Sunday, 31 May 2009

India Travel Month (begins tomorrow)



When I went to North East India this month, it was as if the skank of life had been scrubbed from my eyes. On two fronts, I felt revitalised and refreshed and far more optimistic about my 29th year on this planet, even though the events leading up to birthday 28 last year were so much more optimistic.

While traveling in India, I may not have blogged online, but I was writing like a madman. Without the distractions of computers, filming or meeting up with people, I was left to my own thoughts and devices and experienced the surroundings with my own eagle sensitivity. Part log, part fiction, my little red book and myself were inseparable during the trip. Give me a writing implement, something to write on and a lack of distractions, and I will write. Prodigiously. It is what comes naturally to me, as does eating or drinking. It is a need for me to carry out, and I feel lucky that I am able to do this.

But anyway, why the month long blog about India, when I was only there for three weeks? Well, firstly, I want to share the experience of India, particularly North East India. This is a part of the world that few outsiders penetrate, mainly due to its inaccessibility (the farce of partition continues 60 years later). Go on, check out the literature for North East India, it just does not exist. Even for Indians, this is a part of their country that seems remote and detached from the rest of the country. And on visiting this region, expect the unexpected. The nature of the terrain, compounded by its location at the junction of South Asia, South-East Asia and Tibet has made this region rich in terms of culture, wildlife and people. Diversity is the key here and while it may seem farcical that this small area contains a quarter of India's states, on visiting the area, it is easy to see why, such is the breadth of change that occurs in this small region of that vast country.

Secondly, I want to share my travel experiences in general. While I have been blogging my life as 'Mr. Babarouge', the fact is that I have travelled far longer than I have been a film maker. If it was not for films, it may be pretty unlikely that I would be sitting here in London on this sunny day, typing away. It may even be unlikely that I would know how to use a computer, such is my love for the simple in life. In the past ten years, I have seen a fair chunk of the world, particularly Asia. From those first hesitant steps by myself, I have experienced joys that simply cannot be bought. Compared to many of my contemporaries that live here in the UK, I have seen sights, witnessed events and gone through trials that many cannot even imagine. I am also fairly seasoned in the rigors of the road. Luckily my health is pretty good, in fact better when I am out of the UK. I want to share a little of that experience, share the tips, share the farce of traveling as well as share some of the moments that become priceless experiences, long after the memories of a 'large one on the tiles' fade away.

I know that travel is not for everyone, and I realise that many do not have the opportunity to partake in the adventures of globetrotting. But I made a conscious choice when I was young. I threw the life of stability aside and decided to take advantage of a remarkably good passport in order to see more of humanity. To paraphrase from a famous film, I chose not to choose life. You may or may not agree with my choice, you may think me immature (and hell, I am - the mind of a kid, still!) but for me, personally, when I look back on what I have done so far, it has not been the material wealth that has satisfied me, nor has it been the academic or the career that has inspired me. What has kept me thriving, is doing what I wanted to do, personally. In terms of cash, I am scuppered. But in terms of living, it gives me an energy that exceeds that of many of my contemporaries and keeps driving me forward in what I want from my life.

Food for the soul, thoughts for the mind and practicalities for the traveller as well as some great pics from a beautiful country. All through June, here on 'El Director's Blog'.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Sri Lanka War - Endgame or just the beginning?

There really isn't much to say about it. On the one hand, I am ecstatic that the LTTE is finished as an organisation, but the cost to civilian lives puts Sri Lanka on par with Rawanda in the 1990's and today's Sudan as one of the most repulsive governments on the planet. No thanks to support by the governments of its neighboring countries and the incompetence of the UN. Thank God I do not have to live in that junta.

The American's may bomb blast civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, but compared to the Sri Lankan army, they are angels.

Now that the military have won, are they going to give up all that power and money? I don't think so...

Will the last person left in Sri Lanka please turn off the lights?

Friday, 29 May 2009

Entering the UK

To be honest, we are a bit of a pathetic little island. Now the queue to enter UK via passport control at Heathrow is shockingly long, even for us lucky EU Nationals. Why? So they can take a more detailed check of our passports and ask us details about our 'travels' so keep your receipts handy and do not chuck away those boarding passes. Don't believe me, well next time you enter the country at an airport, check out the purple posters and plasma TV screens that explain the importance of thoroughly checking your travel documents. How pathetic.

I swear the UK is the only place in the world that advertises the fact that it has extended the time that you must wait at immigration for 'our own good'.

To be honest, when you get off a flight, the last thing you need is to be kept in a queue so some moody immigration guard can grill you about your traveling history. Or scrutinise your passport. Over and over again. When I jump off the plane I want to get home as quickly as possible so I can 'sit, shower and shave'. I already have to play roulette with the baggage carrosel to see if my luggage has made it to the LHR before tackling the dread known as TfL, so why the hassle to enter the UK.

I am certain that even the most ardent Daily Mail fan must get fed up at this?

And how come there is now an 'emigration' post from the UK? I am sure that Thatcher scrapped the farce of needing some border official to check your passport as you leave the country in order to save cash (one of her better policies - correct me if I am wrong). I was shocked this time when some bloke with a tie was waiting to see my passport. So how come their introduction? I don't care who is entering the UK, much less if someone is leaving this cloudy, climate-cursed isle.

Want a way to shave some money from the UK's public spending? Then less time at border control is the way forward.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Does El Director love India?

Hell yes! That's the simple answer. For the more complex one then tune in, for all throughout June, this blog will be turned into an Indian fest of fun and frollicks in the world's second largest country (population wise) as well as taking a look at travel in general. Tune in, but for now I need some sleep. A 19 hour transit in Delhi screwed me up. But come Monday, expect a travel spectacular for June, courtesy of my own journeys through North-East India...

Saturday, 9 May 2009

'last minute'

Ok,ay, at the moment it is just before 2pm. I have to leave this house in just over an hour to go on holiday, and I have not packed.

Hmmm...

On the plus side, I have eaten!

To all my readers, I wish you well and I will see you back here at the end of the month!

Until then, you can amuse yourself by following this link to the Caution Wet Paint Blog where there will be semi-regular updates from some of the coolest guys in film making! (myself included)

Ciao!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Crossings of the River Thames 22b: The Hungerford Railway Bridge/Golden Jubilee Bridges (Part 2)

As promised, I have returned to the Hungerford Bridge to follow up on last month's posting on this particular crossing of the River Thames. I think my gushy outpouring on that post is sufficient to show my love for that particular crossing. So without further ado, here are a few more words and pictures on the elegantly named Golden Jubilee Bridges:



The actual pedestrian bits seem to hang off the railway bridge but they are quite sturdily embeded in the riverbed. Unlike its more famous cousin downstream, this particular crossing does not wobble. Even when a train rumbles next to you, there is not even a tiny sway to topple you off your feet.

The current bridge is a combination of three separate structures. The first Hungerford Bridge was a suspension bridge, now immortalised as the iron bridge in Little Dorrit. It was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to carry foot traffic across the water. But then some choo choo trains needed to cross the Thames and so it was taken over by the South Eastern Railway in order to bring the fair citizens of Kent into the heart of the West End. They railway company ripped the suspension bridge off the piers and instead put a girder bridge in its place. However the walkers were not forgotten as footways were placed becide the railway tracks.



Now, anyone who was around in the 1990's will remember how dilapidated the Hungerford Bridge became. In fact, it was plain crap. A bit of an embarrassment in the centre of Europe's largest city, a windswpt walkway that clung to the side of a busy rail route. It was an unpleasant place to cross the river but this was the sorry state of affairs until the decision was made to reconstruct the pedestrian walkways, on both sides of the bridge. This not just improved on the original crossing, but enabled views upstream of Hungerford to the Westminster shore!



And so onto the third structure on this site. Let us add this up now. We have Brunel's original brick piers (opened in 1845), the railway bridge itself (opened in 1864) and the newly constructed pedestrian bridges (opened in 2002). Not often that you can combine three different designs and three different structures onto one bridge, still heavily utilised in the middle of a very busy city. Cue 'funky' shot:



Come on down to London, it's summer and there are plenty of things to do. And while you are in the centre of town, why not venture to th Golden Jubilee Crossings? If you got someone special take him/her over the Hungerford at night. If your with friends, then cross the bridge on the way to somewhere nice. And if you are a tourist, take advantage of the photo opportunities. How many other crossings can give you such a view of the London skyline?

Getting there and away:

The closest bus routes are the 77 and RV1 on the South Bank and the 388 and Nightbus N550 on the North Bank. On the South Bank the nearest station in Waterloo (Underground and Rail). On the north side of the river Embankment provides the nearest tube link right by the steps to the bridge, while Charring Cross (Rail and Underground station) is a few minutes walk away.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The 'Slumdog'

I finally got to see Slumdog Millionaire at the cinema yesterday and yes, I loved it, like many people in Britain. For those reading this blog, it was made by Danny Boyle who is a bloody Don when it comes to film making...

And yes, it was not liked by many in India, but remember one thing. It is not an Indian film. The bulk of the cast may be Indian, but it is a British production and it was made for a European/North American audience, where it did very well. Many may be distasteful because of the language of the film (all in English) but I think it is because the film hits one fact squarely on the head. Poverty. India is an economic miracle but there is still a close to a billion people who will never get to to see a pair of Nike trainers or play with their iPhones let alone be swept away in the hills of Switzerland on a magic carpet. Remember, this is a country that exports food but yet still has people who are suffering from malnutrition. It is a country with problems. Problems that will eventually be cleared up, but something that must come from the people of India themselves.

One day the world will be marching to the beat of the Indian drum. India is going to become the superpower of the world. That does not mean it is a perfect country, and while I will not take anything away from India's economic success (especially when you compare it to the basket case called UK), but it has only affected a small proportion of the population, something that the film highlighted. Don't take it personally, Boyle also highlighted the crappiness of UK society in the 1990's.

One thing I want to show you. Take a look at this picture from the Mumbai Daily blog. Take a look at the description which is probably the best description of Mumbai, from a Mumbanite:

'That is my world - Mumbai - a city full of sharp contrasts. Slums amid buildings. Trees amidst concrete. A result of overcrowding, poverty and success. A city throbbing with opportunities.'

(From the Mumbai Daily Blog).

And that pretty much sums up 'Slumdog'.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

So why Assam?

I have been thinking of travelling to India for a long time. As a regular visitor to Ceylon and having tavelled the length of Pakistan, it would only be a matter of time before I visited South Asia's 'big one'. But 'where' in India was the elusive question. I like two places: deserts and hill country/mountains. In other words, landscapes that are not dominant in the UK or in either Seychelles or Sri Lanka. I also wanted a part of India that was compact enough to fit into three weeks. It is a vast country so traveling across the sub-continent from Mumbai to Chennai would have been unfeasible. And so I focused my attentions on the North-East, a little explored part of the country.

That is a big plus in its advantage, few people have traveled there. Check out the literature for India. There is loads of information about The North West (Rajasthan) Goa, Kashmir, the big cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, and a little bit on the south of India, especially Tamil Nadu. However, there is diddly squat on the seven states that are surrounded by Bangladesh, Burma, China and Bhutan. While most people have heard of the tea estates of Assam, beyond that, there is very little known about the region once outside India. So my sense of curiosity was stimulated by this, a sense of 'where the hell is that?' sprung to mind.

It's culture is completely different to that of the rest of the country, the linguistic diversity is astonishing and the landscape is lush with the monsoon hitting the Himalayan foothills that will dominate my views of the area.

And yes, it is a difficult area to travel in. Four of the seven North Eastern states are closed to independent travelers, only being accessible via tour groups. So that means my visit will be limited to Assam, Meghalaya and if I can reach it, little Tripura. And thanks to the idiots at the Indian visa service, I cannot short cut it across Bangladesh, as they only gave me a single entry visa (there is no way I am queueing up at the Dhaka embassy). Railways have penetrated parts of the North East, but most of my treks will be via the road network; in the monsoon. For those that have not experienced a monsoon, it looks something like this and I am off to the wettest place on Earth. But hey, I want to see this, nature at its most extreme...

So yeah, it is the sense of exploration, of curiosity that draws me to India's North East. To see a little visited part of a vast country. To taste a culturally fascinating part of the world, to witness a climatically wild part of Asia. My curiosity has never got me into trouble before, or has never got me in a pickle that I could not get out of. Relaxing beach holidays are not for me. I enjoy the rough and ready when I go abroad, an assault on the senses rather than a pacification of them. After all, isn't that what life is all about - to capture new experiences? Although we may need it, none of us remembers a good night's sleep. It is those waking moments that keep us alive! And I will be very much awake for those three weeks...

Monday, 4 May 2009

The final week before travel begins...

All right, I admit, I have left before I have even arrived. My mind i on a holiday and boy a holiday well deserved. The actual fact is that this holiday could be a complete cock up, with me coming back with some disease (it happened in 2006 when I returned from Sri Lanka with Chikungunya), a victim of crime or even a victim of bureaucracy. Considering I am going to a country of a billion souls, that is pretty likely. But saying that, all travel is a risk. Walking out of your own front door is risky and to be honest, I could do with a dose of adventure and the unknown. Really, I have no one to meet, no knowledge of what lies before me apart from a slither of guide book and not much else in the way of protection...

Traveling to India marks a big frontier for me in many ways. As I have already mentioned it takes me to a billionaire country, the second I have travelled to after China and now I could say that in theory I have seen a third of humanity. It also means I have covered (in theory) a big chunk of Asia adding Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka to that list, amongst others. Along with the USA I have now visited the four nations on Earth that contain nearly forty percent of the world's people, quite a feat for a guy who is still in his twenties...

Oh, and I am celebrating my birthday in India. On purpose. Whenever I am in the UK, I always seem to work on my birthday. In fact since 2002, I have worked on every birthday and so I have taken the executive decision to spend my second birthday out of the UK and in a different land.

So why North East India, why Assam? Why not Mumbai or Delhi. Beautiful Kerala, the fun of Goa or even the cool foothills of Shimla. In fact, why choose the rainiest place on Earth at the beginning of the monsoon season?

Ah, I think I will answer that question tomorrow...

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Ups and Downs

What the hell happened to this week? One minute it was April, the next it was may and already a third of the year had vanished up in smoke! As always, things seem to be running away, time seems to be slipping, one heartbeat at a time and there is nothing I can do about it.

Sometimes I feel happy, at other times I feel sad. This is one of those days. A conflict of emotions. At times frustrated with myself, but at other times, joyous and proud. I am not quite sure how to make things go forward and at the same time thing are moving apace.

I must admit, part of me is looking forward to this holiday, but other things are praying on my mind. Some filled with happiness others not so good. Oh well, there is nothing to do but face the future!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Body Talk

Feet, stinky you may be, large you may be, but thank you for bearing the weight of this gargantuan body.

Legs, precious legs. Always striding, never failing. Keep on carrying me until the end of my days.

Knees. Knobbly. But I like them.

Crotch. Hehe, you have ruled my decisions for far too long!

Butt. I sit on you far too much, sometimes at work, sometimes on the sofa. But you are particularly firm ;)

Tummy. Mmm, I spend too much time succumbing to your desires. A foodie I am, but you give me a great deal of pleasure.

Belly Button. Thank you for being an 'inny'.

Chest. String, always breathing. The home of my lungs and the keeper of my heart. Thank you for taking the knocks of life in your stride, but man you are susceptible to sickness. Will you be the cause of my undoing?

Neck. Long and twisty, you are useful for my oversized head!

Left arm - thank you for being my contact with the world!

Right arm, thank you for allowing me to trick the world!

Left hand. Five digits, that is all you are, but without you my life would be over. Humanity may view you with suspicion, but you may well be my favourite appendage. Expression of my mind and emotions, you will be, until my dying day, my best friend and contact with the outside world.

Right hand. Sometimes you may be useless, but you help me adapt to the rest of humanity and make me realise that I am not an island in this world.

Shoulders. You're good for barging people out of the way, but can also support the heads of many.

Head. Well, you have my brain, and although over ruled by my more primal body parts, have not done too badly.