Kolkata, where my world ends...
Trip Start Jul 01, 2010
22Trip End Ongoing
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there are no regular boats linking India to any country of South-East Asia. So my plan first is to try to get a ferry to the Andaman Islands, which are actually closer to Thailand but still land of India. This might not be easy as only weekly ships are doing the trip from Calcutta
or Chennai on the east coast of the country. From Andaman I would then try to get a
lift on a private boat which could be a sailing boat, a yacht, a fishing boat,... So going to Andaman will be a risk, as I will not be sure to find something and maybe I would just have to come back. And this plan will completely determine the next of my indian trip (I need to manage my time left on my visa). So when I arrived in Mumbai I finally decided I would skip South India, and that I would get Chennai on the east coast straight after Goa.
With more than 16 million people, Mumbai is the largest city in India, and also the most developed.
city is also home to the Bollywood movie industry. And with my New-Zealand friend Lucy I had met in Delhi a couple of weeks before and who I met again here, we quickly ended up on a shooting. They often need foreigners to perform as extras in the movies and recruitment
people are always wandering around the tourist area. And we were lucky because this was a very big production with 2 of the biggest Bollywood stars, Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor. I never heard of them before but for Indians they are even more famous than Hollywood actors. And I couldn't hit better as the scene occurs in a nightclub, and we were supposed to dance in the background! :-D A private bus picked us up (about 20 foreigners) and drove us to the studio. And it was funny to be on the "other side" this time, as I used to be part of the technical
team (I had worked before on a few shootings as sound operator).
Next days were intended to visit the city: walking along Marine Drive
for a sunset on the Arabian Sea, watching cricket games (the national
sport) and trying to understand the rules, exploring cave temples on
Elephant Island, or experiencing the very interesting "Chicken maharaja
mac" at Mcdonalds haha. Then a crazy bus driver (in India "crazy" and "bus
driver" are very closely linked) drove us along the night to the green
lands of Goa, where I wanted to spend Christmas...
why Goa is a special place to me is its link with psychedelic trance
music (psy-trance or "goa" trance) which I'm quite into it since I
discovered it when experienced my first rave party in London less than
one year ago. Goa is indeed the place where psy-trance was born.
old portuguese colony (discovered by Vasco de Gama in 1498 and captured
10 years later) started to be a hippie pilgrimage land, soon after
Indian troops walked into the state to liberated it from occupation in
1961. And the first campfire beach parties occurred, led by the sound
of the guitars. And slowly, with development of electronic and
industrial music (Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk), and incorporating
elements of psychedelic rock and some spiritual culture, goa trance
finally emerged late in the eighties. The result: a crazy psychedelic
sound universe, relying on a pumping and hypnotic rhythm led by a fast
and energetic beat. Psy-trance is mind-blowing. It is madness and
frenzyness. It raises your
conscious up and makes you feel more alive. It opens your eyes, it
opens your mind. And it might also make you want to see the world... :-)
The golden years of the trance scene in Goa arrived in the
mid-nineties, when thousands of ravers attended the wild full moon
parties on the beach. But things have changed since and the decrease in
popularity of the place began, especially when the government imposed a
curfew on late loud music about 10 years ago. Fortunately police is
more relaxed during peak season on Christmas/NY time, allowing them to keep up
this place is famous for its party scene and it wasn't difficult to find
signs of colonial past: a church in the village; the owner of my guest
house is called Julliana, and her language is konkani, the official
local language which sounds very close to portuguese. And to my
surprise a lot of Indian tourists were there, most of them coming from
Mumbai or other indian big cities. I got stuck in Anjuna 2 weeks in
total, spending lazy days and going out most of the nights. These were
my holidays. :-D
If trains are nice to travel with, it is sometimes almost
impossible to get a ticket if you don't book some time in advance,
especially during peak season. So again a private night bus took me to
my next destination.
can exist somewhere in the world. With its completely surrealist
scenery, Hampi is one of these places. Ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire
(the biggest Hindu empire in Indian history) remain here between
coconut trees, banana plantations ans rice fields. And in addition to
this, thousands of rocks are spread all over the old city and you can
think very long how they got there in this crazy composition. Amazing.
I joined there 2 Londoners friends who were my roommates in Goa. Guest
houses were all full so I slept on a terrace for Rs50/night. I really
wished I could stay longer in Hampi but I needed to be as soon as
possible in Chennai to make sure to get a ticket for the weekly Andaman
boat. So after a couple of days I left and had a short stop in
Bangalore. I spent some time there with a russian guy travelling around the
country on his motorbike, and spent my evening with an iranian girl in
a Hard Rock Cafe (!) - I had met her in Goa and she was studying in the
Chennai early in the morning. As Bangalore this is an ordinary big
city (4th of India) and not very interesting. I had no problem to buy
my bunker class ticket for my boat to Andaman Islands, the departure is
4 days later. In the shipping office I met Aron, a welsh guy who has
been travelling from Europe through the same way than myself, and
Thony, an american guy (from Taiwan) who has the same plan than me of
getting Thailand by boat. And this is a good thing because being both
of us would probably increase our chances to find something. The next
days were a bit boring (except the crocodile bank visit :-), we were
all waiting for the departure.
It is 4pm when we board on the ship. But not before the medical
health control which consists in the following question: "Everything
OK?". Sure. Everything OK! And you can happily leave the room with your
"Examined" stamp on your ticket. Three hours later, in the dark we
went, leaving the city and its lights right there. And we drifted
along. And then the city became a yellow stripe, and as we kept going
it slowly got longer and longer, and thiner and thiner. And then
suddenly the night and the distance erased it completely. Now far ahead
(around 1000km), Port Blair and the Andaman Islands. Digging our way
through the sleeping Bay of Bengal, we led to the east. And we kept
digging. Endlessly we dug, leaving no rest to the ocean. And we never
stopped. We would never stop until 3 nights and 2 days later.
Exploring the boat and its labyrinths we first tried to find the most
important place. The restaurant. Which is actually a canteen. During
the journey meals are served on specific timings. You can choose
between the veg meal (rice with lentils, potatoes and vegetables), or
for 6 rupees more the non-veg meal, which offered us for our first
dinner a couple of eggs as extra. The next morning I missed the 8.30am
breakfast and I enjoyed my bread and nutella I had got just in case.
When I then went on the main deck I could finally observe the unity and
mystery that makes our planet. "Le Grand Bleu". That was it. And I told
Aron the story when I was in Varanasi, when a young indian man speaking
a few words of french took me to his shawl shop and proudly showed me
this comment in the notebook: "Je ne
a very famous french movie and Luc Besson is the director).
Where were we now? Somewhere between 2 worlds. Maybe inside a painting. And what
was underneath us? And how deep was it? I hoped to see some dolphins or a wale but all we saw were flying fishes. The full moon lighted our last night and we woke up in the morning with a change in the scenery. We were arriving in the new world and came back to reality.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are in fact a group of not less than
572 islands, with only 32 of them being inhabited. During
British time the islands were used as penal settlements where the
independence fighters were sent. Today they are still home to some
indigenous tribes and constitute a protected area. We got the required
permit on arrival in Port Blair and straight Thony and me started our
investigation on how getting to Thailand. The immigration officers
first said it was not possible. But at the end they said it was and we
managed to extract some info that many thai yachts were currently on
the small island of Havelock, a popular place along with foreigners. So
we bought our tickets for the next vessel and a couple of hours later
the same day we were again on the sea.
the island in the dark. We were 6 of us, trying desperately to find a
place to stay. All guest houses were full on the whole island. Finally
we had to split and I settled my tent for Rs50/night. It was a family
guest house, runned by a 19-years old guy. His name was Sukh, and he
was completely fucked up when we arrived. And when I asked him where I
could put my tent he answered: "My friend... this is my place.
Meaning... you stay in my place. And this is VERY VERY important." And
he laughed... "Ok, but where can I put my tent?" "As you want bro, as
you want. You put there, you put there... I tell you, this is my place,
and you are here, meaning, this is very important, no?". And he was
still laughing. And of course we did too, but not really for the same
reason. And he was like this every night. A good guy, he just never
managed to get over his father's lost when he was only a kid.
The heat woke me up at 7am on my first Andaman day. And while testing
the water on the heavenly remote beach just behind the guest house,
Thony arrived to pick me up and to start our yachts research. He just
got a scooter for the day and we were ready to explore the whole
island. We got the information that many yachts were currently at beach
nr 7 on the other side of the island (there are no names on Havelock,
each beach and village is numbered from 1 to 7). And in a 15min ride we
got there. Beach nr 7. And we see no boats... So we started to ask around,
restaurants, hotels, scuba diving operators,... and we did this during
all day, going from one place to another, covering most of the island.
We tried everything we could and things didn't seem very good for us.
happens. And the next days were lazy days, spending time relaxing on
the beach, snorkeling (excellent!), playing chess (I bought a board),
eating delicious fish (the barakouda!), and partying a little bit (and
trying to avoid snakes on the dark roads on our way back). And on the
6th day the thing happened. Beach nr7. A sailing boat was arriving.
Actually it was a catamaran boat and it stopped a couple of hundreds
meters away. I didn't see it first, Aron told me. So I decided to swim
towards it and 15min later I got to the boat. When approaching 2 little
blond kids were pointing at me. A family. Then I saw a man and he
signed at me and shouted something. I was still swimming and I didn't
understand so I just replied "HELLO!". He finally offered me to sit on
the stairs leading to the water. They were from France and switching to
my mother tongue was a bit hard as I hadn't spoken french for about a
month. They just finished their lunch: a big tuna fish. Well only half
of it, as a shark ate the other half just before they caught it further
offshore (au large). "Are you going to Thailand?" I asked then. "Yes!
We're going back to Pukhet. We take you there if you want". I couldn't
believe it, it was almost to good to be true. And indeed it was... They
wouldn't go before 4 weeks. This means, I would need to extent my
indian visa for 1 more week (and no sure at all this is possible), and
I would have to stay another month in Andaman whereas I am already
short in time for the rest of my trip (my australian visa expires on
may 30th and there is a long way left). But also this would probably be
my only chance to keep on my overland/oversea journey and avoid a first
flight. So... a very hard decision to take. I thanked them and swam
back to the beach with their number written on my arm, just in case.
After long reflexion I finally resigned, took the boat back to Port
Blair the next day (no thai boats there neither), and got the ship to
Visakhapatnam, mainland India, from where a rough 12h-train journey
took me to Kolkata (Calcutta). Sitting (and then sleeping) on my
bagpack just next to the toilets between 2 carriages. Later in the
night some sleepers went free and one man got me suddenly out of my
dreams. 4am, we were in Kolkata. Wandering through the empty streets
in the middle of the night, this reminded me when I arrived in Beijing.
But here cats and rats are wandering with me. And all hotels were still
closed. I sat in a small courtyard, waited for 6am, got a bed in a
dorm, slept 3 hours, and then went to the Burmese Embassy. I wanted to
try my very last chance... Negative. What to do now? Crossing Myanmar
illegally? I considered it very shortly, but this would probably not be
a very good idea. I might have done it into Tibet, but in the present
case this means travelling without visa in a military regime state, and
with unsafe border areas especially with Thailand.
My reason had the last word and I booked my flight ticket to Bangkok... And so Kolkata, this is where my world ends. I'm gonna miss something. I'm gonna lose the track. All this road, thousands and thousands of miles, made me. It was my life. And during this jump through the
burmese sky, my body, my soul, won't be fed anymore. And I'm not gonna be anymore. A jump into the deep collapse of my dream. One day I'll fill the gap...