Thursday, 28 July 2011

TRAVEL DIARIES: Hyderabad-Sydney-Bali

Published in Now! Jakarta, August 2011


The incomparable Pinky Reddy, in emeralds, and an Abu-Sandeep sari at her daughter Mallika’s wedding.

Last month I discovered Brisbane-based Strategic Airlines, a new full service carrier that flies Perth to Bali, Melbourne to Phuket and Denpasar to Townsville, in the day time.
The Strategic flight attendants wear 80s-look American Airlines outfits and lots of mascara. They mostly cater to bogans (Australian slang for the emerging middle classes) so speak to one slowly and lovingly — “Got your seat belt on, dear” sort of thing — compared to those barking ‘nancyboys’ on Qantas!
Of the day flights east, my favorite is Singapore Airlines flight 422, the 0730 a.m from Mumbai to Singapore via the Apollo chemist at the new GVK-Mumbai airport.
Apollo is a India’s best pharmaceutical dispenser (and have great hospitals too).They sell Old Spice aftershave for two dollars and one can buy one’s pills there — for all sorts of life-threatening illnesses — and still afford to live!
On Singapore Airlines, in Business Class, they have lie-flat seats on Boeing 777 aircraft for just a 5 hours flight so one feels really lucky – elated, really, to be escaping Mumbai (where I still have to go, monthly, to battle for rupees from my beloved Indian billionaires so I can pay for my Apollo pills).
The choice of breakfasts offered is amazing: there’s Indian Semolina Wettex and curried soup, Shitake Mushroom Chinese Noodles, and Malay Roti Canai. I adore the spicy, comfort-food character of Roti Canai,Malaysia’s answer to the buttered crumpet.
After breakfast I watch those Little Britain boys do their Japanese groupie girl impersonations on “Come Fly With Me”, again and again, until I slowly go horizontal and sink into a nanny-nap. No thrombosis stockings are needed: laughter is the best medicine.
When I wake up I plug my laptop into the convenient socket and start editing photographs for this column.

Newlyweds Mallika and Sidhart at the bride's aunty, Princess Shalini Buphal's dinner
in their honour at The Taj Krishna, Hyderabad.

This month its more of the same Indian fare – emeralds by the bus-load at Hyderabadi weddings-of-the-millennium (Shahrukh Khan, the Big B, an Ambani brother, two Miss Indias, a chorus-line of Bollywood pin-up girls, and Queenie Dhobi were at the GVK-Reddy wedding) – plus snaps of gum-scented Townsville (Far North Queensland) and heavenly Sydney in the winter.
The more I travel between Asia and Australia, the more I appreciate the good works of the Sydney city fathers of my sun-burned youth; the ones I loathed — little pinko, hippy radical that I was — while growing up in a perfectly orderly, green, sustainable, eco-friendly, gorgeous environment.
Now that I live the charmed life surrounded by unchecked urban sprawl and refuse I really appreciate my breaks ‘down under’ — to breathe air you can’t see, as it were!
To avoid Denpasar’s chaotic and demeaning airport I now quite often connect straight through to Oz from Mumbai on BA15, the 1945 hours sleeper service from Singapore to Sydney. I choose a seat at the rear of the Club Class cabin facing backwards, with my legs in the air.
There is a new Qantas morning flight from Mumbai to Singapore too but I dread the last 20 minutes of any Qantas flight when one has to listen to all the flight attendants droning on, about their real estate portfolios (the ladies) and skin-care regimes (the men).
On BA, the superbly picked multi-racial cabin crews are even cozier than Strategic: “Can I butter your crumpet, love” is a frequently heard refrain.
In the toilets they have Elemis hand and body lotion, which one definitely needs at the other end before going to the skin cancer specialist. (I keep myself tidy and moist for specialists).
Anyway, after I accidentally pocketed a few bottles of Elemis I move to the magazine rack where they have the latest HELLO (Victoria Beckham I love you), Spectator (I can’t live without Low Life) and the U.K. Vanity Fair (Croydon Carter you make my day).

Sidhart and Mallika exchange vows.
11th June 2011: To the marriage of Sidhart and Mallika Reddy in Hyderabad
Sanjay Reddy is the head of GVK, the Indian company that was awarded the new airport contract in Bali recently. His glamorous wife Pinky is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of India. I did their house garden in Hyderabad some years ago and was asked today to take photos.

The groom’s sister (left) chats to the bride’s aunt during the ceremony.

LEFT: Officiating priests from Tirupati at the Reddy wedding RIGHT: Taj waiters at the pre-wedding lunch at the Reddy’s Hyderabad home.

Lunch for 1000 was at the house (my Moghul Garden had been turned into an exquisitely decorated air-conditioned reception hall) and the wedding and dinner for 5,000 was in a specially built Hindu temple and palace on the grounds of the airport NOVOTEL. I was in full Bali drag at the wedding (my Clive of Kuta look) and was spotted by the Bali Airport contingent — in ill-fitting suits — which included the Bupati Karangasem. The next day I had a chance to take in two of the fabled Islamic era marvels of the Deccan – the Golconda Fort, with its Moghul Garden; and the nearby Quab Shahi tombs of the Seven Sultans.

LEFT: The writer channels Annette Bening in the Javanese gapura designed for the Reddy’s home. RIGHT: My guide, Manish, channels Celine Dion at the Quab Shahi tombs, Hyderabad.

18th June 2011: Walking in the Winter
Since my dhobi rash flared up I haven’t been do a lot of extra-curricular walking-around in the tropics – saving myself and my Clotrimazole powder for required site inspections — but Sydney in the winter presented an opportunity to storm around on foot.

LEFT: Circular Quay, Sydney, as viewed from Cahill Expressway. RIGHT: The top of the Opera House, viewed across the Tomb of fallen heritage buildings.
I caught a harbor ferry to Circular Quay — they now have wi-fi and red leather seats (like Air Asia and Virgin and Kingfisher Airlines) —and then take a glass lift up the side of the Cahill Express way which deposits one at the edge of a 6-lane elevated highway with one of the world’s greatest views (see photo above).
From there it’s 100 meters to the back door of the Botanical Gardens and the fabulous Art Gallery of NSW beyond.
Try it one day!

The entrance garden of Queen’s Park, Townsville (Castle Hill beyond).
24th June 2011: Sydney to Bali via Townsville
Queensland is Australia’s answer to Texas, with a sprinkling of Chinese.
The early history of Asian and European workers to Australia (starting with the Malay-Chinese sea cucumber merchants in Perth, in the early 19th century, and ending with my ancestors in the 1920s, who were clog dancers from Lancashire).
In Townsville I stumbled upon a pretty ‘Queenslander’ bungalow called ‘Kardinia’ which was built in 1878, for Alexander Marks, the first Japanese Consul in Australia.

LEFT: The succulent garden RIGHT: The rose garden, Queens Park, Townsville

LEFT: Paul Tonnier in ‘Kardinia’ his heritage Queenslander. RIGHT: Alexander de Willoughby, Tom Ford’s man in Sydney.

The present owner, Paul Tonnoir, a fine arts dealer of Belgian descent, has spent almost 30 years lovingly restoring this magnificent home (see photo above).
From ‘Kardinia’ it’s a short walk down the hill, past period homes, to Queen’s Park, which was built in 1863, as a ‘sample’ colonial garden for settlers to emulate on their sugar plantations.
From Queen’s Park one can see the Pacific Ocean and Magnetic Island which is just off the coast.
There are fabulous scenic attractions in the interior too.

Meti Alwi at Trisna Newson’s birthday bash at Danu Gallery, Penelokan, Bali.