Jul 2, 2009
Thank you for keeping abreast of our adventures. Now that you've finally learned how to live without us, we're coming back. Pretend to be excited. At least a little. For us.
In less than 24 hours, we'll be back in a garbagey Toronto. At first I was angry (about the garbage strike) but then I realized it will help ease our culture shock, since India has been on garbage strike since forever.
Seriously though, go to India. Though it mostly smells like poo, sometimes it smells really good, like garam masala. That brings me to the first, and last, Linen Club Contest! The first person to reply to this final message will receive a stainless steel container of garam masala that we ground from whole Indian spices today.
Hope to see you all on the other side of the pond.
The Linen Club
Haute couture yay, but unaffordable nay. A "snow dress" can be hired out for the reasonable price of 300 Rs a day. The suits are popular with domestic tourists who have never seen snow. They rent a one-piece and skis from one of many rental shops, drive up the Rohtang pass, find a patch of snow and pose for amazing pictures. Then they tell everyone back in Delhi or Punjab that they went skiing over the holidays.
They totally have the right idea. Who likes actually skiing anyway? It's really just an excuse to eat fondue and wear fluorescent. Enjoy these rare glimpses of a real jewel of a ski town. These photos are just a taste...I plan to put on a proper show of Indian Ski Fashion at Steven Bulger gallery if I can ever afford to develop the film.
The drivers who do this route are of a special breed. Their schedule is to leave one location at 2am, arrive at the other end in the early evening, sleep for a few hours, and then depart at 2am again traveling back to Point A with a new group of passengers. They have one day off a week.
Our troubles began at the first passport check. When we left Leh we were in a convoy of three mini buses. Apparently, these guys look out for one another - therefore, one bus' problems become our problems. At this stop, one of the passengers in the bus ahead of us refused to show her passport, so the army would not let her pass through the checkpoint. Nobody knew why she wouldn't show her passport because she doesn't speak. It's not that she couldn't speak, it's that she chooses not to. This young lady is very much a typical "hippie" India backpacker. She floats around with a smile plastered on her face, shoeless, hugging everyone in sight, while playing a thumb piano. We had first spotted her the week before at a temple festival where she fell asleep on stage amidst dozens of dancing monks. Eventually, her driver gave up and threw her bag off the roof of her bus. An hour later, and we were back on the move.
Susie is mad
The next obstacle occurred about an hour later when a bus in our convoy broke down. We all had to stop on the side of the road while the drivers tried to figure out the problem - this mostly involved a lot of standing around and shrugging of shoulders. Honey stood there with a wrench in his hand looking particularly useless. We tried to convince him that he didn't know how to help so we should leave anyway, but he insisted that his services were of value. Two hours later, after some tinkering and kicking of tires, the bus miraculously started.
We stopped for lunch mid-afternoon three hours off schedule. A fellow passenger on our bus insisted that we needed a treat and bought a couple of rounds of rum and mango juice. The following six hours went by relatively smoothly, aided by our boozy haze.
By 10pm, we were just 30 kms away from Manali. Having just crossed over our final and highest pass, Rhotang, we anticipated that the rest of our journey would be a breeze. How wrong we were. We were suddenly stopped behind a lineup of trucks. Honey went out to investigate and came back with some bad news: two trucks had simultaneously broken down on the same curve and were blocking traffic in both directions. A group of drivers got together and tried to push the trucks out of the way, but they weren't going anywhere. We were forced to spend another night sleeping in the mini bus. The water supply was limited, and we hadn't eaten since our late lunch. Also, the gas fumes from all the idling trucks were making us all dizzy. Morale was, to say the very least, extremely low.
The next morning we woke up around 5am and the two trucks were as stuck as ever. We made a group decision to jump ship, and the six of us set out on foot, leaving Honey behind. It took us over five kms to walk to the end of the blocked traffic, and even then more and more cars kept arriving and getting stuck. We assumed it would be no problem to hitchhike to Manali, but the stubborn drivers refused to turn around, even when we explained to them that the road was blocked and would be for hours.
A couple of hours later Andrew and I managed to catch a ride with a family from Delhi. It took us another four hours from there to work our way through all the cars headed up to the Rhotang pass, despite warnings about the two broken down trucks. As we soon learned, Rhotang is a major attraction for Indian tourists who have never seen snow before. Apparently, no traffic jam is going to stand in the way of this once in a lifetime photo opportunity.
We made it to Manali at 11am, 17 hours late. We were filthy, hungry, and belligerent. From now on, I think we'll take the plane.
Jul 1, 2009
Furthermore, our seats were in the unfortunate position where the windows in front and behind us met, so we were shielded from any breeze. As such, I thought it was only fair that the little ceiling fan be pointed on us. But, as soon as I would fall asleep, the father would reach over my head and move the fan back on his wife and children. This went on for hours, until eventually I fell into a sweaty sleep, having conceded the fight over the fan.
When I woke up in the morning I noticed that my glasses had fallen onto the floor, right by the feet of the protective father, and the left lens was completely cracked. Whether he stepped on my glasses on purpose or by accident I will never know, but regardless he had ultimately reigned triumphant in ruining my 16 hour journey.
Leading up to the vote, we tried to engage many Indians in political dialogue, including taxi drivers, waiters, transit passengers, youth, etc. but nobody really wanted to talk about it. With dozens of federal parties and a confusing network of coalitions between the different groups, it seems that most people are weary of the country's political happenings. Furthermore, there is widespread doubt as to the legitimacy of the voting process. We surmised that it is generally accepted that many votes are bought with Rupees, or a meal, or even a couple of bottles of beer. Also, almost a third of the elected MPs currently face criminal charges, including murder!
Still, there is much trumpeting in the press of the exercising of of "The World's Largest Democracy" going to the polls, which, really, is an impressive ordeal, and despite its many flaws, surely the best choice of many imperfect options.
However, on the ground, I believe what is most impressive is that India has to have to the world's worst campaign posters. My favourite campaign photo of all is of the candidate in the bottom right corner of this poster. Believe me, his quadruple chin is not an optical allusion. His scrunched up face was plastered all over the state of Himachal Pradesh. The worst part is, I have seen other pictures of him in BJP party campaign posters, and he is actually a jolly looking guy with a big smile. How this photo was approved as as his official campaign shot is a mystery.
Jun 23, 2009
Jun 10, 2009
Last weekend, we had exactly 20 hours in Delhi between arriving from Dharamsala and departing for Leh. In that time, we had only a sliver of hope that we might get our digital camera fixed. We had assumed that the only realistic option would be to ship it off to a Panasonic service centre for a couple of weeks, which would do us no good as we had a flight to catch at 5am the next morning. But, as we were headed to one of the most photogenic places in the world, we figured it was worth a shot.
We started our day by checking out a camera shop in Connaught Place, an upscale shopping district in New Delhi. They took one look at our camera and insisted that one day was not enough time for the necessary repairs. We begged for any advice they may have and they half-heartedly suggested we check out Chandhi Chowk market in Old Delhi.
Old Delhi is filled with markets that offer specific goods and services. For example, on the way to Chandhi Chowk we drove through a market comprised of only wedding invitation shops. Next to that was a market of over two dozen stores all selling various forms of chains - new ones, old ones, dirty ones, etc.
In Chandhi Chowk, our autorickshaw driver pulled up to one of the many camera repair stands and suggested we give them a try. The guy behind the counter turned our camera on and off a couple of times with his ear pressed against it. After a couple of seconds of consideration he said he could have it fixed in two hours for 2500 Rupees (about $60). We must have looked a little skeptical, because he brought out a box from under the counter and proclaimed: "Look, this man send me his camera all the way from the Netherlands. He knows I am the best repairman."
Nothing in India is too broken to be fixed. Around every corner you can find someone to glue your flip flops back together, or rewire your alarm clock. In Canada, when I have tried to have various items repaired - shoes, cell phones, ipods, printers, even a paper shredder - I have been given the same response every time: "Even if we can fix it, it will cost you more than just buying a new one." So the old one gets thrown out and sent to some wasteland, most likely in India or China.
We headed back to Chandhi Chowk after a couple hours of sight-seeing and, true to his word, the camera was running perfectly. When we asked for a detailed receipt so that we might claim the repairs on our insurance the guy just laughed. After we insisted, he took out one of his business cards and wrote "Panasonic, 2500 Rupees" on the back. He passed it to me and muttered, "Insurance... must be nice."
May 31, 2009
Sorry we have been neglectful bloggers.
We've settled in a little tourist enclave, Bhagsu, 2km from the Dalai Lama's home and the Tibetan government in exile. Bhagsu is packed with Israeli backpackers and, as a result, its many restaurants offer some of the best hummus east of the Middle East.
There is an amazing Tibetan organization that we have fallen in love with here. It's called Rogpa, and you will soon know all about it as we are going to plan a big fundraiser for them in Toronto. In the mean time, we have been keeping ourselves very busy editing and designing their upcoming newsletter. Also, we sometimes get to hold adorable babies at their daycare centre.
Many more posts to come when we get our films developed and scanned in Delhi. Life was so much easier when it was digital.
May 24, 2009
Both our digital cameras have broken. This makes presenting compelling visual content on The Linen Club difficult, but not impossible. We have two film cameras left (A Kyocera T4 and a Holga), so we can get our photos developed and scanned. This will delay things somewhat, but we will forge onward.
Here are some photos in the meantime.