Archive for January, 2011

Waking up to India

January 30, 2011

Bit late with this blog, but it’s been sitting in pending so we’ll launch it.

Between July 2010 and the end of that year, all five heads of the permanent members of the UN Security Council will have visited India. We wonder why. India itself is not a threat to global security, it’s neighbours Pakistan and China may be, but not India. Terrorism does happen but on a relatively minor scale usually over local axe-grinding. So what’s the angle? We believe the UN is missing out on something and is making a concerted effort to find out what. 1) There probably isn’t anything and 2) if there is, India won’t be able to do any damage anywhere because it is too disorganised.

As Dr Manmohan Singh the Indian PM put it last month: “The rise of India is the rise of a nation of over a billion people fighting poverty, ignorance and disease, battling social prejudices, living with inadequate infrastructure, dealing with corruption and misgovernance. It is one of the great adventures of our times.”

We don’t think there are many sinister motives here.

Bulbuls and unwanted immigrants

January 30, 2011

Designer, architect, builder and breeder

We think that the bulbuls have decided to set up nest in our neighbours place over the road this year. They still visit for a berry breakfast on the balcony but we will miss their singing in the house. We wish them well.

However, the tree squirrels have littered (in both senses of the word) again under the eaves of the balcony roof and a pair of very aggressive and large wasps have decided the kitchen is a good place to build their mud nest. They are very industrious and it seems a shame to destroy their interesting home attached to the table leg. However we may decide to terminate their residential permits and on very short notice at that, then despatch them to more suitable surroundings.

Mind you, that will only be if things start getting out of hand; unlike the UK Nulabour government and its dealings with immigrants.

Don’t believe what you read in the press

January 30, 2011

We have never regularly bought newspapers neither here nor in the UK; The Saturday Telegraph usually covered all the week’s paper-borne news we needed. In Goa, anything of any importance or possible influence seems to have been written by a politician; it probably was. For instance, businesses, hotels, restaurants etc. are regularly reported as having been closed/fined/reprimanded for non-compliance with national and local laws, but they are never ever named. If they are you can be sure that no politician is involved. It is rare to be able read an article and think ‘Good reporting’.
We were talking with a local over a beer and newspapers came up in conversation; he had this enlightening view.
‘There’s a wild pub up Anjuna way’ he said. ‘Remember the Luke Skywalker and Obiwan Kenobi visit to the crazy bar filled with assorted aliens in Star Wars? Well, this bar is just like that! It’s the only place I read newspapers because that’s the only time when they start to make any sense.’

Newcomer’s dilemma

January 30, 2011

The sad tale (unfinished) of an Englishman’s first experience of India. His company pasted him to its Indian Goan branch. The Indian company’s name includes Pune in brackets and quite correctly this was what appeared on his one year visa document. Asis quite usual for this type of visa he was required to register in his new place of residence within 14 days. No problem so far, unless you know what the Foreigners’ Registration Office (FRO) asks you to do apart from a moderate amount of annoying and sometimes impossible to comply with paperwork.
Quite simply they refuse to register anyone whose company name is showing on the visa outside Goa and they tell the registree to register in the place where the company is based. They are not supposed to do this as the registree is registering his place of residence in India.
Our newcomer is now in a flap because he has left his visit to the FRO until his tenth day in India. So next day he flies to Pune, goes to the Pune FRO where he is told that they can’t register him there as it is not his place of residence. Flap starts to turn into panic and our friend thinks ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers, these people have the foggiest idea what there are doing’ and he crosses out Pune on his visa and puts in Goa. Oops!
Back in Goa he breezes into the FRO to be faced with the question ‘Where is the letter of authority for this alteration?’ His heart must have hit rock bottom. Even with last minute professional help he’s stuffed and worse it’s day 15, one day after the necessary registration date. So the poor fellow and his wife pack their bags to get the first flight back to the UK… but even then it’s no go. Immigration pick up the one day overstay and won’t let him leave. He tries his luck at Bombay airport, same story. To make matters worse his wife does make it through Immigration and it takes her three hours to get back from airside.
We’ll try to let you know the eventual outcome which is currently not clear. Please God, one day rules and regulations will be freely available and dealing with bureaucracy will not be as difficult as uncovering state secrets.

They still all look the same to Martin – poor identification skills

January 30, 2011

point him out to me. Puri - Jaganath Temple
Saturday afternoon, about 4.50pm. Alison, working with new client. Martin puts his head round the door and says that her 4.30 has just arrived – one Mr P…….. Did she have two 4.30s? Who was he? When was he supposed to be here? Is it the right day?* As Smeagol would have said, ‘we wonders’.

Alison ‘wanders’ outside of the room to see Mr P. Few seconds disassociation and then the penny drops. Yes, he did have an appointment at 4.30 ….. with Martin. Not Alison.

Who is he? What’s he doing? What day is it? In reference to Martin, not Mr P.

(Note it was by luck, not judgement, that Martin was even at the clinic yesterday. He’d only stayed to talk to some people after dropping Alison off, otherwise it would have been doubly embarrassing.)

*Mitigating circumstances – when Martin asked Mr P if here was here to see Alison, he said ‘yes’. Martin having forgotten that when in doubt (or even when not), Indians generally answer ‘yes’.

Satapada and Chilka Lake 3

January 30, 2011

Jolly boating weather

Netted

Apologies to those readers who have let us know that they want to know the outcome of the Chilka Lake expedition, so we’ll fire up the keyboard. Excuses are plentiful: 1) a busy business January 2) the painters and decorators are in 3) the Reserve Bank of Inadia has woken up to the fact that they have to act or lose out on collecting a fine 4) it’s been a busy social January and 5) we forgot. We’ll add some pictures to the previous holiday blogs, too.

Meanwhile, back on Chilika Lake. Neither option of retreat or advance was appealing; we’d taken an hour to get so far, retreat meant another 30 minutes of hard graft. We were nearer to our Bird Island objective where we were and so things couldn’t get worse by going ahead, could they?

Well, we poled and pushed, but painfully slowly, for the next hour and reached a clear water channel, with a view of what might have been Bird Island. Then a glorious 5 minutes progress under power and our boatman suddenly beached the craft on a low dyke, pointed into the hazy distance and told us to walk for ten minutes to get to Bird Island. It looked a highly unlikely time scale and we had our doubts about whether it was Bird Island anyway. After 5 minutes our doubts were confirmed by a shout from our man who was running to catch us up and ask us to return to the boat.
To cut a long story short there was another 30 minutes of poling, pushing and pulling, starting and stopping the motor before reaching open ‘sea’ and heading back for the jetty in about 20 minutes. On arrival there was a group of agitated domestic tourists who scarcely allowed us to disembark before rushing to board. The owner was nowhere in sight (no doubt cowering from the mob and two probably irate Western tourists). Our poor boatman had probably dropped us off on the dyke to have a conflab with the boss, as we were surely going to overrun the allotted time. We trudged back to the hotel, cancelled our second night and headed back to Puri on the first available transport. You’ve guessed it… three and a half hours on the bus covering a paltry 30 odd miles.
We did see the Irawaddy dolphins and one quite rare heron, but we considered we’d been ripped off yet again. Lessons to be learnt? 1. Never pay in full in advance in India. 2. Sometimes retreat is a better option. 3. Don’t bother with Chilika Lake; it’s another missed opportunity by the Indian Tourism Department.

Satapada and Chilika Lake 2.

January 2, 2011

Jolly boating weather

6.30am. Up and ready for the great day, the holiday’s final objective. Good breakfast, last minute checks, camera batteries, sun hats and because a stiffish breeze was blowing extra layers. Bang on time our boat man arrived and escorted us to the shakira like boat. Not unusually there were some altercations amongst bystanders and operatives before we cast off. Unfortunately we had already paid the reasonable cost of the trip which was not the right way to go about a privately arranged excursion. (We’ve been there before and should have known better).
The first thing to go wrong was immediate. Our boatman was unable to start the motor, had to moor the boat to try several times and gave up. He started to pole back to the jetty, when he was offered assistanc e from the crew of another excursion boat. This man had no trouble in starting it. OK our man was a bit of a lightweight and young as well, but the warning signals were already flashing loud and clear. Another warning signal should have been the altercation, but we missed that.
After the unauspicious start, things went well for nearly an hour, but not a lot to see apart from the weird lakescape. The lake is very shallow and the breeze did nothing to lift the haze and let the sun shine through. (Sun hats weren’t needful).
Martin thought that our course was taking us the wrong side of an island and was even more convinced when we started to navigate through more and more closely set fishing nets. And finally fully convinced when we ran aground. Punting the boat got us some way but when we reached deeper (12 inches or more) and we could use the outboard motor again, our poor boatman was unable to start the ancient heap. Martin could see his problem and together they managed to fire it up only to run aground after a few yards. By now it was a case of carry on or retreat….. to be continued

Satapada and Chilika Lake. 1

January 2, 2011

Not much to see

There’s not much here. No internet connection, fluctuating mobile connection, a dozen shacks selling tea and snacks, a pier (Rs1/- to walk along it), two ferry ghats, a couple of abandoned ferries and a dozen elegant but noisy lake boats, the two hotels and a rather magnificent building housing the office of the Chilika Development Corporation, complete with smartly dressed security guards. The development boys have got a big job on their hands, but we guess they are in no hurry to get started.
We managed to get a bucket of hot water for washing and the big prize of securing a boat to take us on to our main objective… Nalabanda Island, where we hope to see a few zillion birds who spend the winter here escaping from the frozen north including Britain.

Satapada and Chilika Lake

January 2, 2011

Average speed? 10mph

Onwards to our final holiday destination and we had several options for transport on the 50 kilometer journey: bus (great views and a close up on life in India) , taxi, shared taxi, shared Tempo (five seater often overloaded to ten passengers or more), auto-rickshaw (two seater often overloaded to ten!), hired two-wheeler or bicycle. Either of the latter options would have been the best choice if we had left most of our luggage in Puri. We settled on the bus option as we generally have done very well with this mode of transport, admittedly with one or two horror stories.
It turned out that this was another. The first ten kilometres were covered in an hour as we stopped every couple of hundred yards to cram on more passengers and then dawdled. The next twenty were covered at the brisk pace of about ten miles an hour with many stops. However, the countryside was really attractive and our seats weren’t too uncomfortable. After two hours and 25 k we stopped in a large village and remained stopped. We asked what time arrival in Satapada. 12.30 was the answer another hour, but we couldn’t believe the conductor and decanted into a handy rickshaw after negotiating a sensible price.
Our driver then dawdled the remaining 25k picking up a friend after 15k, while trying to convey his keenness for us to divert here and there. We arrived in less than an hour and the hotel didn’t acknowledge our booking; there’s only one other hotel in Satapada. Alison stood her ground and eventually a pleasant room was found.

The Sun Temple at Konarak

January 2, 2011

Sun Temple at Konorak

This morning’s paper carried a picture of massive crowds at The Sun Temple. Careful inspection of the photo showed that it had been taken mid to early afternoon. Anyway we’d planned an early start to beat the normally late starting domestic tourist.
The scooter fairly flew along an excellent road, traffic free and through delightful countryside. Then we arrived at a traffic jam of coaches about three kilometres short of the temple and our hearts sank! Any chance of a peaceful and spiritual visit had evaporated in a flash. And so it was that we joined many thousands, paid 25 times the entry fee of an Indian national and went to gawp at his huge monument. Buried in a mound of sand for centuries the British had discovered it at the end of the 19th century and done a good job on preserving what was left of it after the depradations of the local rulers who had steadily been dismantling it for their own palaces before it disappeared under the sands.
Well, it isn’t a patch on the Khajurahao temples but the visit was well worth the effort, particularly as we took time out on a nearly deserted beach, reminiscent of Woolacombe Bay, on the way back to Puri.