Regular readers may recall that one of the most important reasons for me leaving London and my loathsome job was my ever-increasing hatred of commuting. I just finally decided that, clichés aside, life really was just too damn short to spend three hours a day on the Tube. I think most commuters think much the same as I did, but they haven’t got around to actually doing anything about it. Well: I did.

Cambodia was infinitely better – taking a tuk-tuk into the office, the warm wind in my face, through the wild and varied scents of downtown Phnom Penh, was a considerable improvement. But, over the five years I spent there, the traffic got worse, the fumes more overpowering, and the attractions of the office less pressing.

But now I think I’ve really cracked it.

My walk to work this morning took 20 minutes. My grassy path runs between two meltwater-fed streams about two metres apart, lined with willow trees. On both sides, treeless boulder fields run up to vast snow-capped peaks touching 20,000 feet. Off to one side is the Indus River, which gives India its name, and which runs all the way down to Karachi.

Me and the dog on the way to work.

So I walk between the streams, along the sun-dappled path, waving to cheerful women planting in the fields and calling out ‘Julay!’, the catch-all greeting of Ladakh. Birds chirrup in the trees and butterflies dance across the path. I carry a sturdy walking stick, cut yesterday from a willow, and am accompanied by Harley the Wonder Dog, bursting to smell and see everything. It is the very definition of the word ‘idyllic.’

Getting Dog Harley up here was less than idyllic, however. Delhi was a miserable 45 degrees (113 Fahrenheit in old money), and crowded and mainly deranged. Only one airline flies dogs up here, and they really don’t have much of a clue. On the phone they told me I had to take him to their offices so they could have a look at him, and at his papers (of which he now has nearly a kilo), and pronounce him fit to fly. So I got there, after a two-hour drive across town, only to be told that dogs weren’t allowed in the building, and that they didn’t care anyway.

The next day, ticket booked, they called back and told me to take him to a vet, three hours drive away, to get a special certificate allowing him to fly. Which was not a cheap certificate, either. That done, we rebooked the ticket, and eventually arrived at the airport at 0300 hours, to be told that the captain of the plane had to look at him and decide on his air-worthiness. But the captain was in bed and couldn’t be raised. Airline maintenance didn’t like the look of him, and because it was a prop plane thought he probably couldn’t go. No one was interested in the slightest in my expensive certificate. And (slightly worryingly) it wasn’t a prop plane either.

Finally they all gave up, against my implacable insistence that Harley was getting on the flight whether they liked it or not, and two hours later they were unloading him in Leh, in front of a crowd of fascinated Ladakhis.

And so today we walked to work, only to find that someone had put a spade through the internet cable, cutting off the whole of the Eastern Indus Valley, which meant I had to go back home and read books on Ladakh instead. Now that’s the kind of commuting I can get behind.

And, I’m hoping to get a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet next week anyway. Forget this walking lark.

Forms and function

May 8, 2017

Well, I’m back. Sort of.

AngkorStockmore

Since I last posted here, there have been a number of changes in my life. The biggest is that I now no longer live in Cambodia. It turns out that my stupid lawyer didn’t bother to tell me that my appeal – against the giant fine the Cambodian judiciary imposed upon me for maligning a fat French paedophile – had passed, and that at the very least I had been banned from the country for five years. And this had occurred in February 2016. Clearly no one had told the immigration department. Or me.

But it seemed like it was a good time to leave. Blossom was pretty fed up with the place, Harley the Wonder Dog was miffed that all dogs have been banned from Phnom Penh’s parks, and, to be frank, I was kinda bored of the country.

So now we’re in India. Currently in Delhi, we’re going up to Ladakh (the Land of High Passes) for the summer, to write and ponder and be entertaining. I’ve always loved India, but it is a difficult place to get work visas for. But this new job dropped into our laps a few months ago, and he we finally are.

But the paperwork! After Cambodia, where you arrive at the airport, hand over some dollars and waltz in, this place is insane. The forms and interviews in the UK, just to try to get the visas were tough enough. Harley needed me to send 14 separate documents to get a certificate to get him through the airport, followed by an interview with some obscure government department after we arrived. I’ve been here nearly a week, and I’ve spent the whole time filling in forms.

I still don’t have an ID card. Bank accounts need a 20-page form. My Foreigner Regional Registration Office interview is still in the works. The tax stuff is utterly indecipherable. My employers have asked me for a copy of every page of every passport I’ve ever had. They just gave me a form in the last few minutes asking for details of my last six jobs, plus salaries, job titles, mother’s maiden name and job title and my blood type, among other things. And yet I’ve already signed a contract. I went to get some more passport-sized photos taken, and was told I needed at least 30 of them.

Yesterday I had to fill in two copies of a form. At the top were spaces for two identical photos of me, one on either side of the page. For god’s sake, why? For what possible reason can anyone need two identical pictures on one side of a piece of A4? Stupidity in stereo.

It’s lucky I’m a fairly relaxed sort of a chap, because this level of crazed hyper-bureaucracy could easily drive you mad. I’ll keep you posted, as long as I’m not inhabiting a padded room somewhere.

The art of evanescence

January 6, 2013

It’s impossible to go to India and not be entranced: the country is such a riot of colour and noise and smells that you can’t fail to be transported by something every day. On my most recent trip there, I was seduced by what are called rangoli.

These are colourful designs in the doorways and courtyards of people’s homes, made of chalk or rice flour, which are created anew every morning by the woman of the house.

The area of Tamil Nadu where we were is very keen on rangoli, or kollam, as they’re known there, and almost every home, from the gorgeous old palaces which cluster in some of the villages, to the meanest shacks, sports wildly colourful doorway floor designs, which are new every day. Generally they are done just after dawn.

A rangoli

A rangoli

Rangoli are a very Hindu art form, and are often startlingly complicated, with an astonishing variety of shapes and symbols and colours. I would get up every morning to watch a rangoli painter called Mahalakshmi create a new one for the hotel where we were staying, and it was breathtaking: her imagination and her artistry. The only tools she used were her hands, which poured the flour in graceful swoops and lines, filling in blocks of colour with a supernatural deftness.

Mahalakshmi at work

Mahalakshmi at work

What I think I liked so much about rangoli is how they seem to celebrate the idea of living in the present. Works of art that are made to be destroyed and remade differently the next day; they’re beautifully fleeting, and seem to say something about the human spirit.

Another rangoli

Another rangoli

There is also a theory that the coarse rice flour can be eaten by ants and birds, so inviting other beings into one’s home, and acting as a daily tribute to the idea of harmonious co-existence with other creatures. Which is nice.

Mahalakshmi's hand

Mahalakshmi’s hand

What a great country.