I found this website where you can make maps of countries you have visited and I found that I have been to 63 countries!Actually there are a few where I was only at the airport in transit but technically I have been on their soil (I didn't count places where I was in the plane and didn't actually get down).
It is already two weeks since I came back from Thailand and I have yet to finish my Bangkok diary. The last few weeks have been full of travels. First in India, then in Thailand, the to London in UK and finally to Brindisi in south of Italy. So I have loads of pictures from these journeys but there is no time for writing blogs!
I saw the canal next to our hotel straight away and while I was standing on the bridge near Mahanak market, I saw the boats also. But I had not realized that these boats are like vaporetto in Venice, cheap public transport (though in Venice they are no longer cheap).
They have blue plastic sheets around the edge of the boat so while it goes in the water, they pull those sheets up to protect the passengers from the water-spray and thus I didn't see the people inside those boats till I actually walked along the canal.
With gestures, I asked about the final destination of the boats but I couldn't understand. However, I could understand that the ride costed only 10 Baht, about 12 Rupees. So I decided to try going towards the river.
However I was disappointed that the boat terminated at the next stop, close to Wat Sraket or the golden mount. As I came out of the boat station, I was amazed to find myself exactly on the same place where I had lost my way during my last trip to Bangkok in November 2007.
So this time I could give names to the two lovely temples at the huge crossing between Lan Luang, Nakhon Sawan road, Ratchadamnoen Nok road and Klang road. The temples of Wat Ratchanaddaram and Wat Thepthidaram.
Next to Wat Thepthidaram there are numerous shops where they sell the different god statues from mainly from Buddhism and Hinduism.
Covered with transparent plastic sheets, I felt as if the gods were being suffocated, unable to breathe.
The black statues of the Gurus on sale on the pavement also made me think. Once they are placed in the temple, you are supposed to take off your shoes and pray in front of them. Yet, unsold, they are nothing, they wait on the pavements as people hurry around, uncaring about their saintliness.
The colourful mannequins in the market do not have Thai faces, they look more like Europeans, except that they have colourful hair and they have expressions. Some of them are laughing, a few are sad, looking like persons turned into stone.
Nude handless mannquins, covered with transparent plastic sheets where like dead corpses, their mouths stretched in death grins, were infinately sad.
I loved the boat journey on the canals. The boats are so cheap and fast. Yet they don't do publicity about them like they do for the more modern sky train and metro rail systems.
Only problem with these boats is the agily required to get in and out of them. If you are elderly or have stiff joints, like I discovered that I had, raising up the legs to get in, hanging on to the rope support, etc., it may be more dignified to ask for a taxi!
Every time I am going to travel I start worrying about different thiungs that can go wrong. When the journey is by train, the anxiety is lesser, I just need to make sure that I have sufficient time for the connecting trains. When the travel agency tells me that there is a connecting train just ten minutes after arrival, I usually tell them to forget it and to look for a train after at least one hour. It is rare that a fast train of Ferrovie Italiane does not have delays of 10-15 minutes and with other non-fast trains, the delays are usually much longer.
I was not worried about my journey to Brindisi. It is a straight train, no need to get down and change trains, so even if there will some delays, I can relax and arrive calmly. Brindisi is in the lower eastern tip of Italy, a famous port city. In 1931 even Gandhi ji had taken the ship for India from Brindisi port after his journey to UK for some meeting.
Our house is quite close to the Bologna railway station and a journey by car usually takes 10 minutes. However, my wife was busy so she could not have accompanied me and I needed to take a bus. I checked the bus timings and decided to be prudent by leaving an hour earlier. In about twenty minutes we were quite close to the railway station when the first problem cropped up in the form of a traffic jam. To do the last two km of the journey, it took another 20 minutes. It seemed that there was some kind of protest demonstration in the area that was driving the traffic mad.
Anyway, I had still 20 minutes to my train and the railway station is not so far from the bus stand. At the station, it seemed the train was on time and I reached the platform, a bit huffy puffy from carrying the suitcase over the stairs, but still with five minutes to spare.
Five minutes passed. Another five minutes passed. Then another five minutes passed. They were making lot of announcements but they forgot to say anything about our fast Eurostar train. Finally a sign of “delay of 10 minutes” appeared on the sign board, even while the delay was already of 15 minutes. Then after a few minutes the announcement about our train, a last minute announcement of a change of platform. An old lady with two heavy looking suitcases looked me with imploring eyes and asked for confirmation, “Have they changed the platform?”
So when we reached the other platform, I was even more out of breath. Anyway, I had made it to the train. I have my laptop with me with couple of films I want to see. I also have my lunch packet plus some papers for reading. Eurostars trains are quite nice inside with electric sockets, so that on journeys you can use your laptops and other electric gadgets without any problem.
However another surprise awaited me in the train. I had the corner seat right near one end of the carriage that had no folding table or electric socket in front of it. It is just not my day, I had thought. There must be only 7 or 8 such seats on the whole train out of the total 700 seats, yet it was my luck to get one of them and I am sure if I really wanted that kind of seat, I wouldn’t have ever got it!
“I have an eight hour journey, can you please find me another seat?” I asked the ticket controller. He nodded in sympathy and so I have moved to another seat with a table and a socket for plugging my laptop. The controller hasn’t actually said if if this seat is free right up to Brindisi or I would need to shift back to my original seat at some point in time, but I am not complaining!
The surprise came at the end. The train reached Brindisi after a 7 hours and 40 minutes journey, exactly on time. The journey back was equally impressive, it arrived in Bologna five minutes before time!
While I got down from the train in Bologna thinking that perhaps Ferrovie Italiane has indeed changed for better, I heard the announcements. The train for Bari was delayed by 60 minutes because of engine failure. Some other train for Rome, Rimini and Milan also had delays. Guess we were just plain lucky!
Here are a few pictures from this short trip to Brindisi.
Thai people are always so gentle and smiling. I don't remember any encounter with a person who talked to me with anger or irritation.
However, I did meet a crazy taxi driver. He had a picture of himself with his son on his dashbaord and a small golden Buddha statue. He drove like a maniac on the run. On the highway, he wove in and out of the traffic, overtaking from right and left, and when required passing on the emergency lane while I was holding on to the seat with a thumping heart and praying silently. In between he had long and vivacious telephone conversation so that he missed the turnings and then backed straight into the traffic, uncaring of braking cars all around. He whistled at all the women, made some easy-to-understand gestures to explain what he would like to do with them and when some of them looked back at him with disgust, he broke into loud laughter.
Every now and then, after such an encounter, he would turn back to look at me and wink. Dumb sod, driven by testostrone with his brain in his dick, I repeated to myself while smiling back at him. How do you deal with such macho types? They give me an inferiority complex even while I tell myself that such excessive machoness must be a sign of some deep sense of inadequacy.
"How long are you going to take? Should I wait for you?", he asked when we reached our destination, while I mopped my brows. No more taxi for me today, I told him, I will take the sky train for going back.
Another picture that remains in my mind is that of groups of men intent on their billiard tables in narrow market streets.
Temperatures were not so high but the humidity was bad and it brought back memories of Chenai, when it was still Madras. Fortunately all the meetings were in air-conditioned buildings and all the taxis were also air-conditioned. So the trick was to work during the day and go out only early morning or in evening, when cool breeze was so pleasant. Even local Bangkokites (BTW, how do you call Bangkok inhabitants? Bangkokies? Bangkokinese? Bangites?) shared this view since in the afternoon, every one seemed to prefer lazy siestas.
*** I loved the dresses of the Thai air-hostesses. They must be the best dressed airlines crew of the world. Their purples, magentas, and occasional yellows, blacks and grey coloured traditional dresses in silk make them seem like statues from some ancient temples. In fact, I think that if I have choose colours for Thailand, I would choose purple and magenta like in the lotus flowers in a temple below.
Bangkok is rich in temples and religious symbols. The Buddhist monks fascinate me with their orange robes and they didn't seem to mind when I stopped to click their pictures.
Thai people have a special relationship towards their King, that was so strange to me. It reminded me of the kind of faith people in an Indian village can have for religious figures like Ram or Hanuman, full of reverence and awe. Like this statue of the king, where one person came to me to ask me to pray before taking its picture.
Other statues, in spite of obvious differences in facial traits, provoke old memories like this statue in an old Buddist temple in Mahanak that made me think of "chalat musafir moh liya re pinjre wali muniya" from Teesri Kasam.
I was fascinated by the Buddha statues in different postures. At one level I find it a little strange that statues of Gautam Buddh who left his palace to become a bhikshuk and preached about non-attachment are almost always of gold. Though as a child I used to go often to the Buddh temple in Birla Mandir in Delhi, I knew about the basic story of Gautam Buddh and had even been to Lumbini, my knowledge about his teachings was relatively limited.
Bangkok visit stimulated me to buy and read Pankaj Mishra's book, An End to Suffering - The Buddha In The World (Picador India, 2004). If you have not read it and you are interested in Buddha and Buddhism, I recommend this book. It is an immensly readable mix of auto-biography, anecdotes and reflections about Gautam Buddha's life and teachings.
Along with Buddhism, Thailand also has signs of Hinduism. Brahmin priests are part of Kings religious ceremonies. Like the Garuda statue on royal buildings that carry the queen's name.
I was also struck by the statues in black stone of some kind of priests or gurus. Perhaps looking at all the gold coloured statues was responsible for this effect, but when I saw them against the backdrop of colourful frescoes, I thought that they looked striking.
The giant swing, Sao Ching Chaa, was used for some kind of ritualistic event in the past. However, many persons involved in the ritual who were supposed to swing on it lost their lives and the ritual was stopped in the last century. There has been some idea of restarting the ritual as part of the tourist attraction events. Now in the middle of a traffic island, it looks like an awkward giant left there from an alien ship.