Mangalore Kite Festival 2012
My first trip to India
I'm rather scared of getting Delhi Belly. A quick check of the Wiki shows that a disturbingly high proportion of travellers fall ill, due to E.Coli as a result of ingestion of fecal matter. If I was staying for a while, I might well just grin, bear it and consider it a right of passage but for a weekend, I'm determined to avoid it. I'm fully prepared to eat nothing till I get back to Blighty on Tuesday morning. Everything I drink will be bottled and carbonated (less risk of finding that the "bottled" water has just been filled from the tap).
First impressions of India are from before I get off the 'plane. They are doing some building work on the airport. In the UK, this would involve a relatively small number of people using expensive equipment. Out here there are hundreds of men milling about in the heat on the work site, not obviously doing much.
As I enter the carpeted terminal building, there is a smell. I recognise it but can't identify it. The most accurate description is to say "it smells of the 1970's".
From the terminal building, you can see the slums which come right up to the boundary. There is a striking image of a leafless, twigless, dead and blackened tree in the slum silhouetted against white smoke but it is through glass and too far to capture.
I'm determined not to miss my transfer so I'm looking at all the relevant signs. However, you don't follow the signs that say "International Transfers", rather you have got to go and reclaim your baggage and go through immigration and customs.
Immigration first, no problem. Similar number of immigration officials on duty as you would find in Heathow but only a fraction of the number of passengers. We sailed through.
The signs say belt 8 for my flight but I found my bag on belt 9.
I leave the baggage hall with my 23Kg kite bag, 17Kg hand baggage and a duty free bag (contining headphones, laptop, power adapters) on a trolley. They want to x-ray my hand baggage only. “Is that a new camera? Are you here for professional photography?” I report that the camera is about 3 years old and that I go to work to pay for my cameras, with a grin.
Round the corner, there is another x-ray where they only look at my hold baggage. There isn't much to stop you declaring a bag to be hold baggage at one X-ray and hand baggage at the other and skipping both X-rays.
Next is a checkin desk. I'm already checked through so they take the kite bag from me and usher me to an air-side bus. I climb aboard possibly the most run down bus I have ever been on and we proceed on an extensive tour of the airport. As we shamble past the end of the runway, I catch sight of a kite. Small Mylar diamond with a tail being flown by a young kid from a roof in the slum. The dancing movement of the glistening pearlescent kite brings an unexpected feeling of youthful optimism to the extreme poverty.
We go all the way to the far end of the airport, turn round, drop half the passengers, then come half way back to my terminal. Another large building with baggage belts. I follow the signs for international transfers, checking a couple of times along the way. Next, I emerge into the open, but I check with the security guard on the door. I had missed an unsigned turning. Back in and through to another set of security checks. I get stopped by an armed buard for taking a trolley into the queue. Hand baggage x-ray, metal detector wand, without ever taking my eye off my bag. They insist that I put a baggage tag on my carrier bag so that they can stamp it.
I'm now in a departure building with a tannoy. Half the announcements are in English, I can recognise words like “gate” or “departure” or “passenger” but all the destinations and numbers are completely unintelligible. There is one flight departure screen. The top of the screen is around 5'6” off the ground and people stand in front of it.
I go to my gate, number 15. It's display is blank. They turn me away, saying that this gate is for some other destination, that Mangalore will be later. They point at the sign I looked at just a few seconds ago – it bears the number and destination of that flight.
I go back and sit on my case, near the display. I watch my flight time approach, so I go back to the desk. They explain that the flight has been delayed by 2 hours. The departure board is unchanged.
I find a quieter area. Upstairs. With empty seats and a second flight display. The departure time for my flight dissapears for a while. I put on the ipod and relax. When I get a chance, I switch to a reclined couch and start writing.
Eventually, we get a departure time and I head down to the gate. When I reach the front, they tell me that the unposted destination on my gate is now Goa.
I let the queue go past me but the only cure seems to be to sit, 10' from the gate, waiting for them to decide to board my plane. Chaos.
The guy on the gate – Sheel Kably comes forward to make friends. He hands me a box containing snacks. I'l open it later rather than cause offense by clearly not eating it. We exchange phone numbers, email and web site.
A businessman stands near the desk to my right. He stops, answers the phone and says “Andrew Beattie. I look up. He continues his conversation. I already know the “Andrew Beattie Ban” ( ارجو الانتباه ) means “your attention please” in Arabic (we hear it all the time in the Kuwait terminal). I wonder what it means in Hindi?
And at last the gate is open, I'm through, security check for the stamped lable on my bag, short bus journey, and I'm in my seat near the front. Headphones on. Continue to work my way through 4000+ tunes on my iphone in noise-cancelled silence. Only a couple of hours to go.
The three boys from the Al-Farsi team arrived ahead of me. The only sweatshirt I have with me is the Al-Farsi top, just like they will be wearing. Despite the heat, I need to wear it because I have no baggage left. In the baggage hall, there were a couple of workers looking through the bags as they came on to the carousell. They took one look at the kite compression bag, looked up at me in the Al-farsi shirt across the room and said “this is your bag”.
When I emerged into fresh air, Sarvesh was waiting for me with another kite flyer and a photographer. They greeted me with a garland of flowers – they know how to make someone feel welcome!
I took in a lot of local atmosphere on the road trip to the hotel. The place is bustling. Everyone is active, cars, trike taxis, big trucks, stray dogs, men, women, children. Everyone is busy, Everything is colourful. The whole place just feels so vibrant.
They pull over to drink coconut. A young lad with a barrow of orange coconuts, much softer than the variety we see on a coconut shy back home. He deftly cuts away the top with a machete then gouges a drinking hole. He pulls a straw from a grubby bag with a hand that is probably unwashed but I try not to think about it. The juice is surprisingly pleasant.
At the hotel Goldfinch, clearly the best hotel in the city, I am introduced to a journalist and photographer from the Times of India. I think I gave a fairly engaging interview and he took copious notes. Everyone noticed that the camera that the tourist and kiteflyer had in his hand outgunned the pro from the national newspaper and I only had the 85 f1.2 on it.
The Hotel was excellent, but my mind was still on "Delhi belly" when I was slightly perturbed to note that they chose to letter the non-bedroom floors so that they spelled "Fecal"
There were a delightful crew of young ladies helping to make the reception glamorous:
Important Man's House
A quick shower, work out the WiFi and off to meet them all at 7:30
On the first evening, we were taken to a house party thrown by a local man, of some importance. There was live entertainment in the garden and all were welcome. We were given a blessing from their shrine.
We were invited into their home, which had the design and atmosphere of a temple. Simple and traditional, yet clearly also very expensive.
Illuminations along the pathway.
The local lads were keen to pose for the camera.
Team Mangalore has a wonderful innovation. They live in a hot part of the world, so they only start the event at 2:30 in the afternoon. This makes it much less punishing to extend into a night-fly in the evening. It also gave me some time to jump in a TucTuc and explore the city. I headed for the market.
A few of shots to give a feel for the streets
Roadworks were protected not by crash barriers, high-viz or lights, but rather by the regular blocks of concrete they use for building. Almost inevitably , we saw that someone had crashed onto this roadwork later and notced that the impact resulted in the blocks being thrown across the site.
As I had expected, desperate beggars in the streets.
The event was well known due to a significant promotion campaign.
There was still time to go back to town by TucTuc with the Kuwait boys.
Atrium of the "City Centre" Mall.
The electrical goods store felt like any Dixons, Currys or the like with a regular display of TVs, HiFi, washing machines, friges and other consumer electronics but was unusual in having a display of domestic hot water heaters.
Usually, it is me that spots something shiny in this sort of store, but in Mangalore, the role was reversed - all the boys that worked the photogrphic section wanted to see my camera.
I want a TucTuc. Great little things:
Trucks in India are particularly heavy duty. I get the impression that a Europoean truck wouldn't last on the rough roads.
I am usually very keen on icecream but it was easy to decline when it looks like dirt was is a major ingredient.
Eventually, it was time to fly kites but first the compulsory group photo:
When we arrived, there was an enthusiastic band of lads playing drums and cymbals to welcome us and parade us to the pavilion. We made friends with them and they were good to photograph:
In india, kite flying is synonymous with kite fighting - using cotton line dipped in ground glass paste to slice your opponent from the sky, so we were glad to see prohibition signs. Nonetheless, I saw quite a number of children's kites cut loose and Sammy missed the closing ceremony because he was trying to retrieve one of his pieces that went South.
The Al-Farsi Team. I am proud to be considered a member of the premier Kuwait kite team, despite living a 6 hour flight away from their regular flying field. Whilst I normally fly under my own name, I was happy to fly under Kuwait colours for the weekend.
Otto from Holland:
On the field, this team member was a great help. He orchestrated help and manned our line at all times. He deserves a gold star.
There were a number of important people on the kite field, including captains of local industry who had helped to sponsor the event. Their contribution and assistance is greatly appreciated but unfortunately, whilst I was introduced to everyone, I wasn't taking notes and am ashamed to say that can't reliably identify them now.
I heard the name "Beattie" from the Lebanese pavilion next door. It turns out that they were referring to the small roll-up they were smoking.
Sammy, who I have known for a number of years but never met is the organiser of the Beirut kite festival. We would love to go but have never made it. Alas, there has been no kite festival in Beirut for a number of years now.
It is always a delight to see Ida and Princess Elly from Bali on the flying field:
Other people on the flying field
On the Saturday, we split to two stacks and anchored near the sea, where predictably the tide came in. The weight was provided by heavy sand bags, double-wrapped in a compression bag, so the sand wasn't going anywhere, but a couple of lads jumped on top, just in case.
Children on the kite field
A change of clothes
I was so determined to give to Mangalore the best possible display that I pushed the baggage to the limit once again. A few years ago, hold baggage was limited to 20Kg but those in the know knew that the airline would let you away with 23Kg. These days the 23Kg limit is published but strictly enforced. I was grateful that Jet Airways let me slip through at 23.4Kg. I packed my hand baggage asif I was flying BA or Easyjet - Strictly to the size of the guage but tipping the scale at 17Kg and crossing my fingers that Jet wouldn't enforce their published 7Kg limit. The hand baggage was line, camera gear and the "We Love Mangalore" banner.
Plus two T-shirts.
I also snuck on a very small bag containing the headphones and Macbook Air.
What about underwear? I wore a rain jacket to India(!) Underwear in one pocket and socks in the other.
But only one pair of trousers for the whole trip - a lightweight pair of cotton combat trousers, which housed wallet, passport, a power adapter, And various other odds and ends to reduce the load on the hand baggage.
The Plan fell apart on the Saturday when I knelt down and ripped them. Before long, the rip reached from the inside of my knee, right up to my belt.
On Sunday morning, I went out to buy something lightweight and suitable. First stop was the "Empire Mall", but it was asleep at 9am. I had some breakfast and tried again. At the "City Centre" mall, this helpful assistant went thought much of their stock to find ummm... "non Indian" sizes that might fit me:
I emerged in Kurta (Pyjamas - कुर्ता), looking every part the dapper Indian man about town. A deep green buttonless shirt with smart gold embroidery (that my head only just squeezed through) and white cotton longjohns. I wore this for all the flying on Sunday, much to the appreciation of the locals. It looked very smart but cost about a tenner. Mohamed Mubarak assumed an appropriate position as a supplicant:
Camel rides on the beach:
The beach was packed with happy people, many of whom wanted to share pictures:
I went for a walk along the brach and found some wildlife:
The local village. I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures of the crushing poverty that they live in:
This brought be back through the main entrance in mid afternoon. The size of the crowd heading for the beach was staggering:
A group of lads in high spirits had found a high vantage point from which to view the proceedings:
School children had been decorating kites with spiritual messages:
I do enjoy a samples of Engrish:
A troupe of dancers appeared and put on a floral display on the main stage. It was clear that their display would usually involve them standing on each other's shoulders with their huge headgear but that was clearly impossible in the stiff sea breeze:
The crowds were beyond belief.
In a part of the world stressed by religious tension, one team of flyers were flying a kite bearing symbols from six religions. They were handing out tracts promoting peace and harmony to everyone.
As the sun went down on Sunday evening, the winds increased. We were in real danger of movement or failure of the anchor, so be removed the lower fish and brought the two tigers down close to the ground, to the delight of the crowds.
The tiger was like a rock star - there was a constant, ever refreshing group gathered, taking video of their movement to share with friends.
The team were presented with a momento of the occasion to take home. The carved wooden kite painted gold looked like a dagger when it came to take it through the Airport X-ray.
Monday morning came round all too soon and we were back in the bus, heading for the airport. The bus proudly proclaimed that is was a "DVD bus". It had a large screen fitted just behind the front seats. I took a picture of it to remind me of the number of times that I hit my head on it.
I grabbed the front seat in the hope of trying to capture a final taste of India on the way back:
I spent a most of the flight from Mangalore to Bombay talking to a Swiss Hare Krishna guy.
One of his opening questions was "How is your Karma"? It is a question that has stuck with me through the day. I struggle to understand faith and religion but I absolutely get karma. I put everything I have into what I do, I give freely and generously where I see fit and I get back what I give, by the bucketload.
For me, Karma isn't a matter of faith or hope. It is mechanical. It is about as reliable as pulling on a door with a pull handle - you just expect it to work. Sure, sometimes you come across a door with a pull handle that you need to push, but that doesn't change the way that you open doors. Like one of Newton's laws: the more you give, the more you get. I don't teach it, I don't preach it. It's just the way I live my life because it works. It's more fun this way.
And so, all that was left was the flight home.
I was wearing the cleanest things I could find for the trip home. Clean socks and undies, A polo shirt borrowed from Muhammed Mubarak and the elegant Indian outfit. It made me stick out even more than my pasty white skin does.
Arrive in Bombay at 12:25 giving just over 2 hours to transfer to London-bound flight at 2:35.
But no. I got turned away from the terminal building. My flight was at 02:35, in the small hours of the morning.
I was about ready for dropping to sleep for 12 hours, but this man was hustling for a cab fare. He could take me to a hotel where I could get some form for accommodatation, but that seemed like the lazy way out. Rather I opted to hire the cab for the day. He said there was a standard fare of 6,500 Rupees for that. By Indian standards, it felt like far too much but I just went with it. it would have been a bargain at Heathrow.
We drove through the nearby slum and picked up his daughter and we drove round the city, for some "drive-by" photography. I would have preferred to get out but it is an uncomfortable thing to do in the first place and even more so in an Indian suit with golden embroidery that would be appropriate for attending a wedding.
I asked to visit a mall in the hope that I might get something to change into, so the taxi stopped here:
I walked out with a couple of T-shirts.
When I came out, I asked and got confirmation: "Your friend works here?" - sure enough.
More sights from Bombay:
We stopped at the Gate to India. An obvious tourist trap, but then, what was I but a tourist for the day?
We went for a ferry trip round the harbour.
There were a couple of pretty girls from Iran taking photos of each other with their phones, so it would have been rude not to help them out:
It also gave the taxi daughter time to relax and get a decent shot of her.
A crow flying alongside the boat gave me a moment's opportunity to capture a bird in flight never to be missed:
Finally, we made it to a mall. A new pair of Levis and a T-shirt for the flight and I was ready for the flight home.
First World Problems
Nine hours in an aluminium tube and I'm back in Heathrow. Waiting at the conveyer for our luggage to arrive. Behind me are two English women, complaining. They start by complaining to each other about me, for being in front of them. They complained about their inability to control the video-on-demand facility in the 'plane. They complained about the quality of the tea. They complained about the time we spent circling before landing.
Yesterday, I saw a woman and a stray dog, both routing through a pile of scattered rubbish at the side of the road, searching for something worth salvaging. It made the First World problems offensive.