Sunday, January 15, 2006

From the Cave: From Doha

The runways of Doha are some of the smoothest that I have ever landed upon. Perhaps it is the nature of the compacted sand of the island or the compound of the tarmack which must withstand temperatures at midday in excess of fifty degrees celcius feels a landing upon a silk carpet. Somehow I ended up scratching my finger enough for it to bleed in the transfer terminal. The medical first aid station was manned by a full Doctor from India. Fluent in several of the world languages. I was initially shocked that my ticket to Bombay was to be a fourteen hour stop over, held passport of course, with a taxi into town and a room above the cornice, in a low end tourist hotel. Accept, a low end tourist hotel in the Middle East, in the 1970’s was like pure time capsule of kitche, with panache, cocktail dress suitable furnishings, and martini windows from floor to ceiling. Rather than muck about in the dusty heat of that boom town, I retired to shortwave radio and a small bottle of scotch. That evening was end of Ramadan, and thus a wonderful fireworks display was lit not far outside the barrier islands. Ready for take off.

Bombay was initially a really harsh stink the moment the doors opened on the ramp. There was another kind of stuck in time surrounding the airport arrivals and along the border fences. I had already purchased my visas of entry, as is required of all visitors from some locations. I had borrowed Bruce’s guide book, and some advice on the trails to take re the train schedules, and plane connections, be they Trivandrum or Cochi, for the two hour flight to Colombo. But upon arrival I detrmined among the honking horns and wailing engines surrounding the terminals, I would hire a prepaid taxi to my chosen destination. Crones and beggars hovered around to act as porters for small change but I was less than sure whether or not it would be a good idea. At the time I was very tired and would not be able to chase anyone if they were to run off with my bags. The taix itself, as are most taxis in the country, a fifties model version of FIAT accept of a various quality and continuously produced through various national motor companies. But such taxis are merely sewn together as various bumpers and panels may suddenly be removed during hasty exits and entries to large car parks. My initial plan was to hire a suite at the Victoria Terminal Resting Rooms, but since I planned not to travel for a few days, and there was loss availability, I followed the advice of one cabbie, who carried around the Muslim area. Considering the locations, I asked him to take me to a business hotel. The lowest cost. Imagine waking up an entire flock of herdsmen and their goats from rest in the courtyard. It was so unbelievable a hotel, that I had to see it to believe it. Two of the bed chambers were solid blocks of reinforced marbles, with no windows. When I complained that I would like a window, it was quite hot, Another door was unceremoniously flung open, the light switched on, and a man rolled out of bed, in sleep. I thanked the man and gave him a small baksheesh for troubles and apologized for the late visit. He understood more English, I tried to explain, business class with telephone service. I think he understood. I also asked him to ask the cabbie to send the best English speaker he knew to come to my hotel in the morning to give me a tour of the city. We agreed that the fare would be a good deal for both of us, and would account.

So I was taken to a hotel, again without windows, more of a modern caravansary, with a shower, and a bank of full service toggle switches, for each amenity in the room, the hotel bar, the menu, and meal service. The morning was quite early, to here the flocks of birds cavorting above my central courtyard. Our first destination was the Barhan house of Gandhi. It was a cool morning, along the boulevards once built and populated by the British, The Gate of India was not so unpleasant, a Sadu tied a little string to my arm as a welcome. If karma serves well, it is not amount it is the spirit of the gift in that place. My request for good value restaurant was met with a pleasant call home on my new chipset. We arrived at the Brahmin Temple during a special ceremony of herbs and flower petals. The statuesque forms of the alabasters and apsara, there a re true and living Indian women on this earth, with such noble shape, I have met some of them and they do not all wear saris. I have met some wonderful Catholic Indian girls. The Nheru Gardens and Hanging Gardens are much of a trampled mess. With supperating garbage cans of indeterminate origin, welded into the shape of some unknown bird, or fish, such slight identity was afforded those poor cans. The nearby hanging gardens attended by a flock of more than seagulls, where some rot, there bones bleached on the sun. Enlightening, but so much as some of the horticultural fauna that remains to ring the parks themselves. Species of great majesty, as in the Peredinia Royal Gardens of Kandy.

The taxi driver was able to arrange a visit to the central washing market, next to and nearly equal in size to the central race tracks. I enjoyed watching a few as spectators do, of the colours of the races, the flash of the sweat and toil of the runners, like the ill served ponies of Cairo’s streets, we stopped for a pan-pan, a mild stimulant and betel nut leaf, it has a scintillating aroma. A substitute for food. I had to know what it tasted like. We passed by the temples of the sea front at the exact time of tidal change and ceremony. I saw and took the tour of a man who wants to see the city from the view of the taxi cab. I had already changed one tire in the middle of the night, in the middle of a darkened slum. Accept it wasn’t a slum, it was working class poor, and the carts and boxes, and feed sacks were all along the sides of the streets, large trucks pulled over for the night, and those feed sacks were people. The dry wood was their legs, they pay rent on little pieces of space on the ground. Unbeievable pigs, that wander about eating human waste, sacred cows, even Holstein cows wandering the alleyways, sometimes menacing in their girth, passing them along the way, if they turned the crowds would be crushed.

Driving from the hotel to the train station for my first class sleeper to Goa was madness in itself. Traffic sludged along like wet cement. The bus exhaust was like great clouds of rust ebbing up from the dust of the streets. The train compartment was cooled and airconditioned. I met several European girls traveling on this route. The clatter of the train was a good time to play cards before bed, and after breakfast, as the din is still quite loud, the dawn was my first view of the beautiful South Indian former Portuguese colony.

I always liked the Portuguese, because they have always been friendly to me. I remember the old guy from Kingston, he was very friendly, and old cook. A fish cook, we had something in common. His liberation was marriage to a Portuguese wife. He told a story once about the time he caught a halibut and brought it home. I had heard he died a couple days before the funeral but I couldn’t go. Instead, all of his old friends came to see me at the coffee shop to tell me he also them about me. He said he really enjoyed talking with me, there was a rhythm to his voice that had nothing to do with nationality and everything to do with the sea.

Goa is like that. Most of it is near the sea. A little too close sometimes, the Rajasthan magicians that used to blow those cow horns, walking the fortune telling cows around, acting like a difficult alarm clock. My cabin fronted the sea beach and lay beside a three waterfront restaurants and bars, excellent for sunset views and swimming straight into the sea, where the crowds were few, due to the view. Only marred, by a eight hundred foot tanker that had run aground some years ago. It’s rusting hulk creaks eerily in the tidal flows. Further north along the beaches, the settlement grows more hof style, more sacred cows ruminate among topless bathers, mostly grandmas unfortunately, they tend to brown quite quickly enough.

Maria was my landlord for three weeks, I paid her three dollars a day for a twenty by twenty five foot room. With a good cross current of air. The climate was amenable enough to forgo the dreaded mosquito net, the beaches were regularly cleaned by happy and polite domestic pigs, which are cared for and eaten by the Christian populations, the central beach areas contain a seedy mix of second hand bookstores and carnival balloons. But the outer reaches are blissfully rural unspoiled village type arrangements. I tended to meet a lot of Russians, as they were the most interesting people on the beach. Even though they were all followers of Osho, I bore them no ill will considering how gorgeous the young lady doctors were. But I refused to go to Pune, feel certain they would have drained me of all my resources.

Besides as they left, I left for Hampi but not after a hike into Panjim, a tour around Old Goa City, and arranging quite by accident to enter arguably the most hideous pissoire I had ever witnessed. I figured it couldn’t get any worse in Hampi. The bus was a sleeper, full of tourists, who could not understand until quite late in the morning whether or no a conjoining bus had or had not broken enroute, or was a merely a front to having all the consumable resources of the rest stop eaten and squirrled away. It was an angry mob of westerners, arriving finally on the central markets of 2500 residents, in the stone city which once housed a million. I had met my first and probably only Temple of Love. It was not bawdy, it was not excessively developed. As a tourist destination, it is off the beaten map, but a short train ride from Bangalore, people often only stay a couple of days. It is the kind of place a man my walk among the roads and fields, naked and painted blue if he likes, but the thought did occur to me, that it is the kind of place I would like to see again. But the next time not alone.

My hotel mates were the Anglians, and they were a fine bunch. Our host served excellent foods and carved didgeridoos, on the roof top piazza, well shaded and comfortable view of the temple in the passing light of day dawn and dusk. While I had not set more than three weeks in the country, I really planned only to stay for the short few days, I explored hill and rock and valley for three weeks, and stayed for the Shivaratra Festival, in this town the Large Cow Statue is kept in a rusty old shed at the end of the market. The walls of the market are solid limestones and granites in a range of ages and histories. The precincts of the temple itself seem to originate on the top of a rock hillside, where the original stone carvings and pillars remind one of South Korean Buddhist Temples. The lower areas tend towards Hinduism. The Temple Tower itself is washed a shade of gold but the older variety, each of maidens engaged amourous couplings in detailed display of artistic and exotic erotica. The temple elephant stands within a manger area, where offerings of darshan are duly collected and blessings made by trunk. Little Hanumans work the hillsides for baksheesh and it really is there full time jobs, they speak excellent English. The townspeople themselves are quite accepting of foreign visitors, engaged in various business, appear to live alongside it a fairly tranquil life. There are few beggars. There are many farmers, boatmen, and goat herders. Bank of Baroda has a branch office ina bunker, there is even a small go down dedicated to Korean food. In no way is it an ostentatious place. I remember the blackfoot Algerian of excellent character, entertaining the crowd with his many stories of Indian life over the decades of his travels there. In his own words he came for the festival a little bit early. Basically he worked his way around harvesting in the fields with the Indians. For twenty five years. Then there was Irish accountant on the run from the law, the lady stockbrokers from London, the crazy Belgian-Indian that thought that every day was his birthday, the mango trees of the Mango Restaurant, the small seating , but large view of river, and mountain, and farms, fishermen. It was really India at it’s best. Anglians had guitars and tabla drums, we often enjoyed entertaining along the plateau ridge restaurants. Only two restaurants served beer, and the others smuggled in beer. We finally smuggled in a goat and had cooked, as there was no law against the eating of meat by non-Hindus, none could see any problem with it on the edge of the village, farthest from the temple. The local Indians quite congenial even the coconut sellers were friendly. A bottle of finest Portuguese Goan Arrack Moonshine was well consumed among friends over a three week period.

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