Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Highlights and Lowlights - looking back on an amazing journey

The trip ran away with me in the end.  We reached Goa - former hippy colony in the 70s, former Portuguese colony much earlier.  It was the end of a long road across India and back not to mention Nepal and Bhutan.  It was, as I had been warned, a different Goa to the one I had read about.  Russians and "their nieces" (all very good looking, funnily enough . . . ).  I have met many Russians in my time and they were all perfectly nice - but this brand was loud, and brash, and brandishing tattoos.  Hmmm.

Concluding our group trip, we escaped to southern Goa for a few days pampering in a property recommended by a friend of a friend.  Wonderful. A beautiful beach nearby provided perfect R&R (including a 25 mile stretch for running - no, I did not do a marathon but a long run proved very relaxing).

Back in Ireland now and I have been reflecting on how people inquire about the break. Responding to the entreaty "DO, tell all about your holiday" usually commands the attention (even with the most engaging storytelling) for, at most, 2 minutes. (Might start a separate blog to explore the implications of that!)

Anyway, in less than 2 minutes, the highs and lows:

- meeting the Boss after 7 weeks' away
- the Taj (just unbeatable)
- Sister Cyril in Loreto Sealdah
- Himalayas (breathtaking)
- the food (especially the cookery course, Bhutanese chilies and so much more)
- the people (especially the cheerfulness of the kids - even in the worst of circumstances)
- the variety (weather, food, activities, monuments, religions, people, transportation, stories. . . )
- the hope (and real change) brought by NGOs to so many

- the poverty (especially the lack of any chance of any education for so many)
- corruption at all levels
- rubbish and dirt - everywhere
- Indian trains (sorry! great system but grisly conditions)
- roads
- the scarcity of Indian Tonic for that most wonderful of sundowners a Gin and Tonic. . .

If you are in any doubt about trying India, just do it! You won't regret the great adventure that is India.

Friday, 2 December 2011

More train journeys. . .

I don't travel enough by train. That was the unlikely conclusion I reached after a 14 hour trip from Mumbai to Goa. Not because it was luxurious - far from it. No, it was because of a conversation with a remarkable lady.

(For those who read 'Menagerie Express', the story of the 20 hour trip to Kolkata, this is a Pauline conversion. . . )

We boarded from a busy, 30 degree plus, platform at 9.45pm and claimed our berths in the 'air conditioned' coach. The pungent odour of disinfectant was suffocating. I consoled myself that the odour it displaced was probably worse.

Lying on the upper bunk bed, I realised that the air conditioning was to operate only while the train was moving. In the meantime, a small fan provided scant relief from the oppressive heat. Oh well, only an hour and a quarter to go. In no time, the coach took on an uncanny resemblance of a sauna.

No reason, so far, ever to want to do this again.

At the appointed hour, the train jerked into life and began the long, twelve hour journey to Goa (well, that was the promise). A blast of cold air burst forth from the ventilation panel. I wanted to kiss it. Soon, though, I was crawling under the flimsy blanket trying to avoid the relentless icy blast. Why does India insist so vehemently on such contrasts?

Carefully enclosed in my blanket, the gentle rocking of the train and a relaxation exercise quickly released me into the arms of Morpheus.

I awoke around 5am and contemplated my options. Jump down from the top bunk, don my sandals and confidently seek out the loo - or clench my face (and more besides) and hope for a second date with Morpheus Man.

Morpheus had done a runner.

The less said about the trip the better. That, also, is what India is about.

I settled back into the bunk and dozed fitfully for the next couple of hours. Around 8am I conducted a furtive reccy, scanning the passengers who had taken residence below us. An Indian couple, in their 60s, I estimated. She detected my surveillance - "Would you like to sit down here?" she said, beckoning to the lower level. I demurred as politely as I could.

After an hour or so, I clambered down from the upper bunk and smiled the awkward smile of introduction. She was delightful. I got her life story in jig-time, in that wonderfully educated-Indian, English accent. Late sixties, widowed, two children (one in New York, one in Toronto), late husband a senior government official, herself now a dyed in the wool traveller, after suffering a stroke a few years earlier (husband and mother having died within a week of each other). Ah, stern stuff here - no doubt about it.

She regaled me with stories of India: economics, politics, foreign direct investment, tourism, food, flea markets and more. All she needed was the slightest encouragement and the next topic was seized upon with enthusiasm:

- how she had discovered Spanish roots after her husband died (land he owned without title deeds prompted her to unearth the family tree back to a quintessentially Spanish Grandee) in her efforts to secure title and sell the property

- how most politicians were corrupt - salting government money, bribes and more to Swiss and other off-shore accounts

- how she had found a cure in Kerala for symptoms of her stroke (especially for slight paralysis on the left side)

- how to bargain in Goa: take the suggested price and offer one third, settling (reluctantly) for one half

- how to understand the relative purchasing power in India versus New York and the chasm between the two (treat each Rupee as a dollar. . . a bit extreme, I thought, since the current exchange rate is about R50 to $1)

- how she had bought a property in Goa in 1971 for R14,000 and how it was now worth 4.5m crore (an increase of about 300 times)

and lots more besides.

Even when I learned our train was running nearly two hours late it still didn't give me enough time to talk to this remarkable lady.

No two ways about it - I need more train journeys.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

This Indian City (and many like it) is brought to you by the letter . . . . H

Leaving Mumbai, my memories of it are forever linked to the letter H:

Heat - 30 degrees plus at 9.40pm? Yep! That's hot.

Humidity - to open long forgotten sweat glands and sink the heat deep into your bones, humidity of over 70% does the trick . . .

Honking - everywhere in India, honking is the default (watch out Dublin! I may exhibit aggressive tendencies on my return!)

'Have's - the 50 plus private jets parked on the apron as we landed (God knows how many more are stashed away in private hangars) is ample evidence of the affluence in Mombai

'Have not's - the shanty town at the edge of the runway (within sight of all those private jets) is an immediate reminder of the opposite end of the spectrum. Apparently it's the biggest slum in Asia (Slum Dog Millionaire was filmed there)

Haa! - the eternal 'Yes!' offered in response to every question: the culture stoutly resists saying "No" to any question ("Excuse me, can you tell me the way to XYZ?" "Haa!" (clueless! Delightful, but clueless!)

Henna - you may like it, I think it's ghastly - but very fashionable for women to stamp their bodies with ornate patterns using henna dye

Hairdryer - the feeling on your legs in the taxi - the same feeling when you stick your arm out the window to cool down (not!)

Hopeful - the look from every beggar asking for money or chipatis or rice - just to survive

Hilarious - sitting in the back of a speeding Classic Ambassador taxi with no lights, no side mirror, no reason for surviving the mayhem of the city - and living to tell the tale

Hawking - the inevitable body response to omnipresent pollution. India has to have the worst incidence of pulmonary disease in the world?

H(B)ollywood (ok I am cheating a little with this H) - well, Bollywood! What can I say?

Hindu - the ancient religion that boasts 33,000 or three million Gods depending on your personal preference

Hysterical - the feeling you get wondering how you ended up visiting this country of such contradictions

Helpless - the occasional sense of despair you feel when you consider all the poor, starving, illiterate people who simply don't have a chance (as we would think of 'a chance')

Happy - The crazy sense you get that, notwithstanding all the deprivation, people are remarkably resilient and, perhaps, even happy?

What a country!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 28 November 2011

Photos - 10

A Buick 8 in one of the old palaces we visited. . .

. . . where the Raj granted private audiences and considered petitions

No, not her bus but a coincidence of intent!

There is no God!

Khushwant Singh starts with a quotation from GB Shaw and promptly embarks on a trail through all the major religions in his cogitation of the best and worst of religions - and the need for a new religion 'without a God'.

A confirmed agnostic and scholar of comparative religions, he provides much food for thought., taking in all the major religions, the holiest of books from each of them and his accounts of current themes and issues.

A different read - worthwhile.

Photos - 9

One of our stops - near Udaipur - beautiful setting for a hotel

The Maharaja throne for hearing public petitions - might just catch?

A prize catch (Tiger looks rightly scared?)

9 meters of cloths makes a turban - no wonder he's happy he managed to get it all tied up again after demonstrating to us!

School in local village


Flourishing.  That’s the new term Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, has crafted to supersede ‘Happiness’.  You can read all about it in his book of the same title.  In a nutshell, the five elemnent s to cultivate are as follows:

Positive emotion – the pleasant life is what we instinctively think of when asked about increasing happiness.  It is a cornerstone of well-being theory but only one of five separate elements.

Engagement – also known as ‘Flow’, the feeling of time stopping, so engaged are we in what we are doing.

Meaning – belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than yourself.  This can be religious or secular, really big or just a stretch beyond yourself.

Accomplishment – pursuit of achievement and mastery for its own sake

Positive relationships – other people turn out to be the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.

I recommend his book - this is backed by hard science not pop psychology.