India – Yoga in Delhi (India)

I visited Delhi 10 years ago. I was attending an Indian wedding. It was a very glamorous affair as the bride and groom were both from very wealthy families.

The celebrations lasted three days. Day 1 was at the groom’s house. He paid to have his street closed off and then rode a horse down it whilst wearing full regal clothing. I’d like to see someone try this in Scotland. “Why is my street closed? Some prick is riding a horse whilst dressed like a fud!”

I don’t think it’ll catch on.

Day 2 was a ceremony for the bride in a luxury hotel. She sat on a platform getting her wedding henna tattoos applied. As she had to sit very still various people would go in front of her to entertain her. As the only white person at the wedding I was pushed forward to entertain her. I asked what I should do. Most people dance I was told. So I told her I’d dance a traditional Scottish wedding dance. Unfortunately I didn’t know any so I did the Macarena instead and hoped that song had never reached Delhi

It was a great occasion but I remember Delhi as being dirty, noisy and busy. I’d stayed in a dive of a hotel in the old town. This time I wanted to stay somewhere better so at least there would be some respite from all the craziness.

Thankfully the exchange rate and the power of the pound means Indian hotels are very reasonably priced so it’s easy and affordable to stay somewhere good.

Although they are Indian so their happy to rip you off if you let hem. For example a taxi from the airport costs 400R. The hotel offered to pick us up for 4000R! We turned down their offer!

Indians hotels have a lot of security which is a good thing in that it makes me feel safe but it’s a bad thing because it also make me question why ? What do they know that I don’t! Especially as India is a very safe country to travel in where I rarely feel troubled.

We tried to get a yoga class but they didn’t have any so instead we used their activity room to do it ourselves.

I was very impressed by the lights to the swimming pool

I was also impressed by the first television we had in a week that had more than just BBC World as an English Channel. After yoga we watched an episode of Friends. Sometimes it’s the small reminders of home that help break up a journey.

India – Delhi (Iain)

Indians in Delhi are very helpful when I’m walking. They would often stop me and ask “where are you walking to?”

Which would swiftly become an interrogation. “Why are you walking? Why don’t use use a rickshaw? Tell me again where are you going?”

I reply that I’m heading to Lodi gardens.

“You’ll not get to Lodi gardens this way. There is a protest on. It’s very dangerous. You should go to Connaught square to the shops instead.”

I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll give it a try.

“No, no, no. You can not go that way. Tell me where your going next. Have you booked plane? Have you got accommodation?”

I decide to ignore him and head in the direction of Lodi gardens. Within a few minutes another man has come up and demanded to know why I’m walking. I tell him I’m going to Lodi gardens.

“It is closed today. You won’t get in.”

I thought it was a public park that’s free to all and open all year.

“No, it’s definitely closed. You won’t get in. You need to go to market. It is open”

I ignore him and continue walking.

There is no sign of any protest anywhere. It’s just a normal road which for once in India is surprisingly quiet and easy to walk.

Of course, a third man approaches. I’ve now worked out that all they care about is getting me to go to wherever their own shop is. I don’t even bother speaking to him when he asks why I am walking.

Eventually I reach the garden. Its full of Indian families enjoying the late evening sun. It is definitely not closed.

 

India – Indian Taxi’s (Iain)

Negotiating with taxi drivers is an art. There are two problems:

1 – Indian taxi drivers rarely know where anything is.
2 – They want to rip you off as much as possible on the price.

Problem 1 is fair enough. Varanasi has thousands of streets and lanes and no one could possibly know them all. Also the name I might call it might not reflect the local name for a place. Even the name Varanasi is a misnomer as it’s local name is Banderas.

The best thing to do is to give them something famous near to where you want to go and then guide them from that. I use an offline downloaded map on my phone to get about as I didn’t want to pay a fortune for roaming mobile data.

Problem 2 is annoying. My normal gambit is to approach the taxi driver and ask for a price. They tell me an outrageous price. I counter with a much much lower offer. They argue and tell me why I’m wrong before they drop the price slightly. I’ll then offer a slightly higher offer which they’ll reject. I then walk away. As I walk away they shout a new price. I make my final offer. We agree and off we go. It’s a tiring and annoying process but it seemed to work until I got to Varanasi.

I tried it but as I walked away the taxi driver just let me go.

Darn I thought. That normally works!

Just as I was about to turn around another man came up and said he do it for 100R but it would be on his bike.

I said yes. Myself and my wife got on his bike and the man started pedaling but we didn’t go anywhere. The ride was on a slight incline and my weight was too much for him!

He started pushing instead. Thankfully after a few minutes it got flatter and he hopped on and managed to bike. Unfortunately he had no idea where we were going so after another few minutes he declared we were at the destination. We weren’t. It was still a couple of miles away.

He called over another man and they studied my map trying to work out where the destination was. After some to-ing and fro-ing and some questioning of others they worked out it was straight down the road he was currently on. I had tried to tell him that but he hadn’t believed me.

I felt sorry for him as he hauled me along. The road was extremely busy. I’d never drive it let alone cycle it.

Eventually we got to our stop. I gave him 100R but then pointed at my wife and said “no 100R each”

An Indian taxi/bike drivers scam work is never done.

If only people in the UK were so entrepreneurial.

 

India – Yoga in Varanasi (Iain)

“Do you need a yoga mat?” asked the yoga teacher.

“Yes thanks,” I replied.

The yoga teacher got one from his cupboard.

Before he handed it to me he uses the end of it it to move a dead mouse along the floor to a corner of the room.

He then hands me my yoga mouse mat ‘shovel’. India is simultaneously spiritual and practical.

The yoga teacher is a middle aged man in a leather jacket and scarf. He doesn’t remove the leather jacket until half way through the practice. The scarf lasts until near the end.

He has a nice manner and a gentle voice. “We will begin with 15 minutes of mediation. Lie down on your mat and concentrate on the silence”

The silence is swiftly broken by the crazy frog ringtone of the teachers mobile phone.

A minute later his phone goes ping then shortly after that it rings, then later it gives off a weird cosmic sound. By the end of the 15 minutes I’ve only managed to meditate about his ringtones.

Again it shows the simultaneous spiritual and practical side of India. Yes meditate but don’t miss out on any important messages.

We continue by doing some hip opening exercises. he says “Sit on the floor cross legged. Then rock you legs like they’re a butterfly’s wing. Fly from flower to flower, pretty butterfly.” My hips are very tight. My butterfly crashed.

He then says “Close your eyes and put your fingers on your ears then make a noise like a Bumblebee. Buzzzzzzzzz!” I follow his instructions. After a few buzzzzzzes I realize the flaw in the plan. Having my fingers in my ears and my eyes closed mean I can’t see or hear when to stop. I open one eye. Everyone else is watching me. I hope I wasn’t the only one doing the exercise!

He says we will finish off by chanting with “ohm” five times. He only does four. His mobile phone goes off and he has to answer it.

He ends by saying “Nothing is permanent.” I think to myself “Nothing is permanent unless its his phone being switched on.”

India – Queuing part 2 (Iain)

I’ve wanted to visit the temple of Kali since reading a novel about a man drawn to Kolkata to search for a poet but he becomes embroiled in the dark heart of the city. Its called Songs of Kali and has a lot of references to the temple. The city sounded wild and dangerous so I was intrigued to see it for myself!

The temple was only 9km from the hotel but, due to the terrible Kolkata traffic, this is a one hour 20 minutes cab ride.

As I walked towards the temple I could only see one sign. It said “This Way Inside” with an arrow quite clearly showing the way. I followed it and, unsurprisingly (see previous post about queuing) I had to join a large queue.

At this point a few Indians pointed out I had a bag and I won’t get in with one. I said it’s okay, I’ll put them into the official bag office.

After twenty minutes of queuing I got to the entrance. At this point some old Indian ladies spotted me and choose to skip the whole line and come in by my side. Assuming I’d be too ignorant a foreigner to complain.

This nearly started a riot as the Indians behind screamed abuse at the little old ladies.

You would think such a holy place would be immune to people skipping ahead or shouting abuse.

As soon as I got in, I walked to what I assumed was the bag office. It was the bag office. The back of it. I spotted a man and asked him to take the bag. He said no. Go to the front of the office. This meant I had to go back out! My wife said she’d wait so I wouldn’t need to join the line again.

I went out and, what a surprise, there was another queue. This time to put in bags. Also unsurprisingly a little old lady used me as cover to jump the queue so she could put her bag in.

“At last I can get in,” I thought. I turned to go back to the line but I spotted my wife. She was no longer waiting. She was now at the bag office. She forgot she had a bag. So we queued again!

This time a little old lady pushed her son ahead of me. Technically she didn’t skip the queue. He did it for her.

After dropping the second bag we returned and rejoined the original line. It moved quite quickly. Before we knew it we were inside the temple where ….can you guess what happened next? Yes – we had a queue but not just one. We had a choice of three queues. Each seemed to head to different internal parts of the temple.

We decided to not bother with them and walked around admiring the outside of the building instead before leaving to join a queue to get our bags back.

I think instead of calling the book Songs of Kali, it should have been called Queues of Kali.

India – Kolkata 5k (Iain)

One of my aims in India is to run 5km in every place I visit. Kolkata was tricky because the roads are very busy and the pavement is so crowded there is very little room to walk, let alone run.

Thankfully my hotel was near a park within jogging distance of the Victoria memorial.

I headed out early before the traffic got bad and before the pavements became too busy.

As I jogged we passed signs for the half marathon and full marathon. I’d like to know how this was done as there wasn’t any free space for a 100m race let alone a long distance event. I didn’t see any other joggers out so I’ve no idea how people train for the race.

The park was full of cricket matches which meant I had to watch carefully for flying cricket balls.

The route around the memorial was a mile. I did it clockwise and anti-clockwise to add enough distance to get to 5k

Ease of running score – 5/10 (but only if I run before 8am)

  *   I also had to continuously watch my footing even on the pavements as the surface is very uneven

Sights 9/10
– the park is full of interesting things. Cricket/football/herds of goats…

India – Yoga in Kolkata (Iain)

The yoga instructor was a very tall youthful looking man of 61 years of age. His babyish features and height weren’t the most striking thing about his appearance. That was his dyed bright orange hair. Very similar in color to Iru Bru. I immediately nicknamed him Irn Guru.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first Indian yoga class. He seemed quite chilled out, I thought it might be very relaxed. I was wrong

He started off by getting us to raise our right arms above our heads before bringing them back down.

“One!” He barked.

“Repeat!” He hollered.

I put my right arm back up and then took it down.

“Two !” He shouted.

I repeated the action.

“Three!” He screamed.

This continued until he got to ten. I hoped it was over but he said “Now do the left arm”

One! Two! Etc

This militarist countdown continued for every pose except one of the later ones. He made me contract my stomach muscle whilst whooping out air from my mouth. It sounds quite easy but it’s actually quite hard. I looked forward to him reaching ten but he didn’t stop. He kept going pass twenty then thirty then forty before, thankfully, stopping at fifty.

He then shouted, “shivasna” and we all got a rest. It only lasted 30 seconds before he screamed “do it again!”

By this point I was tired, hot and sweaty. He must have noticed as he gave us all a two minutes meditation break. I mediated about how sore my stomach muscles were.

After the class I asked him what type of yoga it was. His reply: “easy yoga.”

If that was easy, I’d hate to see his hard class.

Irn Guru

India – How To Be A Shop Keeper (Iain)

Open shop and wait for a foreigner to pass by. Engage them in conversation

“Hello”

You will probably be ignored. Don’t let this out you off.

“Hello, my friend”

You might get a look back. Press ahead with a question.

“Where are you from?”

If they answer your onto a winner. Reel them in!

Say “I love <wherever your from>”

Tell them about a random friend/relative who’s been there.

“How long you been in Kolkata?”

They are now susceptible to your charm. Time to make money.

“You must come to my shop!”

“I want you to see my shop!”

“Not to buy. Just to see”

“It’ll make me so happy if you just see my shop”

Once they get in your shop lead them upstairs so it’s harder for them to get away. Offer them tea. They are more likely to buy if you keep them there for a while

I realized all this as I sat upstairs in a shop trying to work out how to leave!

It was tricky as there were two men. One doing the selling and one confidently blocking the stairs. The one doing the selling wanted to sell us a very expensive statue of Ganesh the elephant god. My wife said she’d buy one but only if it was tiny and cheap.
He showed us a small wooden Ganesh. “A great piece. Perfect for the home. It’ll make you money so it’ll easily pay for itself – you can’t lose!” he claimed.

Then the top of Ganesh’s head fell off.

Quick as a flash, the man said, “that is a feature. You can use it to put an umbrella on him!”

“It’s broken!”

“No he’s now an umbrella holder. Very useful feature.”

“It’s broken. Show me another one.”

He gets another. The top doesn’t fall off.

I ask why this one doesn’t have the umbrella feature.

“It does. You just have to pull his head hard.”

“You mean break it?”

His friend says “yes”.

I admired the friend’s entrepreneurial spirit but both of them realized they’d been rumbled at that point!

India & Queuing (Iain)

The British ruled India for 200 years. The British love queuing so, unsurprisingly, do Indians. Queues started before I even arrived in the country. As the plane descended, just before it touched down, one man got up and got his luggage from the overhead locker.

He wanted to be first off the plane and first into the immigration queue.

I thought how slow can the queue be that you’d risk life and limb to avoid it.

I had an electronic visa which theoretically meant I should get through the queue quickly. Or at least that’s what I thought.

One of of the questions on the form asked me “Are you a tourist? Have you committed a war crime? Are you a criminal?”

I’m no sure how useful these questions are. Surely, if I can answer “yes” to any of those options, I’d also answer yes to “do you lie on forms to get into countries?”

The immigration queue has special needs line for for the elderly/disabled. This is a great idea except the immigration desk is set on a platform. To reach it they have to walk up two steps. Something which is particularly difficult for elderly and disabled people.

That is India in a nutshell. Logical and illogical combined.

It took over an hour to clear immigration despite there only being a handful of passengers but loads of immigration officers. The luggage hadn’t arrived so I joined the luggage queue. I was starting to see why the man on the plane got up early.

My wife’s luggage arrived quickly. “Result. Mine must be out soon too,” I thought. I was wrong. 30 minutes passed and my luggage still hadn’t arrived. Then the luggage conveyor belt stopped. I took this as a hint that my luggage might not have made it…

Thankfully after complaining to an airline employee my luggage was found. They must have turned the plane upside down and shook it to see if any luggage fell out.

That wasn’t the last of the queuing. We then had to wait in a very long queue for a prepaid taxi. By the time we left the airport we’d spent more time here than the time it took to fly from Dubai to Kolkata

Welcome to India…. join the queue.

Films of the Year 2018 (Iain)

Stornoway (where I grew up) had a small one-screen cinema. The first film I saw there was E.T.  I think I was 5 years old. I remember a man in a ticket booth took the money for the film from my Mum before handing me a small bit of paper that had “Admit one” written on it. 

I then gave that ticket to another man who ripped it in to two half’s. He kept one half. I then handed my remaining half to another man as I entered the screening room. All three transactions occurred in a single corridor that couldn’t have been more than 5 meters long.

I clearly remember this because even back then, with my limited knowledge of the world, I thought to myself – this is really inefficient. The first man could have done all three of these jobs. 

The cinema closed down shortly after this. Probably due to high staffing costs.

I don’t think this year has been a classic year for films. I can count on one hand the number of films I saw that were truly great so I wont list my top films of the year as there’s not enough. Instead I present my list of”things I noticed at the cinema that deserve a mention” I need to work on a better name for my list.

Best Stunt that deserves a mention

The Mission Impossible films aren’t films. They are potential crime scene recordings. Each one records an attempt on Tom Cruise’s life. From getting Tom to free-climb rock faces in MI2 to getting Tom to hang off aircraft in MI5 each film ups the ante in trying to kill off TC.

MI: Fallout wins this award for its closing action sequence – Tom Cruise hangs off an aircraft and then hangs off a rock face whilst a nuclear bomb threatens to go off. It’s a superbly filmed and choreographed sequence, which made me fear Tom would not make it out alive to be able to do MI7.

If the world was ever to end in a nuclear Armageddon, the only things that would survive are Cockroaches and Tom Cruise.

Scariest real life cinema Incident that deserves a mention

Whilst watching A Quiet Place I had to ask a woman to stop talking over the film. It’s afilm about people who get killed for making a noise. She could have get me  killed !!!!

The film that I think deserves a mention but lots of people hate

I loved the Han Solo Star Wars movie but afterwards the guy I saw it with said “I hated every f’ing second of it!” I think it’s fair to say reviews were mixed.

The film I think doesn’t deserve a mention but lots of people love

Black Panther has a 97% rating on rotten tomatoes. I must have seen a different film because the pantherI watched was boring! It should be called Bland Panther.

The cinema display that deserves a mention 

Spiderman and Ironman look ok but then someone at Cineworld must have said “We need a female Marvel character for our display but we don’t have an official Marvel model we can use. Lets make one! How can difficult can it be?”

Its very difficult. It looks like a the hulk in drag.

The film that most deserves a mention

There is only one film that came to mind when I thought about a film of the year. Its not the best made film of the year – in fact, it looks very cheap in places. Its not the best written film of the year – some of it makes no sense what so ever. Its not the best acted film of the year – the lead actor is notoriously hammy. Its not the best directed film of the year – its overlong with scenes that add nothing to the story BUT its the only film I saw this year which made me think “what the fuck did I just watch???” 

Its also the only film I saw that would only work when viewed at a cinema because it needs to overpower you with its visuals and sound. 

The film is Mandy. A film its best to know nothing about before viewing. Just be aware that its going to be a head fuck of sound, visuals and performance. I still have no idea after viewing it what it was I saw but I’m glad I did.