Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shopping in Sri Lanka

A bunch of us spent some 4 days in Sri Lanka last week. It was primarily a trip to do some shopping, and also to travel a bit. The only thing going for Sri Lanka, I thought, was that there were probably a lot more beaches to check out.

We managed to only see Bentota beach, and a little bit of the beaches closer to Colombo. Rest of Sri Lanka seemed not very different from India, except that it was maybe a little less crowded, people were a little more well behaved (they actually stop for pedestrians!), and food was not as great. Other than that, as an Indian you would probably feel right at home -- almost to the extent that you would expect these people to know Hindi. It even happened to us a few times -- we blurted out in Hindi to the auto rickshaw driver or the taxi driver, and didn't realize for a second why they didn't respond. Indian Rupee works just as fine in most places, you have to haggle your way through everything, and we didn't look out of place. We felt so much at home that we decided we should be paying the Sri Lankan fares for all parks and temples we visited -- which were of course much less then the charges for foreigners.

We stayed at the Hilton for the first couple of days. I had found out that they have squash courts at the Hilton, so naturally I went prepared. I got a chance to play squash after about 6 months, I think, and loved every second of it. It left me quite sore for the rest of the time in Sri Lanka -- and I felt all of it when trying to jet ski in Bentota the next day.

Our time in Lanka felt like we were driving around most of the time. Traffic seems really slow there. The drive to Bentota took us longer than upwards of 2 hours, and it is just over 60km from Colombo. The next day we drove to Kandy and stayed at the really lousy Queens hotel there. The hotel seemed to have been left behind by the British, and the folks who took it over seemed to have decided that by just letting it be makes it all the better. On the way to Kandy we stopped at an elephant orphanage -- still called that though the original orphans are now grandparents and parents of the rest of the elephants in the orphanage now. We had had some really good time up, close and personal with the elephants in Nagarhole, so it didn't seem that much of a novelty. Nevertheless, elephants are majestic, and command respect when you lay eyes on them.

The third day we were back in Colombo, this time at the Taj Samudra. This hotel was definitely worse off than the Hilton, but better located and decent facilities. Their dinner pricing was quite baffling though. They had priced their buffet at three times the price of the most expensive item on the regular menu -- not surprising then that hardly anyone touched the buffet.

The fourth day was a rare day when I went on a shopping spree for about eight hours at a stretch. We started at Odel (great for clothing, especially t-shirts), moved to House of Fashion (amazing for jackets -- unbelievably low prices!), Arena (which was apparently unceremoniously shutdown for no apparent reason), Paradise Road (really beautiful store, good selection of Dilmah tea, hand paper stuff, handicrafts and more) and then back to Odel to wrap it all up. At Paradise Road I also picked up a book called "Colpetty People" by Ashok Ferrey. I've read half of it now and it reminds me of RK Narayan quite a bit in its prose, and Saki and Roald Dahl in its stories and characters. The book has short stories bases in Sri Lanka, or with Sri Lankan characters. I like it so far.

Back in Bangalore, it seems just like it was before, only worse. The rains have helped make the traffic situation worse -- and I thought it couldn't get any worse. Bangalore seems to heading to some kind of a climax -- one day the traffic will get so bad that everyone will run out of petrol just sitting in the cars, and will have to leave their cars on the road to go home; everything will come to a standstill. It really does feel that way when it takes 2 hours to drive half a km here. And if the people ruling this state would have their way, all of us should soon start farming.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Headed back home...

As all good things do, my surfing vacation ended. :(

But it ended on such a great note, I can't complain. For one, I am doing a lot, LOT, better than when I first started. I am turning more and more, and am able to go across waves!! How cool is that. Whenever I've taken holidays in the summer I've felt that I needed to have a summer sport. Snowboarding's been a great winter sport. With surfing, and, to a slightly lesser extent, diving, I finally have one. Ever since I saw the surfing movie Step Into Liquid, I've felt a need to learn surfing. I tried my hand at it for 3 days in Oregon about a year ago, and that was like tasting blood. Unfortunately I hadn't been able to do it again till now. It feels great to finally get past this constant desire in me to want to get into water.

The other reason it was so great the last 3 days was that, hold your breath, there were dolphins surfing right next to me!! Imagine getting on a wave, catching it, and as you surf a dolphin jumps out from beneath you and surfs the wave next to you! And this wasn't no Seaworld. This was open ocean. I can't describe the feeling... I was howling with joy when it happened.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Look Both Ways

I checked out this movie today at an art house theater in Brisbane. The theater, called Dendy Cinemas, reminded me of some of the smaller art house theaters in Seattle. Anyway, the movie was surprisingly very good. It is an Australian movie, and though I was expecting good stuff, this one exceeded expectations. Slow, downplayed emotions, very real stuff, and nicely put together.

Surfing got even better today after the break. I am beginning to turn and go sideways, and am hoping to take that a notch higher by the end of the week!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Go Dive!

I took a break this weekend from surfing and came over to the Great Barrier Reef for some diving. I did two dives this morning and in one word, it was INCREDIBLE. I think everyone should learn diving, and then explore the world down below water. It's bigger than IMAX! ;-)

I am staying at the Heron Island, an island on the reef itself, in the Marine park. It is a really tiny island (takes about half an hour to walk around it), and it sits on top of a huge reef shelf. The dives were a short boat ride off the island.

During the first dive, I was a little disoriented. Being under water, at 40ft, is still somewhat of a novel experience for me. And everyone else on the dive being expert divers kind of made me look even more green. I was under water for nearly half an hour, and for most part I spent it kind of under the spell of the incredible beauty that surrounded me, not to forget trying not to make too big a fool of myself. It was one incredible experience -- to be surrounded by amazing stuff that IMAX movies are made of, with water squeezing the air bubbles in you, and then there is even more beautiful things that swim by you, taking you somewhat by surprise.

The second dive was a lot better. I was a lot more relaxed, and if I thought the earlier dive was fascinating, this one beat it hands down. We descended to about 18m, and swam along the reef for about half an hour. At one point the divemaster signalled us to come over, and we swam around a coral to find a, yes!, a shark beneath it. It was at least a meter long, maybe 1.5 meters or so. At first sight, I felt a slight twinge of fear. But when the divemaster just went close to its face and waved it out from the coral, I let myself just take it all in. I was swimming 18m beneath the sea level, about a couple of feet away from a 4.5ft shark, the one with the JAWS, so close I count its gills and had time to compare it with what I had seen in books, documentaries and Spielberg's horror flick, and my guide was even close to it and trying to scare it out of its hiding space. I assumed it wasn't going to come for me -- there were more meaty looking divers around me. Surely the guide wouldn't be waving at it if there was indeed a risk. So, I just watched, fascinated, enthralled. No shark cages for me, no sir! Just give me this fearless divemaster!

On my second dive I had taken my underwater camera with me. On the first dive, I reckoned it would be too much hassle, too much of a distraction. I clicked one photo before the dive to make sure the camera worked but, as though to make Murphy the lawmaker give the i-told-you-so smile, the camera refused to work once I entered the water. So I have no pictures to prove what I saw, but I know I'll never forget it either. Tara the fearless divemaster was there as a witness!

I think everyone in this world should learn to dive and explore the world under water. It is worth it! Go dive!

I am headed back from my trip to Heron Island, back to the "mainland." I start my third part of surfing tomorrow morning. My break from vacation has ended, and the vacation itself is drawing to conclusion. In another eight days' time I will be in Bangalore, and then there will be families, flights, weddings and back-to-work.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bollywood is everywhere!

This Sunday I spent the afternoon at the Queensland Multicultural festival in Brisbane. The program listed music and from from lots of different countries. In fact, it was crammed with performances all day long, with 4-5 shows at the same time. There was food from everywhere as well. I tried a Bolivian dish, the name which I already forgot.

There was a significant presence of Indian music there. And food too. There was a classical music performance, and a Sikh music performance (a guy called Dya Singh who was made out to be a world famous, but I hadn't heard about him before). But what seemed to be much more predominant theme from India was Bollywood. the emcees kept talking about the Bhangra show in the evening and a chance for everyone to learn the dance moves of Bollywood. Among other cultural shows there were bunch of performers singing and dancing to Bollywood songs. Bollywood seems to be defining the Indian culture everywhere, for good or bad. The "filmi" dances and the mushy songs with peppy music are everywhere and there is no escaping. It's like one of the asian underground performers said, the brown invasion has begun.