Part II: The Curse
I wanted to ask Dr Shastri questions about three things: about Gokarna, its past and the changes he had witnessed living in it, about his family, Brahmins in one of India’s most important temple towns, and about his medical practice, to which he was so devoted. I wrote down my questions under separate headings, and intended to deal with each separately, but when I spoke to the doctor, he jumped from Gokarna’s history to his family to medicine. In his mind and life, all three were connected, because the doctor turned out to have an overarching worldview, which to my mind was distinctly Indian.
I went down the hill in the dark the next day, using my torch to make sure of every footstep. Jimmy had seen a cobra on the path a few days before – he considered the encounter auspicious – and a long brown snake had fallen asleep in the sun a few metres from our cottage that afternoon. Occasionally a troop of Rhesus monkeys passed through the coconut plantation, on their way to and from the village, where they stole into shops to scoff handfuls of fruit and vegetables.
After fifteen minutes a middle-aged woman approaches you. Without introducing herself, she leads you into the first of Tuol Sleng’s classrooms. It is sepia-toned, picturesque. A pool of light collects beneath a rusting bed, with iron rods and tin boxes on top of it – one for beatings, the guide tells you, the other for excrement, but it’s hard to be sure. Her English is heavily accented and she’s speaking quickly, already hurrying you on, into the classroom next door. It is much the same: ochre paint, hues creeping with the damp; checkerboard tiles, amber and off-white spread apart by veins of black; cast iron bed, delicately welded at the head. A black-and-white photograph of the bed has been hung on the wall. It was taken by the Vietnamese in 1979, after they captured Phnom Penh. A corpse is tied to it; blood has collected on the floor in place of light.
Somebody has tucked a frangipani into the foot of the bed. It is still fragrant, and reminds you of the incense beneath the Killing Tree. It was also Animist, also focused on an object: this exact bed, that exact tree, as if they were able to explain the violence, or were somehow to blame. You wonder if the flower has been offered to the spirit of the man in the photograph – if he haunts this room.
When, as travelers, we photograph a sight that is famous from having been photographed, we don’t capture an image; we maintain one. “Every photograph reinforces the aura,” Don DeLillo wrote in White Noise. “The act of photography becomes a kind of spiritual surrender: We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience, in a way, like all tourism. We are taking pictures of taking pictures.”
Or, to paraphrase Jean Baudrillard and Marshall McLuhan: Much of what we look for as tourists is not simply that which can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: The hyperreal. In this way, the world itself becomes a sort of museum of objects that we have encountered before in some other medium."
— Tourist Snapshots, Rolf Potts
— Tourist Snapshots, Rolf Potts
“Lonely Planet has been blamed for creating one of the most overrun backpacker trails in the world: the Banana Pancake Trail, an informal route that is as much a concept as it is a series of criss-crossing transport connections dotted with popular destinations. The Banana Pancake Trail’s roots lie in the Hippy Trail to the Indian Subcontinent. After travelling overland from London to Kathmandu in 1972, and then all the way to Sydney, Tony Wheeler and his wife Maureen took the information they’d gathered along the way and compiled a guidebook, Across Asia on the Cheap, published by their own start-up, Lonely Planet Publications. With the first book published, the sheer demand for information about independent, budget travel – and their own passion for the open road – inspired them to embark on a second journey: a year-long motorbike trip around Southeast Asia, out of which Southeast Asia on a Shoestring was born.
Today, the Banana Pancake Trail refers to a collection of Southeast Asian destinations that are extremely popular with backpackers, taking its name from the eponymous snack that is sold at traveller cafés or stalls along the way. It’s made up of a list of must-see sights, and now that air travel is cheap enough, people often fly from site to site or ‘paradise’ to ‘paradise’, rather than travel overland as they did in the past. It cannot be precisely defined because it is ever-evolving: it expands when an airport near Nha Trang is renovated or a road in Cambodia is tarred or visa regulations change. To me, the term is best used to describe locations where tourist facilities are better developed than the infrastructure used by locals, or where the proliferation of services geared at tourists has pushed other businesses further and further out, until a substantial part of a town’s centre is a tourist ghetto.
As far as it is a physical route, the Banana Pancake Trail predominantly snakes through mainland Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and, increasingly, Laos – but the Indian hippie haunts of Goa, Gokarna, Hampi, Pushkar and Rishikesh are often considered part of the trail. Some call its Indian incarnation the Hummus Trail because of the abundance of young Israelis travelling after a period of compulsory military service. A handful of scenic spots in Southwestern China such as Guilin, Dali and the towns within reach of the famed Tiger Leaping Gorge – all close enough to northern Laos or Vietnam to reach by bus or train – are sometimes classified Banana Pancake Trail territory too, as are parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.”
The city that dreams us all
this just made me fall in love with beijing all over again.
by OCTAVIO PAZ
news today and...
The Ten Commandments of Beijing
1. Thou shalt not praise Shanghai, nor move down to it, for Beijing is a filthy jealous mistress.