Thursday, 21 March 2013

Chandigarh: The Milton Keynes of India

One of Chandigarh's many manicured roundabouts

After posting just twice this year I now find myself posting twice in a week! I'm becoming positively prolific!

Anyway, this post is about Chandigarh, a city five hours' drive from Mussoorie to the west. We went there last weekend to watch the cricket at the Punjab Cricket Association Ground at Mohali, just outside Chandigarh.

What's extraordinary about Chandigarh compared to every other city in India is that it's a planned city. As you cross the city you drive through different "sectors" over grassy, manicured roundabouts, with blocks of houses and flats and shops which make you feel like you're back in a planned city such as Milton Keynes or Welwyn Garden City in England.

A tree-lined street
It really is the most strange feeling, as it feels quite ordered, and almost makes you feel like you are not in India (however the bad driving and camels on the road soon remind you that you are!).

The city was built in the 1950s and designed by French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and was a pet project of the first Indian Prime Minister Nehru. It was built after partition in 1947 when a new capital for the state of Punjab was required to replace Lahore, which became part of Pakistan. It is now a union territory and serves as the capital of both the states of Haryana and the Punjab.

It's definitely worth a visit just because it's so different. I'm going back to visit its famous rock garden which sadly I did not have time to see this time.

Don't get the hump! A camel on the road in Chandigarh.

A row of houses in Sector 27, or is it Sector 37?!
Meeting MS Dhoni's biggest fan at the cricket in Mohali

Monday, 18 March 2013

Thailand, Tendulkar and Tomes


So finally, six weeks after our winter holiday in Thailand I am finally writing about it, apologies for the delay. Well, what can I say, it’s an amazing country, so much easier to travel round compared to India, mainly because you don’t get hassled every five seconds.

It is also clean, has beautiful countryside, lovely beaches and crystal clear sea…and the food is out of this world - so fresh and flavoursome.

Highlights included seeing the Death Railway at the Bridge Over the River Kwai, made famous by the film of the same name, the Erewan Waterfalls, New Year’s Eve in Bangkok - a bustling city full of energy - snorkelling centimetres from turtles off the west coast, and playing football golf in Ko Sumoi (!). It was great also to catch up with some old friends who are working in a church there.

It is little wonder Thailand is so popular with tourists (around 20 million came in 2012, the equivalent of the population of the country), apart from all of the above…everything is efficient, the roads are good, and it has all the creature comforts westerners can’t live without. There are 7 Eleven convenience stores on just about every street corner in urban areas!

For hardcore travellers India is much more demanding…people everywhere, trying to sell you something, help you, transport you, scam you…

This is not to say I don’t love my current country of residence. But “India is just soooo not Thailand”, as I posted on my Facebook page when we first arrived!

Me and Mr T in the Woodstock gym

Unless you live under a rock in India, you will be aware Sachin Tendulkar is an extremely famous cricketer. Think of footballer David Beckham in England and then multiply it by about a million.

Tendulkar has idol status, he is literally worshipped here. India’s outstanding batsman of the last 15 years, he recently became the first cricketer to achieve 100 first class centuries.

So it was somewhat bizarre to be singing Christmas carols to him at a Christmas dinner party here in Mussoorie.

Mr Tendulkar was up here with his family for a holiday. He trained everyday in our school gym preparing for the next set of test matches, and I was lucky enough to join him in bowling to his son.
He seemed like a nice enough chap and was kind enough to pose for a photograph.

We chatted briefly and I asked him if he fancied coming over to play for my team Essex in England, but he said he had received offers to come to England but his body could not take the rigours of country cricket these days. He reminded me he was the first non-Yorkshireman to play for Yorkshire, and when I asked who he thought was the best current England player, said: “Well, he’s not actually English, but it’s the South African Kevin Pietersen.” Touche Sachin! 

He was certainly pushing his son very hard, who seemed to have some talent, so who knows, I may have bowled to a future Indian cricket star following in his father’s footsteps!

I saw him in action this weekend in Mohali during the third test versus Australia. Sadly he only posted 31 runs, but it was still an experience to see him bat, and the crowd reaction to him. Every time he nudged even a single the crowd would go wild as if he'd hit a six! He was overshadowed by debutant Shikar Dhawan who made 187 on his Test bow! Perhaps the next great Indian cricketer!

Sachin (right) exiting field at Mohali Test match versus Australia

I have a massive pile of books on my bedside table but for I’m always so tired during term time I make little headway through them. During our holiday though I managed to get through four excellent books about India or by Indian authors.

Firstly I read Train to Pakistan which is a grisly novel based on the ethnic tensions that flared up in 1947 during the partition of India and Pakistan. I then moved onto All the Way to Heaven by Steve Alter, a Woodstock alumnus who still lives on the hillside. The book chronicles his upbringing as a Third Culture Kid, son of missionaries here in the 1950s and 60s. His childhood is very similar to my wife Kirsten’s upbringing here, and so many of the details, the flora, fauna and challenges faced by a white person who isn’t quite sure where they are from, made for a fascinating read.

I then read The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh which is an excellent historical novel of the history of Burma and India under colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th century. I then picked up Booker winning tome The God of Little Things by Arundhati Roy set in southern India, not a bad read but quite sad. And I am halfway through another Booker-winning book - The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, who is coming to the school in May as Writer-in-Residence.

Sadly the book I had hoped to read eluded me…my darling wife stole Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children at the beginning of the holiday!