A bus can be fun, but that’s strictly for local exploring. Unless you can get yourself to India and hitch a lift in God’s Own Palace … Though you’re much more likely to be catching the long-distance bus whose driving seat I feature here …
Air travel has lost its sheen, since Airport Security and Queuing became a A Thing, not to mention those CO2 emissions of which we’re now so horribly aware. Even so, there is something thrilling about watching the changing landscapes of the earth far below, and cloud formations too.
You could take to the water, and sail to your destination near or far…
Car travel gives you the opportunity to please yourselves and follow your noses, and even to get off the beaten track, but again … all those emissions.
My own favourite way to get from A to a distant B is by train. I sit, I watch the world go by. I read. If I’m lucky, there may be coffee on offer. And the journey eases the transition from home to away by gradually introducing fresh landscapes, fresh outlooks. There’s something discombobulating about leaving – say – foggy England by plane and arriving two hours later – say – in sunny Spain. Here’s the TGV from Barcelona to Paris. It says it all …
Station architecture may be inspired, whether from the Golden Age of Steam, or assertively twenty first century.
All things considered, I can’t agree with the disconsolate boredom of this particular passenger. By the way, you, get your feet off the seat!
Or … there’s always the motorbike … as spotted in their dozens and dozens outside Mysore Station.
All the same, modern travel with all its advantages can seem busy, stressful. Sometimes, we might just want to exchange the traffic jam for something rather simpler.
This is turning into a Sunday Thing. Experimenting with different types of poetry. But with added photos. Always with added photos. This week, as my contribution to Tanka Tuesday‘s task – to write a 4-11 (the clue is in the name: 11 lines of 4 syllables each – last line repeats the first) I thought I’d focus on summer travel.
was always fun.
But now passport
train strikes and queues;
airport queuing –
make journeys long
and so irksome.
Worth it though – for
And to prove that travel’s always worth it, here’s my photo gallery. There’s just one problem. Most of these photos were taken in January, in February, in March … you get the idea – any month but August …
… Should have travelled by elephant …?
PS – the header photo was taken at l’Albufera, near Valencia, Spain.
My last sortie to India for the present shows just a few souvenirs of Pondicherry as it looked when it was part of France’s colonial empire. Those days are long gone. Only the older inhabitants were taught in French-medium schools. These days, as throughout India, English is the first foreign language taught. But policeman still look reassuringly French in style, wearing a smart kepi: a military hat with horizontal peak.
And while the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Jésus de Pondichéry), at the end of the street where my hotel was, might look European-inspired rather than specifically French, it was the then Archbishop, and two parish priests, all French, who were responsible for its inception in 1895.
Well, this is awkward. Just One Person from around the World is supposed to feature a single person in the main photo. But a second policeman got himself into the frame here Never mind. The school entrance features just one security guard, the Department of Public Works just one visitor. I may just get away with it.
Those builders hard at work just beyond my hotel room in Pondicherry weren’t the only slice of life I saw through my window there. The featured photo shows the view I had just after midnight every night (I told you I didn’t sleep), My camera – or the way I handled it anyway – wasn’t good at night-time vision, but I like the dream-like quality of this scene.
Can you see a group of five women – four of them in blue, seated in the road? Until just before I took this shot, they’d been busily sweeping all the streets round and about, equipped only with short brooms of the kind that witches in western fairy tales normally use . They made cheerful conversation, calling to each other so they could hear and be heard. Now though, it was time for a break, and the women simply sat down and rested in the road, their voices falling to a rippling murmur of chatter and laughter.
This intimate moment, sharing something with these women who were certainly unaware they were being observed, remains one of my treasured memories of India. These women, I’m sure, had little enough, and yet their easy relaxed movements suggested contentment with what their lives gave them. And above them is a washing line. All that day’s washing was blue, apparently.
Here are the windows through which I observed the scene.
In India, Pondicherry was one of my must-visit destinations. In was a French colonial settlement till 1954, and still has a well-preserved French quarter, with French-style colonial villas and characterful tree-lined streets. I stayed in one of these – a charming guest house called Le Rêve Bleu.
My room looked out over a building site. Was I dismayed? Not at all. Look at these scenes of builders – at least half of them women – at work from 6.30 every morning. I’d long been woken up by then, by the daily Muslim Call to Prayer, announced over a very loud tannoy system at about half past five,
The first elephants I met in India were in Karnataka, at Dubare Elephant Camp. Nowadays it seems to be a holiday lodge destination with added elephants, but when we visited, it was still largely home to elephants who’d given years of service to the state’s Forestry Department as log-hauliers.
As we arrived, the elephants were being a good old scrub in the River Cauvery, It was clear they relished having their hard leathery hide scrubbed, their hard bristly hair scratched. And it was obvious their minders were enjoying it too. After that – breakfast. Here’s a picture of a cook in the cookhouse. He’s boiling up an appetisng concoction of jaggery (dense dark sugar), millet and vegetation before rolling it into giant balls which the men feed to the expectant animals.
And here’s feeding time. And that was it really. A short but memorable experience.
I had a very different time about ten days later, at Kumbakonam, where my new American friend had taken me to visit some of the eighteen – EIGHTEEN – temples in this small town. I’ll take you for a tour another time. This time I’ll introduce you to the elephant who, at one of the temples, was available to bless visitors in exchange for a few coins for the temple’s finances. Gwen took me to meet her. As I stood before her, she lifted her trunk and laid it gently in my shoulder. I did indeed feel blessed.
Temple elephants are a common sight – here’s one in Thanjavur.
But only once did I see one in the wild, a youngster crashing through the undergrowth and feeding at the edge of a forest.
I am giving you two different people for Just One Person Around the World this time: both of them are auto-rickshaw drivers in India. Here we are in Chennai. Just discharged from hospital, I’m on the first leg of my journey home to England. Look out of the front window of this auto-rickshaw and you’ll see the crowded streets that were more or less my last view of India.
This driver was an amiable enough companion, but on my very first day in India, jet-lagged and more than thirty hours without sleep it was a different rickshaw driver who offered me my first taste of Indian hospitality and friendship as I tried to come to terms with the impossibly busy streets of Bengaluru. You’ve seen this photo before, but my first friend deserves his fifteen minutes of fame.
Here’s what I wrote in my diary that day. ‘When I finally set off with the intention of exploring for the morning, I hadn’t gone too far when I was picked up by an auto-rickshaw driver. He could see ‘Arrived this morning’ tattooed across my forehead. He offered to show me round for Rs 10. Well, I wasn’t so green as to believe that’s all I’d spend, but I was exhausted and it wasn’t an unattractive proposition. It was such fun! He proved an amiable guide, whose English, while obviously hugely better than my Kannada often led to mutual incomprehension. He had an endearing habit of describing all the sites we passed as his; ‘This is my Parliament Building … This is my Royal Palace’. He hared me round a variety of sites, and waited while I ‘did’ Bengaluru Palace’ – slightly seedy and where I was personally shown round by an Aged Retainer, and where I noticed a herd of cows in the Royal Gardens.
It was that morning that I discovered that all auto-rickshaw drivers have entered into Arrangements With Shops. The kind of shops, selling textiles, carvings, carpets, jewellery that tourists are expected to make use of. It is their duty to take unwitting passengers there. Reader, I got off lightly (though I did buy something, and kept my friend happy), and learned an important lesson, that ‘No’ must be said with conviction, especially on Day One of a one month trip. What backpacker can lug bedspreads all over South India for four weeks? Later that day, a less accommodating rickshaw driver, on realising that it was fruitless to try to tempt me out shopping dumped me without warning in the middle of a poor part of town (Where? Where?) and left me to get on with it.
Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed this somewhat basic mode of transport. My friend had had his for fifteen years, and I see no reason why it won’t still be going strong.
It was only a week later that I found myself sharing an auto- rickshaw, designed to take two passengers at most, with three other people. But really, we weren’t trying. Any morning that I was out and about as school started, I would see auto-rickshaws, in total denial of any kind of Health and Safety considerations, disgorging four, six, even ten children at the school gates. Look at the rickshaw here, behind those smartly turned out schoolgirls.
Later, when I visited Thanjavur, I found traditional rickshaws drawn usually by one very wiry, elderly man on a bicycle. While understanding their need to work, I couldn’t bring myself to have them haul me around, and in any case, the town was manageable enough on foot.
I look back on this mode of transport with great affection. Nippy, affordable, and with opportunities for cheery conversation, I can’t think of a better way of getting round the confusion which is an Indian city.
When abroad – or even somewhere fresh here in the UK – a big pleasure comes from visiting the local market. People-watching ordinary folk going about their daily business: seeing what’s on offer at the run-of-the-mill fruit and veg stalls. What are the local cheeses? Is there any honey from round and about? What have they got on sale that‘s unexpected? Perhaps a stall holder will invite me to try this kind of apricot – and then that one – before I buy. Maybe a nun from the local convent will be selling home-pressed apple juice.
In India, it was spices I was particularly keen to see. But in Mysore, which isn’t short of European visitors, I had such a bad time I almost didn’t venture into a market again. I had Tourist emblazoned across my forehead for all to see. And I was pestered, by one young man in particular, who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, whether I was nice, nasty or ignored him.. Whatever. I left with no purchase, and in a very bad mood. Though later I got a few photos – the ones you see below and as the featured photo.
Pondicherry was much better. Here were men, women, seated on the floor and selling whatever they had – a few vegetables from their land, a few fish. There were larger, more business-like stalls too. I was doing my usual diffident-about-asking-to-take-photos there, so I only have one of a woman selling fish, and one water buffalo, who made a good story for the day by peeing copiously all over my feet.
Best of all was Thanjavur. Here, I stayed with a young American academic, who spoke fluent Tamil, and took me into the homes of her Indian friends, walked me round the back streets to admire the Diwali pavement decorations, and generally gave me a good time.
One day, she wanted me to go to the market for her. Just a few simple purchases. Carrots, onions, that kind of thing. For the first time in India, I met people who spoke no English at all. And my Tamil didn’t extend beyond ‘please’(தயவு செய்து Tayavu ceytu) and ‘thank you’ (நன்றி Nanri). But pointing’s fine.
I don’t think they’d ever had an English tourist wanting anything, let alone humble carrots at the vegetable stall, and soon I was the centre of an amiable group helping me make my purchases. They tried to increase my vocabulary, and begged me to teach them the same words in English because it was the end of the day and they weren’t busy. It was such fun. And when it came to payment, I tried to press far too much money into their hands. I thought they’d asked for 70 rupees (about 70 pence), and felt it cheap at the price. How ridiculous! They wanted seven. Honestly, that English woman! Is she made of money? And my new friend, the one who actually served me with the vegetables I needed, begged for a photo. Here it is.
So here we are: Two market traders for Just One Person from Around the World. There are a few more from where these came from. If we can’t go very far, we could at least do a Virtual Trip to India for a week or two.
What’s this? Some dirty dusters? Or some rather dingy dishcloths? No. Despite appearances to the contrary, this isn’t washing hanging out to dry. It’s sheets of latex, recently tapped from nearby rubber trees and poured into moulds and yes, now hanging out to dry.
I was in in India, in Kerala, at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. Nearby was a village, where every household was growing some kind of cash crop: tea, coffee, bitter gourds, bananas … and maybe rubber trees. One household certainly was. They’d harvested the latex as shown in the second photos. They’d have collected about a cupful from each tree, every few days, before pouring it into trays in a thin layer to set, And now it was hanging out to dry properly before being sent away for further processing
In Kerala, while I as there, the monsoon had not long finished, and I rather like the evidence spotted through an open window back in Gurukula itself that had we been there then, it might have been just a little – wet.
At the moment, we all need the glow, the zing that a good splash of yellow can provide. Luckily, Jude has provided the perfect opportunity for us to hunt down all our yellow-rich images, in her challenge Life in Colour. Let’s have an injection of gutsy, vibrant lemon, amber and gold alongside our long awaited Covid vaccines.
I’d thought of showing those springtime flowers we all love – aconites, daffodils, primrose, tulips and kingcups. But maybe I’ll save those for another day. Here’s a complete hotch-potch of yellows to cheer up a day which, here at least is thoroughly and dismally grey.
To view any image full size. just click on it. The quotation of the post title is by Vincent Van Gogh. No wonder he liked sunflowers. And the header photo shows one word from another quotation. Wander round the St. Paul’s area of London and you’ll eventually uncover the whole sentence, from Virginia Woolf’s novel, Jacob’s Room: ‘What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?‘ What indeed? In this area of London, enough to fill an entire guide book.