29 July 2007

Bollywood gone bad

Coming to India one of the things I was looking forward to was the music, and excitement of Bollywood. In Jaipur we went to a famous movie theatre (picture an Indian version of the Civic in Auckland) to see a new release Partner. It was an appalling remake of Hitch, with some gangsters and a cute kid thrown into the mix for no apparent reason. The one benefit of this was that the lack of English subtitles was no hindrance to me understanding the plot, whilst I don't think anyone was expected to understand the connections between some of the song/dance routines and the storyline. Having said that, the songs were catchy and you had to cheer along with the vocal audience when they came on, as well as every time the steroid produced love interest tore off his shirt/slash had his white shirt soaked in water.
As most of you know I love to dance, and Bollywood music is just my sort of cheesy thing! We have been practicing our moves under the tutelage of Binu our guide through out the trip, at the tail end of wedding processions, on boats cruising down the river and on the night train. So we were all pretty confident that when we hit the nightclubs in Kolkata last night we would be a hit on the dance floor (other than the fact that 7 foreigners would stand out just a little). Once again we were disappointed - no pure Bollywood cheese to show off our perfected dry yourself with a towel/screw the light bulb moves, no Bollywood has gone Trance! Don't worry we didn't let that stop us, and we definitely entertained, if not scared, everyone on the dance floor. But tonight the last 4 of us that remain from the group are going out in search of something a little more pure. It seems like a fitting end to 25 days in India, dancing the night away to the beats of Bollywood old style!

23 July 2007

Indian Transportation

Having travelled the way the locals do for the last two weeks in India I now feel equipped to write a novel on the subject. No need to panic though, I'll just give you a few observations...

My Intrepid trip is a Basix option, which roughly translated means no air con, local buses (no air con), and very few frills. However I feel that I have been able to get a handle on the 'real' India, or at least that is what I tell myself as I look in scorn (read envy) at the tourists whizzing past our over packed bus in their air conned private vehicle. It has also meant that I have a new found understanding of fear.

My modes of transportation so far have ranged from camel (OK, that doesn't really count as it was not on the main road), cycle rickshaw, auto rickshaw/tuk tuk, motorbike, bus, roof of bus, and finally taxi. Each of them has their own elements of fun and fear. We have discovered that as a group we are almost as good as the locals at squeezing into tuk tuks, our record so far is 9 plus driver (a few more than the 3 it is designed for). However our attempts to blend in always fail, and the sight of so many white bodies hanging off a moving vehicle creates endless amusement for the local population. There is also the constant fear that an overhanging limb may be taken off by a passing cow/bike/car/bus. The sight of a bus being within a foot of your face is also a little nerve wracking, particularly given the poor state of repair many of them are in.

Bus travel in and of itself also offers some nerve wracking experiences. We have been lucky enough to always have seats for our long distance hauls (the longest of which was 8 hours, six of which went by with out a toilet stop!), the downside of sitting however is that those standing can stare down at you to their hearts content - which they do! The buses also believe that speed is the best approach in all situations, whether that be trying to squeeze through a gap before a truck, scare roaming cows off the road, or hurry someone's disembarkment. This has lead to a few white knuckles as I swear two wheels have left the road as the bus tips sideways. On the whole I've decided that travelling on the roof top is more enjoyable - an opportunity I have only had once, on a 45 minute weave through a mountain pass from Ajmer to Pushka. The sight of 5 westerners on top of the bus (particularly 3 women) was just to much for those on the side of the road to cope with, but the fresh air was a welcome change from the pleasant aroma long distance buses create inside.

This afternoon I made use of a cyclo-rickshaw for the first time (no motorised vehicles are allowed in the streets around the Taj Mahal to cut back on pollution), and that just made me feel guilty. The grandfather that was struggling to peddle Fiona and I along the streets was probably only a third of our weights combined, and at times we were hardly moving. Yet the wiry old guide was still able to keep up a constant argument for the benefits of the Taj, his brother's shop, using him as a guide tomorrow...

Scariest of all though had to be the long distance taxi ride. A few of us had succumbed to the inevitable Indian tummy issues whilst in Pushkar and decided that a bus ride with no control over toilet stops may not have been a sanitary option. So we chipped in together to get to Jaipur by taxi. I made the fatal mistake of sitting in the front seat! The scariest thing about being on the roads in India - actually seeing what is happening in front of you!

But the long trips on the road are coming to an end for me. Our last two long hauls are by train, to Varanassi tomorrow and then a few days later to Calcutta. The question that remains now... what are the budget domestic flights like? I still have one of those remaining to get me back to Delhi. They may be a story on their own!

13 July 2007

Camel Safari

I've just got back from my jaunt into the Thar desert on the back of a camel. I think it took me almost as long to remover the sand from my body as it did to ride out into the desert!

Other than the sand it was a great experience, I haven't decided that I love camels - but I don't dislike them as much anymore. We rode out past some small villages, getting to see little kids tend the herds of goats and eagles try and take off with them. We only had to travel for about 2 hours by camel (which was more than enough) to reach our camp site. We were in the middle of the sand dunes, which I guess explains the sand, and had some basic cot like beds set up under the stars. Somehow the guides had managed to keep the beer cold on the trek in and we happily consumed a few to stay cool - it was only 43 degrees!

The night was spent playing cards, listening and dancing to a few Bollywood tunes and watching a million stars go by. Perhaps not an authentic experience, but a fun one none the less.

This afternoon 6 ours on the local bus to Jodhpur - should be fun!?!

12 July 2007

Surviving India!

I have now been in India for almost a week - what an experience! I arrived in Delhi last Friday night and was very glad that I had organised an airport pick up for the first time in my life. It saved me from the grabbing masses, and meant that I didn't have to deal with the "sorry mam, your hotel is closed for reservations type scams". I spent my first two days adjusting to the maddening pace, the heat and the constant call outs before my tour started. I managed to get to a couple of the sights using subway and rickshaw, and was lucky enough to escape with my life when the rickshaw I was driving in nearly slammed into the side of another that had gone through a life. The 3 inches between the rickshaws was just a little close for my liking!

The first real India moment though was definitely the public bus ride with our tour guide to get into Old Delhi. All 12 of us had to get into a bus that was basically spewing its passengers onto the road already. Our precise military plan had half of us taking the front door and half the back. I charged onto the front steps and basically let myself be pushed onto the bus by the human tide behind me. Once on I was pushed towards the middle, standing with absolutely no personal space. and nothing to hold on to. Obviously being a white women in this situation it was an open option for some one to cope a feel, which one charming young man clearly felt it was his obligation to do - with out much enthusiasm. Binu our guide was so concerned about pick pockets and keeping an eye on us, that he didn't realise when he had his phone swipped from a pocket!

Old Delhi was exactly the noisy, bustling, smelly, fascinating place you would expect. I bought chai masala tea from the spice markets, and haggled over the prices of nuts to take on the train journey. I'd try and upload the photos of the rickshaw traffic jam which can only be described in pictures, but the internet speed is so slow it would take all day.

From Old Delhi we headed to the train station for a 19 hour trip to Jaisalmer. After eating fried pakora on the railway station we headed off into the desert. We had sleeper trains and managed to kill the time to bed with cards and getting to know the group. Sleep was a little more tricky courtesy of the snoring, farting Indian gentleman that was close to Fiona and I. The next morning spirits were high, however as the 19 hours dragged on to 24 patience started to wain. Once we got off I was again reminded of the wisdom of doing a tour in India, as I watched the other white faces being engulfed in a sea of pushing and shouting rickshaw drivers. The long trip was worth it however from the moment the fort in Jaisalmer appeared.

Jaisalmer is a forted city that was built in 1100AD. For the last two nights I have slept in one of the turrets on the outside wall of the fort, and have spent many lazy hours sitting on the roof top watching the world go by with a cold beer or chai tea in my hand. Wandering around the crooked alleys of the inner fort is amazing, and dangerous. Cows wander the streets with carefree abandon, and before you start thinking of sweet cows with lovely brown eyes let me correct you. These cows are big, with big horns and big attitudes. My first day I was head butted by one and then slipped over as I tried to get out of its way and stood in a cow pat that sent me skidding - I swear I could hear the cow laughing! The rest of my group definitely was! There are lots of amazing little shops selling all sorts of bits and bobs, although I have been remarkably controlled so far - probably because I already have many of the things from my trips to Sri Lanka and Nepal. I do however have a new sari and am looking forward to wearing it out to the nightclub we have been promised in Kolkata.

Tonight we head out on an overnight camel safari. I have very romantic notions of music and dance under the stars. I'll let you know what it is really like next time!

4 July 2007

Views of rural Cambodia

From the streets of Phnom Penh Mum and I retired to a home stay in rural Cambodia. Baray is a little dot on the landscape kind of place a couple of hours outside PP, surrounded by rice paddies and not much else. After an interesting share taxi ride there - three of us in the back seat, four in the front, we relaxed for two days as we were shown around by the villagers. The home stay is a community cooperative set up to compliment a craft co-op, and brings in some much needed extra money to the community.

These are just a few of the photos from our time there...

Mum on the back of a motorbike for the first time in her life!

Our transport out to see the sun set.

Bath time at the village well.

Another of our forms of transport around the village.

The cattle on the way back from the fields.

One of the houses in the village.

Me, eating the local desserts. I did turn down the fried crickets!

Relaxing in the hammock - a hard life!

Using my weight to make rice noodles - I was offered a permanent job.

Our accommodation, a cashew nut tree house.

29 June 2007

Finger nails and heart break

It is now a week since I got back from Cambodia and I have been putting off blogging about it because I don't know where to start. The background for those of you not in the know was that my mum and I decided to go and do some volunteer work at His Child, an orphanage just out of Phnom Penh that a couple from my church run. Not that we knew too much about what we were going to be doing, but it seemed like a good way to 'give back' and also have some quality mother/daughter time.

On arriving in Phnom Penh I quickly discovered that my teaching skills were not the ones that were going to be called in to play, instead I became a temperature taking, finger nail cutting, small children bathing, balloon twisting machine.

Our first two days with the orphanage everyone was involved in a medical initiative. A team of doctors and pharmacists from Singapore were there, and we went out into the communities (day one was a community that survived off the local rubbish dump) and met as many medical needs as possible. The first day the 4 doctors saw over 200 people, providing them with the necessary drugs and medical advice for medical issues ranging from diabetes and HIV/Aids to headaches and throat infections. This was all done in the extreme hot, 35 degrees and at least 95% humidity - and before you say "Kirsty, you live in temperatures like that all the time!", let me point out that there was no air-con, anywhere!

Two of the faces from the village

Once the medical team left we started helping out with the 'bus'. This bus goes out to different locations in the city and is met by large groups of street kids waiting for their weekly visit. The two hours that the kids spend with the bus is a chance for them to just be kids. When we would arrive step one was finger nail cutting. Yes, finger nail cutting. The kids loved this, I think it was just the one-on-one attention and physical contact - but it meant they were less likely to get infections and store quite as much gunk under their nails. From there games were played with water bombs, simple tiggy/cat and mouse type games, and generally lots of laughter and hilarity. Whilst this was going on the younger kids would be taken onto the bus that had showers and given a chance to get clean. It is hard to describe the feeling when you are having to bathe little 3-year olds that arrive butt naked all by themselves, or if they are lucky with a big brother or sister - it just breaks your heart. Once everyone is clean and had some fun the serious stuff starts and some of the local staff teach basic khmer and hygiene to the kids before they are sent off with some food. On one occasion I tried to teach 40 odd kids to make balloon flowers, it wasn't that successful but it was a lot of fun!

Mum on fingernail cutting duty

Fun with the balloons!

How can you resist those eyes?

I quickly learnt while I was there that the kids in the orphanage were really the lucky ones. Whilst all 42 of them had ended up in the orphanage from crisis situations they knew where there meals were coming from everyday, went to school, and most importantly were protected from the streets. As so many other things that week taught me, our western perceptions, such as those 'poor orphans' can be very wrong.

Some of the orphanage kids off to school

I could go on for ages about how it felt to hold a little kid 's hand as you cut their nails knowing the life they live on the streets - absolutely heart breaking. But at least I feel like I did a little bit to make a difference, and I know that I don't want this to be the last time.

14 May 2007

Painted Cuties

Aren't they just adorable! Livvy, Kayla and Hollie all painted up.