Angus - RAM RAMS! and parathas in Orchha

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I waved goodbye to Holl one miserable morning as she drove off with Amit-the-driver to her Ashram near Khajuraho. 4 weeks to kill before we would see each other again. Amit drove a white Tata saloon with four 6x9 speakers on the parcel shelf... I would spend lots of time in it over the next month. Back into Mithla's kitchen for breakfast, tearful and it was cold… Munalal the father of the household I was staying with gets me to sit right next to him by the chula (fire), sharing the little stool he sat on with me. He gets out two bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes), lights them both with a match and hands me one, putting his arm around me and his hands to the heat; he gestures to keep my hands warm over the smoky flames. Mithla (the mum) passes me a steaming chai, smiling with her buck teeth… Shanti (their daughter-in-law) is shuffling around making breakfast. Nobody speaks any english. It is 6 in the morning. These guys would be my family for most of my stay. 

 For the next 28 odd days I would get up to all kinds of stuff. Primarily I would be helping Ashok, who was a little younger than me, to run the home-stay project I had volunteered to help with. We did lots of good work together, as well as riding around on his motorbike and generally doing what 20 year old Indians do in their spare time; forgetting things, cricket, smuggling girlfriends out of town in Amit-the-driver's car, chewing tobacco and of course eating lots of food and perhaps the odd shady beer*. 

 Each day was most changeable, as things are in India. Every corner is exciting. Who knows what the hell will be around it. Anyway… It was a wonderful, stressful, happy, frustrating, insightful, beautiful and most of all a very fun 28 days.

*Orchha is a Holy site so technically it is illegal to drink alcohol...but Ashok had friends at the bar of one the swanky hotels.

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5am looking over Ganj with the Chhatris of Orchha in the distance.    

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Mithla and Munalal. They worked so hard and were always so kind to me. We spent a lot of time together working and despite us not talking a word of each others language, we had a right laugh.

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The guys would pull up the water from the 400 year old well, normally in old 15 litre oil containers. The girls would carry the water back in stainless steel pots on their heads. We pulled up about 75-100 litres a day to keep Mithlas household and homestay running well.

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Most of the bikes were the same. Made of thick steel, single speed, old school calliper brakes and heavy as hell. They can carry what ever you can strap to them. Munalal would always come and help, he had bad knees but was as strong as his son. He smoked bidis all day long.

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A small part of most mornings would be spent slowly choking to death in front of the fire with Munalal and a goat. Most fires ran on cow dung patties with a sprinkling of goat droppings.

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The famous auto rickshaw truck race. Not really. Actually really…its usually a friendly race in India. There are 12 things you mostly see on the road; dogs, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, cows, auto-rickshaws, funny small cars, Tata 4x4's, tractors, elephants, wonky buses and mad max style lorries (in size order). The buses and lorries have horns that sound like a rattling oil-liner fog horn on hydrogen. They give you small heart attacks and drivers always have their fingers on the buzzer.

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Road side tattoos, sketchy as hell. Elephants have right of way. People were throwing money down to him…the nelly would pick up the bundles for the driver if they landed on the floor.

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It took a man 10 minutes of beating it with a bamboo staff to make it not want to go up the bridge. It took a lady nearly 10 seconds to bring it some food that enticed it up.

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Always animals in the yard…anything from rats to cows. Wild Langur monkeys run on the roofs and piss everyone off. Knocking off TV antennas and dodging sticks and stones thrown by neighbours.

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RamBabu and Rekha. I stayed at both of their houses, both being as friendly, welcoming and hardworking as each other. 

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Cricket matches were loud and hilarious. Teams are groups of friends, no official kit, no pads and a rubber ball. Always with a commentator hooked up to a loud speaker, cranked up to volume 11.

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Half way through my stay, Erika…a 75 year from Switzerland who was helping us with the home-stay, fell off the back of a parked motorbike and broke her back and her arm. Erika has been visiting Ganj for years and is like a grandmother to many of the children there, as well as a huge help to the majority of the families. Her accident shook and worried the people of the village. I'm not going to go into all the details of the 4 day hospital trip as there are many. It was an experience neither Erika or myself will ever forget. 

 To briefly explain…it all happened in the evening. Very quickly it was dark and Erika, who was as white as a fridge, was lying in her bed in a huge amount of pain and couldn't move, with a crowd of people around her, who also looked terrified. No ambulance, no real doctor. We managed to buy some opiate pain killers from a pharmacy in town (Ashok was fast on his motorbike) and luckily a guest at the home-stay was a nurse and was able to give Erika a few injections. Into Amit-the-driver's car and off we went to the mysterious Jhansi 'private' hospital, 40 kilometres away, that had been recommended to us. With Erika wedged up between the door and Ashok, to stop her from moving too much, we hit the roads, which were worse than the surface of the moon. In the hospital it was dark, dirty and smelt funny…with people sleeping on the floors. There was only one doctor on duty who at first seemed drunk, but later on we found out he was ill. A few x-rays later and we got Erika a private room and a box of heavy painkillers, it was 4am. We stayed there for the next 4 days and nights. The staff at the beginning were a little frustrating to work with, often moving Erika…whose back, we later found out, was broken quite severely. In the end we all got along really well, laughing to each other after each morning visit/shouting match from their boss the crazy matron. She had a small beard and never looked at you when she was talking.

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Hospital laundrette.

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We got her out of the hospital in the end, to much relief, it was about time Erika returned to her loving and extremely worried extended family back in Ganj. The stretcher didn't fit in the ambulance that we'd rented. 6 of us and a stretched out blanket did the job fine. I was super tired and also smelt funny, but would miss that spooky place. Everyone there had been so kind and were sad to see their foreign patient leave. Erika, and myself, will be forever grateful for their help and enthusiasm.

 Erika is now back in France recovering. The time we spent together was rich and full of good conversations. Erika is a fantastic person and has a huge heart, not to mention being very very tough!

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Mini + Kushy pulling faces. My little sisters for a few weeks. Their parents, Suren and Kiren, took good care of me. Kiren cooked me the best food of the trip - parathas and home made mango pickle, fresh from the pan every lunch time. Suren had the happiest aura in India, constantly singing and vibrating around his home.

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Mini, Kushy, Suren and I hopped on the motorbike one day (4 on a bike). I thought we were walking to the top of a nearby hill or something, but 20 minutes later we were at a festival on a Holy mountain. We were told that the festival was only held every 11 years. Lucky lucky. Suren and me took our shoes off, kissed the ground and walked around the temple 10 times holding hands, amongst the heaving, dusty crowds of people. It was proper hot and all a colourful blur. Overwhelming is an understatement. Afterwards, we walked back down the mountain (large hill) and took Mini and Kushy to the the sketchiest fun fair in the world. The girls went on the slides and I got an air rifle pointed at my head.

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Deepu helped with the cleaning at the home-stay. We watched lots of discovery channel together and he showed me his pigs. He wasn't the best motorbike rider in India, we may or may not have had a few bumps. Once, he showed me where to buy pork in Jhansi…it was a shady experience.

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One day it was walking around eating its own poo, next day it was all in bits. Mithla carried the meat down to the market later on, she said she would get 40 rupees a kilo for it (40p/kg). The skin was stretched out and hung above our heads to dry. 

The people I stayed with were infinitely kind to me, welcoming me into their lives and into their families as one of their own. I will always remember them and I will never be able to really explain just how positively wondrous the whole experience was. 

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