Cycling through the dirt tracks, you can hear the giggles of children ahead. Entering the village, they wave, big grins eagerly awaiting our arrival. Some shy, they grasp at the leg of their mothers, poking their head around to see what all the excitement is about. Today, we would visit four villages and be given the same warm welcome throughout. They would embrace us into their homes and show us the up most hospitality.
As part of the tour we would learn about the way of life, how each village was governed by their elder, their elected leader. If someone did wring they would discuss it as a village, Whilst the Burmese laws did of course apply, they very much run in isolation, only elevating matters to authorities if required. They explained the struggle they face and their collective objectives- security, electricity, more resources for education and medical security. They would receive help from the government, but still looking for ways to see how they can improve their quality of life. Each village working the farms or local trades to earn a living and now welcoming in tourists, to show them around and feed them. Collectively they would take it in turns to cook dinner, distributing the wealth angst the four villages. Despite, having little, working hard and facing some fundamentally living challenges these people seemed genuinely happy. They were sat around laughing together. To an extend they are living hand to mouth, not driven by the same competitive nature that drives the west. Of course not all is as it seems on the surface, but to see so many with what seemed like genuine happiness in their faces, perhaps there is something to be said for less is more.
Sun creeps through the blinds and the chants of prayers, which have become our new alarm, ring loud around us. Throwing my tierd heavy body out of bed, into the shower and out the door, I would stand absorbed by the morning routine that awaited my eyes. A stream of red robes, hung off the shoulders of young boys, shaved heads, bare foots as they stood patiently in line each holding out their bowl to collect food from the village. These were young men in training, a right of passage for all boys to enter a life devoted to Buddhism. Once they have learnt the teachings of Buddha and spent several weeks living on the monasteries they may choose if they wish to return to their families and lives or continue to the path of enlightenment.
Buddhism for these people is more than a religion, a way of life. It is integral to their being. It distinguishes their values, their beliefs, behaviours. Like a Holy Communion or Bar Mitzvah, they will grow up to learn the teachings, celebrating their entrance into the monasteries, spending weeks away from their families. Monks wondering the streets is a common site, as people continue to dedicate themselves to the teachings of Buddha. A country adorned by temples. When Looking out to Old Bagan, to the earthy washed landscape of dry baron land, ancient temples take to the horizon. Walking across the land, amongst the temples, there is a sense of calm, stillness across these quite grounds. Grounds that have been respected, worshipped for centuries. It is these pagoda’s and temples where the people spend their time. When travelling you see limited places fro entertainment, cinemas, sports, clubs all limited, if at all. it is the festivals at the temples that people part take in. As a result you notice, how gentle, kind the Burmese are, they are modest and respectful. Despite, all they are subjected to by the rulings of the country, they have faith, they stay true to what they belief in.
No blacks, no Irish, no dogs. 1958 Britain and they were not tolerant of diversity. For my Indian Grandfather marrying my Roman Catholic Irish Gran, this was not an easy time to be a mixed race couple. Yet somehow 5,000 miles across the ocean, they were able to find people who were willing to do just that, accept. A first class passage, 18 days with a 7 month old they would arrive in Bombay. After a night in a hotel they boarded a sleeper train, with blocks of ice to keep them cool. Lally, my gran, describes her first impressions of Kolkata, the heat, the noise, the smells; taking weeks to adjust to it, but the people embracing them with open arms -black, white, you were greeted with smiles unlike the racial abuse they had suffered on her ‘home’ land. Despite my grandparents arriving just after the 1956 constitution, when Indians took back the land, uniting to create an Indian government, Kolkata was still very open to expats. For over 200 years the British had ruled from the colonial capital of Kolkata.
For the next 7 years they would meet 8 other couples; all English/Irish wives who had chosen to live in India to be with their husbands, whom they met studying in the UK. Here they would raise families, embrace the culture, enjoying the Indian way; how you would greet someone, respect your elders, the importance of community and family, their respect for books and education.
Walking around today, seeing the streets my dad grew up on, you can still see the British influence, St. Paul’s church, the Victorian and Albert monument, his catholic school – Don Bosco. Most recently the current mayor has gone as far to declare Kolkata to restored to London, building a mini Big Ben and filling with street with Oxford Circus type lights! As you can imagine many people are not happy about how the tax money is being spent, whilst under English influence Kolkata may have been a place of power, but becoming London is not the way, let it be celebrated for its own beauty and achievements.
Harsh, bit of a dude, almost certain party boy, runs a great hotel in Bikaner. His great grandfather was the Mahraja of Bikaner. His grandfather, whilst not the oldest son and therefore couldn’t become the king, became a landlord of the village, the Thakur. His responsibility was to collect tax from the village to pay to the king, as well as looking after the village army. Both the land and the role were passed through the generations. After India’s independence, the role ceased to exist, so on the death of his father, Harsh decided to turn the Villas into a hotel. For 27 quid a night you can soak up the majestic surroundings and catch a rum with Hash, listening to some deep Indian house beats, Minimow, Bollyhouse