Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Passage to Inda II

6 September

I took my little family to Brussels airport and waved them good-bye when they disappeard beyond the check-in desks on their long way to Karabagh. Packed my gear during the night and took a red-eye flight to Heathrow next morning. The KZ-like security checks couldn't prevent me from seeing weird juxtapositions everywhere.

Nothing bad about British Airways; it's not their fault that by the end of a 9-hour flight the condition of on-board toilets gave new meaning to the expression "full of shit". Dull flight, even the captain was bored as each half hour he made a laconic announcement: "Only five more hours to go... only two and a half hours to go... only half an hour more to go." Anyway, upon arrival in Delhi passengers were screened with heat cameras and serious-looking doctors wearing face masks, all tryng to find out if we carry H1N1 into the polluted stink of Delhi, which was overwhelming me with its ooze and humid heat even at midnight. This time however I could escape this weapon of mass destruction soon enough as the team from my car rental company, Rajasthan 4wheel Drive was already waiting for me. With a bunch of flowers, since they presumed I'll arrive with my wife. I don't know if it was me who was more embarrassed, me or their Delhi manager when I took the flowers and assured him that I love him too. Anyway, enter Soni the Driver with his prized possession, a shiny white Mahindra Scorpio SUV. Next day in Delhi, trying to cope with the heat and familiarizing myself with the 5DMkII-580EXII combo.

By the way, I had company in Delhi. Hooked up with a charming, elderly French lady who arrived from Bangalore where she tended orphans for a few months. Wth nothing else to do, showed her Chandni Chowk. She liked India but after half a year without red wine was raving for some Bourgogne. Which I happened to have with me, courtesy of Heathrow tax-free, and when I took it from my innocent-looking photobag and offered her some Babybel cheese as well, all this in the middle of the stinking bustling deafening bazaar, she was convinced that India is indeed the land of miracles. The real miracle was that we got back to the hotel safely, despite the riksha-drivers best efforts to kill us.

7 September

Flight from Delhi to Shimla. I didn't miss the 12-hour train ride at all. Listening during the short flight to State of Bengal's IC408 was fun.

Shimla was more or less as I expected with all the faded Raj feeling...

...and I wish I had had more time to explore it better. However all we could do was to have a little walk with Soni, who arrived from Delhi the same day with the car and when I started to photograph, poor poor Soni realised that he will have a difficult time with me. Later my behaviour exceeded even his worst expectations when I made him stop the car every five minutes, just to get out, taking shots - and afterwards usually deleting them and grumbling something about "bad lights". But he proved a real hero and never complained. Anyway, I tried to do some street photography in Shimla, just to warm up, and didn't ignore the gorgeous landscape either.

All went well until late evening when it began to rain, getting colder and heavier with every drop. And this rain was to last long. We waited one day in vain to see it stop. Next day we had to leave though. Enter the Big Rampur Downpour.

9 September

The good thing about Shimla is that cars are not allowed inside the town. The bad thing about Shimla is that cars are not allowed inside town, so by the time we reached the parking area we were soaking wet. And then the big long rainy drive began.

We managed to sail on stormy sea to Rampur, 164 klicks away. Hoped to make it further but ran into a massive landslide which proved already impossible to cross. We retreated into a place called Sip'n'Drive, the only place around Rampur having two free rooms....

...in a building above the road on a hillside. In sunshine, it must be like heaven. Walking up in the slippery mud to the rooms in total darkness, with my 30 kg gear on my back, it felt more like being in a C-category Vietnam war movie. Anyway, we hoped to make it across the landslide next day or return to Shimla and try an alternative road up north, when the hotel guy told us...
...that the Shimla road has also been washed away - half an hour or so after we arrived. Cool. I told Soni to pray during the night so that God Hanuman carries us over that damned landslide tomorrow. On the other hand, this little godforsaken place had the best food I ever tasted in India. If you go to Rampur one day, do not miss their makhani dal.

10 September

By the end of the day, we drove 130 klicks in 8 hours up and down from one landslide to the other, hoping that at least ONE of them will be cleared. Of course it didn't happen. Rain, rain, rain. But Soni was happy because he had television in his room.

11 September

Managed to cross the northern landslide in the early afternoon:

General Paulus must have felt like we did, had he ever managed to break out from Stalingrad. I even managed to take some people shots this day.

With the little fellow below, it was the moment when I realised that my 24-105/4 L had a serious focusing problem. I had too high hopes to the MkII's micro-adjustment feature and no matter how desperately I tried to adjust the lens, 99% of the shots taken with it are ruined. After a few days I gave up trying and only used the 17-40. I should have gone Nikon when I updated my gear in January - it was on my mind but eventually I opted for the L lenses. A mistake I'll never do again. With my workhorse zoom rendered useless, I wasn't much comforted by the 17-40's brilliant performance. It's a hyped 1000 € lens on a mega-hyped 2500 € body and for this price one would expect them to work together properly, without any excuses. Arigato for the frustration, Canon!

Anyway, we made it to Sarahan with its famous Bhimakali temple, which I was about to visit when I realised I'm sick. Spent the dreadfully cold night half-awake, only kept alive by Neocitran, Jack Daniel's and honey tea. At least I had the chance to admire the temple's beauty in the morning fog from my room, sneezing, coughing and cursing the rain.


Sipos Szabolcs said...

Na, ennek kíváncsi vagyok a folytatására! :)

Pataki Balázs said...

Este felnyomom a videókat is, az irodában le van tiltva a tecső... jó hosszú sztori lesz, asszem :)