Saturday, July 28, 2007


I'm back in the UK. I made it back safely. There were no problems getting to the airport in Mumbai on Thursday. My nine hour British Airways flight (flight number: BA0198) left on time (at 1.15pm local time), and I arrived back in the UK at 6pm (again local time). I was able to catch all the connecting trains to Lowestoft and finally arrived home at 11.45pm not feeling too tired considering.
It feels good to be back home. The UK has never seemed so sanitised and clean, and I am back in a world of set prices and cold air, a place where I can drink tap water without falling ill. I come back to a different Prime Minister, but otherwise everything seems much as I left it in March.
Since getting home, amongst other things, I've caught up on some sleep, sifted a little through my photographs, and totalled up the final amount of money I've spent going to India. I think I've been quite economical over all...
Flight costs: £358.90 (an 'open jaw' flight to Delhi returning from Mumbai).
Visa fee: £30.
Money spent in India over four months: £1291.85 (106 500 Rps).
Average money spent per day India: £10.50 (865.9 Rps).
Total money I've spent going India: £1680.75.
Well, that's it: my travelling is over for the moment and this blog is now finished and complete. The biggest trip I'll be making for a while is the trip over the road to the newsagents. It's time for me to look for a new job and a return to normality...
Take care,
Bury (no longer abroad)

Monday, July 23, 2007

goodbye india

'We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.'

Jawaharlal Nehru, First Prime Minister of India

Day 120. My time in India is finally almost at an end, and this is my final blog entry from India. On Thursday morning I will make my way to Mumbai International Airport and fly home to the UK. I should touch down on the tarmac at Heathrow around 6pm UK time (assuming there are no delays). Rather than stay over in London I intend to catch a late train from Liverpool Street Station back to Lowestoft in Suffolk and the home of my parents. I should walk in through their front door around 11pm (I hope).
Being in India has been one of the most interesting experiences of my life: every single day has brought something either new, amazing, depressing, inspiring, frightening, unbelievable, or unsettling.
I'm glad I've stayed so long because the longer I've been here the more I've got out of it, and the more my opinions have formed, changed, and re-formed. The only thing I can honestly say I've learnt is how endlessly complicated, sophisticated, and diverse India is. She defies all attempts at a single, simple unifying theory and cannot be explained with confident ease by anyone - not even by Indians. Just when you think you have learnt something about the country you learn that you are wrong and go back to square one. This can be frustrating but it's also the reason why travelling in India is such an endless journey of new discovery.
I'll be very sad to leave but also happy to finally go home. I'm pretty exhausted and more than ready to stop moving. I'm really looking forward to getting back to my family, friends, and my old life in the UK...what's left of it anyway. I'd like to travel more in the future if I get the opportunity and I'd like to see as much of the world as I can in my lifetime, but for now it's time for a rest and for something different. It is time to stop for a while and look at other challenges.
It just remains to say thanks for everything to India and to the people of India...I've had such a great time! Thank you so much for all the memories!

1. My India Trip: Statistics

Total days travelling in India: 123.
Major bus and train journeys made: 36.
Total number of hotels stayed in: 36.
Beaches visited: 4.
Mountain ranges/highlands visited: 2.
Currencies used: 1 (Rupees).
Average amount I spent day to day: 10 GBP per day.
Books read during the trip: 8.
Indian films watched: 13.
Total disposable razors used: 5.
Amount of times I've had my laundry done: 16.
Nervous breakdowns: 0.

2. My Blog: Statistics

Length of India blog: approximately 32,000 words.
Number of photographs taken in India: approximately 572.

3. My Bests List

Best city: Mumbai.
Best Beach: Kovalam (Kerala).
Best mountain range: Himalayas.
Best natural wonder: Himalayas.
Best river: the Ganges at Varanasi.
Best historical building: Taj Mahal (Uttar Pradesh).
Best fort/palace: Maharajah's Palace, Mysore (Karnataka).
Best hotel stayed in: Hotel Akash in McLeod Ganj (Himachal Pradesh).
Best journey: the journey by bus from Manali to Shimla.
Best transport used: the old taxis in Kolkata and Mumbai.
Place I would most like to live in India: Mumbai.

4. India: Facts

Full name:
Republic of India.
Population: 1.1 billion (UN, 2005).
Capital: New Delhi.
Most-populated city: Mumbai (Bombay).
3.1 million sq km (1.2 million sq miles), excluding Indian-administered Kashmir (100,569 sq km/38,830 sq miles).
Major languages: Hindi, English and at least 16 other official languages.
Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism.
Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN).
Monetary unit: 1 Indian Rupee = 100 paise.
Main exports: Agricultural products, textile goods, gems and jewellery, software services and technology, engineering goods, chemicals, leather products.
GNI per capita: US $720 (World Bank, 2006).
Internet domain: .in.
International dialling code: +91.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Mumbai (known until 1996 as Bombay) is the economic power house of India, and with a population of approximately 16/18 million people (some estimates suggest 20 million) it is one of the largest settlements on earth. There are several million more people living here than in Delhi, and they all squeeze into an area about a third of the size. Built on a collection of islands off the west coast of Maharashtra, Mumbai is joined to the mainland by bridges and land reclamations. As you can imagine it's a city alive with action and energy, and something is going on at every street corner. You can't walk far in Mumbai without spotting interesting colonial or art deco architecture, or one of the distinctive yellow and black city taxis which bomb around like metal bumble bees with roof racks. Mumbaikers themselves seem to be as open and friendly as anywhere in India, and I've seen lots of modern/western looking types. Along Marine Drive in particular sari's seem to have given way entirely to jeans and tight tops.
I arrived by train on Friday morning at the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly known as Victoria Terminus). It must be one of the most beautiful railway stations in existence and even after the rigours of the night train I found myself mesmerised by the exuberant gothic exterior.
I've been staying at the Sea Shore Hotel in Colaba. My hotel looks out over Mumbai Harbour and the famous Gateway of India. The Gateway of India, completed in 1924, stands at 26 metres tall and was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It has become one of the signature structures of India, and it didn't remain in British hands for long. As fate had it, only 23 years after completion the last British regiment left the country through this most British of monuments. It was the final full stop on the days of the British Raj.
In terms of exploring, I've had a good look around Colaba, the Fort area, Churchgate, and yesterday I walked across the maidans and the entire length of Marine Drive until I got to Chowpatty Beach (where I stopped to try the Bhelpuri). Today I've been to Elephanta Island which was recommended to me by my Auntie Caroline, who used to live in Mumbai some years ago. It was a good recommendation: I enjoyed catching the ferry over to Elephanta (a small island which sits in the middle of Mumbai Harbour) and trekking up to the rock cut caves in the hill side. Their origins and history are a bit of a mystery so I can't tell you an awful lot about them I'm afraid, but I can tell you that the walk up to them is lovely and that they are well worth going to see.
Mumbai is, of course, the well known home of the 'Bollywood' film industry, and in homage I've been to see a couple more films at the cinema. I've seen three: 'Naqaab' and 'Apne' which both star Bobby Deol and also 'Partner' which is an Indian re-make of the American film 'Hitch.' Seeing 'Partner' was particularly pleasing because it stars one of India's most famous actors, Salman Khan, someone I've wanted to see on screen for a while now. That takes the total number of Indian films I've seen to the final number of 13 which I think is not bad going really.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

two lists

I've arrived in Mumbai. Mumbai is my final destination in India and the train ride up here has been my last journey. I return home to the UK from Mumbai next week, and have pretty much visited everywhere I want to now.
Since arriving in India I've kept two lists in the back of a small blue note book which I carry around with me. The first list is a record every major train or bus journey I've made in India including how long the journey took. I thought it would be interesting to total them all up at the end. The second list is a record of every hotel I've stayed at in India and the price I paid to stay there per night. I felt this would be useful in establishing going rates and to stop me being overcharged. The little blue book is about to go in the bin, but the lists I'd like to keep, so here they are...
(1) my major train and bus journeys in india
1. Train Delhi to Agra (3 hours)
2. Train Agra to Jaipur (5 hours)
3. Bus Jaipur to Pushkar (3 hours)
4. Bus Pushkar to Jodhpur (5 hours)
5. Bus Jodhpur to Jaisalmer (5 and 1/2 hours)
6. Bus Jaisalmer to Bikaner (6 and 1/2 hours)
7. Train Bikaner to Delhi (12 hours)
8. Train Delhi to Haridwar (5 hours)
9. Bus Haridwar to Rishikesh (1 hour)
10. Bus Rishikesh to Dehra Dun (1 and 1/2 hours)
11. Bus Dehra Dun to Mussoorie (1 and 1/2 hours)
12. Bus Mussoorie to Shimla (9 hours)
13. Bus Shimla to Manali (10 and 1/2 hours)
14. Bus Manali to Dharamshala/McLeod Ganj (10 hours)
15. Bus Dharamshala/McLeod Ganj to Amritsar (8 hours)
16. Train Amritsar to Delhi (8 hours)
17. Train/train/bus/bus/bus/jeep Delhi to Khajuraho (35 hours)
18. Bus Khajuraho to Varanasi (14 and 1/2 hours)
19. Train Varanasi to Bodhgaya (4 hours)
20. Train Bodhgaya to Kolkata (9 hours)
21. Train Kolkata to Puri (9 and 1/2 hours)
22. Bus Puri to Bhubaneswar (2 hours)
23. Train Bhubaneswar to Hyderabad (24 hours)
24. Train Hyderabad to Bangalore (12 hours)
25. Train Bangalore to Mysore (3 hours)
26. Bus Mysore to Ooty (5 hours)
27. Bus Ooty to Fort Kochi (11 hours)
28. Bus Fort Kochi to Alleppey (2 hours)
29. Bus Alleppey to Kovalam (4 hours)
30. Train Kovalam to Madurai (9 hours)
31. Bus Madurai to Pondicherry (9 hours)
32. Bus Pondicherry to Chennai (3 and 1/2 hours)
33. Train/train Chennai to Hampi (15 hours)
34. Train/bus Hampi to Panaji (10 hours)
35. Bus Panaji to Calangute/Baga (1 hour)
36. Bus/bus/train Calangute/Baga to Mumbai (14 hours)
Longest journey: Delhi to Khajuraho taking 35 hours.
Shortest journey: the bus journeys to Rishikesh and Calangute both only took an hour by bus.
Best journey: the bus journey from Manali to Shimla because the Himalayan views were breath-taking.
Worst journey: Delhi to Khajuraho. It took me 35 hours and several forms of transport to make what should have been a 10 hour journey. The only time I thought to myself: 'I want to go home,' and, 'why am I doing this?'
Total time travelling: 291 hours (or 12.125 days solid).
(2) my hotels in india
1. Delhi: Hotel Ajanta (900 rupees/11 GBP* per night)
2. Agra: Shahjahan Hotel (150 rupees/1.80 GBP per night)
3. Jaipur: Stephels Hotel (250 rupees/3 GBP per night)
4. Pushkar: Kanhaia Hotel (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
5. Jodhpur: Sarvar Guesthouse (150 rupees/1.80 GBP per night)
6. Jaisalmer: Mehrangarh Guesthouse (100 rupees/1.21 GBP per night)
7. Bikaner: Hotel Delux (100 rupees/1.21 GBP per night)
8. Delhi: Hotel Sirswal View (250 rupees/3 GBP per night)
9. Haridwar: Krishna Guesthouse (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
10. Rishikesh: Gurudev Guesthouse (150 rupees/1.80 GBP per night)
11. Mussoorie: Hotel Broadway (150 rupees/1.80 GBP per night)
12. Shimla: YMCA (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
13. Manali: Hotel Pawan (250 rupees/3 GBP per night)
14. McLeod Ganj: Hotel Akash (250 rupees/3 GBP per night)
15. Amritsar: Tourist Guesthouse (250 rupees/3 GBP)
16. Delhi: SS International Hotel (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
17. Khajuraho: Hotel Surya (250/3 GBP per night)
18. Varanasi: Alka Hotel (150 rupees/1.80 GBP)
19. Bodhgaya: Rahul Guesthouse (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
20. Kolkata: Tourist Inn (120 rupees/1.46 GBP per night)
21. Puri: Hotel Gandhara (450 rupees/5.46 GBP per night)
22. Bhubaneswar: Hotel Pushpak (250 rupees/3 GBP per night)
23. Hyderabad: Hotel Suhail (295 rupees/3.58 GBP per night)
24. Bangalore: Royal Lodge (230 rupees/2.70 GBP per night)
25. Mysore: Hotel Govardhan (208 rupees/2.52 GBP per night)
26. Ooty: Hotel Greenvalley Lodge (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
27. Fort Kochi: Elite Hotel (300 rupees/3.64 GBP per night)
28. Alleppey: KTC Homestay (250 rupees/3 GBP per night)
29. Kovalam: Seaview Palace Hotel (300 rupees/3.64 GBP per night)
30. Madurai: Hotel New Ruby (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
31. Pondicherry: Hotel Continental (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
32. Chennai: Thaj Regency (225 rupees/2.73 GBP per night)
33. Hampi: Gopi Guesthouse (200 rupees/2.43 GBP per night)
34. Panaji: Orav's Guesthouse (300 rupees/3.64 GBP per night)
35. Calangute: Alex's Guesthouse (400 rupees/4.86 GBP per night)
36. Sea Shore Hotel (400 rupees/4.86 GBP per night)
Best hotel: Hotel Akash in Dharamshala. The room was very clean and modern and had a windowed wall with a beautiful view out across the Himalayas. At 250 rupees a night Hotel Akash offered unparalleled value. The staff were also friendly, kind and helpful.
Worst hotel: Hotel Delux in Bikaner. It was hot, crawling with wildlife, and I felt like I'd rented a prison cell.
Most expensive hotel: Hotel Ajanta in Delhi (900 rupees/11 GBP per night).
Cheapest hotel: Mehrangarh Guesthouse in Jaisalmer and Hotel Delux in Bikaner (both were 100 rupees/1.21 GBP per night). I'd never stay at either again. You'd have to pay me.
* Great Britain Pounds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

calangute and baga

Strewn along the west coast of India, Calangute and Baga are amongst Goa's most popular beach resorts. Some say they are India's answer to the Costa Del Sol, such is the scale of development and the number of tourists who visit yearly. The beach at Calangute and Baga is covered in yellow sand, fringed by palm trees, and stretches about three kilometres long. At the moment the Arabian Sea is fierce and blasts hard against the shore. It's not safe to go swimming at this time of year. Calangute, the larger of the two settlements, is on the south end of the beach and Baga sits to the north. There are no end of restaurants, hotels, shops, and travel agencies, but it's relatively quiet at this time of year, and many of these are closed up or being renovated ready for peak season. It rains every few hours, sometimes torrential rain, but with a bit of judgment this is made manageable and can be navigated around. The temperature is high but cools each time the rain begins.
I'm staying in Calangute, having a rest and not doing too much. Yesterday I walked all the way along the beach to Baga, and then back along the interior Calangute-Baga Road. I met a few people along the way including a man and his wife who were keen to talk with me despite the fact that they did not speak English and I could not speak their language (Hindi I think?). Even so, we exchanged many words in our respective languages and they seemed to very much enjoy our chat. I'm not sure what I agreed to or gave the impression of. Who knows? After they had wandered off - looking strangely satisfied - I continued north along the sand. A bit further up I almost did a 'Neil Kinnock' into the sea (remember that time he fell over with Glenda?). A wave came in further and more quickly than I had thought it would. I ended up with water up to my knees, but just about managed not to fall over or - more importantly - get my camera wet.
Mainly I've been relaxing and resting. That's what you do by the beach isn't it? I've also finished reading Milosevic by Adam LeBor, a book which has been at the bottom of my bag since my arrival in India. The story has proved engrossing but incredibly complicated: Serbs, Croats, Bosnian-Serbs, Serb-Croats, Croat-Bosnians, Kosovan-Albanians, Bosnian-Muslims, all making and breaking alliances and turning back and forth on one another as the former Yugoslavia self-destructed. I can't pretend I've understood all I've read but I do at least have somewhat of a better idea about Sloba, the region, and the 'ethnic cleansing' that ripped the Balkans apart during the 1990s. Did you know that Slobodan Milosevic was a big fan of Celine Dion? He used to play her music on a portable CD player in his cell at the Hague. How suitable that his taste in music was also criminal*. Anyway, will stay here in Calangute for the rest of today. Tomorrow I leave for my final destination: Mumbai.
* Had he been more in touch with the culture of his country perhaps he might have played Serbian 'Turbo-Folk' instead.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

my india

How long have you been in India? Four months. I arrived here on 26 March 2007.
What was the last book you bought? The Nehrus and the Gandhis by Tariq Ali. I bought it in the Gandhi Museum near Raj Ghat in Delhi. It's a very good book. It paints a clear, vivid picture of India's foremost political dynasty.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in India? No particular restaurant has become my favourite because I have moved about so frequently. Generally I like being in open fronted rundown cafes that serve snacks and milky tea.
What's your first memory of India? At the High Consulate of India in London. It was here that I first experienced the Indian philosophy of queuing (the queue must be related to by the queuer much as a bull relates to a matador) and also the Indian sense of personal space (none is too much).
When did you last lose something valuable and what was it? The only thing I have lost on this trip is a blue biro. A man in Bikaner borrowed it from me and I forgot to ask for it back.
What is the most beautiful landmark in India? The Bengali actress Bipasha Basu. Second place goes to the Taj Mahal.
What is your favourite view? The view over the Himalayas from Mussoorie. The view is sublime.
Where is the most intimidating place in India? At the exits of the international airports. World-class touts and scam artists wait for the weak and vulnerable to arrive.
Have you ever been a victim of violence in India? Never and I've never felt threatened once. I've felt harassed many times, even having beggars physically hanging from me on a number of occasions, but never in danger.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give a India tourist? Let it go. You're not going to be in control. Accept it now.
What's the most embarrassing thing you've done in India? I think the other night: having to ask a man to come in to my room to remove a cockroach because I was too scared to take care of it myself.
When did you last lose your temper? In Madurai a few weeks ago. I was being pestered by someone who wanted to take me to a handicrafts shop so he could collect a commission. The most angry I have been on this trip was in Kota Railway Station in Rajasthan following a hard day of travelling which at that point seemed to have been for nothing.
Where did you last blow 2000 rupees and what was it on? I've never spent that much. I had an hour long ayurvedic massage in Hampi last week which cost me 350 rupees plus a 50 rupee tip (altogether adding up to four pounds eighty five pence in British money).
What's the last film you saw in India and did you enjoy it? I saw 'Journey Bombay to Goa' at the Inox in Panaji a few days ago. Yes - I enjoyed it. It's a 'roadtrip comedy.' I picked it because I am about to do the journey in reverse.
What will you miss most when you've left India? The instant friendship of strangers and the sweets.
When was the last time you broke the law? I've been very careful not to break the law, at least to my knowledge. I have no desire to take a guest tour of an Indian prison.
What was the last conversation you had with an autorickhaw driver? He asked me: 'Hello. Which country? What is your good name? What is your age? Marriage? What is your job? Salary?'
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go in India and what would you do? I'd like to go to one of the Bollywood film studios. I'd like to see if, as I suspect, the actors and actresses are ego maniacs and prone to tantrums behind the scenes.
Have you ever been refused entry anywhere? Yes. A cinema in New Delhi. I had a camera with me and they were worried I would try to make a pirate copy of the film.
What is the most expensive meal you've had in India and with whom did you eat it? A pizza in TGI Fridays in New Delhi back in April. I was with a nice man I met from Kolkata called Swarup Panda. We also had a few beers.
What is your most memorable night out? An afternoon out actually... drinking Toddy with Pai at his home in Fort Kochi (Kerala) and then meeting his Mum and Grandmother.
What and where is your favourite painting or work of art? I don't have particular favourite but I do love the two dimensional Indian tradition of miniature painting. I saw some lovely examples of this up in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.
What last made you cry? I was close to crying in Kota Railway Station after my train had been diverted to the wrong part of the country but managed to hold it together. In truth, I felt more like punching someone than crying. I haven't cried on this trip.
Where in India would you have your ashes scattered? In the Ganges at Varanasi. I could float down the river and into the hair of a bathing North Indian beauty.
If your hotel was on fire, which three things would you rescue from your hotel room? Passport, camera, and my Lonely Planet guide book (I could then look in the index for: 'what to do when your hotel burns down').

Saturday, July 14, 2007

charles e bury's canon of indian food

One of the great delights of any visit to India is getting the chance to try all the wonderful food on offer. Indian food is undoubtedly amongst the best in the world and the variety of dishes on offer is almost endless. Across the country you can eat just about anything and everything. Each region has its own signature dishes, methods of preparation, and a unique combination of spices, and the food in India is always alive with colour, full of taste, and temptingly aromatic.
With this in mind, I thought I'd make a list of some of the foods I've enjoyed eating on my visit here before I go home and before I forget what things are called, or what they taste like (as I inevitably will). So below is a list of my favourites: the foods I've enjoyed eating again and again these last four months. Experts and connoisseurs will note that I am more South Indian in my tastes, and particularly well disposed towards South Indian 'chaats' (savoury snacks). They will also note that I have a very sweet tooth, but then anyone who knows me knows that...
Barfi: fudge-like sweet made from milk.
Dhal: curried lentil dish.
Dosa: South Indian paper thin lentil flour pancake.
Egg Biryani: fragrant steamed rice with egg and vegetables.
Idli: South Indian spongy, round, fermented rice cake.
Ladoo/Ladu: sweetmeat ball made with gram flour and semolina.
Mutton Rogan Josh: fiery lamb or goat curry.
Mysore Pak: sweet made of ghee (clarified butter), sugar and chick pea (besan) flour.
Puri/Poori: flat dough that puffs up when deep fried.
Rasgulla: sweet little balls of cream cheese flavoured with rose water.
Rasmallai: cream to yellow coloured balls of cottage or ricotta cheese soaked in sweetened, thickened, creamy milk. The milk is flavoured with pistachios, saffron, and rosewater.
Sambar: dhal with cubed vegetables and puree.
Samosa: deep fried pastry triangles filled with spiced vegetables.
Tandoori Chicken: chicken marinated in a yogurt seasoned with garam masala - garlic, ginger, cumin, cayenne pepper, and other spices depending on the recipe. Traditionally moderately hot.
Uttappam: crisp collared rice flour and coconut milk pancakes.
Vada: snack shaped like a doughnut and made from lentil or potato (this is probably my favourite food of all).
Masala Chai: very milky tea with a lot of sugar. Most masala chai incorporates one or more of the following: cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, pepper corn, and cloves. Other possible ingredients include nutmeg, chocolate, cocoa, vanilla, licorice or saffron.
Kingfisher: lager beer.
Lassi: refreshing yogurt and iced water drink.
Thums Up: fizzy cola a bit like Coca Cola (and owned by Coca Cola).
Toddy: alcoholic drink tapped from palm trees.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I've arrived in Goa. I got up at 5am yesterday in Hampi and began my journey across at 5.30am. It took me all day to get here. First I travelled 12 kilometres through the waking countryside by autorickshaw to Hospet (the nearest railway station) to catch the 6.30am train to Madgaon. I needn't have bothered with the early start: the train turned out to be two hours and ten minutes late and didn't arrive until 8.40am. Once we got going it was a pleasant eight hour ride west. There was a nice man called Imran in my carriage and also joining us the family of Mr Vijay Kumar. While we were chatting I showed Vijay's two year old daughter my photographs of Hampi (I can display them on a screen on the back of my camera). When a picture of me flashed up Vijay pointed and said to his little girl: 'look... there's uncle.' Perhaps he has been reading my blog? Part of the journey took us west through Molem National Park and up into the hills. As the train wound its way up and then down we had to pass through about 20 tunnels. Each time we went into darkness the train passengers started screaming and yelping like they were passengers on a roller coaster. Can you imagine British passengers doing that? On our way down we swept by the massive Dudhsagar Waterfalls. The train goes over of a bridge which runs across the waterfall at a point were the water flow becomes more horizontal. Going across the view was indescribably beautiful and an unexpected surprise. We arrived in Madgaon at about 4.30pm and from there I jumped on a motorcycle taxi which took me to the bus station on the other side of town. There I caught a shuttle bus from Madgaon to Panaji and I finally arrived around 6pm.
I'm staying at Orav's Guesthouse in Panaji on 31st January Road. I don't much like the hotel, but having searched the surrounding area, I can find nowhere better without a major price hike. The main problem is that there are too many bugs and insects, and the whole place has a smell of damp about it. Last night, having gone to bed about half an hour before, I got up to check for something in my bag. When I switched on the light I saw that the floor was covered with ants and three cockroaches, one of which was not much smaller than myself. Weary, disorientated, annoyed, and my eyes squinting as they struggled to adjust to the light, I strutted out to the hotel reception in my underpants. 'My room is full of bugs. You need to come and sweep them out,' I said to the man sat on a chair by the desk. 'But I'm a guest here,' he replied affronted and surprised. 'Oh,' I said, registering my near nakedness. I carried on to the hotel entrance in my blue stripe boxer shorts and found someone who did work in the hotel and got him to come and sweep the room out. The guy saw to the ants but was apparently indifferent to the massive cockroach and almost left it behind. 'GET IT OUT!!!' I reiterated to remove any remaining confusion he might have over the matter. He picked it up with his hand and left the room wondering what all the fuss was about. So ended last night.
So far this morning I've had my customary breakfast of idlis with sambar, and I've been over to the local railway offices to book a second class train ticket to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) for 19 July. This will be my final destination in India and my final train journey. I asked the friendly man behind the counter if I could take a night train. 'No. There is no night train. We only have a train which leaves Goa at 5.20pm arriving in Mumbai the next day at 6am,' he said. 'I'll take it,' I replied, choosing not question his sense of definition.
Today I'm going to explore the local area around Panaji (there's some old Portuguese architecture to see - Goa is another area in India which was once colonised by Portugal) and tomorrow I'll catch a bus over to Old Goa to see some more of the local history. After that I'm heading for the beaches of Calangute and Baga for a couple of days (they're about 40 minutes down the road from here), where I hope it won't rain too hard (it's been raining here in Panaji) but I'll have to take my chances.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

chennai, back to bangalore, and hampi

My Anglo-Indian friends may find it amusing to learn that a number of the Indian people I have met over the last couple of months have taken to calling me, 'uncle.' For those not in the know: it is sometimes said that in India (and in Indian communities) anyone held in respect or affection, or simply anyone older and known to the family, is an 'uncle' no matter how tenuous the true relation. I, it seems, have managed to stretch the tenuousness of this label yet further. But I am happy with the idea - I've enjoyed spending time with my Indian nephews and nieces these past three and a half months even if I do stand out a bit in the family photographs (the white sheep of the family perhaps?)
I left 'French' Pondicherry for Chennai (known until 1997 as Madras) last Wednesday and stayed in what is India's fourth largest city (population of seven million) for four nights. Chennai used to be another of the main bases of the British Raj which is why it has grown so large. The city is by the sea and has its own broad sandy beach and a long promenade, and spreads inland without much focus. There's not an awful lot for a tourist like me to go and visit except a few museums, Fort St George, and a couple of churches and temples. It was very hot in Chennai while I was there and I found the weather a bit hard to cope with at times. Politics seems to be ubiquitous, and in particular there are pictures of M. Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, absolutely everywhere you go. M. Karunanidhi is one of India's most successful politicians. Now 83 years old he has won every election he has contested over the last 60 years. Aside from being a poet, he was once a scriptwriter in the Tamil film industry, and is apparently known for his way with words. I thought he gave the appearance of a mafia Godfather with his black shades (taking his cue from Rajini he never seems to be without them), yellow scarf, and benevolent smile in the posters, but he is clearly a very popular and well liked man.
On Sunday morning I went to Chennai Central Station and boarded the first of two trains northwest to Hampi in Karnataka. I had to change to a second train in Bangalore and there was a gap of nine hours between the two, so I checked my bag in at the left luggage counter at the railway station and headed into Bangalore itself with a few hours to kill. In one of Bangalore's bars I met the former Indian test cricketer, Sadanand Vishwanath, and we ended up spending the evening together drinking whiskey and beer. He was terrific company, an intelligent bon viveur with a good sense of humour and an open mind. He runs a cricket academy in Bangalore these days and was keen to tell me about his Scottish grandmother amongst many other things. We were also joined by Vish's friend Jerry, a former jockey, whose company was equally as enjoyable. At 10pm, feeling rather drunk, I had to dash back for my train and to collect my bag. I just about managed to do both and was soon in a deep sleep on the rocking train. The evening had been another unexpected pleasure in India.
I've been in Hampi for the last two days and I adore it. The area is peaceful, beautiful, otherworldly, and rejuvenating. It feels a bit like being on another planet or the moon in someways. Hampi is the former capital of the Vijanagara Empire, one of the mightiest Hindu civilisations, and is covered in the temple ruins the Vijanagara's left behind as an epitaph. The landscape, hilly and littered at every turn with enormous rocks and boulders, is like something out of 'The Flintstones.' It's been lovely just walking up and down the pathways and along the river taking it all in. There aren't many people about (tourists I mean) and I've been able to relax in my own thoughts and company along the footpaths and tracks. Yesterday I hired a bicycle and rode out to some of the ruins which are a bit further afield in an area known as the Royal Centre. Most enjoyable has been the two kilometre walk out to the Vittala Temple. Yes, it's been lovely. The only down side is the resident mosquito population. They're everywhere and seem to have a predilection for my calf muscles.
Tomorrow morning I leave Hampi at 5.30am. By evening I should be in Goa.
Monsoon update: I'm still evading it really. No rain in Chennai, no rain in Bangalore, and it's only rained for about an hour here in Hampi, and that was pretty light, although it has been cloudy most of the time.
Shorts update: most of the holes in my two pairs of shorts which were 'fixed' by the tailor have now re-emerged. Certain pockets are now exclusion zones, but two or three are still operable and provide me with another storage space to get by. I think they will just about make it to the end. Just.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

rajini and 'shivaji'

'Only pigs come as a herd! A lion always comes alone' - Shivaji
Although Rajinikanth, known as Rajini, is a 58 year old grandfather from Bangalore and married to a school teacher, he is also the undisputed superstar of Tamil cinema and a cultural icon in South India for the last twenty years. He lives in Chennai (which is where I am now) and performs in everything from comedy and drama to action films, and his followers border on being fanatics. Loyal fans scream, shout, and whoop, whenever he is on screen, and won't hear a word said against him. According to the IMDB: 'directors cannot kill off his character in a movie for fear that the theatre will be burnt down by his crazed fans who consider him almost a god. He is said to explode like a tiger on screen.' He came to my recent attention in Ooty when I went to see his new film: 'Shivaji - the Boss,' his first in two years, and reputedly the most expensive Indian film ever made. The son a police constable Rajini was first employed as a bus conductor before he joined the Madras Film Institute and got into movies and is seen by many as a hero of the lower classes.
Rajini's personal appearance is striking and unmistakable. He's not particularly tall and very slightly chubby. He looks his age. He has a huge white smile which he flashes every few seconds and a pair of black shades which are surgically attached to his face. He has a black moustache. His enormous black hair, which is not dissimilar in size and style to the stage wig which Gary Glitter used to wear, is curiously detached from his head and seems to have a life all of its own. It's almost an independent organism in itself operating separately and in a different time to the rest of his body. He often wears black leather jackets and trousers, or clothing you would more readily associate with a 20 year old or even a teenager.
also has a number of trademark actions which feature in his films and these include flicking coins, acrobatically bouncing chewing gum around (he's doing that all the time - and it gets a big cheer from the crowd), and swapping guns from hand to hand whilst flying through the air (he also swaps pens like this if he is signing a contract or writing a note).
In the film 'Shivaji' itself (part of which was shot at Ramoji Film City), Rajini plays an Indian millionaire called Shivaji who having made a fortune in America (in the computer industry) has returned to India to build a free hospital and university for the poor. His philanthropy is made evident from the very beginning when on the way back from the airport a poor woman with a baby begs him for money. He gives her a massive wad of cash, and then turns to his assistant looking disgusted and says in Tamil something along the lines of: 'I'm gonna sort all this out. Things are going to change around here.' Things don't run smoothly though because rival businessman Adisheshan (the villain) is not happy about Shivaji's return and plots to destroy him by bribing local politicians. By the film interval he has almost succeeded, and Shivaji is left with only one rupee to his name and the hospital/university project has to be put on hold.
While all this is going on Shivaji romances and marries the beautiful Shreya who is bowled over by Shivaji despite the fact that he is old enough to be her father's father and wearing a wig that would rival Louis XIV for size. She is initially hesitant because an astrologer has told her that if she gets married her husband will be killed soon after (Shivaji does later die briefly as part of his plan to win his money back but is soon brought back to life - it's too complicated and silly to explain). There's plenty of comedy in the film, mostly revolving around the romance with Shreya, including a scene where Shivaji eats fifty chilli's to prove his love, and also - after she tells him he is too dark skinned to marry her - a sequence where he is transformed into a white man complete with blond hair.
In the second half of the film Shivaji wins back double his money, kicks Adisheshan's backside, eradicates poverty in India, and is near enough proclaimed a modern day messiah. Throughout the film Shivaji repeats his catchphrase which is to say his own name, pause, and then add: 'cooooooool' after whilst smiling broadly and smugly.
'Shivaji,' like Rajini, is pretty ridiculous but I enjoyed it much more than any of the Hindi Bollywood films I've watched in India. In fact, I thought it was brilliant. By comparison, the characters in the mainstream Bollywood movies ('masala movies') seem to be almost, dare I say it, ashamed to be Indian and keen at every turn to demonstrate their 'western-ness.' Rajini and his characters are proud to be Indian, and do things their own way. I like that and I think it is a more healthy way for an Indian movie to be. There's more integrity and less cultural insecurity. This aside Rajini also has an irrepressible energy on screen which is infectious. If you would like to see some poster images of Rajini take a look at my photos from Ooty, or alternatively have a look at this website: