Sunday, November 20, 2005

Thai'd down

Finally, photos are uploading. I tried for 2 days....
"What, in the West, had been problems we had to solve, became in Asia limitations we had to accept." - Michael Palin, Around the World in 80 Days

I checked out four different fares to Thailand. The cheapest one of all was $195 one way plus tax, plus the $25 departure fee they charge to get out of the country. (Strangely, they do not charge this, or anything, of travelers leaving the country by bus - nor do they do so much as glance at your baggage.) A few months ago, when it was sweltering over there, Bangkok was about $80 one way.

Since I plan to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Kalachakra initiation teachings in Andhra Pradesh, Southern India (January 6-16), at $400 plus r/t Thailand would be a very expensive 3-week side trip. So it looks like I'm on the old shake-and-rattle minibus across the Terai valley and Mahabharat range to the Indian border; then another bus to Senauli, where you get yet another bus to Gorakhpur (all these are grungey little holes whose sole purpose is a sort of limbo-lost-land between countries, with none of the excitement conjured up by the term "border town"). At Gorakhpur, you invariably arrive too late to buy a train ticket onward throughout India, so you must spend one night at the Ellora Hotel (the best choice for a number of reasons; main one being that it's directly across from the train station).

My main goal on this first leg of the journey Southward is to escape Gorakhpur without getting slimed. I define getting slimed as any combination of the following: 1-getting ripped off by rickshaw drivers, hotels and fruit vendor - or rather, having to argue with all of the above. I never get ripped off, but this Teflon status requires a degree of vigilance matched only by fellow New Yorkers and women in polyester saris - they may be small, but a lifetime of having to be dutiful silent builds up ferocious passive-aggression and man, can they shove on a commuter train platform! You gotta admire their tenacity! I mean, where did they learn it? They're never allowed to show aggression anywhere else in their lives! They could teach it as a new form of Asian martial art - SariShoving and Seat-Stealing, not to mention Queue-busting. Of course it could be argued that it is impossible to bust a queue that never actually existed except in the wishful conditioning of a Western traveler.

2-getting leered at by hotel boys or passers by. Again, it rarely happens, but requires my never having actual eye contact, just staring at the dandruff on their shoulders while barking orders in pidgin Hindi. (I used to be friendly, until I noticed it just caused trouble. Indian women are never friendly to strange men, they just order them around; as soon as I mimicked their behavior and acted the memsahib, life got much easier.)

It was while engaged, or rather disengaged, thusly that I noticed the Plaid Shirt Phenomenon. Look around you on a public bus. There is more plaid to be found on the backs of the men riding any given Indian bus than at your average Scottish Highland Game. The women all have their various, elegant traditional patterns and colours and fabrics, but the men? - plaid shirts! short sleeves, long sleeves, tab collars, but almost invariably, plaid! Not even a pinstripe or 2. Guys wearing a solid colour actually stand out. And tight pants. Testicle-crushing sweaty tight pants, the last thing anyone needs to be wearing in the heat (that's why traditional garments were skirt-like lungis and dhotis, but nowadays anything so sensible is scorend as old-fashioned).

Frankly, though, I prefer the Plaid-Clad Clones to the ones who try to be "hip" by wearing either mesh muscle shirts (by definition, muscle shirts are worn to reveal muscles, okay?) or t-shirts with slogans like "Bad boy" or "Nice legs, what time do they open?" (and exactly what kind of woman do they hope to attract with such slogan sleaze, I wonder?)

3-Unspeakable squalor, in the form of a filthy bedbug-ridden room or a palmetto bug or mouse running across your feet as you shower (it has happened), or

4-feeling the hostility of beggars, touts and locals one too many times. I don't mind "please," but don't touch me, just don't touch me, and I don't care if you're a little kid whose mother purposely hasn't wiped your snotty nose to make you look sick, it doesn't make it okay to grab my bag or elbow or skirt.

A couple of these things in a trip are routine, but any repeated combination of the above will culminate in Getting Slimed. Once you've been Slimed, the despair of India will enter tiny crevices in your heart and seep into your soul, ruining any chance you have of enjoying anything. The only remedy is a hot shower in a 2-star hotel, followed by a hot foot-soak with ayurvedic oils and a week of Will & Grace reruns. Hey, a Siren can dream of such luxury.

It turns out my Kathmandu hotel can book the Indian railway ticket for me. Now I just have to decide where I'm going.

VOTE: Where should Sirensongs go next, between now (in Nepal) and the Kalachakra initiation in south India on January 5?
a: Varanasi & Khajuraho, which she's never seen
b: Madras & Pondicherry where all her luggage is gathering mold in friend's houses and it's time for the Chennai Music & Dance Festival
c: Darjeeling & Sikkim, where it's a bit frosty

Register your vote in "Comments" below! Vote early, vote often!

THIS is a sweet polyester sari-wearing lady (left). She will not shove you, if you smile at her and call her "kaki" (auntie). But you might have to make extra room on the seat for her basket of fruit. She was selling guavas for 1 rupee each on the roadside in Shirdi. Dig that crazy traditional Marathi nosering!

1 comment:

Dave said...

How do you do,

In recent decades there has been a growing interest in Eastern religions, particularly the Hindu religion which seems to embrace all of creation. But something vital has been left out of that belief, as the man in our story discovered. Something he desperately needed and found, when his heart and mind and life were unshackled.
I hope this is a blessing. You may have to type in link.