Thursday 30th July
Into India. The most immediate thing we noticed was that the soldiers are much smarter than the Pakistanis. It’s very hot and very wet, as one would expect seeing it is the monsoon! It took us a couple of hours to get through customs as one officer was still in bed. They didn’t find our rupees (it’s illegal to remove or return money to India). Driving through, the countryside is very similar to England except for differences in detail. The poor people do look very poor, but, us being broken in gradually by Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, we weren’t really as surprised or as shocked as we expected to be. It was just there. One thing we were sad to find was that, as in Pakistan, the normal way of drinking tea is very sweet with lots of condensed milk, and it is brewed with everything already in the pot. After the great tea we’d been having across Asia, India should have topped the lot – but the British seemed to have left everyone with a taste for transport café tea!
We were travelling on minor roads, which was a bit hair-raising, for they are only wide enough for one car. When vehicles meet, someone has to give way. We (especially me, who started the driving) were relieved to find that most Indians lost the inevitable game of chicken. When we were pushed off it was made worse by the fact that the edge of the road drops down several inches to mud or gravel, which is very bad for the tyres; possible at low speeds, but very difficult for overtaking. Half of the road signs are in English, and stones give distances in both miles and kilometres. India has just gone metric, which means that people still talk about gallons while the petrol pumps read litres. Moneywise they talk in Annas, of which there are 16 to the Rupee, which is also divided into 100 Paise. Rather complicated! Weight is often by the lb.
We reached Chandigarh about 2:00 in the afternoon, and immediately ran into the most enthusiastic welcome from the Sondhis, whose son Ranjit had been living at George’s home for the past few years. They had decided to put us up at the Punjabi State Guesthouse, which was very posh. We took over two double rooms, each with private shower and loo. It was also capable of turning out a large English breakfast, which we made the most of. It turned out that its name was no exaggeration, for the Visitors Book was full of Ambassadors, Excellencies etc.. We dined that evening with the Sondhis, and met Dr Sondhi, cousin of Mr and a great character, who had been to medical college with George’s father.
Friday 31st July
In the morning Dr S showed us round the main hospital. Very nice and modern, but very expensive and rather wasteful on space. I can’t remember the bed to population ratio, but of course it is tiny compared to England. The main problem is getting the people to come to the hospital – they prefer to remain ill at home. We also found out that the main disease is no longer malaria but tuberculosis. Dr S then got one of his minions to show us round the Secretariat. Chandigarh is capital of two states, Punjab and Haryana (the latter newly formed out of part of the Punjab), and so contains the residences of two governors. They are planning to build Haryana a new capital, but each official wants it in his own district and they can’t decide where to put it! (It was never built.) The two states share a Secretariat, and this one was exactly as I had imagined an Indian Civil Service office would be – offices full of clerks with their feet on the desks and pile upon pile of paper done up in brown cardboard files. We were amused by the sign above one door saying “Lav. for Officers/Ladies”!
We were also shown the High Court, a nice looking building with murals on it. We were allowed to go into one of the courts where the Chief Justice was presiding (the official language is English). He was telling a young lawyer off for not preparing his case properly, and ended up throwing his papers rather spectacularly into the courtroom. We then went back to the guesthouse, where we found a huge western-type lunch
waiting for us. We had to go easy on this as our stomachs had shrunk a bit on the journey to India, largely due to the heat. Spent the afternoon thinking about having a rest, by which time it was time to do a bit of shopping (long-sleeved white linen shirt and Indian sandals) and then dinner with Dr S. Same as previous evening, fantastic food, but this time even a small helping was too much. A very belchy night was to follow. I think we all loved the Indian home cooking, and our first taste of Bhindi and fresh Coriander.
Saturday 1st August
Up fairly early, for Dr S was to show us round the countryside. It was a bit too much of the “sahibs being driven round to look at the peasants”, but otherwise interesting. First we stopped to look at a typical Indian village. Passing through scores of these, our eyes had gone no further than the sloppy brickwork by the road, but we found out that further in most of the huts are made of a mud-straw mixture. Some attempt had been made by the authorities to clean up the streets by putting concrete channels in them, but all this meant was that the muck, instead of being absorbed by the ground, flowed into their pond. very nice!
Next on the list was one of their primary health centres, which are situated in all of the large villages. Originally meant for first aid, their main function now is birth control. This is being really pushed forward, with posters all over the country. The birth rate has dropped as a result from 44 per 1,00 p.a. to 32. Then again, the death rate has dropped from 43 to 12 over the same period!
We also nipped into town to get our puncture (from Pakistan) fixed. On looking at the tyre, Dr S reckoned that a horseshoe had caused it. Lo and behold, when they took the tyre off, there inside was a horseshoe! Once again we had a restful afternoon. We were due to dine that evening with another friend of George’s family, but I was feeling poorly so stayed behind.
Sunday 2nd August
Still feeling poorly, so while the others went to Mr S’s to wash the van I stayed behind, and had a visit from Dr S, who diagnosed gastritis and prescribed a few pills and a light diet. I wasn’t surprised. At a local eatery I’d found the dahl just a bit too hot and had downed a pint of distinctly muddy-looking water. This, I imagined, was the result.
That evening we went out to the Pinjore Gardens, which were built by a Maharajah a while back as a hideout for him and his dancing girls. It has seven levels of stone buildings, pools and gardens, and is really beautiful. We were treated to the most incredible sunset I have ever seen. Not only were the colours unbelievable but most of the effect continued right round the horizon – 360 degrees.
We had a very nice meal there on the roof of one of the buildings, which we later found out had been paid for by the Chief of Tourism for that area. Perhaps that and our use of the Punjab State Guest House had something to do with the fact that Mr S is Chief census Officer for the Punjab and Dr S medical head of Haryana.