It was an exceedingly breezy day in London town but I did clock one pair of flip flops and a strappy top. Granted, I was in the Underground at the time where the air is a tad more balmy but even so… I fought the urge to push flip flop man under the Circle Line but couldn’t resist a wince and shiver as I sidled past spaghetti strap lady on the platform. Having said that, I myself had spent the previous night stripped to the waist, fanning my torso with a copy of Horse and Hound in a friend’s Indian four poster in deepest Chiswick. It didn’t help that the bed was made for tiny Indians which meant I had to sleep diagonally, plus, I was joined in the wee small hours by the family pets – a small, but very hairy and exceedingly windy dog and a bored cat that kept trying to crawl inside my duvet. The next day, I went to the Affordable Art show in Battersea which was all men in suits with swishy hair and girls with bright red lips and swishy dresses. We saw a cow’s head that had been blown up so it looked like a Space hopper and a photo of lots of ladies who’d remembered their crop tops and high heels but forgotten their knickers. None of it was affordable, not even the collection of miniature goblets made out of Quality Street wrappers. On the way home on the train, Caroline Lucas shared our table. I held back for two seconds but then, unable to hold it in for any longer, effused, ‘I did vote for you, you know’. She was very gracious, not like Jon Hegley, who ran away when I told him I loved him in a pub once.
Archive for the ‘India’ Category
Yesterday, I gave blood for the first time since coming back from India. They were a bit worried about malaria but said they’d take it anyway and if it was infected they’d just chuck it. I’m presuming they’re going to tell me if this happens. Anyway, I went down to Jury’s Inn, where my donation was going to take place. What a hole. Orange carpet and very ugly furniture. Now usually, the people from the Blood Bank are very friendly and very attentive. Not yesterday. They were a bit casual, I thought, apart from the blood-testing man who smiled obsequiously and asked if I was menstruating. After he’d stabbed the end of my finger a few times and we’d watched my sample sink at a snail’s pace to the bottom of the test tube (a good sign), a mannish looking nurse with greasy hair and Doc Martens took me to my bed. The beds were arranged in a haphazard circle like a Wild West wagon train under attack from the Apaches. To my left, a woman appeared to be doing it herself for want of a nurse and to my right, a man was having a bit of a turn. I dutifully filled my bag to the strains of Madonna’s ‘Papa don’t preach’ and then yet another nurse came to remove my donation and stick a plaster on my arm. ‘Leave it on for six hours’ she snarled and went off to sort out a collapsing privacy screen. I had my tea and Hobnob and left, tutting.
I’ve just been to see that French film ‘Water Lillies’. For those of you who don’t do arthouse cinema, it’s a coming of age film involving synchronised swimmers and their poolside shenanigans. It was quite sweet really, reminding me of the times I used to go and stand outside Robert Sharp’s house in the hope that he’d come out and snog me (he never did – I believe he’s bald now). I digress. I’ve just remembered why French films really irritate me. The women are almost always unremittingly miserable. They never smile, they never crack a joke and they never, ever, indulge in idle chit chat. What they do do , is stand in windows, staring at traffic/lie on beds staring at the ceiling/lean up against trees staring at dogs or other trees. And what gets me is that they always get the guy. God, give me strength. More Inja. We’re in Coorg, in a homestay in the hills. It’s the night before we do our mountain hike: Thursday, 14 February. ‘A rude awakening at 4am. The local pundit had passed by to perform a puja which involved our host family standing out in the courtyard right outside our bedroom, while the pundit did lots of waving, whooping and hollering with a tray of fire and a rather large sword. God knows what was going on, but it lasted for 3 hours. We got up around 8am and had breakfast – pretty much the same food that we’d had for dinner the night before. We thought we’d be hiking alone but just before we were ready to leave, a rickshaw drew up and two Americans got out. In their late 50s, they were dressed in full walking gear, the woman with a long plait and little round glasses, the man with a ponytail and a stoop. The walk was tough. We climbed through the jungle, passing coffee plants, cardamon and elephant dung. Up, up, up, we went through the treeline and to the peak just below Mount Kottabetta, the third highest peak in the region. From the top, we could see a good distance across rolling, tree-covered hills. It was truly beautiful and serene. Well, it would have been had it not been for the American woman who didn’t stop speaking from the moment we set out until the moment we got back. (What is it about Americans and their inane questions? They’re like children. Everything has to be explained in minute detail. What is that beetle? How many legs has it got? Would you say it was blue or green? Uuuurggggh) When we got back we had more of the same food then, thankfully, the Americans left and we wandered to the waterfall for a splash around. I couldn’t stay here for long, the diet is too samey. We’re both gagging for some variety, even an omelette or cereal or fruit. Curry for breakfast is not my ideal.’ more….
When I was in India I kept have fantasies about cheese. I ask you, cheese! While we were there, my diet largely consisted of pulses, rice and vegetables and the odd fusty biscuit so I reckon my body must have been gagging for the protein. Imagine this. It’s early evening on the coffee plantation, deep in the West Ghats. It’s already dark so Tim and I are in full combat gear (the mosquitos are hungry – and so are we). We’re lying on our bed, torturing each other with images of cheese doorsteps. Sainsbury’s multi-seed loaf with a nice strong cheddar. Maybe a smattering of chutney, maybe not. The grill is on, but we may not even bother with it, such is our wanton lust! By the end of our stay on the plantation, all our fellow travellers, Brits or not, were dreaming of cheese too. I swear to God, if someone had come in with even a mini Cheddar, they would have been ripped apart, such was our mass craving. Anyway, got to go and eat some CCCHHEEEESSSSEEE.
I am holed up with a sleeping bag and some Kendal mint cake and 90 cans of assorted beans. The perfect storm is hitting the south coast and it’s hell out there. Hairstyles are standing on end; dustbins are taking off and my onions have fallen off the windowsill. Oh yes, plus, I have ‘lost’ a plant pot. I daren’t go out for fear of something falling on my head and killing me. Reminds me of the Blitz – sorry, I mean the 1987 storm when I was in London and went to get the bus to work but the bus stop had blown away. Now that was a storm! Anyway, more India: Tuesday, 12 February. ‘Departure day. I had a tear in my eye as our rickshaw left town and we climbed out of the valley, leaving the rocky landscape behind. And so began our 24 hour journey further south. We caught the sleeper train to Bangalore. I slept on the top bunk, Tim on the bottom (which was brave of him as bottom bunkers often have to share their berth with cockroaches!). As on our last train, we were travelling 3rd class which meant six people to a compartment. There was a couple of chatty businessmen who wanted to talk about cricket and a mother and her boy. It was heads down at 9.30pm although I was awake at 2am, surprise, surprise, wanting the toilet. Clambering off the top bunk, trying not to tread on anyone on the way down reminded me of caravan holidays with mum and dad. The train was all clean and comfortable, even the toilets, which were stainless steel from top to bottom. I’m getting quite adept at positioning myself directly over the hole (although I did have one scare when my wallet containing my credit card and passport almost went the way of my poo as I was pulling my trousers up). We arrived in Bangalore (which felt a bit like Clapham junction without the cappuccino) just in time for rush hour and changed onto another train for Mysore, a breezy, open city of wide boulevards and gardens. We then took a rickshaw to the bus station and got on a local bus (read holes in the under carriage and seats big enough for a Barbie doll) to Madikeiri. We were the only two tourists on it but there were a few Tibetans as there are a number of monasteries in the area. The bus driver was a maniac and I thought we were going to crash several times. Horns are ubiquitous – they have to be. With cows, people, dogs, rickshaws, motorbikes, cycles and other buses fighting for their right of way, it’s chaos. But somehow, it works. Having said that, we did see one crash and one lorry that had come off the road and overturned. The roads are pretty poor with holes, speed bumps and other hazards at every turn but strangely few traffic signals. Consequently, we were pretty shaken up by the time we arrived at our destination. Madekeiri felt like the Wild West and there was little in the way of redeeming qualities. I couldn’t see any temples or interesting architecture, just a sprawl of ugly shops with not even a decent restaurant to eat in. We found a trek organiser and got the hell out of there – 24kms up into the hills and the most blissfully serene and stunningly beautiful place I’ve yet seen in India. Valley Dew is a homestay – 3 plantation style bungalows with verandas surrounded by lush vegetation and flanked by Mt. Kottabetta. To say were were exhausted on arrival would be an understatement. We had dinner on our verandah and retired to our room, a very basic 2 bed affair with a rag rug and a bare light bulb. We soon drifted off to the hum of crickets, filling the night air.’ more to come…..
Can anyone tell me what a sensitive bladder is? And how do I know if I have one? I can only presume the term means you wee yourself from time to time – in which case, it would be more useful to call it a ‘slack bladder’, a ‘careless bladder’ or even a ‘lazy bladder’. There must be an awful lot of women with this sad affliction to warrant, as I saw on the tv yesterday, a special product. Whatever happened to shoving a piece of toilet paper down your pants? Anyway, don’t get me started on femcare products. Haven’t women got enough to think about without being bombarded with products that they don’t need. A tampon with frills. I ask you! Anyway, more from Inja…Monday, 11 February 08. ‘Today was incredibly hot. We went off on the bike to look at the waterfalls nearby. With our guide, a ragged looking man in torn, stained clothes, we negotiated a banana plantation before arriving at a huge expanse of boulders, all featuring perfectly-formed, circular cavities, the product of thousands of years of water erosion. In the Monsoon season, this whole area is under a raging torrent but for now, we hopped from one stone to another and looked down to the small river which ambled along at the base of the rocks, only occasionally breaking into a mini-cascade. We came back to the guest house and had a siesta – there’s nothing much else to do when the sun’s high in the sky. We’re both so hot and bothered it’s not funny! Later on, when the sun had lost some of its intensity, we wandered out to where the coracle goes over the river. A young girl, Lakshme, offered to be our guide and took us to the monkey temple, high on a rocky outcrop. It was a bit of a schlep that involved a long walk alonside the river, over rocks and through a village then on a tarmac road and, finally, up 575 steps. This being called the monkey temple, there were, naturally, quite a few simians hanging around. I gave one a banana but, far from being satisfied with just the one, it kept trying to get into my bag where I’d got a whole bunch. I pulled a face and growled (as you do), thinking it would run off but, au contraire, it lunged at me with teeth bared, screaming. I kept my bananas to myself after that! After the sun had gone down it was a race against time as it tends to get dark really quickly here and that means mosquito time. We luckily had some repellent on us but trying to find out way back along the rock path and alongside the river was treacherous without a torch. Luckily, the coracle boys waited for us and we went back over the river in the dark, almost crashing into another boat coming in the opposite direction.’ more to come..
Just got back from Body Blitz. I ran three times around the track and attempted some vigorous lunges and ab crunches (I thought they were something you dunked in a nice cup of tea). My face has turned a delightful shade of puce but, in a neat twist of contrast, the area around my mouth is drained of blood. It’s official. I am repulsive. Anyway, back to Inja. We are now hot in Hampi. Friday, 8 February. ‘People are so quick to smile here. Everyone wants to say hello, how are you. Even those who don’t speak English will give you a beaming smile. It’s a lovely warm gesture that makes me feel happy to be a human being. Today, we went to see some of the ruins on our bicycles – a precarious journey, as our bikes had no gears and our saddles played havoc with our sexual organs. We also had to negotiate a variety of natural obstacles: boulders, sand and fetid water – sorry, I mean the river. Sounds grim but it’s not. It’s part of the fabric of life her. Everyone washes in the river, themselves, their clothes, their pots and pans. Even the temple elephant performs his morning ablutions here. The Vitthala Temple was a fascinating place with majestic columns of ornate carvings featuring elephants, monkies and men and women in erotic poses. It was really hot so we took a coracle – a small circular boat made of branches and leaves, across the river to a village called Anagondi. Onboard were crammed 3 motorbikes and 10 people, which was a bit of crush. God knows how the ferryman, using only what looked like a large wooden spoon, got us across in one piece. Anagondi felt like the real India. No tourists, just people going about their day to day lives. On the way in we saw a shrine built around a tree. This seems to be quite common. There are shrines everywhere and people make ‘pujas’ or prayers to everything, animate and inanimate. We even saw a man perform a puja to his tractor, waving incense around it and crushing limes under its wheels – no doubt he was praying it wouldn’t break down or have a head on collision with a cow. Back in town, we were eating dinner at an open fronted cafe on the bazaar (main street) when a procession passed by consisting of a shrine carried by four men, the temple elephant and assorted holy men and pilgrims. Tim and I both gave the elephant a coin in his trunk. He passed these into a tray held by his keeper and then lay a blessing on our heads with his trunk. This spiritual moment was only broken when I realised, having blessed me, the elephant was then about to trample me. Luckily, Tim was on hand to whisk me out of the way.’ more to come….
I’ve just had my first taste of Western exercise since I’ve been back. ‘Body Blitz’ is aptly named because, having done it, I feel like I’d been in the Blitz (probably some poor woman who, not being close to a tube station, had the misfortune of a building fall on her). Such are my aches and pains. The routine has changed since I’ve been away. We did a few star jumps and crunches then our Camp Commandant, sorry, class instructor, pushed us out the door and told us to do a circuit of the running track. ‘Don’t you know, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks living on mung beans and cardboard biscuits?’ I felt like shouting at her. I staggered the last 100 metres, sadly assigning my wild fantasies of being an Olympic athlete to the ‘never gonna happen’ bin. Still, I didn’t pass out/throw up/have a heart attack so I suppose that’s good news. Anyhow, here’s another shred of India: Monday, 4 February 08. ‘As has been the case since we arrived here, we got up early, early enough for it to be hazy and not yet hot. I had a massage. It was a ‘general massage’ but not in the sense that I was expecting. For a start, I was stark naked, lying on a trestle table covered by a plastic sheet. I was oiled up by, let’s call her Anita (well, it had 3 syllables) who then swept her hands all over my body – over and over again. I’ve never had my boobs so vigorously massaged. As my shoulder blades bore down into the hard wood, up and down she continued from top to tip and back again. Then I flipped over, or should I say slid over and she repeated the process again. Afterwards, I can’t say I felt any different but I did burst into tears on the beach later on in the afternoon – much to the consternation of the poor man who was plying me with beads. That’s it, I’ve found a way to get rid of rogue tradesmen. Cry.’ more to come….
Here’s another entry. We’ve just arrived at the holy town of Gokarna, south of Goa. Saturday, 2 February. ‘This morning, we got up at 5.30am to watch the holy men going down to the sea to purify themselves before returning to the temple to make their puja or prayer. Accompanied by hoards of devotees, they stripped off to their dhotis and immersed themselves in the salty water. The atmosphere was one of gleeful exuberance and anticipation. As the sun came up, we packed our bags and made our way over the headland to Kudle beach to find a more salubrious place to stay. A horseshoe bay fringed by palm trees, the beach attracts the more ‘worthy’ traveller, ie men in MC Hammer trousers with skanky dreadlocks and women in, well, pretty much the same plus a shawl and assorted bracelets. Everyone is very skinny and very brown. Sipping our chais at a beach cafe, we watched these spiritual travellers engaging in alternative beach ‘sport’ activities like tai chi, yoga and that twizzling thing they do with long pieces of rope with balls or something on the ends (what’s all that about?). After a while we got bored so went back into Gokarna to look around. We met some very friendly stall holders including a young boy who looked about 12 but was in fact, 20. In perfect Cockney, he asked Tim if he was ‘alwight mate?’ and, after Tim had bought one of his necklaces, called him a ‘diamond geezer’. Great to see the spirit of Ray Winstone lives on in deepest, darkest India. Walking back, we were amazed at how few of our fellow Western travellers wanted to exchange pleasantries. There’s something decidedly lacking, humour-wise, in these people. ‘Lighten up’ I say ‘and cut those bloody locks off – you’re not black’. When we got back to the beach we played cricket with some locals. One of those prats with the twiddly things walked straight across the pitch, lost in a mystical reverie. I know I’m in India and should be more chilled but I do want to kill someone.’ ….. more to follow.
Another installment…..Thursday, 31 January. An early start, we got to Victoria Station at 6am to get the train to Margao in Goa. The train, which was pretty ancient, had few mod cons but we were supplied with pillows and blankets so we could get our heads down if need be. I was too interested with what was going on outside to sleep. As we pulled out of Bombay, the city was just starting to come to life. Men with briefcases and children in school uniform were walking along the rail tracks and many of the stations we passed through had burgeoning platforms – and it was still only 7am. Everywhere here is dust and rubbish. Nothing seems to be kept in any decent state of repair but it only adds to the charm. A man chatting on his mobile while riding a motorbike; two women with perfectly groomed hair and jewel-coloured saris collecting scraps of wood; a man pulling a handcart loaded with vegetables; two heavily pregnant dogs squabbling. These are all normal sights. What’s also normal is men hanging around in scrubland close to the tracks, just standing and staring. Some squat down. Obviously, this is their toilet. Nice! I’m not used to seeing people having a dump from my train window. While all this is happening outside, the chai wallah and all the other wallahs went up and down the train selling fabulously delicious food. Periodically, we’d wander into the boiling hot ‘pantry car’ where a myriad of dishes were being prepared in unbelievably cramped conditions – or we’d just hang out at the open doors. With the gentle rocking motion of the train, the refreshing wind and the rolling, dusty countryside passing by, it was pure bliss. more to come…..