The weekend was a long one. As promised the guys here took the trouble to take me to Mahabaleshwar. They hired a car complete with driver for the day, which sounds glamourous, but works out at about £25. Things are cheap here, including people ; I was told a story of a woman who sold a child last year for 75 rupees (about 90 pence). I read in the Times of India yesterday that some farmers were receiving subsidies of as low as 2 rupees, presumably for the year.
Anyway, I digress
Saturday was fantastic. The drive to Mahabaleshwar was exilerating especially going over the pass out of town. The busy road climbs and winds it’s way up the hill side quite steeply for a few miles. As usual it’s every man for himself, on many occasions there would be a couple of scooters on the inside, a lorry slowly overtaking them, another lorry trying to overtake that, and then us on the outside of a blind bend, on the wrong side of the road trying to squeeze past the rest of them. Everyone is blasting their horns, not in rage, but just to let the others know that they are there and there are clouds of diesel smoke billowing from the lorries.
Further out of town the road gets better and starts to resemble a motorway. There are even white lines down the middle at one point. Gradually the buildings thin out and there’s more countryside to be seen along with the rural way of life. Niren told me that approx 70% of Indians live in rural areas. Eventually we branch off the highway and head for the hills. There are farmers ploughing the fields with bullocks in the same manner that they probably did a thousand years ago. Women walk at the side of the road carrying goods upon their heads and the roots of banyan trees hang low over the road, cut back to let traffic past.
Eventually the car starts the hill climb out of the valley and the views become more extensive. We reach a plateau and travel through villages, stopping for lunch and to take photos along the way. As always there is evidence of extreem povity and extreem wealth. India is like that. We pass straw houses and exclusive bording schools. We stop briefly at a new hotel and take a look at the luxury pool. A vist is made to a local temple built over a natural spring where shiva is worshiped.
Around the edge of this plateau are viewing points, some seperated by several kilometers and few tourists wander around, along with the monkeys, just enjoying the day and the views. Eventually we reach "Arthurs Seat" point and the views are just magical. This is the countryside that I wanted to see.
Eventually time moves on and we have to head home. We stop en-route so that I can take photos of a local farmer and his family ploughing their land. He’s overjoyed and smiles profusely that a westerner has taken his picture. I take the photo of a man driving his bullock drawn cart. Niren & Sanjay say that he will be talking to his friends and family about it for a week and that he won’t sleep that night.
We drive on and maybe half way back to Pune some boys are counting their days takings at the toll booth on the highway. They sell peanuts to passing motorists and make about 75 pence per day. The boys smile with delight when they see my camera flash and pose again. One rushes to grab his father so that I can take a picture of them both. These people are just so friendly.
We drive further and eventually meet the traffic madness of the pass down to Pune….