Shillong India
Up Kaziranga India
Postcards from:  


Big Bear Lake
Hong Kong China
Bangkok
Thailand
Calcutta India
Guwahati India
Shillong India
Kaziranga India
Agartala India
Dhaka Bangladesh
Bodhgaya India
Varanasi India
Agra India
New Delhi India
Kathmandu Nepal
Bangkok Thailand
Xi'an China
Tianshui China
Lanzhou China 1

Urumqi
China 1
Turpan China
Korla China
Kuqa China
Aksu China
Kashgar China
Urumqi China 2
Bishkek Kyrgyzstan 1
 Cholponata Kyrgyzstan
 Balykchy Kyrgyzstan
 Bishkek Kyrgyzstan 2
Almaty Kazakhstan 1
 Zharkent Kazakhstan 1
 Almaty Kazakhstan 2
Zharkent Kazakhstan 2
Korghas China
Yining China
Urumqi China 3
Dunhuang China
Jiayuguan China
Zhang Ye China
Wu Wei China
Lanzhou China 2
Zhongwei China
Yinchuan China
Shanghai China
California USA


 


SHILLONG: Here I am showing off my new down jacket... worth at least $50-$100 back home. I paid 150 Rupees, about $3.50. It is beautiful and very warm... and very welcome here in cold, cold Shillong.


SHILLONG: About 1500 meters altitude, this area gets darned cold. I bought a down ski jacket on the street for 150 Rupees, about $3.50. It is in excellent shape, though a bit shop/street worn. The next day I found this new, part wool turtle-neck shirt for $2.70. Thought I'd take a picture while it is still new.


SHILLONG: Tribe women in the city selling "dope," leaves, lime and pieces of Beetle nut: supposed to give the chewer some sort of stimulation. An other traveler says he read the habit causes cancer. Note the unique head gear.


SHILLONG: Like chewing tobacco, people feel they need to spit occasionally, in the case of Beetle nut it is a bright red-orange juice... seen here.


SHILLONG: Water is so abundant people waste it.


SHILLONG: Many pipes leak and less fortunate folks contrive to shorten their water trips by catching water from spurts along the pipes.


SHILLONG: The public well is a long way off and less fortunate folks contrive to shorten their water trips by catching water from spurts along the pipes.


SHILLONG: Some of the slums tucked in among newer buildings. Shillong is much cleaner and orderly than Guwahati, still there are places not well maintained.


SHILLONG: India's Republic Day occurred while I was here. Some of the rebel groups called a boycott and most of the shops in Shillong complied. Nearly every shop closed and people played Cricket, sometimes four or five games in a single block.


SHILLONG: Our bus to Guwahati made a stop mid-trip and I jumped off to buy three oranges for 10 Rupees (23 cents).


SHILLONG: About ten kilometers from Guwahati hoards of young military age men mobbed our bus and all the others passing by. I never did learn where they all came from, but one guy said they had just finished their military training. They certainly were in a boisterous mood. Our bus spent a half hour trying to get through the traffic jam caused by the commotion.


SHILLONG: On the "Super Sonic" bus I used to get back to Guwahati this precocious young girl made friends with everyone on the bus. The guy across the isle let her sit on his lap as the bus had no more seats.


Cherrapunjee: Sign proclaiming the area's claim to fame. Not much there other than the sign and a lot of bare volcanic rock washed clean by the heavy rains.


Cherrapunjee: Cut firewood waiting for people to pack it to a more accessible distribution point down the mountain.


Cherrapunjee: English signs worded by non-English speakers are a never ending source of amusement.


Cherrapunjee: There is a resort somewhere up here, but we never saw it.

 

30 January 2003 

Hello from the wettest place on earth.

Shillong is located about 100 kilometers south of Guwahati. It is located high enough in the mountains that evening temperatures fall to chilling. This is a region known for its abundant rainfall. For a place where water is so abundant, it is surprising to see very little cooperation in distribution. If you want water piped to your house, you lay your own dedicated pipe, no sharing. One sees ten to twenty water pipes running along the sides of streets, mostly on top of the pavement. Old pipes commonly leak and people without piped water harness the spurts to fill containers rather than make the often long walk to one of the public fresh water tanks. The leaking pipes create little urban streams along the streets. No one seems to give them much thought. In a few cases attempts have been made to stop leaks by wrapping something around the pipes. That doesn't stop water poachers from moving the patch long enough to fill a container, replacing the patch when finished. Hot water is a luxury enjoyed during specific hours here in the hotels of Shillong, something I learned after stepping under the spray the first afternoon I arrived hot and dirty. That day I welcomed a cool shower. Both of the better places offer the extravagance of slightly warm water for five morning hours and four evening hours. Want an afternoon hot shower or one at 10PM? Forget it! One evening in the middle of my badly needed hair shampoo the city power went off and the hotel switched to an auxiliary power generator... which only allowed essential lights and appliances to operate. In a couple minutes my electrically heated warm shower turned cold before I could wash the soap from my eyes. Yikes!

Shillong in the state of Meghalya India is the jumping off place for a visit to Cherrapunjee, which claims to get more rainfall than any other place in the world. As much as 320 inches falls during the peak monsoon month of July... that's an average of 10 inches everyday in the wettest years! A bumpy three hour Jeep ride got us to an area of bare volcanic rock near the border with Bangladesh where monsoon downpours occur during early summer months. On the mountain roads around Shillong huge cargo trucks stop in the middle of their lanes for any number of reasons forcing traffic to detour around them in both directions. In one five minute period I counted eight trucks blocking traffic. I can only imagine the mess this must cause during the monsoon.

Shillong is the site of an old British "hill station." Built on several knolls and intervening gullies it reminds me a lot of Assisi in Italy. Walking the busy part of the city called the Police Bazaar is guaranteed to provide significant exercise. It also is the cleanest of the Indian cities Ive visited, though far from meeting Western standards of hygiene and sanitation. Hill tribes market their crafts and produce along the crowded streets of the shopping area.  Giant, sweet and exotically flavored "tangerines" are called oranges here. So easy to peel and delicious: I love em at ten cents each, they are a bargain. Evenings were unexpectedly chilly and when I saw a pile warm jackets being offered for a mere 150 Rupees ($3.40) I grabbed one thinking I'd just toss it when I left the mountains. As you can see from the picture, it is an excellent down filled ski jacket worth perhaps a hundred dollars . I also bought the wool turtleneck I'm wearing in the other picture for an additional 120 Rupees ($2.70). 

My hair will hang to my waist by the time I leave India. Here, like Turkey, beauty shops are reserved for women and often carry a sign warning "No Men Allowed" or "Women Only." The saloons (barber shops) offer quick electric clipper jobs that guarantee to turn out one version or another of the standard military cut. Indian men rarely wear their hair long.

People are chewing a concoction of a green leaf smeared with a white "lime" paste with bits of Betelnut sprinkled on top. On chewing, one's spit turns red making both male and female chewers look like they have done a sloppy job of applying lipstick. When one smiles, the stained teeth give them an appearance of a wild beast in the middle of devouring a recent kill. Apparently no one swallows the tasty saliva as everyone spits the red juice wherever the urge occurs... including onto the marble walks of some inside shopping arcades. I am often amused when watching a store keeper with a mouth full of red juice ready for spitting trying to carry on a conversation with a customer. It must be quite a trick to hold their mouth is such a way as to retain the juice and make intelligible sounds at the same time. Their contorted faces are a sight to remember.

Betelnuts grow in clusters like coconuts on palm trees that resemble the coconut palm. While they seemed to be growing wild in many places, I also saw a number of densely planted groves, attesting to the popularity of the chewing habit. 

Outside the city I see a strange variety of bamboo growing. It looks like the ordinary species except the growing tip turns vine-like, bending over like a Weeping Willow branch that often reaches the ground. I imagined people cutting a pole and using the long thin string-like tip as a natural fishing line. 

Bamboo reinforced, mud covered walls are used in building construction. Where concrete is used there is little obvious quality control. Mixed on a flat surface, a quantity of cement is added to a pile of sand and aggregate with water added to a depression in the middle. It makes concrete, but the quality varies from one batch to another, something obvious from the uneven wearing of walkways.

I read a newspaper article about the Indian elite who live "bubble lives," moving from one bubble of hygiene, affluence and comfort to another, hardly making any contact with the pervasive squallier between bubbles. I realized that is exactly what I have been doing with my excursions into the streets where no one can avoid the real India. If I didn't have my ready first class hotel "bolt holes," I probably wouldn't find such adventure so appealing. Fortunately, luxury hotels are relatively cheap in the parts of India I've so far visited: $40 to $70.

Reading my description of the uneven sidewalks in Kolkata, a friend sent me an article which claims walking on uneven surfaces provides better exercise for the elderly! I've been doing the right thing all along and didn't even know it. That probably accounts for my tightening belt, now cinched up a good four inches from when I left in December last year.

Making a telephone call is like performing the "who's on first?" routine. They say "hello." I reply "hello." They say "hello" again, etc. Eventually I say something like "I've already said hello twice. Are you there?"  Waiters always think you are going to order several servings of anything requested, because they always ask "one?" After carefully pointing to several menu items and confirming the waiter understands what I want, they will read back the order in a totally mangled form of English that defies deciphering, waiting for a confirmation before they will scurry off to the kitchen to place my order. More than once what I got looked nothing like what I thought I had ordered. 

Restaurant tipping is a confusing matter here in India. Cultured Indians are said to tip in upscale restaurants. Some of the better establishments add a 10% service charge. However, watching closely I have never seen an Indian leave a large tip. Once, a father collected the paper change from his payment leaving the coins. His teenage son saw the oversight and pocketed the windfall. I have experimented with leaving and not leaving tips and see no difference in the quality of service: always obsequious during the first few visits, deteriorating as staff becomes familiar with my presence. The old British axiom "Familiarity breeds contempt" seems to hold in this former British colony.

During my stay in India this time I have seen numerous newspaper articles about government censorship. Criticism of major government officials and Islam is not tolerated; people are arrested! On the other hand, respected citizens do write guest editorials criticizing poor performance of government departments and the atrocious lack of hygiene and sanitation in the cities and poor road maintenance. One article mirrored my own observations perfectly, concluding by urging citizens to take more pride in their city and clean it up.

Arvind, a Kolkata industrialist I met on the shared taxi tour of Cherrapunjee says Indian professionals are paid about 20% of their American counterparts. Ordinary unskilled laborers make 150 to 300 Rupees per day ($3.50 to $7.00 per day), he says. Government employees make a bit more, perhaps 400 Rupees a day. A doctor I later met in Kaziranga says the actual laborer wage is closer to 50 Rupees per day! That's a little over a dollar a day.

There is 30 minute helicopter service back to Guwahati. The fare is a mere 725 Rupees or about $17. That is around what I paid for a private four hour taxi ride to get me here. Of course one must add the outrageous $7 Guwahati airport taxi ride back into the city. The option seemed tempting until I discovered the new "Super Sonic" bus service. While the comfortable seats made the riding enjoyable, the bus eventually became overcrowded and noisy towards the end of the journey.
 

Peace,
Fred L Bellomy


PS: For anyone following my wanderings it will become apparent there often is a significant delay in getting out the postcards. At the moment I am in Dhaka Bangladesh.

Peace,
Fred L Bellomy

 


SHILLONG: Outdoor display of the menu for one of the small restaurants around town. These prices are well below what I paid in the upscale hotels here.


SHILLONG: Water is so abundant people waste it. The big problem is delivery and anyone who doesn't want to carry it home puts in their own pipe... their OWN pipe... no intentional sharing. One sees dozens of pipes running along the same route. Many leak and less fortunate folks contrive to shorten their water trips by catching water from spurts along the pipes.


SHILLONG: What have we here? looks like Arabic writing around crude stone statues. However, the real explanation is stranger. People must "prepare" the Beetle nut chew with lime and the excess is wiped on any handy surface, in this case a brick wall.


SHILLONG: This street tea seller had lots of customers on a cold early evening.


SHILLONG: Water is so abundant people waste it. The big problem is delivery and anyone who doesn't want to carry it home puts in their own pipe... their OWN pipe... no intentional sharing. One sees dozens of pipes running along the same route. Many leak and less fortunate folks contrive to shorten their water trips by catching water from spurts along the pipes.


Cherrapunjee: Foot bridge near the lookout point across from Bangladesh.


Cherrapunjee: Me and the three people with whom I shared a taxicab for the tour of Cherrapunjee. Left to right: Ron, Sanju, me and Arvind. In the background is the beginning of northern Bangladesh.


Cherrapunjee: Sign proclaiming the area's claim to fame. Not much there other than the sign and a lot of bare volcanic rock washed clean by the heavy rains.

 
End

 

 

 


If you want water piped to your house, you lay your own dedicated pipe, no sharing. One sees ten to twenty water pipes running along the sides of streets, mostly on top of the pavement.


Cherrapunjee: Catholic Church in Shillong on our way out to see Cherrapunjee.


Cherrapunjee: Painting of Mother Teresa in the Catholic Church.


SHILLONG: Tribe women in the city selling "dope," leaves, lime and Beetle nut: supposed to give the chewer some sort of stimulation. Note the unique head gear.


SHILLONG: About 1500 meters altitude, this area gets darned cold. I bought a down ski jacket on the street for 150 Rupees, about $3.50. It is in excellent shape, though a bit shop/street worn. The next day I found this new, part wool turtle-neck shirt for $2.70. Thought I'd take a picture while it is still new.


SHILLONG: Here I am showing off my new down jacket... worth at least $50-$100 back home. I paid 150 Rupees, about $3.50. It is beautiful and very warm... and very welcome here in cold, cold Shillong.


SHILLONG: Here I am showing off my new down jacket... worth at least $50-$100 back home. I paid 150 Rupees, about $3.50. It is beautiful and very warm... and very welcome here in cold, cold Shillong. I bought the maroon case to make a more compact bundle of the coat when not being worn.


SHILLONG: Another reference photo to exhibit my new turtle neck sweater.


SHILLONG: A big problem is water delivery and anyone who doesn't want to carry it home puts in their own pipe.


SHILLONG: What have we here? looks like Arabic writing around crude stone statues. However, the real explanation is stranger. People must "prepare" the Beetle nut chew with lime and the excess is wiped on any handy surface, in this case a painted wooden wall.


SHILLONG: Not all the hotels are three star like the two I tried while in the city. I snapped this picture as much for the place's name as anything. The northeast region is called the Seven Sisters.


Cherrapunjee: Venders peeling Beetle nuts in preparation for a chewing concoction.


Cherrapunjee: Meet Arvind Goyal, owner of an agro products company in Kolkata. He told me a horror story about his experience with the Indian medical establishment. Bottom line: don't get sick in India!


Cherrapunjee: Cute kid playing at one of our stops.


Cherrapunjee: Another photo of Arvind Goyal, owner of an agro-products company in Kolkata.


Cherrapunjee: Cute kid playing at one of our stops finally looks up at the camera.

 

Reference photo: author
 August 2002
 

Next Postcard