Introducing the Mizoram Synod Choir

I will try to tell the story of how people I have never heard of, who live in a place I have never heard of, and speak a language I have never heard of – have used a photograph I took for the cover art of their musical album.

[singlepic id=260 w=525 h=257 float=center]

At the end of 2001 I went to India and spent about six months backpacking. One photo I took was of a street beggar. I shot it in a small village called Hampi in the state of Karnataka in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent. I actually took half a dozen shots of the same man, and what I particularly liked about this one is the enigmatic face, glistening with sweat. I felt it conveyed the true meaning of being that person.

[singlepic id=259 w=300 h=456 float=right]Back then I wasn’t blogging yet, but I did manage to develop, print, scan and email that photo to folks at home. Fast forward to 2007 when I started blogging and one of the first things I did was retroactively post my travelling correspondence, including this one.

Now we get to two days ago, when I noticed quite a bit of traffic coming to my website from this forum post. I could not understand what language the site was using, but from the bits in English I could decipher the post was discussing the similarity between the cover art of an album and that of Assassin’s Creed, a video game – both featured a hooded man. A user by the name of Angaiha was able to track down the source for the man in the cover art: Yes, it was my photograph.

Upon further investigation it turns out that the cover art was for a choir named Synod Choir for their video CD titled Pathian Hmel which apparently will set you back a hundred Indian Rupees (a little more than two bucks). Oh, yes, it turns out that this musical ensemble comes from the Indian state of Mizoram which I have never heard of, inhabited by Mizo people who speak (and sing) in Mizo language and look nothing like the Indian people I have met travelling.

How do I know what Mizo people look like? Glad you asked, as it gives me the chance to direct your attention to the album’s eponymous song:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jFJuaxppCM

It should be mentioned that everything I post on this blog falls under a Creative Commons license which allows for certain uses of it, but using any of the content for commercial purposes goes beyond that scope. Basically, there are legal ramification for the unauthorized usage of my photo, but I will not get into that at this time.

Gotta Have Hustle And Bustle When You Sell Hatsil And Batsal

Kishore Biyani, Managing Director of Pantaloon Retail (India)A very interesting article by the Wall Street Journal discusses the Indian retailer Pantaloon, led by Kishore Biyani, in its effort to blends the look, touch and feel of Indian bazaars with aspects of modern retail like choice and convenience. Apparently when the aisles in their hypermarkets were wide and clean, the Indian shoppers did not purchase much, as the venues did not convey the city markets' look and feel. This was proved to be the case after Biyani renovated the stores, narrowing the aisles and leaving the onions dirty (hatsil in Hebrew is eggplant and batsal is onion, hence the title).

Having traveled to India myself, and after being smitten by some of the cultural differences (commonly referred to by Westerners as sheer chaos), I am naturally lured to reading these kinds of articles.

Here's the first paragraph of the original article:

On a tour of one of his supermarkets, Kishore Biyani notes that shopping carts are getting stuck in the narrow aisles, wheat and lentils have spilled onto the floor, black spots cover the onions and it is difficult to hear above the constant in-store announcements. He grins and congratulates the store manager.
Mr. Biyani, 45 years old, has built a large business and a family fortune on the simple premise that, in India, chaos sells.

If you want to read the full article, you can find it here. If you want to read the book written by Kishore, you can find it here.

Greetings From An Indian Restaurant

On my 2001-2002 trip to India, I spent a night in the city of Mysore in the state of Karnataka. In the evening, I dined with fellow travelers at the Parklane Hotel garden restaurant, and was taken aback by the dining instructions quoted on the cover of the menu. Obviously, I just had to borrow a copy – only to return it on my very next trip to India, if and when one should come by. It only took five years to get around scanning and uploading the thing for everyone to benefit.

Front cover:
Parklane Hotel garden restaurant - front cover of menu

Back cover:
Parklane Hotel garden restaurant - back cover of menu

Full transcription provided for search engine optimization:

Front:
á la carte
Parklane Hotel
Drink, Dine, Dwell!
BEST FAMILY GARDEN RESTAURANT IN CITY
2720, SRI HARSHA ROAD, MYSORE – 570 001
PHONE: 437370, 434340
FAX: 0091 821 428424

GUESTS ARE ADVISED TO BE WARY OF STRANGERS WHO MIGHT STRIKE UP CONVERSATIONS, AS THEY MAY LEAD TO UNPLEASANT OR RISKY CONSEQUENCES.

Back:

1. A gentle reminder that dishes are prepared after receiving the order and normally take twenty to thirty minutes, and for special dishes over fortyfive minutes should be allowed.
2. Dishes are liquors are subject to availability of commodities.
3. We take pride in the quality and quantity of the dishes and drinks served. Please do not bring in food and drinks of any kind for consumption.
4. We reserve the right to alter the rates without prior notice.
5. Sales Tax or any additional Taxes will be charged extra for food and liquors.
6. Sales are strictly on cash basis or with major Credit Cards. Please do not embarrass us by requests for credit.
7. Disposable vomit Bags are available on request in case of need, as a consideration to fellow diners.
8. We do our best to satisfy you. Please do bear with our short comings and inform us of same. "To err is human but to forgive is devine"s.
9. It is not our intention to take advantage of your satisfaction over a "Full tummy" or " fuddle-headedness"! May re quest you to please check your bills and bring any error that might have indvertently occurred to our attention.
10. Type of music played will be the sole choice of the management.
11. No music  after 11pm.
12. Any unauthorized alterations in the bills may be brought to the attention of the management.
13. Candle lamps for the table will be provided on request.
14. Last order for both food and drinks should be placed when the bell is rung. Restaurant lights will be switched off half an hour after the bell is rung when the guests are requested to leave the premises.

RIGHTS OF ADMISSION AND VACATION RESERVED.

Never Break The “Law of Four”

[09/03/2002 19:36 Kathmandu, Nepal]

The Indian people don't lie. It's just that when they don't have the answer, they'll give _an_ answer. It won't be the right one, but they feel they were nice to a stranger.
This is why the "Law of Four" was invented. If you need correct directions to go to a certain place, you always ask 4 people.
The correct way is usually what the majority of the 4 said.

I broke the law of four and regretted it!
I thought that it was enough to ask the train station enquiry clerk for the correct platform when I went from Delhi to Agra.
3 hours after riding the train, I asked the guy next to me when will we reach Agra.
His response?
He laughed and said: "Agra? This train is going to Punjab".
Not only did I take the train in the opposite direction, it was to the state where all the Hindu-Muslim riots happened.
6 Hours after departing from Delhi, I was in the same place, taking a taxi to Agra…

Never Break The "Law of Four"

—-

Hi everybody! Long time no update!

Been having too much fun I guess…
Anyway, I am in Kathmandu now and it is a _whole_ other country.
The people are so pretty, the streets are so clean and it is such a relief from the Indian atmosphere.

I plan to do some trekking here and some white-water rafting.

There were so many rumors in India about the situation in Nepal, including the one that the Israeli Ambassador fled to New-Delhi (did you hear that one?).

Of course everything turned out to be totally incorrect. Everything here is fine – which is not something I can say about our little country.

US$550 for a plane ticket to the East! Think about it…

—-

Some pictures, all from India, to remind you of how I look:

The first picture is from Kodaikanal. It is a hill-station (that is, a town up up in the hills)
where the Brits used to go on their vacation (ruling the country is a difficult job). It is a beautiful place, and since I was with beautiful people, it is (up 'til now) the most memorable I have ever been to on this trip.
In the picture you can see all the beautiful people I was with: Oren, Ziv and Ya'arit. We are playing cards at sunset (a game called "Asshole", I'll teach you when I get back home…).
And the rock we are sitting on is called The Dolphin Nose, a half a day trekking distance from Kodai.
It is so worth it, just for the magnificent view!

—-

The second picture is from Chennai (Madras) in the state of Tamil Nadu (South-East part of the sub-continent). You can see us (the ol' gang), drinking the best Ice-Coffee in the world.
It's called Iced-Eskimo, and it is only served (with or without ice-cream) in Cafe Coffee Day, an Indian coffee shop which is actually a gate to the western world.

Chennai is a city that most Israeli travelers skip (for no good reason). Whoever told me that Delhi is the place for western food and shopping (I know your name and address), whoever that was, obviously never been to Chennai.

—-

The third picture is from the train I took from Chennai to Jaipur.
It's a 40 (forty) hours ride from the South-East to the North-West state of Rajasthan.
Being that long a ride, me and Ziv took the 3rd A/C Class so it was fine.
You even get bed sheets and bad food. :)

—-

One last thing before we depart again:
The Indian post office has very strange working hours. Just from 10:00 to 16:00.
This is just to serve a specific purpose.

I arrived to the post office in Varanasi to send a parcel at 15:30.
Of course you need to pack each parcel with cloth, but no worries, there is a nice guy that will do it for you for just 100 Rupees.
Then, I reached the counter at 16:00.
But no worries, the clerk is still there, only he will not talk to you, just to a guy that "fixes"
everything.
He showed me a piece of paper that the post office
clerk wrote.
It read: 1,460 for sending parcel – 350 for Bakshish.

Yes, this is how the Indian post works. After working hours you need to bribe the clerk. So of course I did my "I am shocked" look, and told the "fixer" I would only pay 100 Rupees bakshish.
The clerk of course did his daily show, where he takes the parcel shoves it back to me and says "Come back tomorrow 10:00".
So now was my part, where I said, "Okay 200".
So get this: this clerk made 600 Rupees (for 3 parcels) in 10 minutes. That's a 4 days pay.

When I kindly thanked the clerk and turned away, the "Macher/fixer" guy told me that his service is 50 Rupees. When I told him that he should get the pay from the clerk he told me that the he can't because the clerk shares the money with all the other postal workers, including the manager.

India! What a country! What a culture!

—-

That's it for now, although you can see some more
pictures at:
[…]

Lots of love from the only land that does not have a rectangular flag,
Shahar.

First Picture I Like

[Sunday 3/2/2002 01:11 – Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu, India]

[singlepic id=259 w=300 h=600 float=right]Hi everybody!

I am in Chennai, the 4th largest city in India. It is in the south-east, but you probably know that after checking the map at […]
Right?

Anyway, it’s a huge Indian city with all the beggars and the sewer in the streets, but it has its perks.
Malls! Huge shopping malls to spend all your Rupees in!
Today for instance I spent all day in one (1!) store inside a mall.
7 hours in one _huge_ store!

The weather here is a bit hot. Not as much as the hell in Cochin, but a huge different from Kodaikanal – the town I just came from.
It is a hill-station established by the Americans up high in the mountains.
It was so called there, waking up in the morning reminded me of waking up for guard duty in the boot-camp. But then again, everything here reminds me of boot-camp.

One last thing:
After 30 rolls of camera film, more than US$200 spent, and around a thousand clicks I have finally found a picture that I really like:

Attached is a picture of a beggar. It was taken in Hampi, Karnataka state, India in January 2002.

Shahar.

Some thoughts to share from the end of the world

[26/1/2002 16:15 Kanyakumari, Kerala, India]

Hi friends!

Yes, I'm at the end of the world.
Well… close to it – I'm at the end of the Indian sub-continent, at Kanyakumari.
Check the map attached, if you look up close you can see me waving.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some stuff:
First, you should know that I bought the newest Lonely Planet guide for 200 Rupees. Now, bare in mind a new one costs 1,200 Rupees.
Mine is used but in excellent condition.
Not only that I saved 900 Rupees, I sold my old LP Guide for, who much?
You guess! 210 Rupees!
So that made me happy for a day or two.

Second, I wanted to share with you something I noticed about the local currency:
Most of you know by now that 10 Rupees equals 1 Israeli Shekel.
But that does not mean that something you buy in Israel for 4 Shekels you would buy here for 40 Rupees.
Oddly enough, many items are 1/10 of the price, so if you buy a cup of tea in Israel for 5 Shekels – you would also buy it in here, for 5 Rupees.

The third thing I wanted to share with you is that I was a model for my friend who is studying Ayurevedic massage. She needed someone to practice on.
Silly me, I said "Okay" before I was informed an Ayurevedic massage includes a butt massage.
The things I sacrifice for my friends… I tell ya…

Fourth insight I got from staying too long under the Varkala sun is the Indian way of saving money:
An Indian clerk at a shop will turn on the lights and the fan when a customer comes in, and when he comes out, he will turn it off and sit in the dark.
I met a driver that never tried the Air-Conditioning at his Boss's car.
I saw Indian people, sleeping at their desk offices, waiters sleeping at their restaurants, drivers in their cars.
I saw plastic drinking straws being re-used, and wooden ice-cream spoons being washed and served again.
Sheesh…

Fifth update, is close encounters in my served food. I won't elaborate more than this:
Fly in the sugar, glass in the spring roll, human hairs in the Palak Paneer.

Last thought from the Varkala Beach – India is so polluted!
Every human organ is affected:
Lungs – with the unbareable Rickshaws and cars polluting the air,
Ears – with the industrial noised and drivers honking their horns for no reason,
Eyes – with the over putting up signs everywhere, so much that it reminds me of an army base.

Hope I didn't occupy too much time off your busy schedule with my rambling…
Love you all from the most Southern point I will ever reach in this trip,
Shahar.

Beware of Elephants Crossing

Hi everybody!

I have been spending the last couple of days in Varkala, on a very nice beach in South-India. I plan to stay here for a couple days more and then move on to Kanya-kumari – the end of the Indian sub-continent (the shpitz).

Prior to Varkala I was in Cochin. It is a very nice place, but the weather was a bit unbearable. I went to the Fort Cochin synagogue on Friday night and it was a sad scene:
only 4 local Jews were there. Apparently there are now 14 (fourteen) Jews left in Cochin. All the others immigrated to Israel.
Thank God there were 30 more Israeli travelers so we had a Minyan and could pray.

Me, and two Israeli friends, Ziv and Oren, went from Cochin to a 3 days safari tour near Munnar, east of Cochin. It was an amazing experience.
We visited a rain forest, then we saw vast tea plantations, and so many other things. The state of Kerala is so different from others I have visited.
I think I went a little bit overboard, because I used up 9 rolls of camera film.

Attached are three pictures:

The first is of me and Oren in a small hut in some distant village in the state of Kerala. The family is making brown sugar out of sugar canes.

The second is of me in the jeep we rented when we visited the Chennar wild life sanctuary. We had a very experienced guide with us, called Benny. He was fair
enough to warn us that there is no guarantee on seeing any wild animals, because it is not a zoo – but the real animal habitat.
In spite of the warning, we saw so many types of animals: wild elephants, deers, wild boars and many kinds of birds. Benny would just tell the jeep driver to stop, and would stretch his hand out the window, point and say:
"See this branch, a small elephant just passed here a couple of minutes ago, we will wait here" – or
"See this elephant dung, see how fresh it is? We will wait here, because the entire family must have cross here ten minutes ago to take a sip of water from the river".
So we just waited each time, and BAM! Elephants! Wild elephants, the kind you should be scared of.

The third is just a picture of two monkeys.

Love you all and miss you much,
Shahar.

Sweatin’ in Cochin

Hi everybody!

I am still in Cochin in Kerala state, having the time of my life.
It was so hot these last couple of days but now it's much cooler – and I am in an internet cafe with AIR-CONDITIONING!
Imagine that!

I know I have been slacking with the personal emails, but you cannot say I do not put the extra effort with the general emails.
So here are some more pictures, just in case you are missing me.

The first is of me driving a Rikshaw in Hampi. Rikshaw drivers are a unique form of human beings. Every time you hire a Rikshaw you need to be prepared. A Rikshaw driver will always know how much to charge you for a ride, even if he has absolutely no clue how to get to
the place you want. Many times he will demand a different price than what you agreed at the beginning of the ride, and of course the Rikshaw-meter has one price for Indian citizens and another for tourists (we pay four times as much).
A sense of humor is obligatory.

The second picture is me sitting with some Babas at Hanuman Temple in Hampi. You need to cross the river on a tiny tiny raft, that reminds you of Moses from the Bible. Then you need to climb some 600 steps (590 to be exact, we counted) to get to the temple.
When we arrived, all the Babas, dressed in orange, were having lunch and smoking Chillums.
The view from the top is a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

The third picture is from Sera village south of Mysore in Karnataka state. As you know, many Tibetians immigrated to India after the Dalai Lama fled the country. Sera is one of the villages where these Tibetian refugees live.
The difference between Indian and these villages is astonishing. The streets are so clean there, the people smile and they don't talk to you (i.e. "Rikshaw, Rikshaw, you need a Rikshaw?").
Heaven.

As always, I have put more pictures at my cyber photo
album at:
[…]
Some pictures are also at much better quality, and the map is always updated.

Lots of love from South India,
Shahar.

Heading South…

[10/1/2002 Cochin, Kerala, India]

Hi everybody!

Just a quick update for those of you keeping track:
The last couple of days I have been to Mysore, keeping on track and heading south.
Mysore is a big city so it is way too noisy to stay in.
I went to a village called Sera, which is actually a Tibetan refugee village.
It's amazing to see the difference between the Tibetan people and the Indian people.
The village looks like another country.
So clean, so quite, so peaceful.
It's difficult to comprehend this is still India.

Anyway, This morning I arrived with two friends, Ronit and Oren to Cochin.
My neck is killing me from the 10 hours bus drive – nothing that a good shower wouldn't fix.

Those of you who smoke cigarettes should know that there is actually a fine here if you smoke on the street.
But that's just for Indian citizens. Go figure.

Anyway, I plan to spend here a week or two and then continue south. Apparently, there's a lot to see here, so I'll explore and report to you.

By the way, if you have no idea where all those places I'm telling you are located, and you are too lazy to open an Atlas – go to:
[…]
I have put there a travelling progress map.

Lots of love from sunny India to cold Israel,
Shahar.

Hampi Evidence of Having Fun

[Sunday? 5/1/2002 14:15 Hampi, Karanatake, India]

Hi Everybody!

As promised – some more pictures of me having fun.

The first was taken in the morning after a full moon trance party at Vagator beach, Goa.
A bit different from parties you probably know.

The second is here at Hampi, just outside of my guest house.
Cows are just a thing you need to get used to in India.
Especially notice when a bull is running wild in a narrow alley.

The third is me at Ugra Narasimha statue. Hampi is filled with old temples and statues.
They say that there are as many Gods in India as there are people.
I guess that every person here is an incarnation of God himself, in some way.

Lots of love from Karnataka state,
Shahar.