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!