Apologies to anyone following this (on the assumption that anyone is actually following this, of course) – we’ve been in transit a fair bit over the last couple of days, so chances to sit down and write something have been pretty limited.
Writing this in Udaipur, a town that seems to be India’s answer to Venice, in that it’s very pretty, set on the water, and so infested by tourists that any vestige of real life is hard to find. It’s not fun to walk down the street feeling like a huge dollar sign. But, more of this later. First I want to jot down some thoughts onthe stuff we’ve done over the last couple of days.
After leaving Diu on the back of a supreme seafood feast provided by our friend Oscar de Souza (a massive platter of king prawns for the princely sum of $10 each), we returned to Ahmedabad for a night. There we experienced two quite different but equally fascinating insights into Indian culture – a trip to the ashram where the Mahatma lived from 1920 until he set out on the march against the salt tax in 1935, and a trip to the movies to see the bona fide Bollywood blockbuster “Dhoom 2”.
First, then, the ashram. It was a fascinatingly serene, beautiful place, which Gandhi founded shortly after his return from South Africa – it’s now been converted into a museum-type arrangement, with an assortment of exhibits including a library, art gallery, and kinda walkthrough history of Gandhi’s life. Amongst the more interesting things to see was his original manifesto for the ashram, which consisted of a series of 10 ‘vows’, ranging from philosophical ideas of celibacy and non-caste discrimination to more practical ideas like use of local materials – I can’t say I agreed with all of them (he can keep celibacy, for a start), but it was an interesting insight into the way the man’s mind worked.
Even more interesting was the fact that his house has been preserved – his room is sealed off, but if you can slide your way through the queue of tourists lining up to take a photo, you can look inside to see the spartan interior – bed, spinning wheel and, er, that’s it. And what was once the kitchen, stored unceremoniously in a simple copper pot in a small glass case, are his ashes.
I found it quite poignant that what remains of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century – unless, of course, you ask John Howard, who nominates Reagan and Thatcher – has come to such a simple, incongruous rest. Of course, it’s probably the way he would have wanted it, but still – through Gujarat and London and South Africa and years in jail to being hailed as the father of a new-born independent India, to assasination and… this. Stuck in a little copper pot in a cabinet, to be looked at by me and thousands of others. Ashes to ashes, indeed. Quite a strange experience.
It’s hard to think of something that could have formed more of a contrast to this than the wonderfully ludicrous 3-hour epic of Dhoom II (nothing to do with the computer game, by the way). After arguing with the congenitally irate ticket guy, we bought a couple of tickets and parked ourselves of the balcony of the Ahmedabad cinema to see our first Hindi movie. It proved quite a good choice, having little in the way of a coherent plot – instead, it’s one of Bollywood’s first full-on action movies.
God only knows how much it must have cost to make – filmed on location in Brazil, Namibia, Mumbai, Fiji and various other places, chock-full of epic songs and dances, along with copious explosions, motorcycle chases and anything else you can think of. The plot makes absolutely no sense – nominally, it’s the tale of a couple of cops chasing a master thief, who relies on all sorts of hi-tech gadgets to steal various priceless valuables from museums etc – but really, who cares? The point is that it was an absolute blast from start to finish, and cracking value for 50 rupees (about $1.50) a ticket. Viva Bollywood!
Going to the movies was pretty much our last action in Gujarat – this morning, we jumped on a bus into Rajasthan. I’ve been told by various people how beautiful Rajasthan is, but still, I was pretty awestruck looking out the window as we wound through some of the prettiest countryside I’ve ever seen. The thing that really struck me was the colours: hills the colour of sunset, all soft pinks and ochres, offset by star-white outcroppings of rock and dotted with elegant trees, all deep olive greens and browns; low fields of some crop that looked like lawn, lush and green; occasional explosions of flowers, the deepest carmines and violets and yellows you’ve ever seen; women in the fields, all clad in saris dyed the same deep shades as the flowers. It’s at once barren and verdant – the hills are bare, but the trees are delicate and slender, not sparse and sinewy like the trees in Australia. There’s none of the numbing flatness and long emptiness of Australia, either – instead it’s all hills, some small enough to climb and some so majestic that they could almost be called mountains. It’s just beautiful.
So it’s a shame that Udaipur, the first town we’ve been to here, is such a tourist trap. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come. But anyway, such considerations will have to wait, because it’s time for me to have a cup of tea and go to bed.
Oh, and it’s good to hear that Beazley got the arse. A cheese sandwich could do a better job than him – now let’s see if Rudd can do a better job than a cheese sandwich. Here’s hoping. Till next time…