Monday, March 08, 2010

Melbourne - 9.3.10

Arrived back in Melbourne last night (thanks Di & Al for the pick-up!) about 10pm after a fairly uneventful flight back from Kolkata - watched heaps of movies, ate a lot of aeroplane food & occasionally lapsed into sleep. Again, plenty of room - the two adjacent seat were also free, leaving space to lie down & stretch out. I'm feeling a little out of whack, time-wise, with the 5.5 hour time difference, so it'll be interesting to see how I am tomorrow when I return to work.

The Broadway Hotel - a budget level place - in Kolkata was a good choice (although the enormous resident cockroach in my bathroom & the swarm of marauding ants that attacked a biscuit I'd left on the bed did take the edge off it a little). It was a kilometre & a half north of the Sudder St/ western tourist area but very near the Chandni Chowk metro station, making it pretty easy to get around. The hotel was built in 1937, and the rooms are mostly quite large with high ceilings. According to a Canadian who's been staying there for the past 40 years, on & off, the only changes he's seen in that time have been some rewiring & TV sets added to the rooms. The downstairs bar & restaurant area is very ... atmospheric; it's dark, with shuttered windows & dozens of ceiling fans - probably even "art deco", as the hotel's own website describes it. At night, it's filled with scores of men sitting around drinking; a few are also eating - the food there is surprisingly good - clean, fresh & tasty. There were quite a few single blokes sitting at tables, staring into space & looking morose (I did wonder for a second whether this was a projection of mine, but I don't think so as I was feeling quite chipper. Good food & accommodation will do this for me).

Broadway Hotel

Broadway Hotel - bar & restaurant

Down the road was Anand, an excellent vegetarian restaurant, mainly frequented by Indian families, that makes pretty good masala dosa. I also indulged in a strawberry milkshake, butterscotch ice-cream & paneer pizza on my visit(s) there.
Just across the road from the hotel, on the corner of the busy intersection, two families, comprising of at least five young children & baby, were living. At different times of the day you could see them bathing, cooking food, sleeping, kids playing ...

The flight out was at 1:55am so I arranged a car to the airport at 9pm, leaving me with plenty of time to check in & deal with any unforeseen problems that having a bicycle might present. I organised a lad to wash the bike for Rs30, then put some cardboard around the dérailleurs, removed the pedals & it was ready to go. Temporarily removing the front wheel made it a little easier to cram it into the back seat of the Ambassador that was taking me to the airport. At the airport I did the customary but purposeless exercise of letting the air out of the tyres & turned the handlebars around, attaching them to the top tube of the bike. Luckily, airport staff (other than the policeman who told me I couldn't take my bicycle into the airport terminal!) were quite bemused by the fact that I was travelling with a bicycle & were exceedingly helpful. The fellow whose job it was to wheel the bike away after check-in made some joke about what a great bike it was & how he'd like to take it home ... I feigned alarm at this & so he went to great lengths to reassure me by accompanying me at a distance as I went through customs, pointing at the bike periodically to indicate that he was taking it to the appropriate place & not pinching it.
I had the sense that I'd finally, after 5 weeks, become acclimatised to & at ease with being in India - shame that I was at the end of the trip! No doubt about it, India's a tough place to travel through, and some of the cycling has been hard work. At times it's exasperating, infuriating, and of course highly dangerous on the roads. It taps into all sorts of emotions, some of which you might be surprised to see arise - disgust, rage, irritability, fear, sadness, powerlessness, hatred, aggression, apprehension, alarm ... Thankfully, at other times you might experience delight, awe, amusement, surprise, enjoyment, astonishment, relief ...  In a sense you're on the line - it tests your view of the world & how things should be, and your view of yourself - things you take for granted, or your expectations or 'rules' e.g. about courtesy, hygiene, service, fairness, reasonableness, common-sense,  personal space, care of the environment, etc. are out the window, and you are left to deal with your own reactions about these things. And some of these reactions can be a surprise - "... oh, I thought I was a little more well-adjusted than that!" The variety, challenge, eccentricity, rawness, unpredictability, non-PCness of the place are what draw me there (in addition to the various & wondrous tourist attractions of India & the pleasures of cycling). As I've said before, I both love & hate India.


Mr Felix (aka Pak Peelips) said...


Welcome home! (Not that I'm there...)
Yes, loving and hating India.... last time I fell over on the dark side. Hopefully this coming time I can stay on-side with Luke Skywalker, rather than completely and wholeheartedly rolling over onto his dad's end of the equation. We shall see.
It does beg the question as to what it is like to be born into such a culture, and be formed by it. One thing I've learned from living in Indonesia and Malaysia, is that sometimes you see that your bedrock (foundational) beliefs are actually different than others from, in this case, Indo and Malaysia. You may even be using the same words, but the words themselves have different meanings (concepts).
Interesting, and deeply challenging at times.
Anyway, I have booked a ticket to Jordan, and arrive at sunrise on Tuesday 24th, two weeks away. Will cycle to Jerusalem from there.
Cheers, happy to see you and the bike safe and sound! :)
Felix in BKK

Frances said...

Hey Dave,

Interesting to read your conclusion of your India trip and really be able to relate. However, Adam and I left early due to the conditions. We started to hate everything and as we proceeded on the trip our spirits gradually went into the "darkside." The reasons I was drawn to India are the same ones that made me leave; no rules, chaos, poverty etc. The rawness is a bit to raw for my eyes in the end. Maybe in another time and place I will revisit to hopefully see the beauty in India. If it didn't teach me anything else it definitely made me thankful for what I have, who I am, and where I came from.

With that said, Adam and I will be in Melbourne next week. Are you free anytime thurs-sat to grab a bite to eat or cruise around the city?



david w said...

Hi Fran,
Great to hear from you ... I've sent you an email...

bonnlee said...


Amazing journey! Thanks for sharing it. Yes, I can relate to your ambivalent feelings. India brings up every emotion, phobia and judgement in people from other cultures. I loved travelling there in the '70's and 80's but the chaos, crowding, overt poverty, and lack of personal space, really got to me at times. I took refuge in ashrams along the way-where order was maintained.
I can't imagine travelling alone on a bicycle. I really admire you.
Can't wait to hear about your next trip. Great to see you today.

Shy said...

I've not cycled in India since the 60's ("Everyone does" proved hugely erroneous when I found myself the only woman in town who was doing it, but hugely educational...), but appreciated your closing comments about your Indian experiences. So true, so true. So much new, yet so much the same, today!

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