i went to my first intro to buddhism and meditation class today. in the short span of time that i was there, there was a ton of information discussed. this definitely seems like it’s going to be a very interesting class. i have a lot of thoughts on everything i heard today, but i’ve got limited time online now (since i need to wake up at 6:30 AM tomorrow!!!) and i’d like to spend some more time thinking about everything i’ve learned before i post about it. so instead, i’ll spend a little time whining about the weather.

it’s cold here. DAMN cold. and rainy. it rains pretty much every day here, and every time we leave the house we have to wear all sorts of layers to keep us warm and wear raingear to keep us dry. going almost anywhere is somewhat of an ordeal. we’re constantly soaked, and although the rain makes this place look even more beautiful and magical, we still often wish it would finally stop! the roads have turned to piles of mud, and we have to leap over particularly dirty parts, puddles, and rivers of water on the road. they have bizarre systems of drainage set up all over the city to try to direct the excess water and you often pass virtual waterfalls in town.

it’s a constant battle to stay warm and dry. when we come back to our hotel room, there is no heating so it’s pretty much the same temperature inside as it is outside. we have only one source of heat… the hot water heater. after a couple days here, caryn came up w/ a brilliant plan… she would pour hot water into empty water bottles and we would keep these in bed to warm it up. we began to horde our bottles when they became empty and now we’ll have like 4 bottles filled w/ hot water rolling around inside the bed. this doesnt exactly provide all that much heat, but if you put your feet directly on them or hug the bottles, it’s nice. caryn even puts hot water bottles inside outr shoes to dry them out. heh, desperate times call for desperate measures!

despite the fact that we have hot water, it’s nearly impossible to shower in the hotel. the water pressure is virtually nonexistant, and comes out in a tiny trickle… basically pouring straight down. so when we shower, we have to practically hug the wall just to get under the stream. not the most comfortable thing.

when we got up in the morning today, it was pouring as usual. we were rediculously tired from having to wake up “early” which was 8am and wondered what it was gonna be like the following day when we had to wake up one and a half hours earlier than that. after a sad breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches that crumbled to shreds in my hands, we started the hike up the hill. hiking at 8am sucks. hiking uphill sucks even more. hiking in the rain, uphill, at 8am is the worst. we made it past the ferocious dumpster monkeys without incident today… but by the time we got to the meditation center we were wet, cold, sleepy, and exhausted.

life is hard, eh? heh, well, maybe i’m exaggerating about life being hard. it really is amazing up here and despite all the difficulties w/ it, the rain is definitely enjoyable… but i think a few days of sunshine wouldnt be such a bad thing!!


the poor

i’ve been meaning to write this post for ages now cause all this has been weighing on my mind. i’ve kept putting it off an putting it off though, until now.

one of the most disturbing and difficult things about traveling in india is the sheer quantity of poor people here. everywhere you look there are people begging in dirty shabby clothing. you see old limping men, mother’s w/ sad looking children, hungry babies, and possibly saddest of all… the many many cripples. often times you see peope who are so severely crippled that it’s hard to even look at them without whincing and turning away. people w/ legs so absolutely useless, that they have to crawl along the ground on their arms and pull their lifeless limbs after them. i’ve literally had nightmares about these people.

seeing all this on a day to day basis is absolutely heart wrenching. it weighs on your mind and soul constantly and it’s often a battle to remain cheerful and enjoy your day when there are so many around you that dont have the luxury of a home, clothing, food, or even decent health. you want to do something… *anything* to help these people, but in another shameful and sad way, you often just wish that you could avoid them in order to spare you from the grief of witnessing their lives. it’s difficult for me to comprehend how these people live. just the few minutes of their lives that i witness seems so sad and depressing, and yet i only see the tip of the iceberg that is their misfortune.

so what can be done? it’s impossible to help every beggar that you see. if you even gave 20 rupees to each one, your money would soon be all gone. plus… well, there are many concerns about giving money to beggars. what will they spend it on? will they definitely buy food? or will the money be possibly be used on alcohol or even drugs? who knows where your money will go. so then, everyone says that it’s best to instead give to an organization. organizations have better resources and will be able to spend the money for a much better purpose than any individual. for instance, just by buying food in bulk, an organization can feed many many more people than if you just gave money to one beggar. but organizations have their downside too. organizations have their own costs.. they have to pay for advertising, pay their staff, pay rent, and all sorts of other administrative costs. how large of a percentage of your money will actually go to the needy and how much will just disappear?

so, what to do with your money is definitely a difficult dilemna. but there’s more dilemnas than just that. one thing that bothers me to no end is how much food gets wasted here. portions are often big… no, not big, huge! so many times when caryn and i have eaten there’s still tons of food left over. and, right outside the restaurant, there will be dirty kids begging. these kids will be yelled at, chased, and sometimes even hit with sticks by the owners of the restaurant to keep them away. it’s just insane to me that there are people… people who are just a few yards away who desperately need food… and right next to them is a heaping plate of leftover food that just goes into the garbage. the frustrating thing is that restaurants here dont really have “to-go” containers. there’s no way for us to take our uneaten food with us to give away later. instead it just gets thrown out.

i was sitting and eating outside at the omelette shop one day, when i saw some kids begging nearby. they looked all sad and distraught when they came up to people asking for money. but then, when they were alone they would start giggling, playing around, and smiling big grins. i started wonderring to myself as to whether these children really were as desparate as i thought. if they had such a hard life, how can they be playing around and having such a good time? maybe the sad face was all an act? but then my next thought was “sheeez. what the hell do you *want* from these people, vlad? you want them to be sad *all* the time? do they have to justify their poverty to you by never smiling? is that what you are hoping for?? if they have one second of joy, are they not worthy of your pity now??” and so it goes… the never ending internal mental debate. sadness and guilt, guilt and sadness churning around.

a few days later, caryn and i were chilling on top of a sand dune trying to watch a sunset. as i posted before, we were hassled every few minutes by people that tried to sell us sodas, chips, etc. we didnt want anything, but people just wouldnt leave us alone. we couldnt even get 5 minutes of peace an quiet. it was so annoying and i was getting so frustrated… and then i thought to myself, well, these people are just trying to make ends meet. isn’t this what people always want from the homeless? to “get a job”. well, these people found a job. they’re not begging. their selling soda. and yet, the sheer numbers of people forcing sodas etc on you is exhausting in itself.

i was talking to caryn and said, that maybe we should change our tactics. maybe we should give up our grand notions of donating money at the end of our time in india. maybe we should just give small amounts of money to the children we see begging instead? maybe hand out say, 100 rupees per day? but then caryn made the really good point that if you give to begging children, really you are just contributing to child labor. these kids should be in school. or they should be *playing* and enjoying their youth. instead their parents force them to walk around asking for rupees. where are these children’s parents? who knows… but i’m sure the parents realize that sad children will pull at people’s heartstrings. why send your child to school when you can force them to go earn you money? do we want to encourage that kind of thing?

plus, another suspicion is that i wonder just how much money these people make. how many tourists can a child talk to in one hour? 30 maybe? lets say one half of them hand over a meager 10 rupees (although i suspect many will give much more). thats 150 rupees per hour. more money than a waiter in a restaurant here would make. it would appear that begging could be a much more profitable job than doing real work.

all of these things have been whirling about in my head for the past month. so many questions, and no easy solutions. so i decided to poke around online for some thoughts on this issue. and i came across this post on lonely planet: read me!!. it’s a facinating read, and here’s an excerpt:

– Begging is almost always run by the local mafia
– Beggars have to pay a “license fee” to the mafia for the right to beg at popular joints (temples, traffic intersections etc.)
– The going license fee for the most popular spots in Bangalore (MG road, Domlur junction) is Rs. 600 a DAY per beggar
– The babies that women often carry are hired by the day (going rate Rs. 20 a day)
– These babies are almost always drugged with dhatura first thing in the morning. No wonder the child usually sleeps peacefully through the traffic noise and smoke
– The children are organized in ruthless gangs – the older boys are firmly in command, and “rule” with a heavy hand. The few girls that there are, are routinely sexually abused by the group of dominant boys, who in return provide them “protection” from adults and other boys. Younger boys are the most mistreated lot – they do almost all the work, and suffer the worst kind of physical and sexual abuse. The gang leaders collect all the earnings of the group and pay off the mafia and the police.

ugh. unbelievably disturbing isn’t it? unfortunately, i’ve actually heard this from some other people who live here as well. after reading this, i definitely decided that i wouldnt give to beggars anymore. my money would definitely help a lot more if i gave to an organization instead. i definitely dont want my money going to random mafia people, i dont want it used to encourage little children to beg instead of going to school, and i most definitely dont want it to be given to people who apparently are maimed *on purpose* so they can make more money by begging. so now, when i see beggars.. i keep walking and turn the other way. but it’s hard. really hard. sometimes i cave in and dig through my pocket for money even though i know that i may be causing more harm than good. but… i dunno… there are times i just cant bring myself to say no.

so, now we’re in mcleod ganj. caryn and i spent two days helping an organization that helps put homeless kids in school and gives them a place to live. it was only 2 days of our time, but it felt really good to be finally doing something to help. after our meditation classes next week, Jamyang wants some more help w/ stuff, and we are looking forward to helping some more. currently his organization (well, one of the many organizations he’s helping) is only housing 20 kids, but that’s a start and those 20 kids will now have a chance to grow up and lead a happy productive life. hopefully soon, he can make his organization even bigger and help more. as for us… we’re still going to donate some money before we leave india. we dont have much money to give.. but i guess every little bit counts.


a day off!

yesterday we spent another day down in daramshala helping out jamyang. it’s weird, i’ve actually hardly ever worked w/ microsoft access, and dont know too much about it. actually, i was a bit worried that i wouldnt be able to actually do the things that jamyang needed, but after a bit of tinkering around, i finally figured everything out. he ended up not really needing any more computer help for now, so between now and tuesday we have two “days off”. on tuesday we’re starting a week-long course on buddhism and meditation, two things that i’ve been sorta interested in all of my life, but have never really put any research into. actually, i remember way back in the day, my best friend and i decided that we would start meditating… i think that ended up lasting less than a week before we gave up, heh.

anyways, since we had the day off, we decided to walk around the mountains between several of the small villages up here. it was a really nice walk.. very peaceful and quiet with incredible views all around. it’s been raining like crazy lately, so a lot of the roads are a muddy mess, but they’re still decent. we walked past small buildings built barely hanging on to the sides of the mountain, tibetan prayer flags hanging in between trees and other structures, and even monkeys.

it turned out that there were tons of monkeys up there scurrying about, eating food out of dumpsters, and jumping from tree to tree. i walked up to take a phhoto of one that was eating garbage. i walked closer and closer hoping to get a good shot… when the monkey attacked me!! all of a sudden it made a squawk and lunged towards me with an angry expression on it’s face! i jumped back. it then backed up and then lunged towards me again! it landed jus a few feet in front of me, and i started swinging my umbrella in front of me to keep it from getting to me. it ended up lunging a me 3 times total, with me frantically swinging the umbrella in fear. finally the monkey gave up and scampered off. phew!!

it looks angry, eh?

tibetan prayer flags

the rest of the walk was pretty uneventful other than us spotting some odd looking creature. it kind of looked like a ferret or something. maybe a mongoose?


a new home

as of today, caryn and i have a new home (well, temporarily!). we’ve decided to stay here for a while and are gonna be living here in mcleod ganj for a whole month. it was a really tough decision. we only had 2 months total for india, and giving up a whole month of it on one place was difficult… but we really like it here. the town itself is really nice and relaxed. the scenery is absolutely incredible. and plus, there’s so much interesting stuff to do here. the final thing that definitely made us want to be here was that the dalai lama is going to be doing his yearly teachings here in a couple of weeks. yup, that’s right. every day for 2 weeks straight, we are going to be attending speeches given by the *dalai lama*. i just cant get a grip on how cool that is!

it’s weird to think that we’re still in india right now, because mcleod ganj really doesnt seem to be like india at all. most of the stores are tibetan, many restaurants are tibetan, the temples are tibetan, and most of the people you see on the streets are tibetan. it really does feel like another country. in particular, it’s been interesting being here during Losar, the tibetan new years. although there isnt much in the way of celebrations, people all around town are running around in a good mood and lighting of firecrackers. also, there’s a tradition where tibetans are supposed to wear their nicest clothes for new years, so we keep seeing people in fancy shiny tibetan outfits. seeing as i dont really know anything about tibet, i bought the dalai lamas autobiography which, by telling his life story, tells about the history of tibet and how it became ruled by china.

tibetan prayer wheels

like i mentioned in my last post, this town is completely full of monks. i’d probaly guess that about 10% of the people you see here are monks, or at the very least 5%. everywhere you look, there are tibetans with shaved heads wearing the traditional red robes. it really gives the town a mystical air. we’ve been hoping to do some volunteering while we are here, and ended up spending some time helping one of these monks named Jamyang. and what kind of help does a monk need, you may wonder? oh, you know, help with excell speadsheets, photo resizing, and template making.. typical monk stuff, heh.

we met jamyang randomly the other day in an internet cafe. we were sitting around waiting to use the phone, and he was on one of the computers. he turned around and asked me if i knew how to resize photos so that they were small enough to be emailed, and just by luck, i have a program that resizes photos so i helped him out. when he found out that i make websites and know a bunch about computers, he asked if i could maybe help him some more the following day. apparently, from what we’ve heard later, jamyang is always running into the right people at the right time. good luck just follows him around.

jamyang spends his time here in mcleod ganj by helping others. among other things, he runs an organization that helps get schooling for extremely poor kids who live in a homeless camp. apparently, it’s difficult to get these kids, who’ve had no structure in their lives, to go to school… and then just as difficult to persuade schools to have anything to do w/ these kids. sometimes, parents of other kids have actually threatened the school to not let their children attend if the homeless kids are allowed in the school. and then, often the parents of the kids dont want to send them to school cause the kids could instead earn money for the family by begging. it’s a difficult battle on all fronts. recentl, in addition to funding schooling, he’s set up a hostel where a small group of these kids can live so they dont have to live on the streets. truly admirable stuff.

just hanging out w/ this guy is an experience. he’s so warm and charismatic. he practically radiates positivity. he moved here from tibet 12 years ago, and although he misses his parents a ton and they really want him to come back, he insists on staying here to help people. today we went with him to his office in darmasalla. the funding for his organization comes from another company, and he needed some help making expense spreadsheets etc. i havent used microsoft acces in ages, but caryn and i struggled through it and eventually were able to make him what he wanted. tomorrow, we’re gonna go down to his office again and help out w/ some other stuff. it’s really cool to be able to put my computer skills to use for a good cause!

colorful houses on the hillside


(free) tibet

tibet 2.0

back home, pretty much everyone has heard about the movement to free tibet. it’s become quite the popular cause to support, with backing from many celebrities, and bumperstickers galore. but if you asked most people if they knew exactly where the tibetan government currently resides, i’m sure most people would answer w/ a blank stare. i know i would have if someone had asked me last week. well, it turns out that the tibetan govt in exhile is in a tiny little mountain village called McLeod Ganj up in the indian himalayas. this is where the dalai lama lives, and also happens to be where we are right now. when we read about this town in our guidebook, we knew we couldnt pass up a chance to come up here. plus, it randomly turned out that today is tibetan new years, so we cut our time in delhi short to rush up here as quickly as possible. unfortunately, there’s no new years celebrations here at all! in fact, tibetans celebrate new years at home w/ their families, so if anything, this is a bad time to come up here since so many places are closed! *sigh*. the one time we actually get somewhere in time for a holiday… nothing happens!


the himalaya were created by india millions of years ago. the earth used to be one huge continent, and eventually, it split into 2 chunks, a northern part and a southern part. well, india was on the southern part, but some how broke off, and swam across the ocean until it crashed into the northern part causing the himalayas to rise up. of course, india didn’t just barrel across the ocean at top speed, this happened over millions of years, but still, that’s where scientists think that the himalaya came from.

after an exhausting and painful 13 hour bus ride, we arrived here a little after dawn. dayum. the views from town are absolutely breathtaking. huge snowcapped mountains everywhere. misty skies. green valleys below. everything is just so damn scenic!! the air is crisp and fresh… such a change from the smoggy air in delhi. it’s so weird to be here. it’s hard to believe that just 6 days ago, we were sitting in the *desert* where it’s *hot* amongst *camels* and now we’re so high up in the mountains and it’s freezing and there’s snow to be seen. india is such a diverse land geographically!

when we piled off the bus this morning, along with a handful of tibetan monks dressed in their robes, it was pouring. everything was wet, and it was a struggle to find a hotel while getting soaked and hauling our packs. and like i said earlier, a bunch of the hotels are full because of new years. despite all that, we were so excited to be here. there’s something really awesome about rain, and it’s especially enjoyable up in the moutains. and there’s something really awesome about seeing monks running about town everywhere. i could instantly tell i’d really like this place.

so far, we haven’t really gotten a chance to do anything. we weren’t prepared for this weather, and spent most of the day shopping in darmashala, a small town a few km downhill from mcleod. on the way back up to mcleod, the jeep we were getting a ride in broke down. after trying to fix it for a bit, they decided to try and push start it. in other words, push the jeep till it’s going fast and then pop the clutch to get it going. since we had been going uphill, they had to try this maneuver *in reverse*. the driver peered out his side window over his shoulder into the darkness and tried to steer while being pushed backwards. ugh. rolling quickly down an incline, backwards, in the pitch black, over gravelly wet roads, when there are hairpin curves every few yards is the most sketchiest thing ever. in the end, they weren’t able to fix the jeep, and we caught the next bus into town… phew! another close call!

tomorrow we’ll start exploring this town for reall. we have so many things we want to do here, and our plans are totally up in the air….



delhi, india’s capital, is a gigantic bustling city packed w/ all sorts of different historical sights. there’s so many of them that you could spend days on end there and still not see all that delhi has to offer. it was going to be tough deciding what to go see and what not to see. so, just to be fair, we ended up seeing none of them. heh, yup, this is our 3rd day in delhi and we have still not seen one single sight.

during our trip so far, timing has been a huge issue. our timing has been incredibly poor time and time again. it seems like countless numbers of times we’ve arrived in a place only to find out that a huge festival had taken place there just days before. we’ve hopscotched all over the place with an uncanny knack for missing every single interesting event, gathering, show, or holiday possible. well, finally our luck had changed. the stars aligned just right, and we happened to get to delhi, one of the most famous cities in the world, right when one of the most famous singers in the world was going to play a show there. yes, Sting was playing in delhi for the first time in 17 years.

i’m not the world’s hugest sting fan… in fact, i actually dont even know that many of his songs, but the stuff that i’ve heard i’ve liked, and well, a lot of his songs are practically classics. i was defintely excited to see this show ever since i first heard about it a couple weks ago, and we have been carefully timing our trip to hopefully get to delhi at the same time as the show. tickets were pretty pricey. you could get tickets for 25$, 35$, or 45$. it was a tough call but you only get a chance like this once in a lifetime, so we shelled out 90$ for two tickets. plus, this was a benefit for tsunami relief, so the money was going to a good cause.

90$ on one hand doesnt seem like that much money, and back home when i still had a job, i’d probably have no problem spending that on a concert, but here, where a meal is only 3$ and a hotel room is 8$, 90 bucks can go a long way. as we left the store, caryn and i worried a bit about spending so much money on a concert. so, to get our minds off of spending all that money, we went out to the most expensive restuarant in all of delhi and spent a crapload more money.

the restaurant is called bukhara and is located at the sheraton hotel. it’s clear across town and we had to take a rickshaw to get there. sheez, taking rickshaws here in delhi is practically impossible. we’ve been told that there’s no such thing as an honest rickshaw driver in delhi, and from what we’ve seen, it’s totally true. every single one of them tries to rip you off, and to rip you off big. the transaction usually goes something like this:

you ask the hotel how much a rickshaw should cost, let’s say they tell you 40 rupees. when you go outside, the rickshaw guys run up to you all smiles and “eager to please”. “you want rickshaw?! come, come!! no problem! good price!”. you tell them where you want to go, and they will invariably tell you that they will take you there for 80 rupees (double the price) although often they will even try to say 100, or 120 rupees! you look at them in shock, and make your most indignant face possible… “80 rupees!!! no way, it should cost 40!! the hotel said so!!!” at this point they will drop 4 or 5 lies on you saying that your hotel is wrong or that there is lots of traffic, or that the place you want to go is sooooo far. often they will say that your place is let’s say 25km away, when really it’s only 9km. you tell them that you refuse to pay 80 rupees, and they drop the price to 65. still too much. after going back and forth for a few minutes, either you storm off angrily, they tell you to get lost, or you finally agree on a price like 50 rupees, which is still higher than what you should be paying.

the whole thing is ridiculous, and it’s incredibly frustrating to deal w/ this time and time again all day long. it’s especially frustrating to know that every single one of these people is looking you straight in the face and lying. absolutely shameless. to combat this bullshit, rickshaws have meters. a built-in gadget that calculates how far they’ve gone and tells you the actual price of your journey. it’s great theoretically, but almost every single one of these guys will refuse to turn on th meter. no matter how much you plead w/ them, they just wont do it. you begin to wonder why these things even have a meter. well, once in a blue moon, someone gives in and actually uses the meter. this is such an incredible rarity, but dont get excited, because usually, they will still rip you off. they know the city and you dont. it’s *very* easy for them to just zig zag back and forth and take a route that’s twice as long as it should be. either way, you’re screwed. of course, we’re gtting used to it by now. we’ve dealt w/ unscrupulous taxi drivers in many countries now, but i think that delhi may be the worst. argh!

anyways, back to the story. bukhara is at the sheraton, and it honestly felt very weird being there. we’re used to hanging out in 8$ hotels, while the cheapest room at the sheraton goes for over $300. so this is how the other half lives, eh? we felt a bit out of place, but oh well. the food there was absolutely incredible. so freaking good. we got tandoori prawns that were *huge*, practically the size of lobsters and they tasted so good! everything else we had was delicious as well. it was the best meal we’ve had in a while… and yet we were still shocked when we got our bill. one hundred bucks. ouch!! so between the sting tickets and the dinner, we had really demolished our budget, but i guess you gotta splurge sometimes.

the following day, we set out for the concert. it had been raining all day, and now we were doomed to see the concert while soaking wet since it was outdoors. the concert was general admission, so we tried to get there somewhat early to get a good spot near the front. we waited in line till the doors opened and people slowly trickled in. we ended up getting the best spot ever… right dead center and about 7 people back from the stage. i couldnt believe how close we were! our luck was on the upswing, and at that point it stopped raining!

eventually, sting came on and the concert was brilliant. he played all his best songs, and a bunch of songs that i hadn’t heard that were really good as well. the sound at the concert was crystal clear, and being so close to the front we were able to see absolutely everything. this concert had been hyped on the news etc for a while now, and people in delhi were so amped for it. i dont thing huge name bands like this pass through india all that often. apparently there were 18,000 people there and from what i saw everyone was absolutely thrilled to see sting. when the show ended everyone around us was chattering about how good the show was. it had been quite epic! actually, one thing that i found interesting was that almost everyone around us was speaking english. hardly anyone was speaking hindi. it was so weird.. like we were all of a sudden in america again. why do so may people in delhi speak english to one another? is it cool? is it a remnant from the british days? we’ve also noticed that a lot of commercials have parts that they put in english too. odd.

well, after the show, we planned to stay in delhi for a few more days to finally do some sightseeing, but we had an abrupt change of plans, and are now heading up to the mountains tomorrow. more on that later…



one of the 6 main towns on the tourist circuit in rajasthan is bikaner, a small town in the north of the state. it’s less touristy than the other five and that is part of its draw, however unfortunately we’re on a tight schedule and there’s so much to see in india, that we didnt really have time to check it out. but, we absolutely couldnt resist stopping there for one day anyways because nearby, in the tiny village of Deshnok is the Karni Mata Temple.

when we walked up to the temple, there was a large sign out front claiming that this temple just might possibly be the “8th wonder of the world”. although this seemed like quite an exageration, i gotta say that this might be the most unique temple i’ve ever heard of. that’s because the temple is dedicated to rats. yes, that’s right, rats. The story, as far as i can understand, is that a hindu god brought all dead storytellers back to life as rats, mainly to piss off another god. so at this temple, rats have free reign and they are *everywhere*.

outside the temple, when we took off our shoes, a tiny rat scuttled by.. and then we walked in. everywhere we looked there were rats. hundreds of them.. maybe even more. they ran around across the floors, they drank from little bowls of milk set out for them, and they swarmed and hopped all over the fences. we saw huge piles of rats swarming over each other trying to get at food, and we even saw rats “boxing” with each other while standing on their hind legs and throwing punches. i realize that for some people this might be their worst nightmare, but luckily i have no fear of rats. we read that it’s good luck if a rat scampers across your feet, which happened several times to us, and supposedly it’s very very good luck if you see a white rat. after wandering around for a bit, we got to see one of those when someone else pointed it out to us.

i was so glad that we ended up trecking all the way out here even if it was just to see only one thing. i’ve seen sooo many temples in my life now… big temples, small temples, intricate temples, colorful temples… but never anything like this. it was kind of like a scene from some crazy action flick where all you see is rats everywhere you look. “8th wonder of the world, eh?” i thought to myself as we walked out… quite possibly!

also, here are the few photos that i took at jaisalmer and Deshnok


jaisalmer at the edge of the desert

the last few days have been spent in jaisalmer, one of the last cities in india as you push westward. it’s in the middle of the desert, and is only about 40 miles from the border to pakistan. jaisalmer has become quite touristy over the years, and has a reputation for being incredibly hassley. apparently at the train station, the police have to set up a special barrier to keep the touts back from the passengers. and the touts here are notorious for being incredible liars who will lie to you that your hotel is full in order to take you to another hotel, or will show you a fake business card so you think they’re from one hotel when they’re actually from another. actually, when we first got off the bus, we were mobbed by like 20 or so rickshaw drivers all screaming and frantically trying to get us into their rickshaw. they fought each other tooth and nail, and i was starting to worry that a fight would break out over who got to take (our money) us. also, one of the most popular activities here is to take camel treks into the desert. there is some insane cut-throat competition and every single hotel here sells tickets. we’ve read that certain hotels, if they find out that you bought tickets from a competitior, will actually throw you out of their hotel in the middle of the night. hardcore eh? well, depsite all the crazy warnings in the book, we actually found jaisalmer to be fairly mellow and weren’t hassled all that much other than when we first arrived, and also when we went to the dunes (i’ll mention that later). instead, we found jaisalmer to be a really nice town to hang out in.

the worst museum ever

there are two museums in jaisalmer run by the same guy, the desert museum and the folklore museum. they’re ridiculously cheap, so we decided to check them out. at the folklore museum, we paid our 10 rupee admission fee (25 cents) and walked into what looked like an empty dirt courtyard. was there even a museum here? we walked by several padlocked doors and then just stood around, a bit confused. eventually, a kid walked up and said that he would show us the museum and proceeded to unpadlock some of the doors and swing them open. obviously, the locked doors meant this place got very little business. in a few scattered dimly lit musty rooms was one of the worst museums i’ve ever seen. the displays were behind dirty glass and were difficult to see. everything was in no particular order and each display randomly jumped from one topic to another. the photographs were all faded, the items in each display were just strewn about. when we walked out, i was glad that i only paid 10 rupees.

afterwards, we went to the desert museum and it was more of the same thing. in fact, some of the displays were exactly the same as the other museum. within a few minutes, i just wanted to leave. both museums had large inscriptions that indicated that “all of this is put together by one man!”. who is this man? and why is he putting together such horrible museums? the desert museum also has this puppet show that they have every night. rajasthan is famous for its puppets (the kind on strings like marionets) and we really wanted to see what this was all about, so a while later we were back at the desert museum once again.

the puppet show was introduced with a speech by the man who created the 2 museums. it turns out that he is a retired teacher and he made these two museums because he was so very concerned w/ saving the heritage of jaisalmer. he was sad that everyone hardly cared about education, or learning about the old ways. all anyone came to jaisalmer for was to hang out and ride a camel, but no one cared about the museums. (which is painfully obvious by the fact that most rickshaw drivers hadnt even heard of these museums!). even though he was an old man, and already retired, he just wanted to do his best to preserve his culture. the art of puppetry, he says, is also slowly being forgotten here. indians of the modern day only want to watch tv.. they have no time for silly things like puppets. as he said this, i looked around… in the puppet auditorium, there was only about 8 measily people gathered to watch.

it was all so terribly sad actually. i felt so bad for this man, with his sad little museums and his unattended puppetshows. thinking back, the museums actually *could* be pretty decent… i think it’s really the presentation that’s terrible. if all this stuff was laid out well, in a nice shiny building, with clear signs etc, both museums could actually have been really interesting. as the lights faded and the show started, i sat there thinking about how much i hoped things would work out here for the guy. i hoped that tv wouldnt encroach on puppetry and all other old forms of entertainment and even life as we know it. i hoped that people coming here would see the museums and pay money, and maybe some day there could be a nice shiny new museum here. it’s so inspiring i think that people like this retired teacher, strive against all odds to do something meaningful.

oh, and the puppetshow btw, was incredibly entertaining. there were several different acts, each with its own unique story and hilarious characters. one funny thing that sets rajasthani puppets apart from the puppets back home, is that these puppets have “voices”. well, you could call them voices, but they sound more like the sqeeking sound you’d here if you lit a rat on fire. it’s high pitched and goes on constantly through the show in different speeds and rhytms depending on what the characters are “saying”. it took a bit to get used to, but was really cool in the end!

visit to the dunes

since we opted not to go on a camel safari, we decided that it would be at least worth it to go see the sand dunes one last time. it’s not often you get to see a huge expanse of desert w/ enormous sand dunes, so we figured it would be a shame not to at least go see a sunset out there. luckily for us, the tourism office offers a sunset tour where it takes you out to the dunes for a few hours to see the sunset and then goes back. we got out to the dunes and started walking out into the sand. the moment we stepped out of our jeep, we were bombarded by people trying to sell us camel rides. everyone swarmed around us and wouldnt take no for ananswer.. but we pushed on through. but the camel guys were only the first battle at the dunes. next, we got followed by two little girls dressed in costumes who kept offering to show us a dance for money. no matter how many times we said no, they wouldnt leave us alone, and kept following us as we walked.

were we to get *any* peace and quiet out here? all we wanted to do was to chill on top of a dune and stare at the desert, but no one would leave us alone. these girls just would not let up. eventually they finally left, but by then a guy trying to sell us cokes and chips started following us. this was ridiculous. even eventually when we found a deserted dune, every 15 minutes or so, someone would plop down next to us and try to sell us something. we’d say no, and they would just sit there. well, you can’t *force* someone to go away. they have every right to sit anywhere they please. but it was so damn annoying not being able to just sit and enjoy the desert w/out the constant hassles.

nevertheless, the desert was beautiful. the rolling dunes were great, and i lay down on my side and rolled down them like a little kid. it was cool, and i ended up spinning down the slopes ridiculously fast. luckily, i avoided any glass and camel poop that lay around. it’s weird.. most of the time i’ve just gotten used to camels. i’ve seen them so many times on this trip that now i usualy dont even flinch when i see another. but every once in a while, i’ll look around at all the camels everywhere and think “holy crap!! i can’t believe that i’m really sitting here surrounded by all this”. it’s truly truly incredible that i get to see these bizarre looking exotic creatures almost every day.


jaisalmer shuts down super early each night. by 10 pm, most shops have closed their doors and the city is dark and mostly deserted. by 11, even the restaurants are closed and the town is just dead. our hotel even has a curfew at 11:30, and if you’re not in by then, the huge gate is locked and your outta luck. this night, it was my brother’s birthday and i was planning on calling him to wish him a happy bday. by the time i got his phone number from my parents, it was late, about 11:15, and i desperately was running around the fort searching for a place that was still open to make a phone call. everything was dark, and i ran through the narrow cobblestone streets praying that i would find a place and also praying that i wouldnt step in an enormous pile of crap in the process.

i eventually got to this alley that i hadn’t tried yet. as i sprinted forward, i noticed two huge dark forboding shapes in the night. cows. huge ones. two of them were laying across the alley with only a tiny little space in between them. crap… could i squeeze through? was it safe?

just earlier today, when i was walking w/ an indian guy, he had told me that cows can sometimes get violent and be dangerous. “dangerous? do they actually hurt people?” i asked. “oh definitely. people get hurt by cows all the time” he responded. *gulp*

his words rang in my ears, and i looked at the cows who seemed to stare back in a menacing and angry manner. i could hear faint noise coming from the cows… breathing? snoring? or.. was it growling?! i inched forward, one tiny step at a time. finally, i briskly walked between the two huge animals, and was on my way. phew… the cows hadn’t attacked! two seconds later, i got to a dead end. crap… i was going to have to turn around and walk back between the cows again. just my luck.


back in the hotel, the courtyard was pitch black. 12 am was already 30 minutes past curfew and all the staff were snoozing away. caryn and i quietly chatted in the room. all of a sudden we hear this super loud british voice “HELLLOOOOO?! HELLOOOOOOO?” what the hell? what was this dumbass doing walking around outside our room yelling when everyone was asleep?


finally his shouts were answeredf my some quiet mumbling…


mumble, mumble


mumble mumble


hahahhaha. we couldnt believe it. the idiot had been asking asome poor tired guest of the hotel for beer. smooth!!!



we’ve been lazying around jaisalmer, the golden city, for the last few days. not doing much, just enjoying town. we decided to rent a paddleboat and cruise around on this small lake. it was nice and quiet out there and it was fun to just drift around. just as we were enjoying the peacefulness, another paddleboat trudged towards us. uh-oh. the light blue swan got closer and closer to our blue lizard. when it finally reached us.. “GIMME PEN!!”. arrrgggghhh!!! even out here, we couldnt be left alone for 10 minutes without being asked for pens!!


it’s really amazing how many cows we see here in india. i remember years ago, my friend kimberley went to india and told me that it’s really crazy and that “you’ll just be walking down a street and there’ll be a cow in the middle of the street”. i thought that would be so exciting. before we got here, i hoped that i might at one point see a cow in the street. hell, maybe i’ll even get to see 2! well, let me tell ya, cows are not a rarity here. not whatsoever. there’s tons of them in every city. i would guess that each day we see at least one or two *hundred* of them, and in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

living in the fort

jaisalmer has a large fort, but unlike the other forts we’ve been to, this one is an actual active part of the city. the fort is full of shops, homes, restaurants, and hotels. it’s quite a little place, and we’ve spent a ton of time walking around its cobbled streets lately. we’re actually staying in a hotel that’s *inside* the fort. one of the big things here (and in other rajasthan cities) is rooftop restaurants. almost every single restaurant has a long staircase (with steps that are super tall so you can barely climb them) that leads to the roof. everyone eats on the roofs and enjoys beautiful views while dining. it’s nice… at least now while it’s not too hot in india!