Saturday, September 26, 2015


So I was fortunate to return to the mystical magical land of Burning Man this year. It was my third adventure to the Playa, and it was absolutely fabulously wonderful. And cold. Really cold. Friday - Monday nights it was 34-37 degrees. Yep. Welcome to Burning Man! Always unpredictable and always an adventure.

As some of you might remember from my previous Burning Man Blog entries, I said that Burning Man is a tough place to visit. It's hot. It's dusty. It's windy. It will dry out your skin and if you're foolish enough to walk around barefoot, the Playa dust can literally burn your skin until it bleeds. It's very acidic. You have to use vinegar to wipe down your hands and feet or it can dry out and crack and bleed. Sound fun, right?

Not only was it really cold over the weekend nights, it was also really windy for my first 3 days. I arrived Wednesday afternoon in a blowing dust storm. It only took Brian and I 1 hour to get through the gate. Which, in Burning Man terms, is like lightning. After having our vehicle checked for stowaways, we drove to the greeter station. And today was Naked Greeter Day! So the greeters were giving people hugs and welcomes in the buff. Except for the goggles and dust masks because it was a near white out. Welcome to Burning Man!

People often ask "Where do you stay at Burning Man?". Some folks think there are hotels and what not. It's tents for me. RV's for some. And if you're rich and want to say you went to burning man but don't really care about what burning man is really about, you might stay in a Turnkey camp. One such camp was located next to where my buddy Joel was camping. It was a series of reverse pressurized domes with some sort of static field at the entrances so that no dust would get in. There was a 5 star chef cooking meals in the mess area. One of the guests was a Saudi prince with his harem (no bullshit). The cost for 9 days of burning man:  $100,000.  I would see some of the folks walking around, and they would be wearing styled "burner clothes" that some stylist clearly put together for them. They never had dust on them. Were always clean. They'd take their pics at different "events" and then disappear.

Part of me finds this to be against the spirit of the event. But then again, Burning Man welcomes all kinds.

Getting dusty and dirty is part of the Burning Man experience. It's part of the joy of being there. (Or is it the suffering?). Either way, standing in a dust storm watching your shade structure ripped to shreds by the constantly blowing wind is part of it. It's radical self reliance. It' survival. Part of the journey that makes Burning Man special is the very fact that it IS HARD. Packing for it is logistically compliacated. Get there and away is a traffic jam of epic proportions (unless you come at off times like I happened to do). Its dry, its hot, its cold. And it's awesome. Challenges are good. They help us to find out what we're made out of. It makes our comfort zones grow and grow. I'm okay with things now that I never thought I would be (and I'm not just talking about dust and grime).

You get filthy, and then you find a steam room. I wasn't on the playa for more than 5 hours before I wandered past a Russian steam room. I signed up, jumped in with 9 strangers and a "sauneer" who told us about Russian steam rooms and as the aroma scented steam filled the low chamber we whipped each other with birch branches... because that's what the Russian's do!  The rocks were heated outside using a flame-thrower and then put in a small door in the Yurt like structure. Then the "sauneer" would dump the water on it and fill the room with steam. It clears your sinuses. Cleans your skin and your pores. And I tell you, it's the best damn thing on the Playa. I discovered it 2 years ago and this year hit one up almost every day. I ended up in the Finnish one just down the street from the Russian one most of the times, because they were open more often. I highly recommend it.

Being to Burning Man 3 times is interesting. The first trip is a whole bunch of "Oh my god! What the f#@$ is that awesome thing! What's that? Look at the pretty lights! Let's go here!".  It's very ADD and fabulously overwhealming and wonderful.  (Here's the link for my first year  My second year is a bit of a let down. How can it not be? It's still amazing, and still wonderful and there were plenty of new discoveries to behold, but after the, dare I say life-changing first year, there is no way year 2 could measure up. And it's not supposed to. It's a different journey. And a different adventure.

I'm actually very glad I missed last years burn. That allowed me time to shift and decide if this was something I wanted to go to or if it was just something that I "did". A routine or habit like any other (albeit much more complicated and out there).  That made me decide that I really wanted to go this year. And also made me realize that if I don't end up there on any given year that it's fine. As Burners say "The Playa Provides..." and it does so even when you're not there. And what it may be providing you is a break from the Burn so that it DOESN'T become habit or routine. There are some old school burners that I spent time with this trip, and they were pretty lackluster about the man Burning, about the temple burning. they didn't want to deal with the crowds or the yahoo's. They weren't excited about the fireworks or the style of the temple this year. I was going to spend Man Burn night with them and then thought...

 "No way. I am not going to be apathetic about something that is as AWESOME as the Man burn."  It's so much fun! All the art cars in a circle, all the sounds, the music, the amazing fire spinning groups, the fire works, the burn, the collapse, racing into the center. It's all so fun!  It's all so awesome!  The day I get apathetic about something cool is the day that I should move onto something else.

Look, everyone has complaints about Burning Man. It's true. After you've been once, there is always a comparision to what it's "supposed to be" or the "glory days". And I even felt this this year in reguard to the fact that 60% of the people going were Virgins. They'd never been before. And Burning Man is specifically an event ABOUT THE PEOPLE. The people ARE the event. It's not a festival. It's about what you as a person bring. And how to experience that with other people. And if 60% of the people have never been there before, then what is the event? What will they bring that fits into the ethos of what Burning Man is? It's a tough question. And the sign that this was so to me was when, after the Man fell, and everyone rushed in to the "Rivers of humanity" (that I talk about in my first year blog) that the river circled the man less than one time before IT STOPPED.  3 years ago everyone ran around and around the fire, dancing, cheering. Doing something together that just happened because it did. And it always had. But this year the river stopped. People started pushing. Some wanted to move, but most wanted to pull out their phones and take pictures. And I thought "It's because they've never been before. They don't know that this is how it's supposed to be."

Since the burn I've thought about how they should limit the number of first timers, or they should guarantee old school burners tickets (not that I'm one, I've only been 3 times). But then I thought more and thought, No. They shouldn't do that. Burning Man is constantly changing. It is an event that is fundimentally about how everything in life is temporary. EVEN BURNING MAN. Burning Man is totally different now from the early 90's when there were no "city streets", there were drive-by shooting ranges where you could drive by and shoot at targets with real guns. Because you could bring guns, and fireworks and pretty much do anything you want. But like any society that grows, rules come into play. And after 3 people got ran over in their tent in 1996, and one man ran his motorcycle into a sculpture at 100mph. Things changed. I'm not going to do a whole history of Burning Man here, but as I said, it changes. Burning Man was what it was for me the first time I was there. And the next year it changed. And this year was a little different. The fact that everyone on this list knows about burning man is a change from 15 years ago when my roommate first started going. Back then this was a fringe event. Now it's "mainstream fringe". Almost everyone I talk to says they'd like to go. Most of them won't. (Please see the above about it being a pain in the ass as to why.)

One of my main goals of this Burning Man was to CONNECT with people. I have a lot of friends and meet a ton of people in my daily life in LA. But the number of people I really, truly CONNECT with is few. I treasure it when it does. When I make a true new friend (and not someone who just wants to be friends on Facebook and never actually do anything together). And the nice thing about Burning Man is that people DO CONNECT. It happens fast and it is deep. And no, this isn't hippie mumbo-jumbo. It's real. People are more open to connecting, to sharing their feelings, experiences, their hopes, dreams, fears, selves. And it's awesome. It's what I wanted, it's what I needed, and it's what I got...

But those stories will be for the next email. This one is already pretty long...


Friday, May 8, 2015


Not with a bang, but with... FOOD POISONING!

Yep, my last meal in India slammed me good. By the time I got to the airport at 1 AM I could barely stand. I was shaking. I felt nauseous. I was short of breath. Both arms starting tingling and feeling numb. People looked at me in line to check in for the flight and asked "Are you alright?"

"No. Not good. Not good at all. I ate something bad."
"Bad food in India? No way." one guy said.

I finally got my bag checked and puked in the bathroom... and then I was mostly okay. When I got on the plane they had a doctor come give me some anti-nausea medicine and ginger ale and by the time I reached Abu Dhabi and got on the 16 hour flight back to LA I felt fine. Whew. India had to have one last laugh I guess!

After my 2 day OSHO adventure I was ready to be back on the road. In the "real India". So I left my hotel at 10am and took a tuk-tuk to the the train station. I was determined to take a Second class / Non-reserved train ride while I was here. And this was my last chance. The plane leaves at 4am tonight. Immediately after driving away from OSHO I felt India flood back in. Crazy traffic, honking horns, dust, dirt, trash. Ahhh, India! Good to see you again!  I bought my Un-reserved ticket, and was the only non-Indian within sight. Everyone stared at me. (But what's new, it's India!). And after some very confusing directions about how I would actually get to my destination, I was standing on the platform in the 102 degree heat watching the train roll in.

Now, unreserved is that class of train travel where as many people as possible squeeze into a train car. There's no assigned seats and no limit to the number of people. It's the train car you have seen in pictures where people ride on the roof because there's no space inside and it's hot as hell. As the train came to a stop people would run next to the car, grab the handle and jump on. Shoving each other out of the way. I had my trusty rolling bag and joined the fray. The first guy shoved me out of the way, but I pushed another guy back, grabbed the handle and lept aboard.

The irony is the train actually stops after this. But people push in to grab seats, climb up and sit on the luggage racks, or whatever they can do. I just stayed in the entry corridor because it has a cross breeze and was there the whole trip. This was good except for the two stations we stopped out where everyone had to file my direction of the train to get on and off.

The first half of the 4 hour trip was nice. A good breeze. Not too hot as we went over mountains (surprising to me) on our way from Pune to Mumbai. It's 120 km and hazy, smokey and dusty the whole way. I actually think almost all of India (except Kerala) seems to be hazy, smokey and dusty. I was told it was due to pollution, or fires or dust or...

The second half of the trip was hot hot hot as we descended into Mumbai:  aka Trash city. I'm not kidding you, I've never seen so much trash piled along the sides of the railroad tracks, next to the shanties, along the rivers, IN the rivers. Like islands of stinky garbage. It was pretty intense. (As was the smell. Especially at night, driving to the airport, there was 10 minutes of the drive that was like going through rot. It was awful. And I was feeling nauseous already. So.... whew).

Once we got past the outskirts the trash let up a little bit, and once we got to the center there was very little trash (well, no more than normal here). Getting into town required hopping off this train and being led by a nice India gal who had been on my train. She took me past the absolutely obnoxious cab drivers who would not go away and wanted Rs1,000 to take me to downtown. She took me to the local train which cost: Rs10. Yep. So I piled into a car that was jam packed like a mosh pit and rode another 25 minutes to Victoria Terminus. If you've seen "Slumdog Millionaire" you've seen this place. (Jai ho!). On the ride people would just stare at me. I mean STARE. I'd smile or nod and a few would do the same, but some never stopped staring. I know, a non-Indian on a local train. Crazy!

On my un-reserved ride I talked to a number of people. Everyone was confused about me being there. One guy couldn't believe I'd traveled all over India for a month. "It's so dangerous". I was also made fun of by these three men/women who wanted money simple because they were neither a man nor a woman. (This was never explained well, but I think they were hermaphrodites.) Some people gave them money. The one just stood a foot away from me on the crowded train and made fun of me. I knew she was because people were laughing as she kept trying to get money from me. Kept poking my arm and saying things. I didn't pay her. (I didn't pay hardly anyone who begged while I was in India.) It was very uncomfortable to be trapped in a moving train car with someone making fun of me and also being a bit threatening. (It occured to me that would be a great place for a horror scene to take place. There's no way out. Thank god the zombie apocalypse didn't hit right then!)

Mumbai was fun, but I was tired and it was hot. I unkowingly ate the doomed dinner and then said. "Well, it's my last night in India. What should I do?" And did what anyone would... I went to the movies!

I saw "GABBAR IS BACK" an Indian action film in Hindi with no subtitles. It was fabulously fun, and I was actually able to follow most of what was going on. Occasionally a line would be in English which helped. I talked with a local teen about the film and Indian movies during the intermission. (Yep, they have an intermission). Gabbar is an antihero fighting corruption and kicking ass. And in India there is a lot of corruption. It's strange how everyone knows about it but it's just accepted openly. Of course Gabbar is fighting the cause with martial arts and wit and charm. The audience would cheer and holler. And when the musical numbers started... (yep!)... I laughed out loud. I can only imagine a musical number busting out in the middle of FURIOUS 7 or DIE HARD. It would be amazing.

After that the sick started and I headed to the airport and the rest is history. (I actually sat next to a really cool Indian gal on the 16 hour flight and we talked a lot. It was fun to have one final perspective on India).

Which brings me to the end of this grand journey. It was fabulous. It was challenging. It was crazy. It was amazing. And here are some final thoughts which may or may not have been mentioned before in no particular order about this faraway land...(12 1/2 hour time difference from LA). Man the jet-lag is fierce!

I.N.D.I.A. --
Some joke that it stands for:  I'd never do it again.
I've yet to return to any foreign country which I have visited. But there isn't any that I would blacklist. India isn't easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worth going. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you have a question and you ask more than one person, you will get different answers from everyone. I'm not kidding. You need directions: 5 answers. You need to know the price of things: 5 answers.  The second class train journey above, I got SEVEN completely different directions on how to get to my final destination. Somehow you have to sort it out and trust your gut. You might end up where you want to be, you might not.

I was led to believe that English is spoken everywhere in India. And it is... sort of. But truthfully, most people only speak a little English. And if they do their vocabulary is usually limited to the particular profession which they work. This is a lot like Thailand, where the tourist circles can speak of that but nothing else. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this. A country should speak the language they do. They don't have to speak English to make it easy for tourists. Indian's also have a tendency to jump to conclusions when you're talking to them. This sounds like a gross stereotype, but the number of times I wouldn't even get my question out before a conclusion was given was amazing. And the amount of times I had to repeat myself to the same person bordered on the absurd sometimes. But as with all of India, keep your cool and just keep trying. Eventually you'll be able to communicate.... usually.

I'm sure it's evident from all these emails, but the culture shock in India is significant. In fact, of the 37 countries I've been to, it is by far the most "foreign". The most unusual from where I live in the USA.  (And I live in California! Which is already weird! Lol). The list of differences is so long I could fill a book with them. The one that keeps popping out is how people will just stare at you... from 3 - 5 feet away. Just stand right in front of you and stare. Nothing weird about that.  The notion of personal space is just different. People are always on top of each other.

I was asked for money so many times per day it was an automatic response to just say "No" and walk away. Occasionally people would grab my shirt or pants and I would say "NO." and Hold up my hand, waving them away. It sounds disrespectful, but that's how it's done. I was asked by people who were dressed the same as anyone else, and I was asked by people whose lives must be so hard, that it was very difficult for me not to give anything. There were kids who just begged. And then there were kids who pretended to be crippled by crawling around the train station. (Trust me, they weren't). And then there were the people who really were. Broken legs. Mishappen feet or arms. Missing limbs. And the saddest one of all: at the Delhi station a woman was totally scarred. Her face burned, an eye missing. Her arms and neck stretched and scarred. (It especially makes  me sad because in some villages if a girl refuses the advances of a man, he and his friends might throw acid on her so that no one else will want her. I think this might have happened to this woman and it broke my heart).

Look, just because your train leaves on time doesn't mean it will reach its destination on time. In fact, it's a guarantee it will not. Flights, cars. Only movies started on time: I guess that's true everywhere. (Except the one they just didn't run because the only audience was me and I arrived just as it was supposed to start.) It's called INDIA TIME, and it's best to go with the flow. Your 4 hour train will take 7. The office will open at noon (or maybe it's 12:15). The temple closes at 10 (today it's 10:20). Go with the flow and it'll all be good.

I don't know what the rules of the road are in India. But I can tell you they are terrifying. At first. (And they continued to be for the most part). But I think the lack of rules makes everyone pay more attention. No one is texting while driving there, I can guarantee you that. Perhaps we should pay more attention and not expect everyone to follow the rules and do what we want them too. Everyone is on their own path anyway.

From the USA anyway. Which, I'd like to point out, doesn't necessarily make them wrong. Just different. And it's not up to India to make it easy for travelers. India will do what India will do.

Yes, it's true. Cows are holy. In in most of the places I went cows and bulls could wander where they want, sit where they want and shit where they want. It's a strange experience to come around the corner in a narrow, twisty alley and come face to face with a 2,000 pound bull which almost blocks the entire lane. I stopped. It looked at me with indifference as it chewed the food left for it. I slipped between it and the wall, stepped over it's droppings and was on my way.

WIth all the people, all the festivals, all the food, the music, the traffic, the activity, the whole place is moving. And it's in your face. India is not for the timid. It will push you and challenge you. It did me. This was one of the most baffling places I've ever been. But it's awesome too. Unusual, unique, strange and fabulous. India is like no place I've been and if you really want to be someplace different... go to India.

Well, as I mentioned in the last email. I didn't find it to be more "spiritual" than other places I've been. Yeah, there are a thousand festival and a million gods and a gazillion temples, but that doesn't make it more "spiritual", that just means it has a complex religious structure that is different from most places in the world. Thus some might call it more "spiritual". And if it is to you, that's awesome. We all find the power of something "more" from different things, and maybe you'll find it here.

At a train station on the way to Shimla, painted in the tile, was this:
"The Allah of Islam is the same
As the God of Christians
And the Iswar of Hindus".
In Kerala, in the south, all religions live harmoniously together. They have for centuries. There is no fighting.
In Mumbai there are occasional riots where Hindu's beat Muslim's to death with clubs.
There are dozens of religions throughout India. Maybe even hundreds.
Some people get what religion is. Some people don't. It's just like anywhere in that reguard.

Yes, It's that crowded. Yes there is a crush of people here that I've rarely seen. There are cities on mountains, and traffic jams that make LA look like it's the countryside. But you can find isolation if you want. On a ghat late at night. On a mountain top in the Himalaya. Even in fields along train tracks (but watch out for the people taking dumps nearby).

The whole place is fabulous and frustrating, beautiful and ugly, mesmerizing and baffling, filthy and pristine. It's a land of contradictions and a land that is so complex that a single trip would never be enough to understand it. I don't pretend to. Which brings up something Anna said in Varanasi. I paraphrase, but she asked: why does it matter to understand something? Does it have to make logical sense? Maybe it's just about being there, in the moment, and feeling it. Not understanding it. But FEELING it. If you try to make sense of it, it's just going to drive you crazy.

So in the end I think that's the only thing you can do with India.
Feel it.
The good. The bad. The ugly. The beautiful.
FEEL it.
After all, it's India!

This is Craig Ouellette,
last surviving crew member of the Nostromo
Signing off.

Monday, May 4, 2015


So I'm sitting in a giant pyramid. The room is tiled in black marble. New Agey music pulses from the speakers. And 200 people all dressed in plain white robes are dancing and gyrating and freely spinning around and around.

Welcome to the OSHO (tm) International Mediation Resort.

The Music stops and everyone yells "OSHO!"... and the music kicks on again. It's a zippy tune and is a hell of a lot of fun to dance to. After a few more stops with "OSHO!" cries, the music finally ends with four "OSHO's!" and everything falls silent. Everyone sits down and is silent. I'm following along, because there's no instruction. Sure they gave you a booklet when you arrived (along with a massive amount of rules and instruction on how to behave at this ashram located in Pune, India). I read the booklet. I don't remember the order of things, so I'm just following along as best I can. And supposedly the word "OSHO" doesn't mean anything. It's just something to yell. But it is the name that the guru here chose, so I'm not so sure about it meaning nothing at all...

After a few minutes, or maybe it's 10, of silence. A video starts up and Mr. Osho himself comes on a 10 foot video screen at the front of the "OSHO dome" (As I like to call it). He then proceeds to impart wisdom on his loyal followers. And he speaks realllllllyyyyy sloooooooooooooowwwwwwwwlllllllyyyyyy.  I mean, I'm not sure I've ever listened to 45 minutes to an hour of speaking that was quite this slow. To be fair, what he had to say was kind of interesting. It had to do with being an artist vs. being a seeker. Things that apply to my life. But man it took him a long time to get to the point. The video was recorded sometime in the late 80's or early 90's, so no HD here. (Osho died in the early 90's).

After the "sermon" (For lack of a better term) the video goes black, but OSHO continues to speak. And after a minute hits the punchline on a dirty joke. The place erupts in laughter. And follows this with another off color joke about cannibals. I ain't going to lie, they were both fabulously funny and so out of character for the very mellow man who gave the speech. Or so I thought... it turns out Osho would use dirty jokes in his speechmaking as he got older. I guess he figured laughter was good for the spirit as well.

The jokes end and BOOM, a huge drumbeat and everyone in the room starts speaking gibberish. Yep. It was like being in a room full of people speaking tongues. A few people spoke English, yelling curse words out and frustrated frantic speech, but most people were rambling in other languages (which they might not even know). I'm serious. People were speaking all sorts of weird things, and knowing the language is not a requirement. This is called "The Gibberish". For me, I don't know how to speak in a language I don't know. So I just sort of mumbled and listened as the sounds echoed around the empty pyramid until...

BOOM.  Another drumbeat. And everyone fell silent. Osho came back on the audio to lead a little meditation and after 2 minutes....

BOOM... everyone flops to the ground like "a bag of rice" (to use the OSHO term.) I just laid back and closed my eyes. Then OSHO guides you through a brief meditation. Maybe 5 minutes... or was it 10? Until on the recording he asks his band leader to start up a tune. She replies with a very mellow "yes OSHO"...

And the music kicks back on. People get up and start dancing again. The energy is different from the start, but still free. It lasts 5 minutes or so until the final "OSHO!" and then it's over. People walk out in silence into the night. Ghosts in white robes drifting down the steps from the Illuminati pyramid that is the OSHO (tm) Dome and out into the campus. The moon was bright. The dome is lit deep blue and frankly looks like a 1980's movie visual effect from the outside.

At this point you're probably thinking:  "Craig, did you just join a cult?"

But in truth, Meditation retreats and ashram's exist all over India. Each is led by their own Guru who has his (or occasionally her) own version of the path to enlightenment, or peace, or truth, or healing. They all serve a different purpose and a different path. Some are very Zen, some are unique like OSHO. He teaches an "Active meditation" which has to do with doing something physical before dropping into the quiet meditative state.  The "Brotherhood of the white robe" that I went to above happens every night, and it is the only time you wear the white robe. During the daytime meditation sessions you must wear a maroon robe. So everyone walks around in Maroon robes all day and white robes at night. It could seem creepy, but it's actually kind of nice and has a pleasant visual aspect to it.

Now, the thing about OSHO is that, even though it's about finding enlightenment or transcendence through active meditation. It's also a giant, shameless money making machine. And this was hard to stomach when I first got there. I knew it was going to be pricey, but this was hands down the most expensive thing I did while in India. I ended up there for two days and spent over... $100. Yes, I realize that is very little when you think about how much things cost in LA (Hell, you could blow that on one dinner easily). But in India, where my average daily cost was $42. (That includes food, lodging, transportation, activities and everything), spending $100 on something is way out of balance. And when I mentioned that (with a smile) to the man checking me in, he said "This isn't an Indian company." (Interesting since OSHO was very much an Indian).

When you arrive you have to have a registration fee of 1,400 Rupees. The registration takes 10 minutes and they do a manditory AIDS/HIV test. I asked why and was told that in the 1980's OSHO realized HIV was going to be an incurable epidemic and wanted to make sure his commune was safe. I didn't ask how they treated someone who was HIV+. Back in the 1970's-1980's OSHO was controversial for his including sex as part of his teachings. It earned him the dergitory title of "Sex Guru". Frankly, I didn't see or hear any mention of sex while I was there in the teachings (other than the dirty jokes). I could've bought the book of his talks on the subject in the OSHO bookstore if I'd wanted to. But I'd used up all my "OSHO Bucks" and didn't want to get anymore. (You have to buy vouchers to spend inside the resort. This is so you don't have to worry about cash. Of course you have to worry about these cards they mark up with markers and then throw away. So I'm not sure it's any better. But as anyone who has worked a county fair knows: If you have vouchers or tickets people spend more money.) The people checking you in smile and say "Now it's time to break out your ATM Card". It's pretty shameless. You want to use the pool: Pay extra. Oh, but you have to use wear a maroon swimsuit so you fit in. Conveniently purchasable in the boutique with OSHO bucks.

In the end, it really isn't that much money. But in a country where many people live on US $2 a day, a place that costs this much, and gives nothing back to the poor ("that is someone elses job") really bothered me. People travel here to take courses, and they spend a lot of money. I met people there for 3 weeks, 3 months or even longer. Some never even saw any other part of India while they were there. They even stayed on campus for about $70/night. It really is like going to a resort in Mexico and never seeing any of the local people, villages or events. It's not how I usually like to travel and took some shifting. I felt like I was cheating. It was too easy. Too clean. Too quiet. This wasn't India...

... and yet it was. Because so many people come to India seeking truth. Seeking peace. Seeking something to calm them, to straighten them out, to get them on track. People need guidance in life. Some find it in religion (Christianity, Hindu, Islam to name a few), some find it in work or public service,  and for some OSHO is the man to give it. His words were actually pretty wise. His idea of active or dynamic meditation is pretty fabulous. It's hard for me to just stop and say "Now I shall sit quietly and meditate for one hour. Shhhhhhh. Ommmmmm.".  But after running in place for 15 minutes, swaying like a reed of grass for 15 minutes, moving my eyes in a circle for 15 minutes... by the time I got to the 15 minute stage of laying and just being... I was calm and felt great.  Each of his meditations has 3 or 4 steps and lasts an hour. The active part of the mediations vary, but the final step is always just laying on your stomach or back with eyes closed and just being. And you know what? It works pretty great.

But after all that, here's something I learned from my month in India...

India isn't any more spiritual or special than any other place else on earth. India doesn't have some magical energy that vibrates through the people and places that makes you calm or gives you peace or makes you holy or brings you closer to God. An ashram in India might be spiritual to one person, a beach at sunset might be to another, or a mountaintop in Colorado might be to another. This whole world is filled with amazing, spiritual, divine places that can take our breath away, inspire our passions, or give us peace.

And in the end it actually doesn't require going anywhere to do it. (Though often times breaking out of our routines and habits and comfort zones is necessary to find it). Peace comes from within. People who sell peace are businessmen. It doesn't cost you money to find it (but if you need to spend money to find a teacher, there's nothing wrong wit that). It only requires you loving yourself and loving this wonderful life we are given. Even when things are bad, smile: tomorrow could be worse. (I saw that sign in Mumbai).

Did I need to go to India to learn this lesson? Maybe. Maybe not.

But the answer didn't come from India. It came from within.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


So I made it to the south. I'd heard legend of this state in the far south, on the west coast (best coast!) that was awesome. And my friends, it is!
Kerala, home of 900km of backwaters, with villages spread along canals and rivers and lakes. With beaches and towns where people ACTUALLY AREN'T HONKING ALL THE TIME!  Woooooooooo!

I'm telling you. From the second I hit the ground at the Kochi International (Albeit very small) airport, something felt different. Was it all the green trees? And green grass? So there wasn't dust blowing around everywhere.  Was it the roads that were actually complete?  Roads with good pavement and very few potholes?  Was it the drivers who actually obeyed traffic laws and stayed in their lane.... oh wait, it's still India! 

But seriously. It's different down here. Much different.  The touts are few and far between. And when they do come, most of the time they aren't as annoying or in your face.  There's almost no dust in the air, whereas much of the rest of India is so dusty. The people smile more. There really is very little honking. And the temperature is much, much.... cooler.

Not what I was expecting. I thought it would be hotter. But so far the Agra - Khajuraho - Varanasi run wins. It was 102 - 108. Every day for a week. With Varanasi winning. Thank god for Air Conditioning. We could last maybe 3 hours before having to chill in the room for a bit and then going back out. It was still 93 at 10 o'clock at night.  But in Varanasi it was ONLY 93! Woooo!  Sure it was more humid and sweat poured off my head all day long. But it felt great compared to the furnace of before!

I took a ferry over to Fort Kochi and love it. No horns. Hell, almost no traffic! I stayed in a hostel here because I wanted to meet some new travelers. And immediately met a cool British couple and a super fun Aussie gal. (In India Britain wins the traveler sweepstakes. There are more Brits here than I've ever seen. Probably because India is so much a part of their history). I enjoyed the beach which was... still kinda trashy. But not nearly as trashy as up north! In fact, the amount of trash in most of Kerala was pretty low. Comparative to Bali or Thailand. And cows... what cows? No cow shit in the alleys, streets and food areas here. In fact... you can get a steak! A real, honest to goodness steak!  I had one at this fabulous little beachside place owned by a Portuguese man named Miguel. If you make it to Coconut Terrace north of Fort Kochi, definitely swing in. (I can't remember the beach name, but it's the "good swimming beach" near Fort Kochi).

We went and saw some traditional Keralan dancing. Performed for thousands of years. It's strange and fun. With wild costumes and lots of exagerated facial expressions. We ate fresh fish and curry at a fancy place with a jetty out into the channel. Lightning in the distance. An awesome setting. Such good food. A place like this would easily be $30 per plate in the USA. Here... $7 USD. 

The second day, Mel (The Aussie) and I rented mopeds, took em on the car ferry with all the other people, and rode 25 km up to the aforementioned swimming beach. It was empty when we arrived, and after lunch it was PACKED with people. Everyone enjoying the sunset, laughing near the waves (some of them in the water) and flying kites. And taking pictures of us white folk too! lol.  The strangest thing about beaches in India is that there is something missing... skin. Everyone (Even most of the men) are covered up almost completely and go swimming in their full clothing. A few teenagers and young men might be in suits. But normal clothes or Sari's are the way to go here. And the smart female tourist will do the same unless she wants a lot, and I mean A LOT of staring, and photo taking. Each place has their own rules.

The ride back was in the rain! 25 km at night in the rain on a scooter is always a white knuckle experience. And with the full high beams and continuous passing on Indian roads it was even more so. But truthfully the roads on these islands are much mellower than anything up north, which is also why renting a scooter sounded fun instead of terrifying.

My second stop in Kerala was Alleppy. 80 km south and the home of the backwaters. The canals. A fabulous canoe trip and the houseboats. Over 1,500 of them in Alleppy alone. 1,500. It is big business and the boats range from 1 bedroom cruisers to floating party palaces like the one I ended up on with 16 other travelers and a shit ton of booze.

But first, canoeing. See, I arrived in Alleppy true backpacker style. No room booked. No one to go on the houseboat with. And I had faith and trusted my instincts that it would come together. So things brought me to a hostel that was full of.... no one. I was totally alone the day I arrived. Hmmmm, not promising. But these two guys showed up later. Dylan from Canada and Paul from Newcastle UK. We chatted a little, But they weren't going on a boat until the day after I wanted to leave. So the hostel guy suggested I do a canoe trip for a day. And I did. And it was awesome!

To be on the water, floating past villages and homes where people walk out their front door and step into the canal to bathe or do laundry or hop on a canoe or water taxi was really fascinating. And another thing... these village homes, where never made of mud. And almost always were painted and decorated. It wasn't just mud huts and dirt floors. The reason I bring this up is because they were nice and usually in "villages" of places like India, the villagers live a very simple life. And in Kerala it's different. And this may be why...

Kerala was the first state in India to claim 100% literacy. And this was years ago. like 1930's if I remember right. They were the first to have women in government. And to make sure women were educated. It has the highest per capita income of any state in India. There are ads for jewelry and movies and all sorts of things that much of India didn't have. Now does this make them better? No. Happier? I couldn't tell you. But having a bed and windows and a floor that isn't mud seems like a higher quality of life.... or is that just "stuff" and happiness is something else?  (Anna and I had a very fascinating debate about this subject in Varanasi. )

The Canoe trip was great. I met an awesome German. We had a great time chatting afterwards as well.

And when I got back to the hostel... it wasn't quiet anymore. The masses had made it. Somehow Dylan and this gal Maddy had managed to get 16 backpackers to meet at a location weeks after the original meeting. And people made it. Often times bringing new folks. It was really fun to see this happen. It's one of the joys of a longer trip. You can have a blast with someone earlier in a trip, go your separate ways and meet again later. The fact that this many backpackers came to the same place on a schedule is kind of miraculous! Dylan invited me to be number 17.

And the next day we all piled onto a 5 bedroom, two story houseboat and had a fabulous freaking time. Naturally "I'm on a boat!" by Lonely Island started it off (with a bit o performance by yours truly. :), and we proceeded to laugh and sing and dance and swim and have a great time. It's exactly what I was hoping for. A fun party with a great group of people. (There hasn't been any partay-ing here in India). And all this worked out because I didn't try to control the outcome. I trusted it would work... and it did. Which hints and manifesting things in your life. I can tell you from my traveling (and a few other aspects too), that this shit works. I don't know how. It's tapping into something in the universe that is there but elusive. It is the same reason a prayer can come true. And it doesn't work for the same reason.

And there is another lesson I learned here too. It's something that has been a recurring theme on this trip. And that is what Schimer's dad said (what seems like) years ago now. That Peace comes from the inside. Because I was stressing a bit about the boat and the fact that my trip is in it's final week and there is so much I'd love to see and do... but I can't do it all. So I have this tendency to try to analytically think "What is the BEST way to spend this time? Which will be the BEST choice of activities? etc". The truth is, it'll be what it'll be. Sure, make an effort, but if I'm okay with the outcome either way. I almost always get what I really want, and I always get what is the "Best" option, even if it's not what I want. So, while on the canoe trip I thought "You know... if I end up on a houseboat solo. Then that'll be great. I'll have a good time enjoying the views and swimming and reading and that'll be wonderful too." And when I was at peace with myself and what might be the other outcome, I felt great. And then I ended up getting exactly what I hoped for.

And this leads to what Anna said to me when my plane got cancelled to get down to Kerala in the first place. Yep, 3 hours before the 3 legged flight, they cancel the middle leg. Which makes the whole thing moot. So I had to figure out what to do. I was a little stressed about it. Trying to figure it out in 108 degree Varanasi heat. I said "Well this fucks up the whole next stage of the trip. And I don't have time to 'lose' days. My trip is almost over."
And she said to me "You don't know if this path is wrong. You don't know where it will take you ."

And she's right...that flight change led me to be half a day later to Fort Kochi. Which led to meeting people which led to an extra day there having an awesome time on scooters in the rain, which led to a different hostel in Alleppy, which led to a canoe trip which held off the houseboat till the party group arrived.

So you never do know where a particular path will lead...
And if the journey is the point...
Have faith. Things will work out...
Because, somehow,  they always do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


"200 - 300 bodies a day are cremated here. Everyday. For 3,500 years."

Welcome to Varanasi. The holiest city in all of India when it comes to the Hindu religion. Which therefore makes it the holiest city in the entire world when it comes to the Hindu religion. It is one of the most continuously occupied (if not the most) city on the planet. Civilazation has been there since time immemorial... and for much of that time they have burned bodies in public view. Because it is believed that if you die in Varanasi, you will have escaped the cycle of death and rebirth and will reach Nirvana. Therefore there are many many people who take a final pilgrimage there and wait to die.

The Ghats are cement or stone stairs that line the riverbank, allowing access to the water at any level. The main section of the city has 3 km worth of them. Every 100 feet - 100 meters they will have a new name, and a different purpose. Some are for bathing. Some for ceremony. We watched a "putting the river to sleep" ceremony, that was held at sundown every night. We were on a rowboat, in a massive floatilla of boats all on top of each other. In addition, thousands watched from the ghats themselves. The ceremony involved lights and flames and drums and bells (Hindu's love the bells!). It was fascinating to be there and watch this event that happens every day. Some ghats are for boats, some for bathing animals. They are all for sleeping apparently, as when we walked back at 11pm there were some with dozens if not hundreds of people, I'm assuming homeless, who were sleeping on blankets spread out on the steps and flats of some of the Ghats.

My favorite was a tiny Ghat were my traveling companion Anna from Ukraine and I stumbled upon a couple guys playing guitar and another playing flute at 10 o'clock at night. It was a jam session, but was all Indian. They sang in Hindi. And just played for fun. We enjoyed the music and even danced a bit. It was great fun. And sort of strangely for India, they didn't ask for money. They just gave us a thumbs up while we danced and a wave when we walked off after half an hour.

And then there are the burning Ghats. One smaller one. And then the big one.

There are three large hospice buildings behind the burning Ghat where the dying are tended to by people of the untouchable caste. People who's fathers and grandfathers did the same thing. They care for the dying. And when death finally comes, they massage the corpse. As the women of the family performs ceremony's over it in the room. Then the untouchables bring the body to the river, shrowded in a cloth, and bathe it in the Ganges. It is then placed on a pile of wood (which has been stacked by another Untouchable whose only job is to prepare the fire). Then a male relative or two, who has had his head shaved and wears a loin cloth, will take dry grass to the eternal flame which burns in the temple above. This flame has burned for as long as anyone knows. It is tended to by a man who's job it is to keep that fire burning. As his father before him. And during the monsoon, when most of the Ghats are underwater, the fire is moved inside the temple and kept safe.

Once the grass ignites, the family member brings the fire to the pyre and ignites it. No gasoline, no fire starters, nothing but wood is used. And if you have more money you buy more expesive wood. (Sandalwood being the most expensive).  Even the cheapest wood is 650 Rupees a Kilogram. And it takes 200 Kg to burn a body to ash and bone. THat's 45,000+ Rupees. Far more than most Indian families can afford. And yet somehow they do. By donation (we naturally were asked to give after we were shown around). Or by gifts from higher caste families. The wood is transported 600 km to the site.

Once the burn begins, it goes on for 2-3 hours.Over which time other bodies may be lit nearby. Because the Ghats are big. And they have multiple levels. The lowest level by the river is for the low caste people. There's a middle level for the middle castes. And up on a platform above is for the Brahman's, the highest caste. (During the monsoon, only the high caste level is above water. So everyone burns there. I guess mother nature has a way of balancing out humankind's need to make some people better and more important than others.). There's even a separate cage area designed for non-caste people. Like if I wanted to be burned there.

Watching a dead mans face covered with a shrowd, and then his body ignited in flames. And his feet sticking out of the fire. I thought of how strange it is, that that is what remains when we die... and it burns away just like everything else.

But not everyone gets to be burned. Children under 10 are still pure and innocent. They don't need the fires to burn away their sins and purify them. Pregnant women, because they have the pure child inside. Animals. No need to burn those.  Lepers. Yep, specifically lepers. And cobra bite victims:  These are put on a raft of banan tree logs and sent floating downstream, with a note that says how they die. Then someone farther down the river, maybe a shaman, will deal with the body when it floats into town.

Now the reason for this, is because the Cobra poison often puts people into a coma, where they appear dead. So over the course of time, they might come awake. Or a shaman might be able to revive them.

For the others who are not burned. They are tied to a stone slap. Rowed out to the middle of the river... and sunk. Which means, over time there are hundreds of thousands of bodies on the bottom of the Ganges right there. When the monsoon comes, maybe they are washed downstream... maybe they aren't. Either way, the bodies are there.

While we watched the Ghat from afar. 3 or 4 fires burning bright. A man came over to the shade we were under with a tiny baby wrapped in a white cloth. I could see the outline of it's little arms. It's tiny legs. I watched them tied the body to a 2 foot long slab of slate. He pulled out the birth certificate... the child only lived one day. He took his baby on a rowboat out to the middle of the river and with no pause dropped it in. They rowed back, he paid the boatman and walked away. I didn't see a single tear...

... which is why there are no women present. Or so I was told: Women are too emotional. They cry too much and it is believed that the soul will see this sadness and carry it into Nirvana or the next life. So the guide we had said "With men there  are no tears. No sadness."
I said "There is definitely sadness. They just aren't showing it."

And this points to something about Indian society that you may or may not have picked up on in these emails or in your own experience. It's the fact that Indian society is incredibly sexist. I know that's a judgement. But it's also an observation. Women here are so suppressed it's hard not to get a little pissed off about it. If you're a woman in most Indian families. You have two potentials in life:  To be a good homemaker, and a mother. If you can't do those things, you are broken. You are shunned. And in extreme cases of "Wife Burning" you will be burned alive. I'm not kidding. In some villages, if you are inadequate in your womanly responsabilities (Homemaking, cooking, bearing a son...) the husband or his parents might throw gasoline on you and burn you alive. This happens. And is almost never prosecuted.

In 2012 there were 285,000 violent crimes charged in India. 250,000 of them were against women.

The good news is things are changing. As women become more educated, they learn there is more than can do in life than take care of their husbands and raise kids. Not that there is anything wrong with these goals, as long as you choose them. At least in my opinion.

Which brings up arranged marriages. Yes. They are very common. I've met multiple men (and a woman or two) who says their parents will or have arranged their marriage and they will accept it because that is how it's done. And they don't say it with any resistance. Even if they haven't met the partner yet. Or if they have and they aren't head over heels about the girl (or guy).  Men marry at 27-30. Women marry at 21-24. There are so many rules guiding this it's something a non-Indian will probably never understand.

Which brings us to India in general. My friends, this is a baffling country. At times beautiful. At others so strange that I've never been to anyplace like it. Now, to be fair, this is why I wanted to come to India. The social rules, safety rules (ha ha!), religious rules, beliefs, culture is so strange compared to our "western" beliefs, it is constantly challenging and fascinating. The fact that the place even works at all, almost defies belief. But yet it does.

As an American, India is something that we just don't learn that much about. Yeah, we know the basics. Hindu. Yoga. "Sprituality" (Whatever that means here...) But the amount of history here is mindblowing. The amount of emperors, and counquorers, armies and leaders. Religions and influences is staggering. I have only tapped the surface, and am sure I never will get very deep. Because it goes deep. Deep as the waters of the Ganges with a million bodies beneath the surface, and dead cows floating by, and people swimming and bathing in it all day long. It's holy waters pure and safe from what science tells us is there. The ashes and big bones are spread in the water and float downstream or into the mud. No one thinks this is weird... because it's not. To an Indian.

Religious beliefs and stories and myths are like that. To the believer it makes total sense. To the open minded observer, it serves good purpose. To the zealot or the radical it serves as fuel to fight.

And then there are places where all these beliefs and religions are side by side in harmony. One of those places is Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania.
Another of those places is Kerala state, in the south of India.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


"What Country You?" has possibly beaten out "May I have your Photo?" for the most asked question here in India.

First, a Photo update:  at the Golden Temple in Amritsar I was asked this question 32 times in 3 1/2 hours (2 at night, 1 1/2 the next day). Every time I have said yes and had my photo taken. And it's rarely one photo, it's always multiple pics and almost every combination of the group of people who asked and me. And once those floodgates open it is photo after photo after photo. As I mentioned before... I really think I know what being famous will feel like. It's crazy. I've even had a family hand me their 2 year old to hold in a photo!

Now, this is all usually pretty friendly. But I've talked to some female travelers who started to charge for photos when groups of men come up because there are so many and it can be uncomfortable. But there's more than that. Occasionally men will just come up and stare at western women. They stare at me sometimes too. But travelers have told me stories about being on the beach in Goa and a group of men just standing there, 10 feet away, taking pictures and staring. It's a strange culture thing.

And this brings up the Touts.

It is almost unhalting. Walk down the street... people say "Hello! What country?" and thus begins the tout. Maybe a rickshaw ride. Maybe a magnet. A trinket. An invite into their shop to "Just look! How can you know you don't want if you don't look!". To the guy outside the Agra Fort who was shoving this handmade travel chess set into my hand and following me to the rickshaw and who would NOT take NO for an answer. He was saying "Twenty. Twenty. Okay Fifteen" and I thought "25 cents for that? I might take him on it. Until he said. "Okay 2 for twenty dollars."

If I step out of my hotel here in Khajuraho, a small, dusty one street feeling town, I have MULTIPLE people rush up and ask if I want ride, rickshaw, whiskey, beer, food, transport, drugs, massage etc etc etc. Hell it even happens INSIDE the hotel. The Massage guy, the rickshaw driver, the shop guy attached.

And I would be lying if I didn't say it was really, really annoying. And really really tiring.

Look, I get it. The hustle is how you feed yourself. Feed your family. Make a living. And right now things are slow. There aren't so many tourists this time of year. But the sad thing that has happened is it has become very difficult to trust any Indian that starts a conversation on the street. I have been conditioned to think that everyone wants my money. And I'm not the only traveler who feels this way.

And it's sad. Because sometimes the person really is just saying "Hello" and wanting to meet me. Sometimes they don't want anything and just want to be helpful. The delimma is everyone starts with the same question:  "What Country you from?"

Followed by, in no particular order:
"What state?"
"You alone? Where's your wife? Your girlfriend?"
"You're not married? Why you not married?"
"How long in India?"
"Where you been in India?"
"Where you going?"
"You need a rickshaw?"

I almost want to make a sign with all the answers. :)

Compound this with the continuously honking horns (though not so much here in Khajuraho), and the fact that it's getting hotter and hotter, (Yesterday was 102. In my next stop, it's supposed to be 108) and you've created some rather unpleasant moments.

But that's part of what it's all about. Because even if this is annoying, it is part of the experience. It's part of being here. And likely, by the end of the trip, and probably sooner, It'll slide right off my shoulder and I can focus on the things I enjoy.

Backpacking/Travel isn't always easy. And it's not always fun. But in the end it's always worth it...

Now it's time to tell you about the "Kama Sutra" temples here in Khajuraho. Yep. 1000 year old temples with erotic carvings all over them. Amazingly intricate carvings. Thousands of them over many temples. They often features sexy, buxom naked women and fit, strong naked men. And sometimes horses. And elephants.

Sometimes posing. Sometimes engaged in intimate acts. Yes sometimes with the horses and elephants. There are some rather racy positions (3, 4, 5 people. Why not!). Some things you probably would want to try (THAT looks like fun)...  And some things you probably wouldn't...  (Is that elephants trunk really going there?). Then again, Why not? It's on a temple to Shiva!

It's rather fascinating really. Because India is a very conservative society. The movies contain no kissing, let alone nudity or sex. So to see these in  India looking is amusing. There are men and women of many cultures going through the temple complex. Its fun to watch people's reactions. Some of them are quite explicit, and I try to imagine the culture that created these images. AND the fact that the carvings are incredibly detailed. It's fascinating to think of how long it must have taken to do it.

Temples are everywhere in India... and though it is not a temple. The TAJ MAHAL is, undoubtably the queen, king and everything in between.

Everyone has seen photos of it. And it is indeed every bit as amazing as you'd imagine. It's fun when something actually lives up to the hype. It's a mezmerizing building. The details are unreal. The intricate stone flowers in multiple colors, hand carved. The layout. The way the sun plays off it in the morning light. It really really is something awesome to see. I stayed at Hotel Suriya and had a view from the rooftop restraunt. AND... from my pimpin roof top room! It was the bomb! And cost $12 USD a night!

There's no words to really describe the Taj. It's just awesome. You have to see it. Go early. Enjoy the beauty. Imagine the story behind it.
Love and Loss do indeed give us the worlds most powerful, most amazing things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


So at the border of India and Pakistan a very unusual battle takes place.
It happens every night when the sun sets and the flags are taken down.
And it is a spectacle like no other on Earth (I would imagine).
See, these two countries who are not very fond of each other historically, have an enormous display of pomp and circumstance to take down the flag at sunset. So enormous there are permanent bleachers build on both sides of the border so you can come and watch the two nations posture, stomp, march and pose as they do it. And it is fabulously entertaining...

This was part of my road trip with Ravi and Munira. After being ushered through 3 separate security stations with metal detectors and full body pat downs. (I mean, they REALLY made sure you weren't hiding anything), we went into the stadium on the India/Pakistan border. There is a gate with INDIA on it, facing a gate with PAKISTAN on it. 2000 plus watching on the Indian side.... and 1500 plus on the Paskistan side. Every soldier on both sides had to be at least 6 feet tall or more. They wore big fancy hats with large fans on top to make them look taller. There was a huge picture of Ghandi on the Indian side and a photo of Pakistan's independence leader on their side.  An MC on a mic would hype the crowd like a sporting event. A drummer would pound the drums in accordance with the marching soldiers footsteps, and the music blasted all sorts of upbeat Hindi songs. Including "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire. (I'm still not clear how Indian's feel about that movie.)

The energy in the place was like a fever pitch. It might as well have been the World Cup.
The pre festivities consisted of many Indian women running down the Indian side carrying Indian flags. They would wave them at the Pakistani's. While on their side they had people dancing a sort of riverdance style dance with the flag. Both sides would cheer wildly for their country.

Now, don't think any of this was hostel or antagonistic. It really wasn't. When the soldiers march down the road and pose with flexing arms and high steps, it's all perfectly mirrored on the otherside. When the gates are whipped open the place went wild. Then a procession of soldiers stomping, marching, high kicking and posing with flexed arms would happen. It was so amusing. With my 30X superzoom camera I could take close up pictures of the Pakistani's! And the thing that struck me most (Besides the fact that the men and women were separated onto bleachers on opposite sides... and that the women wore very colourful clothing. Not just all black like we are led to believe), It was the fact that...

... they're just people. People like you and me. I bring this up, because for us in the USA, Pakistan is not necessarily one of our "Friends" in the world. Maybe not a bitter enemy, but there is definitely conflict.... or so the Media would have us believe. And yes, there are policy issues and blah blah blah. But the thing that happens when I see another person, from another country, doing the things that they do, living the life they live, is that I realize they are really a lot like me. They want entertainment, they have friends, they laugh, they eat, they have cell phones and girl friends and families and want to see things. It's one of the best reasons to travel. Because when you do, you realize that people from other countries are ultimately just human beings, with goals and dreams and beliefs and jobs and lives... and we really aren't so different after all.

Unlike a sporting event, the Attari Border Smackdown has no winner. It's a show of force and might, but also strangely friendship. I think. The flags come down in perfect synchronization as the sun sets. Both sides cheer and the gates are closed for the night.

At this point, we were able to walk right up to the fence and wire lined border and wander along it. On the Indian side, maybe 50 people did this. On the Pakistani side 3 people did. We walked over to a cement pyramid about 3 feet high that marked a point where you could stand and take pictures. You couldn't cross. But soldiers would take your pic near it.

So.... I reached over and touched Pakistan and snapped a pic!
 Ha ha! I've been to Pakistan! (Sort of. :) )

But I have seen a little of Pakistan... and it's not so "scary" anymore.

(And yes, I spelled Attari right. It's the border town in India, and it has two T's :)

Saturday, April 18, 2015


For a few days I was able to spend time in the hillstations of Shimla and Dalhousie. 
Before India I thought I had been to hill stations before... not a chance.
These are uniquely British build cities and towns on top of mountain ridges. See, in Colorado or California or frankly most anyplace I've visited, the cities are build in the valleys with maybe small towns up on the top of peaks or ridgelines. Here, they did the opposite. They build a 200,000 person city on a knife edge ridge in the lower Himalaya. Shimla in particular was fascinating how the buildings hugged these impossibly steep cliffs and slops. The roads were thigh-busters. They twist and turn all over the side of the mountain. Getting from one level to the next required stairs, slopes and in Shimla... an elevator.

I hopped out of the cab on a busy two lane road with the music of India blaring (That's car horns if you remember). Traffic. Noise. I walk over to an outdoor elevator and for Rs10 (10 Rupee or 15 cents) I get a pass to the elevator. Me and 8 other people got in. The doors closed. And... MUZAK!  It was hilarious. Total silence but Muzak sax. No one talking.
Door open... STREET NOISE.  Walk over to the second part of the lift. Same thing. Silence and Muzak.  And at the top get off on "Mall Road". A multi-kilometer road of shops and restraunts. Passing restored historical theaters, government buildings and more. At one point Shimla was the seat of British government in India and 1/5 of the worlds population was governed from it's 2,200 meter (6,800foot) elevation.

And the day I arrived it was COLD. 35 degrees at night. And my room at the giant YMCA had no heat. As no room in Shimla does. Weird. But there were lots of blankets. And I had the sound of FAST AND FURIOUS 7 in Hindi roaring into my room from the movie theater that was in the next building over, about 50 feet from my room. Kind of hilarious to hear the cars revving and explosions with the occasional line of Hindi coming through.  I wanted to see it, but never had the chance.

Up here I went for a couple of hikes. Enjoyed beautiful views of 7,000 meter snow capped Himalaya mountains. And enjoyed the cool weather. It warmed up to shorts weather. But was still nice.  (NOw that I'm in Khajuraho and it's 102, I miss the mountains!)

The other Hill Station was Dalhousie. I went there with my awesome friend Ravi and his daughter Munira. So the 3 of us went on a road trip through Northern India for 4 awesome days. And one of our stops was Dalhousie.  A MUCH quieter, smaller hillstation. With gorgeous views, a cliffside temple we hiked too, and the strange deal of not wanted to rent hotel rooms to foreigners.

To be fair, there's a new law where they have to go online to register any foreigner that stays with them, and they said they didn't have the ability. We were turned down rooms at 3 places before having Ravi enter, get a room and then switch it up on them that it was for me!  In the end they just took my info to a cybercafe and sent it in. But sometimes in India you have to be crafty to make things happen. :)

Up here we also went to "Switzerland in the Himalaya".  We drove on cliffside roads, through gorgeous woods, past snow banks. (Snowball fights ensued between me and Munira!), and reached this beautiful meadow surrounded by pine clad slopes.  A place at home in Switzerland. But very Indian as there were cows and goats roaming it to eat the grass, kids with bunny rabbits trying to make a buck (or a Rupee) for their photo, and horseback rides. We took a ride around the meadow. Maybe 20 minutes. FOr $5USD each. Not bad. We played frisbee, ate lunch at one of the many little cafes.

It was all very pretty, though there were a fair amount of people there. And as is the case in India, once you went behind the shops to the road there was trash piled and strewn about. It's a sad fact that in India there is a lot of garbage. A LOT. It's piled in beautiful places, thown down slopes, put around dumpsters, burned on the street. And then there are the cows. Shitting on the street. In the market alleys. Even the alleys where they sell food. Yes. I'm not kidding.

And then there is the rather open using of the "toilet" by Indian's themselves. Not everyone to be sure, but there are open urinals in various places. (Nothing for the ladies. Just the men). I saw men squatting and peeing into the gutter in the old parts of town in Agra. And when you ride the train, you'll pass fields and places where people are just squatting to take care of business in plain view of the tracks. Not one person in a field, but 4 or 5 near each other.

 Now, I'm not saying this to say "Oh god, how disgusting", though some of it is pretty raw. This is India. It's a VERY different culture from anyplace I've been. (And not just because of this). There are rules here that are hard to figure out. Customs that don't make sense to me (or any of the European travelers I've met). Oddities that are so uniquely Indian (As far as I know) that it's both fascinating and frustrating. And of course India should be nothing but what India is. And if you can't take it... India doesn't care. So best to adapt, go with the flow and see where the road takes you...

... and the next stop... Pakistan.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


"Are you going to turn on your headlights?"

It's after sunset, deep in twilight, and we're starting back from our mountain climb in the Himalaya. It's a one lane mountain road that dives deep into a valley before climbing the near cliffside back up to the opposite ridgeline. It's 35km of twisty roads with the occasional oncoming car or, you know, bus.

"We don't turn our headlight on until it is full dark.  That's how we do it in India" Says my guide.
I look at him with a smile "Just turn on the f-ing headlights. Safety first."
"Oh of course. Safety first."

Or safety.... never?

One thing I've noticed in my 10 days in India is that safety seems to be rather low on the list of priorities. Here are some examples:
--A 3 lane road, well.... it's more like a 5 lane road. Lanes don't matter. And cars, buses and trucks all drive with motorbikes, tuk-tuks' and bicycle rickshaws.  I've seen so many near accidents it's unreal. Yet I've never seen an accident. (Other than the cars that obviously rolled off the mountain roads and were smashed to oblivion).
--Stoplights.... sometimes. If you feel like stopping. I mean, just honk. They'll move. (And they do...)
--Crosswalks? Brother please! Cross all 10 lanes. Somehow the cars will miss you. Especially if you hold out your hand. Occasionally people almost get clipped. (Somehow it hasn't happened that I've seen).
-- Blind mountain corners... probably shouldn't pass, right?  Hell no! Pass away. Honk those horns. They'll move over, somehow!
-- 2 lane oncoming traffic at night. HI-BEAMS ONLY my friends! Screw the cars in the other lane, we gotta make the sucker in front of us move! (At night we use the horn less of course.)  And this on a road with bikes and motorbikes that have no lights so you can not see them at all because you're blinded.
-- Passing one car wide.... nah, let's do 3 cars passing side by side on a two lane road. Yep, that's a truck coming at you.
-- Need to repair a pothole? Put up a pile of rocks, fill it in with stones by hand. No warning signs.

Wow, I just realized those are all DRIVING safety things.

-- The there's food, trash piles on the street, those cows in the road, stray dogs barking in wild packs (especailly in the mountains), cooking street food with no cleaning abilities, masses of people shoving to get into Golden Temples... the list goes on.

And there's the pollution. Yes, it's bad. Every road is dusty and smokey (Except the mountain... well, it's still dusty). Diesel blasts out of buses, dust seems to be everywhere, especially when it's getting dark. The train ride up the mountains had so much diesel fumage that I had a headache and felt shitty for hours after. (The views were great)...

... except for the places where people decided to toss trash over the hillsides, or in piles by the road, or... it's really sad that nature can be treated like that. It's not everywhere, don't think that, but people tossed trash out of the train up the mountain. Even cups of chai that said "Use paper cups. Reduce pollution." Ironic indeed.

It's taken me awhile to slip into the rhythm here. Longer than any trip I think I've been on. It's incredibly chaotic. Noisy (Seriously, the horn usage is unreal), and stinky (though not as much as I thought it would be). But I finally realized I was expecting India to be something.... specific. I can't put it in words, but I did have some notions of what India might be. And I've finally realized the issue was not India, but me.  India will be what India is. If you can't handle it, tough shit. So I shifted, and today everything was right. India shows her form. And it involved a crazy border ceremony with Pakistan. In fact... I touched Pakistan today.... yep....

But that's another story.
This keyboard stinks and I gotta get up early tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


What?  Back to back travel emails?  You bet Team!  Here we go!

So in Chandigarh India there is a magical place called the Nek Chand Rock Garden.
It's one of those wonderful places that is someone's imagination made real.
It started as a secret in the 50's by Nek Chand, as he used recycled materials, old building blocks, road pieces, broken china and other things to construct a fanciful playground in a city of order and balance.  See, Chandigarh, unlike most places in India, is a planned city. It's a series of Sectors (Sector 15, Sector 22,) each with a purpose, a design and sub sectors A, B, C, D.  They are divided by a perfect grid of roads and roundabouts. That all look the same. But actually have TREES and GRASS on them. Which is pretty novel after Delhi which is solid buildings.

So Nek Chand build this secret garden just off of Sector 1 (the Government buildings!).  It was never intended to be seen or to be a tourist attraction. But one day it was found... and after a bit of a battle, he was allowed to continue and in fact was supported. And what has resulted is fabulous...

For 20 Rupees.  Yes. Only 20. That's 33 Cents. You get to duck under this rock wall and explore a twisting turning, near maze like land of canyons, squares, hidden temples, waterfalls, passageways, more tunnels, more towers, more passageways... the thing just keeps going and going and going. It's full of rock and tile characters that are people, or horses or monkeys. I mean HUNDREDS of them. All is great detail. Ranging in height from a foot to ten feet. There's a temple with a 15 foot waterfall in front. And under another tunnel and over another bridge there is a paradise with 40 foot tall walls, a giant waterfall, pools and more. And then it just keeps going...

There's a courtyard with a mosaic bandstand that could seat 300 people. Giant swings lined out that you can swing the day away. (As I did!).  There's "laughing mirrors" and even a camel ride.

To be fair, the final section with the swings and camel's seems to have lost the vision a bit. It's too big, and too practical. Though still fun. But the main parts with the little characters and them tomb raider temples is really really really fun. It reminded me of City Museum in St. Louis. It's really the only other place I've seen like it. And interestingly, both use recycled materials in new, playful ways.

On the way to eat I stopped in the middle of the road along with many others to watch two Steers locking horns outside an apartment complex. They were battling with people all around them.  Ravi said "Oh! Bull fight!" and we got out of the car. At first I thought it was something organized and thought "That seems odd in India" (Haha, like ANYTHING should seem odd in India!!!).  But it was even stranger... just two animals fighting for territory. They ran off between two apartment buildings.

And then we ate some AMAZING Punjabi (That's Northern Indian) food. SOOOOOOOOO good. At an outside cafe.

Not a bad day at all here in "CITY BEAUTIFUL" as it says on the sign. 


"May I have a photo?"

So we're standing at the Red Fort in Delhi.  It's really more of  a palace/castle/fort combo. It used to be guilded in gold. Now it's red brick.  And this Indian man comes up to ask for a photo. Naturally I oblige. And then the photographer who took the first man's pic wants a pic. No problem. Then the group of 3 women in full Sari's wants a photo. Then another. No problem.  Then the old man. Then the 3 kids.... Then the...

You get the idea. And it isn't just there. And it isn't just once. It has happened AT LEAST 30 times since I got here. Sometimes people try to sneak the photo by standing awkwardly next to me as their husband/wife/friend snaps a pic. Usually they politely ask. Sometimes they'll ask about "What country?" but often it's just the photo and a smiling thank you as they walk off.

But wait, there's more...

People stare. Walking up to me on the street, they flat out stare at me. No smile. No expression other than staring. AT a cafe: sitting at the next table staring over. On the subway. At an intersection. All over.  Sometimes I'll smile and they'll smile back. Sometimes I'll wave, say hello. They'll respond in kind. (Or in the case of the teenage girls, they'll giggle and walk on.)

I think I know what it will be like when I finally frickin' "make it" in Hollywood.  Or at least when some people might say "Hey, you're that dude that made that movie I love. Can I get your pic?"  Reguardless, I can relate to being recognizable... if not famous. IT ain't like I'm Tom Cruise here.  But it's like I'm "That actor you recognize on TV but don't know his name.

And if you ask why this happens. The answer I've been given from Indian friends is:  You're not Indian.
It reminds me of Eminem's "Real Slim Shady":  "You act like you've never seen a white person before..." and in a lot of cases that might actually be the case.  There aren't a lot of tourists in comparrison to how many folks there are here.
The only place many Indian's might have seen a pale, blue eyed guy like me is is in movie.  And in those movies the white folks often speak Hindi. (Which an Australian girl, Mel, I met has been asked numerous time).  (We were at a Mosque and this woman HANDED MEL HER BABY. Yep. Gotta get that pic!)  If anyone has any more info about this phenomenom or any other stories about it, I'd love to hear them.


Saturday, after the rainy morning, I went to the aforementioned Red Fort and then headed into the absolute madness that is Old Delhi. You see, Old Delhi is the India you've probably seen pictures of. The on where it's wall to wall people. Where cars, bicycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws are jammed so close to each other that you are barely moving and can reach out and touch your neighbor. Where the alleys are mazes full of shops selling.... everything. There's the tech district, the fabric district, the wedding card district (yep!). And of course the spice district (No good trip to India would be complete without a bicycle rickshaw driver taking you there even though it was WAY out of the way of where we wanted to go. And then he wanted more money cause it took longer. Sorry my friend, we didn't ask to go and still paid you double).  There's no food anywhere, other than street food, so for 66 cents I had two tasty tins of chickpeas. And got a "Welcome to India" from the friendly owner.

The whole thing reminded me of the old Medina's in Morocco. The only difference is there was no hastle to buy. In fact, most shop owners just looked at us like we were a curiousity. And would always smile if we smiled first. Indian's like to haggle, and in fact it's pretty much excpected on almost everything. But it's no where near as ferocious as Morocco. It's much friendlier. Sure, in the end they want to make as much as possible. But they do it differently.  It's hard to explain, but I'm sure it'll come up again in the emails.

Then, that night after dinner. We were thinking of going to see a Bollywood flick in the theaters (Assuming we could find one instead of Fast and Furious 7.  Because it's showing EVERYWHERE.  In Hindi or English. Check your listings.). So we're thinking of seeing a flick and then.... oooohhhh, um, gotta use the restroom.

Yep!  My first full day in India and BAMMMO!  Delhi Belly! Woooooooooo!

But after a few episodes that evening, I popped one of my antibiotics and took that shit out. (Pun intended?)
(Come on, did you think a trip would happen without at least ONE story about shitting my brains out.!)

Next stop...Chandigarh...

Rock on

Friday, April 3, 2015


Hi Team,

So the Indian odyssey has begun with 26 hours of traveling and a whole bunch of horns.
I'm currently in Delhi where the music of choice is the car horn. Yep. Non stop, blaring, blazing car horns. Or Rickshaw horns. Or Bike horns. Or bus horns. On the ride from the airport at 5am when there was almost zero traffic, the driver would race up on someone (on a 3-5 lane highway) and honk his horn so the other driver would move. I imagine you could go around, but what fun would that be?  To be fair, it can get a little grating, but it also just blends into the chaos which...

... is not as chaotic as I thought it would be. This isn't to say it's not busy and that there aren't a lot of people, but so far it's been what I would expect from a busy capital city. I'm sure there are many surprises to come. :)

It's raining cats and dogs (Literally! Actual cats and dogs falling from the sky! India is crazy!)  So it's slowing the day down a bit. (But it does give the drivers more to honk at.:)
I'm still going to see the Red Fort and some other sights because I leave for Chandiggarh tomorrow morning (Assuming the train seating works out.)  Does all this make it sound like going with the flow is the way to go in India.... I'm thinking it is.

Yesterday I was exhausted after the 26 hours of travels, and not 1 but 2 young children crying like crazy on the 16 hour flight to Abu Dhabi. Fortunately earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones help, but it still made for a restless night.  I saw some 1,000 year old ruins south of the city and had a really nice time exploring.  The touts are ever present, and it's hard to determine who is just being friendly vs. who is trying to get you to come to a tourist shop or something. But so far even the touts are friendly and full of smiles. And I haven't ended up at a shop yet. It's about being firm and willing to walk away if they won't give you what you want.

I'm looking forward to all sorts of things.... and will be happy to share them with you as they occur.

As for now... off into the rain!  Delhi awaits!