The Iconic Indian-Pacific Railway

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This week we went on an iconic train journey – the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Adelaide. It lead to a new style of writing for me but I went with the flow and wrote what I felt. It’s not a style I feel comfortable with but hey I didn’t feel comfortable writing a blog at all when I started so perhaps I just need to be brave and give other styles a go!

Sydney to the Blue Mountains

The train draws ever upwards from the city, dragged as if by an irresistible urge towards the almost indigo haze of the Eucalyptus covered ranges of the Blue Mountains. As sunset falls, the mountains seem to shimmer with a blueness so familiar from the thousands of photos you see of Australia – iconic by their very existence.

Each mountain range getting fainter and fainter as the train twists away from them higher and higher until they fade into the distance: leaving but a faint trace on the distant horizon while others steadily appear to only disappear with the others.

The light turns from an almost daffodil yellow to a pale mustard, criss-crossed by moody dark clouds, blackening in the failing sunlight. The light merely strengths the blue shimmer that has staked its claim over the mountains.

Blue Mountains - not one of my own pictures! It was too dark to take anything successfully
Blue Mountains – not one of my own pictures! It was too dark to take anything successfully

As we enter the Eucalyptus forest, the trees march forward – the Birnam Wood of Macbeth’s nightmares. Encapsulating the train with their dark shadows and magical outlines, they will you to  go further, deeper into their home. Gaps between the trees silently remind you that the vista below welcomes you, welcomes you in. It is a strange combination of darkening menace and sunset glory.

The sharp outlines of Sydney’s CBD seem long gone despite the ever smaller glimpses of its shiny towers that appear in the furthest of far distant views at increasingly rarer moments. A land of contrasts is opening its arms to your warm embrace.

Night falls and the land outside finally turns off its dimmer switch and lies silent and dark except for the bare shadows of trees from the train’s passing halo. Its world will remain hidden from me until morning. The day has turned its back on me as if to say, “that’s enough for now, you don’t need to see anymore, we will be fine without you. Sleep well.” The journey goes inward, melancholic perhaps as you gaze into blackness.

The Outback

Throughout the long lazy morning, the land stretches onto a concept of horizon previously inconceivable: to the horizon of your imagination and then further. Hour after hour passes as the scenery slowly, imperceptibly changes until what you gazed out upon has been altered utterly from its incarnation of just 30 minutes ago.  IMG_0157
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The soil moves through every shade of red, from the lightest sandstone to the deepest and richest of rusts. Colours artists fear to use, colours so distinct from our everyday experience that our eye deems them unnatural / synthetic at first glance. Grass moves from bare existence to failure to survive back to a lush fertile verdancy and back again to a mix of scrub grass and rust.

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The sky, reluctant to be left out of this ever changing scene too plays along. Morning broke in deepest, deepest fog – impenetrable for more than a few feet. Then suddenly, with little or no warning, it disappeared. An invisible fog proof fence perhaps stretched across the wilderness, a fence no fog dared to breach.

The absence of fog allows for a deep richness in the lapis sky at times pairing up with the verdant grasses to create a welcoming land of imagined fertility and prosperity. At times, this sky is in great contrast to the stony desert that stretches in front of me – the very antithesis of fertility and prosperity – a land where under the cold winter skies man scraps a living or leaves.

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Mankind too has played a role in the shaping of this rich and varied land. It too has said, “I’m here, let me play a role in the

Again not one of my own photos.
Again not one of my own photos.

beauty around you too.” As the plains turn to hills, man has grasped the opportunity to build their own Birnam Wood army of sentries standing tall – seemingly protecting their plains below. Their white wings circle and swoosh and communicate with the wind, adding to the land’s beauty not taking it away.

The Indian-Pacific was once in its day a plush luxury rumbling through the wilderness, today it is a tired old beauty but the journey however remains as iconic as ever. It opens up its arms to you and welcomes you to see a part of Australia that not many if any get to see.

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Not a Kazza in Sight!

18 months ago, my husband and I decided that once I was better, we were going to go on a once in a lifetime trip to celebrate my return to health. Our discussion of potential destinations ranged across the world and considered a wide range of possibilities. For various reasons, we settled on Australia.

At that stage we had little idea about whether this trip would ever happen but it provided us with something to dream of, something to look forward to, something that would help retain hope that one day I would be well enough to do it. There were minutes, hours, days, weeks and even months where such a trip seemed ludicrous – such things would never and could never happen again.

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The most spectacular sunrise over the Australia outback – the land was on fire!

Sat therefore on the plane to Sydney and now sat in a fabulous coffee shop drinking gorgeous coffee, I can’t help being continually reminded of how far I / we have come in the last 18 months. Our world has changed inconceivably in the last 6 months and trips such as this remind me of just how grateful I am for whatever enabled that changed: part me / part miracle. Whatever caused it, I hope I will spend my life being incredibly grateful while at the same time, I hope I can start to allow it to no longer play such a powerful role in who I am today. It has changed me utterly but it is now time to begin to forget it happened.

My health has not returned to the point where I do not have to be still a little careful on this trip – so forgetting completely is not advisable – not too many big nights out followed by long days on my feet but we have a wonderful three weeks ahead of us and I, for one, am incredibly excited.

Having had my first day in Sydney and walked almost 17km during this time – no KazzaIMG_3961 appeared! Kazza is the name Chris has given to the Karen that appears once I get too tired to continue! She is tired, grumpy and lacks determination! So far, no Kazza! Kazza’s absence would have been inconceivable even a short few months ago!

The other outcome of my illness is a newly re-found love for writing. My husband, Chris, is a continual encouragement to me in this regard. He loves that I have finally found some sort of creative outlet. In order to provide both motivation and practical ability to do even more writing, he has bought me the Macbook this blog has been written on.

Collected yesterday from the Apple Store in Sydney, I no longer have the excuse that our laptop is slow and difficult use. I no longer have any excuses not to write – that is to say the very least a little intimidating! I now need to just get on and do something.

Although let’s be fair, Chris’ only hope is that I will write such a huge bestseller, he no longer needs to work and I shall be able to keep him at the standard of living he intends to get used to – no pressure then!

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Jugaad! In Other Words Bodge It And Scarper!

India gets to you with its beauty, its people and the chaos! It gets you in ways that you could never expect. On the other hand, I have found myself more frustrated here than perhaps anywhere else I have ever been.

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Note the shelf with no lip!

The washing machine fell off its shelf a few days ago – yes shelf! Why? Because the company who built this apartment block insisted the shelf – 4 foot off the ground – was safe for a heavy as hell washing machine. Shock and awe, one morning I heard a bang so loud that I jumped to my feet and sprinted to the dry balcony! I was met by a washing machine on its side and a spray of water to challenge any Icelandic geyser! Surprise, surprise the washing machine had fallen off! Since then I have discovered that lots of people are worried about how their washing machines move in this and other apartment blocks and that at least four have fallen off in an identical development before mine did!

01971d8cc71a420c5e880be3220c4748Now once again there is a battle; once again I am losing access to my own time; once again I spend all day at home not being able to deal with things and get things done because some bureaucratic shit (excuse the language but I expect everyone one lives in or has ever lived in India will forgive me!) has to happen first! In all the years I have lived in rented accommodation, I haven’t had as many issue as I have right now and this is meant to be high calibre, aspirational housing!

Mix that in with the power and influence game that is being played and it gets even more frustrating. The company who found us our apartment won’t blame the real people responsible – the developers, because they want to place more people into their developments because for every rental agreement they get at least a months rent and have priority over many of the developers apartment rentals.

That relationship, therefore, is far more important than ours because they’e made ethics-2their money off us so now they can move on. Consequently, it seems they are raising a complaint against the washing company that installed the machine. This is despite the fact that the company argued for more than 30 minutes that to place it on the shelf was quite simply dangerous. They eventually agreed only because I was eventually convinced, oh my newbie in India innocence, by the smiles and guarantees from the developers that it was safe! Idiot! I have argued that to do this is morally as wrong as it can get, that responsibility for this situation lies solely with the developers but no, I am wrong! Why? That never quite seems to be answered unless it is with meaningless platitudes.

This is just typical India – on the surface all is well and full of smiles – underneath however is a bodge job – misjudged and ill thought out. It is a platitude filled land. You say or do what you have to do to be able to get away with it and then you get the ‘hell out of Dodge!’ and whatever you do – don’t look back to check to make sure Dodge isn’t on fire – if it was, it wouldn’t be your responsibility, that’s for certain!

I love India – possibly, I have even fallen in love with India. India however is like the lover who makes you float upon clouds of joy and happiness only then to thump you around the face after a few too many glasses of wine. Allow yourself to get comfortable and a little bit confident here and something will always come your way that tries to break you!

Frustration builds up here at all the little half completed jobs or bodge job completions. There is actually a word for it in India – jugaad! Yes, they have a word that clearly recognises the Indian ability to not quite finish a job right or just to make it look on the surface all right!

Hilariously, when speaking in the past tense, my Hindi teacher tells me that most people speak in the Passive Voice e.g. Active voice – I built the wardrobe. Passive voice – The wardrobe was built by me. By using the active voice like in English, you are taking responsibility for the action, the person doing the action is more important than the action itself. In English, we usually only use the passive voice when the subject is not important only the object, for example in a report or a scientific experiment. In this case we normally omit the actor, ‘by me’ as the outcome or the c3IHv9bprocess is all you care about.

The grammar is exactly the same in Hindi but rather than use it in quite specific circumstances, people use it nearly all the time when speaking about the past. So therefore if you say, ‘John was collected from reception by me’, you are also saying, if John wasn’t meant to have been collected well its just not my fault!’ Culturally in-built grammatical responsibility avoidance! I laughed the day I heard that – as it was also the day that everyone had refused to take responsibility for their own actions in relation to our washing machine!

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Rangoli – a beautiful traditional sand art done outside of your door.

There are exceptions though – there are those who reject Jugaad and find the results of it equally as frustrating as myself and my husband do. For example the lovely lady, Marina who every week does rangoli for me outside me door. She is inspirational in her approach to simply living. They are exceptions however. Some of the guys my husband works with are these exceptions but on the other hand he shockingly realised that he had fundamentally altered the way his department works because he had assumed that the people in charge of completing certain elements of a project were well – responsible for completing that element of the project!

He outrageously assumed as a result that they then had a responsibility for making sure it came in on time and in budget. That assumption apparently left a whole room staggered and concerned that they would have to change the way they worked! Why would you be responsible for the element of a project that your team was solely working on? Crazy eh!

We have been in India now for more than 2 months and I guess we are beginning to move out of the honeymoon period, we are beginning to get an understanding of how the society we are living in works. Thus, we are beginning to see the fundamental cracks in society rather than just assuming that our own individual frustrations were isolated incidences. It is a hard dichotomy to get your head around – the reality of living in India but also just how warm and welcoming everyone is to you. Somehow you imagine that a people who do not consider completing things as promised, on time and to a high standard would therefore also be a mean hearted, selfish people but Indians are not like that. Indians are extremely warm hearted, caring and kind people. It is odd!

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Lovely garland maker who insisted he gave me a carnation after I took this picture!
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The sweetest little girl in the world with such an adorable smile.

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