A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: scotsman

Pushkar - India

Set by a lake and ringed by forest covered mountains, Pushkar is temple town of the highest order. Holy men, priests and cows meander through hot, dusty streets filled with touts and hippy trail tourists. Holy petals are offered up for the soul and marijuana for the mind. Alcohol is officially forbidden, as are kissing and eggs, but it's possible to get your hands on a beer in some places and, as we all know, where there is alcohol there's kissing...

Eggs however, are most definitely off the menu as the local council plug the chickens and employ various other anti-egg measures. The last sentence may not be entirely true but wouldn't it be a better world if it was? What the town elders actually do, is charge unsuspecting tourists a cheeky entry fee. For 5 princely rupees, a limp roadside barrier is hauled up by an underfed pensioner and you are granted access to Hinduism's holiest, and possibly dustiest, city.

Ten rupees lighter, we rolled under the midday sun into town, wound or way down a long dusty, egg-free track peppered with camels and cow shit, and were deposited in the tranquil gardens of the Prem Villas hotel. After a bit of banter with Pawan the manager and a promise to give his pranayam yoga a bash, we dumped our bags and headed to the markets for a wander.

Central Pushkar is a walking heaven compared to other Indian towns. For Indian town planners, the concept of a pavement is as abstract as the smell of unicorn shit. Pushkar however has a small centre where pedestrians have equal rights with the cows, motorbikes and scooters. We spent an hour in amongst the colourful stalls and stores selling everything from books to banana lhassis, before we found a little rooftop restaurant with a view over the lake. It was just what the travel doctor ordered and when we hit the streets again it was with full stomachs and a springy pedestrian step.

But Pushkar is also a place where you shouldn't get too ahead of yourself. Just because your feeling spritely, it doesn't mean everyone else is. A holy four-legged beef steak decided to teach me this when I failed to move out of his way with enough haste. Instead of politely mooing me out of the way, Billy Beef thought it best to headbutt me into a doorway before continuing with his holy plodding. No damage done but a valuable lesson learnt, never disturb the path of holy beef.

We spent what was left of the day, relaxing in the cow-free hotel garden and quaffing banana lhassis in the late afternoon heat. The next day continued in pretty much the same fashion but with occasional blasts of air-conditioning as the electricity connection was reestablished for brief 20 minute periods. It was lazyness personified but by sunset we were getting restless.

Thus, we hopped into the car just as the sky was turning a pinky orange and headed to an "English Wine Shop" (note: wine not sold) on the outskirts of town to buy some forbidden beers. Once laden with sweaty bottles of Kingfisher, we made tracks for the Pushkar Palace rooftop restaurant. There, we feasted on chapati, poppadoms, curry and beer and 5 hours later my backside was firmly planted upon the porcelain throne, with a bucket in front of me, as I experienced my first, violently sudden, case of Delhi belly. I won't go into detail but lets just say I didn't even have time to look for the lightswitch.

Eight o'clock the following morning, Lana, myself and a grumbling stomach were given a crash course in "pranayam," i.e. an "oooing" and "aaahhhhing" breathing thing. It's something between meditation and yoga and can apparantley cure thousands of diseases and prevent malaria or dengue fever. Under normal circumstances I would have been a keen listener but a nervousness brought about by the slightest abdominal pressure meant that angry stomach took all my attention.

We checked out of the Pushkar hotel that morning, but not before Lana had painted some flowers on the wall at reception and I'd packed the bags, ensuring the toilet paper was sitting ready in my pocket... It was a long road to Udaipur...

www.saharanscot.blogspot.com

Posted by scotsman 22:35 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Bollywood Experience

"It is just like sitting in a big cake..." That was the clinching sentence that made me book tickets for "Dabangg" in Jaipur's "Cake Cinema." I just hoped Lucky, our driver, didn't mean Dundee cake.

Bollywood produces hundreds of films each year and draws in regular cinema audiences numbering millions. Most of the films follow the same love, violence, family problems, sing and dance genre in order to satisfy the majority of a 1.1 billion viewer market and in Jaipur, I began my Bollywood education with a standard Hindi comedy called "Dabangg."

Dabangg roughly translated is something like undefeatable, which made sense considering the main character, a cross between a beefed-up, Indian Freddy Mercury and the policeman from The Village People, was largely invincible. The main man also inspired whoops and cheers from the cinema audience when he first came onto the screen, including one guy next to me who let out a bizarre Mohican war cry to show his approval of the characters appearance.

I suppose any character who can bust the Bollywood dance moves, harmonise the Hindi hymns, battle with the bad guys matrix style, dodge bullets, laugh after being stabbed and rip off his shirt with his expanding hulk-esque muscles at the sight of his dead mothers inhaler, deserves to be cheered and applauded when he blesses the screen.

He was also able to woo any lady he thought worthy of his charms and was a perfect gentleman when, after falling through a roof into a bedroom, he was faced with a young damsel with her collarbones exposed. It's possible that lesser men feel certain urges at the sight of such a fine neckline, but not Mr Dabangg. His finest party piece however, which would only be possible in India, was to kill the main bad guy using tractor exhaust fumes. A moment of pure genius…

In Bollywood films there's also often an "item song." This song has absolutely nothing to do with the film and is instead just a chance for a bit of a singalong and for the men in the audience to continue the whooping and cheering as a sexy Bollyood bellydancer belts out a Hindi classic to the beats.

But despite the howling males, Indian cinema is a place for the whole family. There were grannies, toddlers, new born babies and even a couple of birds in the expansive auditorium enjoying the hero-led tale. And, halfway through the 3-hour odyssey, a 20 minute interval is provided where 500 numb bums can stock up on popcorn, coke, samosas and chai (Indian masala tea). Thus everyone is catered for.
As for the inside cake aspect, the cinema had an ornate 1920's feel about it, although the carpets may have been there since the British Raj, and the lighting was either a soft green or yellow which, I suppose, would be Indian cakey. We would probably be classified as the topping as, yet again, our white skinned glamour status meant that we were filmed by locals with their phones. And on that note, if the person who filmed me dribbling coke down my chin is reading this, I would like to see that video...

www.saharanscot.blogspot.com

Posted by scotsman 02:40 Archived in India Tagged india bollywood Comments (0)

India Preparation - Vaccinations

Hepatitis? Check. A & B? Check. Tetanus & Diptheria? Check. Typhus? Check. Pneumokokken? Check...wait, pneumo what?

A couple of weeks ago a friendly, smiling German doctor took great pleasure in ramming a giant pneumokokken filled vaccination into my arm, why? Because I told her I hadn't had one before. Why did I say this? Because I didn't know what it was.

Rather than admit ignorance to the plight of those suffering from pneumokokososity, I took another needle. Some time later after the pain disappeared, I thought it best to find out what I was now immune to.

An internet translation of the German word kokken was required. I think it would be fair to say that I'm not the only English speaker who, when faced with a word like kokken, would be curious to find out which part of the anatomy is now vaccinated. Alas, kokken translates in English as coccobacilli.

With this new found fact, I surmised that I might now be vaccinated against some form of Italian pasta, a variety not sold in Lidl. Wikipedia was needed.

This is what I found,

Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, is gram-positive, alpha-hemolytic, bile-soluble aerotolerant anaerobe and a member of the genus Streptococcus. A significant human pathogenic bacterium, S. pneumoniae was recognized as a major cause of pneumonia in the late 19th century and is the subject of many humoral immunity studies....

The last words... Humoral immunity... That's chilling. Did a German doctor immunise me against humor, albeit only American humour with that spelling? Not possible, although Germans are famous for not having a sense of humour so it would make sense... Hmmmm...

In the end, I still couldn't find out exactly what I was vaccinated against. But, at least now I can sleep soundly at night knowing the word Kokken won't be on my gravestone...

Posted by scotsman 12:48 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

An Unexpected Toilet Stop

A few weeks ago I found myself stuck in 20km's worth of Autobahn traffic performing some unusual crossed legged clutch manoeuvres. Morning coffee and battering rain had put into action every possible bodily function on my brain's „don't piss yourself“ list and left me wishing Renault had installed an automobile equivalent of a bedpan. Alas, they hadn't, they don't and likely never will. As such, my bladder drove me onto the hard shoulder, past a kilometre worth of patient, cursing German drivers and off the Autobahn in the direction of Kaltenkirchen, north of Hamburg. I soon found myself on a country road and began desperately looking for a suitable petrol station, cafe or bush where I could relieve nature's call. A sign appeared to my left, „KZ Gedenkstätte.“ As a former history student and someone bursting for a piss, a concentration camp memorial seemed like a perfect place to stop.

I parked the car in the waterlogged carpark. The rain had stopped and after an hour stuck in traffic, the crisp, clean air was a welcome relief. Hopping over puddles, I made my way towards a large portakabin with an open door. Just before entering, I was stopped in my tracks by a overly enthusiatic „Hallo!“ from a man off to the right. I matched his enthusiasm with my urgent request for a toilet, whereby he escorted me to a cupboard inside the portakabin. There was a moment of confusion as he switched on the light and leaflet laden shelves came into view. Was my German pronounciation really that bad? However, after fumbling with a previously unseen handle, a side door opened into a small WC and I was allowed my moment of relief...

Rejuvenated, I stumbled past the boxes in the cupboard, through another door and into a small exhibition room detailing the history of the camp. The man with the enthusiastic Hallo was enthusiastically awaiting me. As the sole visitor and user of his not so public toilet, I felt an obligation, despite my bad German, to try and speak to him. It turned out to be a good decision. He explained that the camp had only been operational for the final 9 months of the war, having originally been established to provide a workforce for a nearby airfield. The original runway was too short for the newly developed jet fighters and so a supply of free labour was needed. The SS duely obliged and prisoners were sent from the Neuengamme camp south of Hamburg. He explained that the exact number of prisoners to pass through the camp was difficult to pinpoint but that between 500 to 700 lost there lives there. Largely Russians, Poles & French, they died of hunger, disease and exhaustion. However, in Holocaust terms, Kaltenkirchen is a small fish in a big pond.

After politely pretending to read the German language information boards, I headed out to see the remains of the camp itself. Before the war, Kaltenkirchen had seen the Nazi's take 95% of the vote and the area was a National Socialist hotspot. As such, the populace didn't take too much interest in the camp during the war and especially not afterwards. In the 1970's it was completely torn down, nature was given free reign and the memories were buried away. In spite of this this I learnt from Herr Enthusiasm that an association is working to remember to various Holocaust sites around Schleswig Holstein including Ladelund, Husum and Ahrensbök.

The Kaltenkirchen result, white fencing outlines where the barracks once stood and towering pine trees cover the whole camp. I found myself being guided from tree to tree by information plaques marking areas where barracks, officers quarters and solitary confinement once were. The whole camp I covered in less than 10 minutes before I ended up in what was the parade ground. Here, daily role calls were held, sometimes hours long in wind, rain, cold and snow. A punishing daily ordeal for undernourished and inadequately dressed prisoners. Now, the only thing standing is a single stone pillar. Upon which, the words of a poem spiral round forcing several loops of the stone in order to read the entirety. I gave up trying to translate after the 5th loop and instead made my way back to the car with a spinning head.

I negotiated the puddles again and got back behind the wheel. I put the radio on but couldn't listen to it. My head was awash with thoughts and still twirling from pillar. I couldn't drive away. Instead I sat motionless in the car in a slight state of shock. All I'd wanted was a toilet...

Ashes of Birkenau, Stephan Hermlin (The Poem on the Turning Stone)

Die an die Hoffnung glauben, Sehen die Birken grün,
Wenn die Schatten der Tauben Über die Asche fliehn:
Lied des Todes, verklungen,
Das jäh dem Leben gleicht:
Schwer wie Erinnerungen
Und wie Vergessen leicht

Posted by scotsman 02:23 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Hamvegas

With a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.08 - 0.15%, the body is scientifically in a "risky state." Speech is slurred, balance and coordination impaired, reflexes slowed, emotions are unstable and there's a good chance you'll be making your own modern art in a toilet pan. Between 0.15% - 0.30%, a "high risk state," help is required walking, breathing is laboured, memory becomes blurred and, perhaps most alarmingly, loss of bladder control. At this point you should really be sitting out the next round. In fact at this point someone should be tucking you into bed and strategically placing a basin.

The following day is never pretty. Headache, weakness, light sensitivity, difficulty sleeping, all classic hangover symptoms. Between 25-30% of all people are allegedly resistant to hangovers, but for the majority of us, it means suffering. Alcohol depletes vital nutrients in the body, leaving us craving certain foods the next day. Bacon, eggs or anything protein rich normally on the menu.

The drunk in front of me, a classic example of the "risky state," has decided against the bacon and opted instead for a single carrot. He stands in line, swaying slightly, the stubbly vegetable cradled in his palm. His friend, recently denied the four beers he wanted, waits at the kiosk's door. The reason for this denial? He only has 10 cents. Carrot man is next to be served, he stumbles forward before coming to a halt by the shop counter. The exasperated female shop assistant weighs the vegetable and demands 14 cents. An uneasy pause ensues. Lines of concentration slowly appear across his face before he finally slurs something resembling the word "expensive".

It's 5.30am in Hamburg's St Pauli district and the shop assistant's jaw clenches slowly in frustration. Carrot man fails to clock this and instead resumes his silent concentration. What feels like a small eternity passes before he finally announces his decision with a lurch to the left and stumbling exit from the kiosk, devoid of carrot. Whether he was looking for a late night snack or breakfast is unclear. At this time in the morning, in this place, his night could be at an end or it might be just beginning.

Gro_e_Frei..perbahn.jpg

St Pauli, dominated by the mile long Reeperbahn, is Hamburg's 24 hour district of sex, drugs, alcohol and any other vice you may be looking for, carrots included. Indeed if the city were personified by St Pauli then Hamburg would be an alcoholic nymphomaniac of the highest order. The district boasts enough bars to keep even the hardiest drinkers happy 24 hours a day. A simple Yellow Pages search immediately provides 140 possible venues of intoxication. A healthy number for an area of only one square mile. In addition to this, drunkards spoilt for choice are also pestered by hawkers for peep shows, sex shows, strip bars and even Amsterdam style "window shopping." The infamous Herbert Strasse, from which respectable ladies are forbidden, a replica of Amsterdam's red light district where lingerie clad mistresses coo seductively at passing males. All in the name of business.

However St Pauli, or The Kiez as it's known locally, also offers something prevalent throughout Hamburg, contrast. In spite of the degeneracy, the Reeperbahn and surrounding streets are home to some of Hamburg's finest theatres. The Imperial, the Schmidt and the St Pauli theatres offer everything from Sherlock Holmes to modern German performances. The TUI opera house also offers regular shows and for a taste of something bigger, a boat ride across the Elbe from St Pauli leads to the "Theatre in the Harbour," currently home to The Lion King. St Pauli is also sprinkled with a number of museums and numerous of live music venues, attracting artists from across the globe. The Docks, Große Freiheit 36 and perhaps most intriguingly Übel & Gefährlich, housed in a giant second world war concrete air raid bunker, provide regular opportunities to enjoy international musical talent.

Consequently, holidaying German families often find themselves caught between cultural attractions on the mile of sin. Inadvertently perusing sex shop windows filled with toys, gadgets, gizmos, plastic things, shiny things and everything one might possibly need for a night when there's nothing on TV. In fact the best time to appreciate this antithesis is during the city's Harbour Birthday celebrations, held annually in May. As the streets fill with bumbags, SLRs and guidebooks, the ladies of the night branch out from Herbert Strasse and the scene is suddenly awash with enough cleavage to make even Hugh Heffner blush.

Of course Hamburg's sex industry, and H&M's lycra sales, would be far from what they are today had it not been for generations of frisky sailors coming into port... Hamburg's harbour is the life blood of not only St Pauli, but the entire city. It's the pumping heart where Hamburg's wealth originated and upon which it's still largely dependant. Despite being over one hundred kilometres from the coast, Hamburg boasts the 3rd largest port in Europe and in 2008 handled over 9.5 million containers, creating tens of millions of euros worth of revenue for the city. Thus the annual birthday bash is more than merited. Although it's not only international trade that fills the Hanseatic coffers along the Elbe. Boat tours and souvenir shops selling sailor titbits abound along the Landungsbrücken in an attempt to give tourists a taste of being a salty seadog. It also offers an excellent vantage point to view the harbour at work and, as such, thousands of tourist cameras are drawn here every year. One plus point of this, from a Hamburgers perspective, is that the rest of city's plentiful waterside spots are left largely to the locals.

Harbour Night

Harbour Night

In fact a stones throw from the harbour cruises are a couple of Hamburg's best summertime secrets. Hamburg City Beach Club or Strand Pauli Beach Club embody that typical Hamburg theme of compatible incompatibility. A brown, sluggish, ugly river combined with the infrastructure demanded by an international port, doesn't exactly sound like an ideal location for a beach club. Soft white sand under bare feet, hammocks and bean bags strewn around under thatched beach umbrellas, house lounge music creating a soft, encompassing atmosphere, brown bodies leaning against a bar and at the same time a China Shipping container vessel slipping past in the background. It shouldn't work but somehow, in Hamburg, it does.

In fact the love of being near water is undeniably a constant throughout the city. From the beach bars on the banks of the Elbe to waterside cafes in the leafy districts around the city's much loved Außenalster lake, Hamburgers make a dash for the water at any given chance. Possibly with this in mind, it was decided in 1997 that the time had come to build some new waterfront property for the city's fine citizens. In addition to this, some public parks, squares, promenades, 10km of new waterfront, cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, supermarkets, a new underground rail connection, a cruise ship terminal and to top it all off a new philharmonic orchestra hall, all on the banks of the Elbe. The new Hafenstadt, Harbour City, is the largest inner city building project in Europe and at a cost of approximately €7 billion will increase the city centre by around 40% and create 40,000 jobs in the process. A daring project no doubt and not without it's critics. With the orchestra hall alone running approximately three times over the intial €75 million budget, with two years of construction remaining, Hamburgers are left questioning where the money will come from.

In spite of this, of city's 1.7 million inhabitants, the vast majority would willingly admit to dreaming of a house by the Elbe or the Alster lake. Those who don't are most likely to come from the city's bar and cafe laden alternative Sternschanze district. If St Pauli is Hamburg's nether regions, then the Schanze, is the city's warm bosom. Still a little cheeky with the chance of some fun but without getting too dirty. And yet again, contrast is ever present.

On a hot, lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon whilst relaxing with a beer outside one of Schulterblatt's many bars and cafes, you can watch the world go by. Hippies, hobos and the too cool for school crowd, all mingling happily and peacefully together. Browsing cafe menus or pondering over shisha pipes, kitsch t-shirts and art nouveau paintings in shop windows. A scene of urban tranquillity. Yet slowly and gradually the soft bass pumping from the cafes is replaced by a wailing noise. It gets louder and closer, allowing itself to be distinguished as a siren. But it's not alone, there's more than one. Suddenly, with screeching tyres, four police vans turn into the street and come to a stop. The back doors burst open and a stream of riot police pour out. The reason? Nobody is sure. Their target? The urine drenched, decaying edifice of the Rote Flora. The Schanze's "Autonomous, Occupied Culture Centre," specialises in social movements, political pressure and a couple of cafes as a sideline. As such, it's Hamburg's alternative heartland, and thus a quiet Sunday afternoon can swiftly turn into a street battle between Lefties and the local Polizei.

Rote_Flora..schanze.jpg

Although, despite the occasional riot, Hamburg is generally a safe and trouble free city. In fact, when asking any locals about dangers in their city, they tend to struggle for an answer before opting for drunkards on the Reeperbahn. In reality however, Hamburg's mile of sin is as dangerous as Kofi Annan on marijuana. Somehow Hamburg has avoided that almost automatic step from alcohol to violence. How? Perhaps the sex. Or maybe it's the attitude of tolerance Hamburg has nurtured. The acceptance of contrasts, black or white, straight or gay, ugly or beautiful, it doesn't matter, you're in Hamburg.

So whether you're looking for alcoholic adventures, theatres, museums, protests or a political chat with a transvestite, there's a good chance you'll find it in Hamburg. And after all, 14 cents for a single carrot isn't so expensive.

Alster.jpg

Posted by scotsman 13:51 Archived in Germany Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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