Wednesday
Feb092011

Yeah this'll do nicely

This is our new home. Free range chickens, an elephant for a neighbour, organic veg patch and a whole lotta jungle on the other side of the field. This place is freaking magical.

The fantastic washing facilities as modelled by Charmin, 35 from BristolOn the right you can just spot our neighbour in the distance going about his business

 

Wednesday
Feb092011

Load-shedding

Load-shedding n. rolling blackouts caused by insufficient electricity. In Nepal this currently means no power for 14-16 hours each day. Power suddendly goes off, sometimes generators kick in or it's eating, reading, washing by candle light. Quite nice actually for us, not so good if you live here. Pretty major problem for the new Government to start with (then on to the strikes, lack of water, huge sanitation problem, rubbish, lack of any type of infrastructure...' More on this to come

Wednesday
Feb092011

Into the jungle

Bus journey to Chitwan‘Our bus leaves at 2 right?’ I asked the ticket seller/local Steven Seagal lookalike. I was asking for the third time, just in case there was any chance our Nepali numbers were wrong. ‘Yes 100%, 800 rupees, 800 rupees’.

And so here we are at 4 o’clock, sitting on the bus. The engine’s not even on.
It’s a fascinating fact that 100% in Nepalese actually means not at all.

9 hours later we arrived in Sauraha, Chitwan national park.

We arrived at night (‘one thing to avoid…’ say the guide books, thanks Steven Seagal), which meant a comically nervous couple of last hours not knowing how we were going to get from the bus station and our guesthouse.

We began to realise that arriving at a bus stop in the middle of a national park, which we were visiting due to the abundance of Rhinos elephants and tigers, at 3 in the morning wasn’t the best thing.

I had visions - four hours of Min and I holed up behind a rucksack barricade,
(not to dissimilar to the sandbag broom cupboards that the military seem to have on a street corner of every town in Nepal).
I’d be on guard, Swiss army knife corkscrew at the ready in one hand, lonely planet in the other (as I frantically try to find the ‘what to do when a tiger attacks you in a bus stop’ section.) We were in for a bit of a night.

In the end we were lucky (done over) The bus conductor on hearing our dilemma rang his ‘brother’ at the local petrol station who was to come out and save the day (all for the generous sum of the average annual Nepali wage)
But we weren’t in a position to complain. We were safe, for now.

After the initial panic, it felt quite exciting to arrive at in the jungle at dark, especially in a car driven by two Nepali dudes. Down dark, dusty tracks we drove at snails’ pace until we finally arrived, load-shedding in full effect, in the total darkness.
After a ten minute search around the grounds, torches dying, we managed to find an open door.
A big burly man lay within, snoring his head off. On accessing the situation, I proceeded to do the typically English thing of ‘Excuse me’ ‘Awfully sorry’ (the plan, to gently trying to coax him awake whilst not startling him) my plan was in it’s early stages when one of the taxi boys bowls into the hut and shouts ‘BAI!’ at the top of his voice. At this point the man instantly bolted awake, and as if by magic, flew straight into conversation as if he’d been up for hours “hello, yes, we’ve been waiting for you, this way, brilliant’. (There really is nothing finer than a person waking up, in the sleepy confusion being hit by a wave of guilt about not being at full attention and trying to cover his tracks. He had every right to have a snooze, it was 3 in the morning)

The squinting, stumbling chap showed us to the room,we politely took the number of the most expensive taxi drivers in the world and rushed to bed.

‘Chillax House’ a big sign read on the wall. After the day of madness we’d had, we were hoping it would deliver.


Monday
Feb072011

Comments again

WHEN ADDING COMMENTS, MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT PUT SPACES IN BETWEEN EACH CHARACTER WHEN PROMPTED AND THAT CAPS LOCK IS OFF. THEY TELL US IT SHOULD WORK FINE. IF THAT STILL DOESN'T WORK PLEASE WRITE A LETTER OR SEND A PIGEON. LOTS OF LOVE M & T X

Sunday
Feb062011

Dharan Dharan

Dharan, East Nepal

The Town of Dharan and the noisiest hotel in Asia.

‘A sleepy market town’? Er, lonely planet, we’re not so sure.

As we didn’t fancy the 17 hours on a Nepali bus to Pokhara in one go so we decided to make a stop on the way.

This seemed perfectly logical and we didn’t really understand why so few of the travellers we’d met in India, who’d been to Nepal hadn’t done it themselves.

Now we know.

It wasn’t a bad place and we got to see some of ‘everyday’ Nepal, which was good. It’s just that everyday Nepal is quite busy and mad for the only couple of westerners in the town.  It used to be home to the Gurkha recruitment for the British army until they moved it to Pokhara and because of that there’s been quite a bit of money in the place (A gurkha salary is enormous in comparison to the average wage in Nepal) The outskirts of the town was almost ‘middle-class’ suburban with pretty bright coloured houses with white balconies and pillars. A million miles away from Kolkata but yet this is not Kathmandu and what we’ve heard is there’s more to come.

After the very noisy nights sleep (or lack of) due to dogs, loud neighbours and the town clock tower that quite amazingly, played a very loud digital chime tune on the hour. Think Grandfather clock meets Michel Gorbachov’s doorbell. Bad. very bad.

We were glad to get out of there.

 

 

Sunday
Feb062011

Into Nepal  

Kharabitta

This town on the border that feels like an extension of India but with a few noticeable differences.

It seems calm. This is probably because it’s a transit town. You get in, you get out.

Not only that but the people seem incredibly friendly. It’s not that Indian people are not friendly, not by a long stretch, it’s just that the Nepali the attention of an entire family-run hotel when you’re the only guests, you cannot beat.

From the owner of the hotel, a very gentle olde man wearing a flat-cap and spectacles * down to his toothless granddaughter with her outstretched badminton racket looking for someone to play with, they were so unbelievably friendly.

Having reached the dizzy heights of the Bucks schools Badminton trials, only to be dumped out first round by Alex Moulds (proper hard, year above at school) I felt I was up to the task of a game of badminton against the four year old. She was very cute. She laughed a lot at my laurel and hardy-esque running around missing shots and falling over. 

Her older brother looked on unimpressed. Must have been thinking...'Engish Shuttlecock.'

Hotel Mechi (as feat in lonely planet) Highly recommended. Superb value for money and very very friendly.

Sunday
Jan302011

Problems adding comments?

New thing the blog people have introduced, to leave a comment you have to type in a randomly generated code. If you're still not able to can you email us at evanstomd@googlemail.com or charminsmart@gmail.com. They're looking into it so please keep trying x

Thursday
Jan272011

Crossing the border to Nepal on foot

An interesting thing. You get dropped off at the Indian side, walk into a hut where the Indian immigration officer (wearing a Kangol jumper) assures you he is the right man to see. 2 forms later he stamps the wrong visa and sends you on your way. Over the bridge to hut number 2, the Nepalese immigration chaps.

I think on my way out of the India 'checkout’, we really should have written in the visitors book.

Thursday
Jan272011

Looking out at the beautiful...fog

Thursday
Jan272011

Peaceful up here

Buddist Holy lake, Sikkim

Thursday
Jan272011

The change of plan, the wait, the crash

So instead of Darjeeling, we headed to Sikkim.

Village of Yuksom, Sikkim

Our bus ride up to Pelling in Sikkim (6000ft) was an eventful one. The strikes affected us even after we’d cancelled our plans to go to Darjeeling. The strikes meant that the buses were travelling in a convoy we were told. (This sounds a great deal scarier than it was, we didn’t see any action whatsoever) but it did mean that the bus was delayed for 3 hours (and I thought the 336 to Chesham was bad). This was before the 7 hour journey up into the hills. We finally got on our way in what we were told were the VIP seats (1 and 2, right at the front of the bus – the best views) This is true, we had the best views - The best views of the bus clinging to the edge of the mountain for 7 hours.  It was intense.

 

Then there was the crash. A truck going down the hill failed to slow down, the bus failed to leap over the edge and the back window was smashed. Luckily no one was in the back.

 

Everyone from the bus piled out in the night high up in the mountains as did the truck’s passengers (nearly as many as the bus amazingly) and then there was much shining of torches at the wreckage and what I can only describe as a ‘crash-off’ Like a dance off, starting with driver of the bus and truck in the middle, the crowd was led to each vehicle and with much gesturing and shuffling, the damage was assessed. At any point it could have broken into song and a full-blown Bollywood dance with Min, headtorch donned at the centre of it all. That’s my girl.

 

After some raised voices and what sounded like some political remarks about Bengal (maybe linked to the strikes and Gorkhaland) we all piled back on the broken bus and continued our journey up the mountain, luckily, a bit slower.

 

Sikkim was brilliant. Cloudy, very cold but brilliant. We couldn’t see the mountain although we were assured it was there. We stayed in an amazing little Tibetan hut hotel complete with fire, sittar-playing travellers and hot-water bottle giving hosts. Monastaries, villages and buddist jeep tour. It was a perfect replacement for Darjeeling.

Thursday
Jan272011

Darjeeling, limited.

 

A strike in West Bengal meant that Darjeeling was shut down.

And when I say shut down that is no loose use of the phrase.

We were really down to not to have made it there. It was such a big part of our trip.

How inconvenient for us tourists that these people have been pushing for their own state (of Gorkhaland) for so long.

 

Demand for the Separate State of Gorkhaland

The demand for a separate state for the Gorkhas within India is more than 100 years old.[22] "The name "Gorkhaland" is claimed to have been coined by Subash Ghisingh on 5 April 1980, cf., his speech of 7 September 1989 at Darjeeling".[23] After a violent agitation in 1980's which claimed more than 1200 lives in the hills,[24] Subash Ghising settled for the DGHC.

After a lull of Ghisingh's 20 years rule,[25] the demand for Gorkhaland was again revived by GJM under the leadership of Bimal Gurung.[26] The total area of the proposed state is 6246 km2 and comprises Banarhat, Bhaktinagar, Birpara, Chalsa, Darjeeling, Jaigaon, Kalchini, Kalimpong, Kumargram, Kurseong, Madarihat, Malbazar, Mirik and Nagarkatta.[27] Unlike the 1980s, GJM has maintained that the struggle for Gorkhaland would be through non-violence and non-cooperation.[28]

GJM initially resorted to bandhs, hunger strikes and non-payment of utility bills to further their demand.[29] It was quite enough to get the attention of the State Government, who invited them to Kolkata for bipartite talks.[30] GJM refused to attends the talks as the state Government had set preconditions that they would discuss developmental issues but not Gorkhaland.[31] The Chief Minister extended the invitation again and denied having set any preconditions for the talks.[32]

The first tripartite talks between Government of India, Government of West Bengal and leaders of the Hill Parties headed by GJM was held on 8 September 2008.[33] The hill delegation also submitted a 51-page memorandum to the Union Home Secretary, Government of India.

"The demand for a separate state within the Constitutional framework and within the Indian Union, consisting of Darjeeling District and the Dooars region of West Bengal is arguably the oldest and most outstanding demand in the country today. This demand for separate statehood is founded on the bedrock of a historical, economic and political rationale. Against the backdrop of socio-economic exploitation, political and cultural hegemony, misgovernance and exclusion, the demand has become an expression of the ingrained and deep rooted aspirations of the people to secure to themselves, and to their succeeding generations, the right to determine their own future."[34]

 

The bandh (strike) meant that I couldn’t follow in the footsteps of my Grandad on his way up to Darjeeling in the 1930’s. I was really hoping to call him at a spot where I could see Everest and Mount Kangchenjunga as he described to me. I was even going to try and ride a pony on a trek up to the foothills as he did as a young boy.

Instead, on the trip up to Sikkim, I tried to imagine the similarities and what it must have been like.

 

It must have taken so long. What must it have been like as a boy? A real adventure. Were there hundreds of monkeys lining the road, each one on it’s own marker stone like guards at a procession. Were there goods carriers (trucks) brightly coloured and painted with slogans and BLOW HORN YES?

Were there goats clambering on the edges of the steepest drops ? Landslide warnings? Evidence of landslides round the corners?  So many questions, I’m going to try and ring him.

Thursday
Jan272011

Room Cam 

Our carriage on the 10.05 Darjeeling Mail

Thursday
Jan272011

The Colonel, the bottle of rum and the Darjeeling mail

This was exciting, We got to the station early, got on second class carriage, not as great as we hoped. Then we had the good news, we’d been upgraded (not without the help of a very determined man who himself had been upgraded to our old seats)

Confusion. In hindi.

 ‘Thank you’ I said to him after and in that very suprising elegant Indian way he said ‘No Thankyous, it is my duty’

We arrived at our first class AC A1 or was it 1A carriage on the 10.05 Darjeeling Mail. After much banging and clattering of rucksack too wide for the passageway and door frames of the train. ‘pardon me, sorry, I am sorry, excuse me’

We were the stars of the show.  We were to share with two gentlemen. One was engrossed in a loud and what was clearly, very important phonecall on his mobile The other gentleman, sat calmly on the seat by the window, his hat placed in front of him. This was when we met The Colonel and it was to lead to one of the best experiences of the trip so far.

‘It was destiny you were on this carriage’ as the Colonel put it.

 

We didn’t say much at first, we were just happy to have been upgraded and in the calm of the first class carriage. After a while, the man on the phone stopped yapping and acknowledged us with a stare before closing his eyes and falling asleep.

 

A government minister was travelling in the next carriage. The train was full of West Bengal military with their 6 layers of Khaki to fight the cold and their paint-chipped rifles under their arms. The belly-laughs and clinking of drinks from next door made it sound like this minister was from a Bollywood movie and a CBI detective was about to burst on to the train with a warrant on corruption charges but we failed to get a glimpse of him.

 

After some pleasantries, the Colonel said what he clearly was busting to say. ‘do you mind if I have a drink?’

‘It’s not allowed you see. Got to watch out with all these guards on the train’ said the 64 year old retired Colonel (Artillery regiment). With that he retrieved a newspaper-covered hip flask full of ‘India’s finest rum’.

 

‘Would you care to have a drink?’

You bet I did, so I slid across to the Colonel’s side of the carriage as Min climbed the ladder to her bunk and well, the rest is a bit of a blur.

 

Not content with breaking the drinking laws, the Colonel enlisted my as a sentry to keep an eye out for guards whilst he went for hourly puffs of a cigarette in the toilets (Because they had ‘exhausts’ in them’ and you couldn’t smell the cigarettes) You could. And as my mum will verify (even with the use of deodorant after a 10 minute trip to Tristan’s to ‘revise’) you smell a great deal after smoking. Still the guards seemed to have better things on their minds (those pesky separatist militants I guess).

 

A hip-flask of Old Monk rum later we arrived at NJP station (for Darjeeling).

The lovely gentlemen gave us his card and told us that we should visit him in Delhi in 2012. He would book time off and be our guide and host. What a fine gentleman and what a way to pass the time on a 12 hour train ride  in India.

 

Thursday
Jan272011

No photos here

I have not stopped to get the camera out in Calcutta and once again I turn to the words of my new friend Geoffrey Moorhouse to explain why...

 

‘No derelict human being should be examined as a specimen by another human being, unless it is by someone who can give him something to mend his condition; whatever that may be. For the same reason you leave Calcutta, unless you are very tough or a professional, with a [full memory card] but which contains hardly any record of people. Quite apart from the risk of violence when the camera is raised, which is considerable, you are deterred by the indecency of the act.’

 

Thursday
Jan272011

Room cam

Thursday
Jan272011

A few observations

Man power

In India, it seems the lack of vaccum cleaners in electrical shops can be sometimes explained by the fact that a Carpet sweeper is cheaper to maintain than a hoover. Unbelievable.

Recycling

Everything is recycled here, as anything can be sold on.

A small boy sat with his father unfolding scrummpled pages of newspaper and stacking them neatly, probably to sell to the sweet and roll street vendors to wrap their goods in. There is a use for everything.

 

 

Thursday
Jan272011

The Calcutta we've seen, in the words of someone else.

Been reading Geoffrey Moorhouse Calcutta revealed.

Recommended by our friend Narine in Bangalore, at first I didn't think a book about Calcutta written in the 70's would have any relevance today but I gave it a go.  

A perfect read, I learnt so much and could associate what we were seeing with every word.

British influence, the good and the very bad. If you ever come to Calcutta or are just interested, read it. incredible.

'It’s just possible for the Western mind, contemplating Calcutta from a safe distance, to grasp some of the incidence of it’s poverty. It is almost impossible, except from personal experience, to understand how congested the poverty is.'

Thank you Narine.

 

Wednesday
Jan192011

Some words on Kolkata (Not for the faint-hearted)

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata (Over saturated!)

 

Calcutta has built a horrendous reputation over the years and it’s no surprise that it’s here, after the relatively ‘safe’ and wealthy Bangalore that the true craziness and horror of India is creeping back into the mind of this ridiculously over-fed, chauffer-driven, spoilt Bangalore club goer.

 

Mother Teresa’s work most recently has highlighted the extreme poverty and conditions in the city. We’ve seen a great deal of it for ourselves in the last few days. The worst thing about it though, is that after previous trips to India, we seem to be uncomfortably numb to it all. Sort of.

 

I remember it well. On Day one, the traveller to India steps into the busy city, thinking they’re prepared, thinking they’ve read it all, that they know how bad the poverty must be. Then they spend the next few hours not believing how bad it is. For the first few days, the traveller can’t think of anything else but trying to comprehend what he’s just seen.  It takes over.

 

And then it fades. Slowly it moves to the sides of your consciousness as you become too busy absorbing that opposing force that is the vibrancy and full blown life of India.

The dark side is always there, but this is India and you’re used to it.

 

Today we walked to Mother Teresa’s house for the dying. This place is exactly what it sounds like.

It was closed.

We said nothing but we were both relieved.

And for me this sums things up perfectly.

 

There are horrendous things that go on in India that if you’re eyes were fully open to all the time you’d see, but you don’t. You’re eyes are squinted; just enough so that you don’t catch that open wound on that man’s leg as he lies outside the new Shopping Plaza glitzing with Nike trainers wrapped in cellophane. Your eyes seem to steer themselves from the disfigured child pulling himself along on a cart (for he has no legs).

It’s the same reason you’re cringing right now and hoping that I’ll get back to talking about the races, dosa and colourful markets.

It’s very difficult to take it all. And sometimes what we’ve suppressed comes back in a moment of contemplation, one that you want to bottle and keep with you forever so that when you’re back leading your ‘real’ life, you can stop  for a second and reaslise how lucky you are. This is that moment. Please feel free to scroll upwards to lighter blog entries now but this does feel important to me.

 

I want to avoid that fading of this feeling,

 

When we arrived at Mother Teresas, to see that the doors were shut, It was a huge relief. Knowing that we couldn’t possibly make it back when the doors opened later as we had to catch our train meant that we wouldn’t see the intensely horrible things that are the centre of the work the nuns do.

Work that no one else will do. 

Work that the police in Calcutta ring the nuns up to insist they do as there is no one or no place else that will accept a dying man from the street. Not another. There are simply too many.

 

It may sound callous and cold but it seems it is a numbers game in India.

‘There are too many people to care about one’ seems to be a fitting phrase.

This is not to say that there are people who don’t care, it’s just that to most some Indians (take into account the Hindu caste system) and for that matter anyone who has spent a long time in India, that it is simply futile.

 

There will always be the man with nothing, it’s part of the historical, religious, makeup of India, (The Hindu caste system for example) To be fair, it’s not just India is it, it’s the World.

 

Why did we even consider going to the House of the dying anyway? I understand people who go there for a week to volunteer and respect them fully but

is there anything less dignified than wandering into a room, staring at a man dying who has lived a completely unloved and unnoticed existence and then leaving to go off and plan your trip to the Darjeeling tea fields.

 

At best it would have burnt images in our minds of utter horror that would have been a constant reminder of how lucky we are, at worst it would have been Death tourism.

Either way we are so very glad it was closed.

 

The only thing that we can strive for, through seeing (and not seeing) the truth of the poverty in Calcutta (and India as a whole) is total appreciation for how lucky we are. Even more so, the thing I hope for the most is that we can preserve that feeling for as long as possible. I’ve been here before. Each time I’ve been to India or Mali it was the same. I could draw a graph of the feelings. It starts here, appreciating life in full, getting it, realising that none of the small things at home matter. The longer it’s been, the less and less you remember this point, the more the annoyances and minor troubles back at home creep back in. Next thing you know you’re annoyed by the state of next doors’ bins on a Weds morning.

 

Hopefully when I look back at this in a year or so, I’ll be able to stop, slap myself in the face with the following words and get back to this place.

No need to see the dying, just to make a promise that we won’t ever forget that they were there.


The following is pretty heavy I must warn you.

 

Dear Tom,

 

Please remember the following.

You were not born to a mother who, probably not being able to afford to keep you alive as well as herself abandoned you. You were not picked up by the lakky of some goonda (gangster) who on the orders of his master, bound your soft baby limbs in order to mis-shape them. You were not then ‘raised’ to beg on the streets using your purposely-malformed twisted limbs as grotesque tools, your ‘strengths’ in appealing to rich Indians and westerners. You will not die having known no love whatsoever apart from the love of money of the man who ordered your limbs to be twisted in the first place to fill his wallet. 

This is not a horror story. This is what happens. You heard this story in Calcutta.

 

You are one of the lucky ones. Honour it.

 

 

Tuesday
Jan182011

Our new home

Typing from under a mosquito net for the first time in our new room, I’m only now realising how long it’s been since we last wrote and how a lot has changed.

This room doesn’t have pictures of the ‘Anchor lawn’ or the ‘Brigader Hill Annexe’ adorning the walls like the Bangalore club. Instead, you can read ‘ On a trip to find out what is my happiness’, ‘Love and compassion, Cat & Fi RTW 2010’ and quotes from T.S elliot are grafittied all over the dirty walls.

There is no huge walk-in shower  or dining room. Our shower -  on the open air terrace. Our dining room – a shelf were Min’s put the digestive biscuits.

But it is brilliant. We are in Calcutta and loving it.