Thursday, July 31, 2008

Culture and cafés

Habitat Centre When I travel I studiously avoid evenings dedicated to local dance and music. I have, however, become rather fond of visiting our local cultural hotspot, the Habitat Centre. Initially attracted by the air conditioning and the upholstered seats, I have been to – and found myself enjoying – a Bangladeshi music recital and a display of Orissan dancing. The Bangladeshi music consisted of female singer accompanied by various instruments – bongo-type drums, small bells tinkled from the outside, something that looked like a filing cabinet but sounded like an accordion and an electric keyboard. The music was rather tragic/plaintive but had tunes you found yourself humming afterwards. The Orissan dancing, on the other hand, was like watching a primary school nativity play. I'm sure the children, wriggling in their uncomfortable costumes, were in time at some point it was just difficult to tell which ones and when. The other great thing about the Habitat Centre is you don't have to stay for the whole duration. People come and go all the time so, when you think you've had your cultural dollop, you can make a swift exit and, if the mood takes you, wander across the courtyard for a different sort of "culture" – the American Diner. The main attraction of this little sanctuary is that it serves beer – not many places in our part of Delhi do – and you can also smoke inside. It makes a pleasant change every now and then and takes the edge off the cultural acclimatisation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Taj Mahal

There are a few iconic sights that just have to be seen in real life to be fully appreciated and the Taj Mahal is certainly one of these for me. No matter how many pictures you’ve looked at, when you come through the arch and see it … well … just floating serenely before you – it takes your breath away. Somehow the crowds just don’t matter and, fortunately, there were far fewer than I’d been led to imagine. As you get closer, you can see the intricate carving and other detail and marvel at the workmanship but it’s that first long-distance glimpse of it that will stay with me. We did the usual touristy things – took a picture of its reflection in the water and posed, plaintively, a la Princess Diana. The inside was a bit of a disappointment - it was very badly lit and smelt of urine - but you only have to go outside and take another look to be re-invigorated.

We had a rather tortuous 6-hour journey home but were entertained for a couple of hours by these boys who gave us, and the rest of traffic jam, an impromptu dance recital off the back of the lorry and in the road behind it. They had just walked a couple of hundred kilometres to Haridwar to pray to the god Shiva (as you do on a weekend) and were celebrating their return.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Settling into Delhi

Well I’ve been in Delhi for ten days and have now settled into my temporary home. I have a mobile phone with a Delhi number (00 91 97 1101 8492) and today I got an internet connection for my laptop so I don’t have to sit in sweaty internet cafés - I can sweat it out in the “comfort” of my own room instead. To be fair my room does have an en-suite bathroom and a fan but it’s basically a nun’s cell so I’m looking forward to moving to Bhawanipatna where I can at least put up pictures on the wall - not allowed here, I’ve tried. You do however get to meet lots if interesting people in the hostel. For example, the Dongria Tribe, who are fighting for their land and livelihood and who I gather have been in the British press and News at Ten recently, were staying here whilst they waited for the outcome of their case at the Supreme Court.

The Oriya lessons are going well although I need to put in a bit more work on the vocabulary front it’s just there’s so much else to do - eating, shopping etc. We went on a whistle-stop tour of Delhi last Saturday which I’m convinced took in absolutely everything you can possibly see - even if you were only given 10 minutes at each place. Oh sorry - apart from the Red Fort (Delhi’s primary tourist attraction) because, “Lot’s of people have seen pictures of it, it is very busy round there and difficult to get to”! I must say the highlight, just for the sheer bizarreness, was the bit at the end of the tour when a man got on the bus and tried to sell us lemon squeezers - complete with a TV-shopping-channel-style pitch and demonstration. Not quite sure what he did with the lemons but the squeezer doesn’t work nearly as well when you get it home - well mine doesn’t.

Off to see the Taj Mahal this weekend and, funnily enough, we’ve decided to skip the guided bus tour.