Monday, December 10, 2012


Half baked ice floes dancing on the edges of the Sengge Tsangpo/Indus - nights still ( only) around minus fifteen , and days a lot warmer.

Saturday, December 01, 2012


One would think there were other reasons to start riots in Srinagar.
("Njumba" means crazy in Ladakhi )

Friday, November 30, 2012

Population Density

... three persons per square kilometer , unevenly distributed : going up to twelve elbows per table when lunching in Leh.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Drive like hell , you'll get there"

How many days will you stay i Srinagar ? The Kashmiri policemans face goes blank as I form a circle with my fingers : " Zero" So : Delhi to a subzero Kargil in just over 26 hours : stepped off the nigh train in Jammu and found myself in a shared 4WD cab in five minutes , chatted up some telecom guys in a traffic jam a few hours later, and swapped vehicles even before reaching Srinagar. Loaded up equipment there , unloaded equipment and telecommers in Drass ( shattering their illusions of "the worlds coldest place " enroute). Alone with Rigchen , the Ladakhi driver to Kargil , arriving before midnight. Next day : Ladakhi breakfast ( including chang ! ) in Shergol , winding up in Phey with skiyu at last. Slept like a baby on 125 mg of Diamox. Srinagar was stil mildly depressing on a pass through only : too much continous time being watched by men with guns from the roofs etc. Drive in instructions to one of the cantonments : * Dead slow * No headlights * Cabin lights on

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cha Lhamo

Morning tea and prayers at Tibetan settlement Manju ka Tilla , New Delhi

Monday, November 05, 2012

Greetings From The Evil Empire

Yesterday I had two tasks planned : arranging a room in Bangkok , and going out on a pop culture hunt in Yangons street markets. First part failed miserably , again and again. Finally on a third site the reason came up : apparently I´m a minion of the dark forces in the world
Despite these efforts I managed to find a bed near the railway station in Bangkok after arriving : the world is no longer safe. Market report : rusty Zenit camera and a Pentax knockoff ("Pentarex K100") , book tables that paint Burmas history ,loads of pictures of a very popular officer ( Aung San , Aung San Suu Kyi´s father that was murdered in the 40´s ) and a box of DVD wonders : Vittorio de Sica´s The Bicycle Thief , Soylent Green, Marcello Mastroiani , Volker Schlöndorf, Charlie Chan, Jerry Lewis as The Geisha Boy ... alll starting with me finding a copy of The Lady , Michelle Yeoh is always cool Repeat experience in talking with two locals : " Sweden ... aaah ! Lacquer loaf ! Not bread with varnish : Selma Lagerlöf.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

To Bagan

Okay , that was one thing I definitely wouldn´t have made without the driver , who also had his moments of doubts. The bus station is a fair way away from the Sule pagoda area where I stay , and ends in a maze of muddy lanes with buses. I have the very last ticket , or so I thought for a moment until the plastic kiddy chairs are distributed in the mid aisle. During the first half hour of waiting we are served with edifying videos of heavily gilded boats being rowed by Very Serious men , religious processions etc , as soon as the bus starts the rhytm changes : burmese pop and a series of videos of he coming generation in Myanmar. He is stupid/sullen/jealous ( the later obviously with some reason at times ) , she is sulking or cruel.Her hair is always shampoo commercial material ( that does not seem far from reality , actually ) . In the end they start being nice to each other. The jeans/longyi ratio is beyond irrational : all boys on the screen wear jeans , in the bus I´m the only one in the last three or four rows who wears pants. I´m also the only foreigner. Arrive in the wee hours at the dropping point for Bagan. Stretch out at last in the horse cart , which weaves on and off the road in the darkness. Sandy trails , a bitter/lemonish smell and a few lit up pagodas on the way. Lots of bigger stuff sensed , not seen. Then the horizon becomes visible , giving ...aaah. ( photos to come )

Social Geography

I look over the shoulder : who is really coming , now that someone leaps up to open the door? No one appears. Surely this must be a joke though. So : at the last moment I caved in and booked a hotel room the first night in Yangon. The taxi takes me past a long row of shipping containers and turns down a dry dusty lane before locked gates . One guard , and one door leaper. It would be easy to write about this in a ironic way .. actually I´m not above that. There are uniforms. On the bed the tols are folded in a for me unseen way , making me feel apologetic about mucking them up with a shower. A minibar. A friendly reminder from the hotel management. And a view to match a back alley in Pahar Ganj or a seedy section of Havanna. In the dining room tea is easily managed , even green tea. Then I carried away and order a juice : blank disbelief. Ju... fruit names in english and hindi , pantomines of plucking and pressing in to a glass .... at last all three waiters reach a Manuel-like state and exclaim : aaah ! ...juice ! The second layer though : retrack the shipping containers to their end , and there is a school (?) building - and next to that the pagoda of the second hair , one of the most important religious sites in Yangon. On the other side of the road : first the Strand Hotel - really , no irony - and immediately after that a man rolls in a big mirror under a car : the British Embassy. All within a few blocks.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Entry Myanmar

A thought flutters at the edges of my attention : do I have any chance of finding the way back to my sanadals on my own ? Probably not. It´s five hours after arrriving in Yangon , two hours after being whisked away from the Shwedagon pagoda to another pagoda and the surrounding monastery. Outside searing heat and the sunlight cutting thru the eylids , inside shades of grey and brown . Smells of teak , wet bricka and faint whiffs of spices. Shwedagon ( spoiler warning ) came in two stages . The actual pagoda was someting that was almost imaginable coming from Thailand. The hiden gem was the slanting little city between gates and the top layer : a huge covered arcade leading upwards , offering shade and coolness. As an extra blessing I arrive just after a heavy rain , and the stone floors exposed to the sun are like wet caress against the feet.
The whisking away landed me in a another environment : no shops , a lot more darkness and a lived in atmosphere. Patches of moss , broken bricks and rough and broken teak planks in places. A single lamp burning over the Buddha statue. Talking of the monastery becomes inevitable a recap of Myanmars last decade of history : this is one of the remaining monks ( yes , as in Tibet the monks have been at the forefront of protests , and the government has responded by pushing them out of the monasteries. ). The floors are not in a general state of disrepair , they are still struggling with the aftermath of the 2008 floodings. Most of all we just sit and share the silence , and part ways when it´s time to start preparing tomorrows meals. Day ends with eating in one of the many street stalls , aggressive converted after the UN Child Convention : only kids sit really comfortably , the rest of us sit with the knees riding up near our ears.

Exit Bangkok

(That was totally unfair - I´ll backpost more from Chinatown later. )

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Backpacker Bingo

And the next number coming up is ... nobody knows. Despite the randomness everything is relatively fast : this is how to get a Myanmar visa in a day , and stop worrying : Check that the embassy is open : today as I write this it´s closed for Chulalongkorn´s birthday , with another holiday coming up soon. google the address of a hotel/guest house to enter as address in Myanmar on the visa form Bring two passport photos,airline tickets if you want same day service , a sense of humor and an umbrella
Walk past the queu to the the small copy shop . They will copy your passport , hand over the visa form , provide you with a desk to write out the form , and glue for the passport photo. There is even a pre-attached paper clip for the second photo. All this for the staggering amount of eight baht. First counter gives you a number for the second counter : I really have no idea of what is actually done here , beyond seeing that you have a passport and you are at the right embassy. When your number comes up you hand over our passport , visa form and money at the second counter. Same day visa cost 1260 baht , next day 1000 (-ish) , lowest tier is 800. Same day visa is given without questions , as soon as my airline tickets showed up I was asked for 1260. Return at 3:30 in the afternoon , and get your passport at the Express Visa counter. Timings : I arrived just after ten , one hour after opening, and was out of the embassy just after noon. Returned ten past three , lost a game of you first , no , you first with a Thai lady and came second at the counter : out by 3.35.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Coin rain ...

Coin rain in the begging bowls at the reclining Buddha , Wat Pho.

Grand Day Out With The Boat

Nice ride out in the morning with the boat to Wat Pho, a lot more people going back.
I spend a big part of the day in the alleys behind the fish market , in what feels like the setting of a Wong Kar Wai movie.
People are curiously absent : I get glimpses of humans, cats and dogs streched out on mats panting in the mid day heat. Finally I come up to two active elderly women , one with curlers fresh in place. I ask for a haircut. The project is met with frank disbelief at first : "Are you sure ??"
Lunch : papaya salad with lime , nuts and more. Pomegranate juice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Noisy Neighbors

00.46 : jolted out of sleep again , as the Chinese opera below my window gets a new jolt of energy. At first I thought they were winding down after a mere four hours , meeting one of the actors going home. Not so. So : Bangkok, Chinatown . I know nothing, which also is fine. In by taxi ( big billboard near the airport : "Buddha is not furniture" ) and dumped at the beginning of a maze of narrow alleys , but some of the people sitting by the road recognised the name of the guesthouse : it will work out somehow. And it did. The guesthouse is jammed up against the temple on one side , and with the river on the other. The view from my room : corrugated steel roof with a crest of dragons immediately outside , the temple. From the roof the view expands to the hangar style roof of the temple courtyard ( with a tree breking thru ) , and nearby houses : concrete , but still with Chinese curved roofs and tiles. The river is not only lapping at the sides , bur breaking through at high tide.
The skyline is high rise country , skyscrapers reminescent of British sci fi covers from the seventies , and with a few touches of pagoda style : add a hint of Wiliam Gibson. The plan is a quick jaunt to the Myanmar embassy the next morning to arrange a visa : actually I won´t move beyond a one kilometer radius the next 24 hours.
Soundscape : the opera ranging from fulfilled expectations of classical Chinese style to slapstick , talk to the hand scenes to pure Asian Spike Jones stuff. The volume take some time ( read : a decade or so ) getting used to.
In between spaces with birds chirping in the trees , and thai pop.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Monday in Mandalay

..that was the plan anyway. This year I´ll start posting more soundclips , now that I´ve found an easier way (Soundcloud) to do it.