Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stealing: a series

I just uploaded 5 entries, which are mostly just entries made by Alex and Sarah about things I also updated about. These are mostly for my own benefit, to have all documentation of my experience (since the three of us were joined at the hip/s these past weeks) in one place. You may find it interesting, but I assume if you do, you already read their entries. I pretty much just took the entire entries--I was going to edit and pick and choose, but they're both good writers, and I didn't want to mess up any flow. Alex's entries are especially good for the details, like the prices and things.

stealing! part 5: hotel in Delhi after the train ride

I'm gonna steal from myself/Andy on this one, and quote some of my emails regarding the hotel, and then also steal as per usual from Sarah and Alex's updates.
Me: email to Andy (boy)
We have the crappiest hotel room, but it only costs 9 dollars, so I guess we were asking for it. We could barely move all day. We took an overnight train, which was pretty unpleasant and fleabitten, and so we didn't sleep too much, and so when we got to the hotel, all we wanted was to shower and sleep with some AC--we were drenched in sweat. But wouldn't you know it, the power and water were off, for what turned out to be hours. Frack! So, like estivating creatures, we lay on the bed barely conscious, but not asleep because it was too hot, just waiting. We didn't eat anything all day but a few mangos.
Sarah: lists
We got into delhi exhausted and only able to think about a shower. Unfortunately our hotel ($3 a person) had no power. It must have been 110 degrees. Nothing mattered exept a shower. No water. "10 more minutes." Which meant another hour. We got buckets of water from the roof and splashed the dirt off into puddles of mud on the bathroom floor.
Alex: Sleeper Train
We were lucky enough to have a local take us to New Delhi on the Metro, and we found a cheap hotel, "Hotel Shiva Delux", supposedly with A/C for 350rs. It was too good to be true, and the A/C turned out the least of our concern. There was no water or electricity for the first few hours, so we waited impatiently and still stinky from the train ride. Quick highlights on the Delux stay: a man came in and stacked two rickety stools on the bed to stand on and speed up the fan and fell, almost on top of Carrie; we nearly got bitten by crazy rabies-infected dogs in the alley in the middle of the night; the electricity went out and Carrie and Sarah thought they were going to die from the heat at about 3AM; some random hotel boy came into our room in the morning when we were in bed and pretended to check the cabinet for something; the doorknob broke and we got locked in, forcing me to break it

Stealing! Part 4: Train ride from Varanasi to Delhi

Here is something I didn't blog about, so I'm glad they did. The sleeper class non-AC train ride. It wasn't terrible, but it certainly was an experience.

Sarah: lists
Overnight train from Varanasi consisted of:
*no AC
*People already in our bunks.
*Not enough bunks to go around.
*having no idea what was going on for quite a while until we found the nice guy who spoke english. Although he didn't really know what was going on either. But he did give us some of his food.
*Hysterical laughter at my Hindi phrase book. I learned how to translate," I want to bag a jungle cock." I guess this is a phrase used by the british while traveling in India.
*Two of us to a tiny bunk hardly big enough for one person.
*the most aweful poo poo pee pee stinky masala manageri of smells.
*bugs in our faces and possibly in Alex's mouth.
*smelling worse than I think I have ever smelled in my whole life.We got into delhi exhausted and only able to think about a shower.
Alex: Sleeper Train
A few nights ago, we took an overnight train from Varanasi to Delhi in 3rd class sleeper with no AC. We were prepared for the worst, but found the car to be a little bit cleaner and cooler than we imagined.. until the car became fully loaded, and we didn't want to kick a family out of one of our seats. Sarah and I ended up sharing a bunk in the back of the car by the bathroom while Carrie layed across our bags towards the middle of the car to protect them.

The bunks are barely big enough for one person (about 5'9 long which gave me about an inch of head clearance, and 2.5' wide and tall). The middle bunk also does not have a window like the lower bunk or a fan like the upper, so it got pretty hot. Worse than the heat was the masala #1 and 2 smells coming from the hole-in-the-floor bathroom. Then we had fleas, moths, grasshoppers, and crickets to share the bunk with as they came in with people and flew in through the windows. After a short nap, I woke up with something slightly crunchy in my mouth (probably from the snack I shared with a local earlier on the train), but I joked (I think) that a bug made it into my mouth. The trip was 13 hours, but it went by suprisingly fast. We were stinkin' and stinkin' tired when we got off the train. The good news: we arrived uninjured, nothing stolen, and for only a few dollars.

stealing part 3: Varanasi

Here and here and here are my posts on Varanasi. And below are big chunks from Alex's and Sarah's.
Sarah: I've officially seen a dead body in the Ganges....

I've officially seen a dead body in the Ganges. We were just talking today about hearing such things and them not being true. But there it was as we were walking along the bank, right at the edge. People were swimming and fishing all along the area. It was nothing unusual.

We walked down to the main cremation ghat and were ushered in by a "guy who volunteers there." We decided that a little information was worth whatever he might be taking us for. I'm not here for a religious experience and I've had nothing near it, but this was pretty cool to witness. There are about 350 cremations burning outdoors at that one ghat- day and night. My eyes burned from the smoke and incense, but I sure was able to see the head burning a few feet from us. Wow. That's a burning head.

Bodies were being carried past as he weaved us through the fires and explained the ritual. We got to go into a death house and watch the cremations from above. The oldest son has his head shaved for the cerimony and lights the fire after circling the body 5 times (for the 5 elements). It was really interesting to watch the whole process. we passed men having their heads shaved in preperation. Then we were hit up for money to help families buy the expensive wood that it takes for the open air cremation. We were assured fabulous karma for giving money at such a holy place. whatever. It was worth it, and donating a little money for wood feels a lot more worthwhile than everything else we are hit up for constantly.

We watched a little bit of a dramatic cerimony with drums and conches, and then decided it was much past our after dark saftey curfew. There were some extremley sketch guys eyeing us and it was raining so we walked out to a rickshaw back. We piled up on laps on a tiny bike rickshaw. These guys work so hard. We agreed on 30 rupees, but after seeing him struggle through the rain, potholes, and detours- hauling 3 people- we decided to bend on our frugalness and give a bit more. He seemed very greatful, which ended the night on a really positive note. I'm really glad we came.

Full Full Full Masala
I got my fortune read in Varanasi! Yesterday was kind of a grumpy, bummer day for all of us. The beggars turned into zombies in Saranath, following us around, hands out, in monotone zombie voices "allo...allo madam. allo. allo madam..." Guys gawked and touts were relentless. We got stuck in some aweful traffic and payed too much for a taxi. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but for some reason all of it was especially annoying to all three of us. At least we're all on the same page. I think it's more efficient that way. Save our good moods for the same time to make one super good mood.

I kind of mentioned the skech guys from the other night briefly, but after we talked about it, pepper spray started sounding like a good idea. Trying to explain pepper spray to Indians is an extremly amusing process for both parties involved. Lots of sign language to no avail. We'll have to come up with something else. But back to the fortune today. I've been wanting to get my palm read in India after reading Holy Cow, but haven't really had the opportunity. I casually mentioned it to the guesthouse owner and he set all of it up in just a few minutes. Even a free ride on the motorbike of our internet shop guy. The astrologer is a high cast brahmin and a professor. He read my chart and my palm. Evidently I will be "blessed in daughters," and if I keep trying I might be lucky enough to get a son. I also "need to enjoy my own mango instead of comparing it to other mangos." I liked that one. Alex video taped it which I am very grateful for because I've already forgotten most of it. He said that my career would be successful around writing and travel. I've secretly always wanted to be a travel writer. But doesn't everyone?

On the way back to the guest house with Previne, Alex and I crammed on his motorbike, we passed a cow being led by a Sadu. The cow had layers of beautiful flowers around it's neck and an extra leg hanging off of it's back. Previne said it was a fortune teller cow. The Sadu is a kind of cow whisperer. He whispers questions to the cow and according to Previne his answers are right 100% of the time. That is my absolute favorite today. I wish we had time to get a picture. It seemed like something that should be in a Wes Anderson movie.

We got up at 5:00 am to take a row boat out on the Ganga for morning baths and cerimonies. I need more interesting descriptive words because cool and beautiful just aren't cutting it anymore. But it was most definitely both of those.

Varanasi is an interesting place. It's disgustingly dirty and polluted. Hasseling by sales people is relentless as soon as you step out of your guesthouse. It's dangerous to be out after dark, and sports some super shady characters. But then you go out to the cremation houses and the Ganga cerimonies with so much tradition and faith, and it kind of out shines everything else. We've also met our most helpful new friend, Previne the internet shop owner. Not only did he set up a cheap astrology session and take me personally with no commision for him, he also searched out Alex's camera lense in the mud and took him back out on his motor bike to buy us a knife and flashlight for the train tonight. He also lent us 120 rupees the other day on faith. There are some genuinly kind people here. They might be hard to find, but they're here.

I've also realized that while we work so hard at not getting ripped off, we might not see that the person trying to work his way into our wallet is also very likely being ripped off. We watched as our boat rower had his payment for our 3 hour ride taken by his very undesirable looking boss right in front of us. Poor little guy. We felt bad for not giving him the extra 100 on the side. I'm not sure if he'll see any of it.

Alex: A Boat Ride in Varanasi

The Varansi airport is really small and reminded me of the one on The Darjeeling Limited. It's also quite a ways outside of the city, so the taxi to our hotel was not cheap (500 rs/ about $12.50). The cab drivers weren't as competitive with eachother as we had seen everywhere else, so we got an impression that this was a more peaceful city than other Indian cities we've been to.

The cab driver started off by welcoming us to the city as ancient as the soul, and telling us that it's a peaceful religous capital for Hindus. When we got in the car, I joked with him that I would drive, and he said no problem. Neither I nor the girls really wanted me to drive, but I was suprised by the driver's reaction. About halfway to the city, he stopped to get some "pan," which is a blend of chewing tobacco and spices. He offered to get me some as well, but I had already experienced the burn of Indian chewing tobacco in Jaipur and didn't feel the need to try it again. He answered a phone call talking funnily with a mouthful of tobacco, and told us that a friend had spotted a cobra and wanted him to contact a cobra-catcher for him. Apparently, cobra-catcher is a common profession, and they pay people about 500 rs to call them when they see one. During his phone calls, he couldn't shift his car. Being in the front left seat with the stick to my right, I naturally offered to shift, and weakly satisfied my adrenaline rush to drive the crazy streets of India. It really wouldn't have been too bad to drive in the rural area between the airport and city. I would just have to remember to use the horn every time we pass people or see anyone on the road.

Our hotel, Sahi River View Guesthouse, is accessible only by small cow-poop-filled alleys, but it's a nice and affordable place. We opted for the non-AC double room for 550 rs (about $13), and shared the bed between the 3 of us. Right outside our door is a nice lounge area with a great view of the Ganges. It feels a bit like a beach with the humid climate and wide river. After settling in, we went down to the river and hired a boat to take us to the main ghat for the nightly ceremony (100-150rs each way).

With the soft sunset light comming through the clouds and ancient-looking buildings lining the shore, the trip down the river seemed a little dreamlike, and was exactly how I had seen it in pictures. The place has the same majestic and surreal feeling that the Taj Mahal has. Even though I'd seen hundreds of pictures of both places, they didn't seem like they were really on the same planet as what I've experienced. The ceremony was worth the trip, but a little bit commercialized (probably because it's the same one they show every night).

The way back upstream took longer (about an hour), and we felt kind of sorry for the boatman who rowed us home. It really was a tough job (I tried to do it for a couple minutes), and he got paid only a cut (after the boat owner gets his) out of the relatively small amount that we paid. At the hotel, we ordered some biriyani (rice w/ veggies), chapati (tortilla-like flatbread), some fried potatoes, and noodles. After washing a 3" parasite-looking worm from the bathroom floor to the drain, I had a nice shower and hit the hay hard.

A floating Corpse and many burning bodies.

Today we got to sleep in for once (7:30 for me and about 10 for the girls). We laid around for a few hours after a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes, lassi, and fresh fruit. We spent a couple more hours at an internet cafe just outside of our hotel before walking down to the main ghat. The walk took about 20 minutes.

On the way, we passed through a small cremation ghat and saw the dead body of a middle-aged man floating on the riverbank. He was floating face-down. At first, I thought he was just holding his breath and bathing, but his head was moving very loosely with the waves and after about a minute, we realized the truth. Nobody seemed to care, but we were intrigued as to who the man was, and why he wasn't burned. We did not understand the process at this point, but later we found a possible explanation.

Next, we walked through the Varanasi bazaar. The first thing we saw was a snake charmer sitting by the road playing a flute thing to a cobra in a basket. We had briefly seen this before in Delhi, but it was still exciting. It was a really dirty market with a muddy dirt road. There was an overwhelming amount of fabric and shoe shops, and not much in the way of souvenirs. We weren't looking to buy anything anyways (except maybe a replacement pocketknife).

I was hoping to get more of a spiritual experience out of my trip to India and Nepal, and walking through markets was such a draining experience, that I was starting to get semi-dissapointed. So far, we had spent most of our free time walking around dizzying markets and in two of the holiest cities of India, Haridwar and Varanasi, we had only experienced pretty commercialized ceremonies with large audiences (and priests that try to get as much money from you as they can in Haridwar and even at Yamunotri Shrine).

After walking for awhile, we went back to the river and found a rooftop cafe to have dinner. On the bright side, after more than a month here, we have still not eaten a bad meal, and this restaurant was no exception.

After dinner, we went to the main cremation ghat and a man who said he worked there took us on a small tour and explained the cremation process. There were 6 or 7 fires burning in the darkening evening and each had the remains of a body in the middle. In one fire, a burning skull seared itself into my memory. Many older people come to this ghat and stay in the death houses, waiting for death and their chance to be washed and cremated on the banks of the river at Varanasi. When they die, the eldest son will get his head and face shaved, get a death certificate from the government, and present the certificate at the ghat. At this point, the family will pay for enough wood to burn the body (min 200 kilos, max 300). The wood and incense used prevents the terrible smell of burning flesh and hair, but costs a lot (somewhere around 180 Rs or $4+/ kilo according to the guide). Sandalwood is better than the wood they were using, but only the richest can afford it. Because it is considered good karma to help buy wood for others' cremations, some of the money is raised from friends of the family, etc.

Our guide wanted us to contribute money for wood, and said that we could write our names on a piece of paper and the old people waiting to die would pray for us in the morning so we would have long and happy lives. This may or may not have been true, but we decided to make a small contribution if just for the information the guide gave us.

Sunrise on the Ganges/Astrology Session

This morning we forced ourselves out of bed to catch a sunrise boatride on the Ganges. We found our boat friend and set out on the river at 5:20AM. It was pretty light out already, and many people were already out and about. On the shore of Assi Ghat where we are staying, there was a morning fire ceremony happening and some people bathing and praying. The shore was lined with people bathing, praying, brushing teeth, washing clothes, singing, swimming, drinking Ganga jal, and fishing. A few other boats of tourists were out as well.

The sky was overcast, so there was not a good sunrise, but the point was to catch all the life on the water at dawn. There were a few ceremonies with music and prayer that we caught on our way downstream. We floated past the cremation ghat, where fires were blazing as vigorously as they had two nights ago. There are 350-400 bodies burned daily at this ghat, so there are non-stop cremations taking place. The thick black smoke of a fresh fire sort of upsets your stomach when you think about what you are breathing, but it also gives the place its spiritual and ancient feel.

At home, we are faced with human death maybe a few times in our lives, but here, the eternally-burning fires serve as a constant reminder of the temporality of life. Maybe that's why the place seems so ancient.

After breakfast and a nap at the hotel, I went with Sarah to an astrologer Mr. Sahi, the hotel owner, hooked us up with. I didn't intend to get my palm read or astrology done, but after recording Sarah's for her, I decided it was worth the 12 dollars (discounted price from $100-200 for foreigners). The world famous astrologer teaches at Benares Hindu University, the biggest university in Asia (according to our guide yesterday). After pulling up my chart, he started out by talking about my older brother and comparing us, before I had spoken a word to him about myself or family. What he said was true and something that I have thought about in the past as something that has had a big effect on my life. He told me what my biggest problem is, which was really not so bad (focusing too much on what I've lost when I make a choice), what a succesful relationship would be for me according to my personality, some career suggestions, etc. Really, everything he said was pretty accurate and more specific than I expected. He explained that he reads the chart to get an idea of personality, then is guided by God as to what advice he gives.

On the way back to the hotel [on the back of Praveen's scooter (the awesome guy who runs the internet cafe next door)], we saw a cow with an extra leg growing out of his back. He was being led by a sadu down the road and had lays on his neck. Praveen told us that the cow had special powers. If someone were to ask the cow a question such as "who took my money?", the sadu would whisper it into the cow's ear and the cow would walk right to the guy that took it. Praveen said that the cow was "right 100% of the time!"

Praveen was very helpful. He told us about the future of India's economy one night while we were using his computers (which are the fastest in town), took us on his scooter to see the astrologist and found my lense cap after I dropped it on the way, put good indian music on for us while we blogged, and sent his driver to take me to the market for a pocket knife and a flashlight. He tries hard to keep the kind of hospitality that Indians "should" give to their guests amidst the westernization and fast-paced life that is affecting the culture. The hotel owner, Mr. Sahi, also tries to make his guests feel like family. I am greatful to have a break from all the hustlers, beggers, and scam artists that we interact with here most of the time, just trying to get our money.

stealing! part 2: nepal

Again, I'm taking stuff from Alex and Sarah's blogs that I don't want to forget. As reference, here and here are my entries on Nepal. Extra thanks for Sarah and Alex for being such entertaining documentarians. I just want to make sure my friends enjoy these entries as much as I have.
Alex: From the Delhi Hustle to Relaxed Nepal
Woke up at 3:30AM to catch a 6:30AM flight to Nepal. The Delhi airport was hectic, and we really doubted we were going to catch our plane with all the crap that we had to go through to get checked in and through security. As a funny side note, the characteristic of Indian drivers to act like they know where you want to go and then drive around and ask directions was not absent at the airport. The shuttle that took us to our plane stopped and asked which plane was going to Nepal to some people on the runway.

The flight was only 2 hours and the Nepal airport left a great first impression on us. It was really laid back, uniquely decorated, and easy for us to get through customs and get our luggage. We got a free visa because we were only staying three nights, and the customs officers were genuinely patient and friendly. The first unsmiling face was the man at the money-exchange who stood behind a sign that said "We Value Your Smile." Note: Don't get money changed at the airport because they take commission and give a bad rate. Second note: 500 and 1000 Indian rupee bills are "illegal" in Nepal, so don't do what we did and bring these expecting to exchange them.

Our cab driver hooked us up with a Hotel we really liked (despite our distrust that he only cared about commission), and we got a double with a balcony overlooking the city. There is a school right outside our window where we can see about 5 floors of classes being held, hear kids singing, and distract some of them from paying attention. Other sounds of the city also pleasantly make it to our balcony including birds and mystical eastern music. We spent the first day wandering around the main market for tourists, where one can find any kind of Tibetan art, religious tools, fabrics, musical instruments, and outdoor sporting equipment. Kathmandu has a really neat feel that is much less industrial and filthy than most cities we've seen in India. The shopping area is much more oriented for foot-traffic, and there are endless small shops, restaurants and hotels.

In most Indian cities, there's a Café Coffee Day on every corner, as well as McDonald's, Sony, Adidas, and all kinds of chain stores. The pizza we had for lunch was also the closest to American-style food we have had for a month, and it tasted GOOD! We're now in the process of seeing if there's a way to extend our trip in Nepal.

Last Morning in Nepal

Though we were exhausted, we barely slept last night. Probably because we were sad to be leaving Nepal today. We watched the beginning of "Be Kind, Rewind" and half of "Into the Wild" on our rented DVD player. We had breakfast on the balcony again, which consisted of delicious fruit pancakes (mango and banana mixed into the batter), fried eggs, fried potatoes, and coffee. I cut another fresh mango up with my pocketknife for dessert. After casually packing up our things while the school kids outside did their morning games and chanted the Nepali pledge (we think), we went out around 10 to get some last-minute shopping done and exchange some of the crappy DVDs we bought for better ones. We had bought DVDs from a shop close to our hotel, called "Roadhouse," for 150 rs (about $2.50) each, and found that the ones that were still in theaters, like the new Indiana Jones movie were recorded in a theater. The older movies were real DVDs, but a little bit scratched. The nice shop owner let us exchange whatever we wanted. I bought a prayer wheel, and a few things that were more difficult to find in India, then met back up at the Hotel to check out. I hastled with the desk a little bit to give us a better exchange rate for our Indian rupees and a free ride to the airport. Leaving Nepal was not quite as relaxed as comming, and there was a 1356 nepali rupee charge to leave. We were frisked and had our baggage scanned 3 different times (even once on the runway just before boarding our airplane). I forgot to put my mango-peeling pocketknife in my checked bag, and the security was very glad to keep it for themselves :( . The flight was only 40 minutes to Varanasi.

Sarah: India Power, No Sleep No Shower
We left nepal with sad faces yesterday and are now in Varanasi. It's really hard to sum up several days in one blog. We went trecking (hardcore hiking?) outside of Kathmandu and I got a wicked sunburn-which is shockingly turning into a tan. weird. it's that himalayan sun. Of course it was totally beautiful etc. , and we were totally wiped out by the end. The next day was a whirlwind tour of Kathandu. The first stupa we visited was pretty amazing. We got lost in a Hindu cremation site full of scary monkeys with the crazy eye. Then we had dinner outside of the biggest stupa in the world with a guy from washington state. One of our friends met him in delhi. He's going to school in nepal, and gave us the tour of the campus/monastary. I'm seriously thinking about sumer school there next year. It's really cheap.

It started to pour (early monsoon) and of course there was no power. I think they do organized power outages every day. We ran and splashed through giant puddles of nastiness in the dark to a hole in the wall for some chang. chang is a milky white alchohalic substance that is fermented in a rag and then squeezed out into questionable looking buckets stored on the floor. We sat at our table with one single candle for light while our server juggled his crying baby and our cups of chang. It was actually not that bad. If you didn't think about the rag it came out of. I offered to hold his very unhappy little girl while he made some kind of concoction on the stove. She was the cutest thing ever.

stealing from friends! part 1: Jaipur, Rajasthan

In a series I am entitling stealing, I am canabalizing some of Sarah and Alex's blogs because they captured a lot of important details that I would have written about had I remembered, and had they forgotten. Sarah's are pink, because 1) she once dressed all in pink to be cotton candy at a party 2) unicorns, at least in the Lisa Frank oeuvre, are sometimes pink, and Sarah's blog is called Unicorn Apple and 3) Sarah is a girl, to differentiate her from Alex, who shall be green because 1) I like the color green and 2) that's all i got.

For reference, here is my entry on the same.

Sarah: International Gem Heist
We took a bus to Jaipur a couple of days ago from Delhi and ended up in the middle of a gem heist. Ok, so it was more of a scam, but we agreed that "heist" is a lot more interesting. And we weren't really in the middle of it because we're not stupid. We did, however, end up scamming our scammers when all was said an done. and it was awesome. Hotel room, food, drinks, transportation, and a genuinly good time. i actually really liked them. And I'm pretty sure they really enjoyed us as well. It's like a game.

We bounced on a 7:00 am bus back to delhi early the next morning. When he realized we were gone he texted an apology and that he knew why we had left, but he was hurt that we didn't say good bye. It's like, "ok, you got me, but you didn't even wish me a happy birthday." He actually said the birthday part. Like it was all normal, and worth a try. We just might make a career of searching out scam artists for entire days worth of free everything. Amber is beautiful and we had a great time.

Alex: Rajasthan: Elepant Rides and Gem Heists
Sarah, Carrie, and I woke up early and caught a bus to Jaipur, Rajasthan. We didn't really have a solid plan, just thought that we'd see some cool things and have a few days of adventure before going to Nepal. Sarah had also been emailing a friend named Sunny she met in Rishikesh who lived in Jaipur, and he promised us a good time.

Tickets weren't too bad for A/C and the road was the nicest we'd driven on yet.. Little did we know that the day would end in an awkward and pathetic attempt for our "friends" to get us involved in what we decided to call a "Gem Heist". From the first look at the guys, I thought there was something sleezy about them. It didn't help that there were about 8 shady and aggressive rickshaw drivers surrounding us as we walked, and they seemed to know Sunny and Bharat. Then the tourism police tried to tell us the people were not safe (though what they really wanted was for us to stay in one of their government hotels). Finally, we decided to give the friends a chance since they had waited at the bus station for us for an hour and seemed very nice to Sarah. We grabbed some food across the street from the bus station and introduced ourselves. They seemed nice enough, but were embarrassed and frustrated with us that they were seen being interrogated by the police. "It's bad for my family's reputation," said Sunny.

After a bit, things settled down, and we jumped in "Bella Chow's" car, had people in the street push start it, and checked into a decent enough hotel that only cost 500 rupees (about 11 or 12 dollars) for the three of us to share the big bed. Then we went to Sunny's family's elephant farm to have a ride. The place was in the next town over, called Amber. According to Sunny, it was the original capital of Jaipur, and the first city in the state to be strategically planned. In the 1700's, it was painted entirely pink to greet a prince of England. There were some really awesome military forts in the rocky hills surrounding Jaipur and Amber, and something like 400 Hindu and Muslim temples. There is also a palace in the middle of a big lake.

There were about 12 elephants in the stable out of supposedly 21 total, including one adorable baby elephant. We interacted with the elephants for awhile*. The baby got it's nose in my mouth while I was taking a picture of her mom. According to Carrie, I showed a spider-monkey reflex to the dirty wet snout that made a laugh. We had some roti and garbanzo dish with the stall boys, then they saddled up an elephant for our ride. Five of us rode the elephant into the rocky hills a little ways where we passed by lots of cricket matches, a Muslim graveyard, and cute kids yelling hello and goodbye to us. We had tea when we got back, and walked up to this small Hindu temple overlooking the city. It was a really nice view of Amber where the sunset would have been perfect without the clouds. A Sadhu man lives on the hill by the temple, and hasn't been down for years. The village brings him his food.

When we returned, the elephants were being painted with brightly colored paint for a wedding. Dinner for the night was supposed to be a "surprise". He said he'd told his "brother" about us and really wanted us to meet. We had a mojito that cost more than our hotel at this other fancy hotel restaurant and waited. Sunny's brother was much shorter and older, and in my opinion, carried no resemblance to him at all. Some other guys joined us, and one smooth-talking guy proposed we bring diamonds into the US and Nepal, and get paid an easy 10 grand. He was a sleezeball in his warming-up conversation, asking me if I had "got sexes" from any of the girls on the trip (very inappropriately in front of the girls I was with and people I had just met, but we laughed later about the way he phrased it), and trying to justify the horrors of the diamond business by saying that people never look at the good side; which is "when you hold a sack of diamonds and it's worth 3 million dollars." They paid for the expensive drinks and dropped us off for dinner at a pretty shitty place (when we informed them our parents weren't rich and we weren't interested).

The next morning, we decided that everything Sunny told us (that it was his brother's business, and everything about him and his family) was a lie and decided to bounce back to Delhi instead of roam around and wait for them to run into us at the market and try to find a better scam to get our money. All in all, we had a great day, and felt okay about leaving without saying goodbye. We scammed the scam artists and got free elephant rides, taxi, drinks, and dinner.
*This is my favorite sentence from his entry. I don't know why, so don't ask.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

ok, ok, india's not such a bully

I was sitting at the internet cafe when someone recognized me! From the hotel weeks ago, he remembered my room number even! That was so nice of him. I feel more tender towards the town now. And also, Vinamra wrote on Facebook, and seemed happy that I was back in town, so that also makes me feel a little more welcomed. Now I'm going to visit Ram, who will also make me feel a little less out of place. These are all good things.

india kicked my ass

If you saw me right now, you might wonder, "Who beat up Carrie?" Well, it was India. It's a long story, but I'm ok now, just very tired. My hotel is incredibly loud, and I'm tired of people not understanding me, and I'm tired of having to argue with people just to get the remotely decent price on something, and I'm tired of having to repeat myself and acting like I'm talking to a kindergartener, only to have someone say "Can you say it slower, please?" I'm tired of the traffic, and of not knowing where to get basic things. I'm tired of being thirsty, and never knowing what my digestive system is going to reject. Tired of not knowing where internet cafes are.

But of all those reasons, the reason I look like I have two black eyes is the one where my hotel is loud. I am lucky that Dad gave me those earplug-headphone, so I can use them as earplugs and listen to the Beatles or to my New Favorite Australian Bands (Guild League and Clare Bowditch) and pretend there aren't 5 kids right outside my door screeching, as their fathers talk in strident and unconcerned voices, also right outside my door. Is this a cultural thing? Or is this family just unreasonably rude? It went on all night! Don't these kids sleep? Were they tagteaming?

Rant over. I will feel less stressed out when I have a place to stay. I thought it would destress me a little to look point-blank at my rickshaw driver last night and say "You are dishonest." But it didn't help. And now I'm in the worst hotel ever. Maybe I can fix it. I don't know. I want to stay in the gardens, but no one will answer the phone there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Delhi Interstate Bus Terminal (ISBT)

[note: it has come to my attention that people may be coming to this page to search wtf the ISBT in Delhi is all about, so I'm adding a pre-paragraph of everything I actually remember about the station. It's at the Kashmir Gate metro stop, and it's about 90 Rs by rickshaw from VasantKunj, way down south. When the rickshaw driver dropped me off, there was someone there asking me where I was going, and he told me which stall to go to, so he must have legitimately worked there. There's a confusing pathway from the road to inside the stall, at least to stall 43, where I was catching my bus to Dehradun/Uttaranchal. There is an information booth, and they may be able to help--I had a guy who wasn't fluent in English, but was at least willing to try to communicate. They will be yelling the name of the desintations usually, and you have to jump on the bus first to claim your seat. I didn't buy a ticket in advance. It was annoying because I had to get a stranger to watch my big suitcase so I could claim a seat, then come back out and get the suitcase under the bus. I lucked out that the stranger was trustworthy, but it's hard to travel alone if you have a lot of stuff. Anyway, a little ways through the trip, they'll come selling the tickets, and you just pay them cash. To Dehradun it was about Rs 275 I think...really can't remember, but it was an AC bus, which I thought was quite comfortable, even in the very back, but maybe I'm used to Indian roads by now.

Now, if you have a question about the Dehradun ISBT, you're out of luck. That one completely defeated me. I just know vikram 5 gets you there, and a taxi can get you away from there to Delhi for about 2500, which is useful when they start auctioning off your bus between Delhi and Jaipur, which is what happened to me. Feel free to leave a comment or send a message otherwise if you have other questions. I'll try to answer them. If I can get any use out of my helpless travel experiences, I will be glad]

Am right now in the most desperately confusing bus station, trying to get to Dehradun. you might wonder how I'm calmly writing in my journal while standing up and standing guard over the World's Largest Suitcase. I assure you it's only to calm my nerves by finding the experience a wacky time, trying by writing about it in the present tense to make it into a fun "remember when" experience in advance, rather than the stressor it threatens to be now. Or something. I'll let you know when this method starts working.

I think I actually have figured out something about when my bus is going, and I might even understand when the bus with AC is going, so I'm waiting for that one, and also waiting to see if my theory is correct. My theory about when the bus leaves. It's like physics--you can prove something with guesses and math, but it's onlly as useful as much as it can predict things in the real world. Ergh. This writing is helping a little bit, but I still think a better theory about what will destress me in this situation is needed. Chocolate also didn't help much ,which may just mean I'm too far gone. And now I'm attracting beggars from standing still so long. Nothing destresses me like Western guilt. Yeah. Great.

But it reminds me of a funny story from the rickshaw ride over here. Every stop had adorable kids tugging at my heartstrings, some selling flowers or latest issues of Cosmo ("number 75!" as they point proudly to the issue and volume number). But at one stop, a lady came up (a well-fed looking lady) with a wad of 10's already in her hand, hit me on the head, clapped her hands very masculinely, and demanded "Give me money!" I actually laughed, but she was dead serious, so I added "Uh, no." And she clapped again and put her hand out: "Give me money!!" Again! I said I didn't have any, did the empty hands gesture, and she leaned to my auto driver and said something in Hindi, which I assume was "Watch out, your fare has no money" said sarcastically because he laughed, and she left somewhat annoyed with me. Some people! But it kept making me laugh the whole rest of the way.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

varanasi 3 [transribed from journal]

My third and final day in Varanasi. I've made a few long online-only updates about the first part of the stay, and also of Nepal, which, to reiterate from the blog updates, I adore. I have a whole financially unstable plan to travel to Nepal and Taiwan next summer. Maybe I'll stop in Tibet while I'm at it--make a tour of contentious Chinese territories. Nepal seems to peaceful, next to a region so rife with conflict. Even having their so-and-so-years-old monarchy deposed was a peaceful affair. The tour guides informed us as we passed a palace that it was a museum. We asked what kind of museum, and they said "Yes, 5 days." (OK, maybe not, but these are the kinds of conversations we usually have with the language barrier). It had only been a museum for as long as the monarchy had been dissolved! I found this somewhat amusing.

Varanasi remains a pleasant surprised because I didn't expect much from it, but I found more than I thought. It's still not my favorite place I've been, even in India. I think Mussoorie and Rishikesh are my favorite places, so I'm looking forward to staying at Mussoorie, even if the specifics of that plan are up in the air.

A few things I didn't write about regarding Varanasi: Sarah and Alex both mentioned the dead body we saw floating in the Ganges, face down. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to mention this. I found the charring skull in the cremation fires further along the ghats more arresting. The man in the river almost seemed alive. I wondered about him--his hair was still dark, so he couldn't have been too old. What had he died of? Did he have family? Who took him to the water? Who took him out? Or is he still there, under the waves, in the same water people bathe, do laundry, and brush their teeth in every morning? It was a general curiosity, and a little sadness because he seemed young. But I had more horror during our sunrise boat ride today (with our same boatman from the first night), when Sarah spotted a dead cat, stiff and a bit bloated, floating along with all the water weeds. I was sure this cat had died at the hands of awful people. I don't know why I felt this. Maybe the cat drunkenly stumbled into the water and drowned without ever knowing what hit him. But I started thinking about how evil people can be. I'd already been thinking about it because of the awful descriptions of rapes and other abuse in the semi-anarchy after Partition of India and Pakistan (the book is Flash House, a mystery, which so far is pretty well written). Part of me has to write this off, like 'people aren't really capable of this. This is fiction!" But I know people are capable of really awful things. It puts into perspective things I really beat myself up for, like asking where someone got their name. Um, this isn't really about India anymore.

Let me write some about where we stayed. I'm here now, still, sitting in the front room, talking on and off with Mr. Sahi, the owner. Sarah and Alex have gone to have their fortunes read. They rode there on the back of the internet shop owner's bike. I assume it's his motorbike, so I am eager hear about all aspects of their experience when they get back. Anyway, the guest house was lovely and low-key and low-pressure. They gave us good advice on prices, and where to go. It truly seems to be family-run. The food is fantastic, and we've all felt well, even after mango lassis three times a day. I tell myself the lassis are necessary because I have a mother of a yeast infection (effecting multiple parts of me) after all the preemptive antibiotics I've taken. But really I just love lassi. Before this trip, I like neither mango nor lassi.

Directions to the place? Go down the dirt road, or the road the exact consistency of ankle-deep chocolate icing if it's been raining, then turn down the alley with all the poop in it (probably from 2-3 different kinds of animals). At the guy with the blanket and the curly hair, turn left. If you smell some marijuana, you've gone too far. Go past the mountain of generators for when the power goes off (daily from 12-2), and take the stairs towards the mangy cat. Do not touch the cat. Enter into a shockingly clean little guest house with a lovely view of the Ganges and with old Sri Sahi holding court in the front room. If you need anything at all, ask the Shy Guy (every hotel has one). He is happy to help, understands English, and will silently laugh at most of the things he witnesses you and your friends doing. These directions were hammered out in conjunction with Alex.

Our Internet Friend (-cum-chauffeur for Alex and Sarah right now) seems to like us. He claims Brad and Angelina used his shop while staying at the very nice hotel next to our guest hour. Perhaps this is true. He seems trustworthy. He talks about how expensive India has gotten over the past few years. We're paying about $12 total per night at our guest house, but a few years ago would probably have paid about $3, according to him. Then again, there would have been no ATMs, so maybe it was necessary for prices to be so low? Kidding--I know enough econ to know these are both secondary indicators of economic growth. But Internet Man (Praveen) has the usual complaint that goes along with commercialism--the lack of the personal interaction during purchases. If any are poster children for why the personal touch is the superior alternative, it's Praveen and Mr. Sahi. They have probably been my favorite part of the stay at Varanasi, and it's not just because of my internet and good food addictions. I recommend these places to anyone in Varanasi.

Yesterday we called our airport taxi driver to give us a driving tour of the city. Unlike Hera in Nepal, whom we liked so much, this dude was a bit of a dud. he spent a significant amount of time taking us to places where he made a commission off of us. I had my first bad meal at the place he "recommended." The place's sign, which I found hilarious, said something like "Surety Satisfaction! Most recommended restaurant in a guide book!" We did make it to Sarnath (incidentally, most H's in Hindi transliteration only represent that the previous consonant should be aspirated, so it's pronounced closer to "sar-not"), which is where Buddha gave his first sermon. It was, however, disappointing. A museum was OK, especially for 2 rupees. There were stone umbrellas, but only 2--I wanted a whole forest of them, and Sarah said "What, like that level of Super Mario Brothers?"

Yes, that was it exactly.

There were still the hoards of beggars, even all the way out in Sarnath. Children holding children following and sometimes clutching your clothes with their cupped hands outheld. We ended up paying the 100 rupees to get inside the stupa gate just to get away from them, but they remained at the fence, reaching through. One of us pointed out they were like zombies, an image helped by their droning ("Hello, hellomadam, madam hello, hello madam, hello, hellomadam"), and now I keep thinking of them truly that way, where the deadness in their eyes really indicates someone took their soul somewhere along the way. It's heartbreaking, but it makes me appreciate the kids along the river. Even though they're just as clutchy and clingy, they are always selling something, and still have a playfulness. One girl applauded when I tripped on some steps, which made me more amused than embarrassed.

yahoo headline

The following is a main headline on Yahoo: "Everything seemingly is spinning out of control." Uh oh, what did I miss?

Friday, June 20, 2008

varanasi, part 2

Today I’m in Varanasi again. We slept very late, and although I had nightmares again (shot several people in the head, ran from the law, etc), I was glad for a good rest, as I always am.

We had breakfast at the hotel place, which is a really nice place so I’ll tell you about it briefly—it seems to be family run, and it’s called the Sahi Riverview Hotel, by the Assi Ghat. A ghat is a access to the Ganges river, so there are a zillion up and down the river. Ours is the furthest south on the main run of ghats, and while it probably should be pronounced “ah-see” we call it assy, because we are 12.

The food at the hotel is great (we ate there last night, too), so that’s always a relief. After food, we found what must be India’s Fastest Internet Shop. It zooms! I wonder how it would compare to the states. All of my standards are changing—I’m drinking rag-water from a bucket in Nepal, sleeping on beds that probably could use some disinfecting, feeling ripped off about being charged $7 for two hours worth of backbreaking labor (last night’s boat ride), and bathrooms…well, bathrooms. Here is how I report back on the bathrooms to travel companions:

“does the job” = hole in the ground
“has a real toilet!” = western style toilet
“nothing weird about how you flush it” = has straightforward flushing mechanism
“has a sink!” = has a sink
“has soap!” = has soap (and a sink)
“bathroom is REALLY nice” = has towel and all of the above

Anyway, as I was saying.

Last night, we went to a Ganges ceremony at the main ghat, and I believe I may have mentioned it kicked Haridwar’s ass. There was live music (sitars, tablas, harmoniums; harmonia?) and singing and a zillion priests welcoming then bidding farewell to the goddess, and we watched it all from our boat. Tonight, we walked down the same string of ghats, brushing away dozens of cute children trying to sell us things (“hello! Where you from?” “You are from Australia I know it!” “you want to buy? Good karma for you, you buy it.” “flowers only, you buy!”). We made it to a market, which didn’t have much we wanted to buy—mostly weird children’s clothes with sequins, and clear indications of the gender of the wearer (for instance, Sarah took a picture of a dress bedazzled with the word “GIRL”). But still, each stall tried to sell us something (“Yes, here! Shoes” “Yes, saree! Come!” “Yes, where you from, America, Australia?” “Namaste!” “Yes!”).

Alex pointed out the “where are you from” question really irks. Because it seems so innocent and curious, even though we know it’s not, it’s just a way to get you to respond—it’s like their way to find the chink in the armor and then they can begin to pry it all open around you, and goddammit, you just want to walk in peace. This is why India begins to wear us down after all this time. The children today even said “Why you no answer? You like not human being!” Heartbreaking! And irritating!

We had dinner on a rooftop (Dolphin café or something), which was delicious, as per usual, and then we walked a few ghats over to the main burning ghat. They do cremations, 300 a year, and we saw bits and pieces of several ceremonies while there. Our eyes burned with the ash….

I have to go now because our café is closing…so I’ll have to write later.


After that first day of shopping, we decided to get out of the city, so we set up a outdoor trek with a man named Rambo. Yes.

So, it wasn't as rough-and-tumble a hike as you'd expect from a man named Rambo. In fact, Rambo didn't go with us, Suresh (rhymes with letch, it certainly does) did. It was an arduous walk, especially for those of us, ahem, who for instance haven’t exercised for months. We went from Sandhu to Nagarkot, where, so say some sources, we could have seen a speck on the horizon if it were a really clear day, and that speck would have been Everest. Not a big loss—the view was otherwise spectacular. The hike was bracing, and the air got cooler as we went, which was a blessing. We stopped for a Pepsi halfway there, at this crazy shack in the middle of nowhere that had Pepsis (every Nowhere in India similarly has at least Coke, Pepsi and Limeca). I apparently left my camera bag there, and it was picked up by our guide, who as a joke pretended not to have it. But luckily he really did and I didn’t have to go back. No words to describe the relief! He was an oddly jokey guy.

That evening we went to a restaurant called New Orleans, which is apparently a chain. The food was wonderful! We haven’t had bad food this whole time, and lately, it’s even been not making us sick. This place even reminded me of a French Quarter courtyard a little bit, tucked in the middle of the Thamel part of Kathmandu. Who would have guessed? We had veg. jambalaya (we’re all vegetarians, another great facet of our group dynamic), a few other things, and then decided to rent a DVD player. We were able to from the hotel, and we watched a heavily pirated DVD of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Long-Ass Name. It was such poor quality, we decided to return it the next day, and instead I got all 7 seasons of Sex and the City.

I like this show OK, but I mostly got it because I’m a girl and all girls are supposed to have and to like it. But as he was showing a few random spots of the DVD to prove to me it wasn’t a horrific pirating job, he stopped on a few choice conversations and I thought “It’s like they’re talking about ME!” So now I’m glad I have them to watch again.

The next day we went on a driving tour with Hera, my favorite driver/guide. He didn’t speak great English, but he seemed honest and genuinely helpful, which was more common in Nepal than in India, but still not the norm in the tourist industry, where white people just become giant money signs to most. He took us to a few stupa (shriney places with bits of the Buddha and other Buddhist junk buried up in there). It’s hard to describe them (obviously, for me at least; see previous parenthetical notation), but the first one we went to we loved. It was covered in prayer flags, and we wanted solemnly to circle the entire stupa and spin every prayer wheel, but Hera wanted to make sure we didn’t miss any of the side-project shrines along the pathway. All of these places, even the holiest shrines, are littered with people selling, selling, selling. Which seems a little out of place, but whatever. It’s not like it’s surprising.

We then went to a place where there are supposedly burnings (cremations), but they weren’t doing them that day, so we paid about $5 as, in Sarah’s words, a donation to renovate the place. It wasn’t in great shape, and there really wasn’t much to do but see the stone (done), get lost (very done), go accidentally into the Hindu-only section which looked way more interesting (yup), and be terrified of the monkeys. We were in fact scared of some of the monkeys that were blocking our path at one point, but they scattered as we came up, and in fact, one stayed behind to open the door the rest of the way, cautiously making eye contact as it did so, until it was all the way open, and the monkey went away. It was so polite! So the monkeys are OK, even though we saw them steal a bunch of junk from people. It was all in good fun!

Then we went to the largest stupa in the world, where supposedly a speck of the Buddha himself (though Sarah thinks this is true of all stupa, so it bears more research) is said to remain. It was so big, even we got sick of spinning the prayer wheels in the amazing throng of people circling clockwise. Finally we got out of it and had some chai masala, as we waited for Josh, a boy that Mari had met in Delhi, originally from Washington state, now studying Buddhism. His yearly expenses, including tuition, come to about $10,000 (just an interesting side note for those of you interested in studying in Nepal).

He turned out to be really nice. We ate at a nice rooftop restaurant near the stupa (Three Sisters restaurant), until it started raining, and we went for some chang (chung), the local Nepali rice beer. It’s white and tastes almost like a wine. But also, almost like a wet rag, as this is how it is made: you soak the rice, and then squeeze it out of the wet rag in a bucket, from which is it also served. Naturally, when one hears “wet rag” one pictures the dingiest, most threadbare and ancient rag they’ve ever seen in their lifetime. So there was a little getting over that, but in the end, we all liked the chang pretty well, and it was of course cheap. The rain precluded a visit back to Pashupati, and the full moon concert/celebration.

We had a terrifying taxi ride home—it started with him hitting a pedestrian, continued with nearly hitting a few cars, and then actually tapping a car, and then ended with zooming through the rainy, narrow streets of Thamel, towards our hotel. I really thought I was going to die, and was very sad, but glad that my last day had been in Kathmandu.

I’m now ready to join the summer program at the Buddhist academy next summer. There are Nepali and Tibetan language courses as well, which also appeal, but I don’t think they’d be as much use as the course on Buddhism. I’ve had so many close-to-spiritual experiences here, I feel this might be my foot in the door of theism (or whatever the opposite of atheism is). Sarah and I both really have our hearts set on it, if finances allow. And I have my heart set on my brother coming with me, too, for the six weeks. He’s never really spent time abroad, and Kathmandu seems like it might be his kind of place. Or at least the Buddhist part of it. I don’t know. I just know I loved it, and I want everyone to be able to love it as much as I do.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Varanasi, Day 1

I have so much more to say about Nepal, I hope I get to it. It continued to be wonderful, and now I have a deep tan. But now I am in Varanasi, India. Which we're not too thrilled about, but really only because we loved Nepal so much.

Anyway, just updating this because SOME people worry apparently if you don't update your website for 72 hours, MOMMM.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kathmandu, Nepal; day 1

We arrived at Nepal at about 8:30am, Jetairways. We had slept 3 hours after an annoyingly overpriced stay in a falsely advertised hotel, and after a nice dinner and night out with J (now out of the hospital, and into her new digs, which are completely awesome).

The visa process was easy. We didn't even have to pay because we were only staying 3 nights (4 days). However, now that we love it so much, we're trying to figure out how to change our visa so we can stay longer, if we can change our flights, and cancel our train tickets.

Part of our instantaneous love of Nepal may have been comparing the airports of Delhi and Kathmandu. Examples:

India: get in line to check in. They tell you to get in the longer line to check in your luggage. Then you bring your scanned luggage back to the first line, and they check you in, after long, bitchy stares. They give Alex a check in form, but not you or Sarah. You don't notice this until you get to the front of the next line and the person tells you you need that departure form. So you go all the way back to row 7. You get two more bitchy stares, and two forms, grudgingly, which you fill out for five minutes, and wait in line, and take it to the man again. Who tells you it's an older, unusable form. Go to British Airways, where they apparently don't hate you, and get two of the correct forms. Fill them all out again. Go through security, where the man is supremely annoyed with you, as if it was your fault. Wait in line, get your passport checked and stamped. Wait in line, get your carryon stuff scanned and stamped. Find your gate. Start boarding the airplane. Realize that Alex did not get the proper stamp on his carryon, so he has to go through that whole process again. Freak out for five minutes wondering if you're going to miss the flight. Alex comes back. Get on a bus. Sit on the bus and extra five minutes because the plane wasn't ACTUALLY ready. Walk through the rain to the plane. Breathe sigh of relief.

Nepal: Walk into empty airport, Himalayas all around you, morning-gray, fog-moist. Fill out a few small, readily available forms. Get in a line of one person, and then they send you to the even shorter line, for a free visa. When we got ours stamped, Sarah said incredulously, as we were released into the wilderness of the city "That's it??" and the friendly visa-preparer smiled and said "You want more? We can do more if you want."

Anyway, first things, after we kind of argued with our prepaid taxi about where we were going to stay, he finally did talk us into a hotel not in our Lonely Planet, and for once trusting someone didn't turn out to be a mistake. The hotel was wonderful, and a great location, and a good price. In fact, we called him back this evening to thank him, and to ask him to drive us to our trekking adventure tomorrow.

The room is on the fourth floor, and has a balcony overlooking the city and the mountains in the distance. Something is wonderfully pleasant about the city. It's content, and happy, even though the crowding and the dirt and pollution are comparable to India, to which we so favorably compare it.

After naps (I was the only person with a successful one apparently), we walked down the road to the shopping district, which is pretty fantastic. I feel silly, but I mostly got DVDs and a CD (Michael Jackson's number ones. I might also get some Brittney Spears--popstars I like to listen to, but could never bring myself to support their career. Perfect for pirated discs). We walked and walked, and had a huge lunch of two pizzas, after which we resolved to spend less money on food (we had paid about $5 each for two giant pizzas, three coffees, two sodas, a milk shake, and an espresso; we are getting spoilt, but then again we're here all summer). I also got some tigereye earrings.

There are still the "touts" (great LonelyPlanet word for something that needs a word), and the hard sells, but there's something so much less cloying and clinging about everyone here. We had such a nice experience with the first clerk at the DVD store, that again set a nice tone for the rest of the day.

Long day made short, we came home with snacks, with a plan to go on a long walk tomorrow. We'll see a speck on the horizon at the end of it, and that speck will be Mount Everest.

Top of the world to you.

Jaipur, India

Today we are in Nepal. It's brilliant, and cool, and wet and lovely. And so still! You'd never know it was the capital city. The mountains surround the valley, and the smog rolls in like mist. We all love it, and I'm so glad I have such great travel companions. We've all been very good natured about this trip so far. When things get us down, when people rip us off, we say positive things, like "Well, at least there are three of us," meaning it would be even harder to bear the cost if we were doing any of this alone.

Sarah and Alex and I traveled to Jaipur last weekend, where we had a wonderful trip, which I wrote a little bit about before. Sarah had met a boy, Sunny, in Rishikesh a few weeks ago, and he very insistently asked when she would come visit him in Jaipur, where he lived. This seemed just like overweening ardor (he's 22), as Sarah is quite gorgeous, but it was kind of endearing, the emails she read to us. So we went.

And we had a great time. Sunny and his friends treated us liked queens (and a king). They put us in a shoddy hotel that only cost 500rupees (about $10) for the night, and all we had to do we sleep three to a bed ("like kittens" is now how this is referred to). Then we went out to Amber, a nearby destination that's a must-see by most tour-guides. There, we visited Sunny's elephant farm, and four of us rode on an elephant saddle, Raj-style, after Sunny climbed up Kalli's trunk to sit on her head and drive. Children ran from their hovels with the biggest happiest smiles on their faces. They paused cricket games to wave. We felt like we were in a parade, going through town, and then into a forest, Sunny all the while giving shrill commands to Kalli. We have some great footage of us, too, so I can prove all of this.

Then we got back, and after once again playing with the baby elephant Muskan ("smile"), and after Muskan once hilariously put his trunk in Alex's unexpecting mouth, we visited Sunny's home (we on), and saw his sister and mother, who were very kind to us, and gave us delicious chai masala.

When we had arrived in Jaipur, we got off the bus and were accosted by three parties. One was Sunny and his friend Bharat. Several dozen were pushy rickshaw drivers. And a few were government agents, who pulled us out of the crowd and told us not to go with any of them, as none of them were reliable. Alex had a bad feeling right off, but we also didn't know if the cops were really cops. Sunny wasn't able to come into the police stand because it would have reflected badly on his family, who are well-known in the town (he on), and very successful.

After meeting Sunny's family, and the elephant ride, we were finally put to rest--we'd made the right choice in going with him and not the pushy cops. When we returned at dusk to the elephant yard, they were half-painted with intricate white lines and designs, and a half dozen boys were filling in the flowers and petals with paints so bright they glowed. We wanted to watch to completion, but as they began on the face, we were told we had some other places to be. We went back to the hotel to freshen up because Sunny's very successful older brother was taking us out to dinner.

We changed clothes, and went back out to a five star hotel for drinks. Soon, the brother, and a few other people arrived, and they talked about their family jewel business a lot, and how successful they were. But more or less, they were pleasant. Despite the following conversation:
Alex: Do you or any people ever corner the market to artificially manipulate the price?
Alex: But then there are movies like Blood Diamond, which show people hoarding large amounts of diamonds, and they can "release" them at preordained amounts.
THEM: Oh, well, yes, everyone does this. But it's only because we need to have certain prices for the diamonds.
[......crickets chirping as we try to remain polite and not without a modicum of intelligence]
THEM: Movies like Blood Diamond are just Hollywood. They just show the bad parts of diamonds, like the killing. But they don't show the good parts, like how wonderful it is to have a handful of diamonds and know you have millions of dollars in your posessesion.
[...more polite silence]

I had awkward conversation with the brother, the so-called brother. I think all the other people there were cousins of some kind. "Cousins of some kind" yes that's what it was. Anyway, eventually, it turned out that by transporting some of their diamonds to the States with our perfectly legal customs allowance, we'd save them $25,000 in taxes, and so they'd be happy to pay us $10,000 in return. It was weaved into the conversation a little more artfully, but still, red flags went up a bit. We noticed a whole lot of things in retrospect, one of which was that Sunny left, uncomfortable, a few times during the meeting.

A few other things we noticed: when we were up at the top of the mountain, at a shrine, in Amber to watch the sunset, I mentioned that my dad was a musician, and Bharat got quiet. Similarly, when Alex mentioned his mother was a faith healer, the same thing happened. But they got more interested when I later mentioned that he was "also a dentist."; Sunny gave us some possible veiled warnings about the coming scam, and so we think he was an unwilling participant somehow, though we've more or less broken contact with him; as soon as it was clear we weren't interested in working for them, our five star hotel was seriously downgraded to a corner market with some very, very unsanitary foodstuffs.

Afterwards, in the hotel room, we talked about how uncomfortable we were with it, but we weren't completely convinced it as a scam yet (they hadn't asked for any money from us at this point or anything). But at five, Sarah woke up freaked out, and we read Lonely Planet which spelled out the gem scam (which we later upgraded to a gem heist because it sounds cooler) in detail. They freaked, and by 8am, we had our bags packed. I even checked for a fire exit to get out by because the hotel clerks were friends of theirs, and they would have been alerted to our departure.

We got on the first (non-AC, ugh) bus out of town, freaked the whole time they'd show up, though we didn't know what for. We could turn them up, and clearly we weren't about to bite. Sunny texted Sarah about 20 times (this may be a literal number) after he realized we were gone, but although we were fruitlessly looking for platform 4 (and Sarah was stepping horrifically in a scummy ankle-deep puddle), we texted that we were already on the bus.

We found a fake Baretta, and tried to pretend that at least being scammed was cool. We decided it was cool we got one of our favorite days in India out of it, and all for free. No diamond smuggling necessary.

We got back to Delhi, and were in the end grateful for the extra time to decompress. We stayed at the Asian Guest House, where Jenny and I had stayed earlier, and it was all fine. We had a good laugh about it, and piecing together every bit of conversation and going-on that had happened that hadn't quite made sense till the twist at the end of the day. Too bad. I guess we learned a lesson, but I'm sad that this lesson is not to trust anyone. I think the lesson should really be that we're not that gullible--there hadn't been any real red flags before that, and as soon as it came up, we were out of there.

Thus ended our caper in Jaipur. But we loved it and Rajasthan so much, I hope we can all go back. The camels, and the desert, and the cheap bus ride there, that was all great. Of course it helped that, if falsely, we had a real host there to show us the real Jaipur and Amber. Poor Sunny. I do feel for him. His life isn't as good as ours, but he still makes his own choices.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

that thing is back

that thing that snacks on my diaphragm, just under the heart, behind the sternum, it's back. and it won't go away. i'm surprised the xray didn't show whatever it was, chewing away, slowly and steadily, like the tactile equivalent of a ringing in the ears. something that's there, and you try to ignore, but the more you try, the louder it gets, and then that's all you can hear. like that.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

yeah, so i'm in india and i updated three times in a night about TV and movies. quiet, you.

Not only are there movies that are straight to video, there are apparently entirely TV series that no one has heard of. For instance, a favorite here seems to be VIP. It's on channel 51. All. Day. Long. It's about a team of foxy detectives (I swear I had that idea before! Wait! Everyone did!). It had the following dialogue, which is funny in two ways:

Man [to foxy, but ditzy, lady detective]: You seem very spiritual.
Foxy Detective: [whispering] Well, I was a cheerleader for a while.

I find it moderately funny. But funnier is that it did not fit into the surrounding script in any way whatsoever. It's like they had their only shred of funny dialogue and they'd used up all their writing credits, so couldn't build a nice place for it to live. Poor bit of dialogue stuck in the middle of a conversation about protecting valuable technology! Poor little thing.

revealed preference

some people think that market research is pointless because people will say what will give them the advantage--you have to wait to see their revealed preference in the marketplace, see where they ACTUALLY spend that money when it comes to it. They might say they won't buy cigarettes or alcohol in their household budget, but when it comes to the bills, it's another story. So it's hard to gauge these things without specific methods (some of which I am trying to learn).

But anyway, there are two channels in English here, both showing crap that must have gone straight to video for the most part. But they're always showing simultaneous movies, and I have to choose. And reveal my preference with what I'll ACTUALLY watch. I prefer Blade III: Trinity to My Best Friend's Wedding. I prefer Robocop 3 to First Knight. However, I prefer Sleepless in Seattle (which I'd never seen) to A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now I'm watching a movie that I keep calling Sky Mall, but which may in fact be called Sky High. It is ok.

This is not OCD, this is common sense

I'm watching The Return as I type this. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, who really, I still don't like all that much, despite all my Buffy love. Whedon's plots and lines didn't change the fact she butchered many deliveries and uses her upper lip far too much when speaking.

But anyway, I'm writing because in a somewhat dramatic scene meant to represent tireless searching, SMG dumped out a file box full of files onto her mattress and began sorting through the contents. Now, is that something you do when you're looking for something? Files are files for a reason. Why decategorize things until you've identified the appropriate categories and searched them properly? I say! Indeed!