Google Map It

Even though 2 months may sound like a long trip, it's not. We have an ambitious route planned - one that would have us encircle nearly the entire country. Though plans are going to change and destinations will be added and subtracted, we've mapped ourselves out to have some sort of reference. So Follow Us

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fancy w/Tea (not to be fancy)

Tea (meant to be placed on left for cool effect)

Tea 2

Rain Chai
(on right for failed cool effect lost on top photo)


Keralan Coast

It Lives

Getting Passed

Bolsheviks Strike Back!!!

Don't live off of a guide. Now I've heard it, and I'm sorry to say I'm guilty of saying it, but travelers are religious people that believe whole-heartedly in the Bible. Not The Bible, but something just as thick, usually...Lonely Planet. I'm speechless now, fingers trembling, half-expecting doomsday in denying Lonely Planet the status of king of kings - but, hush now, Lonely Planet doesn't get it right half the time. Yikes. Ignore its generosity in deflating lackluster guesthouses' high-season (let alone low season) room prices for the economy admittedly changes. Ignore its inability to program distances within the correct area-code after all the Earth moves. Ignore its peculiar lust for detestable food for tongues vary person to person. Even ignore the "stamp" those damn recommendations do to humble minded business men (let's call it the 20% price hike) because every man needs to eat his bread...but come on Keralan backwater houseboat tour a thing to do before I die?!?!?! "Worth every darn rupee"?!?!?! Lonely Planet humble yourself.
It's hard to throw your back to a top 20 activity in the world's most honored travel guide, but it's harder to stomach throwing money into the stagnant waste of Keralan backwater. I'm being dramatic. On a tight budget, when you spend big you expect big. The Keralan backwater tour took place upon one of the many rice barges converted into beautifully furnished houseboats. We took the chance on a 24hr tour expecting a tour rivalling Marlow's slip into the insanity of Africa. Well maybe no diamond scout to rescue, but wilds, jungle's wilds. Instead of little Mowgli's running to shore eyeing the oddity of a couple of albino's we got a rather open crowd of homosexual Indian ravers. Instead of uncharted waterways of a unique adventure we were passed by day tour trips in a motorboat and I heard more traffic on the backwater than in Delhi. We even spotted men constructing another houseboat for like suckers. I wanted tigers jumping from the bush, not flamers dropping their pants. Oh, did I mention we traveled 3km in 24 hours?
Complaining aside, the experience was pleasant enough, quaint, not adventuresome and yes my ego is aching. The rooms on board were nicer than any guesthouse we've stayed at. The food was tasty and fresh. I understand that no motor on the boat limits distance, but the two men (bow and aft) with 30ft bamboo poles, known as punters, looked healthy enough to distance us the promised 15km. The aforementioned, punters, were our main outlet of entertainment. They gracefully wave those poles left to right, gently shoving them to the bottom of the river, there-by being our source of...momentum, if that's what 3km in 24hrs can be described as. All above aside and the sweltering jungle heat/humidity forgotten, I spotted some nice water fowl and even braved a top floor jump into the "water". I'm alive. It didn't help that the two people we paired with were spouting their complaints for tea conversations. We always drank tea. We always entertained negativity. Houseboating the backwaters of Kerala is pleasant enough business I suppose, but I recommend the writers of Lonely Planet to find some life and not worry about changing their Depends.

7 hour public bus from the mosquito sanctuary known as Fort Cochin (they did have an area of town called Jew Town and, yes, Jew Street ran down the middle of it. No I'm not kidding and yes it happened to be the only place we went to where budget travel wasn't possible and the bloodsucking mosquitoes clouded our vision. Gentilian conspiracy? joking!)

Now after that bus ride we found ourselves in the southern mountains in tea town, Munnar. More my style. I never knew what tea fields looked like, but imagine rolling mountains covered in 3ft high bushes. Sounds pretty lame. I assure it's not. Rather amazing, actually. Misha and I were with our happy friends for this part too, but here we found more pleasantries, though notably less tea drunken...hmmm, funny, right? Every day at around 3pm Munnar welcomes in monsoon like rain for nearly an hour and the display is breathtaking. We first found shelter in a travel agency. There a man with the bright idea of selling chai by motorbike arrived with poncho and we drank tea. Very nice. The full day there we decided on ignoring the rickshaw/tuk-tuk drivers guaranteeing us the best sights to see for a cheap price for our own hiking tour. We made way to the aptly named view point, View Point, and some hidden waterfalls. Nice hike, we even roughed it, by semi-illegally tramping the paths between those precious tea plants on some rich guy's plantation. Sticking it to the man is what I do. Sure the angry farmer had a word for us when we escaped the mazes after 5 hrs, but it was some dialect in Hindu and we were too tired and and ignorant to care. We didn't kill any plants but I did have half a mind to get a fire going and brew some fresh kettle, dammit.
Anyway, Munnar was great for further whetting my appetite for Darjeeling - bigger, taller, more tea. We ended up there because the animal reserve we planned to go to was closed due to some "fire" but it was a great detour and a happy end to a rather unpleasing Keralan experience.

One interesting bit of info, Kerala is the only place in the world where socialism is practiced successfully. Yes, the Democratic country of India hosts the happily Socialist state of Kerala, a Socialist government elected Democratically of course...I don't know how it works.

After 24hrs of public buses we ended up in Hampi and I'll write about the samisha downfalls of that, shortly...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Konkan Railway Moves

A Konkan Sight to See

Catching Early Morning Rays

Childhood Memories

Just Peeking

I need a starbucks!

India is incredible! India is Fascinating! India is adventure! Jealous??? .... Don't be :)
India is of course all of these things, and being here feels like one of the greatest times of my life, but like all great things in life there is a price. And it seems only fair and funny to bring all of our family and friends on the inside loop of what that price entails.
So for all you blog fans siting at home wishing you were here with me on this dream vacation in paradise... please read and laugh about the following tortures I have suffered through in order to continue my journey!

The Train:
The 15 hour train ride from Goa to kerala was the inspiration for this blog subject. Sam and I choose to take the 2ND class sleeper train with no A/C. We didn't go for the more expensive a/c version because it was a night train and with the breeze it would probably be too cold. So our seats were not the best but also far from the cheapest version, so I expected something something half decent. Now many of you know, and many of you will learn that I don't do well in confined spaces... anxiety attack here I come! Keep this in mind!!
So first we waited for the train which was late by an hour and some, and then had to run with our huge backpacks and purses/etc over this crazy bridge because the train decided to come into a different track then we were told, DUH - why didn't I just run across all the train tracks instead like all the locals, then I wouldn't miss the train...

Anyways.. after all that I was ready to put down my stuff and relax. Sadly it was not to be because literally the train that we walked into looked like cell block number 5. This is when my Jewish princessness kicked in and literally the sight of this smelly, HOT, small, weird cubicle with half bed half seat devices with one small window and one small fan from 1968 almost brought me to tears. This was to be my home/ trap for the next 15 hours??? And at this moment I thought "I need a f'in STARBUCKS' - Ha! THen I looked over at Sammy and he is smiling away as usual, "Yeah Mish we got the top bunks!" He says with a grin. GREAT! It is true they are considered the best seats because the bunks are actually stacked three on top of each other and the lower ones resemble when the Japanese tourists slept in the armoire in that Seinfeld episode. But still these upper bunks are FAR far far from luxury. HE ;)
I guess they wouldn't be that bad actually if we had a separate place to put our luggage. BUT the sections are SMALL, and worstly the theft on these trains is HIGH. So your bag actually ends up taking up most of your seat while you try to sleep in a ball in the corner holding our valuables in between your thighs to protect them.
Sammy actually constructed this insane bag/chain/ lock/ device that made our bags fairly difficult to get to, but we had heard so many horror stories about tourists loosing their things I could think of nothing else. So I spent the entire night holding my purse with my teeth trying to sleep... I did manage to fall asleep a bit every now and again, but kept being woken up by vivid nightmares or shivers.

We take this malaria medication that has a reputation for messing with your mind and it gives you crazy dreams that feel so real, I basically dreamt the same thing on repeat all night...
"The train is stopped and somehow SaM got himself locked in this weird wooden cage, so I had to drag him around in a cage searching for our stolen passports and bags in a pile of huge piles of garbage."

The shivering came from open door right beside my "bed", Ya they just have wide open doors on the Indian rail way.... ummm Kinda windy??? hehem - dangerous too I guess ;). I shouldn't complain I had a towel for a blanket ;)

Besides that everything was ok I guess... I mean the washroom smelt like death vomit and we were right beside it the whole time, but no biggie ;) I avoided the latrine for as long as I possibly could, but it was at a time of the month where the washroom was not optional... if You know what I mean - it was GROSS :( he!

I guess It sounds like I had a fairly miserable time... but strangely I didn't. Situation like this are fairly normal in this crazy place, and Sammy did buy me a surprise toblerone for breakfast! YEAH - I am so easily amused!
BUt it has to be said it one of many experiences so far that have left we craving a hot shower, the movie channel, and a starbucks!

So next time you are wishing you were here with me, ask yourself this... Could you handle it???
Think mosquito bites galore.... poop pretty much Everywhere, like in every single place, various illnesses... along with just some general craziness that is too special to explain.

BUt you should also remember, this blog is all in good fun, and truly I am having a great time, which of course I was reminded of on our glorious train experience when I met a man from Spain that actually got Malaria here! OUCH.

Well Friends enough fun for now... please stay tuned for more of my complaints and amusements, and I hope you are laughing with me.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mini Taste

Goa Blvd's Expectations

Left Udaipur with all the hopes of a stranded desert rat looking for green and found it in Goa, lots of it, and I'm not planning on seeing another desert anytime soon. Don't get me wrong, there's times when I'm something of a desert homeboy but nowadays I want jungles or mountains - after-all they're the flavor of the month.
During a brief stop-over in Bombay (that's right I'm bringing it back, because in the end Bombay sounds better than Mumbai), a city that wins my merits for being the smoggiest city that I can jive in, we ferried to and through the 3rd century Hindu caves of Elephanta Island, marched around the Gateway to India, marveled and solemnly approached the Taj Mahal Palace, huffed the smog of Chowpatti Beach (you can swim there, if you don't mind the 3 eyed fish), kicked it in Fort area and Colaba, observed the wooden wall shanty of the shittiest place I've ever had to sleep in, got lost with the 2 million people that use Victorian Terminus or VT or CST or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (all the same place with varying degrees of difficulty in pronunciation), breathed the smog as giddy children threw dye on us for Holi, caught a Bollywood spectacle, wined and dined at India's best seafood restaurant - Trishna, gasped the smog while watching some impromptu cricket on the lawn before the near Gothic structures of the Bombay High Court and Rajabai Clock Tower, oh, and washed myself in the dirt that was the air I breathed in for a hot-humid - but wonderfully metropolitan experience. Bombay = best smoggiest city!
Believe it or not, with the price so high and the air so not clean, Misha and I hopped the bus and rode down to Goa. For those with not the opportunity to know this place, it's paradise. Close your eyes...but keep reading?...whisk yourself away in a dream fantasy with beautiful people or long haired ageing hippies, palm fringed beaches, white sand with lapping sea water from the mighty Arabian Sea, 80's in March, bills no more than 15 dollars a day - including food, housing, motorbike rental, drinks, etc., lush hillsides with friendly no hassle people - now open your eyes and know that most likely you have 1 more month of snow and no sign of a vacation. Sorry, needed to do that.
Goa, more specifically, Arambol Beach, is the first place in India that has me thinking about coming back. I'm not going to bore you with the beach bumming days filled with other things that would make you jealous, but I'll quickly elaborate on a few of the outings.
We took a motorcycle out for the 5 or so days we're here and have taken full advantage of it. One day we rode a little north of Arambol and ferried with the bike across to an even more quiet place where we parked at a beach, well known as Paradise Beach, oddly enough. There we cracked jokes with the local coconut cracker and let him crack a coconut for us, then dipped the straw in and drank coconut milk as we walked the idyllic beaches of...Paradise Beach...hmmmm, delicious. Even here I had the opportunity to be a hero. While sipping c-milk from our coconut I noticed a lone Goan riding his motorbike on the beach, something I thought unnecessarily disturbing to my Paradise experience, of course I found it a tad amusing when he stalled his bike and the tide came in. I watched for a minute as he helplessly dug his bike deeper into the sand, almost to make it out, then get smacked by the latest round of waves. I don't know what adrenaline came to me, perhaps the raw power of coconut milk, but I became inspired to help the man. I ran through the waves, to the poor Goan holding dearly to his bike, then lifted as he rev'd, lifted more as he rev'd, felt the wet sand smacking me in the legs as the rear wheel turned, then he was free - pretty much like saving a beached whale and it felt damn good to once again be known throughout this world as a hero. Misha thought so and that smiling biking Goan thought so too...coconut.
Went on a road trip to a small town named Chandor. It took 3 hours and I got a ticket for not wearing a helmet. I guess India does have laws. In my defense, one must wear a helmet only on highways in Goa it seems, and I don't have a helmet. Of course the officer started mentioning something of some other charge for not having an "international license"...hmmm what's that sir? say Rs 100 for not wearing the helmet and how much?...seriously why are you mumbling?... how many rupees?... Rs 2000!?!?!?....what sir?... me give you Rs 500 and you'll let it slide...oh so very kind. India doesn't require an "international license". That cop got a blackmailed pay raise. But, I breath better knowing that India in the end really doesn't seem to have any laws (joking, I don't want to curse myself). Moving passed this unfortunate case of power abuse, Chandor was hot-humid but crazily awesome. Misha picked this place because there are two ageing mansions that the owners love to give tours of. These once proud homes were owned by the wealthy Braganza and Fernandes families (very Indian sounding, give me a second), but now stand as a shells to a once rich past (pictures later). Lengthy descriptions aside, Misha and I thought that thinking of Dicken's, Great Expectations, or Billy Wilder's, Sunset Blvd, should put you so near what needs to be seen.
Quickly why the names above. Goa was and still holds a great deal of Portuguese influences, namely the architecture is something like Spanish Villa's with neon-pastel paint schemes with those red tile roofs, oh, and crosses...crosses everywhere. Goa is distinctly Christian, cows on the menu. Read about it if you want more.
So life is great. We've booked tickets to Kerala (farther south) in two days time and look forward to seeing it all, or seeing some of it. There's more to tell of Goa, and don't worry you'll hear it, but it's 9 pm and dinner is calling then the party, because it's a paradise out there and who doesn't want to party the night away on a beach with moon's shadowed palms.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Camel 101?

End Our Desert Days

After 3 days and 2 nights in the depths of the rough and tumble world of the Thar Desert, we thought a shower and some nice food would do the trick to reassimilate to the metropolitan culture of Jaisalmer. I may be the first to refer to the place as metropolitan but it's got a huge fort and plenty of places to relax in and well anything is metropolitan to the desert.
The camel safari was nice, 'cept for the lower body pain endured. We rode through small villages within 30km of Jaisalmer and out to some nice sand dunes near enough to the Pakistani border to see it. The wildlife was scarce but the stock animals were not; that is plenty of cows, goats, sheep, and camels. While running the camels in the early morning of the 3rd day, we spotted some gazelle running anf jumping. Sadly, no tigers, though most tiger preservation NGO's admit that there quite possibly aren't tigers in Rajasthan anymore so we weren't expecting any miracles.
At 3pm of March 7th we caught the night bus to Udaipur. Due to last minute planning we hadn't the option to get a sleeper, so we were stuck sitting upright on the bumpy road to Udaipur from Jaisalmer for 14 hrs. It wasn't the worst experience of our lives and we managed to get some sleep amid the always chaotic bus aisles of India.
Udaipur, the City of the Lakes, is pure beauty. Nestled within the rising southern desert hills of Rajasthan, it's lakes relfect the regality of an empire lost centuries ago. Palaces, built by eager Maharajas rich from trade, line the lapping but often stagnant water collected from the monsoon season. The City Palace, still the residence of the current Maharaja, is the largest in Rajasthan - it's walls reaching 244 m. Inside is a museum dedicated to the plentiful tigers and leopards hunted, wars won, and mighty Maharajas of the south that bravely stemmed Mughal control. The city is brimming with charm and perfect for sunset.
Sitting atop a nearby peak is the Monsoon Palace. The palace was built as a retreat during the highwaters of the monsoon season and often used by Maharajas to relax in and hunt big cats along the countryside. Today it is widely used by tourists and locals alike to soak up a sunset that rivals any other.
Because time is short and there are places we desire to see more of, today, we take our leave of Udaipur. Yes, a short 1.5 days, but it is required. Making our decision even harder is, Holi, the Hindu holiday that has paint and dye thrown on everything and everyone. Udaipur promises to be a perfect place for the celebration, alas it is not to be. It should be mentioned that children in Jaisalmer jumper the gun a couple of days and squirted dye on us before we left for Udaipur so we can say we did participate a bit.
At 3pm we catch the bus to Mumbai, where we'll hit up Bollywood and skip town as soon as possible to find those beaches in magical Goa...

Jaipurian Thievery

A bit old, but a bit entertaining.

Friday, March 6, 2009

3 Desert Days

A Friendly Face

Friendly Faces

Not So Friendly

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lengthy Delays in Pushkar

When you're on the road fellow travelers that have gone the circuit or just know a little bit more than you promise you that you will find a place that will capture your heart and mind. Pushkar didn't make the initial cut for us in the planning stages of the trip, but enough people were puzzled by our inherent lack of interest in it that we agreed upon a short two day detour. Of course that was six days ago and only today have we booked the sleeper bus to Jaiselmar (leaving at 10pm, 11hr trip). Mind you this quiet holy place busy with temples, cows, and a lake that Lonely Planet says "is magnetic" though the pond is lackluster for being the holder of Ghandi's ashes...holy none-the-less...I suppose, doesn't offer much beyond rest and a surprisingly low amount of hassle. Yes, in a country of 1.3 billion people, Pushkar sets itself aside as an oasis of relative quiet. That doesn't stop the impromptu all night prayer sessions or brilliant displays of wedding processions or dogs that cannot stop fighting or coughers that can't stop coughing, but hey it's an oasis of calm.
To be honest Misha and I didn't stay here 6 days because we loved it, though we certainly enjoyed Pushkar. We stayed the fifth day to let Misha's plague die down then we stayed the sixth day to let me enjoy my first bout of food poisoning! That's right I'm now official. I can't tell you what did it for sure but I'd venture to say the kidney beans in that Dal I had the other night did the trick, seeing as they kept visiting me yesterday. TIP: It is recommended to eat at smaller guest houses, because it is common for larger establishments to pre-cook their food in anticipation of larger audiences. Lesson learned? We'll see. Seriously puking is all part of the adventure.
When we first arrived in Pushkar we stayed at the Seventh Sea. It's a little off the main bazaar and nothing special. It was nice but after two days we decided to cut our budget of Rs 150 to Rs 100 a night. The place we ended up was fantastic and by far the greatest guest house I have ever stayed at. The Milk Man.
The story goes that the father of this family run guest house, started off as Pushkar's hardworking milk man. Due to some illness the doctor told him he should no longer put in the time as a milk man. So he opened a guest house with a name not too familiar to the guest house scene but one quite familiar to him.
The place is filled to the brim with colorful walls, lush plant life, and brilliant Pushkarian paintings. The rooftop is grass with hammocks swinging from rafters and beds lying in umbrella'd shadow. Paradise. The restaurant was great. Try the Paneer Pasanda!
Misha told you of the motorcycling.

Illnesses aside, the lengthened stay in Pushkar was nothing regrettable. We are looking forward to greater adventures and are that much more prepared after lengthy rests all around. I bought a custom wool pullover in anticipation for a 3-4 day camel safari out of Jaiselmar where the desert nights guarantee (yes, once again I needed to spell check guarantee) chills. It was 8 dollars...

It's easiest to conclude with sunset.


ps. everyone gets delayed in Pushkar