Tuesday, April 27, 2010

thank you india

i'm outty.

and yeah, well, that song has got an entirely different meaning to me now...

thank you silence
thank you disillusionment
thank you nothingness
thank you....

Alanis Morissette Thank You

Monday, April 26, 2010

and then the dreams

one night furless kitties cooked, but still slightly alive, and served on platters in brown gravy. i don't understand how this could have happened and i am sick in the pit of my stomach.

another night drowning kitties, still slightly alive, the last bits of energy leaving causing their bodies to twitch in the water. it's too late to save them and i am sick in the pit of my stomach.

and more recently a live kitty in my arms. i'm holding onto it so tightly that it cannot move while kicking a dog trying to get the kitty. the dog knocks me over and i don't let go of the kitty. i am kicking the dog with everything i have, keeping it at my feet and away from the kitty.

guess i'm starting to pull out of the feeling helpless thing i've been feeling lately. i can save the kitty!

Indigo Girls Watershed

thought i knew my mind like the back of my hand
the gold and the rainbow, but nothing panned out as i planned
and they say only milk and honey's gonna make your soul satisfied
well i better learn how to swim
cause the crossing is chilly and wide

twisted guardrails on the highway broken glass on the cement
a ghost of someone's tragedy
how recklessly my time has been spent
they say that it's never too late
but you don't, you don't get any younger
well I better learn how to starve the emptiness and feed the hunger

up on the watershed standing at the fork in the road
you can stand there and agonize
till your agony's your heaviest load
you'll never fly as the crow flies
get used to a country mile
when you're learning to face the path at your pace
every choice is worth your while

and there's always retrospect
(when you're looking back) to light a clearer path
every five years or so i look back on my life
and i have a good laugh
you start at the top go full circle round
catch a breeze take a spill
but ending up where I started again makes me wanna stand still

up on the watershed standing at the fork in the road
you can stand there and agonize
till your agony's your heaviest load
you'll never fly as the crow flies get used to a country mile
when you're learning to face the path at your pace
every choice is worth your while...

- words and music emily saliers

Sunday, April 25, 2010

speaking of poop

you see it everywhere, drying on the sides of roads, train tracks, and houses. balls of poop and dry hay. building material? fuel? yep, fuel. fuel they fire the ovens with to cook my favorite bread - nan. so that's what that special flavor is...

check out the kid at the side of the photo. you want to know what that sickening sweet smell is along the railroad tracks? well, beside rotting food and garbage, it's poop.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

leaving amritsar

reshma doesn't want us to go

Friday, April 23, 2010

at wagah: the indian pakistan border closing ceremony

ok, this has got to be a highlight for me. words cannot describe. it starts with a huge dance party (mostly women) on the india side

whilst the more sedate folk (mostly, if not all male) on the pakistan side look on,

and then as the actual ceremony begins, turns into a combo of michael jackson's "bad" video and john cleese's "silly walk"

check it out:

coming full circle on the sikh tip

a long, long time ago when all of this was just beginning, a beautiful sikh man walked into a bar in new jersey and told me that if i made it to india i should visit the golden temple in amritsar.

i just did. these photos are far better than anything could manage.

sikh hospitality and a little respite in amritsar india

we made it up to amritsar in the indian state of punjab, and i gotta say it's been a huge relief.

populated primarily by sikhs, it's a whole different world from the other states we've visited. this is the first place we've been where everyone smiles at us when we pass and not just because they're getting ready to ask for money or to try to sell us something at triple the actual value. they just smile and wave as they drive by. they just smile and shake our hands as we walk by. and they never ask us for anything. 

it's the first place we couchsurfed in india, and what a place. our host mr. singh owns a farm and has converted the 300 year haveli in the middle of the property into a sort of rural boutique hotel. he farms, raises animals, and breeds horses there. if there are open rooms, he offers them to couchsurfers. if the rooms are full, he offers bunks to couchsurfers. if the bunks are full, he offers camping to the couchsurfers. it's been fairly quiet since we've been here, the only guests being us and couchsurfer from slovenia who has been bicycling around the world for 4 years, so we ended up with a big air-conditioned room. did i mention the restaurant and swimming pool?

reshma, one of the staffers here, is particularly outgoing despite knowing only about 6 words of english. she gave us the grand tour of the nearby village in which she lived, and during which we were served tea by nearly everyone we encountered. sweet.

a nice little building in reshma's nearby village

dajan the slovenian couchsurfer and i listening to the water buffalos making the weird sounds that water buffalos make.

wherever we go, we draw a crowd.

dajan, reshma's sister, reshma and i at reshma's sister's house in the village.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

looking back: two kinds of tourists, take your choice

travelling through southeast asia, nepal and now india, it seems that after some time your choices become limited. you can either be an a stupid tourist or an a**hole tourist.

you know that they're scamming you and stealing from you but you don't want to call them on it at risk of furthering the "ugly american " stereotype. so you don't call them on it and then they think you are a stupid tourist and then try and scam you even more. and if you do call them on it, you're an a**hole.

nepal was the breaking point for me when i turned from voluntarily letting them think i was a stupid tourist into being an a**hole tourist.  (of course, if they asked me what country i was from, i said bosnia.  ha! take that! image-of-the-ugly-american-tourist!  ok, to be fair to bosnia, nobody in nepal had ever heard of it anyway.)

i've "snapped" twice. ok, when i say "snapped", i really just stood up for myself.

first at the ganesh himal guesthouse in nepal (my bandh on that guesthouse is still on, by the way) when the lying liar woman at the desk told me that i didn't just talk to the guys that i just talked to and find out that she was charging them less than me. she actually tried to convince me over and over again that i did not have the conversation that i just had. incredible. anyway, i wasn't rude to her, i just called her on her lies instead of giving up and walking away angry feeling like a sucker.

and more recently, at the train station in india, where after standing in line with an old lady pressing her body sweaty body against me for what seemed like an eternity, and after standing quietly as multiple men pushed to the front of the window in front of us again and again - with, mind you, not a peep of complaint from the people standing behind me in line - i get to the window and don't have a form filled out that i didn't know i needed to have filled out just to buy a frigging train ticket and an indian woman a couple of people back in line said loudly and disdainfully in english "what, she didn't fill out her form?"

normally, i would politely ignore and grumble internally. this time i, the only foreigner in a long line of locals, turned and said in an equally loud and disdainful voice "well, i would have filled out a form if there had been any evidence anywhere in this entire station that i actually needed to fill out a form." (well, that put her in her place, eh? jeez, i'm a wimp!)

great, so now i'm the a**hole tourist...

indian queues: up close and personal

it's hot (did i mention we're in the middle of a heatwave here?) the power is out and i can't get any freaking internet access and i need to buy a train ticket - which you've got to do here days and days and days in advance if you want a chance at getting any kind of seating at all that has air-conditioning. travel agents like to try and charge you double the actual cost of the ticket so i head to the station to stand in line (or queue as they call it in these parts.) and true to the different value placed on personal space here, i've got a chewer on my back. a sweaty, sweaty chewer.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

i sing the praises of the p-trap

it is at this late date in my travels that i would like to give a shout-out to a little something that we in the states like to call the p-trap.

it's a simple little piece of plumbing installed on the exit route of your drains, sinks, toilets, etc., the function of which is to stop noxious fumes from the sewage system from coming back up into to your house.

joni mitchell wasn't kidding when she sang you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

i love trains in india
today's journey: delhi to amritsar


air-conditioned chair cars where the seats are like airplane seats but with more room or air-conditioned sleeper cars where you get a wide berth outfitted with linens, a pillow and a towel. it's all good.

and what's really great is that at every stop, a bunch of vendors like the guy in the photo jump on and roam the aisles selling surprisingly good food and drink at reasonable prices. the best cardamom milk tea ever in the world for a mere 5 rupees (about 11 cents), freshly (well, mostly freshly) cooked yummy little patties made of potatoes and veggies replete with bread and super spicy sauce for 25 rupees. pakoras, sandwiches... even ice cream.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

more sightseeing around delhi

saw the lotus temple.

the national gallery of modern art has a pretty decent collection.

as does the national museum, including actual bones from the buddha himself.

they have a toilet museum here, but we haven't managed to make it there...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

how low can you go
or stealing from gandhi's memorial

you can't wear your shoes when you visit mahatma gandhi's memorial - the site where he was cremated. you can either leave them outside in one spot for free and at the risk of them not being there when you return, or leave them with some attendents for a price. we arrive late in the afternoon and the attendants aren't giving out tickets for your shoes despite there being evidence of tickets in the form of a big pile of used tickets in the trash behind them.

no tickets = no evidence of shoe-keeping fee being paid = money in the ole pocket for them. really, stealing from gandhi's memorial site? really, must you?

indira gandhi's living room

there's an indira gandhi museum in new delhi. actually, it's the house she lived in and outside of which she was shot and killed. part of the house holds exhibits and media clippings, and part remains the same as when she lived there.

really weird to stand there and look at indira gandhi's living room

and bedroom

and the spot on which she was shot and killed

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

your basic sightseeing trip around new delhi, india

the india gate

government building stuff

never got an explanation on this one since it was me, z, and a busload of indian tourists with a hindi speaking tour guide.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

my guesthouse in delhi, india is on this street

travelling light and travelling long: some random tips

here's some random stuff:

exofficio travel underwear: priceless. you don't need many. i brought 4. i only needed 2. wash one, wear one, wash one, wear one. 

socks: they don't dry as fast as undies, but wearing them a few times is fine, so 2 pair is enough.  and really, i only needed them a couple of times since mostly i wear my sandals.

hair: wash, wear down 2 days then up 3 (ok, maybe 4) days. repeat.

travel guides are expensive and heavy and heavy. this is the first time i've carried travel guides and it's a b*tch. a little word from the newly-wise: if you feel you must have a travel guide and if you're flying into bangkok, wait until you get there to buy a travel guide. they're half the price there. and if you're going to india, you can sell you travel guides to a used bookstore or a guesthouse there for 1/2 of the cover price (and seeing how as you only paid 1/2 of the cover price in bangkok, whoo hooo, you're a winner!)

bring a teeny laptop.  you'll be infinitely happier.  really.  lighter than travel guides, i might add.

get yourself a sport billy bag. this tiny little gym bag thing can fit the entire contents of my 27 liter rucksack, a table and chairs, and an airplane. we bought it on the cheap in thailand and it's been invaluable. and then there's milk teddy. milk teddy (also discovered in thailand) is sport billy's little pal and keeps money and pens and allergy meds and cream you need to try and clear up unidentified rashes easy to find inside the cavern that is sport billy.

a little something i like to call the hock-tooey factor

you hear it everywhere.  echoing through the streets.  right next to you and far off in the distance.  it wakes you up in the morning and lulls you to sleep at night.

hock-tooey.  hock-tooey.  hock hock tooey.

from india to nepal, the hock-tooey factor is high. 

it's the dirt.  dirt everywhere and mostly in your lungs.

ok, maybe not mostly in your lungs because it really does a good job working it's way onto and into your skin as well.  did you ever go to the renaissance faire?  remember running around there all day and then blowing your nose?  what happened?  dirt happened.  snot the color of dirt.  al-bob and i call those faire boogers.  imagine that, but all over your body.  say you have an itch, an innocent little itch.  you absent-mindedly rub it and what happens?  you feel, under your fingers, little bits of dirt rolling up into little balls.  faire boogers.  covering your arms, legs, shoulders, neck. 


oh and another thing

and... i forgot about the so-called tourist police in nepal.  so a bunch of taxi drivers hang out outside the tourist police station in kathmandu.  you think, hey, they're hanging around the tourist police so maybe they're charging a fair price.  but no.  the tourist police will stand right next to you while you're asking about the price of a trip and do absolutely nothing when the driver quotes you 3, 4, 5 times more than the real price. 

and then there's the hotels that don't take your passport or have you sign in at all.  all the cash goes straight into their pockets. but even that's not enough, so they try and charge you for an extra night until you sit there with a calendar together and count the nights off a few times.

finally, nepal nickel and dimed us and their fellow countrymen to the very end.  today, we were sitting in the airport lounge having something to eat before our flight back to india when the waiter gave us the bill - a computerized bill.  hmmm, my juice wasn't on the bill.  let's just see what happens.  so we pay the bill sans juice, and sure enough, 3 minutes later the waiter comes back asking for payment for the juice he "forgot" to put on the bill.  no additional official bill for the juice produced though.  just some more cash for his pocket.

ok, now that's enough about nepal.

free at last, free at last!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

kathmandu? how about kathmandon't
or nepal: no thanks!

i have never wanted out of a country more than i have wanted out of nepal. actually, i have never wanted out of a country at all until i met nepal.

why? oh, where to begin... ok how about here:

the powderkeg-ready-to-explode thing
if you make the mistake of visiting the cities there - particularly kathmandu - the tension and feeling of about-to-explode violence is always in the air.

nepal's communist party who call themselves maoists (but who are really more like peru's shining path in terms of their objectives and use of violence and child subscription into their armies to name a few things...) destroyed the country's ability to progress, or even educate their young,  for over 10 years - and now that they are part of the government as a result of a peace treaty, they continue to do damage there.

students are applying for foreign universities in droves trying to avoid the schools in nepal which now just push the maoist agenda.

while we were there, maoist youth thugs attacked and seriously injured the leaders of the youth opposition party. the next day, a maoist youth was killed in retaliation in the midst of durbar square, one of kathmandu's premiere tourist attractions.

nepal is now in the midst of trying to rewrite the country's constitution now that the maoists have a place within the government, and the maoists don't want just a place within the government, they want the whole thing.  good luck.

as we were finally, thankfully, boarding a plane to get the heck out of there, we met two women who decided to visit nepal for 1 week as a vacation in the midst of the peace dialog between india and pakistan that they had been participating in. they too were rejoicing to escape nepal. they too thought the place was a powderkeg ready to blow.  they too did not feel safe on the streets.  one of them had visited nepal 3 times in the past. she said it never felt the way it feels now.

the i-can't-get-anywhere thing
in the short time we were there, the maoists called bandhs (strikes) that paralyze transportation systems all over nepal - something they've been fond of doing for years - at least a couple of times.  i hear the bandhs are much more frequent in kathmandu. taxi and bus drivers who dare to drive on those days are attacked.

see the previous post.

the culture of extortion and thievery
trying to rip off tourists is the norm in laos, cambodia, vietnam and india.  you know, short changing, overcharging for goods, and overcharging for taxi's and tuk-tuks and rickshaws.  but it somehow feels different - and more malevolent - here. 

i have never felt so ripped-off in all of my travels. i do not believe that i met a single person there who did not try to steal from me - or their fellow countrymen - in one way or another.

and the thieves are so inartful.

and yeah, i get that this is a really poor country and that we are rich and can afford to kick a little cash their way. in my head, it still doesn't make thievery right.  i'd rather give to (and often do give to) people in the street, because they are more honest.  they aren't pretending to offer me anything in exchange.  i'm poor, you have more than me, why don't you just give me some.  ok.  that's pretty straightforward.  i can respect that.

like the taxi driver who made a big show of counting my change not once but twice, trying to david copperfield me by counting the last 100 rupees twice each time.  clumsy.  lame.

or the guesthouse lady at ganesh himal guesthouse (yeah, they're a cut above but they are destroying the place next door with their extortion so i'm calling a bandh on their a**! don't go there! get ready for a bit of a rant...) who, when we were checking out, politely asked where we were going next like she was making small talk, and who then when when we told her called the guesthouse we had reservations at for the next couple of nights (we were stuck in kathmandu because of the whole transportation thing and ganesh himal was full.) and demanded a commission for referring us there although she hadn't.

the whole "commission" thing for referring someone to another guesthouse is just formalized extortion and is all over nepal. the deal is, though, that popular guesthouses never have to pay commissions for referrals because they get their customers directly from people who find them on the internet or in travel guidebooks. it's only the less well-known guesthouses that don't have an internet or travel guidebook presence that end up paying "commissions". 

people often book the well-known guesthouses for the first night or two, then once they arrive in the city and find just as good but less expensive guesthouses, move to these guesthouses for the remainder of their stay. so the the scam is that the popular guesthouse people will find out from you where you're going next, phone ahead to claim they referred you there, and then demand a commission from these places.

they are stealing money from you, the guesthouse and/or both because 1) you won't be able to negotiate a discount on the room since they now have to pay an extortion fee to the "referring" guesthouse, and 2) the less well-known guesthouse just can't get ahead to become real competition to the popular guesthouses because a portion of their proceeds is always flying out the window.

anyway, after we told the almost-as-good but less expensive (by the equivalent of $8 american dollars) guesthouse that the criminal lady at ganesh himal did not refer us, they called the criminal lady and she proceeded to try and tell them that we were lying about having reservations and that she did indeed refer us.  huh?  she's trying to tell the guys at my new guesthouse, with whom i made reservations with in person 2 days earlier, that we're lying about having had reservations?  what? 

and oh how i could go on about the boldface lies the ganesh himal criminal lady told me to try and extort more money from me while we were staying there, but it's time to let it go.

the sacred and the profane
visiting swayambhunath, according to the lonely planet nepal travel guide, is supposed to be the defining moment of your visit to kathmandu. and it was in a way, but not in the way they described. this supposedly sacred site was so crammed full of sh*t vendors that i'm unclear what's sacred about it. yeah, nepal, i realize you're poor and need to make money, but is destroying the tourist draws in your cities really the way to do it?

and they are declaring 2011 nepal tourism year. riiiight...

anyhooo...  bye, bye nepal.

Buffalo Springfield For What It's Worth

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

defying death on the road to kathmandu nepal

the winding mountain road between chitwan and kathmandu should have taken about 5 1/2 hours.

10 hours, 6 accidents including the one below, 7 deaths, scores injured, later, we finally arrived.

just another day on the road in nepal. apparently one is 30 times more likely to die on the road in nepal than any other developed country.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

elephants, jungles on foot and other things i thought i'd never do

walk - that's on foot with a guide carrying only a big stick - through a jungle that has rhinos and tigers and elephants lurking about?
did it.

ride in a dugout canoe through crocodile infested waters?
did it.

ride an elephant?
did it.

bathe an elephant?

(okay, i was really conflicted about the elephant thing, but they were "working elephants" bathing with their mahouts in the local village - not just there for the tourist entertainment. at least that's what I told myself...)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

tharu culture in and around chitwan national park, nepal

spent many a morning drinking nepali tea by the napti riverside watching tharu life unfold

hanging in chitwan national park, nepal


gharials on rivers

lakes in grassland and sal forests

jungle-y jungle

lakes in jungle-y jungle




rhinos and elephants

and more rhinos and elephants

Saturday, April 3, 2010

annapurna on my doorstep

i'm talking the himalayas.

from my balcony.

Friday, April 2, 2010

sunrise over the himalayan annapurna range

the annapurna range is the furthest back, not too visible to my camera, but majestically huge and white and craggy and visible to me in person.

that's what i get to see where i'm at now. crazy.