Buckingham Palace. This is one of London’s most renowned sights. It is in the heart of London. It has hundreds of rooms. Buckingham Palace was called Ebury House centuries ago. Indeed one of the nearby streets is still called Ebury Street. The Duke of Buckingham purchased it. He rebuilt it as Buckingham House. A duke is like a mini king in his part of the country. This duke owned a lot of land around the town of Buckingham which is why he took the title from that place.
In 1760 King George III purchased it. Buckingham House was renamed Buckingham Palace because the king owned it. The palace was built of yellow sandstone. Despite this the royal family spent most of their time at Kensington Palace or Windsor Castle.
In 1837 Queen Victoria became monarch. She moved into Buckingham Palace and made it her principal residence. She had the grey Portland stone front put on. There is a courtyard in the middle.
There pillars at the front date from the time of Edward VII and George V. You can see the initials ER VII on them and GR V. ER means ”Edwardus Rex” – that is ”King Edward” in Latin. GR stands for Georgeous Rex ”King George” in Latin.
There are other pillars out the front that name regions of the British Empire such as Canada and Newfoundland, West AFrica, India and so forth. There is a Victoria Memorial fountain too.
Buckingham Palace is open to tourists in July, August and the first half of September. That is because Her Majesty the Queen goes away during that time. She spends July in Holyroodhouse Edinburgh. That is her official residence in Scotland. In August she is in Balmoral. That is the royal family’s private residence in Scotland. Balmoral is a rural house. It was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1861 just after the death of her husband. The royal family has spent August there ever since.
Balmoral is somewhere for them to relax away from the media. Official guests are never invited there. Victoria started a tradition of bringing the Prime Minister there for one week in August. Every August since this has happened.
Go to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. This is at 11 o clock in the morning. Soldiers march out because they have completed their time guarding the palace. Other soldiers march in to take over. This is every day in the summer. It is every other day in winter.
These guards wear red tunics and black bearskin hats called busbies. They carry guns but they are unloaded.
In the winter these soldiers wear grey greatcoats to keep them warm. Winter is October to March inclusive.
Get there early to secure a desirable vantage point. Stand nearer to Wellington Barracks. That is where the soldiers come from. If you stand in front of Buckingham Palace you will see little owing to the density of the throng.
You can see the Queen’s Mews. This is where her horse drawn carriages and cars are kept. They are magnificent and kept burnished. The Irish Stage Coach is the most resplendent of all. It is an exquisite work of art and is used only once every 25 years. There are also landaus which are simpler horse drawn carriages.
You can go to the Queen’s Gallery. This houses much of her art collection. It used to be a bomb shelter in the Second World War. There are plants on the roof to disguise it.
There are three separate tickets for Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Mews and the Queen’s Gallery. They are about GBP 20 each. Buy a ticket to two attractions and you get a reduction. If you buy all three together who get a further reduction.
There is also a gift shop across the street.
- Big Ben——————-
- Trafalgar Square —————-
- The shard—————–
- St Paul#s
- Covent Garden
- The Globe
- Westminster Abbey
- National Gallery. ————–
- Cutty Sark.
I was fresh out of university. I spent some time in Sri Lanka. I was in contact with Priya, as I shall call her. Pryia was a married Indian woman. I decided to pay her a visit. There were no ferries going between Sri Lanka and mainland Asia. The civil war was just over – or so it seemed. The rapprochement was not to last but I did not know that then. But I had to fly.
I got to Colombo Airport about 5 am. I had stupidly paid for a taxi in advance from a travel agency. The driver never showed up. I got a rickshaw all the way to the airport. The army parked buses across the main streets at night. A few soldiers in blue camouflage uniforms strutted around. The Tamil driver named Raju drove me to the airport before dawn. I chatted to him and noted how I had known a Tamil driver also named Raju in Malaysia a year before.
At the airport security was the tightest I have ever seen. They had a mirror on a pole to look under the car. Soldiers with crew cuts were everywhere.
I met a Swedish couple in the airport. They were lissom and very young. They let me flick through their passports. They had accumulated many stamps.
There was ordinary airport security but then it go tighter. We were checked thrice – bags and passports. The last time was as we got onto the plane. In the depture lounge I met a Finnish couple and their little daughter. They were all slim. THE HUSBANd had black hair and the wife was fair. So was their daughter. Like true Scandinavians they spoke flawless English. They were headed to an ashram. The woman wore a loose blue dress – too modest for my taste. She carried her daughter up the steps to the plane. She was a poppet with gappy teeth. The mum told me her little one was staring to learn English because she had met a child from London at the resort in Sri Lanka.
I was extremely sleepy and dozed throughout the flight.
The pilot announced we were coming in to land at Trichy. I opened my penthouse lids. Below me was a paradiscal tropical scene. There were endless luxuriant fields of palm trees and the place was resplendent and refulgent.
Triruchapallai is the real name of this city but it is commonly truncated to Trichy. This lies at the southern tip of India.
The airport was tiny. There were few preliminaries. Stamp, Stamp. I was in. As I shuffled through customs I met two middle aged Belgian men. These men were overweight and affable. Both were balding. I think they were Flemings because they spoke great ENglish but we also chatted in French. We agreed to shhare a cab. I think it was a Beetle.
The drove through the dusty outskirts of the city. The Belgian Congo came up. The black haired Belgian man remarked, ”It was better for the people there and what they got now.” I concurred. Looking back to the Congo Free State this would not have been the case. When the Congo was the personal fief of Leopold II things were hellish for the Congolese. Once the Belgian Government began to rule it became decent.
I was dropped off at a hotel. I was a large white building on the end of town and had seen better days. I lodged in a very big room and went akip. It took me a few hours to come round.
I went down and chatted to the receptionists a bit. It was a blazing hot afternoon. This place had once been a princely stated. I asked the young receptionist if he would like the maharajah back. ”No”, he shook his head gently and answered softly, ”I like democracy.” In the time of the princely states these rulers were not mere figureheads. They exercised actual political power. Oh for dynastic principles. I searched in vain for a misty eyed nostalgic like me.
I took a look around Trichy. If monarchs were in short supply another anachronism was not. There was a huge temple complex. There was much inlaid stone. Hinduism is so variegated and colourful. It outstrips even Catholicism in its iconography. I wandered around various rooms and antechapels. There was a tower and there was a lingam at the top. I filmed it briefly and a man barked at me ”hey” so I stopped. It seemed ridiculous. How can the camera reduce the magic of this phalos shaped stone? Some people suffer from alexia in relation to logic.
Trichy is not to crowded. It offers little to the visitor. I bought some bread and wandered down a street full of bungalows. I asked a man where to buy butter. He did not understand me. I tried the word ”makan”. They do not know North Indian languages in Tamil Nadu.
I then went to the station. It was a large complex with a courtyard out front. It was not quite a car park. There were a few people recumbent on the floor of the concourse. I saw the list of prices. There were discounts for those who had been in the Indian Peacekeeping Force ( IPKF). This was a group of Indian soldiers sent to Sri Lanka in the late 1980s to disarm the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and then protect and autonomous Tamil province in north-west Sri Lanka. The Indian Government was not percipient enough to know that refereeing a civil war seldom ends well for the ref. It all went pear shaped pretty soon. The Indian Army clashed with the LTTE who did not hand over their weapons. This sparked a Tamil rebellion in Tamil Nadu – i.e. India itself. It culminated in the man who sent the IPKF – Rajiv Gandhi – being assassinated by the very people he tried to save. No good deed goes unpunished! It took decades more of fighting to bring out liberalising tendencies in the Sri Lankan Government. Then more hopeless struggle.
I got myself and ticket. I wandered around the city centre a bit. There were very few Muslims. It is one of the most Hindu regions of the country. I was approached by a short middle aged man with a deep and sinister voice. He asked where I was from. ”I really like foreigners” he boomed in a voice that was so peculiar I feared for his reason. He asked, ”have you done graduation” and a number of very frank questions that Indian often ask when meeting people. They are open about seeking to gauge someone’s standing. I then headed home. I managed to balls up. When I went back to the station the next day I found I had been looking at the time of purchase not departure.
I did not wish to tarry. I decided to do something I disliked. I caught a bus. That night I boarded a bus to Chennai. I was hastening to Delhi. The overnight bus did not go that fast despite the land being level. We passed huge convoys of brightly painted trucks with horns that sounded incessantly. There was only one police roadblock. AFter dawn we came to Chennia.
I stayed at a three star hotel in the middle of town. I could not get a room in somewhere more reasonably priced. I would fain have saved the money. I had a very smart room with excellent air conditioning but the view was of a car park.
In the dining room I was approached by a French couple who were probably 20 years older than me. They had their Lonely Planet Book – l’Inde. I had trouble pronouncing it Ond. We discussed tips on where to do.
I am not sure I saw anything in Chennai. I find it unattractive. Soon I was on a choo choo to Bhopal. That bit nearer Delhi. Going all the way to Delhi in one go was too much.
So it was that I boarded a train to this northern Indian city. I have a feeling I slept on the train. I managed to get through a lot of reading. I had not shaved for a few days. This was in line with Priya’s request.
At some point a hijra came along. A hijra is a eunuch. This eunuch sat down between another man and I. He/she/it was a hideous creature. The hijra wore female clothes and reeked of bad perfume. This person was heavily made up. The hijira tousled the man’s hair. The other man became uncomfortable. The hijira then said something. The man paid some money and the hijira then started harassing me in a similar fashion. I felt extremely gauche and did not know what to do. I wanted to punch this harpie but if I did so I feared the hijra would attack my gonads since the hijra had nothing to lose. The hijra said something in Hindi and a chubby middle aged woman on the other bench translated. ”She says if you do not pay her she will show her scar where her man parts used to be.” I retched and paid up. I just wanted this fiend to begone. Finally the eunuch left. It is a scandal that such revolting people should be allowed to intimidate others on trains. It is exploitation and very anti-social.
We came to Bhopal. This city is infamous for a chemical leak in the early 1980s that left thousands dead and tens of thousands scarred for life. Many were blinded for instance. The factory that caused the chemical leak was subsidiary of an American company. The parent company was several degrees removed from the factory in India. They disclaimed all responsibility but they did not disclaim the profits they used to make. They refused to pay a bean in compensation. There is a strong emotional case for saying that the company should compensate those affected by this deadly leak. However, I looked at it objectively. That American company is not necessarily morally responsible. It could be so far away geographically and in layers of management that they could not have prevented it. It would be wrong to penalise them. Just because they are affluent does not make them turpitudinous.
Anyway, I got a cab to a hotel that arvo. It was in a high rise in a fairly built up area not too far from the station. I chatted to the Nepalese bell boy on the stairs. This why faced youth was endearing. I showed my charisma by singing to him ”Reom piriri resom piriri udera junki dara a majyang resom piriri.”
Thence abed. Well I showerd too. A couple of hours later, refreshed, I emerged.
I took a cab somehwere that evening. I shared it with a young women – perhaps even young than my 22 tender years. She spoke hardly any English. She looked embarrassed at this but that did not stop her gabbling. She told me her father was a policeman and that she would love to be able to speak ENglish. Then she said a lot in Hindi that I was unable to understand.
That evening I called Priya and her husband on the phone. I spoke to the hubby and told them of my arrival time. I had bouht a ticket for the next day.
Next day I went oa nearby cinema. There was some 70s documentary called the birth. It was in English but done in France. The audience was entirely male. This was a s close as they came to seeing porn. It was dull seeing a hefty woman give birth.
That arvo I went to the iron horse station. There were many men hanging around and I mean men only. Many of them had saffron collarettes. No this was not a meeting of the Orange Order. These were Hindu nationalists. They were chanting something and they were very chipper. I might even say boorish. Boorish. Oh shit, I actually said it.
I boarded my train for Delhi. The journey passed without any shemale threatening to show me where the testimonials once dangled.
I got to a station in Delhi – the one near Pahar Ganj. I got out. I looked one way and then I saw a plump woman aged about thirty in a sari. She wore glasses and had a black beauty spout on the point of her nose. Not her. I looked the other way and began to walk in that direction. But no. That WAS her. I turned back again. Yes, sure enough it was Priya whom I had not seen in two years. She greeted me guardedly. We walked up the stairs. She chatted slowly at first – getting to know each other again. It was all calm and reserved.
We took a minicab van We stopped at India Gate briefly. Then we continued to her house. It was a flat on the outskirts of Delhi. It was a very modern development. There was a warning in my mind but it went unheeded.
We got to her place on the 10th floor or something. I met her husband and sister. They were welcoming but her sister was a stand offish sort of person and similarly chubby to Priya.
There then followed a couple of days that I shall not describe here.
I ended up staying in Pahar Ganj. I lost my debit card. I absent mindedly did not take it out of the machine and walked off. I have done that twice since. The bank would not return in. Once in Ireland they did. I was stupid enough not to travel with a back up card.
I had not a lot of cash. I went to the British Embassy. I think I was on an Irish passport but I called the embassy and they did not want to know.
It was a weekend but there was someone on duty. I won favour with the burly ex Gurkha on the gate by reciting the one Neplai song I know. I was the admitted to the inner sanctum. The diplomat there was a geeky looking girl of about 30. She was named Emma and I knew somsone of that name who was just the same. This pale skinned brunette had a generous crop of acne around her mouth. This was winningly adolescent. She wore a white cotton blouse and beige cotton trousers. Very weekend and dress down. I called my sister Geraldine and got her to sned money. I was able to pick it up on Monday
There followed along and penurious weekend. I could onyl spend so much time in the interent cage. I came to know the cap who worked there very well. The fumes of fresh apint gave me a heaache. He lived on the edge of Delgi and the commute was very long and costly. He asked my job. I told him I would be a teacher. That is a noble profession he said.
I looked up a lot about the Indian Army.
In the restaurant ther ei chatted to a Russian who ahd lived in London. there was a very smartly dressed and trim Israeli. We chatted to British Greek girl who was a bit ditxy and alternative. She was no less sexy for it.
There as a blonde British single mum. She had a two year old boy who was badly brought up. She was also very desirable. The Israeli smiled wryly and said he had asked the two birds f they were lesbians ”I am so rude.” They seemed very straight to and were.
I emailed DLLY my Jain friend. She put me in touch with a friend. I met her female friend. It took a few phone calls. I was going around in a cap. We went to SOuth Delhi to a hardcore Muslim area. WOmen wore all over abaayas. This yiung woman was very white but pure Indian. She said she spoke absolute local Hindi so people would know she was Indian.
I was so bored I took to reading a Hindi self teacher and using the words in the guidebook I was able to ask a few things and count.
I went around in a cap. I was worried I would be recognised not that I did anything wrong. I even went to the manky zoo.
I went o te Imperila Hotle Bar. Met some British chaos. Tow middle aged northenr ENgosuhmen were seling construit equipment. There was a boy of my age. Turns out he knew Izzy and may have met me before.
After a couple of days I got the train all the way to Thiruvathanapuram/
I had a French book. Chatted to a few people. there was an air force man. He said some people said it was better under the Raj. He seemed unsure on the issue. My French book got nicked.
Finally got there. Had booked a flight. wandered around. There were rip currents and I dod not realltt swim
i MET an Indian American who told me about his fasicnation with astronomy. He got married and it was palaver to her his Indian spiuse into the USA what with 9./ 11 and all that.
I got a bus to the airport . Very tight security. I flew to Sri Lanka.
I boarded a bus in Dharmasla and prepared for a very long journey through the foothills of the Himalayas. I chatted to a man who was a little older than me. How did he bear such a long bus trip. ”Oh it is quite fun with the jumps.” The jumps? What could he be talking about? I soon found out. The road was bockety at the best of times. As we twisted down the dry, dull hillsides we came to some deep potholes in the road and the bus would judder violently. I was thrown off my seat into the air. It was quite a thrill. It happened several times.
The engine growled for hours. I would see across the serried ranks of mountains. There were some pine trees but for the most part the land was bare. The air was cool and the sky was clear. It was very different to one’s mental image of India with its scorching, lush and boundless plains. There were hardly any houses about. The mountainsides were sheer. I was worried that the driver would make a momentary misjudgment. One false move and we would be over the precipice. I have a bit of vertigo and hence dislike mountains. I was stupid to go there then. I became thoroughly fed up of this interminable journey. Even I can only have my nose in a tome for so any hours.
It was in the wee hours that we pulled into Simla. Note that it is pronounced Shimla. This small mountain town had an importance out of all proportion to its size. It was the summer capital of India. When the heat in Delhi became unbearable the Government of India would relocate here for a few months. That was only from 1930 when the capital was shifted to Delhi. I am not sure when the government stopped using a summer capital.
I quickly found a hotel not far from the bus station. I went to bed straightaway and slept fitfully. It was the only hotel I have ever stayed in which had a mirror on the ceiling. I took a few snaps.
For some odd reason when I awoke I decided to check out. It must have been pricey. With my rucksack on my back I walked along the street and up a set of steps to a higher street. The streets were on switchbacks because the hillsides were so steep. I could see endless greenery on the rumpled hills all around.
On one street I caught sight of a boy who was a fellow member of the gora log. We fell into conversation. He was lean Frenchman and I shall name him Gaston. Gaston was a few years older than me. We formed an instant friendship as travelers often do. We agreed to share a room. No, not in THAT kind of way. He was heading to the YMCA. He knew where he was headed because he had been there before. He spoke very good English. We checked in and the place was roomy and spotless. Then we headed to a cafe where he was due to meet some Irish girls. The day had started very well. I had made a friend, found a great place to lodge and was about to meet some compatriots.
In the cafe we were there for quite a while before his matesses showed up. It was a spacious and attractive old world cafe. It provided a splendid view across the mountains and dales. There were floorboards and classic tables. I plucked up the courage to speak to him in his mother tongue. He was very pleased to hear it. He had not heard French in weeks. He was gratified that I spoke French to a reasonable standard.
At length the girls turned up. They were nurses in their early 20s. I shall named them Orla and Pam. Orla was a pale brunette and quite desirable. Pam had the same colouring but was no looker. Her teeth were a pair of Irish buckers and she had a facial hair problem that even as a horny teenager I could not overlook. Orla and Pam were both from Mayo and had that slow, dopey accent. I told them I was Irish. Orla remarked doubtingly ”With a majorly English accent.”
I looked around the town on my own. There was a Catholic church to visit just below the main square. Much of the town was built of granite. However, its gaiety belied this greyness.
I walked around the main square one Sunday when an army parade was on. I was wearing a Union Flag T-shirt. Two young Indian men looked at me and one pointed to the other and muttered something upbeat. They patently recognised the flag and were pleased. I never experienced a micro aggression over that T shirt.
I met Orla and Pam a couple of more times. Once we had dinner together. I mentioned where I had been to school. In fact I was too keen to repeat its name. Orla finally picked up on my school and this seemed to explain my manner and my accent. She still mispronounced the name of the place.
I told them about an ashram I had read about in South India. Lonely Planet said that one had to undergo an HIV test there. The test came back in minutes. Could this be a real result? The implication was that the place was a shagathon. I seemed alluring but I was afraid of disease. i should have gone for it. Orla remarked,,”the women there must be on the pill”. I added, ”Or some form of contraception anyway.”
The ladies had been followed by two young men that day. They had not felt menaced. These boys had admired them from afar but had not had the guts to approach them. This was a common experience for Western women in India. They were going on a jeep tour for a couple of days. They offered for me to come. I declined. It seemed dull. Perhaps it was silly of me. It would have been better than solitude.
There were a lot of holidaymakers. People wanted to get up there for the cool temperature. There were many people happily milling around.
I went to visit the old Viceregal Lodge. This was a little way down the slope – the lower end of the plateau. The guidebook said it was built in a Scots baronial style. This was spot on. The grey dressed stone could have been from Aberdeenshire. It was complete with fir trees around it. I happened to visit on a misty day – thus completing the atmosphere. The gardens were decently kept but not extensive. I went on a tour of the house. This was a place of exceptional historical import. The negotations for Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan were conducted here. There are photos of Lord Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah at various places in the house. I could recognise these spots. I had trod just where they did.
The rooms were generously proportioned and the ceilings were high. There was not a lot of furniture and it was all in good nick. There were plenty of deep leather arm chairs and bound books. There were two Oriental men on the tour. I asked where they were from. I was surprised to learn they were form India. SOme people from the northern end of West Bengal or from the states around Assam looks more Chinese than stereotypically Indian.
SOme scholars were studying in the archives. It was very satisgyin to look around such a place.
I wandered back. People walk most places in Simla. It is a manageable size and there are very few vehicles. The authorities keep it that way. I saw some boys walking along. One of these whites had a shirt on which said Merton College. There was only one such place I knew of and that was in Oxford. I began a conversation. They had just graduated and I was about to matriculate. We had a good chin wag.
I felt I had seen everything in the town. The people I had known had moved on. The man running the YMCA wore a revolting lime green shellsuit and geled his hair thickly. He was a tiny man with a repulsive moustache. He was the only man in town who spoke bad English. He was also highly disorganised. He woud come to me room and say ”pay” in an annoying town. I would loudly tell him I had already coughed up.
How many newspapers could I read? I kept abreast of Indian politics. It was an exciting time because an election was on. The BJP were bullish. Bullish is a good thing to be in the land of the cow. There was also an intermittent conflict with Pakistan. No one seemed to think this would turn into a full blown war. Aircraft were being shot down. Soldiers were being killed in Kargil. On the news the newsreaders would read out condolences to the jawans who had been killed in action. They would show footage of cremations. I was not emotionally affected. The eclipse came and I decided not to be like Ehud Barak and watch it.
After a few days in SImla it was time to descend. I went to the tiny train station. The train was a small and narrow one with wooden interiors. It was a light railway. It was especially built to be able to go up and down very severe slopes. I spoke to two middle aged men. One was a turbaned SIkh and the other man was clean shaven. Both were very affable and spoke superb English. That was another notable thing about this little town. The level of English there was higher than anywhere else in the Subcontinent. After about half an hour we had to change.
I took a mainline train and I recall getting off for a few mintues in Ludhiana. I had been babbling away to a young SIkh man who suggested we have some tea. He absolutely would not let me pay for it! We drank out of those clay disposable cups that the chai wallahs use.
I got to Delhi very late.
I crossed the border from Pakistan. It was my 21st birthday. I could have been anywhere in the world I wanted to. What a douche bag I was to be there. The border guard bade me a happy birthday.
I took the bus to Amritsar. The land was a flat as a pool table. A few trees were dotted around but mostly there were farmers fields. I lodged in the Golden Temple again and circumambulated the tank. I took an overnight coach to Delhi. I stood most of the way. I would have thought it unbearable to stand for so long but I had been toughened up by South Asia. Two men on the coach had a physical fight. It was not too bad. I decided it was prudent to stay out of it especially as they were remonstrating with each other in a language I could not comprehend.
We got to Delhi about dawn. Near Lal Masjid I got a taxi to Pahar Ganj. I stayed at the same hotel I had stayed in before. I had told these men I would be back in a year. The staff recognised me. Part of the reason I had returned was to be a man of my word.
In Delhi I bumped into Tim. Tim was a 6’4” red head boy I knew from Oxford. I had not realised he would be in India but when I saw his string been body from behind I knew it was he. He introduced me to his friends. I shall call them Raja and Polly. Raja was a British Sri Lankan and a man of few words. Polly a petite and nubile was an undergraduette. She was not very garrulous either. They were all sharing a room in Pahar Ganj. Was money that tight. We dined together at Nirula’s. The provender there was certainly rich in calories judging by the girths of the clientele.. On the way home we bumped into a burly American man in his 50s who was lost. It was his first time in India. ”My wife think’s I am crazy.” We were able to give him directions.
We talked about arranged marriages. Raja’s parents married in Sri Lanka in the 1970s. He said they had not had an arranged marriage. I wondered if his claim was furphy but did not say so.
Near Rajiv Chowk I saw a fortune teller I had seen a year before. He was a chubby chap and about 30 years of age. This cheery Sikh did not remember me. I have a feeling he did not suggest the prices first. He had a teenage boy as his assistant. The assistant disappeared as soon as the reading started. We say on stools on the street. I was to write things on the scraps of paper. He told me to make sure he did not see what I penned. Then he would be able to tell me answers. He asked various questions. These were – my age, whether it was my first time in India, my mother’s first name etc… He said this was an experiment.
Then he wrote things too on bits of paper that he folded up. ”Maybe I get one two letter wrong. My English not perfect.”
Then we unfolded the bits of paper. His answers were all correct. My mouth fell open. How could he have known? Had he been to my hotel and read the register? How could his assistant have read the info from a distance as I wrote on these shreds of paper/ There was a pillar behind me. He would have had to have been some distance away hiding and using a telescope to look at what I scribbled and somehow signalling to his master?
The fortune teller had established his credentials as one who could tell me information he could not possibly have known. So he was magic. I did not believe in the supernatural. I thought this would be lark. He then had five more questions for me.
In the end he revealed that that November I would meet someone named Sophia. She would be the girl of my dreams. I would wed her aged 25. We would have a daughter and two sons. I would achieve my life’s ambition and die at 25. Only a tiny bit of that has come true. I did meet someone called SOphia in November though not the actual date he predicted. It is not an uncommon Christian name. Though she was agreeable and decent looking she was certainly not someone I fell for. I have had a child. I have not got hitched and I am further than ever from my life’s ambition.
He was a crook. Anyway, he then suggested three amounts of money I could pay if rich, medium or poor. I went for the lowest amount. That was about 20 quid – a considerable sum in India.
Then I boarded a train for South India. It was from Nur ud din Station. On the choo choo I met Leena. I chatted to this hefty woman of 31. She was in a white and green Shalwar kameez. She had a beauty spot on her nose. Despite her figure she was pretty. She was a Christian married to a Muslim.
A man on the train fell ill. I caught a cold. I read a lot. But it was 50 hours on a train. How maddening. What a waste. I shall never do that again. So much can be accomplished in that time.
I also spoke to two architects – husband and wife. The small bearded man was considering moving to the UK. Should he go? He asked if people would be rude to him. I had to admit that some people were anti Indian. Professionals are often better off in Indian in terms of purchasing power. He had a baby daughter. The infant sat with he and I. Then she called out something to him in their language. He turned her to face away from me. ”She is afraid of you she says” he chuckled
I came to Cochi. It was early on a rainy morning. In an old Morris Oxford cab – red and black – O searched for a hotel. I cabbed it to a couple before I found a decent one. I booked in and rested.
Cochi is a scintillating city. It is right at the bottom of India and at the top of its human development index. It is in the state of Kerala. Cochi is by the sea and not too big. I walked around the old town. It is all low rise and fairly tidy. There are many historic buildings and the place is tranquil. There was none of the attendant annoyance that one finds in crowded cities.
Cochi has had a Jewish community for centuries. I went to the synagogue. Almost all the Jews have moved to Israel. I met a Jewish man who was working there. He had a complexion which indicated some Indian ancestry. It shows how the Jews are not really an ethnic group. They have of course intermarried a lot. They are a faith and a cultural group. The synagogue had seen better days and was somewhat interesting.
I also visited an old palace. It was small but appealing. There were a few falchions attached to the walls. It was mostly made of wood. There was a water garden at the rear. There were many horses carved into the woodwork. We walked along a corridor which had only been for women. One could see out but people could not see in because of the clever angling of wooden slats.
I went on a trip with an two women. They were Australians and looked alike. One was middle aged and the other was young. I asked, ”Are you related?” / ”Yes we are/” ”Are you sisters then?”/ They laughed and lie – ”yes”
We were not driven so far. We had a boat trip on canals around a fruit farm. I met an American academic who studied Indian languages. He had a hot Brazilian wife.
A middle aged Indian couple were there and chatted to us. A guide told us this and that about the fruit. It was a decent afternoon.
Then I took a long train journey to Chennai. Out of the window I saw the density oof the jungle.. I spoke to a man named Nair who was about 10 years older than. He claimed to be descended from a royal family. He was keen to show me his passport which was full of stamps. He had been to many lands. That was when I conceived my plan of visiting 100 countries.
Later Nair got a bit drunk and become annoying. There was a baby sleeping in a hammock. The baby’s mother had tied it up between two beds. Nair took the baby out to show me and woke the infant up.
In the wee hours we arrived in Chennai. It used to be called Madras. I had first seen it on a map aged 8. At that time I got the letters the wrong way around and called it Mardas. Here I was at last. It is the 4th biggest city in India. There was a parade of images as we whizzed past. I was still sleepy and did not take it all in properly. I lodged at the YMCA. The YMCA is a sodality that does much for the poor. It also provides reasonably priced accommodation for travelers. The ambience is familial. I asked the plump moustachioed chap at the desk what he rank in the YMCA was. He beamed like a child as he told me ”I am a captain.”
The YMCA was some way out of town. It was surrounded by greenery. The room was spacious and spanking clean. I appreciated scrubbed floors after having seen many manky hotels. After a few hours I was refreshed and capable of exploring the city.
I cabbed it to the city centre. The fumes were enough to turn one into am emphysemiac pretty quick. I lyricise about some Indian cities but I do not have much good to say about Chennai. In some places the dirt on the streets was repulsive.
I tried calling a film studio. This is the capital of Tamil Nadu. There are 70 000 000 Tamils in the world and many films are made in their tongue. They sometimes want people who are visibly non Indian in these films. I fancied myself as a leading man. They had no need of me.
I went to Fort St George. This huge white complex near the sea dates back to the 18th century. It was a reasonably stimulating place to visit. It was a throwback to colonial times.
There were none of the touts that plague some Indian cities. This city seemed free from crookedness. Tamils are also outliers in terms of intellectual achievement. They would need to be. Their language has 250 letters. If they can master that then English is a cynch.
Chennai station is huge, crowded and echoing. Its rusty brown exterior is displeasing. With difficulty I secured a ticket from the special office that deals only with foreigners. I never thought to inquire. Did they overcharge us. The podgy young woman behind the desk told me ”I am not up to your level” – as in intellectually speaking. This was when I asked her some conversational question. She was doing very well to speak perfect English. So I took a choo choo to Bhubaneshawar
I lodged in some hotel not far form the centre.
I visited the museum. A youth latched onto me and showed me around. Then he said ”father is sick” and cadged some money off me. There was a guilty grin as I forked over a few rupees. Maybe I was played for a fool.
I left my key in a taxi. The cotton trousers I had bught. The pockets were too shallow and things fell out. I was given another room and had to pay for the locksmith.
I wrote a huge long email to Emma about Ireland in 1921. SHows how bored and lonely I was.
I went to a temple. Much of it was eye achingly beautiful in an understated way. It was a considerable distance from town and by a lake that was surprisingly clean. The place was almost deserted and very clam. The guide told me people studied Sanskrit there. I took a few snaps.
I caught a train to Delhi. We pulled into Howrah briefly. I was getting to know India.
I chatted to a middle aged man. I was surprised to see him change into shorts. There was one Sikh on the train and everyone called him Sardarji. The chai wallahs came along calling out chai in that aggravating high pitched and nasal shriek.
I spent much time with my constant companions – my books.
From Delhi I hastily made my way to Amritsar. I stayed in the Golden Temple and slept for but a few hours. It was just an afternoon doze..
A Mitteleuropean man came in. He wore a floppy white hat and told me he had just crossed the border from Pak. I told him I was headed thither. He urged me to get a wriggle on since they closed the border at a certain hour and the appoitned hour was not long off.
I went their by rickshaw. I told the driver I would pay him extra if we got there on time. Jerst made it.
I took a train from Delhi to Goa. I did think I had to change train in Mumbai. It was September.
I awoke on the train on my birthday. I saw a beggar hobble into my compartment on crutches. He was a man of about 30. He had sunken cheeks. He had one leg amputated above the knee. He was a very mournful sight. He showed me some X rays – with dark patches on both lungs. Tuberculosis. It was a sobering thought. I had everything going for me. This man would soon die. Of course I have him some rupees. Whenever I feel hard done by I must remember this man who will have long since died.
I got to Panji by train. I took a taxi to a nearby hotel on rainy morning. It was low cost and drab. The staff were bonhomous. I hung around the lobby area watching telly. We watched Mr Bean and soon we were reeling with merriment. I was surprised that Bean was so popular in India. Many people speak little or no English. Bean is mostly non-verbal. His slapstick went down a storm.
I was largely kept inside by the horrid weather. The monsoon was on. I hardly ventured outside. Panji is a transport hub with little to recommend it.
I search in vain for signs of Portuguese heritage. I saw some Portuguese words on public buildings. No one I spoke to said they knew Portuguese. Some said their parents were conversant in the language. I noticed that people mostly wore Western clothes and not Indian garb.
I then caught a bus to a seaside town. By this time the weather had cleared up. Goa was as resplendent as one could hope for. It really was a tropical demi-paradise. It had the added advantages of being affordable and the fact that everyone spoke English.
As the bus pulled into the seaside town I saw a Portuguese era church on the eminence above the town. It was grey stone and completely dominated its surroundings. I walked down the main street and check in to a hotel just by the beach. The place was squeaky clean. That cannot be assumed in India. It was costing me 50 pence a day to stay a minute’s walk from the sea! There was an ‘after the tempest’ to the town. The brightness of the greenery and the warm salt trade wind were enough to have me lie on the bed and kick my legs in the air with delight.
I spent about a week there. The high street was not long. There were hardly any buildings more than two storeys high. There were generous gaps between the buildings. The feeling of space and the brisk breeze of the Arabian Sea were both very welcome.
I used an internet cafe on the main street. It was run by a poppet of an Indian girl. She must have been 18 and spoke superb English. She and I did not see eye to eye on the Raj. I asked her a little about it and she said it had been horrid. ”I am almost crying when I read what was done to us.” I thought it politik not to edify her with an alternative interpretation. She was pretty and slender. I could have become infatuated with her.
There were not many tourists about. There were a couple of bars and some Western boys were in there putting away glassfuls. I should have joined them. I had not partaken of liquor for a few weeks. Along the main streets there were a few shops with the items a tourist might want. There were none of the greedy-for-sales touts that afflict many an Indian tourist trap.
In a cafe I saw a sign. ”Enjoy your holiday in Goa and do not take drugs. Goa Police.” In the self same cafe I was offered cannabis. I loudly declined. I was frightened of being accused of buying it even though I never did. This is why I always made a show of refusing so as the accusation would be manifestly bogus and the pusher would never approach me again.
There was a sign on the beach saying not to go into the water. Rip tides meant taking a dip would jeopardise one’s life. I risked all and splashed around anyway. I was cautious and never ventured out o f my depth.
Fishermen were forever on the strand. They were mending their nets or else heading out onto the brine. Sometimes they returned with their catch in ice boxes to be hurriedly conveyed to shops and restaurants. This sort of fiishing does not suffer from the impersonal mercantilism of factory ships.
I took a side trip to old Goa. This required two buses – going via Panaji. Notice that despite the spelling the name is pronounced Panji.
Panaji bus station is messy and chaotic. There are no destination signs on buses. Men just stand outside the bus incessantly repeating the destination. I got myself to Old Goa.
Old Goa is a delightful historic town. The old buildings are surrounded by sward. There is little traffic and there are very few sight seers. I had the pleasing feeling of going back in time. The trees were the tallest I saw in India.
I walked to the Bom Cathedral. Bom means ”good” in Portuguese. This grey brown cathedral is enormous. I do not recall seeing a single worshipper. It it plain and almost empty inside. The Portuguese had spreading their faith as a major motive for conquering Indian territory. I do not pretend that lucre was not a factor too. The Britishers did not pretend that evangelising was a main reason for purchasing and yes annexing Indian land. There was the civilising mission. What else can you call it? There was also the desire for enrichment. There is no reason why they cannot go together.
It was cool inside partly due to its immensity but also the stonework. It must have been a Herculean task to build such a cathedral in a place with a small population and no quarries around. It shows what a high priority they gave to religion.
There high on a catefalque in a glass case was the Incorrupt Body of St Francis Xavier. He helped to bring the Gospel to the East Indies. His body is preserved there but not by any artificial means. One can only see him from a distance and at an angle. For some reasons his carcass has not rotted away much.
I later walked to a museum. It was built around a courtyard. Formerly these had been colonial administrative buildings. A glade of trees almost surrounded the place. I had a gawk around the place. There were some signs informing me about this and that regarding the Portuguese paramountcy in these parts. It was a redux version of almost 400 years of Portuguese Indian History. I cannot reel off many dates about this. I saw a row of portraits of the Portuguese governors. These Lusitanian men were what one would expect. Then in the 1850s there was a black man. By this I mean a man of African stock. I was very pleasantly surprised. I had read on Portuguese imperialism in Africa. They were colour blind. One could be assimilated if one was literate in Portuguese, a Catholic and of good character. An assimilado was a Portuguese citizen. Inter racial marriage was totally socially acceptable. This man was fully black and he was a provincial governor. This would have been unthinkable for Britishers at the time. Despite the Portuguese having been much fairer in this regard they still kept slavery longer than others. The governors in the 1950s did not look fey as they should have been. Moreover, there were some stamps which said ”Estado de India” meaning ”State of India.” According to the Portuguese Government at the time Portugal was a maritime country with several states one was Lusitania (what we would call Portugal) the others were Angola, Sao Tome e Principle, India (i.e. Goa) and others. In fact there were other dots of India that the Portuguese owned such as Diu and Daman.
I returned to my tourist town that same day.
On my last day I hired a scooter. I was fun to pootle around the quiet lanes lined with palm trees. I met two Indian Americans who exclaimed ”England rules.” Then they asked me where I was from. When I said Ireland they quickly adapted their acclamation. There was a place in the woods I could buy untaxed petrol. It was not well hidden.
I got a minibus to Panaji. I shared it with two obese middle aged women. Then I got the choo choo to Mumbai
On the train I met a chubby middle aged Indian. He told me he had been a submariner. He had gone to the Soviet Union and learnt Russian. There he was trained in submarines. He was an affable and fascinating chap. There was also a tall and skinny Austrian aged about 30. He was a severe and unsympathetic character. He spoke tremendous English. When I told him I was Irish he said ”Chase those British out.” I disliked his bigotted attitude. ”Why? ” I inquired. ”They are nose in the air people.” What prejudice! He addressed the Indian curtly, ”hey navy guy?”
The sailor had had an Austrian girlfriend years before and lost touch with her. How he wanted to trace her
In Mumbai I was in the retiring room for a bit. I boyght more clothes but did not go far from VT. Then I got a first class sleeper to Delhi. I spoke to a Sikh a bit older than myself on the train. He was clean shaven though.
I raced to the airport and just made it onto the flight to Amsterdam and then to Ireland.
I had long known of the name. Miss MacDuff years before taught me that jodhpurs – as in riding trousers – took their name from the Indian city where they were invented. At secondary school I had seen on some prize boards the name of an Indian prince who had won various things such as the Drinkwater Cup for Shooting. He was the Maharajah of Jodhpur. This was yet another reason to visit this city. I had scoured by Lonely Planet for cities to visit in Rajasthan. This seemed a city that was both storied and accessible.
So it was that I decided to pay a visit to this storied city. I set off from Delhi by train – of course! It was an overnight train – if memory serves. At a certain time the lights were switched off. I say in the vestibule area on the floor writing my diary. I also penned a novel that I never completed. How I wish I could find my juvenalia now. This open space was near the lavatory. An Indian-American came and spoke to me asking what I was doing. ”Sitting there doesn’t it stink?” I had to admit that it was malodorous. How I suffered for my art.
Armed police came along flashing a torch. The Railway Protection Force is under the authority of the Government of India. Usually police are controlled by each state. They curtly told me to get to bed. I obeyed.
In the morn we came into Jodhpur. Off I got and into a taxi. It was not as scorching hot as Delhi – we were some way up. Judhpur is not that huge a city – certainly not by Indian standards. The little open land I saw was totally dry. The houses were all blue and white. There were no high rise buildings and the whole place was pleasingly preserved.
I checked into an especially boring hotel in a building with only a few floors. SOme middle aged men played a desultory game of backgammon on the street outside. I caught up on a few Z’s.
The obvious thing to visit in Jodhpur is the Palace of Umaid Bhavan. This enormous and handsome palace was constructed by the Maharajah in the 1930s. It is in a modern Indian style which borrowed some forms from European architecture. So I got myself a taxi to the palace built by Gaj Singhji. They are always called Gaj Singhji the maharajahs of Jodhpur. They are Jats. That is to say they have the surname Singh but they are not Sikhs they are Hindus. Singh means lion so anyone would want such a proud name. the suffix ”ji” is honorific.
The palace was a little way out of town. The desert lay around about and but for the odd thorn bush was barren. What would you expect. The relative isolation of the palace only made it more impressive. It looks like it is made from sandstone and it is a dun colour. There is a huge dome in the midsection and then a wing off to either side. I paid my fistful of rupees for admission.
The palace was opulent inside and very modern. Most Indian palaces I have visited are not like this. A third of it is a private residence for the family. Much of it is open to the public. People can rent out part of the palace. The marble floors and many wall hangings made a very good impression. I am not interior designer and cannot remember too much. I read some of the blurb about the construction of the palace. It created meaningful work for labourers and provided unemployment relief. I could not avoid reflecting that it would have been better to have them work on a project that benefitted the public rather than the most privileged family in Rajasthan.
The other major site in Jodhpur was the fortress. I took a taxi to the far side of the city. Perched on a rock was the mighty and ancient fortress. It is a magnificent sight and evokes all the romance and legend associated with Rajasthan. It is surprising that these sheer walls and dramatic towers have not been used as a film location. I walked up the ramp and under the portcullis. There were many rooms for the tourist to walk through but they were largely bare. I was able to walk on the path on the curtain all. These provided a marvelous and almost panoramic view over the whole city. I heard and Indian guide speaking flawless French to a French tourist whom he was showing around. It was the only time I ever heard and Indian speaking French. I wondered if this man came from Pondicherry. That is the Indian city that was a French colony until the 1950s. In Pondicherry they still keep French going. It could of course be that this chap learnt French later on.
There were old rusting cannon. Other than that there were few artefacts to remind one that people really had lived here and this fort was once fought over.
Later I paid to visit to a cremation site on a nearby escarpment. This was also overlooking the city. There was a ghat or a raised white stone platform covered by a roof. There were several metal handprint shapes on a wall. These supposedly showed the handprints of the women who had committed suti. That is immolating themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre. That was the ultimate act of uxorial devotion. In fact those handprints were far too small to have been made by an adult. I do not think they were real at all. The idea is the metal covered over the shape made by a woman dipping her hand in dye and then placing it on the bare white wall. It was redolent of a scene from the film The Far Pavilions. Evening was drawing on. It was a placid place to watch the sun dip towards the horizon.
I chatted to a young man there. He asked about Ireland and our coins. He showed me his collection of foreign coins. I had not to give him.
As for suti – Hindus are anxious to point out that it was never universally practised. Only in certain districts did this occur. even then most widows did not commit suti. The Britishers in the early 19th century started by restricting it. They forbade widows under 16 committing this ritual suicide. Those intent on putting themselves on their funeral pyre were also examined to ensure that they were not pregnant. VOLUNtary cremation was permitted but no one was to compel a woman to join her late husband on the faggots. Indians often dislike the way imperialists used suti as a reason for British rule to be extended.
I only spent two nights in Jodhpur. Was it even that long? Thereafter I took the train back to the capital city.