Archive for December, 2010

Puri – The Jagannath Temple

December 31, 2010

The bug-eyed gods

Three colourful, legless gods with bug eyes and arms only to the elbows reside in this temple complex. They are cosseted by four hundred priests who wait on the hand and foot, so to speak. Everything is done for them from teeth brushing and bathing to the feeding of daily sumptuous meals.
They even get an annual 9 day holiday, when they are transported from their abode on a nine hour journey, in huge chariots (cars) pulled by four thousand two hundred specially selected locals, egged on by over a million pilgrims. We made sure that we weren’t in Puri at this time.
We hired a scooter as the best option of getting around and eventually after a painfully slow ride up a crowded, potholed street (turned out to be the crematorium road where tourists are not welcome) arrived at the temple. It was quite a shock and felt and looked as if nearly a million people were already there.
Non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple and the only view is from the roof of the local library, so we were not able to soak up what is probably an extraordinary spiritual experience.

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Irate Indians.

December 31, 2010

Still in Calcutta. For a country with only 2% of its population being Christians, the Christmas holiday is celebrated with exceptional verve by seemingly everybody. We had selected the Mokambo from a limited bunch of restaurants as our Christmas day choice for dinner. Indians rarely have dinner before 8.00pm so we duly arrived at 7.00pm. There was a throng outside the door which we pushed through only to be told there was a half hour wait before a table for two would be free. We wandered off for fifteen minutes and returned to find a larger still crowd. We peered through the grimy windows and could see at least three empty tables. ‘What happen?’ as they say. One of the crowd approached the doorman and asked angrily why he’d been kept waiting for 90 minutes. This stirred agitation amongst the rest of the crowd. We felt discretion was the better part of valour and slunk off to another perfectly adequate place before a riot took place… which it didn’t!

The door handle.

December 31, 2010

Smile! c'mon. Everybody Smile. It's Xmas

Calcutta on Christmas Day we wanted to go and watch the polo matches at the far end of The Maidan and decided to hang the expense and travel by taxi. There was one ready outside the hotel and by the time we made the driver understand where we wanted to go (we knew, he didn’t) quite a crowd had gathered. Terms were agreed and one of the crowd excitedly went to open the door to allow us ingress to the Ambi. The door wouldn’t open, so the helper tugged at the handle with more effort… yes you’ve guessed the next scene… ‘mum, it came off in me hand!’. One irate taxi driver, an amused crowd and a further delay before we were able to set off.
All was not finished though. As we approached the polo ground gates we told the driver to turn in but he said not possible in that gate. He eventually delivered us to the gates of the racecourse, where there was no meet but at least it was open for some kind of betting fest, males only. However we were let in for Rs. 10/-. We did get a distant view of the polo and saw plenty of taxis to-ing and fro-ing through the gate our driver had declined to use. Ho hum! It’s India!

Olive Ridley Turtles

December 28, 2010

Olive Ridley RIP

We arrived in Puri after escaping one day earlier than planned from Bubhaneshwar, capital of Orissa, after taking what we were told was a direct bus that stopped at most of the villages off the highway. We went for our usual foot patrol of our environs soon after booking in to the very pleasant Gandhara Hotel. The beach was soon reached and having introduced ourselves to Mango the resident camel and lifeguard No 22, we started along the water’s edge. After a couple of kilometres we were deterred from going further by a stream. Not that it was too deep to cross, we just didn’t dare as the water was black and evil smelling. Disease beckoned, but didn’t put off some domestic tourists who hopefully tried to walk on top of the mess, unsuccessfully of course.
Anyway we had by now seen 6 Olive Ridley turtles thus proving that there are quite a few of these endangered species in the waters off Orissa. Sadly they were all dead and looked as though they had been on the wrong end of boat propellers.
Well, Puri is a relaxed seaside town and quiet enough at this time. Later in the year it will host a few million pilgrims at the annual Rath Yatra, a festival celebrating Lord Jaganath, from whose name we coined Juggernaut. Puri is in the top four of India’s pilgrimage centres. May the gods help those who have to endure the crush.

The art of asking all the right questions

December 27, 2010

What was the question?

It still never fails to surprise us how many questions you need to ask to get an accurate answer here. We wanted to buy some Orissan handicrafts and had been advised that the Capital Market was the place to go.
So off we set at 5pm, only to arrive and find that most of the shops were shut (except the chemists). We managed to find out that the shops are shut because it’s the last Monday of the month. Obviously this makes sense to someone.
On arriving back at our hotel to query why they didn’t tell us, they told us that half the Market is closed today but the other half is open. ‘Where is the other half?’ we asked. ‘On the other side of the highway’. There were, of course, no signs at the market and the people we asked about the closure didn’t tell us either! And why didn’t the rickshaw wallah tell us?
So, instead of asking where the market was, we should have asked:
Whether it was open?
Whether it was closed?
Which bits of it were open?
Which bits of it were closed?
Is it in two places or more?
And I’m sure there are more questions except I can’t think of them at the moment. India is exhausting sometimes but we do laugh about it eventually.

En route to Bhubaneshwar

December 27, 2010

Having been advised by our taxi driver that the bus journey to Orissa’s capital Bhubaneshwar wasn’t much fun, we decided to have another go at train travel ‘on the day’.
This time it worked even better. We had unreserved tickets but got on in sleeper class. Martin found the TC but he was too busy to deal with us then so he said just get on and he’d come and find us. When he did find us, standing at one end of a carriage, he just told us to find a berth and sit down. This we did. And we didn’t have to pay for it.
We’re staying near the railway station so might try the same trick for our journey to Puri in a day’s time. In the meantime, must prepare for some serious temple bashing tomorrow, and a cactus house.

More on Chandipur

December 27, 2010

Football spectators

We said there wasn’t much to say about Chandipur, however we thought again after our third beach walk.
When the tide is out, it’s eerie. We joined many people walking out to the water’s edge. Because the beach is flat and it was getting misty at around 4pm with the sun going down, it was like looking into a desert landscape. The beach merges into the sea merges into the sky all around. From the start of the beach the people at the water’s edge look like Lowry figures crossed with wraiths, walking on water as they make their way through the shallows.
And sound carries in an extraordinary way, echoing around you even though you know the people making the noise are about 1km away from you. Must say something about the overall quiet.

Escaping the black hole

December 27, 2010

Sensible beach attire

We woke early and decided to get on the road south to the beach at Chandipur. First stop was Baleshwar, so we made our way to the long distance bus stand, only to be told by everyone that there were no long distance bus departures during the day. Only evening departures.
From which we concluded one of two things. Either nobody in Cal travels south in daylight (unlikely) or we were at the wrong bus stand (not the first time).
So, plan B. What was plan B? A hastily contrived plan was thrown together to head to the station and try getting a train. Not something we’ve ever managed at short notice before. But this time, it was another PR triumph for Indian Railways.
We arrived at 7.10am. There was a train departing at 7.25, which might be OK. We say ‘might’ because Baleshwar didn’t feature on the station list, but Balesore did and Alison vaguely recalled that the two could be one and the same.
We had unreserved tickets, however a chance encounter with the TC (ticket collector) on the platform secured us berths in sleeper class. It all worked out brilliantly because the train was much quicker than the bus and by mid morning we had reached Balesore and were in a taxi on our way to Chandipur beach.
Another stroke of luck – there was room at the Panthanivas, the Orissa Tourism place which is right on the beach at Chandipur. There isn’t much to tell you about the beach except that at low tide, the sea recedes five kilometres. As we write this we’ve been for two beach walks, Martin has played football, we’ve had our pictures taken lots of times, and we’re now relaxing in our room. It’s a hard life.

Enter the black hole

December 25, 2010

Howrah Bridge.... now spelt Haora. Not quite the same ring


We arrived Kolkata (Calcutta) late evening two nights ago. Delayed flights and a lengthy queue for pre-paid taxis resulted in a midnight arrival at our hotel.
Sometimes I wonder about our predilection for budget living as I pick my way down a smelly dark alley to a neon sign for our hotel. However what the Paramount loses in creature comforts it makes up for in staff. They are friendly (common in India), and efficient (not so common). They even give good directions (even less common).
So Christmas Eve and off we set to explore the fourth and last of the metros. A client informed Alison that ‘Cal’ (as it’s still known by the British) was ‘dirty’. Well we can report it isn’t any worse than any other Indian city, and has the benefit of wide boulevards, green space, and at this time of year a cool climate.
And it has a metro – easy to use and efficient. It has trams too, but we have not tried these yet.
Our first day took on another typical aspect of our holidays, rather reminiscent of the Two Ronnies – ‘and in a packed programme tonight’. Don’t come away with us if you don’t like to do a lot, and walk.
Alison’s happy because stop one was Anokhi (her favourite clothes shop) to buy a new Christmas outfit. Martin even braved a further 10 minutes inside the shopping mall before deciding that he had to get out.
Our map didn’t do justice to the distances involved, however our legs gave us good feedback as we made our way around the Maidan (central park) to the Victoria Memorial (stunning English/Mughal mix architecture) and then back to the New Market. Lunch at Nizam’s highly recommended – Kathi rolls, meat kekabs, fried eggs and onions all wrapped in a paratha (layered bread).
After a brief stop back at the hotel, we then ventured West of the Hoogly River to the Botanical Gardens. Lovely setting but a disappointing (in a way only the Indians can manage). Cactus house closed, Herbarium lost (well we couldn’t find it anyway). But we did see the world’s biggest Banyan Tree.
We had arrived at the Gardens by taxi but decided to join the locals for the route back. A bus to Howrah railway station, then get on a ferry to re-cross the river, with great views of the original Howrah Bridge – the one that looks like a giant Mecano set. It’s the world’s biggest cantilever bridge. Impressive, and nice to watch the traffic from the comfortable position of the ferry.
Got lost on the walk back but it did take us by St John’s Church, the oldest in Cal, of which more tomorrow.

Big boys' toys. The Giant Meccano Set.

Business report.

December 16, 2010

We seem to have got on top of a lot of our business bureaucratic problems and this has freed up considerable time. Maybe it’s because we are ignoring stuff… we do hope not.
But time pressures are building from the business angle. Alison’s work has mushroomed in the last couple of months with the new clinic at Panjim, so we are now beginning to need home help on the cleaning front. So far the difficulties of finding this supposedly freely available commodity have outweighed the desirability of having one.
Martin has got involved with a developing niche-market travel company specialising in Sabah, part of Malaysian Borneo, as well as ticking over with therapy work. Anyone interested in this beautiful and mystical destination check out http://www.mysticborneo.com and get in touch with him. Early reports from customers indicate that the company has got everything right on the prices and accommodation fronts.