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Mexico: A vegetarian traveller's travails - Part III
It would be worthwhile to enumerate those things which appear to stand out as unique to me about Mexico and its capital, Mexico City.

When I received my visa from the Mexican Embassy, a page of instructions was stapled to it. If we had an appointment in Mexico City, then we should arrive at least two days in advance, to get acclimatised to its thin air which was low on oxygen, due to its high altitude (2250 m). On arrival, visitors were not to indulge in any vigorous activity and just stroll around the hotel, for a couple of days. Those with respiratory and cardiac conditions had to be doubly cautious. It was the highest city in which Summer Olympics (1968) were ever held and teams were advised to come a week in advance to get acclimatised.

The air being thin, the exhaust from the cars contained plenty of un-burnt petrol. When the level of petrol in the air approached the flash point, an alarm was raised and all vehicles had to stop immediately, mostly for the whole day! And 'no smoking please', till further notice! Otherwise, the city would have exploded. Only ambulances could ply on the roads.

In 1989, a scheme similar to the 'odd and even numbers' was enforced. After a while, the smart ones bought second cars and defeated the system. Arvind Kejriwal could draw some consolation from this!

Mexico City, like Venice is sinking. A couple of tremors are an everyday occurrence. According to a dream their chief had, the city was built by ancient Aztecs by partially reclaiming a huge lake. The dream dictated that they should keep wandering till they see a lucky omen – 'an eagle sweeping on a snake, wrapped around a cactus plant'! The wanderers had spotted this omen on a small island in the midst of that vast lake. This omen is incorporated in the Mexican national flag, too!

Today, Mexico City has more leaning buildings, than the sole leaning tower of Pisa in Italy! Taking photos of buildings, one finds difficulty in aligning their tilts. The presidential palace and the national cathedral are leaning. A tourist remarked, 'A slanted church, a leaning office building, a Basilica of Guadalupe look like it's about to fall on the bystanders!' Of course, a new residence for the President and a new national cathedral has been built elsewhere.

When it comes to corruption and disregard for the common good, Mexicans are our brothers in arm! The drug lords run a parallel system of their own. Over 30 politicians and a bishop have been assassinated by the drug mafia. In Mexico there is no hypocrisy about taking bribes. Parents are proud, if their offspring occupy a chair that generates 'upar ki aamdani'!

Due to its immense traffic woes, practically the entire Mexico City was turned into a one-way street. If you were in a car, you could go crazy trying to figure how to drive to reach a shop on the other side. However, this was no cause for worry. Just enter the nearest 'no entry' lane and a friendly cop would appear from the shadows. Slip 3 Mexican Pesos into his palm and he waves you off!

When I landed at Mexico City airport, after looking at my passport, the immigration officer told me in Spanish that Mexicans respected two Krishnamurthis very much. I guessed that popular philosopher Jiddu Krishnmaurthy must have been one of them. My Spanish was not good enough to understand, who the other was! A few days later, the locals told me that another Krishnamurthy, an agro-scientist at Mexico University was responsible for Mexico's Crop Revolution along with Dr Norman Borlaug.

Roaming around the city, I found that its classiest residential area was named 'Gandhi'. Mahatma Gandhi's statue dominated the scene. The adjacent residential area is ironically named after the Gandhi-baiter, Winston Churchill who called Bapu a 'naked fakir'!

A striking similarity between India and Mexico is the splendour of Spanish style colonial villas on one end and wretched slums at the other, which stand out in sharp contrast! The common man survives on 'tortillas de maiz' and chilli beans. Very similar to our own 'makke di roti and rajma'!

I was pleasantly surprised to see on the pavements of the fashionable Zona Rosa – Lucknow's 'chikan ke kurte' being sold. And a famished vegetarian like me feasted on the roadside on bhuttas roasted on charcoal fire spiced up with salt, red chillies and grated cheese! What I had not expected to see, half way round the world in Mexico, were the fortune tellers with their caged parrots, picking up cards on which your predestined fortune was laid out – just the way we see it on our streets!

The visibility of Mexican music and dance on the streets and gardens is exhilarating. Early evening, youngsters come out strolling with violins and guitars. The girls in their flowing gowns whirl, performing the flamboyant flamenco dances, with the click of castanets. Any couple, young or old spotted sitting together on a bench on the pavements or in gardens, are serenaded by the street musicians singing love songs. Crowds collect and there is good natured leg pulling of the couple. Their farmaish for any particular love song is readily responded to.

Mexico's rich folk dances and songs are legendary. The national Ballet Folklorico shows are booked weeks in advance. Never saw such a fabulous and joyous show anywhere else. This national ballet also travels around the world. Once in Muscat, Oman it was playing at the Royal Opera House.

The original settlers of Mexico, the Aztecs left behind an awesome trail of pyramids, monuments and artefacts. The pyramids on either side of the Avenue of Death have an eerie air of foreboding, when one realises that atop every pyramid a youth was sacrificed at dusk time, as an offering to the setting Sun God! (see inset)

One weekend we were invited to a hacienda, an authentic Mexican cowboy style ranch. After going around the ranch, we were ushered into a huge gaily decorated hall, with the lively mariachi band strumming away. On a hot summer's day we were famished and thirsty. It was a relief when all were served chilled beer.

Suddenly my eyes lit up! A waiter came out of the kitchen with a basket of huge fried papads. They reminded me of the oversized fried papads sold on the platforms of our Hapur railway station, announcing 'Hapad ke papad'. I told a German colleague sitting next to me, that finally something to suit to my Indian taste buds was on the way!

Herr Saksena don't be daft, they are not your papads. That's fried horse skin!!!

Life was never easy for a vegetarian, who like me has itchy feet!

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