I felt a stillness and distance from the highway even though we were only a few meters from it. The only sound in the air being the soft humming of trucks passing by – or maybe all this highway walking is making me a bit deaf!

The day passes without too many interactions on the highway, as we are far away from any settlements and chai breaks, and the roadside walk today has put me into a peaceful contentment.  Most of the people we encounter at these chai shops have no English, yet we get by easily, inquisitively, and always with a smile.  I wonder what goes on in their heads all day, looking out to the road watching trucks passing as if staring out to sea.

The owner of this chai stop sits on a chair, legs crossed, with a leather jacket, gold chain and furrowed brow, staring out to sea.  His wife drags a bed away from the stall and lies down, draping a shawl over herself as if to sleep.  After some time she got up and sat at her ‘box-like’ stall.  As we stood up to leave she became completely animated and motioned me to sit with her.  ‘Bato’. So we sat, and she pulled me in close with both hands, which were cracked, creased and dry from years of hard work.

We were looking into one another’s eyes and she had such an instant joy and love about her.  I called her ‘Mataji’, a friendly and respectful term for an older lady, and she kissed me on both cheeks.  I got a sense that she often felt quite alone and this sitting and talking to me was a highlight in her quiet week.  I couldn’t understand her but, to me, her expressions suggested that she wanted me to stay here; that there was a bed for me; that she would make chapatti for us; that she saw me as her daughter and I could sleep here, no problem.

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Her joy turned to sadness when it was time to leave- which gets me every time- as so many of the people that I have met during this journey have their hearts wide open to instantly welcome me. I feel that this openness and trust has been watered down from where I am from because of contemporary conditioning and instinctive mistrust.

More thoughts spill out as we walk, with Max relating the world where, “human effort is becoming obsolete – that we’re deleting ourselves through technology”.  He also speaks of, “time poverty”, where we, quite naturally, become so busy with our own life that we find it difficult to find time for others, family and friends.  I am so grateful that I have this unique time to encounter such people, and to have this opportunity.  It’s time for a change – one step at a time!  We keep stepping on, aiming for the next night stop before it gets dark.  There is not much in sight, so wherever we land, we will stay.

We pass some agricultural land with luminous sari wearing ladies bending over their fields.  They stand to smile and wave at me as we pass our way into a small truck-stop.   This place is full of men and it felt instantly intense for me as a woman.  Max did the arranging and we got two very small, filthy, seedy looking rooms – both with gaps in the window and door and yes, boys did peep through the gaps from time to time. My shouts at them left them scampering as I laugh at myself in the mirror.

I look like a dusty red-faced Tintin, with my red trousers hitched up above my calves so that they don’t get wet in the toilet. I have some time for reflection, and am left wondering how I am doing all this!  I had done no physical preparations and have no bare essentials like toilet paper, hygienic hand gel, not even enough tampons etc etc! …

It was difficult at times, with never enough toilets for women – it is a man’s world here – and being surrounded by dirt and dust!  I just kept going, headscarf on, eyes down, nails super short to not attract the dirt!  We ate when we could, anywhere, and for me the food was always amazing and I never got a bad tummy, I thank my good genes and Scottish constitution!

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After an immense day for me; of realising that dreams can be reached with belief, hard work and being around the right people; 27kms and 41,094 steps; some spicy omelette, sweet chai and checking the peep-holes – I am ready for sleep!  Phew.  Shubh raatri- good night!

Song for the day- Culture- ‘I was travelling up the mountains one day, when suddenly I hear the voice come to I and say: this world is like a mirror, reflecting what you do- and if you face it smiling, it will smile right back to you’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4OXwwmFens

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