So this is it. Two and a half years later, I’m finally here posting my Epilogue to THE GRAND TOUR III – PORT AND PRINCELY CITIES OF THE SUBCONTINENT.
Unlike the first two Grand Tours, which took a year and a year and half respectively to complete, this one has taken me much longer because just before I began the journey, I also embarked on a journey of another kind (as a museum director).
But in any case, here we are. And here’s where we’ve been:
Calcutta (Kolkata), Benares (Varanasi), Madras (Chennai), Pondicherry (Puducherry), Tranquebar (Tharangambadi), Colombo in Sri Lanka, Cochin (Kochi), Goa, Bombay (Mumbai), Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Lahore in Pakistan.
15 cities later, I can only say that I am older in mind and spirit, and perhaps just a little more worldly (or should I say, world-weary), having, quite literally walked through the streets of India, and occasionally Sri Lanka and Pakistan, on my own for miles and miles and days and days, and seen more than I ever expected to see.
What have I learnt on this journey?
I have learnt that the Subcontinent has a rich colonial heritage that isn’t only British – there was also a Portuguese, French, Dutch and even Danish heritage. And, if one considers that the Mughals came from Central Asia – also a kind of much older, Persian colonial heritage that has become thoroughly Indian (or Pakistani), thoroughly part of local identity.
And this colonial legacy lingers on in the contemporary day, not just in terms of the physical buildings, but also in terms of things more intangible like language and the way of life. This makes the heritage of the Subcontinent so much richer, and – like Mughal heritage – European colonial heritage has to be seen as unavoidably and inevitably part of Subcontinental identity.
Queen Victoria’s legacy literally still looms large.
I have learnt that all the port cities (at least) were cosmopolitan, multi-cultural, multi-faith melting pots. And in this regard, they prefigure Singapore.
Like Singapore, the cities played (and continue to play) host to places of worship from all the great world religions, and their respective communities, still more or less worshipping where they have worshipped for centuries: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Zoroastrian Parsis, Christians, Jews – and even the occasional Taoist.
I have learnt that the Subcontinent has an amazing architectural heritage – wandering in the old “white”, “black” and “grey” towns, I have chanced upon a dizzying array of architectural styles from Mughal to Neoclassical to Indo-Saracenic to Art Deco; from Palace Architecture, to Religious, to Civic/Commercial to Fort.
There are also great museums here, with my favorites being the Indian Museum in Calcutta, the former Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay, the Government Museum in Egmore, Madras and the Lahore Museum in its namesake city.
Of course, there were also the Grand Hotels and Palaces, almost all of whom were quite simply a dream to stay in, and an out-of-this-world experience. If I had to pick my favorites, I would have to say these were the Grand Hotel in Calcutta, the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, the Taj Mahal Palace in Bombay and, naturally, the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur.
And the food! Oh the food! How can I even begin to describe all I’ve had the chance to savour! It will require a whole other blog!!
My favourite gourmet cities were Calcutta, Colombo, Cochin and Goa.
And my favourite dishes? The Bengali thali at the Grand Hotel Calcutta, steak-frites anywhere in Pondicherry, hoppers at the Galle Face Hotel Colombo, lampreis at the Dutch Burgher Union Cafe Colombo, and the Parsi Bhonu (the Parsi equivalent of a thali) at SodaBottleWaterOpener Wallah, Khan Market, New Delhi.
As it turns out, I LOVE fish curry. And so there was the Keralan Fish Curry in Cochin, the Goan Fish Curry in Goa (and Bombay), and my favorite fish curry of all was the Tamil Fish Curry at the Bungalow by the Beach Tranquebar, which reminded me of Muthu’s Fish Head Curry in Singapore.
This Epilogue is also THE Epilogue to my Grand Tour of the East in general – the tour of Asian Port and Imperial Cities I began in May 2012, and which has taken me 7 years exactly to complete!
In my initial planning, I had expected the entire journey to finish by end 2016. I told myself that once I finished this entire journey, it would time to leave Singapore again and move to another city to live.
As it turns out, it’s taken me more than 2 years longer than expected because of the job. And because of the job, it’s not very likely that I’m going to move away from Singapore any time soon.
What a whirlwind it’s been! 7 years feels like a lifetime. I’m literally not the same Kennie Ting I was when I started off this journey.
Even as I feel a great sense of achievement at having actually completed what I started, I’m also feeling a tinge of sadness at this monumental and on-going part of my life coming to an end.
What next? What could be next? Who knows?
I will continue to travel, of course, though more often because of the day job. And I will continue to write, naturally.
The good news is that my publisher has asked that I work on my NEXT book; the follow-up to 2015’s ROMANCE OF THE GRAND TOUR. This next book I hope to title ASIAN PORT CITIES – FROM BOMBAY TO TOKYO, and it will feature the rest of the Asian Port Cities, alongside the first 12 in Romance of the Grand Tour.
So for the time being, I’m still going to be working on the Grand Tour, even if not physically grand touring.
Here’s hoping that I’ll figure out the next epic personal project by journey’s end.
In the meantime, enjoy the photos. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, I welcome you to go through the archives on this very blog, to relive the past, glorious 7 years of THE GRAND TOUR OF THE EAST.