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Carlsberg don’t do border cermonies…

…but if they did they’d be hard pressed to beat the pomp and circumstance at the Attari closing of the Pakistan-India Border. I’m in Amritsar at the moment and in the past 36 hours have seen probably the most beautiful, and serene, religious temple in India, the most curious museum yet in India and of course the most comedy official ceremony that exists anywhere in the country.

Golden temple, Amritsar

The Golden temple is a beautiful Sikh temple that appears to float in the centre of a clear blue pool called Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar)surrounded by marble walkways and white domes above the gates. A causeway, Gurus’ Bridge, extends from the gold gilded central temple out across the lake to the far side. The setting is fantastically serene, and everything about the experience of visiting this place only serves to enhance the appeal. Temple GuardNobody asks you for money inside the temple, after numerous Jain, Christian and Hindu experiences in India this is surprise enough. here is a special place to leave your shoes in exchange for a token (again at no cost), the water with which you have to wash your feet before entering is warm (it’s even colder here than Delhi), there are red material walkways to save your feet the coldness of he marble and they offer free food to all the pilgrims who visit the temple regardless of religion. There are even huge, attractive looking olive and red goldfish that swim near the edges of the water as you walk by. In the temple itself four priests keep up a continuous Punjabi chant from the Sikh holy book which is broadcast around the temple.

Today, resisting the temptation to watch more Australian Open action, (my hotel room has a TV!) I went in search of Sikhism in the town. The first stop was the gardens of Jallaianwala Bagh, a memorial to the 2000 Indians, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu who were massacred without warning by the British in 1819 whilst staging a non violent protest. Sobering and yet I couldn’t help remembering Indira Gandhi who was murdered by her Sikh body guards 1984 is response to the military invading the Golden Temple where Punjab extremists were hiding. No country, religion or cause it seems, ever manages to exist without blood on its hands. Old men

Then I went to Ram Bagh to see the curious and rather interesting museum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the one-eyed battle hero of the Punjab era from 1780-1839. The main focal point of the museum is a huge panorama of paintings with life size models extending he paintings into 3D showing he great battle scenes from his reign against the hoards of Afghanistan and Kashmir. It was horribly kitsch and wonderful at the same time, especially with the sounds of battle, death and war cries playing in the background!

Border guard looking stern!Next stop was a shared jeep down to the border with Pakistan at Attari, about an hour way. The students from Utaranchal in the jeep decided that we needed a sing a long o pass the time and insisted that myself and the two American girls there join in. It turns out that all the Englishsongs they knew were Backstreet boys, Bryan Adams and Boyzone. So there we were speeding towards Pakistan merrily crooning out Summer of 69, this country simply cannot get any weirder! At the border there is an ornate set of gates dividing the two countries and leading up to each is a walkways surrounded by large grandstand seating which soon began to fill up (less on the Pakistan side, I guess because the country is still in mourning for Bhutto). Each side is blaring out pop music at full volume and on our side we even have an MC to keep the crowd excited. He instigates much chanting and hen a few select members of the crowd are allowed to run down two huge India flags to the gate amid much cheering to wave and jib at the opposing side. There was also dancing, the men and women separated by the border guards to get the party started. The guards themselves were tall serious faced men wearing short olive green trousers displaying six inches of immaculate white spars over black army boots. They had red and black cravats and red and black headgear that would have made the peacocks jealous. Once the official ceremony began they speed marched up to the gates in pairs and proceeded to do some impressively high leg kicks that turned the effort into a funny walk of which John Cleese would be proud. We meanwhile are sporadically cheering and clapping and making a considerable noise as there were several hundred people there. When the gates finally opened the noise swelled and we had our first glimpse of the black uniformed, high plumed Pakistani guards performing the mirror high leg kicking moves of the Indian guards. The border guard and I There was much chest slapping, leg kicking, bellowing and stomping before the flags were finally lowered and we cheered our side back to their posts as the gates were closed. Afterwards I ran to grab one of the guards for a photo, cheesy but so necessary. All in all, the best time I have ever had a border, they should build a gate between England and Scotland and give it a go, it would do wonders for the national pride!

pleasing Lord Shiva

Nasik bathing tank Nasik is a little town nestled in the flat countryside between Aurangabad and Mumbai and was a quiet place to spend a day before heading back to the big smoke of Bombay. Nasik has a huge bathing tank called Ramkund on the banks of one of India’s seven holy rivers for Hindus, the Godovari. I took a walk down the riverside which was bustling with market sellers, the odd man soaping up in the holy waters, families and a few pilgrims. There are temples everywhere in Nasik, most of the Gothic school of temple building with black stone and a slight air of the macabre about them. I stopped into one and was chatting to the guy on the door who pretty much insistedWomen at Ramkund, Nasik that I spend 5 rupees on a leaf plate of flowers, sweets and incense as an offering to the Hindu god Shiva, the destroyer. So dutifully I lit the incense and gave the flowers and sweets to the shrine attendant who made me repeat the necessary chant until I had it just right, daubed my forehead with a big red spot and finally I was allowed to leave!

Panda lena, Nasik Today I took a rickshaw (after much haggling) out to some more caves called Panda Lena (going to need a break from rock cut caves soon) on the outskirts of town with fantastic views across the countryside and some landscaped gardens below where I relaxed reading for an hour or so before heading back into town for more thali!

it’s a cold night in Pune

Me at the DISHA party with one of the girlsWell it’s my final week in Pune and my last day in the office which is definitely kind of sad. Last night we had one of the DISHA client parties so the roof was packed and we had dancing, Ash and Daryl playing hindi classics for the kids on the guitar, candy floss, street plays and Avinash, one of the DISHA team announced that the volunteers were doing their bollywood dance. Well it was news to us, especially Eilen and I who were in sarees. Well we didn’t have much choice so in sarees to a totally different track we just about managed it. That video will thankfully not be appearing on YouTube! However the below is the DISHA team with Hans camping it up in the background and the boys playing guitar last night!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tca47yCCRw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hm9-A7OGiM

Well we joke about how dangerous the rickshaws are but one of the girls BanglesHannah is now is hospital. A guy on a bike grabbed her bag through the side the other day, she doggedly held on to her bag and as the bike accelerated it dragged her out of the rickshaw onto the road where the vehicle ran over her, bruising her and breaking her collarbone. And worst of all the guy got away with the bag. Hannah’s much better now although her arm is in an attractive shoulder immobilising sling for the next few weeks so no more bollywood dancing for her this Christmas!

Oh and the photo, well you can never have too many bangles, Sarah and I thought her last night would be a great opportunity to see if we could wear all the ones we’ve bought here…well almost!

And since I have been requested to put the lyrics online (no really!) here’s the Pune song as performed in a saree in Soul (and in the Beer Garden a few nights ago, and many times in the house!) It’s a damn catchy tune I tell you!

(chords C, F, C, G)

Chorus: It’s a cold night in Pune,
But we’re tucked up safe and warm in Tate Tope.
The dogs are barking and dinner’s long since cold,
Well I know I’ve missed my curfew I guess I’m just to old.

The bus for work leaves at half past nine,
To go to Tadiwala, where we work ten till five;
In the creches and Balwadis and down in the slums,
Well the food is pretty standard, sometime we get the runs…

Chorus

At the weekend we go drinking, Kingfishers in our hands,
Sitting out in the Beer Garden of the Hotel Grand;
Or shooting balls around in Toons on MG Road,
And we’re crooning out a few tunes in Sunday in Soul.

Chorus

Back in Tate Tope, the house is in a mess,
We’re sitting watching TV playing cards or playing chess;
Then out on to the balcony for a final smoke,
And slipping shots of rum into bottles of coke.

Yes, Pune’s got pollution and Pune’s got smog,
Shopping malls and bowling balls, pigs and cats and dogs;
Chapatis and parathas, chinese food and thai,
And everytime I take a rickshaw, I think I’ll fucking die!

It’s a cold night in Pune,
Come the 1th December I’ll be on my way,
Though I’ll miss my friends and my work, although I don’t got paid,
But if I don’t leave Tate Tope, I’ve never gonna get laid.

Chorus

mysterious girl

Well six countries in as many months and no debilitating diseases as of yet (touch wood), I should be thankful that the worst I’ve suffered in India is a bad cold. Not that this stopped me feeling sorry for myself, however, as I lay feeling weak and snotty in the volunteer house living room reduced to watching our only English movie channel which had such delights as ‘Predator 2′ and ‘Home Alone’, and let’s not forget the chick flick about the mermaid…actually I did rather enjoy that one. By Saturday life had started to return to me again and thankfully I felt sufficiently perked up to leave the confines of the house and went to do exciting things like booking bus tickets for Goa and Hampi over Devali break. Actually I did manage to plough through a good couple of books in my sickness including Adrien Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction which was hilarious, I’d forgotten how funny Sue Townsend is. I’ve also started reading Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder which I remember really loving about nine years ago. I’m finding it a little less enthralling this time round mainly because I find Sophie, the main character self-centered, abrupt, rude and totally uncharismatic. Funny how your perceptions of things will change over the years.

Me looking…erm..cool?Everyone was off out on Saturday night and I finally agreed to come as long as we weren’t going anywhere too crazy I should be okay for a few beers. And if you can’t see where this is going then you clearly don’t know me very well. We ventured over the river into Kalyani Nagar to an outside bar restaurant called Soho which was very cool but with a surprisingly large number of white people. It’s amazing how defensive we all get when we spot loads of other non locals, you’d think we had the prestige of being the only ones! We ran into Mike, the guy who runs the Sahara HIV care home, and ended up heading off with him and our Ethiopian student friends to a hip hop party in a nearby hotel bar. I’m amazed there were that many black people in Pune, all students I think, and it ended up being a very late and very entertaining night, lots of dancing and some excellent music…although what Mysterious Girl was doing cropping up in the middle of a hip hop night is beyond me. Peter Andre, for the record, they love you in Pune! We are waiting to be lectured on coming back two hours after curfew. Seriously, I’m 27 years old and I have a curfew…don’t get me started!

Sunday afternoon picnic Sunday was a lazy day, Sophie, Aeysha, Jo and I went for a picnic in the Empress Gardens with our ipod, speakers and lots of cake and biscuits from the Diamond Bakery near our road. Sadly the botanical gardens is currently being slightly refurbished but we found a peaceful spot away from prying eyes and sat down on rugs for food and scrabble.

Painting “Diya” for DivaliToday our fragile internet connection has finally given up the ghost despite my attempts to decode the rather complicated wiring system and everyone is rather vague as to when the engineer might arrive. So I have done all I can in the office and decamped to the internet cafe to access the rest of the big wide world. It really is a worrying sign that without the internet I feel slightly like I’m trying to get things done with only one hand. It’s taking over my life….

no long a card carrying member of the UK workforce…

colour-trophy-06.jpg

Finally have managed to finish off everything in the office and as of about 5 minutes time I am officially unemployed! So no more free shampoo, makeup and styling products, no more glamorous nights out at hairdressing awards, no more five star hotels or trips to Paris, Dubrovnik and New York, no more free ski trips, drinking champagne in hot tubs under the stars…and this is definitely the last time my hair will look presentable for the next 13 months! But then again, lying on beaches in Brazil, diving in Thailand, trekking in Nepal, tango dancing in Buenos Aires – I think I’ll cope!

the end in sight

5 working days left in the office.
17 days left in the country.
One more vaccination jab to have.

One supplier piss up, one zone meeting, one leaving work meal, two dinner parties, one spanish lesson, two handover notes to finish, a brunch, sunday lunch, two final packing days and one final glorious farewell boozer before I leave London!

Sunshine in Glasgow?

I’m definitely a big fan of Glasgow especially when there are rare hours of sunshine to enjoy. It’s not as pretty as Edinburgh but it’s far more quirky, the architecture is more handsome and rugged and it doesn’t have that slight hint of trying to hard to please the tourists!Yesterday, after a grueling early morning start and airport traumas, due to the new one-bag-in-the-hold regulations (I smuggled two 200ml styling products through security!), I eventually got up for a few meetings with work and then found myself at a loose end for the rest of the afternoon. Not to be defeated and not having found an internet cafe in the centre, I opted for resource number two and phoned my Dad. On his recommendation I ended up taking a taxi out to Pollock park and spending a happy few hours sauntering around the Burrell Collection.  >>Burrell Collection

It’s a beautiful glass and wood building with a warren-like collection of rooms containing the life time collection of art, sculpture, tapestries, paintings, ceramics and furniture collected by Sir William Burrell. Having made a rather large fortune in the shipping industry of the early twentieth century, he spent his final decades collecting art of all shapes and forms. Everything from Egyptian artifacts, to Elizabethan needlework, Degas pastel sketchings and Chinese Ming vases. Two hours later I decided to practice independent travel on local transport (in view of my upcoming year out) and managed to get a minibus to the park’s entrance and a bus back into Glasgow city Centre. Now Glasgow is hardly the most obscure place to travel around – although with some accents you hear around here it could be….I then spent a happy hour drinking coffee in Waterstones (coffee shops in bookshops – the one think we can be grateful for the Americans for) and flicking through travel books before heading down to the West End. Sadly here my luck with the weather ran out and on the 15 minute walk to my friend Ali’s house, Glasgowsuddenly remembered that it hadn’t got a reputation on being a sunny and warm weekend destination, and rained ferociously on me all the way. Right now Ali’s boyfriend Rob is coking up roast chicken and ratatouille for dinner and then we are off to see the Australian dance company – what that will be like is anyone’s guess! A cultural evening of dance apparently – and to think I wasn’t aware that there was any Australian culture, just kidding!Sunday

So it was “Held” we went to see last night by the Australian Dance Theatre, and it was really interesting, totally unlike anything I have ever seen. There was a hugely talented photographer, Lois Greenfield, who was on stage taking mid-air photographs of the dancers, capturing shapes and positions that you would simply have missed just by looking which then appeared seconds later on two large square screens on stage. She also took multiple exposure shots of the dancers as they moved limbs or positions so that there bodies remained still and you’d see the shapes of 10 arms or legs creating arcs of motion. Really fascinating.