Jaisalmer, Amritsar and Manipur, India – November 2010

Half marathon done and dusted!  The morning began with a typically hectic and disorganised start to the event – which involved a small contingent of security personal trying to frisk 18,000 lycra-clad runners for hidden weapons of mass destruction – before Katherine and I ran the entire 21 km race together.  After finishing in a very respectable time, we headed home with friends for a boozy braai and some well-deserved R&R.

The month actually kicked off with consecutive weekends away to Jaisalmer and Amritsar, as we looked to take advantage of the great travelling weather and extra days off work due to Diwali (The Festival of Light).

A small, lively city sprawling around an impressive fort, Jaisalmer is India’s gateway to the Thar Desert in far western Rajasthan.  Although Diwali was an action-packed and somewhat noisy time to visit Jaisalmer, we found the rooftop terraces of hotels and bars atop the Havelis (heritage hotels) to be a godsend, providing some much-needed respite from the firecrackers and mayhem raging down below.  We also took a day out to drive further west into Desert National Park where we explored the dune fields of Khuri and Sam on foot.  With chinkara (Indian gazelle) nimbly picking their way across an arid peaceful landscape of pristine dunes, Khuri provided a genuine desert experience to savour.  By contrast Sam was manic.  The dunes were obscured by thousands of people, tons of garbage and a gazillion camels carrying their screaming passengers charging over the dunes.  It was a sight to behold and we stayed just long enough to take a few photos and videos of the crazy scenes unfolding all around us.

Barely a week later, we were in Amritsar appreciating another equally bizarre spectacle.  The daily border closing ceremony of the only land transit point between India and Pakistan is the quintessential Indian experience.  Thousand of patriotic citizens turn out on both sides of the fence to support their soldiers as the flags are lowered.  While the soldiers try to out perform and out march each other, DJ’s belt out popular Hindi tunes, people dance in the streets, sing, scream, cheer and hurl regular abuse at their neighbours.  Fervent nationalism oozes from the jam-packed stands of patriotic fans, making for some very humorous and animated exchanges between the legions of Indian and Pakistani supporters.  A visit to the world-renowned Golden Temple is another must-do experience in Amritsar and the temple complex is well-worth appreciating both at night and during the day.

A mid-month work assignment took me to the northeast of India on my first visit to the small state of Manipur, which is located on the border with Myanmar (Burma).  I was collecting photographic material and interviewing people involved with Project LIFE AID: an HIV/AIDS programme assisting affected people in the high prevalence states of northeast India.  It was a very productive and enlightening assignment that revealed a project that is doing a lot of good for a lot of very grateful people.

Next month sees me return to the northeast to join the final descent of India’s spectacular Subansari River on an exhilarating ten-day rafting expedition, and then it’s off to Varanasi for a long weekend before finishing up the year by enjoying Christmas in the Andaman Islands with visiting family.  Roll on December and the good times…