Sunday, June 9, 2013


I boarded the train in Siliguri angry with India. I didn't have a good reason, apart from being tired and sick of being lied to. I yelled at someone for my first time in India, and I felt like that hysterical white lady. "Give me back my 200 rupees now" I yelled at the obstinate liar in front of me. It's four dollars in New Zealand, and admittedly it was 8am and maybe I wasn't seeing things in their true proportion.

In any case, a soldier saw me yelling and practically gave me his nod of approval, and the obstinate guy caved when he could see he was dealing with a live wire. 

Twenty-four hours and two state lines later, I stumbled from the train into the hottest place I ever been. The ground is dry. The air is like a fan heater. The auto-rickshaw drivers on the platform smirk at me and offer me proposterous rates. I have too many bags. I sit down and scowl at them. I'd rather sit here than pay you I tell them with my eyes. They tell me, back 'and now what?' - and, of course, they're right.

I gather up my things and tell them all "you guys must live in gold houses, with gold sheets on your beds, at these prices, my gods!" and they all laugh, warm to me and offer me the normal fare.

Puri. It's a place for pilgrims and fishermen and Hare Krishna's and maharajas on holiday. I came because I miss the ocean. I intended, valiantly, to stay only three days and carry-on to my friend Ram's house in Vishakapatnam on the train I had already booked. After one and a half days in my hotel the manager offered me a deal: I stay for 5 days, 'manage' for him and stay for free with air-con and free meals, but I couldn't leave. This hotel California situation suited me fine, since I had to write my thesis and nothing short of house arrest would achieve that. 

Besides, the hotel is a babe

The town is sprawling and crumbling and beautiful. The young man above asked me to take "one snap, please miss", so I naturally took two - one to see his gorgeous face and another to see the jungle surrounding him and the coral pink building. The building below is not a particularly strong example, but Puri is full of what look to be old manors which have fallen down. I understand this is sad, but it is also an aesthetic I find extremely becoming. Obviously, I prefer it when said building is loved and restored (as it was at Z Hotel; an old maharajas home), but jungle taking back the land also pleases me.

There are many extravagant drive-ways in Puri which lead to ruins.

As your guide book will tell you, Puri is no beach paradise. The beach is rough and polluted. Nevertheless, it's a great place to watch people - many of whom have come from all over India on a religious pilgrimage/ a journey to the sea. Many people are seeing the ocean - 'the black water' - for the first time. And they are terrified. That woman sitting above is not an anomaly; most women sit in the very shallow part, or stand in circles gripping each other's hands lest someone get pulled away.

Then there's new Puri, like this holiday resort, which made me vaguely dizzy to look at. I realised why once I noticed the man on the roof - all the proportions are wrong. The building is pretending to bigger than it is. India.

In any case, in the ground floor to the right there is a bakery selling ice-cream. I was going to get a scoop of tiramisu flavour, but the enthusiastic waiter insisted I try every flavour, especially salty peanut.

Salty peanut? Really? Yep. It was the best ice cream I ever had.