Tuesday, December 20, 2011

[The Life of Shaun #442] Slumdog Thousandaire

I am back from my whirlwind tour of South Asia, and I am the latest in a long line of visitors who have been impressed and charmed by India.

The country is mad - barking mad, chaotic, crowded, poor, wealthy, engaging, uplifting - almost primal, but peaceful.  If I had to say just one thing about my visit it's that I've never wanted to hug so many people in my life.  We encountered so many kind and helpful people, with disarmingly charming dispositions and honest smiles.

All the platitudes about India are true: it's hot, huge, overcrowded, juxtaposed, spiritual, another world.  But it's good they're out there as they help prepare you, as best as words could, for the insanity that embraces you from the moment you step out of your air-conditioned plane into whichever port you've chosen.  Everyone says you love it or hate it, and I fall into the former group; it is definitely somewhere I want to return to.

Writing about it all would be endless, so I've put together a few groups of photos for those who are interested:

Mumbai --> http://shaunism.blogspot.com/2011/12/mumbai.html

Now Rachel Klem is in town for the holidays and I have to give her the attention she is due.  Back to work tomorrow - so not ready for it!

राम राम,

My favourite picture I took in India.

Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London | UK | www.nocirc.org
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Agra and the Taj Mahal

The coup de grâce of any visit to India, the Taj Mahal.  It's a painful four-hour journey from Delhi, but absolutely worth the trip.  You know you're going to encounter beauty, but it's even more impressive than can come across in photos.  Counter-intuitively, some pics below of day trip are below.

A sweeper at Akbar's Tomb; notice the mobile phone.

Signs at the entrance to the Taj, separating the queues.

First view of the Taj!

And proof I was there.


One of the three optical illusions of the Taj: Albert Einstein.

From the distance.

Where Shah Jahan lived his last days under house arrest; the story goes that all he asked for when he was imprisoned by his son was that he have a view of the Taj.


New Delhi was the last capital of British India and remained the capital after independence.  Its broad avenues, roundabouts and stately buildings belie the country it governs.  There's more to see in Delhi than in other cities, per the guidebooks, but it somehow lacks the soul and spirit of India, and least from the exposure I had.  Glad to have seen it, but I don't feel the need to return.

New Delhi airport has fantastic toiler indicators.

Un-Indian-like streets of the capital.

The effect of 16 million residents and an industrial base is clear in the haze.

The Indira Gandhi museums was one of the oddest museum experiences I've had.  If you're actually keen on reading about her life, it's the wrong place to go, as you don't have a chance to pause because you are swept along in the virtual conveyor belt of people filing through.  And the attendees seemed much more interested in the tall white guy than anything in the displays.

Some tall think in South Delhi.

Love the vest!

Ma Petroni and I were mini-celebrities; caucasian-deprived Indians were fascinated with us, and we will be in many family albums across India.

We saw this sign all over India - I've never wanted a Coke so badly!

Like so many other Aussies, the Opera House went to India to get spiritual and became the Lotus Temple.

India Gate.

Connaught Place, the commercial and social hub of New Delhi.

Ma Petroni and me at her birthday dinner.

There's military all over India; this one is guarding the Red Fort.

A swarm of birds randomly kicked off.

Old Delhi docs.

Old Delhi was a crammed maze of ancient streets; I loved getting wheeled around its crazy streets is a rickshaw - each street seemed to get smaller than the previous.

Old Delhi.

Old Delhi.

Old Delhi.

Old Delhi.

Old Delhi.

I went on a tour that explained the lives of the street children of Delhi and the foundation that looks after them.  In this pic, our ex-street kid guide, Satender, was explaining that the reason the Hindu gods are put on the wall is because the wall used to be heavily urinated on, so they do this to prevent people from making a toilet of the wall.

The foundation takes in about five new kids per day from New Delhi rail station alone.  They manage to get about 70% back with their families; the other 30% they try to get off the streets and into education or employment.

Modern filing...

Who needs the NHS?

The most local place I ate at - and no Delhi belly!


Kolkata, née Calcuta, of black hole fame, the armpit of India, per many natives' opinions.  From the moment you land, you can tell you;re in a city that hasn't quite made it to the 20th century.  It's crumbling, crowded, medieval, frantic, poor, dirty and utterly charming.  More than anywhere else in India, life is lived on the streets in Kolkata, and I liked it instantly.

Somehow, I could feel the weight of Empire here more than anywhere else in India.  It was from this port that London drained much of the wealth out of India, as well as its food, leading to the death by starvation of two million citizens in WWII.  There is an abundance of colonial architecture, grand homes and libraries, mixed in with the clamour of daily life in the metropolis on the Hooghly.

We stayed at the Oberoi - a oasis of colonial charm and solitude literally in the middle of the masses; on the sidewalk you are surrounded by street-hawkers and commotion, then you pass through the gates and the sound quickly fades as you walk to the main entrance.  Inside you would never guess there are 14 million toiling souls on the other side of the walls.

Kolkata is known for its position in the Empire, separatist uprisings, communism and the angelic work of Mother Theresa.  All together, it's a city unlike any other.

A chaotic welcome at Kolkata.

The view outside my room.

Our lobby - and how we saw Russ on most of the trip (he is newly iPhoned!).

Victoria Memorial, built to commemorate the death the Queen a continent away.

Kolkata's charming taxis, in their normal free-for-all state.

Health and safety does not rule over every public action; these workers painting the road median had nothing more than a paint can to separate them from the passing traffic.

Though the party lost the last election, communist flags still abound in many neighbourhoods.

The Kali temple!

A random street.

Many people don't have plumbing and rely on public pumps.

Instant commerce can spring up on any available space.

Outside the entrance to our hotel...

...and the centre of our hotel.

Me at Baan Thai - for two weeks' wages, a local can have a nice curry here.

Mother Theresa's final resting place.

Mmm hmm.

With no plumbing in many homes, everything from shaving to bathing takes place in the streets.

Jain temple.

Next door to the Jain temple.

Indian English.

A typical Kolkata block of flats.

Howrah Bridge - not quite the Bay Bridge...

Bathing and washing in the Hooghly.

Overfilled truck on the highway,

We enjoyed the service at the Oberoi very much.

Not quite...

Towards the airport there's endless construction, reminiscent of the Olympics-inspired development of East London.

And they stretch on and on.

This is my favourite such picture - it's the highway leading to the airport, on which a farmer was walking his herd.

Must watch out for hair fall!

I found the streets of Kolata fascinating and took dozens of pictures.  Several are below, for those who are interested.