Monday, November 27, 2006

Another Journey Begins

If arriving at Heathrow was a delightful experience, leaving for a month in Europe was nothing short of diabolical.

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

Parry goes to Paree

After being abandoned at the airport, I managed to find a lovely French lady at the information desk who assited me arranging a ride to Saint Sulpice where the lovely mmsle Rachel from Balmain has taken an apartment.

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

Arrival LHR:BA 036

I watched the lady sitting next to me trying to understand where she had been that would lead her here next to me on a 4:00am flight to London from Chennai.

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

Meltdown In Madras (Chennai)

Originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.

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

Palm Trees and Palmastry

Varkala beach
Originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.
I haven't told anyone this before but I can read palms. Well not exactly but once when I was about 13 I borrowed a book on it from the school library and tried to teach myself. It was not exactly a calling of the highest order but I learnt about 3 of the basic lines- head-heart and life and only what seemed relevant to my own hand.

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

Magical Munnar

Tea Lady in Clouds Munnar
Originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.
Sometimes the destination doesn't even matter.

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?

KP: Australia

I: Ricky Ponting?he's a good player yes?

KP: 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

Arrival-God's Country

Originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.
The plane touched down only 2 hours late, a record for India.

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

Mmm mmmm Mumbai

Originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.
The sweet stuck to me, clinged to me and it felt invasive.

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

Jazz, bollywood and the motorcycle diaries

KP- really gets all Indian (photo taken on set at film shoot)

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

Bound for Bombay

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.

Camel Man & Me

I’m a camel man, in the bloody sand!

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

Match Day

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.