Carved in Stone

Carved in Stone

From the Series: Stories from India

from March 30th to April 2nd

Why do I want to go to Aurangabad, I wonder? Maybe it is because of the caves of Ajanta that you can visit from there. Maybe it’s because it is situated between Nagpur and Mumbay, and I do not want to visit Mumbay at all. Well the main thing is to get away from Nagpur and Chandrapur, I tell myself. These cities do not have much to offer, except for food and accommodation.

Then it’s Aurangabad. About where I usually book all the accommodations for the trip, I find nothing appealing for me. So I have a look in the travel guide book and google. Aha, there is still something for me: the Panchavati Hotel. Apparently a good budget hotel with a good restaurant on the ground floor. Ok, we book this. But that is not sooo easy, because on the website I can only make a booking inquiry.

The bus would leave here at 3:00 pm and arrive in Aurangabad at 3:00 am in the morning.

Ok, I think, let’s try my luck. I fill out the form on my mobile phone and send it off. Thanks to Kirshna I have an Indian SIM card with which I enjoy the luxury of a mobile internet connection everywhere – except, of course, in Moharli;)

A TukTuk takes me to the departure point of the long-distance bus. It’s a strange area. An abandoned road. Only a garage seems to be there. In front of it sit a few men typing away on their cell phones. As I walk past them, they look at me. I greet them and go on. A feeling of insecurity creeps me. After some asking arround I find the bus of the “Mahalaxmi” company. It is currently still being cleaned by an employee. I’m too early. It is only 2:30 pm. At the end of the street is a small stand with drinks and snacks. On the bench next to the stand is a man. Beside him, I sit down on the bench to no longer feel the oppressive weight of my big backpack on my shoulders.

The two guys I walked past in front of the garage, are  coming to the stand too. Calm down, I think. If you have to react, then you have to react, but first see what happens. The man who was lying on the bench sits up now.

The other two men sit down beside me.

One is wearing sunglasses. If this was to be an attack, they had chosen an untravelled road. But there are some witnesses. Of course, it is quite different. The strong man, who is sitting next to me, begins a conversation. He seems to be very curious and is one of the many Indians who start to rave when they hear that I am from Switzerland.

„Switzerland is the dreamcountry of every Indian!“

, they usually say. Yes, I heard that very often in India. Even if it happened some time or another that the good people have confused Switzerland with New Zealand, hahaha. This is the case when they start talking about the Swiss beaches at the sea, hahaha. More and more of the men around us are coming closer to see the pictures of Switzerland, which I show on my mobile phone. It is mainly pictures of hikes that I have done last year with friends. In between, I have to be careful not to show them one of the thousands of photos of Lim. That’s none of their concerns! 😉

And once more, I pass on my Indian cell phone number to some strangers. Finally, the bus is ready and I can get rid of the masculine mass – with women I never get into conversation. My experiences in India regarding women are really crass. So rare is an opportunity to speak to a woman.

The waiters in the restaurants are men, the staff in busses and trains are men, the hotel staff is male – maybe not the cleaning staff, but you never see them anyway – the salesman and taxi drivers are men … men, men, men what’s that all about?

Then I remember our stay in Agra – by us I mean Döme and me. On a holiday, I believe it was the beginning of the Holi festival, we saw an extraordinary number of women on the street. Where had they been all the time? In the houses? Did they look after the children? Do the household? I dont know.

There is no seat but berths in the bus. I lie down and notice how the air conditioner starts to work. At the moment I’m glad about it, because in Maharashtra it is currently unbelievably hot. Every day, the thermometer sweeps over 40° celsius. The next 12 hours would be very bumpy, as I should find out. I try to sleep and it works for a few minutes, too, but the bus driver’s favorite occupations always tear me from the world of dreams: honk and brake. The horn is incredibly annoying. It sounds like a Swiss Postauto on drugs. I curse the Indian driving style and start playing with my mobile phone.

What’s going on now, I think, as the bus comes abruptly to a halt and the door opens. Aha, piss break. Many men run out of the bus and do their business on the roadside. While this part of the earth turns away from the sun, I also do my business on the roadside. As we continue the journey, I try again to sleep a little. This time, I also listen to music. At some point we stop again. Whenever the bus stops, it is important to find out why. Dinner? Shopping stop? Restroom break? The drivers tell you this in Hindi only. When I notice that it seems to be a longer break, I put on my shoes. On the other side of the aisle opens the curtain of the lower compartment. A young man is in it, who now also puts on his shoes. He tells me that it is a food break. Cool, I think. I’m hungry. The last time I have eaten was at 1pm or so. Now it was somehow 10pm and the whole junk food I had packed for the trip was gone already. He asks me if I will have dinner too. Yes, of course, I say.

The tall man, called Abijeet, is 23 years old and is on his way to Pune. This city is even further away than Aurangabad. He wants to go there because of a job interview tomorrow. He finished his studies as an Engineer and now he wants to have work. He would probably arrive at 05:00 o’clock in the morning or so in Pune. Whether he would be fit enough for the conversation, I ask. He thinks yes, he says. We order food and keep talking. His English is very good for an Indian and we can discuss a wide range of topics. For me, there is Panir Masala again. Panir is cheese and is served in a more or less liquid tomato masala gravy. Along with it I eat Naan, thin bread. I break pieces of the bread and dip them into the sauce to eat them. Delicious 😛

Most Indians are straightforward and approach you easily, if they want to know something. Abijeet was very nice and we talked on for a bit. Also with the waiter and the bus driver, who suddenly became curious and also want to learn something about me. So the latter also asks me, where in Aurangabad I would like to get off. At the Baba Petrol Pump, I say. He says he wanted to stop there anyway. Great thing. The trip continues and I hope that I now find a bit better sleep. Unfortunately, this is not the case, because the road is very bumpy and still the driver steers the bus as if it were a GoCart on the race track. Again and again I determine my location with google maps and the GPS. In the meantime, the hotel staff also replied and confirmed my reservation. They know now that I’ll arrive at about 03:00 o’clock in the morning. They would send a driver to pick me up at the petrol station. That works well, I think.

We continue to approach Aurangabad. At arround 01:00 o’clock there is shift change among the drivers. One of them comes to the back and lays down on the mattress beside me to sleep.

Finally, we reach Aurangabad. An employee of the bus company gets off along with me to open the luggage compartment and give me my backpack. Previously he had labeled it with the number of my seat – with chalk. The driver of the hotel is already there and we are only a very short drive away. Check-in and sleep, done.

After a long sleep I get up. The bed was not uncomfortable. It is hot in Aurangabad. I find that out after I get started outside on foot. But first I organize a tour to the caves of Ajanta, which I would like to visit tomorrow. More on that later. The sun burns on my body as I walk along a bustling main street in Aurangabad. The heat makes me almost numb and I adjust my pace. My goal is the Bibi Qa Maqbara, a mausoleum built by Prince Azam Kahn in 1679 for his mother, Rabia-ud-Daurani. However, it has a second, more touristy name: Mini Taj. So the Taj Mahal in mini format, which is also quite accurate. A beautiful building.

To experience the sunset here in the garden of this wonderful building, is very nice. My thoughts wander at the sight. How had life been here hundreds of years ago? What did the country look like? I can not find an answer. There are some Indian tourists. Of course, I’m asked for a few photos, hehe. I’m very used to it, and I often notice which people will ask me for a photo in the next few seconds, haha. Finally, I take a family picture, which I would send them later by e-mail.

When I leave the plant, I decide not to go back on foot, but to take a TukTuk. There are already around 20 and  in front of them their drivers, who are courting the customers. The first one approaches me. The normal phrases such as:

“TukTuk, sir?”

“Where you going, sir?”

“You want TukTuk, sir?”

To the Baba Petrol Pump, I say. 200 rupees, one of them says. I laugh out loudly and just keep going. When the drivers throw at you with unrealistic prices, it is often a good idea to just laugh and walk away. Funnily enough, they will follow you and are all of a sudden ready to adjust the price. So I agree, with a stubborn dog, who simply doesn’t leave my side and wants to negotiate further, on 100 rupees for the ride – 1.30 CHF. I am willing to pay a little more than the local population, because I come from a country with a stable currency and earn a multiple of an average monthly income here – ok, not at the moment, but yes. But I’m not willing to pay three or ten times the price. For I feel this is racism indeed against me.

Japanese tourists in Switzerland do not have to pay 20 francs for a bus trip from Triengen to Sursee, right? They pay just as much as Ms. Müller from Triengen, that’s it. The restaurant at Hotel Panchavati is exquisite and I also enjoy a beer for dinner. There are two other foreigners in the restaurant. An Asian-looking woman stands up from her table and comes over to me.

“Hey, do you want to see the Ajanta caves?”

, she asks. Yes, I say. For tomorrow I booked a tour. She asks if she could come along. Of course, I say. We would then be able to split the tour price. Then I have a seat at the table of Hope, the Asian-looking woman who comes from New York and Imran, the Brit from Bath. Hope is of Chinese origin, but born in the USA. Imrans last name is Ahmed. His parents are from Bangladesh. However, he speaks a perfect British accent and has lived in England since childhood, where he is a teacher.

We talk and drink a few beers. Then we go to bed. Tomorrow morning we would visit the caves of Ajanta!

After a short breakfast in the restaurant we take off. Our driver for today is Rajkumar. The ride to the caves would take 3-4 hours and Hope and I talked in the back seat. She is very interested in spirituality and the inner self. I tell her about my experiences and the conversation is very exciting so that the journey passes in no time. We arrive at a large parking lot and then go on foot, through all the small sales stalls and shops that offer souvenirs. By a shuttle bus we get to the caves. We visit them on foot. Apropos: these are Buddhist buildings, so we have to take off our shoes before entering most of them. With primitive tools and man-power, Buddhist monks have struck caves in the rock centuries ago and formed them into monasteries and temples. This work and the result of it are breathtaking:

What motivates people to do something like this? Where do the strength and endurance come from? Once again, I find out to what deeds, faith can move men.

Hope and I eat lunch. Then we go back to Aurangabad. At the dinner together with Imran, we drink a couple of beers and chatter a little. The next day the two would go on. Hope goes to Pune and Imran to Mumbai.

I would like to stay a little longer in Aurangabad. I do not want to go on yet. I don’t know where to go anyway and secondly I have no desire to pack my backpack again yet. The Panchavati is quite cheap, so I treat myself a few days at it’s rooms. I’m trying to help Lim finding an internship position, write e-mails to companies, and try to get in touch with his university to find out when the internship is about to begin, and how long it will take. The university where he is studying, Tarlac State University, or TSU for short, is his own story and I could write a whole blog post about it – what I might will be doing, hahaha.

On another day, I decide where I want to go to: Malvan, to the beach. At the travel agency next to the hotel I inquire how to best get there. With the night bus to Kolhapur and from there with local buses to Malvan, they tell me. How long, I ask.

„About 10 hours.“,

they tell me. I do not know if I’ll be able to survive another 10 hours of bumpy road driving, I say. Then comes a surprising remark: the road to Kolhapur is much, much better than that from Chhandrapur to Aurangabad, they tell me. OK, I think. Then let’s try again the Sleeper Bus. A TukTuk gets me to the office of the bus company for 70 Rupees, where I can buy my ticket. The seller is not particularly friendly, but he does his job. Another guy enters the office. We are talking. The usual questions and answers. I show some pictures from Switzerland.

He is called Tusif and is a technician, or as it is often called abroad “engineer”, which is not really comparable with an engineer in Switzerland – in most cases. Tusif asks me if I want to see his office, which is here in Aurangabad. I do not think to much about it and rely on my instinct.

What else would I have to do?

On his scooter we drive off. He brings the vehicle to a halt in a side street. The office is in a one-storey building, surrounded by a wall, like many houses here. As he opens the door, I a strange feeling hits me. Caution is now appropriate I think. I feel that there are ulterior motives in the game. Which, I do not know yet. The automatic security program starts itself.

He offers me water. I’ve seen how he poured it. OK, I drink it. Now something sweet. The security program says no. So I politely reject it by saying that I do not eat sweets. There could be some substance in there that makes me daze or numbs me. That would be the opportunity to rob me or do something else with me. What is his motivation, my head is trying to find out? What is the intention? Is he just curious, like most of the Indians I’ve been in contact with? No, tell me my feelings, there’s more.

On his laptop he shows me a few e-mails and some of his documents. He works for an air conditioning brand. A little more small talk. Now he wants to know whether I have a girlfriend, or if I am married. I do not intend to tell him the truth. He goes into another room and comes back. I decide not to stay here for a long time. I share this with him and now he asks for a Selfie with me. Ok, I think the normal program in India. But this Selfie is not the usual. He steps towards me, holds up his phone, I look at the camera, and at that moment he presses his abdomen against me.

I am paralyzed and do not react.

He’s taking a picture. Then another, because he is not satisfied with the first. Then he wants to make another one, and again and again he rubs his lower body on my right hip. After the third picture, I say it’s enough. I am freeing myself from him. He wants to make even more selfies, but I do not want that. The time has come to disappear. Slowly my senses come back and I know that I absolutely must get out of here. When he asks me for more pictures I say in a certain tone, no. I can not anticipate my next steps. I am not able to anticipate. I only know that I want to get out of this situation, at all costs. He takes me to the gate. There he tries to touch me again. I dodge out and act as if his action had not happened. Then he asks me if he should drive me to the hotel. Thankfully, I refuse, and start walking away on foot.

Ahh, free, I think. Out of danger. As I walk away, another feeling creeps me. My ego. It says: Why did you not resist with force? Why did you not decidedly push him away or threaten him? I can not find an answer.

Having arrived at the hotel, the thoughts of this situation are devouring me. I try to reconstruct and figure out why I have reacted like I had. For me, I find out that I have a relationship to the use of physical violence in my deepest interior. Hardly ever in my life have I used physical violence against another person. I am too afraid of my own actions. My excursion to my heart puts me back into a situation in the kindergarten when another child hits me and pushes me back. Ever further I step back, but instead of defending myself, I begin to beat myself and say to him:

“Look, I beat myself.”

I do this in the hope that he will stop. My fear of myself and what I could do when I use violence is too great. Just as great as my desire for harmony and peace.

I call Lim and talk to him about it. He tries to help me, and he encourages me. Unintentionally, he also makes the situation funny by spontaneously explaining that he hates Indians because tof their smell and their terrible body hygiene, haha. Later, when someone knocks at my room door, I already know who it is. Him. Tusif. He put on a shirt and brought gifts for me. Now I know exactly what I want. Without hesitation, I briefly explain to him the following:

„You cannot come here. I don’t want your gifts. If you don’t leave immediately I will call the police.”

That’s it. Then I close the door. He goes. Scary enough that he was let into the hotel. Sure, he knew where I stay, since I told him today. After a few minutes, I go to the front desk to explain who this man is and to ask them not to let him inside the hotel anymore. They apologize and the matter is settled.

I am glad when I leave Aurangabad on a bus the next evening. The fear that he could wait for me at the bus terminal, I had. After all, he was there when I bought my ticket. My fear is not confirmed. This was my first experience of this kind. Since then, I have not heard from Tusif again.

PS: since I remember something. Practically all over Southeast Asia there is the chain of 7 Eleven shops or similar. These are small convenience stores, where you can get everything almost round the clock: cigarettes, alcohol, food, sweets, hygiene articles and so on. The practical thing is that you do not have to buy items in different places. We had never found such a thing in India. So I was totally surprised when I found this shop in Aurangabad during a walk. The Indian version of 7 Eleven;) So there is!

That’s it again. Rarely was a blog post of mine so private and so intimate. Thank you for reading!

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