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A rough guide to Indian roads Vol.2

January 2, 2012

Long time back I wrote a rough guide to Delhi roads. Recently, I stumbled upon this small video.

Dilli.

November 20, 2011

This time I won’t say anything. All that needs to be said, is in the movie.

 

Dilli’ is a multiple-award winning documentary that has played in over 50 international film festivals across North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.
Synopsis

In this city, a dream is born everyday.
Simple dreams.
Patient dreams.

Millions of people across India leave behind their homes and families, in the hope of finding a better life in Delhi. Completing 100 years as the capital of modern India, Delhi today stands at the crossroads of time. Among the fastest growing cities in the world, this is also the city that is home to India’s second largest slum population.

As Delhi straddles through its different worlds, Dilli tells the story of this city, as seen through very different eyes. Shot in the heart of this bustling megapolis, Dilli finds its storytellers in the men, women and children who are the invisible hands that continue to build this city of dreams.
Directed by: Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh
Camera: Sushmit Ghosh
Editing: Rintu Thomas
Sound Design: Pratik Biswas
Music: Wes Freeman, Ishaan Chhabra, IP Singh (Menwhopause)
Black and White photography: Sayan Dutta
Graphics: Ashutosh Guru
Production Manager: Pulkita Parsai
Art: Rhea D’souza

Produced by: Black Ticket Films and Robin Raina

A Black Ticket Films Production, 2011

For more information about this film, contact blackticketfilms[at]gmail[dot]com

Think Tank Dossier: India Europe Poland is out.

November 16, 2011

Just came back from Warsaw with a nicely printed copy of it. Feels really good, as I have spent a good chunk of my time on this one over the past three months.

Think Tank is a platform and a magazine for business and public administration leaders in Poland. Dossiers are special issues of Think Tank Magazine, focused on particular areas – in this case on the multilateral relations between Europe and India in the light of current Polish EU presidency.

You can grab your own free copy from here. It was a very good learning experience and a promising beginning of my cooperation with Think Tank Magazine.

Looking forward to your opinions! Hope we didn’t make (m)any compromising  mistakes in this one!

“Come to Poland, your bike is here already!”. The story of one Indian and one lost bike.

May 21, 2011

The title is an old German joke, from the early 90-ties, or maybe even 80-ties, when Poland was particularly (in)famous for overdosing our national treasure (meaning vodka) and stealing cars. Now – neither of these bad habits are that prominent, but they’re still not replenished completely.

Somen Debnath – obviously a Bong (only Bong do such crazy things) – has been touring on his bicycle for seven years now, visiting over 60 countries and doing 80 000 kilometers with a mission to spread awareness about HIV and promote culture of West Bengal. Well – at least he says so, although I have also been planning a world tour and I know a good PR crap is necessary in that case. The goal is to travel. But that’s unrelated.

So… after all this impressive effort and dozens of adventures including being captured by Talibans, Mr. Debnath.. got his bike stolen in our lovely capital.

Sad, but well this can happen everywhere (including India) and there’s thousand of bikes getting stolen on a daily basis. That’s not what’s interesting about it..

Interesting is the reaction.

Poles did, what we do best – a big, national, spontaneous “Action”.  Yep, we’re really good in cracking big social actions, if only the topic is idealistic enough and if the national pride is involved… big things happen (you may want to check Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity – one of the biggest charity events in the world).

Somen was a CouchSurfer and the bike has been stolen from the staircase of his CS host, who immidiately took action to help his guest find the bike. The results were outstaning. Just few hours later a Facebook event he created had few hundreds of participants willing to help and by the end of the action – the numbers crossed 4000! People and companies started offering the financial help to the traveller, as well as bike parts and whole  bikes- both second hand as new ones. All, so that he could continue his journey. By the end of day 3 Somen had a new dilemma: which bike to choose??

In the meantime – he and his mission have been covered by most of national media, giving him attention he would probably never get otherwise and hence – helping his message to get through to people.

The funnies thing is – that finally, even Police had even cought the thefts. Thing that in case of smaller crimes, barerly ever really happens.

Wonder now, what is the impression he’ll take out of Poland on his way to the remaining 131 countries he’s planning to visit before 2020?

Possibility of underground in Delhi.

May 15, 2011

Ok, I’ve just created a BeatPort account. For a sole purpose of downloading the subContinental Bass album, featuring a selection of best bass heavy Indian electronica. “this compilation is the messenger of a movement” says Generation Bass blog, and I say -I knew it will come, but it happened way earlier than I expected

Here’s what I’m taking about:

But there’s more than this to say that we’re about to observe the birth of Indian underground…

My friend He Ra is doing an amazing thing both in Delhi and in Bombay. He’s teaching slum kids how to breakdance in his Tiny Drops India Hip Hop Community Centres.  Nothing much needs to be said about it – simply check out the link and look at the video below:

Graffitti culture is growing strong as well, there are workshops and a facebook page committed to it.

Oh, and I almost forgot – there’s a superexciting project called Bant SIngh Project, where the modern electronica meets the genuine Punjabi rural Rebel. (You can download the whole thing and remixes for free from the website!)

I guess, I was mistaken.

But Different went to SEA. Highlights (WIP)

April 28, 2011

1. Kewpie’s Kitchen in Calcutta. Tiny joint hidden off the Shakespeare street and manager by a journalist (who used to work in Poland). Awesome homemade food, small talks with the owner and fantastic decor. Real gem.

2. Hoi An. Shopping and chilling and cycling around. Probably the best beach in Vietnam. (If there’s sun) and definitely the best tailors. Two suits and two pairs custom made sandals joined me on the trip from there. Oh – and a swimming pool in a hotel and free drinks every evening 6.30, next to it. For 8$ a night…

3. Hue. The tomb of Khải Định.  Harmony of architecture and nature taken to new heights. Brilliant.

4. Ha Long Bay – the „tour” didn’t quite match the expectations, but looking at the endless sea of mountains rising up straight from the ocean … Priceless. And two days of just chilling on the boat in a good company is not to be dismissed either.

5. Singapore before noon. Air heavy with solitude you can almost touch. And Singapore in the evening – superficial and extremely cheesy, but with Simon and Jas compensating for it. Nice to recall familiar faces (in their natural environment – Simon especially :P). Last visit to Indian hairdresser and last head massage in Little India. Will return…once I have more money.

6.  Saxchi evening. A village for tourists, without tourists. A conversation with a German botanists temporarily managing a hostel here, followed by cheap dinner at a local joint with menu consisting of not only list of dishes, but also few useful phrases in Chinese like “no spices” “little oil” “no salt”; this followed by a local dark beer (awesome) and concluded with a 17 year old hostel neighbour knocking at my door with a spliff  in his hand. We had a little chat – led via google.translate. “You will remember this evening, he wrote me” and that’s when I realize I should probably cut it short.

7. Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. 3900m – that’s how deep it is from the peak of the mountain to the riverbed. One of the best sunrise and sunset I’ve ever seen.

8. Mama Naxi. A family guesthouse with head of family clearly not being her husband. Experiencing real Naxi life with family dinners (yum! For 20Y unlimited home made food) and small gifts (bananas, tea, medicines and a necklace for good luck). Family arguments & a small army of cats&dogs included in the price, along with Wi-Fi and unlocked Facebook. To hear “Wait, Mama is cooking for you!” when she noticed I was about to leave the guest house – priceless!

9. A spontaneously organized tour-group. With two (not really) Chinese guides, two Swiss, one Pole (excluding me) and one Brit and a lovely mini-bus driver in Yuan Yang. Fine, rice terraces were cool, but without this here bunch of people it could have been a nightmare to organize it all. And yes – ping pong rules!

10.  Chinese Ice Tea. Starting from Malaysia – my only constant travel buddy. Three to four bottles a day. I probably spent on it more than on hostels!

11. Karaoke in Nha Trang. It was supposed to be a chilled out trip to three offshore islands. I didn’t expect 50 Vietnamese tourists on the boat (and three FAT brits), a tour guide turning a lady-boy-Karaoke band leader in the middle of a trip, a floating bar in the open sea with free wine and few more attractions of this sort. Not necessarily enjoyable I’d say, but memorable – most certainly.

12. Lost in the Supermarket. Well – punk music somehow has been accompanying me on this trip, but that’s not The Clash sort of being lost. It’s more like Lost in Translation. Rows and rows of food, from which I could only figure out bread, ice tea and yoghurt. I learned to appreciate McDonalds.

13.  Runaway bus. Left me on the boarder crossing with Singapore. So I’ve learned Singapore the hard way (and decided to buy a smaller backpack!)

14. Landing in Saigon.  Malaysia has a dead penalty for drugs and a number of other things. How shocked was I when within fifteen minutes after leaving my plane from Kuala Lumpur, I was first approached by a boy who whispered “Marijuana?” “No, thanks” “Cocaine? Opium? Acid?”. When he vanished, a scooty stopped by me, with a boy in the front and girl in the back. “Bum bum?”. “NO, THANKS!”. Later I learned from a rickshaw driver more details “Bum bum? Only 200 000dong” I chose to spend it on a fake North Face backpack.

15. Meetings. You meet a lot of crazy backpackers. By far the best was the American, whom I’ve met in Tiger Leaping Gorge. With a fully loaded big backpack he was doing a 12 day trek to Lugo Lake.  Cupcake. “I just came from Mongolia, we’ve been horse riding there for the past 5 months” – he explained.

16. Love is in the air. Kolkata never heard of fines for PDA it seems. A short stroll in the Victoria’s Memorial gardens and you’re short of fingers to count the couples making out. You’re almost worried you’ll step on one. And it was Monday! On the other hand – I blame Memorial’s beauty for it.

17. Nightlife of Lijiang.  Ethnically dressed women singing what sounded like traditional Chinese songs to a disco beat? A guy in furs running some sort of contests which rules obviously I couldn’t figure out. Indifferent fire fighters in the midst of the crowd raving to Chinese version of “Sexy back”.  Bars for some 1000 seats each. Only in Lijiang!

18.  The most beautiful women I’ve seen in Malaysia: the four stewardesses of the inbound flight with AirAisia. It never gotten even close to it again.

19. Frutti-di-mare dinner in Kuala Selangor ? Perhaps the whole trip to see the fireflies was way overpriced. The main attraction was  quite cool, a bit elusive (especially for the camera), and in a longer while – boring. But the dinner made up for it. Never had so much and so good sea fruits. Had it for lunch the next day as well.

20. A strange trip with Malaysian girls. A minority village that turned out to be relocated to modern, western-style houses. A “scenic-spot” which was a regular stream. A never-found waterfall and an absent local-guru. But a lot of fun just chatting and doing stupid things. And then getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, eating beef-burgers from the street vendor to finally reach Cameron Highlands and discover, there’s nothing to see really. Instead – bumping at a Canadian founder of Backpackers magazine and a brief motorbike visit to tea gardens and hand plucked strawberries.

21. Turbo sightseeing. 3 cities in one day. Get up 6am for pictures in Guangzhou, then rush to Macau. Sightseeing in Macau between 7 and 9.30PM (minus some time for getting lost). Spending all last money for dinner (awesome beef with pineapple) which turns out to cost more as they added extra for rice, tea and taxes.. Then being relieved from paying the outstanding amount. Sightseeing the rest of town with Bus No.3 on the way to ferry terminal and finally – catching a ferry straight to Hong Kong. The end of the story yet to be written. Loco..

22. Hot Pot and China sightseeing at home. I went to Guangzhou as my friend was supposed to be there. But all of the sudden she had to leave (family emergency), leaving me stranded and with a promise of providing me with a contact to someone called “Lukasz”. Ok I said, awesome. So I waited. And waited. And reminded. And again. Finally I got his skype ID but not from her, but in some really weird way she denies to have employed. Anyway- we exchanged couple of mails with Lukasz and set up everything for a meeting. When I arrived it turned out his wife is pregnant with due date.. in a week. I open my laptop and there’s a mail from the friend  who organized the whole thing “Here’s Ela’s e-mail, she’ll host you”. I just heard this name 10 minutes earlier from Lukasz’s wife. She said “Ela has been waiting for you yesterday…” Brilliant communication. Seems like everyone – but me – knew.

Anyway – the visit was brilliant. Instead of really seeing anything in Canton, I’ve spent the afternoon with a couple that’s been living in China for the past 6 years, listening to stories about work, life, watching photographs etc. I’ve learned (and seen) more than if I went out walking around like I usually do.

23. Charming Hong Kong. Re-union after 2 years with Charmaine and after a bit less with Sunny, photography of the city in the move (I lost them…) and a wonderful couchsurfing experience with Belle – being her first CS guest… along with a German who arrived the same night!

24. Songkran. Just a glimpse at the 24h from the few days of this water madness was enough. Thousands of people walking the street in the sole purpose of getting wet and dancing in the mud. Insane.

25. Railey Beach. Climbing up on the  limestone caves rising dramatically up high straight from the blue water and than jumping to dive into the coral reef around.

26. Koh Samet. A strange French roomy, celebrating birthday of randomly met Italian girl and talking life  while after-party swimming at 4am by the full moon.

27. Bangkok shopping. Get super-trendy dressed for summer from head to toes for a price of a t-shirt in Europe. Welcome to Bangkok street shopping. Train your bargaining skills first!

28.  24h in Delhi.  Visiting home, re-packing, a chain of meetings nearly every hour , awesome Punjabi food, last beer in TLR,  buying a suitcase at Sarojini Nagar and closing the day with Imported Go(o)ds party dancing like mad to Dualist Inquiry sick DJ set, and Sha’ir’s– probably the most talented of the hottest girls I’ve ever seen. (or the other way round). Cherry on a pie – a guy (straight) friend telling me, that me disappearing from Delhi is like ending a relationship.

29. I will be back.

30. Will happen when I’m back.

Backpackers Cultural Imperialism

April 6, 2011

You’re in China, the Disneyland.

A fellow traveller commented during a family dinner at Mama Naxi’s (I rarely do it, but honestly – I advise this family guest house if you ever land up here!) in Lijiang (Yunnan).

The scenery of Lijiang seems to support the statement. Sugar-coated houses with lovely red lamps and backlit roofs, filled up with cafes, souvenir shops and  and overspilling with Chinese tourists (even though it’s not even high season yet), it as “touristic” as it gets. The UNESCO heritage site has lovely preserved Naxi architecture and the guesthouses (like Mama Naxi’s) offer a quite genuine experience of living in a Naxi house, but the whole “spirit” of town is nowhere close to what it was. The street foods are sold from a neat unified stalls in an appointed place and the tiny canals – which a century ago were surely serving as city’s sewerage, now sparkle with clean water and green water grass. Everything is tip top, everything’s shining.

But hey, isn’t it what we want?

Backpackers are often so loud about seeking genuine experiences, and so grumpy whenever they feel places are “touristic”. Because for backpackers, the “real stuff” isn’t the really raw thing. It’s the semi-digested, semi-popular tourists spot. Reserved for backpackers. The “tour tourists” are the EVIL, where they land up, the prices tend to soar, and this is where it hurts.  They are the early adopters. Where the real travellers discover the ground, backpackers come next and are preparing the ground .Once the “tours” discover it as well and 3* hotels with SPA’s start pulling off, they take is a signal to move on. But once confronted with “the real stuff”, they often quickly run away. And are becoming grumpy, because their once promise land is now too expensive.

India is full of genuine experiences. The cities that grow in completely unplanned organic way, where the family businesses are passed on from generation to generation in an unchanged manner and where the question of esthetics & cleanliness is still secondary. First is survival. India is Authentic in the only way the place can be Authentic. It doesn’t mean it’s exactly like 100 years ago. The progress – believe or not – has reached even to the poorest villages in Orissa. The Authenticity means, that the modernization doesn’t replenish the tradition. That the modern means are getting incorporated into old customs. The TV mixes with statue of Buddha and the oven is used for making roties. All in the same noisy, smelly and chaotic manner.

But this is not what the “travellers” are looking for. Traditional in the mind of a westerner is pure, innocent and friendly. A farmer family who will share with you the little rice they have and won’t even accept any money in return (as money doesn’t matter for the traditional people), happily smiling all the time despite their house is a 40sq meters hut that has to fit them and 5 kids. And not far from this friendly family there should be a cheap shack that serves western breakfasts and beer 1$ per bottle  and where Bob Marley music hardly pulls through the thick fume.

This is a hypocrisy.

Where backpackers look for genuine experiences, they’re actually helping to kill the last living examples of it. Going to the forgotten villages in Laos, where “can you believe, they don’t even have electricity and TV at home!”, they praise how “real” it felt to be there. But hey – for those people with no TV at home YOU, dear traveller – are the destructive element. The only way to preserve the genuine culture of villages is to preserve them from being exposed to the modern world and – often – simply conserving their poverty. And the only way to stay satisfied within the poverty – is not to know the world beyond and – especially – live beyond the “money driven economy”.

Think of it. Those sweet “minority villagers”. How they perceive you  – and yours alike – visiting their village. You’re coming from another continent (which for people who visit the nearest town maybe once a year is like coming from another planet). You have iPods, big DSLR camera and shiny waterproof jackets. You create desires. Release imagination. Those cute little kids won’t live like their parents, because YOU made them want more. And they will learn how to satisfy your desire to confront “The Genuine” while satisfying their to “get the western goodies”. They’ll get the satellite – but hide it well. They’ll get the car, but hide it well in an old-looking stable. They might even install broadband wifi, but make sure you won’t notice. Demand – supply in action!

So fooling yourself doesn’t make sense. If a place is worth being a tourist attraction, it will sooner or later get there. It’ll get spoiled by the touch of the consumerism. To some extend it simply means, you get the infrastructure you need to enjoy a relative comfort there. Some places though might get suffocating, but then – it’s usually limited to one – two main streets and attractions and there’s still enough left to explore.

What’s annoying me, is that it seems that the backpackers (oh yeah, I AM one of those), seem to have different approach for a western and non-western destinations. I never heard anybody complaining for lack of wigs in Paris and lack of old butcheries in Prague’s Old Town. But Laos, China, India is like “Hey, I came here to experience the “real shit” what a touristic crap is this?”. This is nothing else as a far echo of a cultural imperialism.

But why am I even writing about it right now? Because I came to confront the other extreme. The Great Tourism Planning of China. And I think – this is too much even for me.

Not denying the beauty of the country (or rather – this tiny bit I got to see so far), the way the tourism is being developed here is the true Deng style.

China realized the right of demand-supply perfectly well. Too well. This communist country is really one big lesson on a wild capitalism so far.

There ain’t no single sightseeing place, which wouldn’t charge you a sumptuous fee for the pleasure of looking. And – unlike India, where the Nehru’s social state idea still lives and government has been so considerate, to impose a lower fees for Indian nationals in order to allow even the poor ones see some of national heritage (like Taj Mahal), the China says everyone is equal. Big Buddha – 120RMB ($15). Yes, tourist from Beijing come fleeing in!

They’ve realized that on the grand scale as well. The region doesn’t seem attractive enough yet? Let’s add on! Government is building a traditional village in Yuan Yang – place famous for the rice terraces near the Laos border. The village – one of the region “tourist attractions” with tickets priced at 30Y (app. $5) is a ridiculous phenomenon. All “brand new”, built in style which is not even close to anything local. The attractions include the minority residents told to wear their traditional clothes (probably resettled from somewhere else), an exposition hall – a tiny, dark museum of local artefacts and three reconstruction of a water-mill and some other utility buildings.

It’s the same big scale kind of thinking of a 5-years plans that works (so far) in the economy, just applied to cultural heritage. The same in Lijiang and Dali – where buildings designed (at least that!) in local style are mushrooming around to extend the “old towns” and hence – place for souvenir shops.

I know this post is a bit messed up, but there is no clear conclusion to it. What’s better? Leaving it to an organic growth like in India or an obsessive grand planning like in China?

I think I like Laos way the most. The just didn’t give a f*** sorry, a nod, while rocking slowly in their hammock. You want a tuk tuk? Ok, but now I have my siesta.

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