Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The UK Files - The First Sight of London, and the Zoo

Years of reading about England and the English bequeathed, in my head, a kind of glow to London. The centre of a culture. A place that has to be visited. A place that I knew I'd definitely visit some day.

This isn't the first city to have attained that kind of halo in my books. Bombay was the first. You know how it is, all those movies, - I knew it would have to be visited. Again, the centre of one kind of culture. When I visited it, and even stayed there for 18 months, I felt like something that'd been pending was finally complete.

If I had lived in any place in Karnataka other than Bangalore, I'm pretty sure Bangalore would've been "that" place for me. New York, in fact, still stands that way. I've never been there, but I know I will. It's got to be visited. To complete an image. To give a body to all the ephemeral visions floating around in my head.

So. I was looking forward to visit London. Since I planned to see most of London after S joined us, we wanted to finish those things that S wouldn't be particularly interested in. And so, my aunt planned a visit to the London Zoo.

We drove to the nearest station and took the train to London. It was lovely, entering London. The roads, the streets, the buildings - the sight of Thames - the distant sights of London Eye, Christie's right by the tracks - and to crown it all, Waterloo station.

We got off and took the tube to Camden Town. We'd noted directions, and there was even a map to the zoo at the station, but for some reason, we took a wrong turn, and got lost. The road we took was what seemed to be a major punk destination - tattoo shops alternating with body-piercing shops. Girls in black with spiked hairstyles and heavy eye makeup sauntered past huge men with popeye arms and elaborate tattoos.

I've imagined London in a thousand ways. Narrow streets, imperial buildings, wet streets, the Thames, the parks, the banks - every which way except what I was seeing as my first sight of London. I couldn't stop giggling at the incongruousness of the whole thing.

We stopped at a shop to ask for directions, and a friendly tattooed man came right out and with generous servings of "Yes, Love," "Turn right, Love," directed us to the zoo. He also added a "Don't worry, love, you'll get there, just keep walking," and we understood his "don't worry" only after we started walking.

The road went right next to Regent's canal, under a bridge. It was dingy, gloomy and lonely. Walls climbed up on either side of us, with little niches in which small groups of men sat - doing what, no idea. I almost thought Oliver Twist or Fagin would pop out from the nearest corner. This was the kind of place in the movies that unpleasant things happened. I felt an urge to photograph all this, because I was sure I wouldn't believe myself if I thought about this place later. But I was afraid to even take out my camera!

But walk we did, my aunt, my 14-year old cousin, 3 year old daughter and me, and finally saw the green bridge the "Love" man had told us about. We climbed the steps near it, and lo, back in civilization - and the zoo was across the road. And man, was this the London of my mind!

The zoo is good. Lots of posters with information if you have the time to read. Saw many animals that I hadn't seen - the sea-creatures- anemones, jellyfish. And meerkats, especially, of which I've been a fan ever since Meerkat Manor.

The Gorillas were amazingly human, the way the male gorilla picked up a bottle of some kind of fruit juice and took a swig - I could've sworn it was a man in a costume.

The bugs section was good, probably Puttachi's favourite, coz she sat cross-legged outside the cricket enclosure and wouldn't leave. It was extremely cold (which explains the dearth of photographs - stiff fingers) and my aunt's fabulous sandwiches, and some hot chocolate from the coffee bar revived us a bit. The tropical section was excellent - probably my favourite part of the zoo. Saw a sloth (not) move - and the warmth helped Puttachi fall asleep in the stroller.

I saw much of London later, but this was fun! And now, I wish I'd risked taking those photographs!


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praneshachar said...

good bad ugly so without your knowledge u landed in a part of London which u never imagined. At the end all is good love reached the Zoo. It was amazing to read about the Zoo and its varied contents.
on the other hand I am happy u r able to visit the places u loved to see and sure of seeing them. You are lucky and fortunate this will not be possible for many. So many constraints will be there for the people.
nice post with opt pictures in the same your own way of narrating. enjoyed reading it again and again

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