Category: Bhopal


If anyone is thinking about going to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, they should. But be prepared. We have a few tips which might be helpful.

First and foremost, read the volunteer handbook on the BMA website. It’s full of useful stuff!

Getting there. Sambhavna has a ‘H’ after the ‘B’ which you need to pronounce if you want to be understood. If rickshaw drivers and general stand-arounders still give you a blank look, ask for the ‘Peoples Hospital’ on Berasia Road, and turn down the alleyway next to the Reliance petrol station. Or call the Clinic, although mobile phones are very difficult to source when you’re a foreigner in India nowadays.

Don’t think, like we did, that you can walk from the station to the clinic. The map in the Lonely Planet is, as usual, a bit crap – don’t believe its scale! It’s much further than 1km!

When you catch a rickshaw to the clinic from the train station, do not pay more than Rs50. From Pt.6 it should be Rs30. Rickshaw drivers will probably try and sting you (as usual) for up to Rs200.

If you can bring your own laptop, do.  There probably won’t be a computer available during the day, but after 3pm, several become free.

Have patience with the internet, the computers and power cuts. Either you will learn this patience, or you will literally tear your hair out in frustration. Maybe consider taking up yoga…

Because the area is predominantly Muslim and generally conservative, it is frowned upon to wear anything that shows your shoulders. Plus, if you’re a woman, it seems you’re not supposed to ‘reveal’ your bum by not covering it with both trousers/long skirt and long top. I’ve been trying to formulate my responses to this as a blog, I’ll keep you posted…

There is always work to do in the garden. The gardeners are very friendly and it is the kind of job where you can look back in satisfaction at the end of the day and know you’ve completed a whole task (which is otherwise more difficult to achieve).

The water used in the sinks/shower etc is recycled for the plants. Therefore, bring organic body products – e.g. soap and hair wash. You can buy ‘Medimix’ from the local corner shop – but that only works as soap and detergent. It leaves your hair unpleasant.

If you get ill, do not hesitate (as I did) to speak to the doctors. They are more than happy to help. Maybe before that you could consult the gardeners who are a wealth of knowledge on herbal remedies and will surely point you in the direction of various leaves, roots and seeds.

Keep in Shahnaz’s good books! She is a fixer of problems: officially the ‘Librarian’ she does a multitude of things, including coordinating the volunteers. She can always offer work archiving, which is an endless task…

Visit the Union Carbide site. Sanjay can help you out with that for a small fee. He is a very good guide and I would recommend him. Ask Shahnaz for his email address.

If you want help at Sambhavna, you have to ask – otherwise people just assumed you’re getting on with whatever it is that you’re doing. People won’t just offer it, but when you ask there’s usually at least one person who will be able to help. It can be a bit frustrating that no-one really helps, but of course everyone’s busy and if you keep asking someone will eventually have time.

If you have any further questions, post a comment on this with your email address and we will get back to you.

Our shower leaks (yes, at the Sambhavna Clinic we have our own shower, the whole situation is slightly absurd…). This is annoying the part of me that can’t switch off the part of my brain which notices the constant dripping noise, but there’s something that makes this drip much more significant. This is the reason it upsets me. The water in our taps is sourced from Kolar Reservoir and is therefore free from contamination, if not necessarily clean – you drink it filtered. In the midst of mass contamination, much cleaner water is dribbling away down our drain.

I know that Josh already mentioned the lack of both “non-contaminated” and actually clean water in Bhopal in his most recent blog. However, having just read an appalling government report from 2008, approved and financed by the Department of Gas Tragedy, Relief and Rehabilitation (Madhya Pradesh), plus having found out that as recently as November 2009 the State Minister from the same department announced plans to open the Union Carbide site to the public for general tourism with the statement “this is to help people get rid of the misconception that chemical waste inside is still harmful or that chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities”, I wanted to expose some abysmal research, some outright lies, and generally expand on the whole issue a bit more. In other words, this is a rant that for once isn’t by Josh…

The report is called An Epidemiological Study of Symptomatic Morbidities in Communities Living Around Solar Evaporation Ponds and Behind Union Carbide Factory, Bhopal. Let me break down its argument for you. It basically claims that there is no connection between the “toxicants alleged to be found” on the Union Carbide site and people being chronically ill in the surrounding areas. This is due to the toxicants’ “absence in the groundwater”. Despite the fact that all studies after 1996, both governmental and non-governmental, have found that the groundwater is contaminated, these researchers claim that “no cause effect relationship between toxic substances present in Union Carbide premises and morbidities seen in the study area could be established”. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2009 highlights that in the soil, surface water and groundwater, they found the pesticides carbaryl (trade name Sevin) and aldicarb (Temik), mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, dichlorobenzene, trichlorobenzene, hexachlorobenzene and hexachlorocyclohexane. You can probably guess from the names of the latter that they’re not good news – together, the group can cause liver damage, damage immune, neurological, reproductive, developmental and respiratory systems, mess up your brain, screw up your digestive system and generally make people ill. That’s a shortened version of the list. The World Health Organisation doesn’t have a guideline for ‘Total Amount of Pesticides’ in its drinking water guidelines, opting instead for a chemical-by-chemical analysis, but presumably an average of 0.006 ppm, which is 12 times the Bureau of Indian Standard, is a tad high?

I hasten to add that 2009 was not the first time that these chemicals had been found – sevin, for instance, was detected in groundwater in 1994. However, according to the Epidemiological Study, all problems are basically because these people are too poor and too stupid to not get ill. They blame “filth, water fecal contamination, mosquitoes and flies”, which will certainly play a part in people’s ill health, but they absolutely deny any link between the cocktail of poisons in the water and ground and the continued suffering of the people.

Their most astonishing claim is that “it has been observed that some of the local groups are spreading misleading information among the residents of the study area that the toxic substances present in the water are damaging to their health. This statement repeated time and again made the people believe that they are sick and the cause of the sickness is contaminated water.” What a brilliant get-out clause! Put it all down to the placebo effect, and blame the local activists! Presumably the Madhya Pradesh government is part of this damaging smear campaign falsely accusing the water of being contaminated as well, since they had all groundwater pumps in the area painted red in warning? And the Supreme Court must be in on the propaganda too, since they ordered that clean water be provided to the residents of affected communities in 2004? I’d like to add here that the Madhya Pradesh government ignored this ruling until there were two marches across the country from Bhopal to Delhi to demand that they provide water. Josh has already explored how ineffective that has been. In fact, the study itself points out that the Sambhavna Trust did an investigation in 2005 that showed 881,500l of water would be required for a community based on UNESCO standards of water consumption (50l/person/day), but only 151131l were provided by tankers (730369l shortfall). Presumably no more than a fifth of the required water can be being provided even now, with 30 minutes every other day if you’re lucky..? Never fear, though, because the Bhopal Municipal Corporation claims to provide 45.3l per person per day, so it must all be alright! I also presume that as the Bhopal Municipal Corporation consistently claims they provide this amount of water, the people only think they don’t have enough because of these damned activists.

What is more disgusting about the study is that they cite the fact that only a small proportion of those they referred to hospital actually went as proof that they must have not really been ill in the first place. “Out of 150 or so referred persons only 24 visited the hospital”. Obviously they must be making up their complaints if they don’t go to the hospital when referred: why else would they not go? It probably has nothing to do with the fact that few people have the time to visit a clinic if they are having to work a 12 hour day to have enough money to eat, or that people do not have the money to pay for treatments from other hospitals nor for that matter the money to get to hospital in the first place, or that government hospitals have a rather bad reputation here… It’s just these pesky activists duping the stupid locals into telling the valiant researchers that they are ill when they aren’t. Well, I say “they” as though each individual was asked, as you might expect would be the case in a scientific experiment. It wouldn’t be the case that researchers would ask a young boy questions about his mother’s menstrual cycle; that would be absurd. How should he know? If that was standard practice in a study such as this it would probably discount much of what they concluded, right? In any case, “investigators have notice [sic] that the water in large quantity is being wasted” so that’s probably the main problem. If only these stupid slumdwellers would learn, eh?

Sarcasm aside, I just thought I should vent my rage that bullshit like this can come out of supposedly prestigious medical colleges (Ghandi Medical College, Bhopal) – it so obviously serves simply to cover up the stark realities of life here in Bhopal. The most appalling sentences are those which describe the Union Carbide site itself as an idyllic paradise – there are people “enjoying bath [sic] in piped water supply… The area around the evaporation ponds was lush green with local wild grass and buffalos cooling off in the rain water lodged in the solar evaporation ponds”. I wonder whether the researchers would have been happy to “cool off” in the evaporation ponds. More likely they went home to cool off in under their air conditioning after washing themselves thoroughly and changing their clothes because they had been near so many poor people.

This study very clearly demonstrates the ongoing collusion between supposed ‘professionals’ and a government which has consistently secured the interests of itself and of corporations over the interests of its people. In an interview a few days ago, Sathyu said that he thinks the campaign has gone beyond convincing people that there is contamination on the site. Since the CSE report, which hopefully succeeded in setting the record a bit straighter, I really hope he’s right.

Visiting the Union Carbide site

Having spent almost a month in India and the majority of that at the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, my thoughts are confused. What strikes me most is the poverty and powerlessness of the people. This may be highly unoriginal, but it is one thing to read about it and another to be surrounded by it. People live in abject poverty. In Bhopal, it is all the worse due to ongoing consequences of the gas leak and Union Carbide’s subsequent negligence.

Last week we went to the Union Carbide site and on our way there and back we walked through the communities who live a throwing distance from source of the greatest industrial disaster ever. A site that 26 years ago leaked 40 tonnes of MIC and Phosgene (better known as Mustard Gas), as well as at least 18 other toxic gases, killing thousands of people. It is impossible not to feel a cocktail of emotions as we walked through the bastis (local communities). On the one hand, you have to have absolute admiration for these people. They continue to fight come what may. But the problem is, they don’t have a choice. They fight, because the alternative would be to die: something which has become all too normal in these areas.

Resting in the shade on the way back – we stupidly decided to go to the factory during the hottest part of the day – we chatted to some local residents. The government states that the communities around the factory now receive “non-contaminated” water. For those that don’t know, Union Carbide dumped all its toxic wastes in its virtual back-garden: in other words, on the doorstep of thousands of people. They claimed this was totally safe as they put what can best be described as a massive tarpaulin under everything. However, unsurprisingly, this did not work and so deadly toxic waste leaked into the soil and groundwater, leading to the solar evaporation pond (a smart way of saying liquid toxic waste pool) now commonly being known as the ‘Death Lake’. The government currently holds a fundamentally contradictory policy, but the important part is that they toe the corporate line, claiming there is nothing wrong with the ground water or soil. They therefore have not attempted in any way (other than by collecting some of it together in a big warehouse on the site) to clear up the toxic mess. Saying this, after mass public pressure they now claim all the communities now receive “non-contaminated” water. It’s called “non-contaminated” rather than “clean” water because the civil and sewage lines often get mixed leading to obvious consequences. How the government can say any of this when they simultaneously claim the water was never contaminated is confusing. However, from talking to the communities we discovered that the claim that “all communities get water” in reality means that they are meant to receive half an hour of “non-contaminated” water every other day. This week they hadn’t received any. As a result, they go to the old groundwater pumps which years ago were painted red by the government to indicate their contamination, and pump for hours to get the poisoned water to drink, cook and wash in.

As the old women were telling us their stories they also asked us what we were doing here. Which was followed by, “What are you going to do about this situation?” What could we say, “write a blog”? “Make a short documentary”? “Just observe your suffering then piss off back home”? Maybe add to that, “Oh, and no thanks, we don’t want that water you’ve just offered us, we don’t want to be sick like you!”

So what set of emotions does one express? Pity? Anger? Astonishment both at the situation and how they continue to survive..?

Our guide, Sanjay, told us a joke as he was taking us around the Union Carbide site. The day before we had all had to go to the Collector’s Office for a dose of Indian bureaucracy (another blog to come). We were on time, but became late due to someone being “helpful” and so Sanjay (one of the few Indians I’ve met who turns up on time) waited outside for us. While there he spoke to the official bureaucrats who laughed at how little he was wearing given it was “only” 25 degrees. They joked that he must have hot blood, being young and all. He responded claiming, “It’s the MIC, it thickens the blood”. Everyone laughed.

He told us this joke shortly before he told us that on December 2nd 1984 he had a mother, father, 3 sisters and 2 brothers. On the 3rd December 1984 he had 1 brother and 1 sister. Now he just has a sister. This type of story is not uncommon. 25,000 people have now died from the leak, so many people you speak to tell us a similar tale…

On the way out of the factory we spoke to the men who are meant to guard the place, but they recognize that given there are numerous holes in the walls, people will come in and graze their cattle, pick up firewood and dry their clothes. They asked us, How had we found it? What did we think?

What could we say? When Sanjay asked us the same question a few days later, I had an answer: Surreal. What can you think when you walk around what is basically a toxic waste dump covered in trees with even a bee hive in the structure of one of the MIC tanks? How can you comprehend that this actually quite calm place had 26 years ago led to the death and suffering of over 100,000 people? Also, why the fuck is it still here? Other than the last question, it distinctly reminded me of Auschwitz. But when the guards asked us this question I did not know what to say.

The guards told us how they had no desire to work there, but they needed a job. They knew they were getting ill because of working there, something their employer (the state) did not recognize, but what were they supposed to do, they needed a job. They told us how they felt helpless to change anything and laughed when Lorraine suggested their employers should come and guard the place instead of them.

My emotions were only made more complicated when we interviewed some of the victims of the gas leak. I asked them if they were angry at Union Carbide and the government. They responded that they couldn’t be angry as it was “God’s will”. Talking to some of the staff here, it seems that this is a common response. What are you meant to do when someone says this? “No, it’s not God you irrational fool. And if it were why would you believe in such a wicked god?” But it’s not their fault they believe this nonsense. Education is for the rich and they are not rich.

Those that are angry burn effigies of Warren Anderson and want him to be hanged. Compensation they claim will not bring back the dead. It will not stop their suffering. In fact, after they have paid off the corrupt middle-men they employ to write their documents because they are illiterate, it might not do anything at all: they are often worse off. One man we interviewed today told us that those responsible should be brought back to Bhopal and be put in front of the victims, who should be allowed to do what they wish to them. The implications were clear.

Learning the Ropes

The resultant hangover from New Year’s Eve led to a slow first day at the Clinic – luckily everything was closed, so we were free to get to know the place a little better.

The Sambhavna Clinic, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention and haven’t been to our justgiving website (which, incidentally, is here – http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal), is the only place in Bhopal where the victims of the 1984 gas leak can receive free health care. On the 3rd December on that fateful year, 40 tonnes of toxic chemicals including mustard gas burst from its cracked concrete casing in Union Carbide’s pesticide factory. The official statistics of how many were killed within the first 72 hours is 1-2000, but the reality is somewhere between 15-20,000 people. One of the most common causes of death was drowning, as the irritation the gas caused in people’s lungs prompted them to produce sufficient fluids to drown them. In others’ bodies, the blood completely coagulated, causing death presumably by heart attack… The list of excruciating deaths goes on and on.

Yet, as Dr Gupta explained to us when we interviewed her for a documentary we are putting together, the ones who died had it easy, in a way. They don’t have to live with the ongoing pain and suffering that afflicts over 100,000 people in Bhopal.

A haven in the midst of the grim city pollution and the weight of ongoing suffering is the Sambhavna Clinic. Sambhavna can be read two ways – as a Sanskrit/Hindi world meaning possibility, or as Sama Bhavna which means similar feelings or compassion. The clinic offers a holistic approach to healthcare, providing allopathic (western), ayurvedic (traditional methods involving herbal remedies and massage) and yoga.

The way that we initially got involved in the workings of the clinic was through the garden. I think the gardeners were quite pleased to have people swing pickaxes at the ground as it meant they could dedicate themselves to more skillful jobs. Josh found this particularly satisfying as he has been complaining for months about how he is fading away…

We had arrived with several ideas as to what we wanted to do while we were at the clinic, but it seemed a bit arrogant and unrealistic to turn up with a fully fledged plan. So we spent our first few days trying to get to know some people (mainly other volunteers) and figure out a plan. Now we are decided – make a short documentary for the BMA website (www.bhopal.org) about the clinic, write at least one article for publication in the UK (2011 marks the 15th birthday of Sambhavna), continue to work in the garden several mornings a week, and head to the Chingari Trust where children born with physical and mental difficulties as a result of the gas leak spend their afternoons. We’ve also, on an unrelated note, been re-writing an article that Josh wrote (with a bit of my help) previously, for the Plane Stupid e-book to be published some time in the future. Here it is in its original form, for anyone interested – http://www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk/article/plane-stupid-blog-%E2%80%9C-where-would-all-workers-go%E2%80%9D

The body of volunteers here expands and contracts. When we arrived there were 8 of us, and this has now dwindled to 4, though 2 people did come for 3 nights (which doesn’t really count). The youngest, Erik,  was here for his winter break from 6th form college – I was quite impressed by this. Will, the oldest, is a lobbying liberal jargon-junkie. Through his organisation Beyond Bhopal, he has significantly helped in the pursuit of clearing up the Union Carbide site (which might happen in the future), but seems overly committed to working through the EU on almost all issues… Lorraine, the Scot we have already mentioned, previously worked as a nurse in a Glasgow prison. While here she has cleaned the kitchen top to bottom and wants to do community health work while she is here, but secretly wants to go and open an organic yoga/meditation retreat plus restaurant on the beach in Thailand. Ben, the four-layer-wearing-at-all-times (even at 25 degrees) Belgian, has dedicated himself to translating the BMA website into French – an epic task which confines him to a sunless interior (hence the layers). Brenna has just left, but lived here for 5 months helping in the panchakarma (massage) room and documenting plants from the garden. We have already mentioned Adriano, the Italian anarchist, who was only in our lives for a few intellectually combative hours.

We are only just getting to know the staff, other than Shahnaz, the librarian, whom we’ve gotten to know quite well. “Librarian” is, quite frankly, an understatement when you realise how much work she does. Plus, she often finds time to translate for us, which is brilliant.

The library itself is chock-full of fascinating stuff, from a chronology of the disaster up to 2005, through Where There Is No Doctor and community health work books, to multiple newspaper articles relating in one way or another to Bhopal. A whole mine of information.

On Wednesday we were introduced to the way the clinic organises. Friday meetings are generally where this happens, although we were invited to the Wednesday one – people share their ideas, bring up problems and make criticisms. And by “people” I mean everyone, from the managing trustee, to the physicians, cleaning staff and office workers. A different person chairs each meeting, though “chairing” seems far more like “crowd control” as everyone gets to voice their views!

After spending the last few months growing increasingly tired of sight-seeing, and frustrated at our lack of activism, we feel that the next few months (after this we’re headed to Orissa to do research into anti-GM campaigning) the opposite may be the case!

Bhopal: NYE

As usual the Lonely Planet maps wasn’t quite scaled right. We should have learnt this by now, but upon leaving the Bhopal train station we still hadn’t. So after been quoted ridiculously high tuk-tuk prices, we walked to the Sambhavna Clinic. Our first lesson turned out to be that virtually no on knows where the Clinic is! Even when you are at the turning to it. Mental note number one: local media outreach could be better.

In a totally random coincidence, as we walked the final stretch we heard a voice shout in  lovely Scottish accent, “you wouldn’t happen to be Josh and Lucie would you?” It was the woman who had given us our cholera vaccine in the UK – she (we now found out/remembered her name is Lorraine)  had mentioned at the time that we might meet her in Bhopal, but it had seemed very unlikely.

When we arrived, we were confronted by an Italian anarchist, Adriano, asking us if we wanted “anything special from the alcohol shop”. We told him beer would do, but he refused, telling us “that is not special enough”.

We got settled in, had a few beers, which having failed to buy anything special Adriano had brought back, and headed out to our New Years party at Sathyu’s house, who is the managing trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic. Having not really met anyone yet, this was a interesting opportunity to do so – everyone was letting their hair down. Indian dancing, if the performances there are anything to go by, is exuberant and, in the case of the men, surprisingly effeminate.

The majority of our night consisted of talking about politics and in my case particularly about the potential limitations of Anarchism, with the classic reply of “But where has Marxism ever worked?”

Given that since arriving in Nepal, we had only drunk a total of 3 beers, buying a bottle of whiskey was always going to lead to sillyness. Again in my case, this culminated in me peeing (in a toilet) as the clock hit midnight. By my watch it had been midnight about 30 seconds ago, and so this seemed like a good break from ideology discussions.

The journey home, chaperoned by the professor of dark matter at Oxford University, was a bit of a ridiculous affair. We eventually found a tuk-tuk into which the Italian anarchist was bundled to take his 3am train. As for us, the men who had been following us on their motorbike turned out to be people from the party and happily found us transport home.

This was our slap-dash and not very representative introduction to life in Bhopal…

We are now in Bhopal, and need to start blogging about our experiences here, so the places we went to on our way here from the border will be compressed into one blog.

From the border we made our way by bus and train to Varanasi – the holiest place in India. Varanasi is the larger and more famous equivalent to Pashupatinath in Nepal. Our discussion on the different conceptions of life and death can therefore be seen in a previous blog.

We arrived when it was dark, never a good move, and attempted to catch a tuk-tuk, which the Lonely Planet had stated could be dangerous. So when an extra person got into our tuk-tuk we started to get a little worried, which was only exacerbated when they both claimed they couldn’t take us exactly to our hostel, as the streets were to narrow. This, we thought, is the time we get mugged. But it turned out we were absolutely fine, and the extra passenger was just a hopeful guide.

In relation to Varanasi, this was also not the first time the Lonely Planet turned out to be wrong. Reading their description of the town, we expected a manic lively place which didn’t let you breathe. A place where people try every trick to help part you from your money. Going into Varanasi with these thoughts, we were rather underwhelmed. Other than “masseurs” asking to shake your hand and then attempting to give you a 10 second massage which they then try and charge you for, and the almost constant call of “Boat? Boat?”, Varanasi was no different to any other place we had been in relation to touts.

One very nice thing to do there is walk the winding streets near that Ghats, unless you are either trying to get to a certain place, or need to be somewhere on time. Then it’s incredibly frustrating!

Lucie and I both had our first experience of watching four men simultaneously shit. Toilets are a bit of a scarcity, so people resort to shitting on the river bed, which also happened to be the path we were walking on…

We also treated ourselves to a ‘Lovers Breakfast’ at the lovely Brown Bread Bakery. Here they have over 40 different kinds of cheese, as well as cheese fondue, and many things other than cheese, including a ‘lovers breakfast’. 20% of the profits of this place go to school for disadvantaged (i.e. most) children and a women’s empowerment project. The food is delicious and the staff are fairly paid. All in all, totally good.

After Varanasi, we made the terrible mistake of going to Allahabad. The Lonely Planet describes it as “remarkably calm and laid-back”. Maybe they got the texts for Varanasi and Allahabad mixed up? Allahabad is a deeply unpleasant and very stressful place, or at least it was for us anyhow.

When we arrived, we took the wrong exit out of the train station (if you ever find yourself there, take the exist which isn’t the one directing you to “The City”, as it takes you away from the city…) and were met, as usual, by a flock of rickshaw drivers. What was different about this band, was they proceeded to follow us on their rickshaws down the road for over half an hour.

Eventually, after 2 hours, when it should have taken 5 minutes, we made it to the hotel we were aiming for, only to find they had put their prices up to ridiculous levels. After searching around we found all places either to be full or more expensive, so we stayed at the Royal Hotel. Don’t stay there if at all possible. The rooms don’t have glass in the windows, so you can hear everything going on outside, and floor and bathrooms are filthy.

Having planned to stay 3 nights in Allahabad, we escaped after 1 to a lovely little place by the river called Chitrakut. Unlike Allahabad, this was a truly peaceful and calm place, where the people are genuinely friendly.

After having a lunch on the gorgeous balcony of our hotel (the one Lonely Planet recommends), we went for a walk around a pilgrimage site, which connects back to the Nepali story about Ram. This is where he is meant to have spent much of his banishment from Ayodhya and so people now think its holy. In order to do this 5km route, you have to leave your shoes at the entrance, which after repeatedly stepping in monkey shit, we realised might not have been a good idea. Also, upon returning to our shoes, one of mine was very wet…

When we returned from our walk, the manager of the hotel informed us that “another westerner has arrived. He is French. You should take a boat to the Glass Temple with him.”

So we did. His name was Vincent, and he currently works in a school in Egypt teaching French, but the poor bastard wants to move to Aberdeen as he spent a year there during his degree.

Before boarding the boat, we as usual, had to haggle over the cost. What was so brilliant about this negotiation was that the moment one boatman put his price down, the rest, after claiming they couldn’t put their price down, all suddenly started shouting the same price as the man who had put it down. It was like an inverse auction.

Half way through our boat trip, the boatman suddenly claimed he could not take us any further, for reasons we could not decipher from his hand signals. We insisted that, given our agreed price was to the Glass Temple, that was where we wanted to go. He was probably just tired and didn’t want to have to come back down the river in the dark. After several attempts to convince us that it was impossible to reach the temple, we shored up a little way away. The walk there was a but precarious, involving wet feet and lots of mud.

When we arrived, the temple was full of people. At the front there was a man speaking and occasionally singing over a live musical background. People would join in with clapping and singing occasionally, and he would raise and lower his voice. It was either some sort of sermon set to music, or an Indian version of post-rock… The building itself was like a pimped-up Indian or Nepali bus but on a vast scale – mirrored bits and shiny coloured plastic everywhere. We stood intrigued for a while, but eventually our boatman’s desire to leave overwhelmed our desire to stay, and we headed back. More muddied feet and a relaxing night-time boat ride later, we ignored the boatman’s cry for more money than we had agreed, and went to bed. The day was exactly what we needed.

What we definitely did not need was the next day, which was almost entirely grim. One thing we learned was that you should never plan to take more than one train in any given day in India. The day started potentially well – the owner of our hotel pointed us to a great breakfast spot, and then explained that his brother lived in Jhansi, and we could stay with him free of charge! All we needed to do was call him when we arrived in Jhansi and he would sort us out.

The train was not on time: it seems that it is only naive foreigners who would have the foolishness to believe that any train would run on time here. In the end, a journey that should have taken four hours took, including the time we spent waiting from when it should have departed, eight. The only plus side to this experience was that the mother of the family with which we shared our carriage insisted on feeding us when she fed everyone else – we were treated to home made potato and peas with bread. We also had some sort of weird bitter fruit that is served with chili salt.

So we arrived in Jhansi late and exhausted, but hopeful that we might actually meet some more nice people. Waiting at the train station for an extra forty five minutes turned out to be a complete waste of time, however, as the brother of our previous hotel-owner turned up to guide us to an (overpriced) hotel. Which was not what we were expecting. It’s funny, many people we have met in India will gather round to genuinely try to help you, but often it’s with something that you could do much more quickly and easily by yourself! This was definitely one of those times. Another weird phenomenon is that ripping off foreigners is not restricted to people trying to sell you things, but also to people who seem to have no financial incentive to do so – people offering help through translating for us, or just trying to (apparently) help out, often suggest we should pay about ten times what we know things should cost.

The next day, which was New Year’s Eve, we set off for and arrived in Bhopal. So now we’re here. We’ll get on with blogging about this new place soon.

Fundraising Appeal

Now that you’re interested in our journey, we would like to remind you that through our overland adventure we are trying to raise some money for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (www.bhopal.org). We are headed to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal once we get to India.
Please support our trip by giving a donation, however small. We have a modest target of 500 pounds which we have almost reached!
Check out http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

Thankyou!

One of the places we’ll be staying on our journey is the Sambhavna Clinic, in Bhopal, India.

Human-caused climate change is increasingly proving itself to be the greatest environmental and humanitarian disaster facing civilisation. Climate change is the reason that we have chosen to make this journey overland rather than by flying. It is the same profit-driven interests which are perpetuating climate devastation which allowed the gas leak in Bhopal to occur in 1984, killing over 25,000 people and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands. See www.bhopal.org for more details.

The Sambhavna Clinic, situated in the worst affected area of Bhopal, is the only centre offering free and rational treatment to anyone who might need it. The work they do is absolutely necessary and completely incredible.

We will volunteer there for at least a month to offer any help that we can, but we understand that most people do not have the time to offer their voluntary services. Therefore please support us in our low-carbon efforts by donating to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, which funds the Sambhavna Clinic.

Check out http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

Thanks!