Celebrities

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This blog entry about the events of Thursday, November 04, 2004 was originally posted on November 08, 2004.

DAY 383:  I’m hoping that readers of The Blog don’t think they don’t have to travel on their own because they are simply traveling vicariously through me at their computers.  Each journey is different for everyone — this is simply my story — events and emotions are based on many individual factors, including the time of the year you travel, your budget, the people you meet, and/or whether or not you perspire the smell of chicken soup.  (You guys out there know who you are.)  As we’ve learned on this Blog, appearance is a big factor — sometimes to one’s advantage, sometimes to one’s disadvantage.  As I read one woman write, “Being an American female traveling alone in India is like being a walking aphrodesiac with a big sign over the top which says ‘FUCK HERE.’” [sic]

With my ambiguous Filipino-American physical appearance, I’ve managed to blend in, disappear into the local crowd in many countries I’ve been to, including India to an extent, much more so than the average traveler — and by “average,” I mean a Caucasian-looking person.  However, being white isn’t always a disadvantage in India, despite the woman’s comment above (whom I can only assume was white American).  For example, from what I’ve read, being a Caucasian increases your chances of playing an extra in a Bollywood movie for scenes that supposedly take place in Europe.

I got an inside look to the Caucasian-In-India Experience when I spent the day with Michael and Martina, the Austrian couple I met on the train the night before.  Apparently, being white can make you sort of a celebrity in India, particularly in a city like Bikaner, Rajasthan.

 
BIKANER WAS FOUNDED IN 1488 by, not surprisingly, a guy named Bika, Roa Bika, a Rathore prince.  The desert settlement was once a stop on the legendary Silk Route that linked trade between the East and Europe, a place for trading and for breeding camels to be used in the caravans.  Nowadays it is the State of Rajasthan’s fourth largest city, trying to keep up with its sibling cities in the tourism game.  With that said, Bikaner isn’t as in-your-face as a more touristy place like Jaipur, with its constant touts and aggressive rickshaw men.  That’s not to say that Indians in Bikaner don’t approach foreigners out of curiosity, especially young children who most likely haven’t seen a white person in real life before.

Michael, Martina and I proceeded on foot through the streets of downtown Bikaner, a bustling commercial market area full of shops, fruit carts, motorscooters and camel-drawn carriages.  It was there that I began to notice that I wasn’t having the “average” traveler experience; most people ignored me while paying much more attention to Michael and Martina, greeting them with smiles and extended hands.

We walked to the Junagarh Fort, the late 16th century residential fort of the maharaja of Bikaner, a fort with the special significance that it had never been conquered.  Beyond its pinkish ramparts we went, through the main gate near the shrine of handprints of the woman who had performed the old ceremonial practice of sati (burning themselves on their deceased, fort-defending husbands’ pyres).  Admission to the fort grounds included a free tour guide (to discourage touts) and the Austrians and I tagged onto a bigger group of Indian tourists.  The guide brought us around all the areas of the palace fort open to the public, from its courtyards with fountains and colorful imported Italian tiles, its conference room, its bedrooms, its gardens and verandas, its big public audience hall, and its colorfully painted entertaining “cloud room.”  The guide spoke in both Hindi and English, but it was still hard to understand him.  We got the gist of his lecture though, especially the part about the ceremonial dancing on a bed of nails or a bed of swords (ouch!).  The last stop of the tour was the armory, which boasted weapons used to defend the fort over the centuries, including German machine guns taken from the Germans in WWI when the Indians fought with the British.

Our ticket purchase got us into the nearby Prachina Museum on the other side of a big courtyard from the main gate.  The courtyard was packed with school children in uniform, on recess from a school trip.  They were all playing when the three of us walked by and immediately stopped all horseplay to stop to say hello and extend a hand in greeting.  “What country are you from?” they’d ask.

“Austria.”

“No, Austria, not Australia.  It’s in Europe.”

More kids appeared like the circus was in town to get a glimpse of the two stars going by, led by me, Mr. Chopped Liver.  The “hellos” and smiles to the Austrians flowed like a river.

“Wow, it’s like you’re a celebrity,” I said to Martina. 

Walking with the poise and sunglasses of a celebrity wanting to be left alone, she told me they got this treatment a lot in India, and that Indians even wanted to take their picture with them.  I told her about Blogreader and fellow traveler Maria‘s similar experience, how Indians took pictures of her because she had blonde hair.  “I think they have a fixation with blondes,” I told the blonde Martina.

“I’m not even a real blonde.”

“Neither was [she.]”

The Prachina Museum was small, but very organized.  It displayed the different things used by the royal family through the years, from their royal poofy dresses to their royal silverware, imported from England.  Also on display were many photographs of maharajas of the past, many of which sported thick, curly moustaches.  (Yes, I thought what you are thinking, speculating that movie critic Gene Shalit is actually a maharaja in disguise.)


AFTER A QUICK SNACK and a 40-minute walk under the Indian sun later, the Austrians and I were in the southern part of town, at one of the entry gates into the Old City, surrounded by a fortification wall.  We walked the narrow streets and alleyways that weren’t nearly as crowded as their younger siblings in the north — many places were closed up already at 3 p.m.  There were still people around though, which meant there was no escape from more curious hellos and greetings from children.  Again, the Austrians got all the attention; most kids wanted to shake Michael’s hand like he was the president strolling through.  I felt like lesser-known Filipino-American actor Dante Basco (who played Rufio, King of The Lost Boys, in Steven Spielberg’s Hook) walking beside Austrian governing superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We eventually made it through the fans to the Bhandeshwar Temple, a big famous house of worship in the Jain religion.  Jainism, a sort of extreme version of Buddhism with some ideas taken from Hinduism, is a religion that strictly respects all living things, no matter how small or how much of a nuisance they can be, which explained the tolerance for the hundreds of pigeons perched on its tower — and the many inside the temple flying and pooping at their leisure.  The Jain priest and caretaker of the temple, one Manya Maharaj, was a very friendly Brahmin, the latest in a 31-generation lineage of Jain priests.  He gave us a free tour, showing us the beautiful Persian paintings that adorned the interior of which the temple was famous for, and the sculptures of the 24 prophets in the Jain faith.  He even allowed us into the sacred center of the temple to see the shrine inside.

Manya’s granddaughter Ramala was eager to befriend the new visitors and led us up the tower to the two upper levels.  From there she pointed out the views of the city, the expanse of the desert nearby and the cow hospital below. 

“Can I take your picture?” I requested of the little Indian girl.  She obliged, but only if she posed with the Austrian celebrities.  Back downstairs, I requested the same of her grandfather.

“Yes, I am in all the tourist pictures!” (picture above) he answered.  “I’m famous.”

Ha, everyone’s a celebrity around here, I thought, but he proved it.  “Look!”  He walked me over to a poster on the wall.  Professionally shot with professional lighting and a professional fair-skinned model from Bombay wearing a traditional saree dress, it was a promotional poster for a fancy luxury hotel that used the famous colorful interior of the Bhandeshwar Temple as its background.  Huh?  Famous he says? 

“Look here.”  In the back, slightly out of focus, there he was, the priest of the temple in the photograph, casually sitting as a part of the background.  “See, I’m famous!”


FAME CONTINUED TO BE THE THEME OF THE DAY when a young Indian adolescent also named Michael volunteered to show us around the Old City.  He took us to the nearby Laxminath Temple, a Hindu temple that unfortunately was closed, and then through the busy market streets of butter, vegetable and spice vendors.  The side streets and courtyards were full of many young boys playing the Indian past time of cricket — but game time stopped when they saw the Austrians walk by in order for the boys to smile, wave and extend their hands in greeting.  One boy even had Martina throw a pitch like she was a celebrity at an American baseball game.

“What country are you from?”

“Austria.”

“Australia?”

“No, Austria.  It’s in Europe.”

“Yeah!  Australia!” shouted another kid.

We continued walking.  “How many times do you have to explain that?” I asked Martina.

“Every time,” she replied.  “Except in Europe.”


THE OLD CITY WAS KNOWN FOR ITS OLD BUILDINGS, particularly its havelis or old mansions.  Some were old and abandoned, while others were actually built in recent years as part of real estate developments, according to our young guide Michael.  He brought us to the hidden but ultra-luxurious Hotel Bhanwar Niwas, a haveli, half of which was the residence of its wealthy owner.  We pretended to be interested in a room so that we could wander the building, with its fancy five-star hallways, fancy sitting parlor and fancy bedrooms, all fit for rich celebrities at 3,300 rupees a night. 

We continued our walk through the Old City, again with the kids waving hello from the back of an auto-rickshaw, or their constant approaches wanting to meet the Austrians with their Austrian auras of fortune and glory.  I think Michael started to get really exhausted by it — at one point he had about five kids hanging off of each of his arms — so we went back to our hotel.  (Later I learned it wasn’t the kids, but the heat that got to him; he was suffering from a mild heatstroke.)


I HAD DINNER ALONE that night while my famous Austrian friends took it easy, at one of the busy, all vegetarian local restaurants in the area, and dined on a paneer burji and chipati bread.  I sat at a corner table, minding my own business, but I noticed that people nearby were glancing stares at me, followed by discussion amongst themselves.  I figured it was the usual “What country do you think he’s from?” debate, but maybe, just maybe, they were wondering, “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Hook?






Next entry: Holy Rats and Camel Humps

Previous entry: Meet The Maharaja




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Comments for “Celebrities”

  • GREETINGS FROM MUMBAI aka BOMBAY!  I’m a couple of days behind, bare with me…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  04:05 AM


  • First suckas!

    Posted by anthony  on  11/08  at  05:02 AM


  • fortune and glory, kid

    Posted by Alyson  on  11/08  at  05:34 AM


  • Hope you met up with my friend and had a blast. Go see elephanta caves - boat available from gateway of india - colaba, see the floating shrine in Mumbai - haji ali. see the prince of wales museum, kala ghoda district o fort district - easier to spell.lots of stuff to do in my home city.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  11:44 AM


  • DUSTY:  Yeah, Cuckoo and Mumbai are great!  I’ve even been let into the exclusive press only club today!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  12:48 PM


  • WARREN:  Thanks for the pledge!  Email me your postal address!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  12:55 PM


  • you’re like marcus brody (but he wasn’t in the temple of doom)....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  01:42 PM


  • i think my ghetto van is right in front of the auto-rickshaw…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  02:11 PM


  • i’ve always wanted to have friends from australia! heheheh. bombay you say? fairly close to puna where neeeraj is from smile take a high res picture for me smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  02:29 PM


  • hey, don’t forget the many times that your appearance saved your ass (and money). your ability to blend in may have prevented many of scams and possible muggings/pickpocketings. =) and besides, it is the lesser characters in the movies that make the lead actor who he is. otherwise, what do you have to compare him to?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  04:55 PM


  • What ever happend to Rufio anyway…

    Star TV should do a “Where are the now?” for Lost Boys.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  07:56 PM


  • After Hook, Rufio hasn’t done much…  The “biggest” movie he was in was “Biker Boyz” and that ain’t that big, but big enough to replay constantly on HBO…

    Other than that he played the star role in a Filipino American Movie, called “The Debut” that you can pick up at your local Blockbuster…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  08:05 PM


  • ERIK - if you didn’t go or are planning to go, my buddy at work said to at least check out Juhu beach area…nice little area….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/08  at  09:10 PM


  • Marcus Brody you’re not! Laxminath Temple looks amazing! How do they keep those pillars so clean despite the polution from exhaust, etc?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/09  at  01:22 AM


  • Oogy poses a good question - does someone have to clean them - EVERY DAY?? The mansions are awesome too!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/09  at  05:28 AM


  • Junagarh Fort is cool. I wish our conference rooms looked like that.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/18  at  06:04 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Holy Rats and Camel Humps

Previous entry:
Meet The Maharaja




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