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Dirt and splendour

January 6, 2009

We’ve walked the length of the ghats, beside the Ganges. Strange to think that we witnessed the birth of this vast, slow snake of a river in the Himalayas and then met it again as a teenager in the Kanarli tributary in Bardiya, where we hid in its banks waiting for tigers and spotting mugger crocodiles. It’s all grown up now and if you sit on the stone ghats as I did, you can see all life washing in its filthy waters toxic with heavy metals from the upstream factories. The palaces and temples lining the river are in various states of decay from the decrepit and dangerous to a kind of elegant Miss Haversham-esque decline. The alleyways tentacling into the ghats are teeming with traders of every sort, beggars, vagrants, spiritual seekers and scuzzy tourists like me. Delicious looking delicacies tempt me from every stall and basket and by the time I’ve walked 200 metres I’ve usually eaten something tasty.

I recommend the city to those of a scatological bent: the shit of every kind of beast – cow, dog, cat, boy, man, woman, bird, goat – clogs the narrow pathways in steaming heaps or smears of hazardous skids.

It’s a slow and yet frenetic place and I like it. Also we have hot water in our guesthouse which is something of a coup. I’m so grateful for my fantastic and massive easydry pink travel towel that my lovely colleagues at Nature gave me as a leaving gift!

Today we went on a motorised rickshaw ride 1.5 hours away to the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, to visit some of the researchers and get a feel for how the country is planning to feed it’s enormous and growing populace under the added pressures of climate change. It was a strange place. The researchers seemed sad, unmotivated and uninterested in their work, us and the wider world. I guess it was a scientific outpost in many ways: one scientists told me that there was no need to persist with drought-tolerant cultivation because “India will be fine, the Almighty will provide”. Another told me that climate change is already causing changes, but most of them were good – apples and salads like tomatoes can be grown year-round now, which is great news. I got the strong impression that the researchers’ persistence in working with drought and flood tolerant varieties and genotypes was on higher orders from their parent institute ICAR, and was not entirely a motivation for those in the Adalpura village- based institute, outside Varanasi.

No matter, it was an interesting journey none the less. And tonight we leave on the overnight train for Kanha National Park, which is teeming with tigers – 200 of them!

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