NOTE: With sincere apologies to Paul Theroux for the use of the title - but it's SO appropriate.
EXTRA NOTE: If you are squeamish, have a sensitivity to graphic descriptions of bodily functions or are of a delicate nature, do NOT read this!
One of the first things you learn when traveling at the level we did in India, is that bodily functions are generally performed in a "squat" - a euphemistic term for a toilet without a seat and on which you have to perch somewhat precariously in order to fulfill your needs (not "wants" - just "needs").
There are three main senses you need to draw on to use a squat:
* A sense of balance
* A sense of adventure
* A sense of humor
All your other senses - sight, smell, taste (even hearing), you can safely tuck away - if fact, the further away, the better.
By way of description, (moving from the general to the specific):
We spent a good deal of our traveling time on trains. When you are on an Indian Railways train for 27 hours (between Kolkata and Jaipur for instance), the chances are you are going to need to visit that swaying little cabin between the coaches on at least one occasion - and your visit will in all likelihood be to perform what you usually do sitting down (of course this is written from a male point of view).
The "squat" is a hole in the floor , through which you can see the ground underneath the train rushing past. On either side of the hole are corrugated footrests - one left, one right. They are uniform in design, to ensure that each foot (shod of course) stands neatly on the rest, no matter which direction you are facing (again, the male point of view). The male standing function is fairly easy to achieve: you mount the footrests, the corrugations ensuring that you don't slip, aim in the right direction, and there you go...
As long as there is no updraft, you will probably leave the loo in the same dry state you entered it.
Now: to perform what you would normally do in the sitting position (ladies, this is also for you), you need to take stock of your situation before advancing...your sense of adventure is useful here.
Look around carefully - note the position of the grab handles on the wall - they are sometimes at a rather uncomfortable angle at which to hold on for dear life (do you get the picture?). Secondly, ensure that you have an adequate supply of toilet paper with you. Oh, did I mention that Indian toilets (as a general rule, not only on the trains) are not overly generous with such luxuries? To make up for this lack, there is usually a cute looking water spout situated strategically in front of you.
This is activated with an interesting combination of movements - push up the spout with one hand and contain the resulting powerful spray of water with the other. How you achieve this without letting go of the safety handles is where your sense of balance becomes quite useful.
The newer trains have a shower arrangement which, to the novice, initially looks inviting: showers on a train, my goodness! Er...NOT. These "showers" are designed for a specific purpose. Shower or spout, you better work this out or you will find your popularity with your fellow passengers plummeting.
Also take a cake of soap or a leaf of "paper soap" - a fragrant little square of soap-impregnated paper, which must rate as one of the best inventions ever to come out of the sub-continent.
A word of caution: make sure that your toilet paper is accessible and easy to reach at the appropriate time - more on this later.
So, to the actual performance: you are on a train, remember, belting across the Indian countryside - yes, they do move quite fast once they get going. Trains tend to bounce and jounce around, and this is where those grab handles prove their worth as life preservers.
Depending on your preference - and of course wishing to ensure that your clothes remain unsullied - you can either strip down completely and hang your slacks, shorts, or knickers on one of the hooks provided; or you can roll said clothing items up your thighs as high as they will go, while still allowing you to assume the required position: feet flat on the footrests, knees bent double, legs jutting at 45 degrees to the rest of your body, and everything else free and easy in the breeze billowing up the disposal chute.
You grab the handle in front of you with both hands, take a deep breath (if you dare) tell yourself: "I can do this - I HAVE to do this...!" and let nature take its course. Pretty soon, you get the hang of it - picture a skier behind a speed boat - and there you are riding along in perfect unison with the swaying of the train, like a bizarre ride at the Lunar Park - faster and faster, you ride this Iron Rooster and the freedom is exhilarating!
Eventually all good things come to an end, and you will have to finish up. This is where life can get complicated. Remember my earlier injunction to ensure that your toilet paper is placed exactly where you can reach it? A lack of planning in this department may result in the following potentially embarrassing scenario:
If you have stuffed the paper into the back pocket of your shorts or slacks and somewhat naively hung these on the back of the door, you will find that they are just three inches beyond your immediate reach. Hanging on to the grab handle with one hand, stretching for your clothing with the other, leaves you in a dangerously vulnerable position. You dare not let go for fear of sliding into the oblivion beneath you. If your shorts etc. are rolled up your thighs, you will soon find out whether you are actually double-jointed or you may even put your back permanently out of whack.
(Hylton got himself into this situation and we nearly had to send the plumbing rescue team in to extricate him) .
But once your session is completed, and you rise to your full height again in one fragrant piece, all clothing in the same, albeit slightly more rumpled condition in which you entered the booth, you will realize you have a huge grin on your face. Returning to your compartment, your fellow travelers welcome you with victory cheers and slaps on the back. One more achievement to chalk up to experience.
Of course, you can always use one of the Western-style toilets provided on all trains - but then, why deny yourself the fun!
Monday, November 07, 2005
NOTE: With sincere apologies to Paul Theroux for the use of the title - but it's SO appropriate.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
How can I describe Udaipur? Heaven, Paradise, Garden of Eden, Little Switzerland? Actually all and none of the above. It is quite exquisite and I do not use the word lightly. The lakes are full for the first time in many years after good monsoon rains. The palaces and hotels on the island dotted around Lake Pinochola sparkling in the morning sun, turning golden at sunset. If ever there was a place to rest up after a weary, grimy and totally exhilarating tour of India, this is it.
The town is clean and quaint. There are tailors working in literal holes in the wall, food shops offering cooking lessons (we are going to one this morning); a music shop offering tabla lessons (this afternoon)...restaurants offering superb fare and the market stores are alive, buzzing, entrepreneurial, assertive...
The past two days have been crazy, with Divali being celebrated with fireworks and bangs, music and dancing - every few seconds there is a huge "bang" and then a volley of crackles, whizzes, whoozes, swishes and cracks. In the evening, rockets shower sparkling stars over the lake...amazing.
Udaipur takes much pride in having had a James Bond film (Octopussy) made here a number of years ago, and you can take in a showing at one or other hotel every night. There are palaces and temples, museums and gardens. It is without doubt a jewel in the crown of Rajasthan.
I won't go into much more detail now; there is so much to tell and so many pictures to show: all that later. We leave (sadly) tonight for Delhi - one day, a short evening and then on the plane to Istanbul and eventually home.
It's been amazing...'nuff said for now.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Let's actually travel back in time (about a week) to the start of our Darjeeling leg. We had spent a day and a half in Kolkata, being fed and hosted by Helen's school friend Yvonne ("Goldie") D'Silva. We left on the Thursday evening on the train for New Jalpaiguri (three hours late and from a different platform and that was a story in itself!): arriving in NJP in the morning, we decided not to take the Toy Train as originally intended. Reasoning that it was a long trip with this mode of transport (8 hours!) we felt that it would be better to hire a jeep and driver and enjoy the reputed 1-hour ride up the mountain to the "Queen of the Himalayas" as Darjeeling is proudly called. The so-called 1-hour ride turned into a 4-hour mountain climbing saga; it was raining so we couldn't really see where we were going, which I suppose is just as well. The road curves upwards around mountains and bends, trucks, busses, cows, jeeps all coming down the mountain towards us, around blind curves, hooting, braking, other jeeps overtaking us around corners... but as we couldn't really see the sheer drop just beyond the rather insubstantial looking barrier, we had - as our Aussie companions would say - "no worries mate". We were enormously comforted by all the warning signs and homilies encouraging safe driving hewn into the mountain side: "Give blood in the blood bank, not on the road..." - "If you're married, divorce speed." Even more encouraging was the report from Gill who had been sitting next to the driver - a devout Christian with flashing icons of Jesus all over his dashboard - that he had been praying all the way up the mountain! Fortunately we only heard this AFTER we arrived safely in Darjeeling.
Darjeeling itself was a delight. It is a beautiful little town, set on the hillside with startling views into valleys and across nearby mountain tops to the peak of Mount Katchendjunza (sp!), the highest peak in India and third highest in the world. I have already related one of the highlights of this visit, but I must relate our experience on Tiger Hill, watching the sunrise spilling onto this peak at 5:00 in the morning. After two days of rain, we decied that should it be clear the next morning, we would take the ride to Tiger Hill, about 14 km out of town, to view the celebrated sunrise.
We were woken at 4:00 am, as promised by our receptionist if the weather appeared to be clear, and off we trundled in a tiny van (the little Suzuki mini-mini bus we used to call a "half-loaf" in Israel) to experience what we expected would be a couple of mad tourists sitting under a tree on a remote hill, watching the rays of the rising sun hitting the nearby peak. We arrived at the site, the last in a line of about 300 jeeps and busses stretching up the hill to the viewsite, where at least 3,000 people (this is no exaggeration) were waiting for the sun. As the sun rose, so did a cheer from the crowd, and Mount Katchendjunza rose through the clouds to present a magnificent spectacle. Even more exciting, was a view of the tip of Everest in the far distance. A memorable experience, as much for the crowds, as for the sunrise.
We had booked our trip down from Darjeeling with Raju, the same driver who brought us up, figuring he was good with Lord, and looking forward to his promise to take us on a tour of the tea estates and other places of interest. He was as good as his word, but unfortunately his prayers did not help with the weather. It was raining and misty all the way down and for eight hours the only view we could see was about four feet in from of the jeep. But we did visit the Mirik Tea estate and one of their factories, a fascinating experience. We also stopped at the Nepalese border and Nate was nearly arrested for taking photographs of the border crossing.
After an 8-hour journey down the mountain, we made New Jalpaiguri and booked into the Hillton Hotel (!), all in one room, to freshen up and await our train back to Kolkata at 2:45 the next morning.
Marlyn has already written much about our personal experiences in Kolkata, so I will not repeat those here, except for our last day there, which to us was one of the most memorable to date:
I mentioned in an earlier posting that David Nahoum, one of the last remaining Jews in Kolkata, who runs his family confectionery business, had promised us a tour of the two remaining synagogues in this city. The shuls were found in the back streets of the city, among the markets and beggars, the food stalls and fabric shops, the fruit vendors and Divali decoration sellers: but they are in perfect condition, having been declared national monuments, and are looked after by a dedicated small staff, with David Nahoum as the de facto gabbah or governor.
The Beth-El and the Maghen David (sic!) congregations worshipped mainly in these two beautiful Beitei Knesset. Helen's mother and father were married in the Maghen David shul, and her grand uncles and other members of there family were instrumental in founding the community. Built in the style common to Iraqi jewry (the origins of most of the Calcutta community), they are large, imposing, beautifully decorated...and incredibly sad. At its height the community, which was established in the first half of the 19th century, boasted more than 5000 souls and played a major role in the cultural and economic life of Calcutta. Today there are some 30 Jews left in this impossibly crowded city - David Nahoum and Auntie Maggie Meir (about whom Marlyn wrote earlier) amongst the last. But David and his dedicated colleagues still build a Succah at Maghen David every year...a continuing tribute to the rich past of this passing community.
On our return to David's confectinery in the market we bought typical delicious Iraqi "shabbat" treats and sweetmeats - cheese samoosas, sticky buns, kaka biscuits and date biscuits (who aid this trip was about dieting?)
Friday night, we left the damp, sticky heat of Kolkata on our 27-hour train journey across the country to Jaipur in Rajasthan (where we just missed the third cricket test between India and Sri Lanka by one day). And that is a totally new blog all on its own...
until next time:
Namaste...and Happy Divali!
Friday, October 28, 2005
No, this is not an extract from a story about the Raj, but an actual set of events, which took place in the foothills of the Himalayas just a few days ago: central characters - Marlyn and Larry, Hylton and Gill, Nate and Helen...ex-colonials all of us, and reliving the glorious days of...we'll you get the general idea.
We stepped into the Dog Show at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club (no kidding) and it was like stepping into a parallel universe. The hall in which the show was held was decorated in bunting and flags, the announcements were made in perfect (albeit somewhat accented) English, the contestants (owners) were dressed to the nines - even the children were in suits and party-type dresses and the dogs were, well, ahem, er...let's say somewhat short of expectations. Now don't get me wrong, there were actually a few beautiful specimens and some cute puppies but their handling and behavior was not quite up to snuff. But let's be fair, this was after all, just the "Pet" section. The Championship Show, for which we did not stay, was scheduled for later in the afternoon. Sorry, old chap, hafta run, we have another engagement up the road, at the Windamere.
The Windamere - an institution if ever there was and talk about time warp! As we entered the grounds a young be-suited manager appeared next to us, as if out of thin air: "Can I help you...?" "Yes," we replied in unison - "tea and scones please, if we may?" Very polite as befits the Windamere. Allow me to explain, (and I'll send some pix eventually as well), the Windamere has been plucked from the pages of a potted history of the Raj. If ever there was a building, an enterprise that epitomized the eccentricities of British Colonialism, this is it. The building is typical Victorian colonial architecture. Wide balconies, corrugated roof, creepers and dahlias surrounding the manicured lawns. But it is inside ("no photographs please") that the real atmosphere of the Windamere manifests itself.
We ordered "High Tea" which was served in a private lounge, fireplace which was soon stoked and roaring, walls bedecked with letters over the past 100 years, testifying to the grandeur of the hotel - "the dear old Windamere," as many described it. Photographs of illustrious visitors - the King of Nepal, the local Committee for the Support of the War Effort; pictures of the Governor General and his staff...almost a museum. And then, while we were all viewing the walls and pointing out quaint language from an almost forgotten era - "Guests are requested not to sleep behind the sofa..." our High Tea arrived:
A china plate each, bedecked with egg and cucumber sandwiches - no crusts - crunchy biscuits, chocolate marble cake and two huge pots of genuine Darjeeling tea. Quite a treat in total counterpoint to the real world of modern India. After our tea, we wandered around the hotel for as long as the young manager's beady eye would allow us. Then we found, what to me, was the gem of all - in "Daisy's Music Room" a picture and a transcript hung in a corner of the room caught my eye. On close inspection, I found it was a picture of one of England's greatest WW1 poets, Rupert Brooke and in his own handwriting (complete with corrections) his celebrated poem, learned by heart in my Sixth Form year, The Soldier: "If I should die, think only this of me, there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England..."
This was the crowning glory of our visit to the Windamere: shortly afterwards, as we were viewing the Gift Shop, Young Manager appeared and with a polite cough, indicated that our visit to his establishment had run its allotted course and would we please leave now as paying guests were arriving. Stepping outside, we heard - as if on command - the pipes and drums of a military band in the vicinity: had we actually been transported back in time? We rushed up the road hoping to see kilts and sporrans parading in the town square...only to find the local Darjeeling Police Band piling themselves and their instruments into their trucks and heading back to their quarters.
Ah well, spending a day in the splendor of the Raj was fun...now it was back to the real India with all its contradictions and sensuality; noise and color: the real India, which in is language, institutions and bureaucracy, still honors this British colonial period of its history.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Here are a few pix - I can't upload too many because they are high res and quite heavy, but they should give some idea of what we've seen.
(Click on the pix to enlarge)
The first is the street outside our hotel in Delhi...
Second - the Gandhi Ghat (Delhi) - the site of Gandhi's cremation
The beggar girl and sibling on Kolkuta station - holding the paper pencil and sharpener Marlyn gave her - this child could read, write and draw beautifully!
The dawn sun reflecting off Mt. Kantchendzunga (sp!) seen from Tiger Hill outside Darjeeling this morning (23/10). We were there at 5:00 am with THOUSANDS of other people (locals mostly) - we even saw the tip of Everest in the VERY far distance.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Here we are in India and we can hardly believe it. I am actually sitting in an office in Calcutta using a lap top which belongs to a friend of a friend....forget it: it's a long story and there are so many others to tell!
We arrived in Delhi early on Sunday morning after a fairly quick flight from Istanbul; found our bus driver waiting for us as promised and were taken to the Prince Polonia Hotel (!) in the center of the Delhi market. We got there at about 4.00 am after an unbelievable ride in the from the airport. The roads were absolutely chockablock with trucks, little motorized rickshaws, Ambassadors (formerly known as 1958 Morris Oxfords) and bicycles, pedestrians, buses: Hylton was riding up front and he was giggling hysterically the entire way to the hotel - mainly I think from sheer terror! Our driver managed to squeeze in and out of spots, cross intersections, get the best of buses...the driving in India is a story all on its own so I will deal with that MUCH later.
When we got up at about 7:00 we took stock of exactly where we were. The hotel itself was very nice and clean, air conditioned room, bathroom, but we thought a little expensive at Rs 1000.00 per night (NIS100.00 or $20.00). The street had potholes and rocks in the road; the jeep could hardly drive down it. Almost immediately outside the hotel were three cows just lying around the street: a little "makolet" across the road where we could buy bottled water etc, a baker (everybody working like a scene from medieval times - sweaty and dusty; bread baking on the open skillet...fruit and vegetables being sold outside, "chula" (dung) fires in the street, a lady removing lice from her daughter's hair, mangy dogs, mangy beggars...VERY "colorful" and entertaining.
We went to find the railway ticket office to book our tickets to Kolkuta. Long story short, we ended up with a jeep and a driver for the day and to take us to Agra to the Taj Mahal - why?
Because we couldn't get a train from Delhi as the holidays have just started here and the trains are FULL! The only train we could get was from Agra to Kolkuta so the guy at the tourist information office (where we had to book the tickets) organized an air conditioned jeep, driver etc etc to take us all to Agra in the morning. In the afternoon, we had the jeep to tour around Delhi and then to fetch Nate and Helen (and their friend Rita) from the airport. Sounds very "larny" but we had the jeep the first day free because we had booked it for Agra.
On the way to the station, we walked through the market - absolutely amazing what was on sale...anything you could think of. The traffic at the intersections is CRAZY! Huge trucks blocking the road, drivers just hooting and squeezing alongside them, little motorized rickshaws bouncing along the road, bicycles, cars, cows, noise, hooting. Near the market there is a main intersection to the station. You just take your chances and cross the road and hope you get to the other side.
The traffic moves on its own, never mind the lights. To get to the tourist train booking office, we had to take one of these rickshaw scooters. Four of us piled in (we'll send pix) with "Jolly" (a Sikh in a turban) as our driver. I was sitting up front next to him and about half way there he said: "YOU drive sir..." and let go of the handlebars! I found it, shall we say, "entertaining" - actually bloody scary! He was directing me which was to go but I was trying to concentrate on the traffic whizzing around and trying to find the brakes.
Once we had organized our tickets and the jeep and driver we were taken on an extended tour of Delhi. Highlights of the day: We went to the Jamal Masjid - the largest mosque in India, and then the Red Fort - both built in the 17th century. Around the mosque are hundreds of beggars of different shapes, sizes and afflictions(!) We have become very good at ignoring them and the snake charmers and the touts (selling ANYTHING you want). In the evening we drove around New Delhi (the British city - which is actually very beautiful, very green, wide avenues), but the biggest highlight was a visit to the Gandhi Ghat - the place where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. The feeling there is indescribable: hundreds of people visiting the site, you have to take off your shoes and walk through the beautiful landscaped gardens to the simple black slab on which his body was placed. We bought some rose petals to place on the spot and the amazing atmosphere literally overwhelmed us. I believe this is one site that anybody with any feeling and understanding of humanity HAS to visit...(more about this much later.)
We then drove to the government offices and then to India Gate, a huge monument commemorating India's fallen soldiers - thousands of people thronging the area as it's the start of the holidays. There were ice cream sellers and balloons and a festive atmosphere: like Yom Ha'aztmaut 10 X !
In the morning we left early for Agra by road. After about three hours (and a stop at a VERY smart restaurant along the way for breakfast - driver's choice, not ours) we arrived in this town and were taken directly to the Taj Mahal. To reduce pollution, vehicles are not allowed within a kilometer of the site, so each couple had to hire a bicycle rickshaw to get us there. Suffice to say the Taj Mahal is just magnificent: there are no other words to describe it. It's familiar from all the pictures you have seen in travel mags etc but in real life it is quite spectacular. I wont go into the history now, but the entire edifice is built to a precise symetrical pattern; what is on the right is mirrored on the left, perfect symetry.
We were followed in by a horde of photographers: you would have thought we were visiting VIPs with a crowd of paparazzi in tow. We tried hard to fend them off, but eventually agreed to let them take our pictures, which came out quite nicely.
Next morning we took the Kalka Mail from Toondla (outside Agra) to Kolkuta: our "compartments" were four-berth cabins with two berths on the other side of the corridor. The only thing separating them was a curtain which could be drawn. Our "cabin mates" were Vimal and Beena from Kolkuta, a lovely couple who had been to a health retreat in Rajasthan and were returning home. We swapped stories, discussed our different lives and families and struck up a lovely relationship. They taught us some Yoga exercises and we also exchanged food...they gave us Dhal sweetmeats and we gave them halva: a real intercultural experience. Now they have INSISTED that we have dinner with them when we return to Kolkuta.
Oh Calcutta (English spelling); what an amazing city. Take away the shmutz and the beggars, clean up the buildings a bit and it looks very much like London; which is not that surprising seeing as how the British built it almost from scratch 300 years ago. The traffic was once again hair-raising. Ambassadorss (those Morris Oxfords again) literally squeeze in and out of tight spots, bend themselves around corners, belch their dieseled way through the streets and eventually, despite the apparent odds, deposit you where you want to be - somewhat the worse for wear. We spent the next few hours after our arrival viewing the city and booking into the YWCA (about which we shall say NOTHING except YEUCH!!!).
Helen was like a kid..remember she was born in Kolkuta and hasn't been back since 1977. She visited her old apartment, and then took us through the New Market to visit Nahoum's Confectionery - a business which was started by the Nahoum family in 1902 and has been in its present spot in the very heart of the market since 1916. It is run by David Nahoum, the last
in the Nahoum family line still involved in the business and one of the last few Jews left in Kolkuta. His cakes and sweets are delicious and the business is an institution in Kolkuta. Helen was very emotional. She kept saying "the ghosts...the ghosts..." remembering her childhood and the vibrant Jewish community life which thrived here all those years ago. David has promised to take us to see the last two synagogues in the city when we get back from Darjeeling...
Goldie - Helen's friend about whom much more later - took us to a new restaurant for a typical Bengali lunch - just too delicious for words: meanwhile it was pelting down outside and the Kolkuta streets were awash. The drainage leaves something to be desired. The interesting thing about this city is that there are some really upscale shopping areas - Park Street for instance - with really classy cafes, restaurants, clothing stores and a fantastic music and DVD shop...and across the street are the beggars and the rundown little stalls; the scruffy dogs and scrofulous children; squalor and opulence side by side.
We left for Darjeeling yesterday (Thursday ) afternoon. Well, it was supposed to be Thursday afternoon but ended up as Thursday night - our train was delayed for hours. We waited on the station platform (9a);then we were told it was 9b; then we were told the train was only leaving at 7:00 pm instead of 5:00, then it was changed to 8:00 pm on platform 8. But if you really want to see a slice of Indian life, it is on the station platforms that you really get up close and personal. We met Karan, a beggar shoe cleaner boy of about 9-years-old, to whom Marlyn gave a pencil and sharpener and some paper - he was thrilled. And then we were accosted by a little girl, she couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 carrying her little sister of about 2: the sweetest faces you could ever imagine, begging for scraps and rupees. If you allowed yourself you could actually fall apart over the filth and degradation and utter poverty in which these children live. But one has to put up a shield and actually shoo them off: begging is more like an industry in India - the more deformed and deprived the beggars look, the more valuable they are as beggars. It's a strange logic; we didn't want to appear lazy by finding porters, but actually realizedd that by NOT getting them to shlep our bags, we were depriving them of employment.
And now we are in Darjeeling having arrived a few hours ago after an overnight train ride from Kol, and a four hour jeep ride up the hill; twists and turns, buses, trucks, jeeps other vehicles coming and going - one or two actually not making it. There were a few wrecks teetering on the edge of the mountain. We shared our jeep with Col. Muhkarjee, an officer in the Gurkhas and a really colorful character. He has invited us to the Officer's Mess in Darjeeling this evening for drinks and dinner and we are looking forward to it.
So far, we've had not stomach troubles at all; really enjoying the food and keeping to sealed bottled water.
Darjeeling is charming but its raining and cold so we are not walking about today. Tomorrow we'll start looking around as the weather promises to improve. That's it for now. Future blogs will feature the Bog Blog or How to use a squat on an Indian train and some more on the traffic and Indian drivers...till then
Monday, October 03, 2005
Well, we still have four months to go - October 15 is launch date - and we haven't started packing just yet (altho' our Australian cousins who are meeting us there claim they've started...so they don't miss the plane).
How on earth do we have the audacity to go to India? We're not that young anymore (well, we're not OLD), we're - you know, not just out of the army heading east like every young Israeli who finishes serving the nation and heads for the wilds of Borneo, or Thailand or India or other such exotic climes. And NO, we are not going to do "India Luxus" staying in 5-star hotels swanning around in airconditioned Ambassadors with turbaned chauffeurs. We don't have the money for that, and even if we did, we wouldn't...know what I mean?
It all came about when our cousins (Nate and Helen) in Melbourne, who we haven't seen for three years, arranged to meet Gill and Hylton, our cousins from Tel Aviv in Delhi and they said why the hell don't we come along too - get all the bloody (sorry, blood-) relations together in one bloody place at one bloody time???
The lure of spicy, good, genuine, hot Indian curry every day for a month was just too much! Hylton and I have been threatening to get a curry evening together for months now, so I guess this is the only way we're going to do it sometime soon.
Now the plans and ideas, suggestions and comments are flying back and forth across the email and internet waves between Israel and Oz with alarming speed (the joys of being able to speak to Melbourne FREE via the Internet - yes this IS a plug for Skype!). Indian Internet sites are being visited more than ever in their entire existence; we are finding hotels and guest houses at ridiculously low prices (medium range, + private bathroom, +"beautiful view and sumptuous breakfast served overlooking the Ganges") for less than NIS50.00 a night DOUBLE (that's about $11); we have finally (I think...) figured out the strange and labyrinthine routes through an India Railways timetable - jeez, I negotiated my way through an Italian railway timetable and booking office - how bad can India be? (He he - chuckles Camilla, the one who spent five months there - just you wait and see....!) We do know that Helen, who was born in Calcutta, will be a wonderful guide and we've already started learning Hindi.
Here, courtesy of Helen, is Lesson 1:
- namaste = hello (said with both hands together in a prayer-like formation: one is actually praying that they understand one) (pronounced: namaste)
- ap kaisa hai = how are you (pronounced how arr yuu)
- kitna paisa hai = how much is it (pronounced: emmachizit)
- hum nai pasand karata hai = I don't like it (said to helpful coolies who try to feel one up at the same time as trying to snatch one's parcel in an effort to carry it for one and thus get some business so they don't starve to death)
- hum usko nai mungta = I don't want it (to be said over and over again to over zealous shopkeepers, rickshaw wallahs, cholera ridden food vendors, public toilet paper dispenser ladies)
OK - so we're going to find out that the Internet is the biggest spin-doctor in the history of the universe; that the hotel rooms looked the way they do on my screen only once ever (the day the pictures were taken) and that breakfast on the Ganges may not be quite as romantic as it's made out to be...but that's what we're going to discover. Our sense of adventure has not been dimmed in our respective fifth (or is that sixth?) decades and we will take a one last deep breath of clean, airconditioned, aircraft air and savor it before setting foot on Delhi's tarmac.
We have been promised it will be an eye-opener; we have been promised that we will never be the same again; we have been promised the experience of a lifetime - and we can't wait!
We'll keep you posted on our personal passage to India.
Oh, and if anybody has any suggestions, ideas or tips, please email them or post comments on this site.
Sometime later (3 1/2 months later to be precise):
Since last editing this posting, I've learnt some new Hindi, which has become something of a personal favorite: "agar magar mudt kedjeaye = no if's and buts, please!" which I learnt not from Helen, but from that wonderful handbook on India, "Holy Cow" by Sarah Macdonald (Broadway) - absolutely required reading for anybody with even a remote interest in India. I practice this phrase daily (not sure about the pronunciation yet) but I'm sure I'll get it right eventually. After all, as somebody remarked to me at a party the other day, when I was mimicking a Durban-sourced Indian accent: "You'll have no trouble - you already speak the language..."
It is now early October and our odyssey looms large on the Eastern horizon. Just a week-and-a-half to go and then we'll be gone, flying Turkish Airlines magic carpet to who knows what adventures and experiences. Hotels are booked: - ha! let's see if the Prince Polonia Hotel in Delhi (Mr. Brij, Director) actually does meet us at Delhi airport in the wee wee hours (2:30 am ETA in their "own big car (tata sumo) for Rs700 - (NIS70.00)". Gill did a wonderful job sorting out the hotel bookings - emails, telephone calls, sending copious amounts of rupee as deposits...
We had our shots three weeks ago - our "Pun-jabs" as a friend remarked. Marlyn had four, I had five - and we are now suitably inoculated and immune for decades to all manner of dreadful little bugs and diseases which still stalk our lonely planet, particularly in those remote and undeveloped areas known as "The Third World". Still on our shopping list are hugely expensive malaria tabs (I thought a nightly slug of Gin & Tonic would do the trick - it worked for the Raj didn't it?) and a cartload of Immodium and one more hepatitis shot each.
Our inventory of clothes and accessories has been checked and set aside: camera - extra batteries - check; additional memory chip - check; battery and cell-phone charger - check; torch - check; locks for luggage - check; Visas - passport and plastic - check; minimal clothing (three pairs of shorts, three longs/jeans, T-shirts, something warm for the mountains; walking shoes - that's it...).
We've sort of decided to take only backpacks and a small wheeled carry-on suitcase (at least I have - I'm using Camilla's amazing backpack she had in India - well balanced, easy to lug, huge capacity; Marlyn has decided to take our standard traveling suitcase - mainly to make sure she has enough room to bring back the loads of cotton fabric she intends buying in Calcutta.
So now all that remains is for me to advise another few clients that I'll be away for half of October and a few days into November... (with some trepidation, Marlyn told her new boss...he was thrilled at the idea...); to get through the Chagim - Rosh Hashana tonight and tomorrow (too much to eat, I'm sure) next week Yom Kippur - nothing to eat - and then we fly...
I'll be keeping this up to date as much as I can during the trip - so log in from time to time (or I'll advise by email): Shana Tova to all - INDJAH - HEAH WE COME!