Kolkata, Mamalapuram, Pondicherry, Chennai

Kolkata, India
December 25th – 29th 2010

Spent Xmas here. Fell slightly sick on Xmas day itself. Not much to do except wait for my flight out to Chennai. Played some pick-up soccer in a field with trash everywhere. Went to visit the Mother Theresa House for the Dying and Destitute but it was closed to visitors.

Kolkata Pics

TAMIL NADU

Mamalapuram
December 30th – January 1st 2010

Charming little beach-side village. Was a nice place to walk on the beach during sunrise and sunsets. The Shore Temple was overrated but I didn’t pay to see it since I could see it from the beach. Ate some seafood from a particular restaurant and had to throw up in the middle of the night. That didn’t stop me from going back to eat something else since it was next door to an internet café which I was stealing wifi from. Went to the beach late at night on New Year’s Eve to see fireworks. Rock statue carvings are huge here but sometimes I wonder how all the shops stay in business.

Mamalapuram Pics

Pondicherry
January 2nd – 3rd 2010

I didn’t like this city. The seaside was crowded with a zillion Indians ranging from tourists to street vendors. It was also filthy. I thought there would be more charm since this was a former French colony but I was wrong.

Pondy Pics

Chennai
January 4th – 8th 2010

Attended the ATP Chennai Open (pro tennis event). The Indian crowds are not very classy spectators, constantly walking around, whistling, and screaming during points. They even got a player so upset he looked like he wanted to throw the match for a moment but he’s a pro and he only semi-gave-up. Had some of the best chicken biryani in India at a place called ‘Tandoori Nights’ which is what I’ll call my nightclub if I open one. My appetite for Indian food has returned and I have no idea why, after often avoiding it the past 2-3 weeks.

Bodhgaya, India

Bodhgaya, India
December 23rd – 24th 2010

When I was a kid, I used to have a set of encyclopedias I loved to read. And in one of them, there was a story of Buddha and a picture of a statue of Buddha being enlightened under the Bodhi tree. I never thought the day would come I would actually be there, the place where he was enlightened, seeing the Bodhi tree which he sat under.

Only a 4-hour train ride from Varanasi, I stopped by Gaya before taking a rickshaw to Bodhgaya. The Mahabodhi Temple complex was filled with many Buddhists from all walks of life: orientals, whites, and Indians, some monks, some not. There was some sort of important figure from the Buddhist religion visiting and giving a lecture (not sure what language) and this attracted many people here at this time. And I guess this was the Buddhist version of Christmas.


(Mahabodhi Temple.)


(Bodhi tree where Buddha was enlightened.)

The Bodhi tree, I read later, is an off-shoot of the original. I was a bit disappointed but as this tree was grown from a portion of the original and is thus, a direct descendent of it, that’s not too bad. Lots of people were sitting around it in prayer or meditation.

p/s : A monkey tried to pee on me at the train station. Sneaky.

Random Images:

More Bodhgaya Pics

Varanasi, India

Varanasi, India
December 19th – 21st 2010

“Burning is learning. Cremation is education.” – unknown

One of the oldest cities in the world and one of the most popular destinations in India, Varanasi did not disappoint when it came to the topic of life and death, especially the latter. All Hindus try to come here to die so they can achieve “moksha”, basically the release from the never-ending cycle of reincarnation.




(The Ganges and the ghats.)


(Not sure what this is supposed to be…)


(Last one in is a rotten egg!)


(Doing laundry at sundown.)


(You can’t help but get a sense of spirituality.)


(The ghats at 6 am.)


(Temple dedicated to Durga, one of those blood-thirsty goddesses.)


(Mughal-style hand-loomed craft.)


(Lots of detailed manual work involved.)


(Drying cow-dung patties on walls. They’ll be used for cooking fuel.)


(Don’t mess with this little guy.)


(Indian men LOVE this stuff. Produces red spit. And Indians love spitting.)


(Another popular chew that results in lots of spit.)

I spent a better part of my first day walking around and exploring the area around the main ghat beside the Ganges. The next morning, I took an early morning tour organized by my guesthouse, with just me and some German guy as the only participants. We were supposed to take a boat-ride on the Ganges to see the sunrise but because of the terrorist attack in Varanasi a few weeks back, it caused some route bans for the boatmen, who then went on strike, starting the day I arrived. So no boat-ride so instead, we sat on the steps at the ghats, sipping hot “chai” (tea) and watched the morning activities of locals, be it burning butter lamps at particular holy locations along the ghats, taking morning baths or doing laundry in the Ganges river. We then took an unimpressive tour of several temples in Varanasi but once you’ve visited as many temples in India as I have, nothing really stands out anymore.

The main attraction in the city, for me at least, were the ghats, especially the crematory ghats, where the dead are brought, wrapped in fancy-looking stuff, to be washed by the water of the Ganges, and then burned on wood for hours until they turn to ashes. Tino (the German guy) and I went to the Manakarnika Ghat and were met by a young kid, a tout in the making, who took us up to a spot which had great views of the whole area. Our guesthouse had warned us about these touts and the hospices which had “old and dying people” who would request donations to help out with their funeral costs. Supposedly, it was all a scam. Tino and I were wary of everything these touts were saying. The kid was telling us all about the processes involved in the burnings but was then replaced by an older “holy-man”, who looked very high, who repeated everything the kid said. I heard the phrase “Burning is learning. Cremation is education” at least 3 times. It was great to watch everything happening while the touts explained everything but after a while, I wanted to watch in peaceful silence and these touts wouldn’t shut up and they would hang onto you like leeches, waiting for a chance at the end to request “donations to the dying”, which they did. They even brought in a “dying” old man to ask for it, it was so lame. But luckily for us, we got off real cheap, at least a lot cheaper than I thought. The “holy man” and “dying old man” got off our backs and left but the 14-year old kid kept insisting we visit a silk shop he works for later which we declined and he got pissed off when the money we wanted to tip him was not enough. So we gave him nothing.


(The best I could do without being caught.)

Let me explain what I observed at Manakarnika. There are many people at the ghats; family and friends, onlookers, tourists, and those who work there (The “Untouchables” of the caste system, there are those who shift wood around on the bodies and there are those who stand in the water who help throw water on the bodies). There are big boats which had huge piles of different kinds of burning wood on them; some were the cheap kind, some were the more fragrant expensive kind which only the richer families could afford. There are smaller boats which ferried bodies of dead people who can’t be burned (holy men, pregnant women, kids, and lepers) to be thrown off in the middle of the Ganges. (Of course, they are wrapped up properly and weighted down although there are many pictures of bodies floating in the Ganges, a natural result of decomposing bodies which bloat and float up later.) There were several crematory spots in the compound and when a body finishes burning, they collect the ashes and then load up another body on it. Sometimes, the hip bone doesn’t burn so they pick it up but I forgot what they do with it. Wood is expensive so the rich can afford to have enough wood to cover up the bodies but I saw a body which was uncovered and had only a little wood on it being burnt. It’s a bit weird to see a person transform from flesh to ashes.

On average, about 600 people die a day and are brought here to be burned, rain or shine. I asked the “holy man” how they could burn bodies in the rain and he said that the bodies were rubbed in fat and oils which allowed the burning. Plus, the fire, which legend has it came from Shiva (god of destruction), is ever-burning and the original flame from 2000 years ago (or whatever it was) has never burnt out since.

Photography is not allowed at the crematory ghats (even having a camera out can get you in trouble as I’ve seen tourists get into massive arguments with locals and got chased away) and with all the touts hanging around us, we didn’t have a chance to sneak any shots in. Since I know the area a bit better now, I decided to return the next day to take a few sneaky shots. I got near the viewing location from the previous day before a few touts, like predatory sharks, sniffed me out and came to me to bring me around but I had to fend them off pretty hard. I somehow managed to get to the viewing location and was relieved to see some tourists up there as well, occupying the attentions of the touts with them. Luckily, the touts left with the tourists, leaving me alone. I took out my camera and got off a few quick shots before I thought I heard someone from below call out to me for having a camera visible so I quickly got out of there and got back into the mazy back alleys. Mission accomplished.

Random Shots:


(Want to know why sometimes I’m scared of eating in India? This is how some places do dishes.)


(More goat couture. Lots of them around. Maybe Macy’s was having a sale.)


(Boat-maker hard at work.)


(A game of cricket.)

More Varanasi Pics.

Thoughts while on train from Delhi to Gorakphur as I travel to Nepal.

December 9th 2010

As I lay on my 312-rupee sleeper bunk in a crowded train car, I had some thoughts about my journey through India so far. Andy Mesa, one of my readers, put it best: Most travelers to India have a love/hate relationship with it. I am leaning more toward “hate” than “love”.

As I got on this particular train, the aisles were packed with people who have no idea how to coordinate with each other. It’s chaotic. When you ask (and hand signal) someone (and them not understanding English) to stand in an open area so you can get past, they will press themselves against the wall to their right, giving you half an aisle to get through, which isn’t easy when you have a backpack on your back and a daypack on your front, when instead, they could’ve stepped into the space to their left, leaving the entire aisle clear. I get irritated and in my mind, insult their intelligence, which is not right of me but in my moment of irritation, that’s what I felt.

As the trains are usually crowded and chaotic, I constantly check my pockets to make sure my wallet and camera are there. I haven’t had any problems through my travels so far but this time, moving through the packed aisle, I felt my pocket lighter. Luckily for me, I had instantly felt it and turned around and shouted at one of the young Indians who squeezed past me. He instantly raised his hands and I heard my camera fall onto the ground. I picked it up, gave him a look, and left. Not 10 seconds later, another Indian man took hold of him and called out for the police because the pickpocket had lifted a cell-phone from someone. Oh yeah, I tore a hole in my pants, in the crotch area, while overstretching taking a big step to get over some bags.

When I got to my bunk and loaded up my bags and myself on it, I realized something; it smelled really funky. I don’t know if it’s food or B.O. Is it bad that I couldn’t tell the difference between the smell of Indian food or B.O.? It was probably something else though.

Anyway, coming back to my love/hate relationship with India. Some of you may be wondering why I am traveling through India if I don’t “love” it. It’s a journey. And the journey must be undertaken to reach the destinations. Some say that things “are about the journey and not the destination” but in the case of my Indian travels, the desire to see the destinations help me to get through the long and torturous journeys. (Some kid on an adjacent bunk just looked at me funny as I sniffed my shoes to check if the funky smell was coming from ME…)

New Delhi – Part Two

Delhi, India
Part Deux
December 7th – 9th 2010

What have I learned about bus rides in India? Avoid them whenever possible.

I specifically told the bus-booking service I did NOT want a window seat. If anyone here remembers, I had encounters with small roaches along the walls of the bus during my Aurangabad to Ahmedabad journey on a “luxury” bus.

This “deluxe” bus was packed and overbooked, as usual. It was Africa all over again. The luggage compartment was full with who knows what so everyone had to bring their luggage on board. So our bags filled the aisles and people with no seats had to sit on the luggage. My neighbor who had the window seat seemed like a friendly guy although he was a bit strange. He shook my hand and said something which I didn’t quite understand, something about him being a driver.

Anyway, I go to sleep, hoping for the projected 8-10 hour journey to pass by quickly. I wake up in the middle of the night, my right pant leg pretty damp. I immediately had a horrible thought. No, I didn’t pee my pants. Rather, I thought my neighbor did, and it “connected” with me through the seats. Our seats were tight too so when we were asleep, our legs were in close proximity, and probably even touching.

So I pull out my headlamp from my bag, slowly shine the light over to my neighbor’s pants and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. His crotch area was wet and so were insides of his pant legs, as if he peed in his pants. You can tell by the darker shade of the peed-on areas. Earlier that night, the bus stopped for a bathroom break and he was one of the last ones out to pee but I don’t think he got to go because the bus started right back up really quickly. And now, he probably decided “Fuck it, I’m Indian and this in India, I’m going to pee in my pants in the bus.” (Hey, I know how much it hurts to hold your pee in during long journeys as I had the same experience in Morocco, so these days before long journeys on buses, I don’t drink much before-hand.)

I don’t call him out on it because I didn’t want to humiliate him. Or maybe I’ve been conditioned to think “Hey, it’s India, shit (or pee) happens”. I distance myself from him as much as I could that night, allowing half my ass to hang off my seat. Hours later, the moment my seat neighbors in front got out of the bus, I moved and got to knock off a couple hours of sleep.

A few hours later, Mr Pants-Pee-er (PP) starts doing a Hindi version of Tourette’s. He was literally shouting some random Hindi. I turned around and he looked half-asleep. Was he drunk? I noticed he was drinking *something* when I was still his neighbor. The Tourette’s went on for an hour and no one in the bus did or said anything to him so I turned around and asked him if he was ok. The guy, although half his eyelids were open and shouting random Hindi, was non-responsive to my enquiries. I was quite afraid that he shit his pants and he was so embarrassed he was shouting “FUCK MY LIFE!” in Hindi. No, I don’t know what he said but that’s what I would’ve screamed if I shit my pants.

When in India, do as the Indians do; Nothing, which is what I did. I just sat there, tried to go back to sleep, and Mr PP eventually fell back asleep. When we got to Delhi, I got out of that bus as fast as I could. I’d say it was a good day to do laundry.

Amritsar, Punjab, India

Amritsar, Haryana & Punjab
December 5th – 6th 2010

From McLeod Ganj, I had to take a 3.5 hour bus to Pathankot to catch a 3-hour bus to Amritsar where the famous Golden Temple was located. The Golden Temple is the Mecca of the Sikh faith; every Sikh tries to make the pilgrimage here once in their lifetime.


(Man bathing in the holy waters.)


(Temple guards.)


(Offerings.)


(On the causeway to GT.)

Although not much is worth mentioning about the city of Amritsar itself besides that it’s quite polluted and chaotic, the Golden Temple was a whole different experience. Walking into the compound with my bandanna on my head and shoes deposited at the front counters, I was blown away by the inside complex. There is a huge holy “nectar” pool in the middle, filled with beautiful giant carp and where people take turns to wash in (men will strip down to their underwear and get in the water; women just stand near the surface fully clothed). There are loud speakers playing some groovy Sikh music that’s played live by 3 men inside the GT. In the middle of the pool, lay the GT, connected to the outer edge of the complex by a causeway. I had to stand in line for about an hour to get into the GT and check it out. No picture-taking is allowed inside the temple so I’m afraid I cannot show it to you all. There are 3 guys (always 3 guys, even in the other Sikh temple I visited) playing and singing some calming Sikh prayer music while the main-man, the guru, is in the middle, reading what I think is the holy Sikh scriptures. Sikhs gather around in the temple, sitting down here and there, offering their gifts and donations before heading out of the temple to the holy pool and taking a sip of the water (delicious carp juice).

Upon walking back across the causeway and exiting, I am given a glob of oily peanut brittle which I receive with both hands and head bowed, as is the custom, which I later eat. I read that people can go to the complex kitchens and get fed free food (the Sikhs believe in feeding everyone) but I didn’t go. I really enjoyed visiting the GT.

More Amritsar Pics

McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh
December 3rd – 4th 2010

BEWARE OF ESSAY.

My bus from Shimla was supposed to be a deluxe. It was supposed to take 10 hours to get to Dharamsala. My plan was to sleep through the journey on a reclining chair, in the warmth of a bus, and arrive around 7 – 8 am, when most places are starting to open. Of course, instead of being surprised by a better bus and being on time as planned, I got a piece of junk (I knew it!) with leaky windows that can’t stay closed AND arrived 2 hours ahead of schedule, which might sound ideal except that means I arrive at 5 am in the freezing cold, with almost every hotel and guesthouse closed.

The journey was a lot of fun. Like I said, leaky windows. The roads are extremely bumpy (it’s the highlands, can’t expect a smooth ride). Being a piece of junk with no heater, you’d hope the windows had clasps so they could stay locked. But a few didn’t and even after you shut them tight, the bumpy journey causes it to slowly open itself again, allowing the cold air to fill the bus. Most people on the bus had thick, big shawls that served like a giant cocoon blanket. I had 4 layers on top (2 thermals, 1 long sleeve, 1 micro fleece) and 2 layers at the bottom (1 thermal, 1 pants). It did little to keep me warm. Did I mention how much I hate freezing weather? I stayed up most of the night, walking around the bus closing leaky windows. People were asleep and I was the only one who seemed affected. In a way, I guess my prayers for a shorter journey DID come true. Of course, I really had hoped for 24-hour reception at guesthouses in McLeod Ganj (the area about 30 mins above Dharamsala, where everyone goes). In India, I haven’t made reservations because most of the time, I could get a room with no problems but then again, those cities usually had some places with 24-hour reception.

I got dumped by the taxi outside the guesthouse I wanted to stay at. Everything on the street was closed and eventhough the taxi driver tried to help me wake someone (anyone) up, there was no response. I thanked the driver and he left. The front gate of this small guesthouse was open so I walked inside and was greeted by a hall with rooms but they all seemed occupied. I climbed up the stairs to the very top of the place, found one room, thought it was the guy who ran the place, knocked on the door, made a dog bark a lot, was greeted by a sleepy-looking woman, who then told me the owner was downstairs, at the very bottom. So back down I went. The area to where the owner sleeps was locked. I tried calling out but after a few attempts, I gave up. I walked back into the narrow and dimly-lit hallway, cold and unsure of what to do. Everything everywhere seemed closed. I thought about sleeping on the stairs since it’s only about 2-3 hours before people start to wake up. But it was so cold. I walked outside and up and down the street. Luckily for me, a white guy was walking around (at 5 am?!) and he wanted to offer me a place to stay (he was living there for a while I think?) but it didn’t look very convenient to oblige as he said he was walking to the Buddhist temple for a teaching (I think by the Dalai Lama himself? Not sure.). As he would have to walk way back to where he stays, and perhaps delaying his arrival to the teaching, I didn’t want to get in his way so I declined. He then suggested I try the ‘Yellow Guesthouse’ because there was some activity there. So I did. There was a sleepy-looking fellow who heard me call out and let me in. He said there was a room available but it was recently vacated (no doubt by the people who made him wake up at an ungodly hour to let them out) and was messy. I asked if I could just sit in the room for 2 hours, just enough time for places of business to open and I can go find other guesthouses but he refused unless I pay the room rate, which was a double room which meant it cost more. I was just amazed at how much of an asshole he was. It’s cold outside, I don’t have anywhere to go, and he wouldn’t even allow me to sit in an occupied room for 2 hours? It’s not like he was cleaning it, it was just empty. Failing to convince him, I left into the darkness again. I walked toward the main square this time and there were a few people awake at this hour, just hanging around. Some were taxi drivers, some were loiterers (or insomniacs). One guy realized my situation and told me he knew where I could stay. In my head, I immediately thought he was a tout. Meaning the place I would be staying at, probably had to jack up their rates to cover his commission. Shit! I don’t know why I was stubborn. As much as I hate being taken advantage of, I was in quite a pickle. I refused and walked around like a dumb-ass for a little while more before realizing, screw it, I’ll just pay up since the situation is what it is. So I went back to the main square, found the guy, and he brought me to a guesthouse about 5 minutes away. Got me a room which had a hot shower and TV. He then told me he actually works for the guesthouse. That was a relief. He even offered me a slightly discounted rate. I was too tired at this point so I accepted since it seemed like a good deal.

The bed was cold as hell. The covers did not help. I struggled mightily to sleep, which I did, and before I knew it, it was 9 am. I woke up, found out the bed was DAMP (no I did not pee on it but now I know why it was so bloody cold), took a hot shower, then put on all my layers again, and went to see Parvin, the guy who brought me there. I found out the “deal” he gave me was for one night’s stay, which I used up for those few hours I was there. If I wanted to stay that very night, I would have to pay AGAIN. WTF, I arrived on December 3rd 5 am. The fee I’m paying covers the whole day AND night of December 3rd does it not? Isn’t 5 am, technically, the morning of December 3rd? Apparently if you arrive at 8 am, then the math works out properly. Any time before, counts as the previous night, even for 2 hours. Basically, what it boils down to is this: If you sleep in the bed, it counts as one night.

I also found out the bed was damp because they recently washed the mattress (!) and the air is so cold that air-drying doesn’t quite dry anything. Fine, I laid the bed cover down, told him I’d sleep on that, and asked for a thick comforter, which he provided. As for the fee, screw it, it’s all right, I’ll just pay up. He did give me another slight discount for the next night. My guess is, he felt bad about charging me for a whole day when I used the room for 2-3 hours.

At night, McLeod Ganj was a bit terrifying. Everything’s closed, and it’s cold and dark with few street lights. But during the day, the place is transformed. It’s bustling, people are out and about, shops are open, people are eating breakfast, there’s some traffic on those narrow streets, and street stall shopkeepers are lining up their wares. I walked up the hill toward the main square and was immediately greeted by a beautiful view of the Himalayas. I immediately knew I was going to like the place.


(A Buddhist temple in the middle of town.)


(Prayer wheels at the pink temple.)


(Prayer flags are everywhere in “Little Tibet”.)


(A closer look at the prayer flags. That’s Lung-ta, the Wind Horse.)

McLeod Ganj is where the Tibetan Buddhist exiles, including the Dalai Lama, came in the late fifties. It’s a whole new world compared to other parts of India. There are many monks with their buzzed heads and in their red and yellow monk uniforms. There’s a mix of oriental looking Asians (the Tibetans), black Indians, and foreigners.

There’s also a huge mix of food choices there. There are small joints for Italian, Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and supposedly, even Israeli. I ate Italian for brunch at the guesthouse whose hallway I sat and freezed by butt off the previous night. They run a popular restaurant in addition to the guesthouse. They make their own pasta and the spaghetti carbonara which I had was pretty darn good. Food was cheap and the view from the restaurant was great too. Before you all think “Wow, Italian?! Can I get some gnocchi and brick-oven-baked pizza and some red wine?”, it’s really a Tibetalian restaurant. Meaning, it’s not like any Italian restaurant found in the west. It’s just a Tibetan restaurant that serves, among other things, Italian food, as do most of the other restaurants in McLeod Ganj.


(Grilling some goat’s legs? BARF.)


(Very delicious Japanese meal.)


(Person selling ‘momos’.)


(Tibetan dish called ‘Tenthuk’. Good stuff.)

Since we’re on the topic of food and restaurants, there’s a restaurant down the street from where I’m staying called ‘Lung Ta’, Tibetan for ‘Wind horses’, seen on many prayer flags. Anyway, that place serves the most amazing Japanese food. It’s really authentic. I had a set meal of fried tofu, rice, miso soup, some salad, and veggie and I swear, it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had on my travels, top 10 at least. I don’t know if it’s the food, or it’s because the restaurant had a unique charm or the fact that all the profits from the place go toward aiding Tibetan political prisoners, but I liked it very much. Good food, good service, good cause.

And speaking of political prisoners, ever heard of the Panchen Lama? Everyone knows the Dalai Lama but little is known (at least to me) of the Panchen Lama. One day, as I walked toward the main Buddhist temple, I happened across a poster describing what the Chinese did to the Panchen Lama, who’s the 2nd most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism. He was kidnapped as a kid and never heard from again. Tibetans take this very seriously, since they believe the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama are god-kings.


(Yellow sect monks praying.)


(Buddhists from foreign countries in prayer.)


(The shoes monks wear.)


(How the prayer wheels work.)


(The Dalai Lama’s residence.)

The Buddhist temple of Tsuglagkhang was a whole new experience. As spiritual as McLeod Ganj felt, walking into the complex was extra spiritual. The temple upstairs was filled with monks praying and chanting together. Outside of the small prayer place, there were several Buddhist foreigners doing their own prayer Buddhist prayer rituals as well. Some were holding prayer beads, some were going up and down on a wooden board, and some just sat and quietly contemplated and observed. What was interesting was the shoes the monks wore. Everyone may notice their red/yellow clothes but if you look at the shoes they wear, it’s very normal. They are pretty much wearing what foreigners wear. Not the little black cloth shoes I pictured which the Shaolin monks wore (‘kung fu shoes’). I bet the Dalai Lama rocks a pair of Jordans.

I’m burnt out with museums. I’m so selective of them I almost never visit them these days. But I was so stoked about the Tibetan Museum. I read everything they had displayed, looked at every picture and item they had, took my time in there instead of rushing out. I was so interested to learn about the struggles of the Tibetans after what the Chinese did. I couldn’t believe the Chinese destroyed so many monasteries and temples and scriptures. They even wore holy Tibetan scriptures on the soles of their shoes! I couldn’t help but feel sympathy toward the Tibetans and some anger at the Chinese.

BTW, I didn’t get to meet the Dalai Lama. Once in a while, he meets a public audience and shakes hundreds of hands. Once in a while, he holds teaching sessions. And lots of times, people just don’t get to meet him.


(People at Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts rehearsing some beautiful Tibetan songs.)


(The view during my trek to find the TCV.)


(Staff from TCV playing cricket…)


(…as some of the orphans watch.)


(Some orphans from the TCV who like their picture taken.)


(Kids hanging out.)

I did spend my first afternoon eager to sample the Tibetan music/dance. I went to find the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts but was informed that the performers were out of town. I walked another 30-40 minutes uphill to Dharamkot to try to find the Tibetan Children’s Village, an orphanage. It was an interesting trek to find it as I had to walk through some hiking paths. It was almost like an Indiana Jones moment, finding the “lost city”. I couldn’t help but feel sad when I sat and watched the children. It was a Saturday so they weren’t in school. They were hanging out with their friends, playing. Some were doing homework in the sun. I didn’t quite know how to make them feel comfortable around me, as I had lots of questions to ask them about life there. I tried to get some of them in a picture but most were just shy. But I learned later that they learned English in school. I should’ve known, as a lot of signs around the giant orphanage complex were in English.

I didn’t want to stay yet another night in the freezing highland so the next afternoon, I took a bus and got out of there. I would’ve loved to stay another week or two but not in this weather. Maybe next time, during the middle of the year, I will pay another visit to spiritual, beautiful, and inspiring McLeod Ganj. It’s really easy to fall in love with the place.

McLeod Ganj Pics

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
December 1st – 3rd 2010

I’ve never seen a torn-up dead body before. Until today.

Leaving my guesthouse around 5 am, I took an auto-rickshaw to a train station that had my train to Kalka, which would take around 5.5 hours. From Kalka, I would take a ‘toy-train’ to Shimla, which is about 2000 m above sea level, another 5 hours.


(“Toy train” to Shimla from Kalka. Named so because it’s skinny and really like a “toy”.)

The journey was pretty smooth 4 hours when we hit a bump in the road. The train stopped and it turned out, the engine had problems so we had to go back to the previous station and swap the lead car. We were back on the road again after a 1.5 hour delay. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to catch my 12:10 pm train to Shimla but a passenger assured me the trains are linked; if the first train is delayed, so will the second train.

At the Chandigargh station however, our train stopped again. After another delay, I asked a fellow passenger what was going on, having seen her get off and get back on the train. She told me a few cars down, there was a dead body. Someone had apparently tried to get off the train while it was moving, an all too common occurrence in India. He fell into the crack onto the tracks where the train ran over him, severing his arms and legs. Apparently he was still alive, crying for help, but no one helped him. He died from his injuries. I went to see the body. It was gruesome. His left arm was broken and twisted in a sick angle. His right arm and his legs were in pieces. I saw bone. I was a little shocked. I always thought if I came across any gruesome scenes like this, I’d just imagine it was a movie — but it’s really not the same. It’s a senseless way to die.

Click HERE if you want to see the body.

Arrived in Kalka but thought I was going to miss the ‘toy-train’ but it was still there, waiting for our train to arrive. The train track is a UNESCO World Heritage item. It took another 6 hours to get to Shimla. The view was scenic but the route was littered with trash thrown by people from the trains. There were plenty of homes along the hill-slopes and multitudes of pine trees. We rose and rose in altitude, going to about 2000+ meters above sea level. It was dark by the time we arrived and very, very cold, practically near freezing. I took a pre-paid taxi to the bottom of the city elevator, and then took the elevator up to the main streets of Shimla. After finding the YMCA and getting a room, I took a nice, hot shower and went to get dinner.


(The Himalayas in the background.)


(A typical alley in Shimla, full of shops. Many levels.)


(Porters doing the heavy work. Most tourists hire porters to carry their stuff to the top because it’s a steep climb.)


(Christ Church. Nothing special but it’s a landmark here so I’m posting it up anyway.)

The next day, I wandered the shop-lined streets, stopping by to get some gloves and a beanie. I was pretty sure it would be useful for Dharamsala, which had similar temperatures, as well as Nepal. Not much to do in Shimla besides wandering. I wasn’t interested in going on organized treks in areas near Shimla, nor was I interested in climbing up to Jakhu Temple that day. Nick-named the ‘monkey temple’, Jakhu Temple is populated with many mischievous monkeys, ready to snatch your food or bags if you don’t pay attention. In fact, around Shimla, it’s very common to see monkeys everywhere.


(Giant Hanuman. Read about its legend here.)


(Team work.)


(Himalayas in the distance.)


(Monkey doing some dumpster diving…)


(Success! He scored some chapati. All in a day’s work.)

I did end up climbing Jakhu. It was indeed, steep. There’s a sign board at the foot of the hill that said if anyone “Under 30 years old” could get to the top in under 30 minutes, they are “Absolutely fit”. I hit the 30 minute mark, barely. I felt quite proud, as borderline as my time was. Anyway, at the top, there’s a huge orange statue of Hanuman, the monkey god. From afar, I thought it was a giant Buddha statue but it wasn’t. There were plenty of monkeys, as expected. It was nice to just wander around at the top but I thought the view would be better. There were just too many trees in the way.


(Inside an Indian restaurant/coffee house.)


(I wanted to watch Chronicles of Narnia when it came out (I was uh…bored…) but look at all the movie posters of a Hindi movie…”OBAMA”)

More Shimla Pics

New Delhi, India

Delhi, India

November 25th – 30th 2010

Notes:

  • Trash everywhere, especially on outskirts. The colors from trash colored the landscape. Lots of pigs running around in the trash.

  • Had steak and eggs with a Coke for Thanksgiving. Cut of steak was like the one found in pot roast. Not the greatest but it’ll do. I tried to keep it as American as possible.
  • If you buy street food, it most likely will come on a plate that’s lined with newspaper. I guess ink makes a good seasoning.
  • Good job Mr. Vegetable Seller. Sell those vegetables right outside a public restroom.
  • Lots of Asian looking Indians here in Delhi, supposedly from North-east India. They are discriminated against, especially the girls. That’s what I read in the papers. Also got a number of Nepalese here.

(Main Bazaar street in Paharganj.)

  • It feels good to do absolutely nothing sometimes. Struggling to find motivation to go sightseeing but nothing’s overwhelmingly interesting in Delhi, yet, it’s a great city to relax in (heavily populated, polluted, chaotic, yet has everything, which is what I find myself looking for). If I want to watch a movie, there are plenty of cinemas showing American movies. If I want to eat some foreign foods, plenty of places for it. If I want to buy something, there are shops for it. If I want to use the internet, lots of cheap places with fast connections. Watched Harry Potter Deathly Hallows, then after not wanting to eat Indian food for a while, decided spontaneously to eat at a joint next to the cinema (supposedly been selling biryani for 50 years). Then ate some McDonalds fudge sundae to balance it out.
  • Visited Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and Bangla Sahib (a Sikh temple). Impressive places.

(Humayun’s Tomb)

(Inside Humayun’s Tomb. The actual grave is in a crypt below.)

(Bangla Sahib)

(Mandatory for everyone to cover their heads. Bandanas provided outside.)

(No shoes inside Bangla Sahib.)

(Everyone praying. Guy in middle is the lead Sikh priest.)

(After exiting temple, everyone gets a glob of this warm, oily peanut brittle paste.)

(People washing (or cleansing sins?)  from a pool in the temple.)

  • Train station employee sent me on the wrong train and ended up about 30 km from where I am staying. Luckily a helpful guy showed me which bus to take and it took me back.

Delhi, India Pics

Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Agra, Uttarpradesh

November 24th 2010

  • Saw the Taj Mahal. It was very beautiful. The most beautiful building in the world? I would agree. At the end, I couldn’t leave. I just stared and stared at it, wondering how such a beautiful structure could exist. It rained that day.
  • Walked by a restaurant that had a sign with Korean words on it. I needed to eat something other than Indian food so I experimented. Walked in, ordered some Korean food from an Indian + Korean menu (with Korean words, so that means the owner must be Korean). Got bulgogi, was different from the American versions but it was delicious. I found out the meat was indeed beef (beef in India?!) and the owner was indeed Korean.

(Goat in couture.)

Agra Pics