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October 2009

 

 

 

 

In summary

 

India was amazing. It was just as I had been told, read, seen on TV and so on but quite different to what I expected; a physical experience (noise, reactions of and interactions with people, smells and other sensations) rather than an intellectual appreciation.

 

Photo: Elephant in the Street
In the street in Udaipur

 

I've been all over Europe, N America, the UAE, China, Morocco, Turkey, Malta, NZ, PNG and various pacific islands but of these only Morocco is remotely like India in terms of poverty (over 20%), population growth (largest country in the world within 20 years – and already so by a good margin if you take in pre 1947 India) terrible treatment of women (in some areas and castes) and environmental destruction.

The main differences are that while the environment is even more degraded, Morocco lacks cows and deliberately (uniformly) maimed beggars; and is cleaner, more honest with strangers and better organised - due to Islam? In Rajasthan, where you still hear 'the call to prayer'. India is perceptibly better organised (but not much cleaner).

 

Photo: Morocco
In the Souk Marrakech Morocco

Unlike Morocco, where the food (even from street stalls) is excellent; the common person India has possibly the worst food in the world - only chicken or 'mutton' or vegetable stew (that all look much the same) and rice - covered by the excessive use of chilli and 'curry' (whatever that contains). As I am quite allergic to chilli I had to be very careful and thus largely avoided the ‘delhi belly’ suffered by others. But there are fresh fruit and vegetables (not bad) for those who can afford them and commercial drinks and confectionery and cigarettes are very cheap.

Most hotels for the higher castes and tourists have a good continental breakfast and a reasonable and relatively inexpensive restaurant serving westernised dishes, so I didn’t starve.

A few international restaurants can be found in Mumbai or New Delhi (eg serving venison, duck, lobster, quail, shellfish, edible fish etc) but then you pay much the same price as here for the food; and a lot more for the wine. These are not for the average Indian. We had my birthday dinner at Indigo (duck, quail and even beef!); very nice but expensive.

There are also a few physical places and districts more or less reserved for the Indian upper classes, business or government (like parts of Mumbai, New Delhi and Shimla) where the public spaces are relatively clean and well run - if a little shabby up close (Katoombaesque) where the Indian food is either less (or more?) authentic; but edible.

Except for recent concrete and glass constructions in business areas (commercial offices and hotels) and infrastructure in economic growth areas (like the Delhi Metro and airports) most substantial structures (public buildings, palaces, forts, monuments etc) are generally left over from the Raj or even the Moguls (like the Taj Mahal) and now sometimes a little worse for wear.

 


photo
You know where

 

Yet on the whole, and throughout, I found India enormously stimulating.

 

 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

We hired a Jeep

 

In Sicily we hired a Jeep to get from Palermo around the island.

I had my doubts about this steed. Our two big bags wouldn't fit in the boot. One had to be strapped in on the back seat - a bit disappointing.

At above 130, the speed limit, there's something odd about the steering – so much so that I stopped quite soon to check the tyre pressures. I was regretting my choice.

Reassured about the tyres we set off again.

On the plus side the fuel consumption seemed OK and the zoned climate control worked well.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Syria - again

 

A fortnight ago I was moved to suggest that it was possible that the alleged gas attack in Syria might not be the work of the Syrian Army.  I withdrew the posting when more convincing evidence of Army involvement became available.

Because of our visit to Syria took place just before the most recent troubles began, I have been, perhaps, more interested than most.  I wanted to know why Syria is automatically assumed to be guilty when there are some very nasty groups on the other side?

We are fed so much doctored information, spin, that it is hard to get the facts even when we are directly involved.

So to claim that I know what is actually going on in Syria is fanciful.  Assad vehemently denies responsibility; the Russians are doubtful; and the inspectors have not yet reported.  But the certainty, and aggressive language, of the Western leaders accusing Syria of this latest incident seem extraordinary - do they know something that they are not revealing publicly?

As I have explained elsewhere I have fond memories of Damascus and of Syria in general.  Damascus was the most pleasant and interesting of the cities we stayed in; lacking the extremes of poverty and wealth we saw in Cairo (and in Egypt in general) or the more western normality of Amman in Jordan. 

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