Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sydneying in Australia

A month completed Down Under by which I mean Australia , in case some of you may have the habit of taking everything literally. And its been a fun ride so far. Connecting with a country where almost everyone has foreign roots or is a foreigner, is an experience by itself. The fact that my project consists of a Finn, an Indonesian, a French, a Filipino, an Irish, a Sri Lankan an American and an Indian is just a small example of the heterogeneity which is Australia.  But that doesn't make their unique immigration and customs department any sympathetic at all to make it easy for people coming in. While I may possibly understand the ridiculous restriction on the tobacco that one may get duty free into the country ( a measly 50 sticks) , the paranoia around any food items coming into the country is almost unbelievable and almost ridiculous. The number of items in the checklist of prohibited stuff would give tough competition to the telephone directory of Kolkata where a person needs to spend an average of 2 days to locate the right Anindya Ray/Abhijit Banerjee/ Sabyasachi Gosh et all. Now, a bachelor may forget to take his passport while travelling overseas but he never forgets to pack Maggi Masala. In addition I had some ready-to-eats and my fixed bundle of spices. Quite an animated conversation I had with the custom guys on why I am carrying that and I was proud of my negotiation skills as not a single item was quarantined. Cant say the same about the stock of tobacco I had with me (Carrying for friends of course ...). My credit card has a big permanent gaping hole. I cursed the customs department and made my way out. I needed a sim card to call home and  the Chinese girl in the phone shop who thought she could speak English did not help matters at all. That was my first brush with a South Asian in Aussie land. I was soon to realise how my South Asian friends have completely, absolutely. holistically captured the secondary retail space in this country. In UK, you throw a stone in any direction and it would either land in front of a Patel Indian grocery shop or the Pride of India restaurant (run by a Bangladeshi of course). Here if you do the same, it would first hit a cyclist and then run down to settle in front of either a Thai , a Malaysian, a Japanese or a Chinese eatery. The only Indian shop if at all present would best be avoided due to extremely suggestive names like Bombay Spice Boys. But this is the story of the city centre where my Indian brothers have lost out heavily to our brothers of Mongoloid heritage but suburbs was another story altogether  A locality having the  'good name' Harris park has been rechristened Harish Park and Paramatta is known as Parmatma. Way to go !

Sydney is truly an amazingly vibrant place. The energy of the place is just contagious. So much so that quite unbelievably I found myself in the gym every evening. Well almost every evening. There was another very strong reason for the same of course but that would need a whole new post by itself.
My curiosity won the battle with laziness and I ventured out to visit the touristy places on my second weekend in Sydney and little had I realised that the amazing apartment in which I had been put was right in the centre of almost all the action that the city had to offer. A five minute walk was all that it took to reach the famed Sydney Opera House.

This grand architecture which is symbolic to this country looks exceptional from a distance with its unique design.That same design seems equally bizarre as you reach closer to it. The architecture makes no sense at all from any definition of artistry. It seems some angry wife who was in no mood to make breakfast for the husband just broke some egg shells and left them lying on the breakfast table for him to return and clean up. This unattended breakfast table is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
In contrast the harbour bridge just opposite to The Opera House is grandiose and majestic. But I guess there are too many bridges in the world.

But it was a day well spent and with some malted barley flavoured with hops providing the right nourishment.

Laziness won the round on Sunday and all I saw throughout the day was the amazing television screen. Not everyone was impressed and some relentless prodding over the phone later, I was all charged up to make better use of the next weekend which happened to be a long weekend. Wherever I go, Labour day follows. 

Come Saturday and it was beach day. I was advised by all and sundry that this is a must do in Sydney- the Bondi beach (pronounced as Bondai). It had been ages since my last visit to a beach and I went with huge....expectations. It was a decent beach but the issue was that inspite of being a bright sunny afternoon , there were more life savers in the beach than there were lives to be saved. There was however a very serious religious ceremony of the sea gulls happening there and they were not very keen on being photographed. I left them in peace but not before one of them flew frighteningly close to areas that may beget  my posterity. Not very friendly creatures I tell you !

There is a pretty talked about walk along the cliff and I proudly way my way to the top and marveled at my capacity to successfully undertake such strenuous activities. I just sat at the top of the cliff and smiled proudly at myself and gifted myself a muffin for a job well done. I came back with a smug face and the feeling of having achieved some thing on that day. C'mon Facebook I said !! Within seconds of the pictures being put up on Facebook, a friend of mine who had visited Sydney a year ago and who in the short period of one month had done so much of Sydney and knew so much about what the city had to offer that he was almost elected Mayor, casually asked me about the walk. A conversation that I could have well avoided . I soon realised that I had walked only about half a kilometer of a  6 kilometer long walk that crisscrossed multiple other beaches and cliffs.  There was more to life than mere walking I said to myself.  But was I to surprise myself or what! 
My Mayor-elect friend suggested that I should do Blue Mountains if I was up for it. Blue Mountains is a region on the outskirts of Sydney and as the name suggests in not Blue but is certainly mountainous and is listed as a World Heritage Area covering nearly 10000 sq kilometers. After the fiasco of the Coogee walk I was determined to cover a few of them. Sunday I will conquer Blue Mountains I said.
I ended up watching the screen of the television the entire day. 

But you forget that Monday was a holiday too and that day, my friends, will be written in golden letters when the history of my life would be written. For it was on this day that I walked and walked and then walked some more. This was the day that I replied to all those who had ever dared to call me lazy. I walked close to 18 kilometers from morning to dusk through streams and forests and mountains and hills and ravines and deep gorges. Yes, I did Blue Mountains.

Waking up with an alarm at  5:30 am on a holiday must have been a first for me much like many other firsts that happened on that day. I had googled that the Sydney day pass was valid through to Blue Mountains which was about 160 odd kilometers from the city centre and if anyone has ever made use of the Daily Pass, by Jove, it was me. 320 kilometeres by train to and fro, some more internal city travelling and then a ferry ride just for the heck of it to reach back home. The desi in me had wrung the life out of those poor 21 dollars !!

Any tourist location without a group of Indians is illegal in any part of the world. This is mandated by International laws. I was not surprised thus when the train that I boarded to go to Blue Mountains  seemed more like one leaving Visakhapatnam station than Sydney Central station. Who wouldnt love some Telegu Antakshari when on a visit to see some gorgeous natural landscapes.
A lovely train ride it was , at least certainly when I could open my eyes. An elderly white couple sat next to me. The old man created SodoKu puzzles for the lady who solved them and gave them to him for correction. He would wear his glasses and check the solved puzzle with a pencil while the lady served him tea from the flask. Its good to see people so deeply in love. As the double decker train made its way past dense eucalyptus forests, thoughts of a home far away flooded my mind.  Thoughts of Shillong, a place so close to heart  and yet so far away. The huge trees were so firmly rooted that it made me wonder at my own uprooting from the place, we called home. It was a beautiful place and there has been no home since then.
And even if I wished to make a place a home, my company would come up with a visa of some country and remind me of how I had enthusiastically marked Yes to the question - Open to Travel ? in the application form. One and half suitcase, the contents of which  keep changing as per the baggage allowances of the next flight, is almost all that I own in life today and while it comes with a huge flexibility, at times I wish that I weren't as flexible..........Almost in tears are you ?  Come out of it, for I have reached Katoomba which lies at the heart of Blue Mountains and I begin walking ........Will let pictures do the talking now. During the course of the day I bought a boomerang and finding an open field where Cockatoos were holding parliament, I flung it high and long . It came back to me. The boyish grin was spontaneous and lingered on for long as I made my way back to the train station.

In our busy lives, where there are ridiculously early morning flights serving equally if not more ridiculous a breakfast of Museli and a bottle of milk, rarely do we get chances to rekindle our bonds with Nature and that is why the trip to Blue Mountains would remain close to the heart..............Till next time ....Adios.

The Trail begins

Heart of Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters and I nearly went atop one...

Pine Trees and my deep connection with them
Sigh ...not an Unique Indian art form

Eucalyptus and there were many tall dark and handsome

Serene and peaceful

Majestic Wentworth Falls

The day I walked !

The Cockatoo Parliament

And finally the Daily Pass Vasooli on the ferry ride back home

More stories of this fascinating Aussie land to follow in the next edition including those of a visit to a Casino (Forced by friends of course .......)

1 comment:

Rajarshi said...

Amitabha (Well, I was about to address you as Eddie) :),

A well-written post as usual, especially the last paragraph. No, I wasn't moved to tears but probably just got a glimpse of a different side of yours.

Btw, you have captured more about Aussie land in one month than I could in my 10 months at Perth.
And sorry for not having warned you about restrictions on food items when you had pinged me on FB before your travel to Australia.

Shubho Bijoya to you and your family. Probably, it is not an appropriate greeting when the Pujas are yet to start but what the heck. :)