Saturday, 11 December 2010

Doh, for Diu!

Having well and truly settled into the town of Diu, on the Island of Diu, it becomes time to move on, find a place for Christmas and writing. My first few days in Diu involved sitting on the roof of the church, getting stoned and chilling out. It takes a few days allowing it all to soak in properly, it just isn’t like India, it’s much to peaceful! There is a distinct lack of noise, of people, and of general hustle and bustle. St Thomas church, where I’m staying, is a magnet for easy-going stoners, the rooftop social scene is ideal, overlooking the quiet side of town and the beach. Most visitors end up staying longer than anticipated, I’m going before I thought I would, due to getting stoned too much, the spontaneous bouts of drinking at night also have their effect on my motivation and creativity. I suppose you could say I’ve settled in rather too well! It would be hard not to, our view includes a number of massive old colonial buildings, interspersed with countless palms, Neem and Mango trees. Defining the margin between land and sea is the old Portuguese fort, crumbling walls are open access for visitors, you can walk along the top of them, without being worried about the safety measures, because there aren’t any. A lighthouse, perched atop the fort stands proud from all else, and can also bee visited, though it isn’t the same age as the fort and churches. A lovely fortified island sits just off the coast, I believe it serves as the main prison now, the only way to get there is through the court system. Three vast edifices punch their way above the residential homes, St Paul’s Church, St Thomas and St Francis of Assisi. Only St Paul’s still operates as a church, our’s is a Museum come guesthouse and the other has been converted into a hospital. All three are aglow with gaudy coloured lights after dark, though the subtle amber hues and shadows are beautiful on the bell tower. (Photos: Views of Diu Fort, Gujarat, India)

One section of the fort still houses the ‘Sub-jail’, a moustachioed guard hustled me away when I tried to take a picture. All in all there is little hassle here, you aren’t hounded to fill the pockets of all and sundry wherever you go. The main hassle is from Indian tourists wanting their photo taken with me, I restrict them to one photo now, thank them for the honour, shake hands with them all and walk away. There’s sanctuary here at St Thomas’s, and I appreciate that, if for nothing else, for the time it gave to catch up with my blog and get the creative juices flowing. Having the best room in the place was an extra benefit, but I had to fork out a lot for the privilege, a whopping £9 per night, for bedroom, lounge, balcony and bathroom. At that price I can afford to live like a king! (Photo: Parrots having a strop with each other - St Tomas Church, Diu Town, Gujarat)

Proofreading the last two chapters I wrote reassured me no end, a pleasant surprise to find there was little I felt needed rewriting. It feels forever since I sat and wrote my book, three months is too long, though when I read through it felt like only yesterday. Still connecting immediately with the emotions and experiences of the Americas makes the writing come easier, each time I relive the thoughts and feelings it leaves me feeling a little bit more positive within myself. It has helped put it all into perspective; by viewing it more objectively I can appreciate what I actually went through, how far into the realms of madness I actually fell. I still find the physical aspects of the journey nothing special, it doesn’t take an exceptional person to ride the route I did. The circumstances under which I managed it were! My eternal thanks for all those, who were there for me while I rode the Americas, and who shared the experience, encouraging me to continue both riding and writing, it made all the difference.(Photo: Formation flying - St Thomas Church, Diu Town, Gujarat)

But alas, Diu is now a 22hr bus ride behind, I’m frazzled but not fried. Despite looking forward to Mumbai like a hole in the head, it’s been tackled without any fuss. Rather than just going with the flow I created my own fortune, initially by getting dropped in the suburbs, rather than the Central station. Giving a persistent tout the slip halved the cost of a rickshaw to the train station, and got me there with over six hours to spare. Left with so much time meant finding an ATM and topping up my cash reserves, with any luck I can now get through another week or so without hunting out another bank that’ll accept my card. And then I only had five hours left, ho hum! (Photo: St Thomas Church - Diu Town, Gujarat)

People watching, one of the few reasons to spend time in a city. Why, oh why, do so many Indians henna their hair when they go grey? They seem to wait until they are completely grey, it goes that bright flame orange that Orientals get when they try to bleach their hair, which is cool for the young and hip. It’s the Indian equivalent to the comb-over, and looks as preposterous. Grey hair is meant to gain respect, to be revered in Asia, so why go and ruin the perfect chance to be taken seriously? How true that is I’m not sure, judging by the reactions of a couple of kids on the train, it’s becoming a thing of the past. When being admonished by an old guy they starting pulling faces and taking the piss, not overtly though, so there is still some aspect of truth there. I personally get more positive reaction from kids than older Indians, and that is a reaction to my hair. In Rajastan I got lots of attention and positive comments, in Gujarat it’s all stares and laughing behind my back. So you can guess which place I preferred! (Photo: Your's truly, batty in the belfry - St Thomas Church - Diu Town, Gujarat)

Leaving Diu took me through the rest of Gujarat, what I hadn’t seen on the way to Diu. I was pretty much the same, rural India at its most agricultural. Squatter camps accompanied any area of construction, the railway entering or leaving every town or village, even wherever in the countryside planting or harvesting are underway. No change there between Gujarat and Maharashtra, in fact it intensified as we entered the outskirts of Mumbai. Vast areas of slums lined the road at one point, but they weren’t the worst of it, at least they were made of semi-permanent building materials. I believe shanti shanti to be a term used by foreigners in India, damned if I know what the hell they’re talking about, but in Mumbai it could only be used to describe the extent of street dwellings. A couple of bin bags, stretched over a few poles and they get an instant home. Half don’t even have the privacy of enough plastic to form a screen at the entrance. The overall look of rural areas didn’t appear to change massively, huge areas under cultivation, but the crops themselves did change. As darkness enveloped us the fields sported large areas of cotton, not high producing cotton, but cotton all the same. As the sun rose and revealed a new State the abundance of cotton was gone, in its place grew rice. Long strips of paddy curved over fields, small patches filled in corners, even between the railway lines small plots for paddy were being prepared. What I haven’t seen are the enormous areas put over for one crops, or oxen preparing the soil. Gujarat had immense fields, mainly ploughed and tilled by a pair of Oxen. I found it hard to believe how large an area they managed to plough, initially I assumed tractors were the main workhorses, purely due to the size of fields. After seeing nothing but Oxen hitched up I had to conclude that they are very much as useful as they ever were. And for Maharashtra? I’ve not seen too much, but the work seen has been manpower, except where it comes to planting and harvesting, then it’s people power. Generally the women are too busy carrying huge containers of water, to and fro, on their heads. The kids appear to look after each other, which they make a good job of. But let me clarify, it’s only the dirty, dusty kids running around together while their parents toil, dawn to dusk. The nicely dressed kids are precious, treasured things, prettily dressed and obviously spoilt rotten. (Photos: 1] Scrubbin' me barnacles - Gomptamatan; 2] 500cc Enfield bullet Trike; 3] Love birds, aaaah! - Diu Island, Gujarat)

Whether urban or rural, the number of animals roaming free is phenomenal. It’s impossible to tell whether they have owners or not, well, some at least. An abundance of bristly pigs route through the most hideously filthy places; I’m not talking about unshaven British cops either, though I know they adore digging out whatever filth they can find about anyone, except their fellow officers of course. No, I mean porcine beasts, which are not on any menus I’ve come across. Though in all honesty neither are the majority of animals on the loose, dogs, pigs, cows, they all enjoy a life of freedom, looking well fed without needing to worry about seeing the inside of a cooking pot. Only now do I realise the few times I’ve had meat in the last six weeks, after watching what they feed themselves on I’m rather glad. Though in Mumbai I noticed a number of cows tethered on the pavement, people were coming along and feeding their waste vegetables to them, they were huge. (Photo: View from St. Thomas - Diu town, Gujarat)

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