LONDON CALLING

London-Oxford-street1A course offered by Reuters on photography in London was very enticing. Just the thought of being in a city, with so much history, heritage, culture, and art, stirred up the wanderer in me. But first I had to complete the formalities and obtain my visa, a cumbersome process for many Bhutanese traveling overseas.

Delhi was like an oven in the summer, but what was even more excruciating than the Indian heat was the process of obtaining a visa. The man behind the desk, in the British Embassy, with a stiff upper lip, politely refused to grant me one.

“We only accept internet applications,” he said, without even blinking.

I looked at him, his desk, the wall behind him, and finally asked him: Will you give me a visa if I manage to bring over my application on time today? He didn’t seem too sure.

Trafalgar Square commemorates the glorious naval victory of the British under the leadership of Admiral Nelson over Napoleon’s French fleet.

As I left the embassy, clicking away at the auto-rickshaw crackling in the distance, I was determined to get this done with. Backpack journalism, was one course I had always longed to attend. Now that it was within reach, I wouldn’t let it slip, and no man sitting behind a desk would stop me.

My perseverance paid off. The very next day I was on a plane headed for Heathrow Airport. With the earphones glued to my ears, I was smiling as the aircraft steadied in the burning sun, above the clouds. I shut my eyes, listening to Don’t let me down by The Beatles and began conjuring up images of London – the castles, museums, cobblestoned streets, the black taxi cabs, the pubs.

Just a few hours in the city, I realized that there was no shortage of ways to get around. In short, you can descend into the underground and into the Tube, hop onto a bright red bus to see the sights, or hail one of the ubiquitous London black cabs. The double decker buses are everywhere too and offer a fantastic view from the top deck. But, being a photographer and a hippie at heart, I decided to just get out there, be in the moment, and explore the city on foot. And that seemed the better way to do it.

Over my stay, I had managed to create my own unique tour of London. Londoners are absolutely fun – friendly and courteous, with or without stiff upper lips. The city has a mix of people from all over the globe and people of every color. At first London, like many big cities can appear intimidating, but once you know how to navigate the area, getting around is easy.

For tourists the London Eye, a giant observation wheel erected in the Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank of the River Thames is a major attraction. It is a 135 meter tall structure built as part of London’s Millennium Celebrations. Going up in the eye offers spectacular views of the city. From there the Big Ben is just a hop, skip away and you can find your way to Trafalgar Square for an afternoon at the National Gallery.

Trafalgar Square commemorates the glorious naval victory of the British under the leadership of Admiral Nelson over Napoleon’s French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Undoubtedly the largest square in the city, it is often considered the heart of London. Since the Middle Ages, Trafalgar Square was a central meeting place. At the middle of the square stands a tall column, a monument honoring Admiral Nelson who laid down his life in the battle. The column is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of contemporary art. The square is also used for political demonstrations and community gatherings, such as the celebration of New Year’s Eve.

Since Picadilly Circus and Leicester Square are a short jaunt away from there, I found myself wandering around Covent Garden, picking up knickknacks I never knew I needed from the street vendors.

The Tower of London Museum is another landmark, located in the center of the city. It is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings – Richard the Lion heart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries.

But what is even more fascinating is that The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times meaning that if one had control over it; one had control over the city. The Tower has also served as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie (collection of wild animals in captivity), the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom for which it is famous now. Even the controversial Kohinoor diamond, which many believe was stolen from India, can be seen at the centre of the royal crowns displayed among the exhibits. Around the tower of London one can spot many Ravens – they have their own special place there believed to be protecting the crown jewels and the tower. They have existed at the Towers from the time of King Charles in the 16th Century. Many believe that the “Towers Raven mythology is a Victorian Flight of Fantasy.” But, fantasy or not, many seem to believe in it why they are there.

London is a city that has so many layers of history to it and it is a city that speaks to you from all these different eras gone by. If you listen closely, you might just hear it calling.

The Buckingham Palace, was constructed by the Duke of Buckingham, John Sheffield and called the Buckingham house. It was bought from the Duke by King George III, for his wife. In 1826, King George IV instructed the famous architect John Nash to convert it into a palace. But, sadly, King George IV as well as his successor died before the palace was complete. Queen Victoria was the first to reside in the Buckingham Palace. Interesting sights at the Buckingham palace are the changing of the guards, and seeing the soldiers in the tall furry hats.

If you are interested in Museums, London’s Tate is definitely a must. The museum holds the National collection of British art from the 1500’s until today and many international, modern and contemporary collections.

While there are innumerable great sights to see in London, for a young budding photographer like me, Camden town was the major attraction. From Markets to Music and funky art, Camden town offered the eclectic experience. The bohemian town has attracted singers, writers and poets from Dylan Thomas to Amy Winehouse, who made their homes in this inner part of London.

London is a city that has so many sides to it that it can at times be overwhelming. This town that produced greats of English Literature like Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens; a town that gave birth to the era of the romantics – the artistic, literary and intellectual movement in reaction to the industrial revolution and against aristocratic social and political norms. The impact of this movement on the politics and on society changed much the world then and continues to highlight the importance of art and literature on politics and the world.

London is a city that has so many layers of history to it and it is a city that speaks to you from all these different eras gone by. If you listen closely, you might just hear it calling.

The writer is a freelance journalist. She can be contacted at udahal4@gmail.com.

 

 

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