We made our way, first by Tuk-tuk, then on foot through the grimy backstreets of the Kwatwaria Sara district of New Delhi. We clearly did not fit in here and had to ask numerous times for directions. Where were we going, you might well ask? Well we were on our way to consult a Nadi Astrology leaf reader.
Apparently about 2000 years ago 18 Hindu sages had divine revelations, which they recorded on a series of palm leaves. That is, they wrote down the past, present and future of all humans on old palm leaves!
Eventually we found ourselves at a beauty salon, which seemed to be our address, and just next door we noticed an open door and a small waiting room. With gestures we were asked to remove our shoes and take a seat inside. The man, who seemed to be in charge, asked us some questions in Hindi, but we could make no sense of anything until a friendly man, sitting with his brother in the waiting room, kindly translated for us.

In the waiting room

In the waiting room

The procedure was that the assistant would take our thumb print and name, and with this information, would see if our leaves could be found. We were told that not everyone’s leaf is found, only those destined to know about their records and only when the time is right!

‘By your Thumb – impression (Gents Right & Ladies Left thumb), we predict by seeing ancient palm leaves …about you, your family & future Ups & Downs as accurate and in Detail.’

After our prints were taken in purple ink, we were given a small pamphlet to read. I was astounded to discover the full extent of what a reading would reveal. To list just a few:

* About Brothers and Sisters, Benefits and Problems from them.
* Dangers and Difficulties in life & about the consultants courage in detail.
* Diseases, Debts, Litigation, Enemies when will these problems arise and when will disappear as accurate & in detail
*The Life Longevity of the consultants Father, about getting father’s properties.
*The consultants Life Longevity, How long will be the life, at which period the danger and problem will arise, when death will occur in detail.

The assistant returned to announce Stefan’s leaf had been found, the brothers grinned excitedly at this news. But this was not good enough for Stefan. “Where is it?” he asked.
“He wants to know where it is, he wants to see it?” the brothers translated for us.
The assistant looked slightly annoyed and disappeared again. After 10 minutes he reappeared with what looked like a large closed fan.

Purple thumb prints

Purple thumb prints

Palm leaves with Stefan's destiny

Palm leaves with Stefan’s destiny

He unwound a long piece of rope holding together a bundle of about 50 palm leaves sandwiched between two pieces of wood, and opened it up at a leaf that seemed quite random to us. But this particular leaf, we were told, was Stefan’s. It was covered in a small, ancient Tamil script. As there was no English translator available, he was told to return the first week of December.
“But we won’t be here then. I asked for an English reading when I phoned.” Said Stefan annoyed. “How come they couldn’t predict that they would need an English translator here today.” He said to me disappointed.
“Today No English. You phone.” He was handed a business card with a number written on the back. “That number you say when phone.”
“And what about me?” I asked. I also wanted my leaf to be found. If for no other reason than to say they found it. Once again the assistant disappeared. It was a very tense 15 minute wait!
“He found your leaf too! You very lucky!” said the thrilled brothers when he returned. I too was given a business card with a number written on the back. And for a few seconds I did indeed feel very lucky. Whether we will ever discover the rest of our destiny, I don’t know. But having read through that pamphlet I am not too sure I want to!

It’s better to turn over a new leaf than an old leaf.

NEW DELHI, INDIA: 24-11-2013

We were off to Agra, travelling by private taxi, to see the Taj and a few other tourist traps. I asked our driver to stop at an ATM before dropping us off at the Taj. He obliged by stopping at a seemingly random spot to ask for directions from a neatly dressed man standing on the side of the road. They exchanged a few words in Hindi before the man hopped in to show us the way.
He turned to me to ask if he could accompany us as our guide to the Taj.
I could not believe our luck! You ask for an ATM and they throw in a fully qualified guide to boot.
“No thank you”, I replied with a smile.
“But sir I show you and explain you the wonderful history and treasures of the Taj…” he fired the first volley.
Unbeknownst to him, I was ready to stave off his assault on my right of refusal.
“Do you know who I am ?” I asked, my voice on the edge of indignant.
I gave him a few seconds to stare at me, befuddled by this break of a century old protocol, before I offered him some sweet release.
“I am Doctor Meyer from South Africa, Professor in Indian history and archaeology. I know everything . This is the stuff I teach my students every day.” I said authoritatively, eager to hear his answer.
To my surprise he took this bold statement in his stride.
“Excuse me sir, but at the Taj there’s a long queue for tourist to get ticket, two hours you can wait – but if you go with me, we go in front of queue,” came his quick rebuff.
After many more attempts he eventually gave up and allowed us to continue unguided.


two radiant beauties

Needless to say, when we got out of the taxi we were accosted by a host of guides trying to sell their services, but we evaded them by hopping onto a nearby golf cart and scooted off to the gate, happy to leave them in our dust – for a moment at least.
At the ticket office there were two ticket kiosks, one for locals and one for tourists or “high value” tickets costing 35x the price of the local ticket. There was nobody at all at the “high value” ticket counter, so we quickly bought our tickets, but as we made our way to the security check point we were approached by two young gentlemen who kindly showed us to a table where complimentary water and shoe covers were given as part of the “high value” ticket.
Then the older, smarter looking one proudly showed us his official-looking card and explained how all the other guides who had approached us in the parking lot were fake, and that their services as qualified tour guides were offered free, as part of the “high value” ticket too.
I looked at him with a skeptic grin and asked, “Tell me, how many rupees is free ?” His younger, less-experienced colleague, eager to impress his senior, blurted out, “Two hundred and fifty rupees sir!”.


exquisite relief on the Taj

AGRA, INDIA: 20-11-2013

It was dusk, the streets were crowded, the temples were lit up with multi-coloured lights, and we were pushed and jostled along with the crowds.

Prem Mandir temple, Vrindivan

Prem Mandir temple, Vrindivan

Prem Mandir temple

Prem Mandir temple

Being easily recognisable as tourists, we quickly became the target of beggars and vendors, who desperately tried to strike up a deal with us. Groups of girls stared at Stefan and giggled, begging children clung onto my arms.

It was time to get off this road; so we walked down a shabby, dusty side-alley through a security controlled entrance.
The gardens here were surprisingly well-maintained with neatly cut hedges. The paths were lit by flickering lights and in the distance we could hear a faint melody. We followed the strains of singing voices and the garden opened up into a large lawn where people, dressed in long flowing garments, were seated cross-legged.

Hare Krishna devotees

Hare Krishna devotees

They were arranged in a semicircle around an Indian Guru singing;
Hare Krishna…Hare Krishna…
With nodding heads and serene faces they chanted softly and melodically.
…Krishna Krishna…Hare Hare…
It was such a respite from where we had just been, that I found myself drawing closer.
…Hare Rama…Hare Rama…
Accompanied by a beating drum the Guru chanted and the chorus of devotees  replied.
…Rama Rama…Hare Hare…
The same melody, the same words, repeated again and again.
…Hare Krishna… Hare Krishna…
Like a scene from the from the sixties, all peace and love and harmony.
And as the chant continued, so more and more  joined the group.
…Krishna Krishna…
The volume of the chant swelled.
It was strangely urging, almost addictive.
…Hare Hare…
All I had to do was take off my shoes, sit on the lawn, nod along.
…Hare Rama…Hare Rama…
I could sing the words, the melody was simple.
…Rama Rama…
But my English reserve held me back…

When an hour had passed and they were still “Hare Krishna-ing” to the same tune,
I realised I did just not have the serenity or patience.
I was ready to hit the street again.
…Hurry Hurry…

Calm is one step away from chaos.

VRINDAVAN, INDIA: 17-11-2013

Who would have thought that travelling around India would be more thrilling than any Disney World ride?
After all, what could be more exciting than crossing two lanes of on-coming traffic in a rickshaw, or passing between a truck and a bus while in a tuk-tuk on a one-lane road? How about driving the wrong way up a road at night while watching the fast approaching headlights of a car? That sure can make your hair stand on end!

terror of the tuk-tuk

terror of the tuk-tuk

But that’s not all; add pedestrians (a lot) and animals (a number of species) into the mix. Decorated white cows amble into the road as they please, herds of buffalo’s bring all traffic to a grinding halt, pigs squeal and sprint away and goats seem to be incredibly nimble at getting out the way fast. Many dogs, I have noticed, have only three legs, a testimony of a narrow escape. Camels and horses pulling carts and donkeys with massive loads, compete for space on the road.

Along the dusty fringe of the roads there is a bustle of activity as hundreds of women in colourful sari’s, men in dhoti’s and school children, in spotlessly clean white pants and shoes, make their way between the busy street vendors and road traffic.
Finally add noise; a cacophony of hooters, the rumblings and grumblings of traffic, the shouting vendors and whistling of traffic cops; and you in for one hell of a ride!

rickshaw ride, I'm still alive!

rickshaw ride, I’m still alive!

Tuk-tuk’s are more terrifying than tigers.

VRINDAVAN, INDIA: 18-11-2013