• True Bollywood Story

      True Bollywood StoryI came to Mumbai to be discovered. Well, sort of. I actually came to India’s most populous city to secure my fifteen seconds of fame as an extra in one of the approximately 1,000 Bollywood extravaganzas—twice Hollywood’s output—that are churned out each year by the prolific fantasy factory. In this three-plus-billiondollar annual industry, Hindi filmmakers regularly seek foreign faces to provide international human wallpaper for scenes ostensibly shot in the likes of London, Dubai or Sydney. And I wanted to be among them. By bizarre happenstance, I’d had a brief flirtation with the fame monster several days earlier in, of all places, Kathmandu when, returning to Thamel district from a hair appointment, I walked smack into the filming of a music video by Nepali actor/comedian Hari Bansha Acharya. Next thing I knew, I was on set alongside four other pale foreigners dancing to a folk-inspired pop concoction lacing the sweet strings of a traditional sarangi with the djimbe’s percussive groove. It was catching. And left me keener than ever to clock additional screen time across the border in India, impending 14-hour workdays for a measly 500-rupee “fee” be damned.

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      After the Tsunami

      After The TsunamiOn December 26, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale,  caused a catastrophic tsunami that left an estimated 300,000 dead or missing. Six months later, four girls who were touched by the tragedy remember that day. As told to Suzan Crane.

      Originally published in ELLEgirl, June/July 2005. DOWNLOAD

      Destination: The Himalayas

      HimalayasI’ve always had a passion for big, aggressive motorcycles, but the thought of me piloting anything larger than a scooter triggers panic. Thus, over several years in India, my passion for big bikes had aroused in me envy for those who boundlessly roam the country unfettered by bus and train schedules, free to explore with gleeful abandon. Then one day a big biker named Troy – an expat American who proudly cites the thousands of kilometres he’s logged on his Enfield Machismo (yes, the Machismo!) – invited me to ride shotgun on a journey through Kashmir and Ladakh in India’s high Himalayas. Completing our posse was Gokarn from Turkey, his girlfriend Gili and Irishman Dominic.

      Originally published in Viva, January 2007. DOWNLOAD

      Dirty Dehli

      Suzan Crane gets sucked in to the vortex of sadness and destitution that is Delhi, only to realise that the capital does have its saving graces. (Originally published in Untamed Travel, May 2006)

      Entering Pahar Ganj, Delhi’s backpacker ghetto, there is an overwhelming stench that makes some put on surgical masks. And the smell is all the more pungent after having spent nearly six months breathing the perfume of tropical palm grove-laden Goa.

      This dirty bazaar is blemished by beggars, parapalegics and dirty children kicking cardboard boxes down dirty streets for fun, while other kids beg for rupees that will go into the pockets of their begging pimps, and still other street urchins (covered with Dickensian grime) steal cigarettes off the table at your favorite chai shop. Filthy beggars mime living hand-to-mouth, while filthy dogs sniff about filthy streets and filthy yet holy cows eat plastic and blow up like balloons.

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      Magical Mystery Tour

      Suzan Crane gets drenched with local colour during the festival of Holi in a sacred town where the Beatles once stayed. (Originally published in Untamed Travel, June 2006)

      It’s 6am and silver mist veils the village. The holy Ganges River flows serenely below our feet, the suspension bridge swaying slightly under the weight of our packs, while monkeys hang from the rafters. It is still and silent. Soon the chiming of bells and the chanting of devotees will float through the small town of Rishikesh in Uttaranchal. Ancient temples, well-used yoga halls and modern guesthouses melt into the landscape of one of India’s great pilgrimage centres. By 8am, sadhus, sanyasins, spiritual seekers and plain old tourists amble leisurely alongside the sandy banks of the mythic river where schools of huge fish are fed offerings of puffed rice.

      Shops and restaurants open for business and begging babas encamped at the foot of the Laxman Jhula Bridge intone “Hari Aum” with open palms inviting “donations” of baksheesh. Bearded Western men and women wearing kutas or salwaar kameez scurry to yoga and meditation classes. Hawkers in the entrance square to the bridge sell peacock feather fans, maps, cheap cameras. When the sun begins to thaw the early morning chill, tourists and Indians alike take a dip in the sacred water. At sunset, pujas will be performed on the ghats of Ram Jhula and a further calm will descend upon an already tranquil village.

      It’s a typical day in Rishikesh…

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      Holy Hamlet

      Suzan Crane heads for one of the country’s holiest towns, which is shaped like a cow’s ear. (Originally published in Untamed Travel, March 2006)

      Bored by the palm trees and surf of our familiar paradise, we hopped on the bikes one morning for the scenic six-hour journey to Gokarna, a quaint village on the Karnataka coast and one of India’s holiest sites. Considered an important centre of Shiva, Gokarna is home to the Aatma Lingam, enshrined in the ancient Mahabaleshwara Temple, a major calling card for hordes of Hindu pilgrims and Sanskrit scholars. Literally meaning “Cow’s Ear,” the village is formed by the ear-shaped convergence of two rivers, although locals believe that the named derives from a legend in which Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow.

      As soon as we cross the border between Goa and Karnataka it is clear that we’ve entered another state. “We’re back in India,” Guy intones as we pull up to a dhaba that serves authentic chai and a killer thali (a lunchtime staple consisting of a tin tray with different dishes) for 20 rupees. Off the main roads and past an enormous Indian naval base, we are soon swallowed by imposing mountains and the Western ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Children wave and scream when we fly past on our loud two-wheelers, tropical air wafting over us like a sultry veil.

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      Goa Begins Peaking

      Suzan Crane writes about the awakening of her comatose village for the high and dry season. (Originally published in Untamed Travel, January 2006)

      Naked. The seaside community in northern Goa where I have planted tentative roots seems naked when I return from my Indian Summer up north. Like a tree stripped of its leaves, it resembles the simple fishing village it was before the hippies, spiritual seekers and party crowd discovered it.

      It’s mid-September, the prelude before the storm of tourists, and the rain is overstaying its welcome. The sea is inky, and the sand is grey. Driftwood litters the beach where fishermen tend to their rickety boats. The shacks that normally fringe the coconut groves are now just bundled palm fronds marking spots from where soon drinks will be slung and music will blare. A few foreigners – the hardy ones who remain through the monsoon – mingle with the locals who impatiently await a reprieve from The Big Drench. They need to rebuild, repair and prepare for the impending high season. Only a few local dhabas and places catering to Westerners are open and serve as meeting points for the shrunken community. There are no parties, few potential sex partners and the drugs are less visible. People interact in a way that is not possible during high season when the distractions are many.

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      Raving About Goa: A New Year’s Tale

      Suzan Crane revels in the full-blown hurricane of New Year parties sweeping through her small Indian town. (Originally published in Untamed Travel, February 2006)

      The New Year has dawned and I’m still awake as the sun paints a rosy hue on the horizon. New Year’s Eve in Goa is amped up to 11 and only the lonely dare to call it a night before the following day.  My village is packed, not a room to be had, traffic clogging up the narrow arteries running from the bus stand to the beach. It is hectic and noisy and, although good for business, it is not good for the soul.

      The sand is littered with beach beds. Trash is strewn about and few say hello because few know each other anymore. The freaks have come to roost but they are now commingling with – dare I say it? – package tourists. What is becoming of this fine hippie village? “It’s over,” many long-termers gripe, unaware that the latest edition of Lonely Planet India now cites Village X as “the place to go” in Goa.

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      Reflecting on India

      Suzan Crane looks back on her years spent living and traveling in India with all of its maddening and inspiring contradictions. (Originally published in Untamed Travel, April 2006)

      If the Creator was on acid, India might well be the manifestation of his/her hallucination. A collage of contradictions, a patchwork of cultures, castes, languages, religions and morals, India is like a huge department store boasting a bedazzling array of products – turn in any direction and the view changes.

      Simultaneously confusing, exasperating, exhilarating and inspiring, this is a disparate nation of wealth and poverty, puritanical values and devalued life; where the cow is honoured and woman often dishonored; where sati and wife burning – although illegal – still occurs in remote villages; where a baby in her mother’s arms has already learned to proffer an open palm to extract rupees from a passerby; where tourist babas beg and sexual repression provokes widespread homosexuality and an alarming number of rapes. It is the country that gave the world Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and Amma, “The Hugging Mother,” where Bollywood stars stroll the red carpet while the homeless and infirm carpet the streets. It is a country of gurus and baksheesh-induced officials, hi-tech and low income, a country where Goans and Kashmiris don’t consider themselves Indians and where it sometimes feels as though you need a passport to cross state borders, so diverse are the dialects, geography, clothing and lifestyles.

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      Gypsy Castoffs

      This interview cost Suzan Crane 200 rupees and a couple of sweet lassis. Nothing comes for free when dealing with the Gypsies. Some call them cheats. Others appreciate the fabled legacy of these artistically gifted and long-persecuted nomads. (Originally published in Untamed Travel – October 2005.)

      Supari is beautiful and exotic. Long black hair frames hypnotic dark eyes and a beguiling smile that reveals gold-flecked teeth. She may be 20, but is not sure as there are no birth records. She is poor as the dirt on which her family lives in tents outside the holy city of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India. “All gypsy people very poor,” she says in English. “When we work, we get food. No work, no food. Only sitting.”

      Nathori, her niece, is around the same age and equally exquisite. They wear vibrant floor-length dresses and head scarves and are fully bejeweled: silver glimmering on fingers, ears, and around their necks, wrists and ankles. Nathori sports a traditional jhumra and muter, an ornate headpiece connected to chandelier-shaped earrings. Each boasts small tattoos on hands or arms which will often also be embellished with elaborate henna designs. “We think very beautiful,” Nathori says.

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