Asia

Right bus, wrong way

I have always believed that a smile can overcome any language barriers. This I realized wasn’t necessarily true while boarding a red mini bus outside the Yau Tong MTR Station in Hong Kong. The driver, an elderly balding man whose eyes seemed half closed most of the time seemed to be having a pretty long one-sided conversation with me. I figured that the questions ended just when he took a short breath followed by a high note and an immediate prolonged note of a lower pitch. I smiled through the pauses while the driver waited for my answer. Finally he threw his arms in the air and took the conversation to the rest of the bus.

There was complete silence. Everyone was focused on our conversation.

 “Ticket, you take ticket” said a young lady sitting in the front seat.

“Oh yes!” Of course that must have been it.

The driver stared at the 10 dollars I handed him,shook his head and turned to the young lady who promptly on cue asked

“Where you go?”

 ‘Lei Yue Mun’ I said, proud that I had pronounced it  right.

The lady looked confused. She conversed with the driver then turned to me and said

“..is last stop”.

He  grabbed my money, returned a handful of change and started the bus. The jerk of the engine threw me off-balance and the little coins dropped to the ground and rolled all over the bus. The driver shook his head from side to side,put the bus in gear and pulled out of the stop.

I contemplated picking up  the coins, then changed my mind and instead  found a seat right at the end of the bus.

During the  up hill and down hill ride the coins rolled over the bus. A few people picked up the coins and passed them around. It was my money really but I was not complaining about a little change;honestly I didn’t want to make another scene :- on my fours picking up coins between people’s legs. I think I have had enough drama for one day.

In about 20 minutes we  reached a residential zone where the stops became more frequent and  people started getting down. Finally there was only an elderly couple in the front  and me at the back.

The bus made another stop near an apartment complex. The driver switched off the engine, leaned out the window and started a conversation with a  group of men standing about.

The elderly couple got up to leave. The woman gathered their bags and slowly walked to the door while the man turned looked at me and motioned me to come to him.

That made me a little nervous but I still walked over to him. Without a smile he handed me a small polythene bag and followed his wife out of the bus.Inside the bag was a bunch of coins. The passengers were picking up the coins for me.

Before I could get that warm and fuzzy feeling the driver of the bus spotted me and squealed in frustration.  Talking to himself  he threw his hands in the air and exited the bus.

I looked out of the window. All I could see were apartment buildings.  This could not be the last stop. It has to be a fishing village. There was no sign of the sea anywhere.

I sat alone in the bus for 10 minutes. I was too embarrassed and scared all at once to get out and find a fishing village. This was the first time in my life  I was out on my own. I had set out that morning to explore  the fishing village of Lei Yue Mun  famous for its seafood bazaars. Cowering at the back of a bus in god knows where was not part of the itinerary.

Luckily for me the old balding bus driver  was soon  replaced by a younger guy who  knew a little English.

” You want to go to ‘Lei Yue Mun’? But it is the other way!”

So I made the journey again, this time in the right direction all the time tightly clutching the polythene bag with the coins.  The young driver refused to take money for the return trip saying “Right bus,wrong way”.

Later in the day I would count the coins in  the comfort of my hotel room to realize that the coins added up to a little more than 11 dollars !

 

Categories: Asia | Tags: | 1 Comment

A page from history – Istanbul

Wedged in between Asia and Europe, Istanbul does not disappoint. Every two steps takes you through centuries of history.

It is believed that the first settlers came from Greece under the leadership of Byzas. He started the foundation of the city which he called Byzantium.

Following it’s flourishing trade and commerce owing to it’s strategic location Byzantium became a part of the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine developed the city based on a Roman model.  He made Istanbul the capital of the Roman Empire and following the trend set by the first settler renamed the city as Constantinople after himself. Not surprisingly after it became the capital of the entire Roman empire Constantinople prospered.

However this surge in prosperity was checked by the division of the empire by the sons of Emperor Theodosis after his death and Constantinople was demoted from the capital of the entire Roman empire to the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This caused a cultural shift in the city. The Byzantine Empire was a predominantly Greek Orthodox as opposed to the Latin Catholic identity of the Roman Empire.   A revolt in the 532 AD almost destroyed the city. However the ever resilient city was rebuilt again. Many of its outstanding monuments namely the Hagia Sophia was constructed post this revolt.

The envied location of the city although favorable for trade and commerce was also the cause of many conquests. It was attacked by empires and troops from all over the middle east. For a short while it was under the hands of the fourth crusade. At this time the Greek Orthodox culture in the city declined giving rise to Latin Catholic ideologies and monuments.  How ever the Greeks were not the ones to give up without a fight. The constant struggle to maintain control drained the exchequer  and subsequently the Greek Orthodox and the Latin Catholic alike fell prey to the conquests of the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed the second.

Constantinople then became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and unsurprisingly it’s name was changed to Istanbul.

Sultan Mehmed the second was a visionary. Unlike the Greeks and Romans before him , he did not believe that Istanbul could be dominated by a single religion or ideology. He encouraged settlements by Muslims and Jews along with the returning Greeks and Romans who had fled the city fearing captivity.The sultan built hospitals, schools, mosques and monuments.

The Ottoman ruled Istanbul till it was occupied by the allies in World war I. Following the Turkish War of Independence the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923.   Ataturk the father of modern Turkey moved the capital  away from Istanbul which had witnessed hundreds of battles and been subject to the ups and downs of the different empires.

Today Istanbul is a vibrant city. It was rightly named as the European Capital of culture in 2010 by the EU.

A lit up Blue Mosque

A lit up Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque by day

Blue Mosque by day

The ware on display at the spice market.

The ware on display at the spice market.

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

 

Categories: Asia, Europe | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orchha

A stone’s throw from Jhansi in the heart of incredible India lies Orchha, a  forgotten old town  founded by Rudra Pratap Singh  of the Bundela Dynasty. Situated on the banks of the river Betwa , it was once one of the most prosperous states in pre independence India.   But today remnants of it’s former glory lie scattered around the town weathering  years of abandon, its bricks laid bare to the mercy of the elements and stifled by overgrown by weeds.  

Since it’s merger with the Indian Union in 1950 fate has not been kind to Orchha nor her residents. A town which was once surrounded by temples, palaces and even boasted of a 21 gun salute  is now withdrawn, hidden from view. The people once subjects of great and generous rulers today struggle to make a living.  Ironically Orccha means ‘hidden’. Perhaps it’s fate was decided at inception.

I stayed with a family of 6 while in Orchha – a grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, daughter and son. The home stay was arranged by the grassroots organization called Friends of Orchha. The NGO gave financial support to the families to build guest rooms and clean toilets. The families then charged guests  a very nominal fee for bed and food.

I sat with the mother on the raised mud platform that functioned as a kitchen beside a  small fire fueled  by cakes of cow dung . She was making roti and dal. That was to be our dinner.

” You use lots of coconut in Kerala, correct?” she asked.

“Yes.”

With that we started an exchange of culture and information. I asked her all about Orchha. What she thought about the neglect and abandon of the buildings. She didn’t seem too worried about that. People who could not afford houses had moved into some of the better maintained ruins. You can see their laundry hanging from the towers she said. In her world this was alright. But I had a good laugh imagining the gun towers which once sounded a 21 gun salute to the visiting  emperor Jehangir now  used as a laundry line.

All she wanted to know in return was why I unmarried well past the prime age of 20. I changed the subject complimenting her on her perfect circular rotis.

To which she replied ” It’s a shame if I don’t make perfect rotis. This is all I have done my whole life. But my daughter is going to study. Doctor she will become”.

According to the 2001 census the population of Orchha was 8501 with a  literacy rate of 54% lower than the national average of 59.5%.

Recently a guest had agreed to sponsor the children’s education. The mother was thrilled about it. She told me of her hopes for her children. She wanted them to have different lives than their parents. She wanted them to go to big cities and work.

” You use coconut oil in cooking”  She asked me coming back to the subject of my culture.

“Please don’t mind my questions. All this I read in my daughter’s books otherwise I don’t know. I have been in Orchha all my life”.

The jehangir Mahal

The jehangir Mahal

DSC01065 DSC01069

A view of the Betwa river

A view of the Betwa river

The home stay family

The home stay family

Categories: Asia, India | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Photo Inspiration: Istanbul

 

The empty benches in front blue mosque at midnight.

The empty benches in front blue mosque at midnight.

 

Straddled between the continents of Asia and Europe Istanbul has seen the rise and fall of many kingdoms.It is a city with an energy that encompasses you right from the initial contact. A casual walk past cobble stoned pathways transports you in and out of different eras of history in a matter of minutes. The ruined remains of the ancient Byzantines to the mosques of the Caliphate rule all stand shoulder to shoulder. There are century old Hamams still operational (with separate sections for men and women) competing for space with local kebab shops. The skyline is dominated by the minarets of the Caliphate age.

The Bosphorus strait which divides this city gives Istanbul a romantic appeal a favorite of the bond creator Ian Fleming and as such a lot of movies have been filmed in here.

 

Categories: Asia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

[WAH] The whirling Dervishes

“Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. 
It doesn’t matter. 
Ours is not a caravan of despair. come,
even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again , come , come.

– Rumi

 

Watching a whirling dervish ceremony is an experience. I would not necessarily classify it as a spiritual one. But it sure does make you wonder about God.

You can read my article on the Dervishes here.

 

Categories: Asia, Europe, Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

%d bloggers like this: