A Travellerspoint blog

19. Standing at the tip of India

Kanyakumari, India

sunny -38 °C

17th October 2011

With a week to go before I fly out of Delhi, I decide to try and make it to the southern tip of India. The three oceans meet there, and it would be an achievement to say I've seen it. I wake early and say goodbye to the three girls I've been travelling with for the past week. My train is delayed, and I accidentally board the wrong one. After a frantic change at the next station, I jump on the right train and get told off for sitting in the air conditioned carriage: my £1 ticket is for cattle class. I make my way through and find a good seat next to the open door. For the next two hours, I admire the swarms of lush green palm trees, the passing waterways and the random, occasional rocky outcrop.

Eventually the train grinds to a halt and everybody disembarks. As I climb out onto the sandy gravel below, with my hefty backpack, I notice the train stopped half a kilometre out of the station. It is busy, and the town is awash with Indian tourists in the height of the season. Rooms are overpriced, but I manage to find a dingy abode that will do for one night.

I drop my stuff and head straight out. First stop is Vivekananda temple where Swami Vivekananda (India's Gandhi of the south) spent his final days meditating. I take a little ferry out the 400m to the rock. The ferry is like a dented metal box. Everyone is packed onto the boat and given dodgy life jackets. The waters are rough, I'm a good swimmer, but even still I mentally start thinking about who I would try to save if we sunk.

We approach the dock on the island and the captain (who must do this journey a hundred times a day) rams the boat into the concrete wall, almost head on, as he tries to change direction. No wonder the boat has so many dints! We finally dock and the ropes are loosely tied so that the tide makes it perpetually difficult to get on or off the boat. Once ashore I check out the temple and get a friendly looking Indian lady to take my photo. The sun is beginning to set, and the ferry crew are eager to get us back to the mainland. We're hastily rushed to the second island. Once I've walked around the monument, I jump back on the ferry. This time everyone is crammed on, regardless of whether there are enough life jackets. Thankfully, we make the journey safely.

The sun is starting to drop so I make my way to sunset point. On the way I pass a dozen tourist stalls, politely declining every shop owners invite to look inside their shop, even if 'looking is for free'. On the way, a beggar stops me to read my palm. He wants hundred rupees to cure me of "something that is stopping my true destiny". I politely decline, taking my chances with destiny, but I do pay him 20 rupees for the palm reading. He is happy enough, and I have plenty to contemplate. I walk away laughing and thinking of Julia Roberts in eat, prey, love.

At sunset point, a convenient lookout has been built. The only problem is that it vaguely resembles a concrete multi story car park, charges and slightly obscures the view if you want to stay on the mainland. I find myself an unobscured view point and prop myself against the wall to and watch and wait. As the sun descends, the few wafer thin clouds that hug the horizon turn burnt orange. Once the sun is out of sight, the sky lights up a deep red over the three oceans. It is stunning, moving in fact. I'm glad I made the journey all the way here just to see that.

Posted by Jayne Breckon 22:24 Archived in India Tagged kanyakumari southern_india south_india tip_of_india indian_sunset vivekananda_rock things_to_do_in_india things_to_do_in_south_india vivekananda_temple; Comments (0)

18. Festival fever in India

Desara in Mysore, South India

sunny -40 °C

6th October 2011

After much contemplation, plenty of advice not to go, and against my own better judgement, I find myself in Mysore on the last day of Dasara, one of India´s most prestigious festivals before Diwali. On the last day of Desara, there is a grand parade through the ancient streets of the city, to mark the end of the festival. Known as Jamboo Savari, the parade celebrates the culture, music and dance of Karnataka.

I arrive off the 5am train, check into a hotel, and head out to watch the parade. I head towards Mysore Palace, the centre piece of the parade and undoubtedly one of India´s most beautiful palaces. Sizeable crowds are gathering there. There are plenty of women in the crowd so I assume I will be safe. I pass a line of local buses parked opposite the palace gates. Their drivers are charging one hundred rupees to sit on the roof. "Madam, madam" I hear as I'm spotted trying to avoid them. "No thank you" I reply in the curt, but polite manner I have to adopt, to avoid unwelcome attention, in India. Heading through the crowds and along the procession route, I try to get a better view, but as soon as I step into the crowd, I'm grabbed from every direction. Hands come from all over, grabbing me in inappropriate places. I snap angrily at the person behind me. The crowd bursts into laughter mocking me. It is too much to tolerate: what was I thinking? Suddenly the bus seems like a reasonable idea. I head straight for the door, and scramble onboard to be told "You are safe now Madam" from the man who collects my one hundred rupees. I'm offered the driving seat, where I have a fantastic view of the procession. I do not move for the next three hours.

The crowds get bigger. Several women with small children join me. Before long, I'm sharing my seat with a sweet Indian girl named Ayesha. She is fascinated by my fair skin and light hair. We talk for ages as she tells me all about the festival. Finally, the parade begins, led by the Maharajah of Mysore, sat on a decadent elephant decorated in beautiful robes of red and gold. The elephant has beautiful floral patterns, drawn with chalk, down her trunk and around her head. Following them are another five elephants. Behind them, a selection of vintage cars and dancers. The floats follow, carrying deities in honour of famous Prime Minsters, authors and poets. The crowds surge forward, wild with excitement, but policemen meet them and thrash wildly at them with sticks.

After a while, I stand up to go. I have skipped a meal, and the heat is taking its toll on me. "No, no, no" everyone shouts. Apparently the grand finale, an elephant carrying a gold carriage, is nearly upon us. This is the idol of the Goddess Chamundeshwari, carried in a solid gold Mantapa weighing 750Kgs. An hour passes and I'm still sat there having not yet seen the Mantapa. Finally, an elephant pulling a gold carriage, walks past. Swiftly behind is the Cavalry, a royal band and lots of dancers. Then, an enormous elephant decked in red and gold appears. Resting precariously on its back is the gold Mantapa. It is an impressive sight, and worthwhile waiting to see. The crowds go crazy, and surge forward again. This time the police can not stop them. I hastily get a few photos as the elephant walks past, then squeeze off the bus, and nip into the back streets, before the crowds start to move. It was worth seeing, and quite an experience, but now it is time to catch up with friends and go for a tasty thali...

Posted by Jayne Breckon 22:23 Archived in India Tagged mysore festival_of_lights dasara festival_of_desara south_india mysore_elephants mysore_desara maharajah things_to_see_in_india things_to_do_in_mysore things_to_do_in_india things_to_see_in_mysore things_to_see_in_south_india things_to_do_in_south_india festivals_in_india Comments (0)

17. Starring in a Bollywood Movie

Lights, camera, action...

sunny 25 °C

23rd Sept 2011

Picture the scene: it's midnight and you're in a suave and sophisticated nightclub at an exclusive party. You have a glass of champagne in your hand, and you're standing on the edge of a dancefloor, lit by blue and white bulbs. The DJ pumps out the latest tunes from his booth suspended above the dance floor. The staff circle the floor, dressed in funky checked shorts, little red jackets, elastic green poker-dot ties, and black tweed hats, tilted over their face. It's the opening night, and Bollywood's biggest star is here to launch her new movie and soundtrack. Thirty male and female dancers take to the dancefloor. The women, who are mostly British, wear gold leotards with black frills. The men wear sparkly silver aladin pants, and a black sequinned band which velcros around their torsos showing off their slick, baby-oiled bodies.

The party is in full swing. Everyone is dancing and having a fabulous time. In walks a smartly dressed man in white chinos, sandshoes and a blue blazer, looking every bit the Bollywood mega star. Then out of nowhere someone shouts "cut!", "thanks everyone, that was good, but let's do it again", "standby, please", "music..." and off you go again.

"Cut" comes the voice again.

You repeat the scene numerous times without reaching the middle of the song. Perfection, it seems, is hard to find in Bollywood. You stand around with the other extras for a while, getting to know them in this oddly surreal setting. You resume your position and get given a glass. The music starts and everyone breaks-out into full party mode dancing as though it is the best night of their life!

"Cut", the director shouts. "This lacks energy. Dancers this is near to rubbish", "again...".

Stage hands appear from nowhere, and move you to the left a millimetre. The music begins once again.

Several cries of "cut" later and you are sat around again, while a tiny detail in the DJ box is corrected. The DJ box has been winched up and down several times already.

This is what it is like on the set of a Bollywood movie. The costume I'm dressed in, is a figure-hugging, navy-blue, knee-length dress. It is uncomfortably tight, but actually a style I could conceivably wear out. The promised hair and make up transformation has not occurred, but it does not matter since I'm only likely to be in shot for a nanosecond, if I'm even lucky enough to make the final cut, and the odds are stacked against that.

It is entertaining to watch the huge amount of testosterone and male bravado amongst the male dancers. Several of us, sit fascinated, watching the dynamics. One of the dancers parades in front of us and comes over to introduce himself. I learn that this is the last day of filming here, before the cast and crew go on location, to Goa. There's an after party to which we are invited.

"Dinner" shouts the director, interrupting the conversation.

The actors and the dancers are whisked away for food, make up, and no doubt a reapplication of baby oil. Everyone else congregates outside, for the third meal of the day. We queue up in the car park of this mega Bollywood studio, with the career extras. It's about 8pm, - 12 hours after we were picked up, and 10 hours after we first went on stage. The day does not feel as though it is going to end soon.

We resume positions after dinner, ready to do as told. An hour later I'm led away quietly, so as not to cause a problem with the other extras. I'm taken to the nearest train station, to catch a train back into town. The shoot does not finish early enough for me to make my 11pm train to Goa, so the company sends me back to central Mumbai early, with my days earnings and a chaperone for safety. It's a shame to miss the afterparty, but with countless new facebook friends, and a fantastic insight into the movie business, it's time for me to exit stage...

Posted by Jayne Breckon 16:48 Archived in India Tagged bollywood starring_in_a_bollywood_movie bollywood_extra things_to_see_in_mumbai things_to_do_in_mumbai making_a_bollywood_movie behind_the_scenes_of_a_bollywoo behind_the_scenes behind_the_scenes_in_bollywood Comments (0)

16. Bathing with Elephants

Chitwan National Park, Nepal with Alice and Dave

sunny 30 °C

Sept 7th 2011

As I end my Tibetan trip back in Kathmandu, Alice and Dave arrive for the first time. After a boozy catch-up, that sees us shaking our stuff on a Nepalese dance floor in the centre of Kathmandu, and a day or two of sightseeing, we take a rickety bus together down to Chitwan National Park in the South of Nepal.

On our second day there, we head out on elephant safari. We wake early and arrive at the elephant house where we are introduced to a friendly looking elephant and her bare-chested handler. Straddling her neck and using his feet to steer her, he sits atop like something out of the Jungle Book. A wooden platform, come chair, is harnessed to her back and she's standing ready for us to climb on board. Climbing up the steps and taking a corner each, we get ourselves settled. Then we are off into the jungle. Each movement of the elephants body feels exaggerated beneath us as we rise and fall with the movement of her steps. Soon the jungle is thick and dense, and being on an elephant is the only way to get through it.

Before long we have lost the other elephants, and it is just us. We saunter on for a while and then suddenly hear rustling in front of us. Two huge rhino appear two metres ahead. They look at the elephant and step to the side of it: clearly there's a pecking order at play and luckily we are sat on the right animal.

To our left emerges another elephant who has also spotted the rhino. Disturbed, the rhino turn and walk away. We head on a little further listening to the noises of the jungle and watching the birds. We enter a clearing and spot the two rhino again. This time they are mating, or rather waiting until we've passed so they can get on with it. After about fifteen minutes, we move off and leave the pair to it. Next we spot a herd of spotted antelope and follow them for a bit. But eventually we return after a few hours and disembark.

After lunch, we head down to the river where we change into our bathers and bravely climb on to the back of another elephant. Once we are on board she stands up, but without the safety of a harness it is pretty high up here. She walks down to the river, and we do our best to stay on. Suddenly a firm, cold blast of water hits us. She fills her trunk and empties it over us. And then another comes from the other direction. I duck and Alice, who is sat behind me, gets it full on. As much as a game for the elephant as it is for us, she sits down and one by one we all slide off into the river. The current is strong and the water is deep so we swim quickly to shore and walk back. We climb back on again for another go and she stands up and throws more water over us before sitting down and tipping us off again. It's sticky and humid, and this is a seriously fun way to cool down.

We finally climb the river bank and leave our elephant to get properly scrubbed down by her handler. As we are stood watching we notice a log in the water. As it drifts down the river we suddenly realise it's a pretty sizeable crocodile... Yikes, we never thought about crocodiles! It is a good job we are out of the water...

Posted by Jayne Breckon 06:13 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal; things_to_do_in_nepal; things_to_see_in_nepal; chitwan_national_park; chitwan: southern_nepal; elephant-riding; elephant_bathing; Comments (0)

15. A night at base camp

sunny -15 °C

30th August 2011

The Friendship Highway connects Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal – a distance of 1335 kilometre’s. On it, we wind our way through high mountain passes and beautiful snow capped mountains. I reach the highest I’ve ever been – 5248m at Gyatshola pass and much later just 525m at Dolal Ghat. The altitude makes it cool, but the sky is clear and blue overhead. After several days on the highway, stopping off at different towns along the way, we turn off the friendship highway and head for the highest place on Earth – Mount Everest. We wind our way up and over several mountain passes. At the top of the first pass, we catch our first glimpse of Everest.

After a couple of hours, we arrive at a series of nomadic tents where we’ll spend the night, a few kilometres from base camp. The sky is clear, so we set out for Everest. Temperatures are cold, and we all have to wrap up. After a couple of hours and a lot of heavy puffing, we reach 5200m and base camp. There in front of us stands Mt Qomolangma at 8814m. It dominates the landscape. It’s a moving moment, and you can’t help but think about all the climbers who have risked their life to climb this mountain. It’s inspiring… As the sun goes down, the mountain changes colour - white, yellow, orange, red. It’s too cold to linger too long, so we set back reluctantly for a sleepless night in Everest's shadow.

Posted by Jayne Breckon 04:53 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal; everest; tibet; things_to_see_in_tibet; everest_base_camp; things_to_do_in_nepal; things_to_see_in_nepal; things_to_do_in_tibet Comments (0)

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