Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sticking it to the Fat Guy

Expert from scrolls of ancient conversation:

King/General Rich Guy/Religious Bigwig: Let's build something impressive that will cost us a bomb (but that's ok, I'm rich/ the coffers are full/ the faithful are rich) and people will come for miles around to see and it will make me rich(er) and famous.

Common Man/ General Lackey/ Novice: Cool, let's.

King/General Rich Guy/Religious Bigwig: Its all about location, location, location. Where's a good spot you think?

C/GL/N: Well here's a great spot. Nice flat open spacious grounds. Close to the main roads. Good access to everything around.

K/GRG/RB: Oh no, that's way too easy. Let's build it instead on this almost inaccessible hill. Let's add some more steps leading up to the hill and just for kicks, let's make a rule that folks who come visit must be shoeless, hat less and hapless - to go with the breathless they'll be by the time they get up to the top.

..... and so it was.

Which is why every God D*mned temple, church, monument and shrine I've been to over the past 4 months has been situated in the most hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way, guaranteed-to-give-you-a-heart-attack spot. It obviously wasn't enough that the original poor workers had to haul up tons of wood, bricks, stone and general monument making equipment but also today's everyday tourist has to puff and pant their way up - all for a chance at a glimpse of greatness.

And the worst part is that all those Kings and General Rich Guys and Religious Grand Kahunas were all probably ferried up that mountain - probably on the backs of the Common Man who probably cursed himself all the way to the top regretting his initial enthusiasm.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Good times in Japan

Woke up to a miserable rainy day today and was a little bummed out as I had planned to spend the day in the ancient temple town of Nikko which is about 2 hours north-east of Tokyo. I'm glad I went ahead with the plan, coz once out of the city, the weather cleared up and I had nothing but clear blue skies all day long!

I had heard so much about Nikko and I'm happy to say that I wasn't disappointed. Its kinda like the Hampi of Japan I suppose - little town snuggled in the Japanese mountains with ancient temples and shrines scattered all over the place.

Experienced my very first Shinkansen (bullet train) ride today as well. Not as cool as I'd imagined it, but then again it was such a short distance that maybe they don't go all out. I'm hoping the Tokyo - Osaka leg will be better.

Met two amazing girls today. Hanna from Munich, Germany who was here with a German tour group; and Sandrine who's French but coincidently also lives in Munich. Since both Sandrine and I were on our own she suggested we join forces and I'm glad we did as it was a lot of fun exploring amazing Nikko with her.

Like Hampi, the temples were just overwhelmingly beautiful and no amount of pics and discriptions can fully capture their true beauty. I took heaps of pics and will be posting the best few soon.

After we were done with the main attractions, Sandrine and I found ourselves in what was probably "main street" Nikko where we stumbled upon this cute litte restaurant. The hostess didn't speak a word of English... or German... or French... so with much gesturing and some handy dandy drawings we ordered what we THOUGHT was tempura veggies, noodles and soup.
We were almost right! The tempura part was right (there was shrimp too) and the noodles part was right - only they were cold noodles and the "soup" was a cold sause.

After some false starts, and a joke about "putting it in the microwave" the couple at the next table took pity on us and explained that we were supposed to dip the noodles in the sause to get the maximum flavour. Turns out it really does wonders for the overall taste and we quite enjoyed our meal after all. As we stumbled out of the restaurant on very cramped legs (we'd opted for the Japanese style tables) we did note that both the other couples in the restaurant were grinning at us and ironically they'd chosed to sit at the regular tables!

Back in Tokyo the boys at 606 Sakura House had decided to put together an impromptu dinner party as some of them were leaving the next day. We went down to the grocery store to get some ingedients and we came back with:

2 cases of beer (the very first thing we picked up)
1 carton of eggs
1 pkt of bacon like looking pork (but not bacon)
1 LARGE cabbage
2 pkts of snowpeas
3 pkts of Tofu
1 large bag of kinda shake n bake chicken
Udon noodles
1pkt spicy saussages
Kimchee (sp?)
A bottle of Coke

3 chefs (1 Chinese, 1 Taiwanese 1 Korean) and 4 sub chefs (1 Canadian, 1 Malaysian, 2 Chinese) worked hard for a half hour and the result was a culinary feast consisting of

Udon soup
Fried chicken
Spicy saussages
Tofu with meat (of somesort)
Egg and onion stirfry
Kimchee with cabbage and pork sauteed in some funky Korean chillie paste

Good times at Sakura House!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Adventures of a Canadian Indian in Tokyo

Armed with 3 maps (2 city, 1 JR trains), 1 "point to it" book, 1 novel and of course the trusted Lonely Planet guide I set off to see the sights of Tokyo.

Indended itenerary:
Imperial Palace - East Gardens
Kitanomaru Koen - park with martial art displays
Yasukuni Jinja - Memorial to Japanese war dead
Shibuya - general area and Hachiko statue
Ebisu - Yebisu Garden Palace and Sapporo beer museum
National Theatre of Japan - performing arts

Things got off to a slightly rocky start when after I got off at Tokyo station I wandered in various directions for 45 mins before I accidently stumbled upon the right path towards the Imperial Palace. Even though all you can actually see of the Palace is one little building, its still quite nice and there are some lovely photo opps if you're patient and wait for the excited family tourists to get out of the way!

Wandered around the East Gardens for a bit soaking in the beautifully landscaped trees and lawns all around. I'm very glad I decided to come here in Spring - it couldn't have been more beautiful. Everywhere little green leaves were making their debut and the gorgeous cherry blossoms beamed at you around every corner. I know I'm going to a Hanami Sakura thingy on Sunday, but I just couldn't resist taking picture after picture of the blossoms.

After exiting the gardens, I cut across the Kitanomaru park heading towards the Yasukuni Jinja. Dozens of vendors line the road leading to the shrine selling mostly food, but also all kinds of curious knick-knacks. Funnily enough I had just finished telling myself that I wasn't that hungry and would skip lunch when I came across the vendors and then BAM.... my stomach decided I was starving after all!

I took a quick round of the shrine which proved to be a great site for pics both of the monument itself as well as the interesting tourists there. I found it interesting that there were almost no "foreign" tourists to speak of. All the people coming there (and by the busloads too) seemed to be older Japanese folk.

After searching through the many stalls that sold eatables like salted fish-on-a-stick (gills still attached) to deep fried octopus tentacles to other concoctions that I couldn't even identify, I finally settled on some bbqed pork-on-a-stick, noodles and beer! Everyone was just sitting around on the grass under the cherry trees and so that's what I did too!

I then made my way to the nearest JR train station and then on to Sibuya - Tokyo's version of Times Square. Like the original, Sibuya slaps you with its sensory overload of flashing lights, large billboards, running adverts and crazy traffic all competing for your attention at much the same time. What Sibuya has that Times Square lacks - a funky crossing system whereby ALL traffic stops and people then cross the road in every which direction! Its really cool to watch and I took a bunch of pics. Wish I had a camera to capture the full effect.

Before I left Shibuya, I made a quick stop to pay hommage at the statue of Hachiko - the faithful dog of Japanese lore who waited for his master at Shibuya station even after the master's death and ceased only when he himself died. Located in a little garden just outside of the station's "Hachiko Exit" the statue is a popular meeting spot for Japanese youth and I enjoyed watching them as much as the chaotic scenes around me.

Sadly I had to give the beer museum and the National Theatre a miss as I was already bone weary and in any case it was too late to catch a show. By now I was much more confident with the JR lines and getting home was easy as apple pie.

I have a day trip to Nikko planned for tomorrow - can't wait.

On the flip side, I STILL don't have accomodation for 2 days in Osaka! Everything I've called/ emailed or googled is full and I'm not sure how to proceed. Ah well.... I'm determined not to worry (too much)... things are bound to settle themselves eventually.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Konnichiwa Japan

Arrived into Tokyo at 8 am local time this morning after a LONG but amazing flight. Thanks to VBF's dad, I was upgraded to Business Class and it made a WORLD of difference and I actually arrived in a non vegitative state! 

Getting to Dee's place was relatively easy. FYI, Dee is the daughter of the friend of my mother from her work. Yes, I am a complete free housing slut, but when on holiday in an EXPENSIVE city like Tokyo, one says "yes" when one offeres help! 

For those who are curious, she lives just steps from the Omori train station. Tres convenient I say!

Contrary to what I've been told, the people in Japan are TRES helpful! A girl on the train lent me her celly to call Dee (ok, she was American) a guy helped me haul my bag up a flight of steps, a lady on the train told me how many stops until mine and another guy saw me standing confused at a crossroad and pointed me in the right direction! I sincerely hope I haven't used up my entire "nice-people-in-new-county" quota all in one day!

Am feeling much better after my wee nap and armed with about 5 different maps and of course the Lonely Planet - I'm off to explore Japan now!


Monday, March 26, 2007

Phir Melenge! (We'll meet again)

Many many wonderful people - friends, family and perfect strangers - have all helped make my stay here a totally awesome experience.

Thanks for the late night walks on Carter Road followed by the most delish mango kulfi!

Thanks for the "hang out" sessions at the Bandra Gym.

Thanks for introducing me to Totos, Pecoes and Blossoms!

Thanks for the shopping sprees to Colaba Causeway and Fab India.

Thanks for the trips to Aurangabad, Rajasthan, Hyderabad and Karnataka.

Thanks for the weddings, christenings, pre and post wedding parties, housewarmings and for-the-heck-of-it parties!

Thanks for taking time out to meet up, even if it was for a rushed cup of coffee - it means a lot to me.

Thanks for letting me crash at your place and saving me hostel costs!

Saalam Bombay.....hum phir melenge.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What... just 7 days to go??!!

Ever since I got back from the south, things have moved at a super-fast pace, and I suddenly find myself with just a mere 7 days left in India! Somehow, 3 months have just raced by and I'm having to get ready for a new leg of this seemingly never ending adventure! 

The past 2 weeks since I returned to Bombay have been a mix of parties with friends, parties with family, long walks on the promenade, a visit to the Bombay courts (no, I didn't get into trouble), eating pani puri at Elco's, drinking at Toto's and hanging out with Nana and Papa. 

Scribbler has been here for the past few days together with her college roomie. Her fiance was also down from Bangalore, so it was a lovely reunion of sorts. Since it was the first time everyone was together, we had a little party for the happy couple (that they didn't know was for them) at my grandparents place on Saturday. There was much eating and drinking and making merry and plenty of embarrasing family details were disclosed! Fortunately he still wants to marry her and in fact they went off to the courts this morning to give in their one month notice of "intent to marry". Apparently they have to do since they're from different religions and need to get married under the "Special Marriage Act"! The happy event is set to take place in the 1st week of June.

My mum's sister and her husband who were in India for a month left for Toronto on Sunday night. Thankfully they were travelling light(ish) and I was able to send back almost 20kgs of my stuff with them! Thanks-be-to-God coz there was no-way-in-hell I would have been able to carry all that back with me! Ironically, I can only take 20kgs from BOM to London, but am allowed 46 kgs on the London Toronto leg - Go figure!

Thanks to my baggage weight dilemma, Sanch will be inheriting most of the clothes I brought with me and then and only then will I have space for the really important stuff like my books and the cool Tanjore paintings and other random house stuff I bought in India. 

Looking back at the list I made of things I HAD to do in Bombay, I'm happy to report that I did, saw, ate, met, visited and witnessed them all... and much much more!

Time to move on and have new adventures.

Side Note: I've been getting a few comments on how tedious it is to look at all my holiday pics - hey I can't HELP it if I take 100s of pics! - so have tried to reorganise the pics into sets with just the "best" ones and that should make life easier for all.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New Places, New Experiences

Been on the road for over a week now and somehow this southern trip seems more relaxed and reflective than the Rajasthan experience. I'm glad I made the decision to have longer stays in some places and that's given me the opportunity to both catch my breath and catch up with others!

The two days I spent in Hampi were terrific - I'll have to say it even beats my Udaipur experience. I loved the fact that I could wander all over the countryside and "discover" little shrines and ruins all along the way. I walked all over the area north of the river on the first day and on day two, rented a bicycle and spent a glorious morning biking down tranquil country roads lined with banana fields on either side.

Hampi was the first place where I was truly "alone". Up until now, in every place I visited, I either knew people or had travelling companions. For the first time ever I was travelling totally on my own, and I really enjoyed it! It was really nice being able to do your own thing and not have to consult anyone else along the way. I also realised that you tend to meet more people when you're travelling along - other travellers are more inclined to strike up a conversation when you're alone as opposed to if you're already with someone else. I met some really nice people in Hampi and hope to meet them again along then way in the south.

After 2 days in Hampi, I arrived in Bangalore, India's IT capital. I've been staying with my cousin and her husband and their cute little 3 year old who's constant chatter has keep me entertained over the past 3 days! Didn't do a whole lot of sighseeing here - it was more of a rest stop before the next intense leg! It was nice catching up cuz who I haven't met in about 11 years.

Met up with cuz Scribbler's fiance) for lunch yesterday, and a post lunch "just one pint" turned into a full afternoon session! It was nice to really be able to get to know him - our previous meeting in Bombay had been quite rushed, and sans alcohol! He took me to Pecoe's - Bangalore's oldest pub. And I do mean a REAL pub - something Bombay is sorely lacking, and I've been missing! Inspite of being just off one of Bangalore's main and busiest shopping streets, Pecoe's still manages to drown out the noise and chaos of the city and allows you to down ice cold goodness and sink into the mood music in its deep (and very dark) interior. Top marks for ambiance, service and quite good masala fries as well!

Went back to Brigade Street today to check out this bookstore that Scribbler had reccomended. 2 hours later I staggered out of there bent under the burden of my new purchases! Let me introduce you to the newest members of my bookshelves:
The Man in the Brown Suit
The Listerdale Mystery
A Murder is Announced
Cat Among the Pigeons
At Bertram's Hotel
The Regatta Mystery
The Mysterious Mr. Quinn
Funerals are Fatal
- Agatha Christie

If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?
I Lost Everything in the Post Natal Depression

- Erma Bombeck

Yes, He is the Best: A collection of TOI cartoons
- R. K Laxman
Ice Candy Man

- Bapsi Sidhwa

The Hungry Tide
The Glass Palace
- Amitav Ghosh

And, for that mandatory fluff factor:
Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason
- Helen Fielding

That brings my total book count to well over 20. Any one with ANY ideas on how I'm going to get them all home - drop me a line!
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