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Tomorrow is election day in Afghanistan, and all fingers are crossed, all eyes watching. Regardless of who wins, the future is not so bright. The Taliban vows to punish anyone who votes. And they aren’t known for making idle promises. Of course the real challenge begins when the US pulls out later this year, and questions remain what sort of contingency will live on here. The smart money would probably bet on smart money, with few soldiers. That would probably be the best move.
Of course the widely predicted civil war won’t necessarily occur when the US pulls out, and if it does, that doesn’t mean that the Taliban will win again. Another possibility is that the country might be partitioned de facto into a Taliban-controlled south and a more liberal—less conservative, that is—’Muslim lite’ north, where women can walk the streets without a burqa and men can eventually learn to appreciate that, and their equality. Isn’t that the real problem anyway: ignorant a**hole macho men who’d rather beat women down than lift themselves up? Old ways die hard, I guess… (More …)
The queue for Safi Air flight #248 from Delhi to Kabul looks like something of a loya jirga in itself, businessmen and diplomats, village traders of lapis lazuli, scammers and schemers, all going back to the homeland for one reason or another, all with excess baggage—fridges toasters and microwaves, dreams hopes and expectations—all wearing long tunics baggy trousers and funny hats, all speaking strange tongues and whispering strange sighs, body odors wafting from overcoats whose histories likely date back to eras unspecified and improperly documented.
Any one of these guys could be a Taliban terrorist, al-Qaeda conniver or Saudi Salafist, down on his luck up on his religion out of his rightful mind and into the only one that’s left, high-tailing it or in-boxing it or tweeting it or snap-chatting architectural blueprints for any one of 1000′s of memorials and buildings and airports freely available on Internet and suitable for bombing. That’s probably what they’re saying about me, too, CIA or worse, agent provocateur.
India is a mother, a matrix, mysterious and meandering, wise beyond her kitchen, beautiful despite her years, charming the pants off conquerors and traders and holy men and saints, opening doors only to close them behind you, stooping to fawn and pander with multiple options for ongoing investment, financial packaging and advantageous positions in the futures market…
India is a monster, cruel and conniving, filthy and chaotic, devious and diabolic, two-faced and teeming with too many people, a misplaced anger and aggression mutated into a caste system for the classists and classes, a hierarchy for racists, upward mobility for the wealthy, and a religion guaranteed to keep it that way, laws for the lawless, feuds for the feudal, but no food for the hungry…
The truth lies somewhere in between, of course, India defined by the resolution of her opposites, her non-attachment to outcomes, her negligence of incomes, her preference to survive rather than thrive, her attachment to a certain past rather than an uncertain future, her inattention to details while concentrating on big pictures, closed doors and closed windows, warm in here, but a bit stuffy, too…
Spring in India comes with a nod and a wink and an invitation to drink, a holiday called Holi day, a celebration of colors and indulgence in opposites, a day of rest for Big People and a day of party for Jungsters exploring the subconscious, the subliminal, anything but the subway system in Delhi, closed until 2 p.m, partiers intoxicated in broad daylight, released from the confines of dark rooms dark encounters and the dark people from down south…
It’s no big deal, really, more like Halloween with a condom, a few kids cut loose with crayon-like cannons and a few water pistols, terrorizing the street in the wee hours of dawn, while the food vendors dodge powders and the sleeping dogs yawn, India waking up slowly on even a good day, Holi providing a further rain check and incentive to sleep in, put off until tomorrow what you weren’t likely to do today anyway, but at least now there’s a justification for it…
You can visit Rishikesh on a day trip from Delhi if you’ve got the balls and the alarm clock, six connections in sixteen hours, catch the 0700 tourist train, villagers need not apply, blurry pictures outside the window complete with breakfast, pollution rising with the elevation, neat trick of cities to send the smog upstream, caught a local bus from the rail-head at Haridwar with no problem walked right to it as if I’d done it a thousand times, didn’t have to waste ten minutes in transit…
Haridwar is for pilgrims but Rishikesh even more so, the Ganges in all its glory for ritual purification, or maybe just for crossing to the other side, something pilgrims specialize at, reducing life’s big issues to symbolism and superstition, crossing t’s and dotting i’s with correct keystrokes and all due diligence, if you can purify India with a few wafts of incense and a few whiffs of ganja, then why not do so, certainly saves on the research and development costs….
The Beatles are all gone now, and the Rolling Stones, too, but a few hangers-on are still hanging on, a few Beach Boys sunning on southern beaches, junkies in Delhi twirling their noodles with expert strokes of the fork and not much else, budget-oriented backpackers on gap year holiday, fat-bellied ex-pats with Hawaiian shirts and no place better to go, a few souls seeking spirituality, and the odd intellectual trying to figure it all out, somehow all making sense some way…
Good-bye, mother and monster, not until much later will I see you. Good-bye, motorbike maniacs and tuk-tuk tormenters, gunning it at me just to see me run. Good-bye, chaiwallahs and coffeewallahs, you and your teas and coffee that are somehow always white not black. Good-bye, sacred cows and dirty rats, your sacredness and filth neither clearly defined nor comprehensible. Good-bye starers gawkers and sleepwalkers, somehow you’ll get somewhere some day. And most of all, good-bye, holy men and beggars, the only difference between you one of rewards and expectations.
Most of all, India is a mirror; if you look hard enough, you’ll see something of yourself in all the chaos and disorder, a Rorshach test of the soul, a road map of your own…
Delhi suburbs are z-z-z-l-e-e-p-y, (y-a-w-n-n-n), and you could almost convince yourself that life inside the cocoon could always be like this, z-z-zlow and laz-z-z-y, but all good things must come to an end, soooo… spike my veins with pure caffeine, catch the early morning bus to Uttar Pradesh, Mathura to be exact, got a rep as a hot place to party for Holi festival of lights, festival of colored powders, festival of partiers without borders, guard your private parts if you want to keep them that way….
Bus takes on passengers from an undefined spot in an undefined lot, on the outskirts of town, ready to go whenever from wherever, transvestite comes on the bus posing as the ticket collector woulda had me fooled if he/she weren’t such the fool herself, with her fanny pack as decoy and her silly grin as the main ploy, posing as only God knows what when the sun goes down and Lord only knows who or what else, nobody else gives her money so I don’t either… (More …)
Kovalam is the kind of place that Lonely Planet writers like to disparage as having sold out to commercial interests long ago, with their chock-a-block cafes and resto–bars and boutiques a la Cannes, while noting how Varkala up the road manages to maintain its wild and rustic more authentic nature. I beg to differ. For one thing: Kovalam ain’t that bad. For another thing: Varkala ain’t that good. These are basically your two beach options within an hour’s ride of the Keralan capital Trivandrum, aka Thiruvananthapuram (say that three times really fast and try to pull your tongue through the loop).
True, Kovalam is a fairly homogenized and pasteurized version of an Indian beach town, leaning toward European models and menus, with paved sidewalks and handrails to boot, all clean and neat and ready for biz. But it’s also an upgrade. Is that such a bad thing? LP makes it sound like Kuta Beach in Bali, sprawling for miles down a previously pristine coast, serving banana pancakes in what were once temples, and drinking wine from monkey skulls. Nothing could be further from the truth. (More …)
I wouldn’t even be here if I hadn’t been dissatisfied with my previous digs in Varkala and Alleppey, so I figured if I’m going to make a move, then I might as well head up the road. Actually that was my conundrum from the beginning, knowing that Kerala in general is interesting and diverse, so where exactly then do I start and stop? So I punted and caught the train to Trivandrum, figuring to find a nearby beach whereon to hang. I’ve been backtracking ever since, though still no more than a few hours from the big city.
Kochi’s worth it, maybe not for the beach, though I don’t really know, but for the historic city itself, based around the old fort and port. This was an old stronghold for the Portuguese and an entrepot for many over the centuries, including ancient Christian sects and Jews expelled from the Roman burning of the temple at Jerusalem in 70 AD. The fact that it was so easily reachable from the early Roman world even adds fuel to the fire as to whether Jesus himself might not have wintered over here in his formative years, doing something similar to what the Beatles would do some two thousand years later.
Alleppey, aka Alapuzzha, doesn’t look like much at first glance, another decrepit little city in southern India, hot and humid, funky and fuming. That viewpoint, however, ignores Alleppey’s position on the edge of a vast system of inland backwaters that connect much of the region—and also underlie the region’s tourist industry. Long ago the Portuguese and other Europeans decided that this all reminded them of something back home, thus producing Alleppey’s nickname of “Venice of the East.” There’s even a ferry to neighboring villages and towns.
But houseboats are the big deal here. Unfortunately they don’t come so cheap, a one-day tour approaching $100. Ouch! That’s a bit too rich for my blood, just to float around the bayous for a day. They’ve got cheaper boats, also, fortunately, and they’ve got a beach, too. That’s more my speed, what with camel rides and bungee trampolining, everything you need. What’s a beach without a few camels? You know the answer to that already. I don’t know how their exhaust mechanisms compare exactly, but I’m pretty sure they’re cleaner than cows.