Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Facespotting All Over India

A Hyderabadi lady carries a pot called "matka" which carried water for drinking. Golconda Fort, Andhra Pradesh.

AMONG my favorite preoccupation during travels is just sitting in a corner, watching people walk by. But in India, this wasn't a very easy endeavor. A foreigner is always a point of interest among the locals - although nothing will beat the Bangladeshis in terms of boundless unabashed curiosity. Until recently, photographing people hasn't been a favorite pastime. But there are obvious rewards! People render kinetic energy to a stationary tableaux. And capturing the different expressions on photo is priceless.

School children waiting for instructions from their teachers. Agra Fort, Agra.

Black shroud riding. Charminar area, Hyderabad.
Reservoir Dog Millionaire? Hahaha! City of Mumbai, Maharashtra, central India.
Ride with me? Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Impeccable whites! Oooh, that's gonna get soiled! Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

Salaamalaikum... Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

Gosh! I had goosebumps seeing these women all draped in black (these gowns are called BURQAH) at the Charminar area. It was a sea of blacks, which just a slit for the eyes. You would think you're in the heart of the Taliban country of Afghanistan. Hyderabad.

Rest your weary feet. Chennai, Tamil Nadu, southeast India.

Congratulations to the cast and makers of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire for winning the most number of Oscars at the recent 81st Academy awards. Though the movie has faults, nothing can beat its theme of hope and love amidst the squalor and these days, we need more films that can lift the spirit. I was just a little disappointed why in all the Oscars that it won (8, i think), actors Dev Patel and Freida Pinto were not actually mentioned by any of the winners. They were just part of the "talented cast". Without the perfect casting of these two, Patel especially, the movie wouldn't have completely worked! After all, there are limits to the situational probability of explaining ones answers through the chronological retelling of ones life story. But hey, all the pieces fit almost perfectly. Congratulations again! (currently playing A.R. Rahman's Om Saya and Jai Ho as I write this.) If you haven't seen it yet, Boy! You're missing out on great cinema!

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mandore India - A Child and His One-String Instrument

IT TOOK me less than 20 minutes to get to Mandore. It’s roughly 9 kilometers from Jodhpur. But as a solo traveler, I had to carefully consider every side trips and detours. After all, I don’t have anybody to share the cost of hiring a CNG with me – which is really one of the very few disadvantages of traveling alone. You basically shoulder the whole financial burden of items that are otherwise shared by a group of passengers.

Upon reaching the grounds of the
Mandore Gardens, which is really a park more than a garden, I made my way into the almost-deserted grounds. It was such a breather. Far from the madding crowd of fellow tourists. Not a second later, a little boy, clad in long white shirt and pants, started to hover before me. He was carrying this elongated one-string instrument, flipping its single string into an inaudible monotone. I was jaded and realistic enough not to expect an orchestral masterpiece coming from this boy of 8 or 9. One thing was sure, he wasn’t going to leave me alone until I hand him some dinero.

I reached down my pocket and found loose change of 10 rupees. He vigorously flicked through his string, as though flicking more notes would translate into more rupees. But hey, I have forgotten my money tree in some derelict train car! I walked faster until I seem to have lost him. An hour later, I was back near the park entrance. He ran up to me and once again hovered.
“Didn’t we just do this earlier?” I said. A hearty laugh escaped me. Unfortunately, not all of persistence will pay off.

As I stepped into my CNG, I glanced back at the park gate. The
barefoot fiddling child stood by the empty guardhouse, staring right back at me. His instrument perched against his left rib cage, standing almost vertically. I feel sorry for the little souls who are robbed of the joys of their childhood. I was a child once and i was a happy one. Aren’t we all defined by our past?

Spectacular detail in a neglected Mandore temple. Why neglected? Tourists don't even pay an entrance to visit this place, which is odd considering that foreigners ALWAYS pay extravagant amount to see anything in India. Even stock rooms and toilets within paid sites fetch considerable fees.


The town of Mandore used to be a seat of grandeur and power between the 5th to 11th century – the crowning glory in the kingdom of the glittery Marwar rule. This was until its king - in his moment of illumination - decided to transfer the seat of power to the “blue city” of Jodhpur! As a result of this, Mandore has been relegated to historical relics and neglect. These days, Mandore - take a CNG! - serves as a mere afterthought from a busy backpacker’s itinerary. Whenever there’s a lull or an extra hour to spare, the few wanderlusts find themselves a pleasantly surprising off-the-beaten track. Even Lonely Planet writes very few items about Mandore.


CNG - stands for compressed natural gas, the environment-friendly petrol used to run these 3-wheeled motorized version of tuktuks found all over India and Bangladesh. There are 2 types found in India. In big cities like Delhi, half of its population of CNGs runs with meters. Unfortunately, these drivers hardly use them when with foreigners, so you might as well forget the existence of such meters. For your own good.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jodhpur India - A Rajasthani Child at a Wedding Parade

My CNG (tuktuk) was making its way through the crooked and narrow streets of Jodhpur, the picturesque Rajasthani “blue” city. There was cattle making their way, and there were a couple of camels passing by us. My “driver” – a guy I fought so hard to ignore the day before (he kept changing his rates, and I hate dealing with such people) – signaled that we had to wait for an oncoming human traffic to pass by. A groom-to-be, riding what seemed like a donkey (“No, it’s a horse,” quipped my driver), was being paraded around the city streets, his head, his face completely covered with flowers on a string. There was a marching band, with huge trombones leading the pack. This was a wedding ritual that I’ve actually encountered several times during my Indian sojourn. And this groom-to-be was expected to reach the bride’s house after a festive going-around ceremony.

We stopped by the dusty corner of the road. Then with my interest getting the better of me, I started snapping. Soon thereafter, a cute little boy stood in front of me, encouraging me to “Pik-chur me… pik-chur me…”, without any reluctance. His excitable glee was infectious. I looked around and somewhere in the parading throng was an elderly who said, “Take his photo.” With such encouragement, I snapped away as my CNG hummed back to life. We were leaving the city center to visit a palace!

Some of the most delightful moments during my Indian trip had been encounters with children. They are such welcoming souls. In the last decade or so, I have had a gradual change of heart towards children. I now adore their curious spirit, and when they smile, boy! You just know that you’re looking at some of the sincerest of smiles that an adult like me will ever encounter during my lifetime. Kids are little angels. Whenever I see them smiling at me during such trips, they calm my nerves. And if these encounters give a false sense of security during backpacking trips, I am nevertheless grateful of such hospitality. God bless them.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

iPhone Presents the Deserted Coves of Pola, Oriental Mindoro


WITH more than 7,600 islands sprouting all over the Philippine archipelago, you can be sure that there are nameless, deserted patches of isles and stretches of beaches and coves that escape the attention of 90 million Pinoys. One such piece of paradise sits quietly in northeastern Mindoro – a little town of 6,500 households and a population of 35,000. Locals endearingly call it Polacay – an obvious reference and homage to the more popular and ultimately more populous Boracay in Aklan.
Pola is a 4th class municipality in the province of Oriental Mindoro, Philippines. It has 23 barangays (counties) and is part of the 1st district of Oriental Mindoro. Its Mayor - Alex Aranas – seems content in the craggy, end-of-the-world atmosphere of this laidback, albeit mosquito-infested corner of the world. Just 2 hours north from the capital of Calapan, Pola thrives on agricultural produce, livestock farming and survives with the bounty of the seas. Despite its affiliation with the country’s 2nd most powerful man – Vice President Noli de Castro, Pola is still mostly untouched by any hint of neither commercialism nor de Castro’s patronage. In fact, the roads from the pier to this municipality are uneven yet serviceable dirt roads.


There are several features that truly stand out from a visit in Pola. One, you can swim all day long in its deserted beaches. Though dark, the fineness of the sand competes with Boracay and Palawan. This is a sand that other legendary beaches are made of. Your feet gradually sink as you stand on them – like standing on jello. Two, you have the whole stretch of the clearest waters all to yourself. There are no pesky gravel and pebbles; no knife-sharp rock formations rising from these waters. And finally, as you head towards town, the warm hospitality of the residents embraces you like the long awaited visitor they’ve long expected.

Forget the frivolities of a congested
Puerto Galera. If you want a true escape from it all, head north and experience the natural beauty at a quiet corner of a beautiful world. Here is how an iPhone photographs Pola.

Wikipedia says:

Mindoro is the seventh-largest island in the Philippines. It is located southwest of Luzon, and northeast of Palawan. In the old days, it has been called by the Spaniards as Mina de Oro (meaning "gold mine") from where the island got its current name. The island was divided into its two present-day provinces, Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro, in 1950. Before then, since 1921, the entire island was one province.

Prehistoric China’s
Sung Dynasty – year 972 – has chronicles of trade with Mindoro, previously called Ma-I (or Mait). These includes as follows: "beeswax, cotton, true pearls, tortoise shell, medicinal betel nuts and jute clothing material" for Chinese porcelain, gold, iron pots, lead, colored glass beads and iron needles.

Economy: agricultural, livestock, fisheries, tourism (Puerto Galera and Sabang Beach)City: Calapan (population: 110,000)Highest point: Mount Halcon (2,582 meters)Province population as of 2000 – 1,062,000
Popular personalities from Pola : Philippine Vice President Noli de Castro and PBB Teen Edition Big Winner, the Franco-Pinoy
Ejay Falcon.

How to get there:

- If you want to take a car with you, you can head straight to the Batangas Pier where you can safely leave your car at the parking lot for the whole duration of your holiday. Of course you have to pay for parking.

- If you want to take the bus from Manila, which seems more convenient, head to the nearest
Jam Bus Stations (Kamuning, Cubao, Quezon City and another in Pasay City). Purchasing a ticket is very convenient. A one-way bus ticket AND your Supercat ride to Calapan City, Mindoro are available at a single counter for only PhP250. Travel from Manila to the Batangas Pier will take somewhere between 2 to 2 ½ hours. (Give Jam’s Pasay Branch a ring – 8310465. You’s be extremely lucky if you’re able to get though. LOL)

- Your Supercat crossing from the Batangas Pier to Mindoro will take 45 to 50 minutes. Return takes an hour – a little longer as per navigating conditions.

- Upon reaching Calapan, you have 2 options. If money is a concern, then hire a tricycle and haggle hard. Ask several before choosing your ride. If however, you are with a group, then it is best to
hire a van – a more comfortable 2-hour ride going to Pola. The more people there are, the van operators won’t nudge on anything below PhP1,800.

- There are inns and small guesthouses in Pola. Just ask around and people will be glad to help you find them.

- Finally, don’t forget to bring your mosquito repellant. Mosquitoes in that part of town are ravenous.

- And yes, although telephone signal
while on the road to Pola is intermittent, signal is good upon reaching Pola. And crime is relatively unheard of. Just be sensible.
Here is a separate feature on Calima, one of the 24 barangays (county) in the municipality of Pola. Photos are generously shared to us by Mr. Michael R. Karklin of Plymouth Massachusetts. -

A partial moon and Venus beaming brightly.

This is the Eye in the Sky.