Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ellora Caves, India

Imagine a mountain. Take a hammer and chisel to the mountain for 150 years, mix in a massive amount of religious fervour, passion and inspiration and you still couldn't match the Ellora Caves. Carved by Buddhist, Jain and Muslim monks, priests, disciples etc (is there such a thing as a Muslim monk? I've never worked that out) it's outstandingly beautiful and elaborate.

I rate it as the best thing I've ever seen but I'd never heard of it before going. How many things like this are hidden in India?? It should be on the lost of seven wonders of the world. Oh, I haven't said - there're 32 caves!

As you look at the photos remember that's not brick you're looking at - it's stone.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

India part 2: the good, the bad and the nauseating

Before I got to India i watched Slumdog Millionaire. It was my entire knowledge of the place. I was dreading every toilet being like the one on the beach....thankfully it wasn't quite as bad as that. What follows is random thoughts on aspects of Indian life. Nothing is exaggerated.

It's so tiring. There's never anywhere to sit. They don't believe In benches or just a wall to perch your arse. If they had them they'd just be covered in dirt, rubbish and people.

You see women sweeping dust from the middle of the road. They never do anything with it. They don't bag it or take it away. Just sweep it to the edge so the next day they're back again sweeping the same dirt.

I'm not sure I ever saw a rubbish bin. Ever. Indians don't care. Just throw it to the side. A dude on a bus once shook my hand because I put my empty water bottle in my bag and not out the train window. He still exhorted me to throw it. He even leant over me to open the window.

"Dude" I said, "it's a beautiful country. Why would you cover it in crap?"

You use your hotel room as a sanctuary. Your own little private bit of piece away from the chaos. If you've got a room away from the ever present noise. Oh, the noise..its constant. 24 hours a day the tuktuks are fighting on the street. Theres an area of Mumbai where they're banned and its like z different country: clean, civilised, nice.

There are people selling fruit everywhere but mist of ggf time you're scared to eat it got z single reason: they splash it with water to make it more attractive. Now and again you break and have some because you're hungry and fedup of eating crisps. All the time hoping this isn't the time you get dysentery...

You walk out the door and there are people. Everywhere. All the time. Where are they all going? What do they do? What purpose do they serve? You see very easily how they fit a billion people in the country.

Ever gagged walking down the street? How about smelt a smell so overpoweringly awful you've vomited instantly? Then had to run to get away to relatively clear air? Been there. Done that.

You've not been to India until you've seen someone taking a dump in the street. Or seen a dead dog. Or a dead body. There is no-one to take care of these things.

You've never seen somebody sleep until tube seen someone by the side of a major highway fast off. The indian ability to sleep is legendary to indian travellers. They can do it anywhere, at anytime, in any condition, in any position.

You've never crossed a road until you've had to weave through 5 lanes of tuktuks, all beeping their horns, spewing out vile smoke. I'd love to see statistics for people who get into road accidents once they've left India because you get so amazingly confident at it. The trick is never to stop walking. If you have a phobia get yourself to India. I never saw a single accident. I couldn't work out if they were awesome drivers or very bad. There could be two official lanes but 5 lines of traffic. They never look when turning. They just...GO!

Youve never eaten indian food until you've done it in India. It's so gorgeous. You can order the same thing in 5 different restaurants and have 5 different meals. They all interpret it differently.

You've never felt like a piece of crap until you've looked into the blind eyes of a 3 year old boy and said no, you wont be giving him money. That tug on the trouser leg before I saw him was...hard to take.

There are women just sat there waiting for you to give them money. Their main selling point? They'll have a kid, and OCD seen them at least 10 years old, fast asleep on their lap. I said above they can sleep anywhere but I suspected these kids were drugged. What kid could sit there all day otherwise? Well, Indian kids could to be honest...

You've never been ill...
You've never realised how low your standards can get...
You've never realised what little you need in your life...
You've never realised how brutally hard life actually is...

You've never done ANYTHING until you've done it India style. Go there. Please.

PS Travellers in India are so fucking smug. Yes, you're in India. So am I! Get over it!

PPS and the bloody hippies...

Monday, June 27, 2011

India: Part 1

I've split this into two blogs. I found myself talking forever. Come back tomorrow for part 2

Part 1: just how annoying are Indians?

I always say travelling India is like being punched in the head 300 times a day. I also say pick a superlative, pick a verb. It's the MOST beautiful, superbly interesting, massively annoying, incredibly irritating, tremendously awesome place you could ever go.

Everything is a challenge but it's also damn enjoyable. India has a single problem. Apart from lack of infrastructure, debilitating poverty, potholes the size of Belgium, non-existent healthcare etc etc. And that is the people. Indian would be the best place on the planet if not for the people. Quite simply they ruin the experience.

This might be a developing theme on my blog of me not liking the peoples of the world (one day ill blog my love of Germans) but it's so true.

Don't get me wrong: they can be lovely. They can be warm, open and charming. They're very nice but they're also very inquisitive. To the point of aggression.

Let's role play. You're stood looking Af an amazing monument. It's taken people years to build this thing and it's gorgeous. It deserves study. But every 30 seconds you get a tap on the shoulder:

What is your name? Where are you from?

Once they've found out they go away. You can ask the same and you won't get an answer.

In the intervening 30 seconds you'll get asked if someone else can have a photo with you. You'll get handed a random
baby. Surely I'm not the only white guy you've ever seen? There are other westerners here. Im not unique.

Do you want a tuktuk? No, I'm walking. Where are you going? Nowhere I'm staying here. But later? I don't know. I have tuktuk for 150 rupees. But you don't know where I'm going! Nor do i for that matter!

Do you want to buy this random piece of crap? The same piece of crap you see literally everywhere but they'll claim is unique? Why not? You're a rich westerner! Let's have a laugh and joke. Can I get back to seeing the temple now?

Tap on the shoulder. What is your name? Sigh.

Sometimes they go up to 5 questions:

What is your name?
Where are you from?
What is your job?
How much is a rupee in your currency?
Are you married?

All this is lovely and most amusing. For the first few days but then you start to feel that maybe you'd like to be left the fuck alone. This is infuriating as you're here to meet the locals, to immerse in the culture but it's so damn tiring.

I was once psychically mugged by a group of 30 schoolgirls in a park. I only wanted to sit quietly and read my book. It was one of the few quiet places I'd ever found in India. I wanted a rest and a break. I went down this entire line of girls answering the same damn two questions...except for one of them who's english was excellent. And she went on and on and on. I shook all their hands as their teacher herded them off. Then HE stood there and did it.

I was getting on a bus once. It was 8pm. I was tired, it had been a long day, and this was going to be a 12 hour overnight trip on a local bus. I wasn't going to be getting a lot of sleep but you have to do your best.

My plan was to have the 5 minute conversation I was anticipating, read for a couple of hours and try to sleep.

Dude sits next to me.

What is your name? Where are you from?

After a few minutes I get my book out.

Question. Answer. A few minutes of conversation. Book.

Tap on the shoulder. Question. Answer. A few minutes of conversation. Book.

Tap on the shoulder. Question. Answer. A few minutes of conversation. Book.

This goes on for an hour. I can't think straight. I'm Just giving one word answers. Please take the hint. I'm being rude, I know I am but I'm tired. He's having none of it.

I put my iPod on.

Tap on the shoulder. Question. Answer.

Now this bus is loud. Indian buses don't tend to have windows so you get the full force of the engine noise. And the wind. Again, I'm tired. I'm half deaf at the best of times let alone when I can't concentrate.

This goes on until midnight when he mercifully gets off the bus. I'm a wreck but it did help me get to sleep.

And there's the constant negotiating. And being ripped off. This happens with every single time you have to use money. Every damn time. Except bizarrely when you buy water. That's 15 rupees everywhere.

We were in Pondicherry 5 days and just using it as a base to get to the surrounding villages. Everyday we had to get to the bus station so needed a tuktuk. Every damn day we had to literally argue the price. With the same dude! Just tell us the real price! We know what we paid yesterday FFS! We're not paying 300 rupees to go 3km when it was 50 yesterday. We walk away and he shouts that 50 is OK. Grr.

One place said his prices were actual real prices so refused to negotiate. We didn't believe him and walked out! That's how crazy and fucked up the place is! You end up not believing a single word of what anybody says.

They don't care about their country. They're all out for #1 and will do anything for money. Alright, they're in desperate need. When you see what conditions the poor women picking tea work in, 12 hour days every day, just to get 150 rupees it's so shocking you might understand it. But then you go to places like Laos and Indonesia where they're at least just as poor if not more (more poor? Less poor? /: ) so but they care. That's why I have very little respect for Indians in India. But the country itself is superb.

I need to go back to do the north. I just need to psych myself down to it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Greece: it's shit

No, really.

You may have visions of it being amazing, of the amazing history, all the monuments, sculpture and ruins. That's all there and a lot of it is stunning (Delphi is my particular favourite) but that doesn't detract from the bigger problem: the people.

When in Greece you unfortunately, now and again, have to interact with them. And this is where it falls down. I've been to so hard places to travel. I'm now in Africa FGS. I've been to India. These were and are challenging but still way more fun than Greece.

There are no hostels in Greece except in Athens so I hardly ever met anyone to talk to. And eventually you do get ruin fatigue. Someone told me so before I got there and I was aghast.

"No, really" she said. "After awhile it's all just more lumps of marble"

I can fully understand their current problems because the Greeks basically act like they don't want you or anyone else, including their countrymen in their country. They're truculent, contemptuous, ambivalent to any problem, sullen and very, very rude.

I had more conversations with random Turks in 3 days than I did in Greece in 3 weeks.

"why do all the buildings have bits of wire coming out of them?" I asked.

"that's so they can say construction isn't finished. You only start paying taxes when the building is finished" someone replied. And that shows all that is currently wrong with the country.

For this story you might require a map. Look up 'Peloponesse'. I think that's how it's spelt. It's the big fat bit in the southwest. Got it? Ok...

We were in Sparta, home of the 300 Spartaaaaaaaans! There's nothing there btw. Like Nottingham they make nothing if their own legend. I wanted to get to Olympia. Having visited the only thing in the area worth seeing (Mystras, a hillside ruin complex which was pretty impressive) I didn't get to the bus station until 3pm but that's OK. It's not far.

"Ticket to Olympia please"


"No? Why not?"

"you have to go to Tripoli"

This was fine. I was half expecting it. Tripoli is a major transport hub.

"OK. Let's go to Tripoli"

I arrived in tripoli to a...petrol station.

"Bus to Olympia please".

"No. You need to go to Corinth"

"What? That's in the wrong direction. Is there a bus to Olympia from Corinth?"

She shrugs her shoulders. This was a theme that I would come to appreciate. The Greeks just put you inns bus in the direction they think is correct and hope fir the best. I was calm before Greece. But Greece put me on a whole other level of chill.

The bid didn't leave for another 2 hours so I start looking in the Lonely Planet for alternatives. Then I noticed a second bus station. Maybe they just dong want to tell me about buses from the other station and thus keep the money for themselves. So I walks the 2km with my backpack. Same story. Id already been there though on the way through. Twice. So, bus to Corinth it is. There's nothing there. It's the literal middle of nowhere. It's now 6pm.

"Bus to Olympia please"

"No. You need to go to Patra".

"WTF? And when does that leave?"

"8pm? It takes 4 hours"

I'm aghast. But it's the closest I've been offered so far. Cue flicking in the LP for a few minutes.

In the meantime a New Zealand woman is at the counter screaming:

"this fucking system doesn't fucking work! How the f....and so on"

Thats nit getting you anywhere love i think and then I return.

"OK ticket to...Patra please"

"yes. Bus is at 7pm"

"you just said 8!"

"different bus"

Grr. The bus pulls in at 11. This is it. Gotta be. I'm very tired. It's been a long day.

"bus to...umm....O....Olympia. Please"

"next bus 0630"

Grr. So now I'm faced with a choice. It must be said at this point that when I'm tired I don't think that well. There is an optimum time of 3 hours after waking (if I've had a shower) and for another four hours). Apart from that I'm like a troll.

Do I wander looking for a hotel? Patra isn't in the Lonely Planet. It's very dark outside. I could wander for hours. There won't be a hostel so it'll be expensive. And I've got to be back here in 7 hours for the bus. I didn't, quite clearly. I could've caught a later one I later realised. The cost won't be worth it.

Fuck it. I'll sleep in the bus station. I was able to sit inside for 2 hours watching TV on my laptop until they threw me out. I slept on the benches out the back. In the dark. There was no-one, nobody, around. To protect us. What if the Greeks wanted sum bum candy? Where the frick were the security guards, mummy?

Anyway, I eventually got the bus without any molestation. Olympia was a bit shit. But the hotel did forget to charge me a second night. Result.

Jamie Starbuck

Friday, June 24, 2011

A travelling fashion icon

I've been travelling for awhile now. Unfortunately so has everything I have with me. Entropy is taking it's toll. Things are breaking. I lose lots and break more.

Allow me to describe what I currently look like:

I've had to buy some replacement bootlaces as they broke this morning. I have very cool grey boots. With bright white laces that you'd get with Trainers. They're nowhere near long enough so they're only laced half way.

I dropped my head shaver a few weeks ago. But it survived! Hurrah! Or it dud once I'd dodgy fixed it. Except, they have dodgy plugs in Africa so I've not been able to charge it. My beard was quite impressive until this morning when j finally found the correct combination of plug and socket and converter. It was on charge for awhile so I shaved my beard and head. It ran out half way through my head. Call me 'Patch'.

I'm having washing done today so I'm wearing an Indian top bought in India that no indian would ever wear.

And somehow I've lost a pair of shorts so I've lopped the bottom off some trousers. Needlework was never my strong point.

I'm looking more and more like the classic and legendary traveller.

Question of the day: what came first - electricity or the need for electricity? When was the lightbulb invented for instance? It's hard to
Imagine them being invented when we didn't have 'leccy but if only 10 have been sold how did they get power? Who'd build a power station for 10 light bulbs?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Literal Delhi Belly

Location: India

I'd been in India awhile. I'd had my moments with the toilet but I was going great. Before I got there I'd been told: if you're not Ill within two weeks you ain't doing it properly and it's very true. You'd have to eat in only the poshest IE touristy places to not get ill and even then it's a risky business. As it is, most restaurants would barely qualify for the term. Imagine your living room, open to the street and full of tables. And the ever present teeming millions. Dude comes along with a bucket. Your choice us yellow slop with bread or orangey brown mush with rice. And it tastes fucking lovely.

There is so much great food in India that's just waiting to be tried.

We arrived at about 11pm in this town. After finally finding a hotel I was hungry. My travelling companion wasn't but she accompanied me to the hotel restaurant. This was the only meal that we didn't eat the same.

I woke up in the morning a little under the weather but I made it out. Two hours later I had to go back. I laid down in bed and didn't move for two days. Except for a million trips to the loo. I had an horrendous fever and while I was technically conscious I slept for most of it. Luckily she was there to fetch and carry water for me.

By the way, some may have seen this, but I have a photo. A rather special photo. Think tubgirl but more extreme. If you want to see it let me know and I'll email it.

Eventually, with very good timing, I could make it out to see something and back for the toilet. Sometimes It got a bit close. One of the benefits was I had cold sweats. While everyone else baked in 40 degree weather I felt bloody freezing. My own personal airconditioning!

We were at one temple and I simply had to go. This meant using the public toilet. OMFG.

Cubicle 1: guy stood in the door pissing on to the floor nowhere near the hole.

Cubicle 2: sheets wedged down the hole causing a flood.

Cubicle 3: no discernible reason for the flood but I wasn't going there. To be honest it was a 'maybe'. I'd come back to it in a crisis.

Cubicle 4: shit. Everywhere. On all six surfaces.

Cubicle 5: closed.

Cubicle 6: not too bad. Just. Thank fuck.

Anyway, after a week nothing had changed. So off we went to the doctor. Imagine that Indian restaurant but with a single curtain halfway down. Benches this side full of dudes.

They all waved me to the front. Such nice guys. You know an Indian is proper Ill when he goes to the doctors. It's taking time away from him earning money and trust me when I say every five minutes they're away from work they risk malnutrition.

As I'm sat there I can see there's a pregnant woman in there and the doctor has a young girl assistant of maybe 14 years old. Next to me is a table covered in tablet foils. No boxes. Just foils.

I'm going to paraphrase now:

Doctor: Girl! Get me blah!

Girl comes to the table, gets a glass vial like Europe had prewar and breaks the top off before putting her thumb on it. Presumably for infection control purposes but forgetting she used her bum wiping hand (yes, they differentiate. Oh the faux pas).

Eventually I get called in.

Doctor: what are your symptoms?

Me: diarhoea, fever, lethargy...

D: you have pain?

Me: umm...yeah a bit.

He begins to write.

D: OK. You take this for the pain, this for the fever...

Me: but what about what's wrong with me?

D: yes. You take this for the pain, this for the fever...

A week later I was still ill. Surprise! Off to the doctor we go. To be fair this one was better. He spoke better english and even had a proper office. And a nurse. Dirt a farmers field would be jealous of but still...

Nope. Nothing got better.

I was supposed to be in India another 5 weeks. What do I do? I'll tell you. I went to Bangkok where the nurses were outstandingly gorgeous. Oh, and I got cured. 3 weeks I'd been ill, it cost me €120 and 10 kilos in weight. I'd been trying to lose that weight for years.

India: the best diet in the world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm back, Baby!

I've missed blogging. It's been too long. I've now got so many things to write about, too. I'm free of the yoke that was the necessary anonymity of keeping secret who I was talking about in my (now) ex-wife's family. Hurrah.

I'll be posting travelling stories, thoughts, queries and general...stuff. I promise this:

1) everything will be honest, Frank and truthful

2) any question you Wang to ask shall be welcomed and responded to

3) you can challenge me on anything.

Love ya!

Testy testicle

This was a test. More awesomeness like this soon

Jamie Starbuck

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