a few months back i wrote about us buying fabric in McLeod Ganj. for anyone who didnt read it, to make a long story short: we lived for 3 weeks in the himalayas. we helped out a charity organization that helped give schooling for homeless kids. one day we donated money to buy fabric to make them clothing since they haven’t had new clothes pretty much ever. we left before we got to see the new clothing made. the post is here. i had pretty much forgotten all about it, until i got a newsletter from the organization the other day. in it, there was a photo of the kids wearing their new clothes. it was so heartwarming to see them all happy and smiling and well dressed….
after 9 weeks of traveling here, today is my last full day in india and it’s really sad to be leaving. i haven’t spent 9 weeks in any foreign country ever, and i’ve gotten quite used to being here. before i got here, i’d already done a decent amount of traveling, and i was starting to think that i was prepared for just about anything. but india is definitely unlike anything i’ve ever dealt with before, and is so full of chaos that traveling here is difficult even for the veteran traveler. it has public transportation that is so overcrowded and so rickety that it’s enough to break not only your spirit, but your back as well. it has an unbelievable amount of garbage that’s piled up everywhere on every single street, in every single train compartment, and in rural areas as well… not to mention the piles of cowshit that are everywhere you look. it’s full of poverty that confronts you from every direction and is way too difficult to bear. there’s so many things about india that make it an exhausting country to travel through, that i can definitely see why so many travelers want to get the hell out of here and never come back.
everyone says about india “either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it”. and despite all the things that i just mentioned, i absolutely *loved* india. looking past all the negatives, india has an incredible amount to offer. the country is huge and has every type of environment you could imagine: from sand dunes, to snowy peaks, to grassy plains, to jungles, to forests, to long stretches of beaches. india is practically a continent in itself, and each region within it, not only has different types of geography, but also an incredibly wide assortment of different architectural styles, and monuments. it’s a country of many religions filled w/ hindu temples, jain temples, mosques, and buddhist gompas.
cities everywhere are colorful and lively, full of palaces, statues, etc… always hustling and bustling w/ farm animals wandering the streets, people selling anything you can imagine, pilgrims on their way to religious sites, and the delicious smell of food wafting all around. and the food…. sheeez… the food is so incredibly deliocious. spicy, and well flavored, with so many different options to choose from. from the yummy creamy lassis, to the roasted tandoori chicken, to the crunchy nan bread, and the fiery curries… all of it was so good.
and of course, india wouldnt be india without the people who live here. deeply religious on one hand, dressing conservatively, and attending temple regularly.. but wildly exhubarent and jovial on the other hand. one thing about indians.. for the most part they aren’t shy or subtle! we would constantly have people coming up to us and starting up conversation, asking us everything from what country we live in to the amount of salary we made. so many people around us were always laughing and joking… i’d see grown men chasing each other around and pushing at each other like children.. and the crazy zany stuff we saw on tv that came from bollywood… is well…. both hilarious and udescribable. and the women were always so friendly too, and so colorful in their long flowing sarees.
if i had the time, i could write pages and pages about my thoughts on india, but unfortunately i’m kind of in a hurry. i’m incredibly curious to see what becomes of india in the future. it really seems to be a country at a crossroads. on one hand, it’s developing like crazy…the cities are growing, technology is expanding, lots of people are getting excellent educatiuons. on the flip side, in some ways it might be growing too fast, and there is unbelievable poverty as a result, and from what i’ve read in the papers, incredible corruption as well. only time will tell what direction this incredible country goes in. i only hope that some day i’ll be able to come back here again to see it.
last night we took another one of thos agonizingly long train rides. we’ve taken so many of them over the last few months! anyways, the sleeper cart in the trains just has a bunch of bunkbed type things sticking out from the wall. caryn had the lower bunk and i had the upper. when we went to sleep, just to be on the cautious side, we locked our packs to the railing. i almost didnt bother to do it, i mean, i was sleeping with my legs touching the pack.. what could happen, right?? well, the last thing i did before going to sleep was read the newspaper. after finishing, i didnt know where to put the paper (indian trains have no garbage cans since the passengers just throw garbage all over the floor or out the window). eventually, i just tucked the paper under my backpack.
the next morning we woke up, maybe a half hour before our destination. i folded up the sheet i used, took my camera etc out of my pack, and unlocked the pack from the railing. then i jumped down off the top bunk and sat down w/ caryn. at this point, my pack was only like 3 feet from me… pretty much right over my head on the upper bunk. as i kept talking to caryn, all of a sudden, a newspaper flutter down and fell into my lap.
astonished, i looked around wondering where it had come from. caryn and i wondered aloud if it was the paper i had read the previous night… maybe it had fallen off the top bunk. i was just gonna leave it at that, but then, at the last second, i decided to stand up and thrown the paper back up there. that’s when i noticed…. my backpack was gone. i quickly looked around, and noticed my backpack on the top bunk of the next compartment over, right next to some guy, who immediately jumped off the top bunk and walked away. in the 5 seconds it took me to realize what had happened, the guy had already gotten to the end of the corridor and leaped off the train.
i couldnt believe it!! i was *so* close to having my whole pack stolen. this bastard, had apparently climbed into the top bunk of the next compartment, and just reached around the small wall, pulling my pack into his compartment. all this, *right* above our heads without us noticing. if the backpack hadn’t pulled the newspaper along with it, causing the paper to fall over the edge in the end, we never would have noticed. *so* easy to be robbed. to make matters worse, i had gotten out a bunch of cash the previous night that i would need over the next few weeks, so besides containing everything i own, the backpack also had about 500$ in cash.
i guess now i know just how important it is to ALWAYS LOCK YOUR STUFF!!
varanassi is the one of the most holy places in all of india for hindus. people from all over the country come here on pilgrimages, mainly to bathe in the holy ganges river. because of this, the town has quite an interesting atmosphere.. very somber and religious on one hand but at the same time, there this huge sense of excitement in the air as people have fulfilled what for many is a lifelong dream. around town there is a steady stream of pilgrims walking around wearing towels and carrying little metal buckets full of water from the ganges.
we decided to go on a sunrise boatride on the ganges, since it’s supposedly one of the best ways of seeing Varanassi. when we walked down to the water, the sky was just barely starting to light up and it felt a little eerie to be down by the ganges in the semi-dark. as our boat slowly drifted from shore, we could see people slowly starting to come down towards the ganges. some little kids sold us some offerings candles, tiny candles surrounded by flowers in a little leaf cup that you light and set into the river. other people did this too, and it was really beautiful to see all these tiny twinkling fires floating down the ganges.
as we continued down the ganges, we saw more and more people coming down to the water to bathe. it was a really cool sight to see people engaging in this ritual. we even saw some foreigners take a dip. although it’s cool that they did it, i would *never* swim in the ganges. from what we read in thew guidebook, it’s one of the filthiest rivers ever. all the waste from all the toilets etc in town empty directly into the river. apparently it has a fecal conent more than 50 time over what is safe for bathing. but it doesnt stop there. not only is the ganges a holy place to bathe, but it’s also a very holy place to be creamated. every day, all day long, human bodies are set ablaze on funeral pires at the river. so the river is filled not only with poo, but with corpse ash. not exactly something that i’d like to swim in. our guide even told us that there are a lot of dead pigeons in the water, cause they drink the water, and just die on the spot. as we kept going down the river, our guide pointed out some of the burning ghats (where bodies are burned) where tons of firewood was stacked in huge piles. near there we saw a blazing fire, with a small group of people standing around it in mourning. fittingly enough, we watched as lots of jet black crows, slowly swooped around the waters.
later that evening we came down to the waterfrnt again to see a puja ceremony that they have nightly. the ceremony involved lots of incense burning, ringing of bells, and small fires.
in the end, we only got to spend around 2 days in this very holy city. it was a shame not to stay any longer, but we had to go!
here are the rest of my photos from varanassi
i havent had much time recently to post photos into the photo gallery, but i finally sorted, labeled, etc a bunch of photos today. check them out!
here is the last set of photos from McLeod Ganj.
here are my photos from delhi.
here are the phototos from Vrindivan, Hare Krishna center.
here are photos of the Taj Mahal in Agra.
and last, here are a few photos from Bandhavgarh National Park… sorry, not tiger photos though!!
ding ding ding!!
2 more months! now i’ve been on the road for 6 months. half a year!! it’s weird, back when i went on my one and a half month trip to thailand, i saw people who were traveling on year long trips and thought to myself how crazy it would be to actually travel for that long. it seemed pretty much impossible that i would ever get to do such a thing… and yet here i am, already on the road for half a year. this *might* be the halfway mark for this trip… unless we keep adding countries!
the main difference in the last 2 months as opposed to the other 2 month chunks of this trip is that i actually spent the whole 2 months in just one country. every other place we’ve gone has just been for a few weeks or so, but the last 2 months have all been in india. despite the fact that i havent been jumping around a bunch of different countries, i’ve still managed to do quite a lot of stuff over the last 2 months:
i’ve walked through streets filled with cows, goats, pigs, buffalo, and monkeys; i’ve survived unbearably overstuffed rickety indian buses; i’ve been stranded in small indian towns where no one spoke english; i’ve had people stare at me, ask for my photo, and even had someone ask me to autograph his hand; i’ve ridden a scooter around a small indian island; i’ve taken a “bucket shower”; i’ve seen hundreds of temples, both hindu and buddhist; i’ve hiked up a hill made up of 3,300 steps along w/ many pilgrims; i’ve seen some of the saddest poverty i can imagine; i’ve eaten an unimaginable amount of curry; i’ve learned how to eat without using my left hand; i’ve seen several forts and several palaces; i’ve seen a blue city, a golden city, and a lake city; i’ve taken an indian cooking class; i went on a village safari where i drank opium water and wore a turban; i’ve had some bizarre experiences from drinking special lassis; i’ve watched the sun set over stretches of sand dunes while camels paced up and down; i’ve been in a temple inhabited by thousands of rats; i saw Sting perfrom in Delhi!; i’ve spent 3 weeks living in the himalayas among tibetan refugees; i created a database for a tibetan monk; i was attacked by a monkey; i’ve lived in sub-zero hotel rooms w/ nothing to keep me warm except for hot water bottles; i’ve learned how to meditate and i learned about buddhism; i got to see the snow for a few days and saw monkeys, cows, and monks all trying to deal w/ the storm; i saw a man who was possessed by the tibetan oracle; i saw the dalai lama; i’ve bought clothing and games for homeless children; i wore a fake beard; i’ve stayed in a hotel run by Hare Krishnas; i saw the amazing Taj Mahal; i saw a wild tiger; and i saw human corpses set on fire in the most holy city of india.
phew… it’s been a busy two months!! anyways, as usual, once every two months i’m checking who’s reading this journal. if you’re reading, please post a comment in this post and let me know that you’re out there!
searching for tigers isn’t exactly as glamorous or action packed as it might at first seem to be. you spend a lot of time rushing around in jeeps and looking at trees. then you look at shrubs. then you stare at your watch for a while. eventually you have to struggle to keep from falling asleep since you had to wake up so early to get there… but still there’s always the chance, however slight, that you might actually get to see a tiger.. and that keeps you going.
we arrived in Bavnagargh national park after a long exhausting overnight train ride. the park is actually one of india’s smallest national parks, as it only encompasses 36 square miles of forest not far from the area described in Kipling’s “the jungle book”, but in that tiny area, there are allegedly around 22 tigers. even though we were completely drained from the train, we knew that we had very little time, so we arranged to go on a safari that afternoon, and then arranged a second safari for the following morning… just in case we weren’t able to see a tiger on the first one.
actually, the chances of seeing a tiger, despite the park’s tiny size, is actually very slim. lots of people go home dissapointed. there’s actually a sign in front of the park that tells you that you should try to enjoy your time in the park, whether you see a tiger or not. but the thing is, the only thing to do in the park is to search for tigers. that’s the whole point of going!! so of course you’ll be totally bummed if you dont see one. no doubt about it.
for our first safari, caryn and i sat in the back of a jeep with a driver and guide in the front. we rushed around from place to place, checked at a watering hole, etc but there were no tigers to be found. the other strategy that the driver tried was to just drive to random spots in the park, and shut of the jeep, hoping that a tiger might somehow walk up. hours rolled by. we did get to see a bunch of random deer, some cool birds, etc… but in the end, after 3 hours passed, we still hadnt seen the tiger. out of the 25 or so other jeeps in the park, it didnt seem like anyone else had spotted a tiger either.
we eventually went back to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby restaurant, all dissapointed by the lack of tigers. of course, it was to be expected that we might not see one, but it was still really lame. we ran into a french guy who was also frustrated. he apparently had already been on 2 safaris, and had finally seen one tiger that morning.. but had only barely seen some paws through the shrubs before the tiger ran off. we started getting kind of worried that we might leave the following day without any luck.
the next day we woke up at 5:30 am, and got a jeep to the park. by the time we got there, there was already a huge line of jeeps waiting for the park to open. morning time is a bit more structured in the park. whereas on the afternoon safaris, it’s kind of a freeforall, the jeeps on the morning safari are divided into 5 different groups, and each group can only search one section of the park. as soon as the gates opened, everyone raced in. for the first couple of hours we did pretty much the same as before… race around the park, or sit in the car doing nothing.
one tactic that they use to try to find the tigers is they listen and try to hear if the deer give a warning call… a sure sign that a tiger is present. if they hear this, the park guides will send in some rangers on elephants to try to find the tigers. the jeeps are limited to driving on the park trails and also scare the tigers somewhat, but the elephants can plow through the woods and go anywhere they please, and also are less disruptive to the tigers.
so, a few hours in, when we were starting to worry again that we might end up going home w/out seeing a tiger, we heard that the rangers thought they knew where one of them was and they were sending in the elephants. all the jeeps in our little group rushed off to the area and turned off their engines, silently waiting on the side of the road. eventually, we saw elephants crashing through the trees, ripping out huge patches of bamboo w/ their trunks for a midmorning snack. everyone in the jeeps waited in silence as the elephants went deeper into the forest. every now and then, we would hear the elephant riders yell to the jeeps saying that they saw the tiger or that the tiger was walking in a certian direction.
all of a sudden, our guide started pointing frantically into the nearby shrubs. “tiger!! tiger!!” i strained my eyes, but couldnt make out anything. the damn thing is too camoflauged! then caryn saw it. both her and the guide tried to point to me where the tiger was walking, and finally, through all the bushes and grass, i saw it…. a wild tiger. i cant even begin to describe how utterly excited i was. A TIGER!!! i couldnt believe what i was seeing. it was difficult to make out as it walked through the foliage, but it was definitely a tiger. less than a minute later, it was too deep in the forest to see.
we waited around for a while, and then tried another stretch of road. eventually we saw the same tiger one more time in the dense greenery, and then finally… for just 30 seconds or so… the tiger came out into full view. we could see the tiger completely unobstructed. it was so damn cool. according to the guide it was a female, about 3 years old. and then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. at this point, some people are allowed to pay a crapload of money and then they get to ride an elephant into the shrubbery in hopes of seeing the tiger even closer. unfortunately, the park was about to close for the afternoon, so there was no chance for us to do so, but who cares.. we saw a tiger!!!
driving back to the hotel, we chatted excitedly about what we had seen. we felt so lucky to have actually seen a tiger. some people in our group had not gotten to see it, and other jeeps from other groups hadn’t seen tigers either. it so easily could have been us who had not seen one. we had no more time for safaris, and if it hadn’t been for that morning, we would have left the park all depressed. lucky us!!!
there are a lot of famous places in india… sometimes it seems like every little thing around is famous to some degree. during our two months of traveling around india, we’ve seen our fare share of major monuments, but the most famous monument of all, the Taj Mahal, we ended up leaving till near the end of our time here. out of two and a half months in india, we’d end up seeing the Taj during our last week here. after a while, i was really starting to wonder what i’d think of the Taj. would i be all that impressed? i mean, was it really that much better than a lot of the other really cool places that i’ve seen??
well, when i finally go to see the Taj Mahal, i was completely blown away. it was so absolutely incredible. the whole thing is made of white marble and is gleaming white. it’s so impressive looking that it almost looks completely unreal, like it’s just a mirage floating there in the air. caryn and i spent several hours just walking around it and looking at it from all angles. the other really cool thing about it was that because of the sun reflecting off of it, as the sun sets, the Taj Mahal seems to be constantly shifting colors, from gleaming white, to shimmery golden, and sometimes to a deep dark grey.
the Taj Mahal is described in the book as being “the most beautiful monument ever dedicated to love” and so it seemed fitting that caryn and i would get to see it on March 9th, our anniversary. after the taj mahal, we decided to go out to a nice dinner. we went to a restaurant at a fancy hotel here named Amar Villas. when we pulled up to the place, on a bicycle rickshaw of all things, we started getting a bit worried that they might not let us inside. the guy at the gate looked at the rickshaw driver as if he was the scum of the earth, but then he let us in. the hotel was fancy… i mean *really* fancy. i felt pretty out of place hanging around there in my grubby tshirt etc.
the dinner was super good. i got a Thali dinner that came with a ton of different kinds of curries, all of them tasting really good. caryn’s dinner wasn’t as great, but the dessert she got was sooooo good!! the dinner ended up being crazy expensive though… especially for indian standards. the cheapest bottle of wine there was like 150$!! when i went to use the bathroom, the urinals had little tiny fuzzy mats that you stood on and everything was gleaming clean. it kind of made me a little sad in a way to see all of this. i thought about all the people that i has seen in town that day. the rickshaw drivers, the construction workers, the ticket collectors. this place was beyond their wildest dreams. their bathrooms weren’t clean,and they certainly didnt have little fuzzy mats to stand on… instead, these people just had a hole in the ground. for me, this hotel was way out of my price range, but i know that if i *really* wanted to stay there, i could afford it… but most people around here, they couldnt save up enough money to stay here even if they saved for several years. i would say that this is the kind of place they could only see on tv… but i doubt that too many of them have tv’s. of course, all of this is quite a generalization, there are plenty of indians who are well off, own tvs, stay in fancy hotels, etc etc… but unfortunately, there are so many others that i see on a daily basis, who dont.
we woke up ridiculously early this morning and set off for a small town called vrindavana about 2 hours south of delhi. we didnt know too much about this town other than the fact that it had some beautiful temples dedicated to the hindu god krishna and it was on the way to agra which is our next destination.
we arrived in town and got a room at one of the two guesthouses mentioned in our book.
the first thing that tipped us off that something was odd, was that everyone around us was dressed oddly. in fact, we seemed to be the only people dressed in western clothing. everyone around, including the westerners, were wearing saris or other such garb. and then we noticed that all the men had shaved heads. huh?
so, it turns out, that we are in a town full of Hare Krishnas. this is *the* main center for that group. since this is the town where Krishna allegedly once lived, tons of pilgrims from all over the world come here to pay homage.
it’s so weird being here. the way people here say hello is “hare krishna!” and goodbye is “hare krishna” as well. not to mention that people around are constantly singing “hare krishna” over and over. in some ways, it almost seems like some cliched movie, where everone walks around always smiling and then tries to force you into their cult. i dont know why, but it just seems so bizarre to me that so many of the people here doing this are westereners. they seem kind of out of place in a sari for some reason. anyways, caryn and i spent the day here touring around the temples, taking in the sites, and being determined to not be converted, no matter how much free soap the hotel offers us!!
one other crazy thing happened today. there are monkeys all over town. they’re quite rambunctious and seem to be causing havoc all over town… jumping on buildings, pounding on things, and being really crazy. when we went into one temple that was completely surrounded by frenzied monkeys, the guard told caryn to take off her glasses just in case. you never know with the monkeys. i thought this was a bit overcautious.. i mean come on, i could maybe see a monkey try to grab something from someone if they were sitting on the groun, but would caryn’s glasses be stolen when she was walking?!!
a little while later, my question was answered. we were walking down the street and there was an old indian woman walking ahead of us. all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a monkey jumped from the roof of a building and slowly walked towards her from behind.. it gained speed, started running, and then made a flying leap to the woman’s shoulder, just long enough to snatch her glasses and leap away. it was insane!!! such a crazy sneak attack.
the woman of course was incredibly distraught as the monkey toyed w/ her glasses while sitting perched high above on a rooftop. maybe you’re wondering, why would a monkey need glasses?? well, it turns out, the monkeys are much smarter than you would think. how do you think people get their glasses back?? they bribe the monkey to come down by offering it food. the monkeys here are so damn smart, that they can plan that far ahead…. they specifically go around stealing glasses so that they can trade them for food. a crazy monkey scam!!
india never ceases to amaze me. no matter how long i’ve been here, i’m constantly finding new things that completely impress me. but at the same time, india also never ceases to show me the darker side or life. all the time, i find things that are painful to even look at. each day i pass hundreds of poor old ladies crawling in the filth, dirty men with various limbs all twisted and/or missing, and little children living on the street. i see grown men shitting in the streets, in plain view of everyone around them. i see dead animals, lying amongst the other rubbish on the side of the roads. today i saw a man walking w/ a cane… and when i looked, i saw that the man had no eyes, just holes. i saw an old one-legged man, absolutely naked except for the tatters of what used to be a shirt… as he sat there muttering to himself, the puddle of urine he was sitting in steadily grew as more piss streamed from his exposed genitals. and later, i saw a crowd of people walking down the middle of a dusty road and carrying a stretcher over their heads… the stretcher was covered by a sheet, with clearly defined contours of a human corpse beneath it.
when i see all of these things, i really dont know what to do. i try to look away… but looking away, doesnt help you forget.