Bollywood Film – The Real Deal

Bollywood is a word that is synonymous with not only India, but with glamour, excess, and perhaps more than anything else, fun!

While I was killing time in Goa waiting for a train (which turned out to be a nightmare) I decided to go and catch a Bollywood film in a nearby cinema.

As I lined up to purchase my ticket, I noticed the usual staring from the locals but when I reached the front of line to complete my transaction with the teller, I noticed the interest was perhaps more enhanced in this environment than many others in india.

The attendant first laughed, followed by a quick ‘do you speak Hindi?’ I do not, and after I assured him I would be fine I began fielding similar questions from the locals as I killed the 15 or so minutes before the start with a series of chain smoked cigarette.

… The film is about to start and I’m surrounded by my new friends waiting to see how I will enjoy the film with no working knowledge of Hindi. What followed (in the film) was truly extraordinary.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the blueprint for a great Bollywood film, but something tells me this followed the guidelines to a tee. The initial set up was a serious action film, but was soon ensued by a love film, a comedy, and a musical. Yes friends, I was truly amazed by the films ability to seamlessly flick from a seriously intense battle sequence to a several hundred person dance piece mid scene!

I found it utterly ridiculous, yet bizarrely exciting. There was enough basic English contained within (catch phrases seemed to all flow in English) to allow me to decipher the plot lines fairly clearly, but it was the open display of emotion presented by the audience that provided the true entrancement of this film as a live spectacle. It was the viewers sitting next to me that made me feel like like I was not in a cinema, but watching The Bodyguard unfold in real time, live in a theatre.

Now, I make no attempt of portraying this as a film review, head over to The Bodyguard’s review on IMDb for that. What I am trying to convert, is how much fun it actually is to see a Bollywood film while in India. It certainly is an experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!!

O.B.B

The Bodyguard

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Couchsurfing: Why It’s A Good Idea

Okay… so if you’re a broke backpacker and you’ve not heard of Couchsurfing, then you’re either yet to take your first trip, or I’m sorry to say, but you’re a flash-packer in flash-packer-denial!

Couchsurfing is something that I started hearing about in my very early 20s. Something that I’d heard about, but never really understood. That is until my most recent trip to France via Milan.

Leading into this recent trip, I headed over to the website, set up a profile and started to look for people I might feel comfortable around as I crashed in their home. I soon found someone who was cool with me crashing for a night or two and we set it up.

Then the day came. I got off the plane and for the first time a long time, i was nervous about what I was walking into. Travelling alone is something I have become very accustomed to. From the mean streets of Dehli, to the hypocrisy of Khaosan Road, but the thing was I had become so accustomed to these experiences that they almost became natural. Get off the plane, find your way to a hostel, and meet some people to acclimatise with over a beer.

As I was on my way to the house of my friendly host, I realised that I was putting all of my faith in the kindness of a complete stranger. It was getting very late and I was riding the metro in what seemed to be a very foreign country. And that was exciting! I was about to meet a local, in her habitat! I was about to enter a situation which I had very little control over. I quickly realised that if I felt nervous or uncomfortable in their home, then I would simply have to find a way to deal with it. These were the facts, and they were scary.

As I arrived, the situation was indeed very uncomfortable and slightly hard to navigate but that’s what was so beautiful about the experience. I was forced to learn an entirely new set of social controls dependant on nothing more than my ability to learn from what I was seeing and adapt to it. Funnily enough, I did! Observe, adapt and adopt that is.

That’s the reason those of us that chose to travel alone do so. no? To push the boundaries of what we know. To understand what we previously have not understood. And (as my couch surfing profile states) to never learn to live with complacency ;)

It was such a great experience, and I am glad every day that I found the courage to take my comfort zone and smash the walls!

I guess I was lucky too in the way that my host was an amazing person who took me on a guided walking tour of snow filled cities parks, museums, pizzerias, and cafes – but that’s a while other story…

O.B.B

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Khaosan Road – Only the Bad and the Ugly

If you’re reading this then there’s a pretty good chance you have either heard of the acclimatising hub slash decompression chamber that is Khaosan Road, or,  you’ve been there!

Now, everyone that has been to Khaosan Road will no doubt have an opinion, but for those that have not yet been and are potentially deciding whether of not to venture into this particular jungle… then this post is for you.

While some will certainly say they’re glad they got to experience it, and some may even enjoy it, this dingy little ill equipped strip is quintessentially and paradoxically a primary example of what is wrong with the modern world.

So that may sound harsh, but I feel it to be justified. You see – those researching Bangkok and the hotels located within will often find Khaosan referred to using tag lines such as ‘melting pot’, ‘backpacker ghetto’, ‘intense’, and ‘exciting’. But the fact is it is none of those things. It is simply an example of the desperate means people will go to when an ancient culture is so exposed to Western tourists on a budget, and the (seemingly minimal) amounts of money that come along with this that the people that frequent this street on a daily basis have been “reduced” to what many Westerners could only describe as a shameless humiliation. It is impossible to walk down this street without seeing three things, prostitutes, desperate salesmen, and drunken fools.

For me it the drunken foolery that perpetuates the sex trade and the pushy sales tactics because it is being monetarily fed only enough to keep the workers interested enough to keep moving along this path in an unchanged manner. What seems even worse is that they only make enough as to not forget their place in this strangely constructed food chain where young, broke backpacker is king.

Yes friends, sometimes the young and the broke can be jerks too.

I can certainly understand the appeal of certain South East Asian backpacker destinations (the full moon parties for example), and while they are certainly not perfect, they do not find it impossible to attain the  simplest of human dignities as East and West try to find the perfect amount of crossover in an ever homogenising world.

I guess the point is, that there are many places in the world that are effective cultural decompression chambers. A place like Dehli could accurately be described as ‘melting pot’, ‘backpacker ghetto’, ‘intense’, and ‘exciting’, but Khaosan Road cannot even be accurately described as Bangkok.

The one positive I take out of visiting Khaosan Road, is that I saw enough to develop an informed opinion about the place and share it with whomever would listen. And if I have one thing on my side, it’s the way that the strip is unapologetically in your face about the way it survives. I wonder why I never see similar posts.

We live in a world where Western progression has been forced upon the rest. We live in a world where silence is NOT a virtue. We live in a world where everyone has the same opportunity to share what they think is right with the rest. This is my goal within this post.

Peas

O.B.B

India – Info – Trains

India is a huge country and with such massive distances between tourist attractions, you are going to need to figure a way to get between towns and cities. In reality, there are only a couple of options that come to mind: train, plane, or bus.

Image

Don’t worry about 100 person carts holding 1000 – this is what the tourist trains look like

Now… with this being a site for backpackers in a budget we almost immediately rule out the air (though when in a rush or desperate, air travel can be a speedy alternative to covering a huge distances), and I personally think the bus is a kind of boring, uncomfortable, and impersonal.

The train on the other hand, is one of the biggest highlights about any journey to the sub-continent.  Sticking out like a sore thumb with what feels like the entire platform staring at you relentlessly, is just one of the terrifyingly exciting scenarios that make the train experience so truly unique.

It’s best to plan at least a day ahead because trains don’t run out of every city on a daily basis. If you haven’t pre-booked your journey through your hotel (who are usually a great last minute alternative) or a website like makemytrip, then you’ll want to arrive with a couple of hours to spare because the line are intense at the stations and it’s often hard to get any kind of communication. Try and find the dedicated tourist window (if the station has one) or chat with the tourist police – if all fails and you’re running out of time, make a bit of a fuss and you’ll be sorted out much, much faster.

When purchasing your ticket, there are three budget-friendly choices. 2AC, or 2nd class air-conditioned beds are comfortable and fresh. You’ll have to share the curtained off ‘room’ with five other passengers but the over night trips are super private as a curtain runs down the side of the bed. 3AC (you guessed it – 3rd class air conditioned) is more or less the same as 2AC but without the private curtain running down the bedside. A 2AC and 3AC overnight journey from Delhi to Varanasi will set you back around Rs1, 000 and Rs800 respectively so it’s up to you whether that small piece of fabric is worth it…

The real way to experience the trains of India in all of their glory is the sleeper (SL) class. Yea people may stare at you, yea it may be uncomfortable at times, and yea it’s sweaty – but that’s what I loved the most about India. Leaving your comfort zone at the airport is why people travel to a place like this, and at around Rs300 trip from Delhi to Varanasi, it’s by far the cheapest as well.

During my month long tenure of India, I had to get in and out of more than 10 cities. I ventured away from the train system only three times to experience something new, and every time I returned to what excited me most. The views before the sunsets are spectacular and the people you will meet are some of the most genuinely kind strangers I have ever encountered.

Given word restraints I haven’t had much time to talk about the poverty affiliated with the train system but expect beggars, pickpockets and street kids to be abundant at train platforms. The bigger kids and tougher beggars will steal most offerings so as usual, I suggest most donations to be made through a proper organisation…

One Broke Backpacker

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Europe – Getting Around – Busabout

So you’ve been planning your trip of a lifetime? Been dreaming about wine in Paris and Sangria in Spain. The history of Berlin or the spectacular natural beauties of the Swiss Alps. But… Have you stopped yet to figure out precisely how you’re going to make you’re way around?

For anyone coming from outside of the continent, travelling Europe is a huge deal and a successful journey often hinges on strict budgets and tight deadlines; nursing a never ending headache and with barely a word other than ones native tongue.

I personally arrived in Paris to meet some Australian friends in 2008 at the ripe old age of 21. I was young, I was nervous, and I was very green. I had a small pile of money to distribute over as months as I could make it last. I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, but until I actually landed there was no idea how I planned on getting around during this four-month excursion.

Luckily my friends were much more organised than I and on their well researched advise, I quickly and easily sorted the travel for y entire trip in one fell swoop.

The premise of Busabout is a hop-on/hop-off flexible transport alternative for the (semi) independent traveller. Basically you pay for one or more inter-country ‘loops’ that will get you from one European city to the next with relative ease. All you need is your Busabout card and you’re good to go.

You will arrive in a city or town; the bus will stay the night and then head off with a new load of passengers the very next morning. Two days later a new bus will arrive on the same cycle, which in turn departs the following day.

The great thing about Busabout as a mode of transport is that the onus is on you. Once you’ve been dropped off you can stay for one night or ten. The only catch is that you can only leave on a day that a bus is scheduled to depart, which is every two days.

The Pros – Busabout is easy! You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to get to the next place. You’ll bump into people enough to make lifelong friends. It’s a comfortable way to cover big stretches of ground.  They can hep you find a hostel. The guides are super helpful and may even take you out on the town.

The Cons – Maybe you don’t want easy. It can take away from the adventure at times. The cities you visit are limited (though they cover all of the tourist hotspots). The crowd is predominantly Australian (pro or con – take your pic).

All in all Busabout was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting the EU for the first time. It’s much more of an independent way to travel than the packaged tours of Contiki or Top Deck and it really does take a lot of the stress out of travelling. It was perfect for me as a young guy with his three best mates going on the ‘trip of a lifetime’.

Now however, I’m a little older, and a lot more experienced. I like not knowing where I’m headed next or how I’m going to get there. I don’t like to see the same people every time I move to a new town and I’m more interested in almost everything else a country has to offer other than the booze.

So – If you’re young and ready to have the biggest, most exiting party of your life. Why not look into Busabout. If you’re a little older and slightly more adventurous though, maybe stick the unknown.

One Broke Backpacker.

India: Delhi: What to watch out for…

Pricey rickshaw rides

For many, in fact for most Western visitors to the sub-continent, Delhi is the very first port of call (and with good reason). However, it is this fact precisely that many of the friendly and not so well meaning rickshaw drivers will be out to take you for the proverbial ride.

How then do you avoid getting duped? A)Firstly, walk! It’s not that far and any guide book will have a detailed map of Paharganj and the surrounding tourist attractions. B) Do your research. Try and know roughly how much a rickshaw should cost to say Delhi Gate or Connaught Place. C) Ask a couple of drivers – get a feel for the average and barter for a decent deal.

Friendly locals

This one can get you caught up pretty quickly. Friendly locals will approach you on the street and begin a conversation about anything they can. Often they will attempt to throw you off the scent by proclaiming their desire to improve their English (often as a ‘student’) or say they are due to visit your home country soon. Don’t believe them. In fact, don’t believe any locals in Delhi. About anything. Fellow travelers are about the only people you can trust in this town. The general understanding is that you arrive, see what you have to see, and get the f**k out.

If you do decide to test the water, then it’s your own fault. Just don’t come whinging when you get stooped by some student who has bailed on you and left you out the front of a faux tourist office on a desperate looking, dead-end street with what looks lie gangs members waiting by the exit (I really wish I ignored that guy and kept on walking).

The Slums

So on one of my solo-wanders I got predictably lost in the myriad of identical side streets of Delhi. After a while I began to notice a significant lack of teeth in the owners of the diminished shop fronts. How did I know they were missing teeth? The further I walked down this particular road, the more people were smiling at me. These smiled became laughs, which turned into pointing, then yelling.

By the time I freaked out I was properly lost and had no idea what I should do next. A sharply dressed Indian man walked past briskly and without a second glance he spat ‘don’t go down there’. I chased him down and asked why – he basically said I was headed to the heart of a slum where drunk men would like nothing more than to  rip my Western head off. Having realised that many locals can’t really be trusted but realising I was probably screwed if I continued on my current trajectory, I let him lead me to the main road where he kindly put me in a rickshaw.

Crazy dogs

Now… These could be highlighted in the ‘don’ts’ of just about any city along the Delhi to Calcutta tourist strip but seeing as this will (hopefully) be your first port of call it’s probably best to get it out of the way.

In places like Delhi, feral dogs roam the street, the homes, and just about any other space they can fit into. They don’t seem particularly concerned with humans in the most part, but if you get in their way you’ll know about it. Dog fights are a relatively commonplace in India and rabies runs rampant throughout the canine population.

For the most part you’ll be fine. Just stay out of their way and don’t annoy them at night!

Do you have any tips for surviving the sometimes terrifying Delhi? Please share them with a comment.

One Broke Backpacker…

India: Incredible !ndia – Three Big Myths

Incredible !ndia

India and travel are two of the hardest things to effectively combine into an internet search. A marriage filled with a myriad of mystery and uncertainty, it can often be unnerving navigating the mountain of cryptic sub-continental travel tips.

The aim of this blog post in to explain three sentences that you have likely heard from every friend and every forum. They may seem scary but trust me when I say that you will completely understand when you get home…

Nothing will prepare you – It’s true, nothing can adequately prepare you for navigating the sub-continent. Don’t let this get you down! It is essential to do all the relevant pre-trip research; just remain vigilant to the fact that the research is a preparation only. Don’t expect to live your trip through your lonely planet guidebook or conversations with a friend. It is your experience and will differ greatly from theirs.

Land in Delhi – I’m giving up a bit of a secret here, Delhi is horrible! It is one of those places that overload every sense in that way that makes you want to cry. People will rigorously advise you (as they did with me) to ensure Delhi is your first port of call. Sort of an inside joke among those that have previously been there, surviving Delhi is a rite of passage. As with many aspects of Indian travel, you won’t really understand this tip until you have been through it. Trust me though, when you come out of the other side you will be glad you did it and understand completely why everyone is so insistent on making this place destination #1.

Don’t give up – During my three month tenure navigating what seemed much more like something out of Star Wars than planet Earth, I met countless people, all with distinctly unique characteristics that set them apart from the person and people I had met in previous days. The one constant? Every one of them could define a time in their trip that they felt like giving up. India can be a very challenging place to travel at times but the most important thing to remember is that every less than perfect experience enables your growth as both a traveler and as a human being. I can promise you that it doesn’t take long to overcome the most harrowing of hardships. India is the kind of place that floods you with a million emotions in one day and I can guarantee that by the end of it you will meet a green faced freshman on the train and re-assure them over a piping hot Chai smoking a Beedie out the window.

In sum – Take everything you hear and read with a grain of salt. You’re about to face one of the most exhilarating initiations on earth. After which it will be you playing mind games with the traveling greenhorns. It’s an exclusive club, something that will forever bond you with those have been there before and are about to head there.