Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tall India

In northern India I was surprised to feel almost small - compared to the men at least. With their impressive stature, for once I felt less of a haystack in a field of needles.

But what was particularly eye-catching was their fondness for flares. Wrapping their long, fine limbs in slim-fitting flares, teamed with 1970s long-lapelled shirts in orange and yellow stripes, they considered themselves very much "on trend". And to be fair they looked pretty good - fortunately the shorter, dumpier types stuck to conventional, contemporary cuts, but the young and lean looked pretty impressively retro-dapper.

In this country there are several advantages to breathing from a higher stratosphere:

1) Your nose is further from the heady cocktail of street stench, including mostly cow dung, dog excrement, human sewage and rotten vegetables. Some shops and homes generously burn incense to mask the smell but it's best to put as much height between you and the debris as possible.

2) The tallest person gets the tallest camel. On safari in Rajasthan's Thar Desert , I was awarded "Johnnie Walker" who was a docile, amenable giant in urgent need of Listerine. And I did well, the others had grumpy, stumpy mounts with a chafing stride and similarly asphyxiating halitosis. B
ig is best!

3) It is easy to intimidate pesky, leering youths. Groups of five or six giggling boys in their late teens seem to hang around monuments, palaces and forts with no interest in national heritage, but a strong thirst for a tourist-fix. Deliberately hanging back until you've passed them, they break into fits of hysteria as they try to photograph your bum. Summoning my full height and all the headmistressly presence I could muster, it was very satisfying to catch them in the act and give them a good public dressing-down in front of their mates.

Many tourists did their best to blend in with the locals and avoid unwanted attention by covering up and adopting local dress. This was never going to work for me. I would dearly love to be able to wear one of those beautiful saris, but the ladies are all so petite and filigree-boned that I'd probably be mistaken for a transvestite. Standing out is one thing, standing out and being spat on is quite another.

And finally, a heightist travel blog would never be complete without a reference to doorway heights. On the whole I didn't have any problems in India as it is possible that a positive legacy of the British Raj was to leave behind generously proportioned doorways. This was the case in most places, except the Maharaja Mahal palace in the Jaisalmer fort. It has intentionally low doorways designed to force people to stoop as they entered a room, automatically showing respect to the maharaja, should he happen to be in the room. Well, at least that place provided a tenuous explanation.

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