Wednesday, December 27, 2006
After almost smashing the world record for the 500 metre dash with 40 kilos of luggage in transit in Berlin because my connecting plane was 2 hours late, I was ecstatic to see my stunning cousin Jen waiting for me at the airport in zurich with a sign that read WELCOME TO SWITZERLAND KP. I have always wanted a sign like that to be waiting for me and my first impressions of Switerland shpowed me that dreams can come true.
Jen's gorgeous face beamed as I approached and we chatted all the way to her apartment in Zug, a small fairy tale town on a picture perfect lake back dropped by mountains outside of Zurich.
Robbi, Jen's husband was picking up their brand new car and when we got home we went for a spin in their white Land Rover Defender, every boys dream come true.
Jen is one of the most thoughtful and generous people i know and she had prepared for my stay complete with a teddy bear, chocolates and hidden pre Christmas presents under my pillow... it was so nice to be home!
Friday, December 15, 2006
I arrived at Budapest airport very keen and excited to see an old friend from Oxford, Mark is living in Budapest at the expense of his London law firm who sent him to Hungry on secondment.
We met near the Opera House on Andrassy Uta (the Champs Elysees of Budapest, and spine of down town Pest, a street filled with designer boutiques and stunning Christmas lights).
The Callas Cafe was stunning, gorgeous high ceilings, white tiled interior and dark wood furniture. I ordered a traditional Goulash soup, it came with a thick layer of grease on the top that kinda just floated there but was delicious.
Afterwards, Mark showed me to his palatial apartment and I mean PALATIAL, it was a real treat with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Opera House and more rooms than one single person ought to have.
That night, Mark and I arranged to go out for dinner with his friend, another English lawyer also living in Budapest on secondment. We went to a stylish restaurant called Mokka and I proceeded to have the wild bore, compared to the nasty pictures I have seen on the net subsequently the pig taste quite gentle.
That night, after dinner Mark delivered some chocolates to his friend and had a night cap despite saying he would return home, he spent the night and I was left in the palatial apartment by myself. I awoke several times convinced that the phantom from the opera (from across the road) had decided to haunt me instead. The apartment made more noises than I remember any other home letting out. The heating rattled like an old train, and the light fitting in my room was broken and several times I was a woken to my light flashing on and off quickly.
The following night, Mark and I ate at Menza, a funky restaurant that you could be forgiven for thinking was in London or Sydney. I was surprised to see how sophisticated and global Budapest had got in the five years since my last visit, gone were the preforming monkeys at the train stations, the weary looking faces and run down apartment blocks, replaced with a city on the brink of prosperity. Chain stores were in abundance, the same stores that line the high street in every European city, H&M, Zara, Clinique and top shop are on every corner, I also notices an abundance of cranes, perhaps on vacation from Berlin an indicator of the enormous growth and development that had been stimulated through Hungary's inception into the EU.
The next night, Mark and I went to the ballet at the Opera House and I dressed up a treat, we saw the Nutcracker and for a few hours I was back watching the Bolshoi ballet at the Sydney Opera House with my mother aged 5, memories came flooding back, a good sound track always does that... well done Tchaikovsky.
Afterwards, we decided to have dinner at Menza again (because it really is that good) and Mark went back to the office to do what corporate lawyers do best... and called me later to say he was leaving the office.
Mark was late and in typical KP fashion, I managed to strike up a conversation with three empowering and wonderful women sitting near by. The women were great value and consisted of a publisher from Melbourne, a forgien news correspondent from Germany and a photographer from New York.
Together we drank glass after glass of red wine and had a wonderful night.
The girls I met at the bar were angels to me and they spent the next 4 days showering me in attention and friendliness which is good when your host is a corporate lawyer with little or no free time.
Bianca even asked me to do a photo shoot, Palma took me to the Christmas markets, Mags engaged me in good old aussie conversation. It was an unforgettable week.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Once when I was there I counted 20 cranes in a single photograph. I love cranes. Sometimes I wish I was one and at other times I feel like I am one, especially when travelling alone and watching life at a distance.
Cranes are Berlin to me, though this time when I was there I did not spot any, I am sure they are still there, somewhere, I just wasn't looking.
My European brother Goetz picked me up at the airport. I loved seeing his 6 foot 5 frame smile at me from the gate. He picked my bag up like it was a feather.
We walked towards the car and I did what I have done every time he has picked me up at the airport... I went to sit in the drivers seat by mistake, he motioned the keys towards me and together we laughed ... he had got me again and this time I was travelling there from Europe.
The air was cold on my cheeks and made my nose go red. I watched as little puffs of white air escaped everytime I breathed. We talked the way two people do when they have not seen each other in 5 years, sentences poured out that were rarely finished.
Goetz drove quickly to an amazing apartment in Kliespark, an abundance of light and space straight from a magazine greeted me when we turned the key. It was mine to house sit whilst my European sister Linda's travelled around Pakistan.
Afterwards at my request we went straight to my favourite bar (maybe in the whole world), The Slumberland near nollendorf platz, a bar where the entire floor is covered in sand, the walls are lined with kitch pictures of Jamaicans and Africans with afros doing 1950's and 60's hair commercials.
The girl behind the bar gave me a double take, it was Dianna the same bar tended from 2001 (actually she has worked there for 13 years), she almost jumped over the bar and gave me a massive hug and kiss. Welcome home and what are you having was all she had to say.
Tired from a early start to the day I planned just a quiet drink or two, soon the bar began to fill with more old friends and before I knew it I was being shouted drinks from all corners. 3 am came and went and somehow I managed to slide of my chair, avoid the sand pit and stumble home.
I love the fact that Berlin is the land of the late drinkers and rather large beers.
The next night we went to a club called 'tobe', we met in Krutzberg and headed to the mitte (pronounced Mitter.. it is East Berlin) where the air was kinda hazy and the music was bob Marley, reggae and dance hall.
After drinking countless vodka shots followed with becks chasers it was not too long until KP was dancing like no one was watching.
I noticed that people dance differently in Europe, it is something I have thought before but could never put my finger on... I think that people use their lower halves more... if that make sense?
To be continued.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I have become so used to the load that I only wince a little bit when putting it on.
Back in the comfort of St Sulpice, which I found out is one of Paris' best addresses I watched Rachel's comic surprise when unloading my shoes... you brought that many she said, her tone part shocked part disbelief as I admit ed my indulgence, vanity and the like.
I have never really been a big shopper, my father would disagree but extravagance does not come easy for a girl who had holidays spending 3 and half months ruffing it in Asia, but they were all so beautiful I felt that it would be a crime not to take them home.
Afterwards, Rachel told me that when Sex in the City was filmed in Paris, our petite apartment was filmed in one of the street shots.... laden with more shoes that I care to admit, perhaps I was the real Carrie Bradshaw!
That night, Rachel arranged for us to met some of her friends from university, an intelligent Ivy League group with whom I debated American foreign policy and the recent US election results with, it felt more like a discussion from home and certainly nothing which I encounted on the back packing circuit.
We went to a little French bar, that was quaint and the perfect place to sample some vino, the wine was delicious and as we sat at the bar we watched out the window as a very handsome guy wearing a beret and carrying a baguette walked past (honest truth!!)... I felt the urge to run him down with my camera, the epitome of Frenchness to me but I stopped when I realised how agitated the French can get about things like that.
The next day, the weather was terrible, my plan to go running along the seine was cancelled when we stepped outside and felt the bitterly cold wind against our cheeks and the torrential rain on our heads, instead we went to the local market and fromagery and made soup and salad at home and laying in bed and reading the news.
That night we met up with Aurile another old house mate from Abercrombie Street, and went to a postcard perfect street in St Germain for some more wine, she was as beautiful and charming as I remembered and we caught up about old times living in redfern which seemed such a world away from my existence in Paris.
The next morning Lisa arrived from China and unable to sleep (I was too excited), I bounded out of bed at 5 am and set about getting ready to met her at a famous french cafe where Hemmingway used to hang out near St Germain.
I arrived at the cafe very early, the croissants still in the oven and was asked to come back a few hours later... I wandered Paris' dark back streets, illuminated by the moon and the odd street light and was happy to be alive.
When Lisa did rush into the cafe I was overjoyed. Matt (her lovely boyfriend/live in lover) looked very french in his kangol cap and together we set about seeing some sights. I played tour guide and together we walked every street in Paris, kilometre after kilometre until we were all so tired we felt like we would drop.
That night I met up with another old flatmate (are you sensing a trend.... 3 people I have lived with now all reside in St Germain... umm a coincidence or something more?). Dave took me to a great crepe shop and I indulged in goats cheese and salad (on a crepe) and good old fashioned nutella... makes my mouth water at the thought.
I was sad to leave Paris, my name sake city uncertain of when I would return but so happy to have had the chance to see so many old friends.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I love Barcelona, it is as simple as that!
In 2001 when my Dad and I were there it was amazing and I have always wanted to go back a little wiser and sample some of the nightlife and the shopping.
I did both on this trip, and can't wait to go back again in summer.
Barcelona buzzes, it is an electric place full of vitality and dynamism.
I stayed in a backpackers hostel which was completely bizarre, in India I stayed mostly in hotels and homestays and the be back in a dorm felt like going back in time.
The hostel was very clean and funky and it was here that I met a group of 20 year old Australians who reminded me of me 5 years ago (ok 6), I felt so old in their presence that I nicknamed myself grandma.
It was interesting talking to them but not soulful (I can blame India for that line), they said things like
'I would never go anywhere by myself because then you wouldn't see as much' which forced silent indignation to rise within me and made me want to say.... wake up, but I didn't.
For most of the time, I just walked aimlessly around the old streets and tried to get lost and I decided not to take any photos but instead to start charcoal drawing.
It was fun getting my hands dirty (reminded me of Asia) and whilst I am no Picasso I just loved trying to be.
I know that whilst you can't be good at everything you can have a darn good time trying to be..
I will photograph my artworks and put them on flickr (as long as you promise not to laugh at how bad they are!)
Monday, November 27, 2006
After drinking until the wee hours of saturday morn, I awoke on sunday hungover but excited about my impending trip to Paris.
Bleary eyed and with head throbbing I left my friends house in the docklands and headed back to
the airport. I was craving a hamburger and was certain with 3 hours to spare there would be ample time to sample some of london's delicious takeaway enroute to my namesake city.
I was overwhelmed at chek in- the airport seemed to be in apparent chaos and I made my way to the end of the longest line in the history of lines...
Tempers flared and I watched an arab man push ahead slightly only to be confronted by a burly brit whop said 'in our country you don't do this', 'you arabs should respect our land etc etc,' I was appaled.
It seems that impossiable lines bring out the best and worse in peorple, the lady behind me was irrate, the pushy americans were just that... and me with my horrendous hangover just smiled at my good fortune at being able to begin another adventure.
My smile faded when a mother of four was forced to the end of the line by BA staff who said NO ONE (and that means no one) gets a short cut, I raised my voice on this point and said how can you expect a mother to line with 4 young children for hours.
Needless to say my flight was delayed for 4 hours for apparent bad wheather (even though there was not a cloud in the sky... true)
On arrival at Paris, my prebooked airport shuttle rejected me (as my flight was delayed) and I was left stranded but almost in Paris.
To be continued
The driver was very enthusiastic and provided me with commontry on the sights we were passing... over here, you see we have the Notre Dame, this here is St Germain and to your left we have the Sorbonne.
It was magic.
On arrival at the flat, I bounded up the 6 flights of stairs and found Rachel studying in her petite (it is Paris) studio apartment. Sun drenched (by day) and bright it felt like home immediatly and we quickly got to making tea and talking about the last year of our lives....
Rachel is one of my typical over achievcing friends who is studying a MA at Columbia in NY and on exchange in Paris. It was wonderful.
The next day I decided have a delicous chocolate crossoint for breakfast before settling into the main task at hand... shopping. I went to visit some markets I had been to 5 years earlier with Lisa in Momarte and wandered the streets riffiling through old treasures and antiques before settling on a little black dress that had Paris sewn into the label.
In the afternoon after visiting some sites I sat in a cafe and had the most incrediable salad with warm goats cheese and watched Paris walk by, I felt consumed by the city and it felt like I was watching a live film; Ladies with poodles strutted; men with baguettes were in abundance and; Olivier Martinez lookalikes everywhere.
It is my third visit to Paris and it is offical, I love the opulance and the extravagence that is this city; from the food to the fashion. It provides such a contrast to my beloved India (which I miss.. a lot) that I can't help but be enthralled.
Friday, November 24, 2006
She looked Indian, was attractive in a middle aged kinda way with a dark brown bob and round rimmed glasses.
She was eagerly reading 'how to have a perfect life in 30 days' by the best selling author of ' 'The monk who sold his Ferrari'. What kinda person would ever pick a book like that?Silently, I tried to contimplate the answer to that million dollar question as she exchanged the book for the horoscope section in Ok magazine.
My flight was good and aided by the fact I was upgraded into relative comfort. The plane landed early and I watched the sky, it seemed to make a patchwork pattern and looked like a blue and grey chessboard.
Walking though the areobridge gave me shivers, it was 6 degrees outside and a long way from sweltering India, I wrapped my scarf around me extra tight and set off into the microcosm that is Heathrow.
The gent at passport control was unseasonably jolly giving me tips on how to make it in London. I smiled.
I walked slowly and purposely into the arrivals lounge and remembered back to Love Actually and watched euphoric couples reunite and I looked around for the imaginary sign that might bare my name and laughed out loud when I saw a sign for Peter Crouch (my trivia team alter ego).
Next, it was time to buy my tube ticket, the guy at the desk was so friendly he had me laughing out loud as he officially welcomed me to London. I mused whether every one in London had taken happy pills?
People parted as I boarded the train, I wondered if I smelt that bad and an Irish man remarked on how light I travelled, his sarcasm was not lost on me. My back pack was given a badge of honour at check in and was labelled with a bright orange sticker that said heavy 25 kilos.
How did I carry it around?
It felt like a homecoming of soughts and as the train speed along the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith I remembered how much I loved London. As I sat trying to remember every second I admired autumn's left overs; there were countless trees with golden and auburn leaves glowing against the greying sky.
I had arrived.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
It ended as it begun.
Today whilst walking through a market I suddenly felt tears crawl up my throat and I had a little cry.
The tears fell for no real reason except I was hot, flustered and sick of people giving me the wrong directions and pretending they don't understand when I say things like rickshaw, taxi and bank!
Today is my last day in India and despite feeling a little sad to be leaving I am excited to commence the next adventure that is in store for me.
It's funny to think that only a few days ago I spoke of my ability to understand India but being here in a big city(an ugly city at that) I realise there are so many things that I just don't understand and never will and perhaps it was arrogant for me even to think that I had.
Yesterday, on arrival at my hotel after my taxi driver got himself lost and I utilised my Lonley Planet map to direct us (yes me directing a taxi in India), my driver decided to follow me into the foyer pretending to assist with my bags (he watched me carry them).
When I asked how much for a single room the price seemed expensive so I informed them of my intention to leave. The taxi driver looked forlorn and on exit I firmly stated I will not stay anywhere where people pay commission ( when someone takes you to a shop/restaurant/hotel they expect a fee) especially not to the worst taxi driver in all of India.
Suddenly the driver giggled and nodded his head which to me and you means no but here where everything is reversed means yes and said 'can you pay me more money then', I laughed in his face, I couldn't believe the audacity of the taxi driver who got us lost asking for commission then a tip and I looked at him and said blankly 'I paid the fare already'. I decided to go somewhere else.
Suddenly the manager followed me and the room rate went down by half, 'sorry madam, what are we to do, he asks for commission' and I replied 'why don't you just tell him to get F%$#ed, you are in the Lonely Planet, he doesn't even know where your hotel is and you think to reward him'.
This is a typical Indian conversation, they tend to go round in circles for ages and given Indians wag their head for yes usually someone gets confused.
Other things I don' get are banks that don't change money, travellers cheques or forgien currencies, Internet cafes without Internet, black coffee with milk and sugar, and Parrys corner without an apostrophe.
I know I will look back on these last 6 weeks and cherish the memories and the good friends I have made, I can easily identify the moment when the Chai wallah debated with my friend Joel on the train that I first saw an India to adore, but today when it is hot and everything is hard I am happy to be going so I can order a steak (2 months of vegetarianism is killing me).
On reflection, the thing about India is that it wants to continue to surprise you, just when you think you hate the place something incredible happens, something more beautiful than words and when you get lulled into this beauty the ugliness rears its head.
When I look back at my entry Mother India I am filled with joy for all that has happened from then until now has put me back together and despite my tears this morning I am confident that I am a stronger and wiser for the experience.
Monday, November 20, 2006
I never thought this 'gift' would come in handy but at beach side resort of Varkala a cliff top town in Kerela with beatuiful scenery, scores of palm trees and massive surf.
It was here i plyed my trade learnt how to utilise what I had to become the most popular girl at the party.
The music was loud and fantastic, the Kerela coffee house was putting on a party and 3 cousins from the country were entertaining us with their guitar, bongos and voice.
They started the set with a fantastic rendition of 'chai chai coffee coffee' a song about train travel that included 'your train may come on platform one, two three four or five' and my personal favourite 'The express service is running approximately 5 hours late'.
After 4 large kingfisher beers (long necks) I was in the mood for fun and when an Indian guy noted me pretending to read the palm of an Aussie girl from Brisbane he shouted to the whole bar 'she is an astrologer', shots of please read mine, read me please echoed around the room' I tried to protest the assertion about my ability but the look of joy in their eyes was too much to let down.
Soon there was a line as long of about 10 people. I joked that I required payment of 10 rupees per palm and some seemed to want to pay it until I refused and said i was joking.
I did not want to let my faithful done and made up what I thought they wanted to hear or at least something that was as interesting as possible.
Each and every reading was completed with the Indian stating 'you are so right, you are gifted' or something similar and I laughed out loud. I noticed that everyone tried to apply my forecasting to their own lives and when I said to one
'you went away from your family both physically and emotionally for a time but then you returned' he looked at me in awe 'yes, I went on an excursion to Bangalore once, you are very good to notice this' his earnest reply was beautiful and made me feel bad.
It was a fantasic night and a good way to spend a saturday in lazy Varkala where I had spent a week reading and swimming and lying in the hammock that adorned my bamboo hut. What a life.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
On arrival at the bus station I was shocked to be shown to the bus that would be taking me to Munnar, a hill station about 4 hours from Cochin. The bus was ancient, older than I am without windows and looked like it was about to fall apart. It was red in colour, with piles of paint peeling off and filled with local people doing their local thing.
As I fought with my luggage to negotiate the doors, eventually I made my way in and sat behind a lovely Swedish/Norwegian couple. The bus started to fill up but no one came near me and I sat in pleasure reading Shantaram and thinking about all the moments I have had in India that had lead me to this.
The seat was old and had no padding but it seemed to evoke a romanticism within me and I looked out the window and smiled. I was amazed that the journey had brought me to this point and that in 10 short days my European romp would begin in earnest.
There are so many things about India that I love; the people; the expressions and the scenery are amazing.
I remembered back to the first time in Varanasi I heard a homeless kid tell me
'No Chai you die'
'No hurry, no worry, no chicken, no curry'
'No water, No shower, full power 24 hour'
and laughed out loud at the turn of phrase that is now synomous with India for me.
I remebered back to my first day in Delhi when shopping got the better of me and I burst into tears just by going to the bazaar. How much India has changed- or is it me that has changed?
I also recalled the first conversation I had with someone that involved the questions I can now predcict at 50 paces. The conversation I have had more times than I can count.
Indian: Tell me, what is your good name?
I: Where are you from?
I: Ricky Ponting?he's a good player yes?
I: And tell me are you married?
KP: Yes (gesturing to my pretend wedding ring) my husband is in Australia
I: And why he leave you so beautuful to be in India alone?
KP:He has to work and he has been here before?
I:And tell me do you like India?
KP:yes? (turning to leave)
After 3 and half hours of thoughts interupted by loud honking and treacherous corners the road trip became amazing. This time when the driver sped around corners they reveled magical vistas and a fairy tale landscape rich with the lushest greens that previously I thought you could only imagine.
Munnar is a tea town and it is surrounded by tea stations and post card panoramas. The city itself is fairly drab with ramshackle roads and the usual touts, scouts and bazaars but is charming in its own way, spectacularly positioned above the clouds.
The tea stations are high and set at above 2500 meters, the next day when I hired a rickshaw I felt superhuman wandering along roads and watching the clouds weave their way around me.
When I was walking through the ambient surrounds I delighted in spotting a heard of wild elephants with their babies in the distance and realised that Munnar could be as close to heaven as I ever get. I felt completely inspired being there.
Later on at my favourite meeting place (the net cafe) I met 2 English med students called James and Ed. They were in India working in a hospital. On the discovery of their training, Ed tened to my leech bite and reassured me that I was not going to die.
Immediately, I liked them both and arranged to go out drinking with them later that night.
After drinking more than my share in a bar where I was the only women and perhaps the only women that had ever been there I headed home.
The next day I went back to the bus station and got back on the local bus to Cochin to make my way to Varkala. I was interupted by two girls in school uniforms that asked where I was from- Australia, I replied and they skipped away giggling, their long plaits waving behind them.
The trip was pleasant but the thought of travelling back to where I'd been didn't imbue the same type of magic it had when I was on the bus the first time, destination unseen. And then a little more of India's magic hit me and I relaised that it is when we feel we are moving forward that we can really understand the past and everything that happened until that point.
The trip back to Cochin seemed to take forever and I also understood that sometimes it is the destination that matters.
Epilogue- After 6 weeks in India, I fear I may be suffering from enlightenment syndrome, a condition usually effecting rainbow tourists who come to India with the mission to find themselves. It can occasionally mildly effect other more cynical travellers (like myself) who doubt it's existence and it's symptoms include to writing flowery and poetically as though the sufferer is possessed with love and inner peace.
Friday, November 10, 2006
As I walked down the steps of the aircraft, I was deep in conversation with an Indian family I had met on the plane, they were concerned that I would have to pay for a taxi to Fort Cochin, instead they wanted me to accompany me them in the car that had arranged to met them.
I felt guilty to take them out of their way, as I was certain they were only obliging for my satisfaction contrary to their pleading that it was actually where they were going. Indian hospitality is like that, people seem to want to go out of there way to help.
Without knowing if this is certain I think that people's faith rests with some sought of karma that is increased when you do good deeds for others.
I am reading an intersting novel at the moment that talks about the heart of India and describes the country as one with spades of love and compassion and whilst I agree that this is a fair assertion, it feels disconcerting to me given the raw poverty and suffering that obviously exists.
My refusal was eventually accepted by the family with decorum and good grace and I left them after they gave me their phone number and contact details promising that if anything happened to me I would call them immediately.
In the taxi I was amazed to see us pass a sign that said 'Parry's Corner' could this be true, deep in India's south was there really an area that bore my name. I made a mental note to investigate in the morning.
I headed to the Sonetta Residency on Princess Street and arrived to met the charming Mr Singh, he was aged in his mid sixties and wore black rimmed glasses that made him look like an aged Buddy Holly Indian style. His greeting was warm and friendly, he was epically pleased to have an Australian in his house for his two sons lived in Cairns.
Settling in with a cup of tea and a photo album, Mr Singh showed me pictures of his trip to Australia in 1996. My eyes were tired but his enthusiasm and love of my country was catching and I felt not to oblige him would break his heart.
As we sat and night fell, Mr Singh told me of his wife death a few months earlier and I felt that I knew his pain.
The next morning, I awoke later than usual (the frightening hour of noon) and headed to a nearby cafe. It was filled with artistic types and a TV crew that followed me order my omelet and then proceed to film me eating it. I am starting to think that maybe I am really famous here?
Afterwards I set about exploring the fort, a strange name considering I saw no obvious signs of the forts existence. I walked alone the shore and past the Chinese fishing nets and was greeted perhaps a little too friendly by some locals, they called me to sit and talk with them instead I keep walking content with my own company.
I took few photos instead just wandered aimlessly through the streets stopping to admire the churches and feel the European vibe the place omits in spades. Some of the buildings are covered in vines and worn paint peels off.
After covering the fort in my small walking tour I decided to have an early night and get up bright and chirpy for my backwater tour.
Sleep evaded me that evening and I was extremely grumpy and irritable by morning time. It was not Cochin's fault of course, instead I closed my eyes and was anxious about my trip to England just like I was about my trip to Asia only months before.
For fans of God of Small Things-
If you visit Cochin you begin to understand how Arundhati Roy could write with such delicacy and description in the God of Small Things, whilst I was never the books biggest fan I did appreciate her ability to manipulate language and the obvious smarts she possessed to make writing with color and flair seem easy.
I grew to love and despise Arundhati at the same time after reading the novel but after a stay in her heartland, I began to understand that her ability was obviously natural and raw but helped but a surrounding that is intrinsically beautiful.
Cochin makes that apparent.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Getting of a bus in Mumbai feels like you are getting into a swimming pool of your own creation. With 1 million percent humidity within seconds I was soaked, my skin shone and felt like it was melting of my face.
Being one of the most populous city in the world is no mean feat. It was surprising to hear that Mumbai comes in at third on a world rankings list because it is BIG.Seriously BIG.
Arriving into the city can take hours by road, just when you think that you are about to arrive and you are nearing the center the bus makes another turn down a road that is busier than the previous one. It almost feels like all roads lead to nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The streets are mainly filled with bumblebees, Mumbai's extensive taxi fleet. I'd estimate the cabs outnumber ordinary vechiles by 3:1.
Getting of the bus at Dadar, I quickly hailed a cab to take me to Coloba, backpacker central Mumbai style. Coloba is located at the southern tip of the city and is filled with gorgeous architecture, wide boulevards, monuments and the beach.
My taxi driver dropped me at my hotel and I struggled to manage all my bags, they seem to be getting heavier at every stop at last weigh in I am officially carrying over 1/3 of my body weight and fear I may soon turn into an ant.
With out even taking one step on the footpath a Bollywood agent approached me and requested me to act as an extra for a shoot the next day. My role to dance in a night club scene.
Already having experienced acting in the Indian film industry and keen to procure tickets to the cricket final the following day I declined his invitation which promised 500 rupees free lunch and transport and concentrated on how I would get to the cricket and watch Australia win the ICC tournament.
I ate diner at the famous Leopold cafe, an institution in Mumbai recently made famous by the thrilling and enthralling Shantaram, one of the most veraciously read backpacker novels for India.
Keen not to make the same mistake as I did when meeting the English cricket team (not being able to recognise all of them), I spied a group of West Indian looking athletes and approached to see if they were in fact the West Indian cricket team, alas they were buff Tunisian students and I felt like a racist.
Minutes later the restaurant began to hive with activity as none other than our own Gilly walked in. I found out that they were staying next door to my hotel at the Taj Palace.
By next door, I mean across the road and whilst their hotel is the most famous in the entire city, with a reputation built on the sheer beauty of the building and the opulence inside mine was falling down (perhaps would be condemned in Australia) and smelt like something dead.
The following morning I ate breakfast at Leopolds and met Dan from Dorset, a gorgeous English guy who was keen to attend the cricket on my terms. Following my instruction he quickly changed his shirt and put his Australian colours on and together we went off to the ground to procure tickets.
With India out of the finals there was nothing to fear and we managed to get some cheap seats right in the centre of the Indian fan base.
Immediately the Indians started chanting 'Aussie suck, Aussie suck' as soon as they saw my flag and I began to fear I might get lynched. The energy and enthusiasm the Indians give cricket is nothing short of amazing. They cheer and scream at anything and everything and have so much vitality it is catching.
Dan acted as my personal body guard and entertainer for the entire day. At times he was more into the Australian team than I was and he wore my flag with pride. I wondered who he would support in the ashes and whether the experience of attending a cricket game where your team wins would make him change sides... history will be the judge.
The following day, with no Dan to entertain me (he left to fly down under to attend the ashes)I went sight seeing,. Mumbai is beautiful and not just the every day kind, as a city it has the ability to stun you and leave you wanting more.
The boulevards are wide and it feels like Europe (in a heatwave). The building are mostly art deco and massive trees provide shade to pedestrians. Red double decker buses fill the roads and if you close your eyes and open them quickly you might just feel like you are in England (for a second).
Saturday, November 04, 2006
After one of the longest bus rides since bus travel was invented I arrived in Pune (pronounced Poo-na).
Pune is an innovative city that currently stands at the front of India's tech boom, it is famous for two things; firstly it is currently home to Brangelina whilst Miss Jollie films her latest flick on the sub continent and; because it hosts a famous ashram that promotes sex as a way to attain enlightenment.
Trying to find a rickshaw on arrival was a nightmare, the rain was pelting down and the pavement looked like it was steaming, I stood on a darkened high way trying to hail anyone who would load me and my 30 kilos of luggage and take me to the Indian Institute of Film and Television.
Eventually an old man stopped in a rusty old rickshaw, initially I was scarred to get in but with no better options I took the plunge.
After getting sufficiently soaked (to the bone) I arrived 9 hours late to Kush's house, an old friend from Sydney who is currently completing a Master in India.
On arrival at his room, Kush's face lite up and i was so glad to be in an embrace with an old friend.
I explained the bus debacle and curled up on the foot of his bed desperate for sleep but dying to talk with a familiar face and friendly voice.
We were soon joined by Kush's Indian friends, a charismatic group who were keen to show me their hospitality and indulge my questions that centered on relationships, love, sex and caste Indian style.
The conversation brought many revelations for me, it short; it was implied that Indian men and women do have sex before marriage; they do pick their own wives and husbands and only if they are desperate do they resort to parental choosing and; caste does still matter.
The conversation had some awkward moments and one boy said 'you'd be surprised Kathryn, in India we are quicker at some things than you are in the west', I was stunned.
The next day, Kush had class so he entrusted me to an Iranian friend called Jazz. From Tehran, Jazz was a student about to abandon his IT studies in Pune and move to Malasyia. Jazz had lots of time on his hands and a super fast motor bike.
First he took me past the sexshram, where I saw an interesting mix of people wandering round the neighbouring streets dressed in maroon robes. 0
Some of the people looked young and passionate whilst others looked like old and impotent and like they were still hanging onto the 1960's with grey dreads down their backs.
Afterwards we wandered the streets looking for a hairdressing salon, I was desperate to be done with my light brown hair that seemed to be fading blonde. Sceptical at first(and rightfully so), I spent an exorbitant sum (for India) which resulted in my hair turning black.
At the suggestion of one of Kush's friends, we decided to dine at a Bengali restaurant (Bengal is a region in India which surrounds Calcutta famous for excellent cuisine) and ate curry with our fingers, the curry stung as it seeped into the many small wounds India managed to inflict upon me.
Soon my fingers were brown and I delighted in licking the left overs off.
The following day, one of Kush's friends from film school requested I take the starring role in her small production. As a westerner on campus I discovered what a novelty I was and spent the afternoon in make up and trying to act my part.
We can safely say that the Oscar for best Westerner/come Indian is safe for another year. I spent hours trying to master the art of the hand curl and realised that the grace that Indian women posses is pretty much impossible for a girl from Sydney's sprawling burbs to master.
Friday, November 03, 2006
The smell of petrol and burnt rubber is overpowering, it tickles the back of my throat and my hand throbbs.
I am on a bus from Udaipur to Pune via a bus change in Mumbai (Bombay). I fear I may have dislocated my thumb when it was jammed in the window.
The bus grinds to an unexpected halt, following a large bang and I realise that we have had a tyre blow out.
I wonder if we will ever make it, we are already 5 hours late after stopping in transit for a grease and oil change. The journey is estimated to take 19 hours and I watch as 15/20 men stand around the tyre and take of the old rubber. This really could take forever.
My hand is very swallon, Indians spill into the isle and an old lady in a red sari sleeps on the floor beside me.
Faintly, I can smell the soothing scent of nag champa incense waft through the bus to take away the toxic rubber smell.
The neon lights are out, replaced with soft red night lights offering a delicate pink hue to everything and I wonder if I am travelling in a moving bordello.
I am unable to find any painkillers, those which I gave out so freely yesterday are missing in my over sized bag. My torch is nowhere to be found and I grit my teeth as I lie in my sleeper compartment. I am on the top bunk of the bus and walled in on both sides, it feels like a coffin. My head and feet touch both ends.
There are 4 other tourists on the bus, 3 are from Spain and their English is broken, there is also the only English speaking French man I have ever met, fresh from spending 3 years on Wall Street as a broker. He has ginger hair and ginger eyes and he acts as translator with his broken Spanish and we all nod along in confusion together.
Secretly I think he is in love with one of the Spaniards, the give each other the eye and giggle together in their European way.
In the morning everything is different, the dessert surrounds have been replaced with a lush tropical back drop with palm trees dotting the landscape.
My finger is different too, it is now the colour of lapis lazuli and whilst I have regained some movement there is still a numb pain that extends to my elbow.
White Ambassador classics are now out numbered by black and yellow premier fiats, still similar to my beloved old Holden's but perhaps a little more modern with less chrome and a squarer shape.
Traffic starts to build and I can sense our approach to the monster-tropolis that is Mumbai.
The bus trip to Pune took a little over 29 hours all told. I was 9 hours and thirty minutes late and arrived in the night in the middle of an unseasonal storm.
That’s how my dessert adventure began. After meeting some people at the cricket in Jaipor I decided to change my plans and head to Jaiselmere from Jodpour.
Jaiselmere is a dusty town centered around an ancient golden coloured fort that sits on top of a hill surrounded by a town and a dessert. It is located about 100 kilometers from Pakistan and a base town for camel safaris.
What is remarkable about the city is that it is relatively car and rickshaw free, which provides respite form the billion horns that are India.
Cows roam the streets and the alleys in the fort are scattered with poo that looks like mud.
We decided to spend our first day sightseeing and arranging our dessert adventure. We decided to book with a guy called Sebastian who runs a company called Ganesh tours.
Sebastian is very un-indian, he is incredibly well dressed, impeccably spoken with kashmiri eyes and increadibly warm and affable, a true sales man.
The next day we begun our trip an hour later than arranged to account for the end of Ramadan festivities. We met Dessert King near our old army jeep, a green eyed, olive skinned legend whose face wore the secrets of the dessert and looked like a rippled sand dune.
Dessert King is famous in these parts. A muslim man with 10 wives (so I was told twice) and many more children. As one of his followers said 'you don't become king for nothing', he drove us in our jeep till we reached the camel parking station, a dusty paddock where 7 camels were lined up dutifully. Here we met Mr Sargent our camel leader.
After allocating Camels, I was given Moria (which means peacock in Hindi), an eight year old stallion whose favourite pastimes include, eating marijuana cookies, ramming me into bushes and growling ferousily every time I got on as if I weighed double.
Soon we were off and Sarg started singing his Dessert song walking behind us with a large stick in case any of the Camels got out of line.
Sarg's first song was a classic and titled 'Dessert Man', a rip off of Aqua's Barbie Girl, an immediate hit with lines like
Come on camel, let go dessert ah ah ah'
After 2 hours in the heat we headed to our lunch time oasis (not to be confused with any oasis in the movies), comprising some prickly ground and a the shade of a thorn tree, iI sat and enjoyed the peace of the dessert.
Relieved to be off the camel, my bum already starting to hurt four gypsy women appeared out of nowhere. They were dressed in luminous saris that contrasted perfectly with the cobalt sky. The ladies tsung us Rajasthani songs and did a little dance for us, that involved more shimmy shakes than any dessert dance ought to.... The Japanese in our group where on their feet and smiles formed all around.
After lunch we visited a village where a gang of giggling children ran to greet us requesting the usual, chocolate, school pen, rupees and forgetting to pack any of the above, I decided to play with some of the small ones.
I had running races with the boys and was shown how they use the toy of dessert choice- the wire wheel and stick to keep it upright. The kids laughed at me and I was laughing too, it really is an art form. I loved those kids and their appreciation of the simple things.
One boy walked around with his pet donkey as proud as punch and another with a chest disfigurement stared at me as though she had never seen a white girl before.
By nightfall, my bum felt like it was damaged. Moria had rammed me into many trees and bolted through the sand dunes so often that I thought that I would never be able to walk again. We slept under the stars and a delightful Scot taught me about some constellations. I searched for the Southern Cross but had to settle at watching a Ryans Belt rise.
The following day was difficult, I will spare you the details except to say, camel riding is fun for the first few hours, enjoyable for the next and down right painful for the rest of the time. Whoever said it is not the destination that counts but moreover the journey that is important obviously has not spent three days in the Indian dessert on a camel.
By night we sang songs and Sarg told some of the funniest ghost stories imaginable. He spoke of his life, his longing to see the ocean and of the fact he has never been to a city except Jaiselmer. I wondered if I was on a different planet, how caught up I am.
The dessert got inside me out there and if it wasn't for the heat, the dung beetles, the lack of toilets, the Camels and my fear that stray animals might murder me in my sleep I could of stayed out there forever.
The trip ended as it began and Sarg finished his first song Dessert Man
With legs like plastic and bottom like a tomatoe colour.
and I understood!
Thursday, November 02, 2006
After meeting my idols, match day was met with much excitement. I was interested to see how my boys would do and keen to spy Mamood and Bell try and keep Australia out of the Championships.
Cricket in India is a religion, in a country that is spiritually diverse with more faiths, beliefs and odditys than anywhere else in the world, it is strange to think that the one thing that unifies this nation is a colonial game that dominates popular culture.
If I had 10 rupees for every time I am asked about Ricky Ponting I would be a billionaire.
Tricky Ricky as he is known, is akin to a cult figure here and Indian's sing songs in his praise where the only identifiable line is
'oh Tricky Ricky.....'
On arrival at the ground, I was forced to go through more security checks than one would need to visit The White House. I was frisked and felt up 3 times, my bag was opened, closed and prodded every 10 metres on approach to the ground and I wondered if I would ever manage to get inside before the first 50 overs were bowled.
I was seated square of the wicket enclosed in a cage with about 200 other westerners. On either side sat thousands of Indians who went crazy any time someone from our side approached the fence.
When purchasing a samosa through the wire (there is NO food in the tourist section but ice cream and chips) I almost caused a riot and police swarmed to beat the Indians who were squashed up against the fence to get a closer look at me down with large canes.
The game itself was pretty dull, there was a little excitement early in the second innings when Gilly got out to a wicked delivery from Mamood, but given the English middle order collapse it was a walk in the park for the Aussies and a long flight to Australia to defend the Ashes for the Brits.
When McGrath was fielding at third man (near me) I approached the boundary to get a picture and and he gave me a nod of recognition, a smile and a wave and others in the crowd besieged me with questions
So how do you know Glen McGrath?
I laughed and said, this is my favourite travel story and suddenly the events of two days earlier were relived and retold as Australia knocked England out of the tournament.
Monday, October 23, 2006
For a little bit of fun I decided to see if I could met the Australian Cricket team whilst in India and was informed on the good advice of a dodgy rickshaw driver with a crocked eye that they would be staying at a posh hotel around the corner from mine.
On arrival at the hotel there was heavy security, Indian guards with guns patrolled the long lush driveway and I wondered if I would be stopped as my dirty old rickshaw approached.
With my head up and my chin in the air I strode though as if I owned the place.
On entering the hotel a man with a turban and a moustache that would make Merv Hughes envious let me in and directed me to the bar.
Like every good spy/stalker you have to dress the part. Wearing my backpacking best, which consisted of Havianna’s, a dress over jeans (it is India) and a little eye makeup I headed to the Rajaputan Hotel, Jaipor’s finest establishment and base camp for the ICC in Jaipor. Only in India would I go to such lengths to get a snap shot with my heroes.
I sat at the bar on a large lounge opposite reception and awaited their arrival from their devastating defeat against the West Indies in Mumbai.
The English team swarmed around me, Peterson, Bell and Mamood sat opposite deep in conversation, they were all tan and more buff in real life than you would expect.
Lonely was I the girl with the Ipod and notebook as I scoured the room for my first glimpse of the Aussies.
After draining one large local beer I asked the waiter to ask the English players if it would be ok if I came over for a chat.
Normally, never one to talk to the enemy I was alone and bored and thought I might be able to gain some useful insights for the Australian team.
On sitting with Mamood and Bell I was alarmed at their jovial attitude and friendly sprit. Mamood asked why I was so shy and said I should have come up earlier. Mamood’s Leister accent was difficult to understand and his size left me in awe, making me feel miniature.
We started sledging each other and before I knew it the match was on!
Mamood asked why I was going for Australia when they were going to loose and I replied with. 'We’ll see, but can you do me one favour, have a good game but not a great one with a wink…
The banter continued and Bell looked on, I left them soon after so they could talk real cricket.
An hour later I noticed a lot of commotion in the reception area and saw that the Australian team had arrived, cameras flashed and people cheered and I walked up some stairs and was almost knocked over by Simon Katich. For a second it just did not seem real. All the big names filed past me and I actually thought I was dreaming, they all said G'day and I was stunned!
I was too shy to takes pictures and hoped they would come to the bar. Within minutes Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist walked in and soon they were joined by Andrew Symonds and Glenn McGrath.
I watched from afar before summoning the courage to talk to Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. I asked if would be ok to have a chat and a picture and they were very obliging.
Ricky joked 'I hope your camera is working' and I replied 'me too, it's not every day a girl gets her picture taken with the Australian Captain and Vice Captain' Andrew Symonds piped up in the background 'but he's not' and for a second I thought I was wrong.
Thoughts went flying through my head as quick as lightening, perhaps I had insulted them both, I wondered if Adam Gilchrist had been dropped without my noticing and I asked Ricky 'has something changed' to which Adam replied 'only in his head' we all laughed and posed for the photo.
I then spoke to Andrew Symonds who asked me which part of Australia I came from, when I replied Sydney he said 'bad luck', and said that he thought I might have been from the shire and I said 'please give me some credit'.
Next I chatted about golf with Collingwood an English player, he was lovely and like most cricket players could almost be a professional golfer if he wanted to with a handicap of 4 (so I was told).
Whilst chatting, Collingwood spun around when Glen MaGrath tapped him on the shoulder and I had to stand on tip toes to have eye contact with him (he is massive).
Collingwood introduced me to Glen and we had a good chat and I said 'you are huge' and as humble as anyone who is not the best fast bowler Australia has ever produced said 'well it kinda helps when you are a fast bowler'.
Glen then let me measure my height against him; in flat shoes my head does not even reach the top of his shoulder. He then asked if I wanted him to introduce me to Ricky Ponting, I was stunned by his openness and kindness and told him that I had already met him and he said ... 'cool no worries, if you see anyone else you want to met just let me know and I will make sure you get a picture...
I went home that night on a cloud and looked at the pictures again and again.
Operation met the Australian team- successful!
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Varanasi is considered to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and it feels it too. Perched precariously on the banks of the Ganges, it is a pilgrimage site and considered the holiest city in India. It is a place where people come to die, where people choose to live and the place of my birth into the real India.
The banks of the river are a hive of activity, they house 80 Ghats which a stairwells into the Ganges that enable people to bathe in the water to be cleansed both physically and spiritually.
I saw people in orange and white robes with dreaded heads in abundance, Jesus look-alikes, colorful saris, beggars, cripples, the elderly, newborns, street kids and tourists.
Tourists in the city take all forms, I categories most of them loosely as the rainbow people who come to India for enlightenment and it is easy to see why.
India, with it’s unconquerable traffic, continual rhythm of loud horns and the constant hassle you get from locals make almost forces you to try and seek inner calm in a country filled with so much chaos purely as a means of survival.
What I have noticed since coming to India is it is very difficult to relax here and I am constantly on guard, raising my voice and telling people to go away and at times I hate myself for developing into this being. I hope I find tolerance, not enlightenment just the ability to laugh at myself and the Indians.
On arrival at Varanasi train station after a 14 hour ride from Delhi with a carriage of Buddhist monks, I headed straight for Assi Ghat. Within seconds of standing there beside the river it seems as though you can feel the spirit of the place, it is haunting and enchanting to think of the hundreds of thousands of people whose ashes litter the Ganges.
Immediately I was befriended by two street kids, Raju and Vishnu who decided to follow me along the river and impress me with their English. The boys were aged 10/12 and worked at a silk factory in the afternoons for 6 hours per day and paid less than one Australian dollar.
They asked for no money just friendship and warned me of the bad men who sell marijuana along the banks.
That night the kids asked me to go to a festival with them and together we sat as they explained the Shiva celebration we were witnessing which involved lots of songs, chants, flowers and incense.
The next day I awoke before dawn for a magical trip down the Ganges at day break, the light was incredible and took my breath away.
The sun rose and it was the most delicious shade of honeyed pink I have ever seen bathing the banks of the river with ethereal yellow light. The photos speak for themselves.
After watching scores of people praying in the morning light I went back to my hotel The Temple of Ganges and enjoyed India for the first time.
In the afternoon, I paid Raju and Vishnu to take me on a walking tour of the city, through rambling and never ending alleys we roamed seeing countless cows, dogs and people stopping at temples, silk factories and peoples houses for a chat. Kids followed me through the street and I brought a bag of chocolate to hand out. Delighted, they asked me to photograph them and then giggled in amazement as I showed them their beautiful faces. I learnt to say beautiful little child in Hindi ‘Punta Buboo’ and it is my favourite expression, the reaction it gets is priceless.
The old quarter here is perhaps dirtier than Delhi but smells exactly the same like urine and excrement with the odd note of incense. You have to love India if only for the scent.
Monday, October 16, 2006
With a throbbing headache I quickly got dressed and went by taxi to New Delhi railway station to catch the Shabarti express to Agra.
Agra is an old industrial city located about 200 kilometers from Delhi and situated within Indian's most populist state Uttar Pradesh. It used to be the most important city in India when Babur a Mungal leader established the city as the capital of his empire in the 16th Century.
The city now trades off it's past glories and the fact it is home to India’s most photographed monument, the Taj Mahal.
Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife who died giving birth to their 14th child, it is a reminder of what is possible when you love.
With blue sky overhead, I jumped into my Ambassador Classic a car made in Calcutta in the style of a 1960’s Holden, complete with fins and lots of chrome.
My driver took me to the west gate and I had no idea that is was actually the place where the Taj stood, as in the 1990’s the government decreed a 4 kilometer buffer zone be placed around the Taj in an attempt to slow the discoloration occurring as a result of carbon monoxide pollution.
In searing heat I walked to another gate passing monkeys, donkeys and cows, where I was forced to go through a series of security checks and cloak everything but my money, camera passport and water.
With my first glimpse of the Taj I was instantly impressed, the white minuets glowed against the cobalt sky.
I had to pinch myself to actually believe that I was there. For me that was the best part, the culmination of years of dreaming realized symbolically by standing in front of one of the modern wonders of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, the construction is extraordinary, intricately inlayed with precious stones and exquisitely carved, it is an amazing achievement.
The Taj takes a nice photo too and it is hard to actually take a bad picture of it but it does not leave you spellbound. I did not grasp for air after or during my perusal, I felt like I was in the India of my dreams with the photo to prove it. Because the Taj photographs so well and because we all know the image so intimatley the real excitement of being there is the feeling of accomplishment one receives when you realise that you survived the journey.
Going to the Taj felt like it has allowed e to tick the box on my itinerary that said India because before I went there I thought that excursion to be the most Indian of things, how silly I was.
After wandering around for a short while, allowing my feet to feel the cool marble underneath and letting my fingers slide over the Taj’s curvaceous exterior I went to sit on the grass and to look and admire.
Soon what started with child requesting my photo turned into bedlam and I quickley became the second most photographed thing in India, with 100 or more people queuing for my picture and autograph. For one hour I was hounded and I posed and joked with my fans.
Who or what they though I was are another of life’s little mysteries thrown at me by India.
As boys blushed and girls giggled I smiled on the inside, comfortable at being there, realising that the best thing about going to Taj is it allows you to see past the hype and appreciate the real Indi, a country filled with of old bazaars, never ending lines, colour and joy.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Can anything prepare you for the absolute insanity that is simply India? I asked myself that question when I was in Bangkok about to board my flight and I ask myself it again now as I sit in a ridiculously hot and stuffy Internet cafe.
The answer is no.
On arrival at Indira Gandhi airport the first thing I noticed was the grotty carpet, I suspect it was originally grey and now it is a putrid shade of brown. I also noticed that everything appeared to be happening in slow motion.
I joined an excessively long line to go through immigration and waited about one hour to be processed, worried that my luggage would have been stolen in the intervening period I realised how naive I was being.
On approach to the baggage claim I noticed that there were very few bags actually
going around and mine was not one of them. Immediately I panicked until I then noticed that no one had got their bags yet.
I waited for another 40 minutes for it to come off the plane. What happens from touch down to that point is one of life's little mysteries. On exiting the airport I was surrounded by a hoard people and I was thankful that in amongst the crowd was a sign bearing my name.
Immediately I noticed the smell oscillating from the majestic to the revolting. At times beautiful, full of flavoursome spices and delicious incense and at other times all I could smell was burning wood mixed with curry farts and excrement.
My driver and I walked through the sea of people and approached a black miniature mini van. Not quite a mini van by Australian standards more like a mini minor turned into a van.
We drove in silencve to the hotel. It was in a plush suburb of New Delhi and was spacious and quiet, I awoke the next morning and enjoyed an engaging conversation with Avnish and Urvashi Puri the owners of the Master Paying Guest House.
They explained that the city is dived into two parts; New Delhi which is quite modern and hip (by Indian standards) and; Old Delhi which is absolute madness, full of winding alleys, overcrowded with people and bazaars but home to two of Delhi's major tourist attractions the Red Fort and the Mosque.
The divide between New and Old Delhi is extreme and Old Delhi feels like it hasn't changed in centuries on the other hand New Delhi is home to the affluent, a few skyscrapers and foreign expats.
India is difficult, today I went shopping to buy some Indian style cloths in an attempt to play down my inherent femininity and try an avoid a lot of the unwanted attention I can't seem to avoid. After one hour of being pushed, pulled, yelled at and directed dubiously I lost my cool in a typically KP kind of way.
Suffering from a massive dose of culture shock, pollution, heat and exhaustion when I got into a debate with one tout too many I automatically started to cry. Fearing the vulnerability that my tears would bring I sat down and took out a baby wipe and tried to wipe my tears away. Whilst I did this a group of about 100 people gathered around to watch and for the first time on my trip I wished I was at home with my head under the doona.
Old Delhi is cathartic, it is bursting at the seems with people and full of energy. Crossing the road here requires my skills from Vietnam but also my patience, as waiting for the hundreds of cars, buses, horse and carts, cows, people, cyclo's and auto rickshaw's (tuk tuks) to pass takes time.
Old Delhi feels like it would be better off without me spatially as maneuvering yourself to avoid being touched (rudely) requires a great deal of strength and stamina that I am unsure if I possess. The city is dusty and dirty with rubbish piled up everywhere, most parts look like they could do with a dose of domestos.
After aborting my shopping trip earlier than expected I decided to get the metro home. Catching the train here is an experience of another kind, which involves going through tough security checks where people actually look in your bag. The subway is very new and sparkles and modelled on the London tube, coming complete with a posh English accent that says ' please mind the gap'.
I felt like a sardine in a very small can and the stares continued. White single girls are in a minority here. What strikes me the most about India is the lack of women on the streets. I'd estimate that men out number women here by about 200:1 and aside from often being the only white person I am also the only women.
I wanted a challenge and that is why I came here, I just hope that I become more resilient as just being here makes me fear my own weaknesses.
Mother India, I hope you put me back together soon.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I arrived in Bangkok at night (again) and joined an exceptional family that I met at Railay Beach in their cab to a hotel in Bangkok as I forgot to make a reservation.
As the taxi pulled up at The Atlanta, I couldn't help but notice the large sign above the door 'NO SEX TOURISTS WELCOME', which was a relief.. It seems that everywhere you turn in this city you are forced to look at sleazy, fat old men holding hands with beautiful young Thai girls. At times the affection between the two can be so perverse it makes your stomach churn and brings new meaning to the expression Over The Top.
The Atlanta is a budget hotel built in 1952, retaining it's gorgeous art deco charm by the fact it has not been renovated since inception. The foyer is amazing and worth a visit next time you're in Bangkok. With black and white tiles, a decorative chandelier and coloured in hues of red and maroon, it is a fantastic reception into Bangkok.
I was shown to my room and led up a grand circular staircase and I wondered how I would ever leave the hotel when I could sit and enjoy the internal goings on for hours.
The Atlanta has provided a home for many writers and creatives and has a writing room and a library stocked with all the titles of the compositions written within it's walls.
Sleep beckoned and on waking I went for a swim in the hotel's pool, built in the 50's the Atlanta was the first hotel in Bangkok to have a pool. It feels like the set of a Monroe movie and if you close your eyes you can imagine Gregory Peck or Marlon Brando swimming up next to you.
After a luxurious swim I went on an exploritry mission and wandered to the sky train, destination unknown for adventures sake.
I got off a couple of stops later and went for a cruise on a passenger ferry down a small estuary to the end of the line, where I got off and went back the way I came, not really that adventurous.
In the afternoon I went to the Grand Palace which I though a peculiar name, aren't all palaces meant to be grand? On arrival I understood, the Palace is more than your average mansion. Decorated with gold and colourful glass mosaics, it is exquisite.
Built in 1782, it is home not only to the throne but also some temples and state offices. Immediately I pulled my camera out and wondered how I would be able to capture it in it's entirety. Like Angkor, the Palace photographs well but it's beauty is hard to fully film because everywhere you look there is something, culminating with a twisted skyline woven in wonder.
On my way back to the hotel I noticed a peculiar thing, how I missed it in the morning I know not.
I discovered an unusual number of people were wearing yellow t-shirts. Was the coup 2 weeks prior the yellow revolution? Suddenly the lyrics to Coldplay's most famous some came into my mind and when I looked up I was swimming in a sea of yellow.
The more I looked, the more I noticed and soon I discovered there were more yellow shirts than I could count. Yellow flags adorned buildings, shops seemed to be crammed to bursting point with yellow things. Girls were carrying yellow handbags and some people were even wearing yellow pant suits.
How did I not notice this earlier? Was I going mad? Did I have an unusual form of jaundice effecting the eyes? Was this the yellow peril that Australians used to be afraid of? Unanswerable questions were arising quicker than I could think of rational solutions.
I decided to ask someone
The young girl I spoke to looked confused and mentioned that it was because the King had his birthday coming up and the people wanted to tell him happy birthday by wearing the shirt, definitely plausible.
Later when I quizzed someone else I was told that Monday is yellow shirt day, it is a part of a twelve month celebration for the King's 60 year anniversary of being on throne. Apparently if I stuck around until Friday I would have witnessed another 6 million people wearing blue shirts for the Queen.