Friday, 23 December 2011

the bridge over the river kwai

15th - 19th December 2011


                 After finishing up in Bangkok, the next leg of my journey has me heading north where I plan to spend my Christmas and New Year in the city of Chang Mai before making my way to the small town of Pai, which by all accounts sounds like the ultimate traveller's paradise. Was debating whether or not to head to the south islands for the new year but it sounds incredibly expensive there at the moment (plus all the guest houses are now fully booked) so will save full-moon shenanigans for my final two weeks in South East Asia after Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia have been tackled. With that in mind and as New Year's Eve is still two weeks away, I plan to make a few pit stops on the way up north and the first port of call has been the lazy riverside town of Kanchanaburi. Made famous by the 1957 war film 'The Bridge Over The River Kwai'  the small town rests in a limestone landscape and is dominated by the mighty River Kwai Yai. After getting off the two hour bus ride from Bangkok, I was approached at the exit of the bus station by a fellow Brit who introduced himself as Ed. After an awkward opening exchange (both being terribly British and all) and not really having a clue what we were doing - which is often the case upon arrival at any new city - we soon broke the ice with a few Chang beers and since then we've become good friends exploring all that Kanchanaburi has to offer together. On our first night on the old river Kwai, having checked into the the Jolly Frog hotel, we headed to the main strip which runs south from the bridge and ended up in one of the lady bars at the shady end of the street. Many of the bars on Thanon Maenam Kwai are now run by ex-pats who have retired to Thailand and each of them employ a congregation of local girls - many of whom are of indeterminate gender - to stand out front and try to entice passing punters inside. Following Ed's lead we literally got dragged into a fine establishment by the name of Holland House and was greeted by the bar's eccentric Dutch owner and the legions of excitable local girls who must view us farangs as walking ATM's. After shooting a few games of pool got talking with an older Brit by the name of Phil who had been sat in the corner chatting with his "girl", the kind of weird old man that you see walking along the street in Bangkok with a young Thai bride in tow. The whole concept of coming out to South East Asia to obtain a wife in my opinion seems very sleazy and creepy but I was curious to talk to someone who was doing it, mostly to find out what kind of person does it and what their reasons for doing so are. Turns out Phil was an unemployed IT worker from London and with no job or family back in the UK he had travelled to Asia searching for something he could not find back home. As we talked it became increasingly obvious that he was lost in his life, he didn't feel that he belonged back home in England and so was now wandering in Asia living a hedonistic lifestyle which can be easily accommodated for in Thailand if you have enough Baht. I was also curious about the arrangement he had with this woman who followed him everywhere, he told me that he paid the bar £300 every week and in return this woman was assigned to him for whatever purposes he wanted.... I was abit taken aback by this notion as he didn't even know the name of the poor girl he had spent the past few weeks with, referring to her as 'angry bird' instead. The whole thing made me feel a little uneasy and after asking him if he was having a good time out here with these girls he said 'Well you've got to try eating cockroach now and again haven't you?' Charming fellow. With that last sentence ringing in my ears I decided that I had seen and heard enough from this moron sat before me and after prizing ourselves away from the girls at the bar we spent the rest of the night chilling in some of the more laid back farang hangouts further up the road.

The following morning after shaking off our hangover with a mouth watering English fry up under the disapproving eye of the fantastic Jane..., we hired a scooter and set off in search of a nearby tiger temple. Although the notion of coming face to face with one of these amazing animals is undoubtedly appealing, I had slight reservations as I had heard all the tigers were drugged, so as to subdue them whilst snap-happy tourists gawked idiotically at them through the lenses of their unnecessarily large digital SLR's. Maybe it's fine though and the tigers are well looked after but I always get an exploitative vibe from these kind of attractions and tend to wonder how happy these majestic animals really are. After riding around for well over an hour looking for the place, it soon became obvious we were lost and after seeing a sign for the Erawan waterfalls we changed our plans and made our way their instead. Erawan national park is made up of seven separate falls and a path winds its way through the forest connecting them all.  An initial gradual walk up the first couple of tiers was easy enough but the incline soon increased and by the time we reached the seventh and highest waterfall it had been necessary to wade through small pools of water, hop over fallen tree trunks and scramble up muddy slopes. The place was absolutely stunning with each waterfall having crystal clear waters which you could swim in. In addition each pool was inhabited by small black fish which darted here and there and if you remained still for long enough they would tentatively approach and gently nip at your legs and toes. The fourth tier was particularly great as it was possible to climb to the top of a large smooth boulder upon which the cascading water flowed and slide down the smooth limestone rock  into the cool refreshing waters below. The perfect remedy after a long sweaty climb. As we had dawdled so much in the morning we unfortunately only got a couple of hours at the waterfalls and a park warden soon came round to clear everyone out.

As Ed had left to head back to Bangkok, on my final day in Kanchanaburi I got up early and made my way to the railway station so that I could ride the infamous death railway over the bridge and all the way on to hellfire pass. To give some history here, the Death Railway was the nickname given to the 415-kilomtre Thailand-Burma railway which was built by the Japanese in 1942-43 in order to link Japan's newly aquired territories in Burma (the capital of Rangoon was an important trading city) with the rest of South East Asia. Through almost impenetrable landscape, a railway line was hacked through solid rock terrain. These sections which were divided with pick axes and dynamite were referred to as 'cuttings' and a heavy price was paid by the prisoner's of war who were made to work on them. By the time the track was finished in 1943 16,000 POW's and 100,000 Asian labourers (Romusha) had died. After jumping on the train at the bridge, we slowly chugged our way over the old River Kwai and then made the two hour journey all the way to Nam Tok. The train cantered along through beautiful countryside under an intense midday sun, through the ninety foot solid rock cuttings at arrow hill and then onwards over the Wang Po viaduct  where the train coasted along a three hundred metre high trestle bridge mounted precariously to the side of a cliff face. Getting off at Nam Tok, managed to find a local bus and made my way to Hellfire pass. The dramatic name refers to an area 18km from Nam Tok where seven cuttings were dug over a 3km stretch. The section labelled Hellfire pass was considered to have the worst working conditions and many people died there due to exhaustion, starvation, disease, lack of medical supplies, beatings and executions. The name came about as the ruthless Japanese guards made the prisoners work 18 hour days and when nighttime fell, lit 'hellish' fires so that work could continue through the night. After strolling through a very moving and informative museum which explained the history of the site,  strolled down to the pass which couldn't have been more contrasted with the dreadful images depicted in the memorial museum up the hill. With the place entirely to myself I sat in a clearing at the end of the pass and enjoyed the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere whilst birds sang their afternoon songs and the bamboo trees, which sheltered the memorial ground, swayed in the cool breeze. After making the steep climb back to the main road, hopped on a local bus and made my way back to Kanchanaburi. Tomorrow I head to Ayutthaya, the former ancient capital of Thailand.

What the devil are you doing Holmes?
Why its a lemon-entry my dear Watson!

The countryside surrounding Kanchanburi.
Kanchanaburi rests west of Bangkok.

Walking up to see the famous bridge we were stopped by Thai Cable TV and asked to wish the people of Kanchanaburi a happy new year in Thai! I got her email address so if i come across a link to the video, it's going up here! That's Ed in the red shirt.

Erawan Waterfalls.
Biggles action slide.
The view from our guesthouse.
On the bridge over the river Kwai!
On the precarious trestle bridge.
Hellfire pass.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

touching down on the khao san road!

11th December 2011


            So have just spent my first few days in South East Asia and as gateways go, Bangkok certainly is a great one. Having just come from India it's been a breath of fresh air arriving here - quite literally in fact, as Thai people actually seem to understand the concept of a bin, a notion sorely misunderstood in India where the ground serves as one large trash can! In any case my arrival in Bangkok has been far smoother than the hectic slap-in-the-face reception I received during those manic opening days in Delhi over two months ago. At 5am on the 11th December stepped off the plane at Suvarnabhumi airport after a brief three hour flight from Chennai and hopped onto a very modern sky train which sped towards downtown Bangkok whilst a rising sun greeted a new day in South East Asia's very own Krung Thep or 'City of Angels'. Glancing through weary eyes out the window, the large concrete walls lined with sandbags and swollen riverbanks which flashed by served as a grim reminder of the significant flooding which has crippled much of Thailand over the last two months. Received a fairly amusing text from my mum just before I left India which advised me to watch out for roaming crocodiles which may have been swept into town on rising water levels. Well I haven't seen any hungry crocs mooching along Khao San yet so think I'll be ok mother! Sharing the carriage with a legion of uniformed workers making their daily commute, my eyes met with a girl sitting opposite who had been rifling through a copy of the lonely planet. With no hotel booked, I asked if she had read about any good places to stay and she said a friend had recommended a cheap guesthouse in Banglamphu - an area about about five mins from the Khao San road - although she didn't know the name of it but did have a street name to go on. After agreeing that two heads are better than one in such matters (especially at six in the morning), we flagged down a taxi and finally managed to find the Korean run DDM guesthouse. After climbing the stairs to the dormitory on the third floor we crashed out after a night of very little sleep and awoke several hours later refreshed and ready to explore this vast metropolis. As with any new city I arrive at, one of the first things I tend to do is to go for a walk to familiarise myself with the local area. This usually results in getting myself hopelessly lost before resurfacing several hours later and this has certainly been the case in Bangkok. With it's labyrinthine network of alleyways which run throughout the downtown area and the myriad of eclectic markets which populate Chinatown, the city has enough to keep one exploring for days, weeks if you had the time! The plan at the moment has me staying in Bangkok for a few nights before slowly making my way north to Chang Mai for my first Christmas away from home!

Welcome to the Khao San Road!

The Khao San road by night. Full to the brim with wasted westerners, fake designer boxer shorts, sleazy old men asking if I wanted to see 'pong pong', English Premiership football matches being played on huge flat-screen televisions, fat white European men and their petite Thai brides, speakers blasting out everything from Bob Marley to the Black Eyed Peas, food stalls selling all types of fried creepy crawlies, tourist-hustling street kids, chang beer towers and much much more. Although very tacky its undeniable that the road has alot of energy and with so much to see there it's a novel introduction to the country.

One of the best ways to get around Bangkok is by the Chao Phraya Express which runs large water buses up and down the river. I took a ride from the pier up at Thewes all the way to the Krung Thep bridge and it only cost me 30baht (60p).

There are many temples in Bangkok and each of them have alot of Buddha statues. After visiting many already, in addition to at times feeling TEMPLED OUT, I have recently developed a new feeling of being BUDDHA'd out!

The enormous reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.

Whilst looking for a new towel to buy, found a department store which was essentially a Thai John Lewis. Having reached the top floor came across this incredibly surreal set up. Bangkok's very own OAP karaoke club. After discreetly sitting at the back to observe this bizarre scene, I was soon noticed and was enthusiastically approached by one of the old ladies who wanted me to get on stage and do a jingle. Needless to say, an escape plan was hatched on the spot and I was out of there in a flash.

Good to know that tourists are being looked after by Robocop.

The King's Grand Palace. The Wat Phra Kaeo within the compound houses the priceless Emerald Buddha.
The Grand Palace compound is full of extravagantly decorated statues.

Royal guards looking very dapper outside the grand palace.

As Bangkok, like any large city, gets very congested during rush hour, small motorbike taxi's are the best way to get around town. After finishing off in Chinatown one afternoon, hopped on the back of one and went for a hair raising dash through the early evening traffic. Zipping along through the congestion and taking short cuts down narrow alleyways reached the Khao San road in just under ten minutes. A journey which would have taken well over an hour by bus.

On the last night in Bangkok took the bus to MBK which is a large shopping mall in the center of town. The gigantic seven story shopping complex has everything you could possibly need and I ended up watching a movie on the multi-screen cinema on the top floor. After the film had ended stepped outside and came across the central lobby area where a muay thai ring had been erected and was putting on some fights for free. The women put the men to shame in terms of brutality as the girl in red got - to use the classic expression - "knocked the fuck out!"

Sure do.

Friday, 9 December 2011

the end of india

9th December 2011


                      So here it is. My penultimate day in India which serves to signify the end of this particular chapter in my world wide journey. The past few days I've spent in  Pondicherry and now Mammalapuram, though enjoyable, have been fairly uneventful as I've had the distinct feeling that this leg of my trip is unfortunately drawing to a close. A close which will soon be reopened however once I set foot on the airplane tomorrow night to continue my travels over in South East Asia. Tomorrow morning I head back to Chennai to catch the midnight flight which will whisk me away to Bangkok where round two of this big old adventure begins! So in the meantime and as the name of this blog is "thoughts on the road" I thought I might spend some time committing to the world wide web a couple of thoughts that serve to summarise my feelings about the past two months i've spent in this wonderful country. If however, you've read the rest of my blog you'll know this is no small task as an awful lot has happened but i'll give it a shot!

To begin, I think i'll let you in on a very special conversation I had one night at the Gopi guesthouse in Hampi with a remarkable woman named Andrea. Remarkable for many reasons, but for the purpose of the point i'm trying to make here, she was remarkable because of the stories she told me. One story in particular struck me as profoundly poignant and as this is my space I would like to share it here. The reason being is that I think it perfectly encapsulates many of the feelings i've developed about this - to use the same adjective to excess - remarkable country. Andrea was from Switzerland. At a guess I would say she was in her mid-thirties and with her long flowing brown hair and elegant manner she was both eloquent and beautiful by nature. This was actually her seventh time in India although this time - for the first time - she was making the three month trip accompanied by her five year old son Talin. That night we talked until the last customer had left the resturant and on into the early hours of the morning. We talked about many things that night and her attitude towards life struck me as incredibly inspirational to the extent that in those hours we spent together I feel I somehow learnt a great deal from her. One of the obvious topics of conversation which came up, among many others, was why she kept on coming back to India time and time again and the story she told me in order to explain her reasons - which i'll humbly attempt to replicate here - was to my ears astounding. It summed up for her (and upon later reflection myself also) why India is such a unique country.

Years ago, whilst traveling through the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, she was walking along a street and came across an elderly lady lying face down on the ground who appeared to be in considerable distress. As she approached, it became depressingly obvious that this poor lady was crippled by the late stages of leprosy. The highly destructive disease had reduced the woman to little more than a corpse as her limbs had significantly perished away due to lack of treatment whilst her rib cage was so heavily infested that dead flesh could be seen protruding from the poor woman's withered torso. The instant reaction to such a sight was understandably extreme horror which soon gave way to incredible sadness and reduced Andrea to tears. Upon closer inspection to see if any help could be offered, she noticed that the woman, instead of crying out in pain was in fact singing. Singing with the most beautiful voice Andrea had ever heard which seemed to almost transcend the suffering that had corrupted the woman's body. This immensely powerful image seemed to encapsulate for her all that India is. To use her own words, she thought that this woman represented the 'fine balance' which exists in India as a whole. The country, she continued, is a nation finely balanced between extreme hardship and suffering at one end of the spectrum whilst amazing beauty and positivity occupy the opposing end. The two of which serve to counterbalance each other and every traveler who visits the place undoubtedly encounters this contrast at some point in their trip. To my ears, the point of the story was that within all the disease and death which is prevalent everywhere in India an underlying theme of natural beauty can always be found and this whole concept for Andrea was encased in this poor woman's diseased body. In her opinion no other country in the world (from the many she has visited) shows this contrast so starkly and in such a finely balanced way. This she told me was why she hated India yet loved it at the same time, was why she kept being drawn back so many times and why she wanted to expose her son at such a young age to a country which has so much to offer. Now i've met many other travelers and every single one of them has told me that their are days when they can't stand the place and long to return home. In most cases however they don't and instead move to a different city where something amazing happens that pushes them to prolong their trip by a few weeks or in some cases a few months! People love and hate India, yet I have never heard why people oscillate between these two emotions expressed in such an eloquent and poetic way. Now I appreciate that this is someone else's story but if you've read any of my previous posts I think that much of my trip falls into this idea of India. From my day spent in the Jaipur slums where I saw some awful things that will stay with me forever to the beauty of seeing the sunrise from Hanuman's hilltop temple in Hampi, I completely understand where Andrea was coming from and that's why India, for me at least, is such an incredible place.

Anyways it's all very well for me to sit here philosophizing about the suffering which occurs in India as I don't have the faintest clue of how hard life is for some people here. I have however seen a little during my two months in this strange land and thought it was an interesting concept worth mentioning. I also fear I may well be teetering, or have already fallen, from the precipice of pretentiousness so I'll end India here.




Tuesday, 6 December 2011

all aboard the chennai mail express!

5th December 2011

Ernakulam - Chennai

                So just spent my first night on an Indian train and thought I would use some photographs to document the trip I made on what is surely India's most famous mode of public transport. After finishing up in Allepey I left the Brighton gang, who are headed for Varkala, and booked a train destined for Chennai on the evening of the 4th. I fly to Bangkok from Chennai so the plan is to get over there and spend my last week in India checking out Pondicherry and Mammalapuram which both sit very close to the capital on Tamil Nadu's east coast. The Indian rail system is complicated to say the least but actually a remarkable amount of efficiency lies behinds its facade of total chaos. Unlike my previous train journey from Goa to Hospet which I booked using the very useful cleartrip, this time I decided to go to the station and book my ticket there. The reason being that cleartrip had said the train I wanted to catch was fully booked however the Brighton lot had suggested a ticket might be obtained on the foreign tourist quota if I actually went to the station. This indeed was the case and I managed to get a ticket for the train due to depart on the evening of the 4th without hindrance. Therefore on the afternoon of the 4th I arrived at Ernakulam Town station with hours to spare but much to observe.....

Indian trains are divided into several different classes ranging from general unreserved, second class sleeper (the most popular option) to several first class carriages all offering increasing levels of comfort and air conditioning. I opted for second class sleeper and the following picks the story up with me waiting for the Chennai Mail express train which was due to depart Ernakulam at 19.15 and arrive in Chennai at 06.55 the next day.

Arriving at Ernakulam Town station.

Cow chilling on the tracks. It seems that nowhere is off limits to these smelly Gods. 

Sleeper carriage. 

As you can see from the blurred image here, the royal rumbles for seats in the unreserved carriages are ruthless.  Thankfully I had booked a ticket for second class sleeper so didn't have to get in the ring with them!

Notice the man with the blue t-shirt from the previous photograph who didn't make it on board in time and had to hold on for dear life as the train pulled out of the station. It took another 100 meters for him to actually get his whole body on board!
A very relaxed station guard looking very unconcerned by the man in the blue shirt hanging out of the departing train's door as it built up speed out of the station!

Ernakulam Town Station Platform 1.

When I had found my carriage I was fortunate enough to meet a generous man who said he would be happy to swap my middle berth for his top berth so that he could talk with his friends below. Each section of the carriage is divided up so that three beds line each wall with another two on the opposite side of the carriage As you can see the middle berth is folded up meaning you only get to sleep when the other people are ready to go to bed and its folded out. My view with long journeys is that they're better spent asleep so it was a very pleasant surprise that this man offered to switch.

Happy chilling on my top berth.

Dozed off in the sweltering heat of the carriage and was very thankful for the military grade fans adorned to the ceiling which kept everyone relatively cool. Around 2am however, was woken up as the cold of night had crept in through the open windows and the fans which earlier on had been essential, now made me even colder. Dressed up in pretty much all of my clothes to get warm, a benefit of carrying your whole wardrobe on your back I guess!

People settling in for the 12 hour journey.

Arrived safely in Chennai!

Monday, 5 December 2011

cruising through "god's own country"

3rd - 4th December 2011.

Allepey Backwaters, Kerala.

           "God's own country", the catchphrase attributed to the state of Kerala is where my journey has taken me so far and along with the Aussie (Bronwin) we arrived shattered in Ernakulam on the morning of the 28th. The overnight sleeper coach actually got in at 4am and so the early morning ferry we hopped on from Ernakulam to Fort Cochin felt like floating through a dream in my semi-conscious state. After  reaching the tip of the peninsula where the town lies, we found the energy to check out a few home stays and settled on the cheapest one about a 10min walk from the center of town. Spent four nights in Fort Cochin, it was longer than I had intended but I got a short bout of illness which luckily only lasted 24hours (think of it as a diet-delhibelly) but never the less prolonged my stay there which in hindsight wasn't necessarily a bad thing... 

        In the two months I've been traveling over here, there has been a recurring series of strange coincidences where I've been bumping into the same people over and over again. Upon reflection though, there is a backpacker trail and most people traveling around the country are usually on it, so the likelihood of repeatedly bumping into people isn't all that remarkable but it's always a surprise. This was actually the second time I had inadvertently bumped into a group of six recently-graduated students from Brighton. I first met the gang catching a bus to Margao from Palolem in Goa and once again whilst at the Gopi guesthouse in Hampi. This time it was just after myself and Bronwin had been to watch some Kathakali - a ritualized form of performance theater which places significance on the expressive movement of the eyes which in my lowly, humble and probably ignorant opinion was bullshit - and we were looking for somewhere to eat. Walking along the high street I heard, like I had at the guesthouse in Hampi, "Alex, Alex!" Looking over I spotted the gang sat eating at a local fish restaurant and so joined them for dinner where we talked about what we had both been upto since our last meeting. Since then I've temporarily tagged along with the Brighton massive (Theo, Polly, Jay, Charlie, Hazel and Holly) and the timing couldn't have been more perfect as I had been looking to befriend a larger crew so that I could afford to do a cruise on a houseboat along the famous Keralan backwaters. The following therefore is some things I jotted down about the great 24 hours we spent on a boat together....

As the jumping off point for the backwater tours was in Allepey, we hopped on the 90minute bus ride down there from Fort Cochin on the 2nd so that we could hire a houseboat out for the next day. To quickly fill you in here, the area known as the backwaters, which stretches between Kollam and Kochi is made up of a multitude of waterways and lakes whose banks are lined with coconut trees, dense green vegetation and paddy fields. There is a roaring trade whereby houseboats can be hired for a day or longer and the time on board is spent lazily cruising up and down the various canals. As the name suggests the boats contain all the necessary amenities to live comfortably and the amount you pay (and you can pay a lot!) determines the level of luxury you enjoy whilst making the journey. Arriving down by the water in a convoy of rick shaws we were all swarmed by a hoarde of cut throat touts each eager to show us their respective boats. A boat by the name of "Flamingo" was shown to us by a young lad named Vinny for Rs11,000 but after reading the slogan on his t-shirt which proudly declared, "You can't afford me" I wasn't optimistic that he was our man. A thought also passed through my head that his t-shirt probably wasn't the most sensible item of clothing to be wearing whilst showing a bunch of extremely budget travelers like ourselves round a houseboat but there you go. After a great deal of faffing about, Hazel suggested I just ask the government approved help desk who had fixed prices for houseboat cruises, whilst she looked after all our bags seeing as the others had gone off on a boat hunt. This turned out to be a very good idea as soon after a man arrived to show us a government boat for Rs10,000. This meant that between the seven of us it would work out at about fifteen quid each. Sound as a pound as they often say in the UK (according to Indian people..). In a bizarre turn of events, myself and Theo were led directly back to the "Flamingo" boat Vinny had just shown us but with a Rs 1,000 deduction which we snapped up as it looked very nice onboard and so it seems Vinny's t-shirt was indeed correct! The price included 22hours on the boat with all meals supplied and a total distance of around 30km would be covered. After boarding ship, which for the purpose of this blog I'll name 'The Royal Feminist', the next task was actually to leave the harbor which proved harder than it sounds. Due to the massive growth in tourism generated by backwater excursions the jetty was heavily populated with many houseboats which were queued up in front of the dock, so that reversing out involved alot of careful steering and a dash of  ramming to get the other houseboats out of the way. The boat was plush to say the least and just behind the bow was a dining/sitting area with a couch and several chairs whilst the edges were also lined with wooden benches meaning there were numerous places to lounge. And lounge we did. We spent the afternoon cruising along the various canals and rivers observing local people going about their daily business on the shore and off, one man had hopped in and was going for an afternoon swim as we glided by armed with our cameras! The steering wheel had been mounted just in front of the communal area and so I spent a few minutes navigating the boat through the dark green waters before we docked for lunch using a coconut tree as a make shift cleat. Just as everyone had settled down for lunch, which was served up by the bucketful, I looked behind Theo sat at the other end of the table and saw a man who looked to be standing on the water next to the boat. He bent down and reappeared brandishing a massive shrimp and asked if we were interested in buying some fish. Declining his proposal, as the table was already full of steaming pots of dahl, rice and vegetables, he bent back down and we watched as he paddled off to the next houseboat in his small rowing boat which had suddenly come into view to continue his express fish delivery service. Setting off once again after we had all eaten to bursting point, the rest of the day was spent gliding down more waterways, reading books and listening to music on the boats hi-fi. It amused me that the Indian mentality of wanting to constantly overtake other vehicles is not just limited to cars as our driver felt compelled to throttle the engine in order to overtake other slower houseboats stupid enough to get in our way. All of which were full of smiling faces each as eager as the next to wave to us manically. After docking for the night the rest of the evening was spent chatting which turned into 'debating' - chaired by our very own Dimbleby in Charlie - as more drinks were consumed. Finally crashed out for the night as the boat gently rocked under the glare of the moon and the buzz of mosquitoes. An early start next day meant we arrived back in Allepey for 9am and there ended our brief but hugely enjoyable houseboat cruise.

Think I'll pop over over to Chennai tomorrow as my time here is fast approaching its end!


Backing out from the harbour.
A houseboat similar in size to ours.
Flamingo or The Royal Feminist.

The Backwaters.

Captain Biggles.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

music on the road

Fort Cochin

1st December 2011

Really really really missing my decks at the moment. Haven't really heard any decent music out here - aside from the novel Indian music, which most of the time sounds very samey to my uneducated western ears - and would love just an hour with my 1210's. (You better be rigging them hard Mikey!) Save for Babu's compilation Cd's (never actually got one seeing as our relationship ended on a sour note due to lack of baksheesh) and some shit "goa-trance" the trip has been severely lacking in decent music. Which is why the gamble to bring my ipod and Sennheiser's along has paid off immeasurably. As I am entering the final ten days in India I thought I would use this platform to compile a short list of tunes/mixes which have served as a soundtrack to lazy days spent on a beach and hours sat observing the world go by from the window of a train or bus. That being said, much of the time I've spent here an ipod hasn't been required as the natural soundtrack which plays everyday from every street corner, is part of what makes this country so interesting. I am however bored and ill in Fort Cochin, Kerala (only slightly ill, think of it as a diet-Delhi belly) so here is a selection from the most-played playlist.....

anthony and the johnsons - fistful of love

talib kweli - get by

dizraeli - take me dancing

louche 49 - futureboogie (podcast)

willy mason - oxygen

bunny wailer - dreamland

the adventures of soul clap - 7L steps into the AM

burial - raver

split prophets - ain't amused

slow hands - beats in space podcast 13-9-2011


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

snapshots: mysore

25th-27th November 2011

As in my previous post covering Ajanta / Palolem, I'm returning to the photo-story style to cover the few days I spent in the city of Mysore, a city made famous by the slaying of a demon buffalo by the Goddess Durga. Arrived in Mysore, via Bangalore, at midday on the 25th. I was once again travelling alone but once again it would not be for long...

Whilst wandering around the Mysore market was greeted by an enthusiastic group of Canadians who introduced themselves by saying, 'HEY, You Irish dude?' After informing them that I was in fact British (dear boy), despite my ginger-ninja characteristics, I found out they were taking part in a two week yoga course and after seeing the market was invited back to a flat they had rented where we cooked the first home made meal I have had in seven weeks.

Munch out, joined by a German by the name of Yann and Ajay the student from Tamil Nadu.

After we had finished eating we went for a walk into town and came across a small festival which had been taking place for the past two days. A large trench had been dug which, as you can see, had been filled with burning logs. We were told that as soon as all the wood had been burnt so that only embers remained, there would be a ceremonial fire walk. At 4.30am. Unfortunately after getting back to my room on the other side of town, I didn't make it to the early morning ritual as my alarm didn't go off...

Just near the temple, next to the firewalk we were invited to have some cakes and got flooded by happy locals eager to have a photo and chat.

Yann surrounded by curious locals. After arriving we were treated to a bowl of biriyani rice and some cakes. The sight of an aryan German, lanky Brit and talkative Canadians drew quite a crowd.

The next day whilst walking into town came across this legend. The photograph speaks for itself.

Meat section of Mysore market.

 When asking for directions in India I've come to realise that you should never point, as most of the time the answer is 'yes' even if they have no idea where you're trying to get to. In trying to find the train station got lost and ended up in this incense stick making factory where the girls let me have a go at rolling my own. Also bought you some lavender oil mum.....although you'll have to wait a while before you can receive it!


Mysore palace.

Vivid coloured powders in Mysore's famous Devaraja market.

Rows and rows of fruit stalls lined the narrow canopy covered lanes which ran through the market. 

Met two Australians, Bronwin (who I've now traveled to Kerala with) and Daniel on his own 6 month India mission. Bronwin sampling the fragrance oils on offer.

Meet Jesus Prabhu.  Told us enthusiastically that he was a police informant who also practices kick boxing religiously. A certified Christian who was also certified mental. Constant hand shaking and hugging plagued Bronwin and myself whilst we waited for our sleeper coach headed for Kerala. We thought we were safe when we boarded the bus but that didn't stop him hopping on where a further round of hand shaking and maniacal giggling ensued, before he was finally shooed off by an angry driver.