The biggest adjustment to Thailand has been accepting how different the country and culture is, compared to India.
Those are just a few areas. We've been loving Bangkok, and tomorrow sort of ends the adjustment, and has us right back in the mix and mire and chaos of travel. I'm going to the Grand Palaca and Wat Po; we're also going to sort out visas for Cambodia, and train tickets for our next destination: Ayutthaya, 80km north. From there, we'll be heading to Surothani, and then Chiang Mai. (Tiffadactyl: I'll be emailing you I canít believe youíre in CM!) Er, maybe. Or we might go west to Kanchanaburi and Erawan Falls first.
This weekend is also a holiday weekend: all of Thailand will be celebrating Constitution Day. Mel has been saying that travel will be difficult, accommodation hard to come by. She also says that Bangkok is a hella good place to be in during the holiday, for everything from people-watching to seeing the king take a parade boat up the Chao Praya River. And, in true Aussie-expat style, there's a piss-up from Thursday onwards.
The last few days have been very reassuring.
On Saturday Ant, Colin (otherwise known as GreyCat on Bootsnall), and I wandered around. We first stopped off at the Temple of the Golden Buddha, which houses a 5.5 ton solid gold buddha.
This buddha is the one that got me interested in visiting Thailand in the first place. When I lived with Steph in Tech Hall at Stevens, I was reading some book that mentioned the story of the Golden Buddha. This eventually culminated in my first trip here to Thailand in 2000 with Steph.
Back in the day (errr... the date is fuzzy) a 5.5 ton solid gold buddha was cast (take that King Tut!!). However, being $15 million worth of gold (at today's prices), it had to be protected from pillaging invaders. So, it was hidden underneath a plaster/cement casing, in the shape of another buddha. During excavation for a building project in the 1930s, the statue was shifted, and a piece of the casing broke off, revealing the golden buddha inside!
Imagine making that find! The down side of this amazing discovery was that people went around smashing stone/plaster buddhas all over the country.
It's quite a site and the incredible thing about the statue is that there is almost no security around it. I mean really, just ganking a toe would be enough to keep me traveling for a LONG while.
Anywho, after that we wandered around, found the main train station and picked up some time tables. Which brings me to a VERY cruel joke here in Thailand. There are more 7-11s that ANYWHERE I have ever seen (even more than Hong Kong) but they don't have slurpees!!! What is up with that???
To smooth over my distress, we took a dip in the VP Tower's pool. Rockin.
However, the night was not over. Ant, Colin, and I headed off to some area that Mel had taken Ant a few nights before and proceeded to get completely shitty for $8. That's $8 for 6 beers (total) that are the size of wine bottles, and almost as strong. Not to bad if you ask me!!!!!
Finally, we bid farewell to Colin as he was off to Ko Samui for a few days. Have fun man!!! We enjoyed your company.
Mel is due back in a few hours and we have chores to do for the next few days. We have to procure visas for Cambodia and I am going to get my slides/negs processed at a professional lab here in Bangkok for a fraction of what I'd pay at home. Also, being most of my clothes are India garb, covering much of my body, I am looking forward to buying some cute new stuff.
I have arrived, FINALLY.
I am a happy camper these days. After a tiring last few days in India, the people at Air India must have known because for some unknown reason, they upgraded me to first class!!! Duh, I know, they probably overbooked, but who cares!!! When I got that "executive" class ticket I nearly had a heart attack from delight. I sat there sipping on french red wine (getting pretty drunk too), reading Harper's Bazaar (white is THE color in knits this season and the 40s look is uber-trendy) and Newsweek. Newsweek had a feature on the new Lord of the Rings film, Return of the King and I was encouraged that it wasn't going to get screwed up, especially after that whole Matrix trilogy debacle.
Anyway, I crashed at Mel McConaghy's (super cool chickie who I met last summer in China) place last night even though she wasn't there, but Ant had the geyser on for me and the hot water and water pressure were heavenly. Mel comes back on Sunday from a weekend at the beach and I can't wait to see her.
Today Ant and I are chillin' with GreyCat/Colin from Bootsnall, so we should have a great day.
Because there MUST be another. We'll be back, badder than Arnie. Here's a short list of places we want to see again, or for the first time, on India II:
Where else should we go?
Will that be red or green turkey curry?
Welcome to Bangkok. Sawasdee! (That's Thai for "hiya.")
Getting into Thailand was incredibly easy. The passport line moved quickly; the official didn't even ask for my outward ticket. Customs hardly nodded at me. In the main lounge, I hunted down currency exchange and the airport bus: 100B (about $2.50US) got me to the Victory Monument on the north end of downtown. Perfect.
Claudia gets here late tomorrow night, and we're crashing with her Aussie friend Melissa, or "Mel" for short. Mel lives... somewhere near the Vic Mon, but bugger if I could tell where. I had Mel's address, but no directions. I did have her cell phone number... but it wouldn't dial through. Oh well. When in doubt, ask the locals... one guy pointed me one way, and off I went... a second guy... well, the second guy reminded me of how crap I am at deciphering different accents and English dialects.
"Yes. I know it. 50 baht."
Bloody hell, he wants to charge me, I thought. Did I make a wrong turn and wind up back in Delhi? "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"My mother bought it."
"Sorry... not understanding." His mother bought the building? What? Is this guy having me on, or is he a loony?
Oh. Duh. "No, no, walking."
He nodded, realized I was a verbal dunce, and resorted to mime. He pointed here and pointed there, and even drew a line map on his hand (which I copied into my notebook).
"Thanks." He nodded, and waved. Phew, no charge after all.
After the first turn he pointed out, I asked one more person. She verified what he had said, and even followed me down the street another half a block to make sure I was all right. 5 minutes later, I was in the lobby of Mel's building, headed to the lift.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" (I so wish I could render an Aussie accent saying that phonetically, but I just can't.)
In an email to Claudia, Mel had asked if we were coming to Bangkok before or after Thanksgiving. Yes, you read that right: the Aussie girl was checking to see if the Yank oddballs would be in Thailand in time for an American holiday feast. I didn't get it either, until after introductions in Mel's flat.
"Did you have plans this evening Ant?"
"I have loads of American friends here, and we're getting together this evening for Thanksgiving dinner. Now, I didn't know if you had plans, so I ordered you a meal for it. You can cancel it if you want though."
"No, that's awesome. Thanks!"
So here I am, halfway around the world, away from my American family and friends, and about to eat a Thanksgiving feast. Festivities kick off... in about an hour and a half. Given that there are Aussies and a swimming pool involved, I'm guessing this particular feast will be rather unique. At least, never in Virginia did Thanksgiving dinner involve a bathing suit-and-alcohol course, but I plan on trying to introduce the idea next year. "Next course, synchronized underwater turkey carving... down your pints first though Dad, we can't make it too easy for ya!"
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Venting is good, but it's done. For now.
Delhi hasn't been all bad, just mostly annoying. Here's some of the good things that happened in Delhi:
Why do the Wachowski brother SUCK so bad??
I know this is a travel blog, but I need to vent. I was so looking forward to the sequels to The Matrix. Then I saw Reloaded, and wanted to cry it was so bad. It sucked but Ant tried to pacify me with "It's a transition movie, wait until Revolutions to pass judgement."
It's judgment time.
How is it possible for two guys, who obviously have to ability to make a great movie (or film, if you're a movie snob) and just throw it away to blow stuff up? Where did the ideas, mythology, and guts go? How about dialogue? Where did that go? It came down to, too many pointless and confusing characters, too many special effects that reminded me of Starship Troopers, and not enough story. In fact, the main characters were barely IN the movie because they decided that it was more important to have a political comment on guerilla warfare and its merits.
Anywho, I could go on for ages. Vince, if you are reading this, rant and rave for me. Start here: this movie BLEW. If anyone else has some thoughts on why Matrix Revolutions sucked, please feel free to pipe up.
Oh please, PLEASE don't let this happen to the final Lord of the Rings...
As Ant has mentioned, we had some "issues" with our guesthouse, the H.K. Choudary Paying Guest House. Ant just called them the H.K. Chowderheads, but whatever, Let's Go was wrong in recommending them, they BLOW.
We reserved a room weeks in advance. Not one, but 2+ weeks. You'd think that would be enough time for these jokers to get their shit together, but no. We arrive and they give us a song and dance that they're all full up because two guys missed their train and came back.
LIKE I CARE.
The manager, Mr. Das, explained he had to give them our room. We checked out the other hotel, laughed at the price, and I went back to H.K. I was tired and had had enough. After saying that it was a mistake and these things happen he asked why we minded, it was only one night.
With that I lost it, and he kept trying to interrupt me. "But madam... Cheap tomorrow see no problem... Boss-madam, understand..."
"SHUT THE HELL UP AND QUIT INTERRUPTING ME!" seemed to work. So did, "This dump was recommended to me by my Let's Go guide book. Three other travelers who have been here said it was a shithole and that we should go elsewhere. It is a shithole and I should have listened to them. Now, should I email Let's Go and mention your antics, along with the names of the other travelers who agreed??"
Ok, that last part was bullshit (I hadn't met anyone who had been there) but he didn't know that. The threat of writing a scathing email to Let's Go seemed to be a trump card. Suddenly, "Madam, work with me. Give me five minutes, I pick you up in a taxi, we find new hotel for 550 rupees."
At this point, what did we have to lose? The only person with something to lose was Mr. Das: in a throw down, his cajones would be toast. So we went. And we slept, and we had HOT WATER. Mmmmmm.
Taken to the cleaners:
Right, so now, this laundry thing. We drop off Ant's laundry. Most civilized hotels (even the $3/night ones) take a day, TOPS, for laundry. These jokers said 2 days!! What are they doing?? Wearing the clothes out for a night first? What the FUNK!!! Mr. Das could tell he was trying my patience again but was afraid I might kick his ass in front of his colleagues so he scurried around attempting to find Ant's undies. Who knows, maybe they will show up. We'll see what happens after we mention that we'll file a police report if they aren't there tomorrow.
The ONLY good thing about this dump, was the older gentleman (probably big "H.K." himself) who called to confirm my movie times for me and how to get to the cinema. (We saw Matrix Revolutions, which also sucked and gets two spoons down according to Ant.)
Tonight I sleep in a roof shack with a poster of a toilet over the bed for 200 rupees. But that's ok, because I think I am going to get my 200 rupees worth of fun out of fucking with Mr. Das, who gets two spoons up... his ASS.
2 days in Delhi. No, wait, 2 and a half, if you include the time from landing at the airport, to when I flew out for Varanasi 2 months ago.
Delhi has not made a good impression on me, either the first time or the second. The first bad impression was mostly my own fault, mind you. I'd landed in Delhi at 1:30 in the morning, after about 2 days worth of transit. All I saw of Delhi was the Immigration queue, arrival lounge, the inside of a taxi, some dark landscape, and my own stupidity.
See, I shouldn't have been in a taxi. There's a shuttle bus that ferries passengers between the international and domestic terminals. I just got dumb, and let a taxi driver sweet-talk me. I paid 500 rupees for the privilege that's about $12US. Claudia is sitting next to me as I type this: "Please don't put the number," she said. "It's too painful."
Tell me about it. But hey, when I'm stupid, at least I'm not half-assed about it.
That 500-rupee taxi ride gave good value on some invaluable lessons though: Never hurry, or let someone rush you. Always stop, think, and look at the guidebook. Verify everything from at least 2 sources. Taxi drivers are a bunch of lying bastards. Well, that's harsh... I'm sure their parents were married.
Returning to Delhi the other night, I'd hoped that things would go more smoothly. Well, I have the right to hope.
Before leaving Agra, I'd called our hotel to reconfirm our reservation. Everything was set... then we got to the H.K. Choudhary Guesthouse in Connaught Place. I mention the name, because I want you to find it in your guidebook and mark it out with a big black pen. Instead of handing me the usual signin book, the reception guy handed me a phone. A voice on the other end explained that the person in our room was staying another day, so they had no room for us, of course though sir everything was fine, he had already arranged for me and Claudia to stay at the hotel across the street. Uh-huh.
We trucked across the street, to the spankin' new Metro Park Hotel (they'd been open about 10 days, said the desk dude from behind his counter in a rather swish lobby full of marble, dark stained wood and a hint of fresh paint). The price for the HK was 550 rupees. For the Metro Park?
I started yelling. I think Claudia did too. Granted, none of this was probably these guys' fault. I think though a nagging suspicion in my head said that they might have made a little arrangement with the HK guys: tell the foreigners you're overbooked, send 'em our way and they'll pay at least twice as much; we get some business since we're new, and we'll kick you back a little. I don't know. But it wouldn't surprise me.
At the same time, the Metro staff were pretty cool. Claudia disappeared; I chilled a bit, and the price went down to 1000. Still WAY too much. 10 minutes later Claudia returned; I'm still not clear on what she said, did, cursed or threatened the HK guys with, but 5 minutes later the manager was down front in a car, driving us to a place that would cost 750 but we only had to foot 550. The HK, under threat of a Long Island Ass Whooping no doubt, suddenly turned decent and paid the other 200. We slept under a pink, bedspread after watching HBO and taking a hot shower... and we slept well, even though this whole debacle didn't conclude until nearly 1 a.m.
Did all turn out well? Not yet. The next day the HK did give us a deal on our double, and Claudia is staying in a cheap yet decent single during the interim between each of us getting to Thailand. Do we still think they're wankers? Yup, but Claudia can tell you more about that after the rest of her stay and if my laundry has managed to turn up clean, or, well, has turned up at all, by then.
Yet we've managed, though with a few snits and short tempers, more on my part than hers. Delhi is not conducive to sanity, security, or often even fun I think we've been too busy watching our backs to really see if we can get into the place. It may have to do with Delhi starting with the letter "D". There are many "D" cities that are also, at best, grade D: Delhi. Dublin. Detroit. You tell me, but I'm distinctly sensing a pattern.
Not that it matters much, really. We're in Delhi to leave India. I fly to Bangkok at midnight; Claudia follows on Friday evening.
This is where I suppose I could wax in with some deep sentiments and sum-ups on India, but if you've read this far, I've dragged you along far enough. I'll save deep sentiments and teary farewells for another post.
Just wish me luck getting to the airport, and let's see if I can hang onto my good sense and last 500 rupees long enough not to take a taxi to the runway.
Ok, I expected horny Indian men, but not horny Indian lizards (or LEEEzards as Ant says).
As I was killing mosquitos (29 for me, 50 for Ant) the other night, I went to close the curtain near our door. As I moved the material, a lizard shot out and onto my boob. Yes, I was groped by a lizard. I screamed like one of Ant's schoolgirl fans and ran across the room, practically jumping up on the bed.
Ant came over and chased the little guy into the corner while I opened the door for him to chase him out. It was not to be. I hear Ant say "oh shit" which leads to my "What??!!!" and his "You don't want to know." Of COURSE I want to know what happened.
Well, I see a lizard in one hand, a twitching lizard tail in the other. Errr. Yuck?
I know they are designed to do this, it's a defense mechanism or some other biology term but a twitching tail is GROSS. He put the little dude out in the courtyard and I felt bad for a long time over the price the lizard paid to cop a feel on me.
There are certain cliches about traveling in India. Getting off a plane in Delhi, for example, is almost always described as "walking into an oven."
Agra, on the other hand, is always described as "a dump." Claudia and I have been in Agra for 2 days (her second visit, my first), and you know what? Agra's a dump.
It used to be capital of the Mughal empire. If it weren't for the Taj Mahal, no one would come here. Even with the Taj, the scam artists, touts, and pollution are enough to keep some people away. No, I take that back: the pollution alone can scare you off. This isn't just air that you can chew, this is air that can kick your ass if it doesn't like being bitten.
Now that there are no emperors building elaborate tombs for beloved yet dead second wives, Agra's chief livelihoods are: 1) Extorting foreign tourists on entry fees to said tombs, and 2) Building as many coke-fired plants as possible to spit out as much dust, smoke, and general airborne crap as possible. I'm not sure which enterprise is more successful. Judging by the 750-rupee "foreign tourist" entrance fee (as opposed to 20 rupees for Indians) and the 7.50-meter visibility that you have in Agra, I'm guessing they're neck and neck.
Yet the Taj makes up for it all. I still don't like the touts (you gain 1 tout for every 3 steps you take), and the pollution is absurd (but that's what happens when the livelihood of pocket-lining is more important than, well, livelihoods). But the Taj... Agra just doesn't seem to deserve the place.
But that's perhaps harsh. Claudia and I got up in time to see the Taj at sunrise. They say the Taj changes throughout the day, as the sun moves across the sky. It's true except for one thing: the Taj never quite looks real, never quite looks here.
The sun hadn't quite risen when I first saw it. Haze gauzed the place over so that it didn't look solid, more like part of a dream now momentarily in your conscious sight. As the sun rose, the building's lines became crisper, the domes and minarets more distinct. The white brightened, but still, the Taj looked more like a vision than a monument.
I was also still sleepy. Claudia thought I was crabby (I don't blame her), but really I was just overwhelmed. For all the crap and dumps we humans are so capable of (and talented at), now and again we prove ourselves wrong and show that we actually can achieve things that are beautiful and creative. Looking at the Taj a monument to love and architecture stirs up your insides. I wanted to scribble the finest words I could drum up from inside; I wanted to talk about how amazing this place is. I stood in one spot for 5 minutes, and could barely say a word. Writing these notes and observations, at best I'm fumbling for what to say.
Awe is a good thing. Though it leads to overwriting in blog posts later.
Outside the Taj gates, the usual touts awaited. The pollution, of course, was everywhere. (All over the Taj dome, in fact, there are little metal loops for scaffolding, since every few years they have to clean all the crud off and turn the place from brown back to white.)
Agra is a dump. So's a lot of life. You finish the metaphor:
The Taj reminds us that there's more to life than dumps, even when you're in the middle of one.
And you thought the Formula 1 races were in some swanky European city like Monte Carlo.
Apparently Khajaraho has one of it's own kick ass drivers and his name is Santosh and he drives this beast of a vehicle. Santosh had been Ant's pick for a rickshaw driver because he was the least annoying and a pain in the ass when we were accosted when we got off the bus from Jhansi. We got to our hotel without a hitch. Santosh did the usual song and dance about a ride to a local waterfall, etc but he was very chill about it.
After going to the smutty temples, we realized that we had way more time than we expected and a waterfall might be a good idea. We regretted not arranging something with Santosh because he seemed a decent guy. We spoke with our hotel wallah and asked for him to arrange a rickshaw to the falls and he said for the same price, we could do another set of temples. The guy he got was Santosh! Rock on!!
We wind up chatting with him a bit and got to liking him. He's 18 and has been driving the rickshaw for a year. It shows. He drives like every 18 yr old, he loves to swerve, speed, and thinks he's a race car driver.
We got to the waterfalls, chilled for a while, climbed on some rocks, chat, and sipped chai. Ant confused yet another person with his "what do you like about your job?" question. Most of the people he asks this question have this look of complete confusion on their faces. As if to say, "Who cares about liking my job, at least I have one." Anyway, our guide translated for Ant and Santosh readily admitted he likes to drive like a Formula 1 driver. No shit. I never would have guessed from the number of cows whose asses we almost drove into.
After many giggles and laughes, we left. I noticed he kept glancing at me in the rearview mirror and giggling some more. When we stopped for me to take a photo of the sunset, Santosh asked us to come to his house. Normally, house=shop/emporium/place to get money out of you but for some reason, I had a good feeling about this offer so we accepted.
And I'm glad we did.
We pull off the main road onto a dirt path. After more crazy turns we stop at a modest building. Santosh's father comes out to greet us. I don't remember his name, but he was a good looking older guy with a cheery smile. He invited us in to sit. Tea was brought around for all and we met Santosh's mom, a really cute and bubbly lady who giggles more than an Indian schoolgirl whose seen Ant.
We learned from Santosh's Dad that he too used to do the rickshaw thing, but he rode a cycle rickshaw for 20 years, then an auto one like Santosh for 8. Now he is retired, owns his own home (which ain't bad BTW) and is buying more property. He had no formal schooling, but he learned English from tourists and speaks it better than Santosh who learned it in school. Santosh is going to be heading off for college and hopes to get a civil service position. We were shown many photos and Santosh was embarassed like any other 18 rear old would be at pics of his younger days.
Then it was my turn for embarassment. Santosh suggested his mother dress me in a sari. She laughed really hard at this. We went into a backroom, she whipped our a petticoat type thing, and a sari. The grandmother figure came in for the fun as well, and they argued over how to drape me. After compromising, Santosh's mom whacked my boobs because they were too exposed (in a total coverage tshirt of course) and giggled some more. She presented me to Ant, who laughed his ass off. We took photos and Santosh asked Ant if he could take one with me. Why didn't he just ask me??? Either way, he was very shy about it, and also very cute.
Finally it was time to leave because our ability to communicate on new subjects was wearing thin. It was a great ending to a beautiful day. In the end, I learned that not ALL rickshaw drivers suck, just 99.99999% of em. :)
... and the best chai in India. Just don't try to find it in the dark.
Which we just about had to do. I was about to start typing the rest of this post, when the power went out, if not over all of Khajuraho, then over our wee block of it. Electricity failures are not conducive to blogging.
Nuttin' to it, except for getting to/from Khajuraho. There is one very, very important aspect to Jhansi though: the express buses to Khaj run at 5:30am and 11am. Anyone saying otherwise, is trying to sell you something usually a 1600-rupee taxi ride. We hopped a 9am local bus instead (160 total).
Either way, we survived the bus ride, and immediately after stepping into the shark-like frenzy of rickshaw wallahs, I made a decision that wound up having a lot of bearing on our time in Khajuraho.
We're just here for the articles
Claudia's already detailed (and illustrated) the beautiful, sensual, elegant, intricate smut of the temple carvings. Not that we went to see this, of course. And my dad's old Playboy subscription was just for the articles.
All sorts of explanations are put forth for Khajuraho. Some postulate the temple carvings provided a sort of "Kama Sutra in stone", for sheltered Brahmin boys to come learn the ropes of love-making (take that as you will). Some say that the temple carvings are an overall focus on day to day activities, from putting on makeup to hunting to war to shagging; they merely provided a cross-section of human activities, albeit these depictions assume that all humans are as acrobatic as Olympic gold-medal gymnasts.
Who knows. Maybe I should write an article on this and send it to Playboy.
When I chose Santosh to rickshaw-drive us to our hotel, I did it because he shouted a price and left the melee surrounding us at the bus station. He didn't wave hotel cards in our faces or start naming the souveneirs we obviously were gagging to buy after 6 hours of having our bums tossed in the air. When traveling in India, my money goes to the least annoying person.
Later, our hotel manager and I chatted with Santosh about some waterfalls located about 20km outside of town. Claudia and I had made good time seeing the Western Group of temples (the main group), so we decided to go check this out, along with the Eastern Group of temples, our first stop.
As we walked up to the front gate for these 3 Jain temples, a hawker showed us the only souveneirs I have cared about on this trip: 5 keychains, "demonstrating" some of the poses from the temples. They even had little switches that you pushed and pulled to make the figures move. I'm not much of a gift-buyer, but I picked up a few on the way out. I'll say no more; I just know some friends who are going to get some (hopefully) funny gifts upon my return to Eugene in January. I can see it now: "Gee Ant, you went to India for 2 months, and all you brought back was a shaggin' keychain."
"I like to drive like Formula One"
Claudia's going to talk about our rickshaw ride to Duneh Falls in the Ken Ghizal Sanctuary. Between the road barely wide enough for the rickshaw (much less rickshaw and one cow); swerving to avoid potholes, bumps and, well, more cows; and nearly being ejected from the rickshaw during some said swerves, Santosh confided that he likes to drive the auto-rickshaw because "I like to drive like Formula One." Comforting... and fun.
I wish I'd brought my pack. I could've stayed for days in the sanctuary. The main feature is a long gorge "a little Grand Canyon", as our guide, H.L. Kushuvehu, described it. Large and small waterfalls flow near one end of it, cascading into water that in places is 32 meters deep. On the opposite side of the gorge from us, a rocky field stretched out. During monsoon season though, the entire area floods, and water spills into the gorge below.
Going through an Indian park is a very different experience from the States. The guide took us up a path, then we clambered over some rocks and looked at some other pools and falls. My mountain-goat side took over, and I started clambering over a few more rocks, to look at some other areas. The guide didn't like that; apparently it's "against rules... If a government official came, he would want to know why someone was up here." Ri-ight. Reluctantly, I climbed back down. My next trip to the sanctuary will need to be stealthy.
The park itself is something that most of North India is not: green, clean, and quiet. I didn't want to leave. There was that entire stretch of gorge left to check out, after all... and what looked like a great bit of wall-climbing here... and there... and perhaps a bit of swimming at this bit... I wanted to run off and clamber, but instead, at the end of our tour Claudia and I sat in white plastic chairs and drank chai, not knowing what was about to happen.
"We'll go to my house, just 5 minutes,"
said Santosh as we dodged cows, children, goats, potholes, bumps, sections where there should have been pavement, more cows, and, at last, reached the main road and the city limits. "Cool," we said, though really we were just happy to have our bums back on the seats again. We'd had some good chats with Santosh, and he hadn't tried to pull any crap on us. Even Claudia kinda trusted him, and she's more suspicious of rickshaw drivers than the Bush administration is of anyone born with a built-in suntan.
Santosh shares a house with his mum and dad, a little outside of Khaj, off a dirt track, down a narrow lane between 2 stripes of housing and a lot of children. Inside with Santosh and his dad, we learned a great deal about rickshaw drivers and a very basic principle of life. Rickshaw drivers don't make much money. Hardly anyone in India does. Going to Santosh's house and meeting his family though, showed us that life is very much not what you're given, but what you do with it.
Santosh's dad didn't go to school. He learned English by interacting with tourists when he drove a cycle-rickshaw for 20 years, and an auto-rickshaw for 8. He's now retired. This man drove a 2-stroke engined vehicle, mainly ferrying about tourists, mind you. Yet he's been able to learn a foreign language, and stop working sooner than most Americans, who seem to be deciding that 100 is a good time to cut back their hours a bit, and would sooner give up cable than learn Spanish. Santosh, who's 18 and has been driving the auto-rickshaw for a year, is his only child probably a big reason the family's doing well: small family, and in India, no dowries to collect when trying to marry off a daughter.
Santosh's dad also owns the home they live in, which included a nice patio and at least 2 good-sized rooms. He's in the process of buying more property, which he plans to rent out. Santosh is studying history at university, and is hoping to land government/Civil Service work, despite the "50,000, 100,000 rupees that you have to pay to get a job." Yes, that's right: they have to pay to get a government job. Baksheesh isn't only for tourists, after all.
They offered tea, and we drank the best chai I've had in India. Sweet, but not too sweet, with a bit of cardamom, enough to balance the tea, but not so much that it got an edge to it. A perfect cup; I savored each sip, though that was difficult to do when Santosh's mother and grandmother spirited Claudia off to the next room to wrap her in a sari. I managed to drink the chai though, and not snort it out while giggling. We got loads of pictures, us in groups, me and Claudia (in her sari - quite cute, by which I mean funny, by which dear, yes, I mean cute).
Rickshaw drivers are people too... in Khajuraho, anyway
In the dark of 7pm, Santosh drove us back down the dirt lane towards the main road and town. He hardly used his headlamp; he didn't need to. He could pick out every shape in the road and to the side; he's lived here all his life, after all, and knew the road by heart. At the hotel, Claudia and I paid up for the day, and also gave him an extra 100 rupees as a thank-you for his hospitality and to help him towards that civil service job. He asked if we'd need him in the morning; we said we'd tell the hotel to find him if we did, but it turns out that we walked to the bus station, and that was the last time we saw Santosh.
The moment Claudia and I returned to Jhansi, 2 rickshaw drivers nearly got into a fistfight over us. In Agra, the usual fighting, back-and-forth, and walking away have returned to our list of daily activities. But not all rickshaw drivers are arses, and while it's not the best-paying job on the subcontinent, you can still do well for yourself: Life's about what you do with what you've got.
Meeting Santosh and his family turned out to be one of my best experiences so far in India and as I write this post in Agra, just a couple of days before leaving for Bangkok, I know it's also one of the experiences that will mean the most to me when I think back on this trip.
How do they DO that???
This was a common question Ant and I would ask when we were walking around the erotic temples complex in Khajaraho. You would be amazed at the flexibility at some of these guys and chickies... it's no wonder they're into yoga. There were some scenes where the two people (if it was limited to just two) were "assisted" into their particular positions. In some cases, it was just a plain big orgy free for all. And yet that didn't take the cake. Nope, there was a warrior gettin' it on with a horse. The horse didn't look very pleased and Ant suggested that maybe it was the warrior's superior officer's horse. :)
There was one frieze we read about in our guide that we were so disappointed we didn't find. It was described like this, "Keep an eye out for the rather dismayed looking elephant in the bottom-most frieze, just around the corner to the left as you face the entrance. The frieze depicts the unfortunate way in which one hard-up soldier found that their parts fit together." We were dismayed we didn't find it!!
Besides seeing intimate sex scenes, there were other everyday scenes as well. On different temples we saw a woman picking thorns out of her foot, putting on makeup, loads of dancers, women getting groped, battle scenes, ya know, the usual stuff. They were very beautifully carved though, and it looked like they were going to move off the wall.
With that, I will let you enjoy a few images (not mine, but I have plenty so fear not young grasshoppers) and let you form your own opinions on the erotic temples of Khajarajo. Now go practice your tantric yoga!!!
We've been traveling for days....
Ant and I wanted to very much see the smutty temples at Khajaraho. However, they are a major pain to get to. The nearest train is 4-6 hours away in Jhansi, a dump of a transit hub. Jhansi is also 21 hours by train from Mumbai, our last port of call.
Mumbai was fun, right to the end. We took one of the CRAZY hectic suburban trains to get to our station, Dadar. I feel like I didn't get off the suburban train, I was violently expelled. I feel like it squeezed me out like toothpaste out of a tube, but at 100 miles per hour. It was quite the experience. People were really helpful though and for once our backpacks were helpful rather than a hindrance. They created a buffer zone and acted as something heavy to heave at someone who wouldn't move.
Finally we boarded our train and got comfy, but not before I tripped over a piece of metal and hurt my ankle pretty bad. It's fine now, but I thought I was going to cry when I did it. :(
We met some really cool people on the train who we chatted with for much of the following day. They even fed us!! I'm sure Ant will discuss them in detail so I'll leave that to him. After much laughing and joking, we left them to camp out in Jhansi for the night.
Our hotel dude told us there were several buses to Khaj, the earliest at 5:30AM. Oh, how I WISH we had caught that one. It was right nearby, at the train station, and was an express to Khaj. But no, we didn't. We took a 9AM and we didn't arrive in Khaj until almost 4. Our asshole driver told us it was a direct bus, but no, there was a small 1.5 hour extra bus tacked on the end. Grrrrrr.
But anyway, we are here. It's a chill little town, and we have found a good hotel, a good restaurant, and our rickshaw driver was a chill little dude. Ant picked him because he was the least annoying. Tomorrow we will head out to the temples and I will take many many photos.
It's hard to imagine we are in the home stretch of India. I think I'm going to be sad when we actually leave now.
Some of the coolest people we've met in India, were in our compartment on the Mumbai-Jhansi train (if you're playing the home game, that's the #1057 Amritsar Express, schedule 4 in Trains at a Glance). They asked to borrow our copy of TAAG, and in return gave us their Indian Railways map one of the best souveneirs we could've gotten. "I wish I'd had this weeks ago!" Claudia said.
As the day went on we chatted about various things, and one of the guys and I played gin rummy together. When I was a kid, my dad used to kick the crap out of me at gin, but today the card gods were with me. At least, they finally were, considering that Claudia had just finished trouncing me in a game of 500, that finally ended after a month of back-and-forth, up-and-down play.
The married couple we were chatting with also let us feast with them. They were going from Mumbai to Delhi, and had brought enough food, apparently, in case they decided to change their minds and ride to Siberia. Their homemade lemon pickle certainly would've kept them warm enough.
Indians like to pickle things. Fruit, vegetables, fungus, you name it; somewhere in India, it's being pickled right now. Lemon pickle is perhaps the most popular. It's very simple: salt, lemon, oil, and red chili powder. It's also very powerful. Imagine taking a bite of something (fruit and rind, both softened by the pickling) so tart that your mouth sucks in on itself, yet hot enough to make you want to gasp a little more after each bite. Yet so damn good you have to finish it. My lips were tingling for a while afterwards, though it was a great complement to the sweet rice they gave us.
We left them at Jhansi, after handshakes and well-wishes. Their kindness and curiosity and ability to put up with 2 Yanks constantly asking them to repeat themselves was boundless. Claudia and I didn't realize that this was only the beginning of meeting some very cool people.
When I travel, I like to do things that I don't do at home. Like check out temples, or swim in warm seas... or watch cable and drink soda.
Claudia took on finding us a place in Mumbai. After conversations with BootsnAll folks Dusty and Giribaba about how a lot of accommodation is dodgy, she did some research and turned up a sweet place. At first I was a bit nonplussed; the room was okay, granted with the cleanest tile floor we've had, but the 800 rupees a night sent a few shooting pains through my wallet. I came around pretty quickly though (I think it just took some coffee): after all, it was a nice place in a cool part of town, the hot water really was, 800 was CHEAP for Mumbai... and we had HBO. Hmmm...
So yesterday was extremely, extremely lazy. I mean, the day before, we really exerted ourselves. Like C mentioned in her post, we did a fair bit of a walking, looked at some art... and, okay, yes we sat on our bums and watched Finding Nemo.
I could also title this post "why I like Indian movie theaters"
And then there was the film. Personally, I consider Finding Nemo a traveler's film. It focused on adventure travel - granted, it was unintentional, unwanted adventure, but still an adventure: the son fish, Nemo, gets fishnapped by a scuba diver, and his dad goes to rescue him. There's all sorts of trials and tribulations, along with some lessons learned about doing for yourself, trusting other people (er, fish), not trusting other people (er, fish), being willing to let go and see what happens, and knowing that things will generally turn out all right.
What's travel, if not a chance to do the things you don't normally do?
After the film we wandered a bit, and then of course we had our night out. The next day, we were tired. No, not tired. Just lazy. 800 rupees a night included HBO, National Geographic channel, and Discovery, so I watched more telly yesterday than I probably did the rest of the year.
Coneheads... Erin Brockavich... Mortal Kombat... all in a row, which is every bit as surreal as it sounds. Claudia and I nightcapped with The Firm.
But I'll spare you my thoughts on how these movies relate to the traveler. I don't want to get into it anyway; there's a cool documentary on that I want to watch.
I also want a Coke.
At home, I never drink soda... unless there's rum in it. In fact, I hardly ever drink anything other than water, beer, tea, and coffee. I haven't gone in for fizzy stuff in a long time... unless, well, there's rum in it. But I don't even party all that much anymore either, so really I just hardly ever drink soda, unless, well, you know.
Here though, I've been drinking soda again. Not all the time, not even one a day. But there was a Coke with dinner last night, and I've sampled the various orange nuclear-waste-in-a-bottle of Fanta and Mirinda. My lips were puckered for an hour after drinking the uber-sweet, lemony-tart Limca. And Thums Up, the national cola of India, well, that just wasn't very tasty, but I'm willing to give it another chance. And yes, I'm a Mazza/ Slice (mango drink) freak second only to Claudia.
Exotic? No. Daring? No, Monarch Rum is daring... no wait, that's stupid, and I'm not a college student anymore. (It was still stupid then, but at least it was cheap.)
Tonight we leave for the exotic and daring: Khajuraho. If you aren't familiar with it, let's just say that it's known for temple carvings that, ahem, leave little to the imagination. Actually, they'll probably do more to fire up your imagination, but anyway... We'll try to keep the next few posts rated PG-13 though, in case you want to show Finding Nemo after ;-)
But where are the 14 million people who supposedly live here??
Ant and I rolled into Mumbai (formerly Bombay) on Sunday morning at 6:30am. We fought with our taxi driver and still got ripped off, but on our way to our hotel we noticed that the streets were empty.
Now, I know, it's 6:30-7 in the morning on a Sunday, but there was not one other car on the road besides us. Where are all the other people that supposedly crowd the streets? In the suburbs for the weekend was the answer I got from two native Mumbai'ers.
We are staying in a swanky place (by our standards) which cost us a whopping 800 rupees per night. That's $17.78, total, for both of us. It PAINED us to pay that much when it's usually more in the $4-8 range for a hotel. It is sparkling clean, has cable TV, is quiet, non-shady (doesn't double as a brothel), we get free toast and fake coffee in the AM, the sheets were clean, and THERE'S 24 HR HOT WATER!!! I had turned down a suite which would have run us $27.18 to save our budget from going over. It was a painful decision as well because it was the nicest room I'd been in since staying in India.
Anyway, we walked out, found the nearest Barista and got some quick grub. As it turns out, we have not one, but two on our nearest main street... strangely similar to a Seattle based coffee empire methinks.... We wandered over to the Prince of Wales museum which holds the usual stuffy artifacts and decided to give it a pass. Instead, we hit up a small modern gallery which was exhibiting 4 working artists. The first was a master sculptor who worked all in tradtitional Indian themes. His pieces were the best of seen so far and I was nearly temptly to buy one. Where else could I buy a sculpture of this quality for $350-400??? No where. But I tore myself away.
The trio of artists across the hall where much younger and for one, this was her first solo show. The first artist worked on black paper, and painted with guache (sorry about the spelling), chalk, and ink. He had all these liquidy human shapes in the likeness of Buddha, but they weren't traditional Buddha images at all. Very very good stuff. If the artist himself who was there wasn't such a prick, I would have enquired about possibly buying one. The second artist was also there, and his paintings were more colorful, which distracted me and turned me off after the simplicity of the first guy's stuff. He did have one called "The Priest" that Ant and I were both drawn to, but how the heck could we get a full size painting on canvas home??
Finally, the woman whose first solo show's stuff was a bit hit or miss. Mostly crap, but with some really clever pieces in between the crap with a lot of pulp sculptures and self portraits. I looked at her price list and they seemed reasonable but nothing grabbed me. It was too bad because I would have liked a really unique thing to have from India, and this would have been the perfect thing.
After seeing a bit of "high" art we decided to go to the Eros Theatre to see a movie. The only English film playing was "Finding Nemo" and I was ALL ABOUT IT. Air conditioning during the hottest part of the day and a cute movie was near perfection. We laughed our asses off, usually by ourselves because the more "subtle" jokes (like the sharks in a 12 step program to stopping eating fish or the sea turtle's surfer accent) were lost on the kids and their parents keeping them entertained. At one point, something scary was going on , and the little girl behind us suddenly blurted out "OH SHIT" in this tiny little helium voice and we cracked us up.
After Nemo, we headed back, passed the hoards of guys playing cricket on the Mumbai version of Central Park. We needed a rest.
After some sleep, we met up with Giribaba from Bootsnall, commonly known as Girish, and his friend Sanjiv. Girish and Sanjiv took us out to a bar, and then to this swanky restaurant and hookah joint. It was really fun and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We all partook in a strawberry hookah, and I remembered how a few years ago in San Francisco, Stephanie and I thought about owning our own hookah for the apartment. I am tempted again. It's a nifty little novelty.
Finally after drinks, hookahs, and some goolabjamun (which I affectionately call "sticky balls"), we headed back to the room. It was a great introduction to a city that seems to be a lot of fun.
P.S. Thanks to Girish and Sanjiv. Hopefully someday we will get to return the favor of you taking us out should you visit the States or we meet up somewhere else....
A lot of travel, is taking care of things. When you travel with someone, you develop routines. Ideally, those routines take into account each other's strengths, and helps make for a better trip for the both of you.
Claudia and I have been traveling together for over a month now, and we each have naturally gravitated to certain roles and responsibilities. Here's a breakdown of some of the stuff we each do to keep the trip a rollin' rollickin' good bloody time:
It cracks me up every time.
Last night we wound up geeking out at the cybercafe for way longer than we thought. Stumbling in the dark back towards the beach, our rumbling tummies decided we were going to dinner. The Mango Tree restaurant sold us: floor cushions, and, instead of tables, big bamboo canopy-style beds on the sand, with pillows, lamps and a gauze "roof". We'd passed by a few times before, and had to check it out. The canopy bed was every bit as comfy as it looked.
It's common for people in India to address one another as "boss". I get it all the time: "Boss, have a look." "Here's your change, boss."
So then the waiter came over and asked us about drinks. "And for boss-madam?"
I nearly fell off the bed. After he left I said to Claudia, "I'm going to start calling you that."
"Damn right you are!"
Well there you go.
Kentucky Fried Claudia
I hate to say I told you so, but...
We've become total beach bums. Up around mid-morning, out for a long breakfast, we then lounge by the surf for a few hours. First the beach seaside, then a dip in the freshwater lagoon. Followed by a late lunch, with some cold drinks, maybe a beer. Then we go back to the beach. Despite this seeming lounginess, we actually get a lot of exercise splashing each other; walking between beach, lagoon, and restaurant; and playing cat-and-mouse games with sarong hawkers. It's a hard, hard life.
We're no hard-core beachcombers though. I'm a writer/computer geek from Oregon, for heaven's sake; if I have a tan, it's from the monitor. Claudia's little better. "C'mon C, put on some sunblock. It's hot out there, and the sun's at its worst."
"Nah. I'll be fine. If I burn a bit, it's no problem."
I don't think she was expecting a dip in the Arabian Sea to turn her back into a lobster, though. (Oh, and to all C's NY & NJ friends, I do hereby give witness that she has gone into ocean water... up to her chest. She's even ridden some waves. I have photographic evidence.)
Actually, her sunburn isn't all that bad, but her back is pretty tender today. And covered in sunblock. Heh-heh. This morning as we prepared for another hard day's beachlounging, Claudia said, "I'll lie on my back today."
"So you can roast your front?"
"Yeah, it'll be rotisserie-style."
"Ah, Kentucky Fried Claudia."
I must confess though, that the rotisserie has made her a nice golden brown. Can I get a side of mashed potatoes, please?
Claudia the Cockroach
Lastly, ever since giving C a haircut in Mahabalipuram, she's been trying to decide what to do with the 2 long strandy bits, one on each side of her head. Today after breakfast she told me there was a woman nearby who could give her dreadlocks. She left; I scribbled, and waited.
When she came back, she had wax in her hair and enough knots in each strandy bit to qualify her for a hippie dive in Eugene.
"Do you like my antennae?" she asked, holding each bit over her head.
"Yes," I said, laughing. "But you look like a cockroach."
"Maybe I'll start walking on the ceiling."
Hmmm... I hadn't thought of that. Love ya babe, but the minute you start choofing it on the ceiling, it's the shoe for you!
Yes, there really were steaks walking on the beach and it didn't make my mouth water this time.
For starters, after yesterday's amazing feat of going IN the water, I repeated it today. In fact, it was even better. Ant and I had read about this place called Paradise Beach which was conveniently located near a freshwater lagoon. After a 5-10 minute walk, we found both beach and lagoon. It was beautiful. When we reached the beach at 9:30-10AM, there were few people in site. In fact there were more cows on the beach than people.
I went in the water, which was teal and green, surrounded by nothing but the sounds of the water lapping on the shore, palm trees, and hills. This was of course ruined by the hawkers and touts who come over offering sarongs, beads, coconuts, pinapple, cold drinks, and "something to smoke." However, after Ant bored them with his incessant questions (this seems to be his preferred method) they generally go away and pester other people. So we had our silence back, briefly.
Ant had gone exploring into the lagoon while I waited near our stuff. While I was waiting for him I heard this massive GRRMOOOOO!!!! What the FUNK was that??? With that the biggest brahmin bull I've seen yet came through the foliage and onto the beach in search of his cow bitches. He sauntered along, making sure we all knew he was there, and proved his supremacy over the beach. We were there with HIS permission. He settled in next to part of the lagoon while his cows promptly admired him.
In the mean time, other travelers came over and were unimpressed by the cold water, and went back to the Arabian Sea, 150 meters away. After letting my body soak for a long long time, I finally realized it was time to drag myself out of the blissful water so I could feel my thumbs.
I have this thing about swimming. I like being able to see the bottom of the water I'm in otherwise I bug out a bit. This makes swimming in the ocean very difficult. Or maybe it's the years and years of watching Shark Week on Discovery with my bro Nick. I don't know. So my going from tranquil little lagoon to open Arabian Sea waves was a big step.
We put our stuff down out of the path of the walking steaks and I dipped my toe in. Ok, it was really warm. There were only 3-4 other people in and after a few minutes I was in up to my chest, riding the waves!!! Somewhat anticlimatic, but it was a big deal for me. Ant was proud of me and so was I.
Afterwards, we wandered down the path and went to one of the MANY restaurants along the water. This place kicked ASS. The food was great. THey even had the best avacado sandwich I have ever had, and I've had a lot.
Speaking of food/drink, there is something I am going to miss terribly when I leave India. Maaza. Maaza is a mango nectar drink that is sold as a soft drink here in India. It's owned by Coca Cola, so they can't be ALL evil if they make this stuff.
Anywho, back to today, we sat watching the sunset from the little patio of our room. What more can I ask for a laid back day??
... but I can see why they like Goa.
For starters, getting around is ridiculously easy. The intrastate bus system is quite good, and cheap and... dare I say it... on time. The train station is in Margao, in South Goa; an express train covers the 23 km journey north to Panjim pretty quickly, and for 15 rupees a head. We got to the Panjim station this morning just in time for an express to Mapusa, the main bus center (5 rupees). From Mapusa, we were there again, just in the nick of time for the hour journey (8 rupees per head) to Arambol, a quiet, not too hippied, not too touristed, mostly undeveloped beachside village way up near the northern end of Goa.
Our first day in Goa though, was spent in the capital, Panjim. Walking through Panjim doesn't quite feel like India. There are enough bars to seem English, enough of the West overall for young women to wear jeans and tight tops, and enough Portugeuse for lots and lots and lots of good grub.
There's not much to see in Panjim though, well, save for the 40-rupee beers on restaurant menus. Claudia wanted to see Old Goa, known mainly for its churches and cathedrals. We wandered over to the bus station, crossing a footbridge and passing a cybercafe called "Byte Me", to wind up haggling with a rickshaw driver in the queue at the station. "How much to Old Goa?" I asked.
"What? Our bus driver said we could go there for 70."
"No no, it's 100... Old Goa is far, 12 km away." (Oh btw, rickshaws in Goa are supposed to charge about 8 rupees per km... but Old Goa is actually only about 9-10km away.)
Claudia: "12km? It's 10. 80 rupees."
"No no, 90."
"Let's take the bus Ant."
"No no, bus only leaves once an hour" (really, once every 15-20 minutes) "And it's crowded. Soooooo many people."
Claudia just looked at him and said, "I've taken buses before."
We started to walk away (a very handy haggling technique), when from behind us we heard "Okay. 80." That's more like it.
The rickshaw ride was quite nice: 10kms of riverside highway, heading east towards Old Goa.
Old Goa is known for its cathedrals and religious ruins, so we plodded about all afternoon, looking at churches, cows and dead saints. St. Francis Xavier is interred in his own Basilica. Instead of 6 feet under, he's about 10 feet up, in a glass-sided coffin on top of a rather elaborate funeral monument. You can see all of him but his right arm... which according to Let's Go was his baptismal arm and as such is kept in Rome. Right. Perhaps this means that when Nolan Ryan dies his body will be buried in Texas, but his pitching arm will be moved to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I don't follow baseball so can't really say for certain.
We wandered and wandered, up a hill to explore the ruins of a cathedral for St. Augustine. I don't know what caused it to become a ruin, but imagining what it must've been like, is mind-boggling. The grounds covered an area about the size of a football field (American football that is); the cathedral was certainly a major part, but by no means the only one.
Heading back to town had some challenges though: no rickshaws. Only taxis, which tend to be overpriced. A driver approached, but we waved him off, wanting to give it a bit more time. I spied a rickshaw, parked across the main road. We started walking towards it, wondering if we'd get 80 rupees again or if we'd have to pony up 100... when a loud honking stopped up.
A local bus pulled up and stopped; "Anthony" (as in the saint, not a personal greeting) was stenciled on the windshield. "It's a sign," I said to Claudia. A man hopped down, looked at us and said, "Panjim?" "Yes!" we said. "4 rupees each." We clambered in, and were back at the bus station in less time that it took the rickshaw to get us to Old Goa.
Now we're in Arambol. You've heard it described before, and have seen it before, on postcards and in travel-agent brochures for package holidays: pristine beaches, sparkling blue water, yadda-yadda. But it really is beautiful, and while I would't call it "pristine", it doesn't need to be. It's quiet, not too developed (the biggest hotel is 3 stories, and isn't on the beach but set maybe a quarter-mile away).
Finding a room wasn't easy. After walking a few kilometers, first on a dirt trail then on the beach, in the sun and under full pack, we weren't relishing the thought of climbing up hills to see rooms. After rejecting two, the guy asked why. We were nearly at the crest of a big hill, and the path to get there wound and wound. "Mate, if we have more than 2 beers, we'll never make it back," I said.
Our room is right above a bar though, so we'll make it back just fine. There's a wee bit of beach (which Claudia's already talked about)... though I do admit that part of my decision about the room was made when I was standing on the balcony and watching 3 girls in the water: 2 bikini-clad, one more, ahem, au natural.
The water is warm, the sun just right. The rocks are dramatic and begging photos and, well, maybe some poems. The beach curves like a crescent moon. There's also a guy selling pipes, right below our room. I'm sure they're only for smoking legal blends of tobacco, and that those funky leaves were just a mess-up at the factory; these were intended to be Canadian maple leaves on patriotic pipes, but oh well. These things happen.
Young guys walk around with their arses hanging out of pants that don't seem to fit their hips. Girls wear bikinis; it almost feels like the west. Beer is cheap and plentiful. There are boat trips and walks, and I can already see why some people from the 60s, when Goa was a hippie haven, onward just never, ever leave. Claudia will, I'm sure, be dragging me kicking and screaming to Mumbai.
And hell has frozen over. For those who know me well, you know due to my vampiric skin, I hate beaches, sun, sand, and water.
I have been proven wrong. I have found the ideal beach for myself. It's in Arambol, Goa.
I've even gone swimming, in a bathing suit.
Let me describe what happened leading up to this miraculous feat. Ant and I woke up this AM in Panjim, the major hub of Goa. We had read up that it wasn't a very exciting place and were only crashing there for one night. It was a shame though because our guest house (Affonso Guest House) was top notch, even though their laundry service is extortionate (our laundry was more than our room by 1.5X). Anyway, we had our breakfast and trudged off to the bus stand.
Bus stands in India are interesting places. They are an example of organized chaos. Everyone and no one knows everything and nothing all at the same time.
After getting easily from Panjim to Mapusa, we had to connect to Arambol. This particular bus stand had men shouting their destination, and if you weren't going to where they were, they actually told you the right guy to go talk to. Still, there were swarms of people and MANY unmarked busses.
Knowing you can never get info from just 1 source, Ant went to ask the enquiry desk where the bus to Arambol was while I went to ask one of the bus destination wallahs. Both agreed that this unmarked bus filled with people was our bus.
We get on, pay our 15 rupees, and sweat it out. After about an hour, we arrive in our destination, a beach of much beauty. We unfortunately discovered that walking on sand with backpacks SUCKS so we wanted to find a room ASAP. Our guide misled us that this one bar/restaurant was the place to organize a room. THe first few rooms were shitholes and one didn't even have running water. After 3 rooms or so, we found one (for a big whopping $6) overlooking the Arabian Sea and volcanic rocks, right up from a restaurant so we could get shitty and not worry about killing ourselves on the rocky climb up.
So, then we noticed that just in front of the resturant, there is a very small bit of beach between some large rocks. We promptly got our suits on (yes, thats how good it looked, I put up no fight) and wandered down.
It was perfect. The water is about 80-85 degrees F and I sat their exfoliating my ass with sand to my heart's content. My feet are as soft as a baby's bum and my legs (though unshaven for 6-7 weeks now) are soft as well. My white skin saw the sunlight and blinded the people in the restaurant. If all beaches were like this, I think I'd be as brown as the Indians. Perhaps after 3-4 days of this splashing around in the Arabian, I might have a respectable shade.
We shall see..... :)
Note to the NJ girls: If the Shore was anything like this little paradise, you'd have converted me ages ago. :)
I just wanted to include a few pics that Jan emailed to me from our trip.
The first is a photo of our sunrise cruise down the Ganges
The other is a group photo which is missing the person taking it, Terry and Ohna, who was sick. From left to right, thats Jane, Shane, Kelly Vanessa, Sue, Kathy, me, Cat, Jan, Jannie, and Taesh.
Thanks Jan, if you have any others, send them along.
Everyone is entitled to a bit of spiritual enlightenment. What form it takes is up to you. I've found that the poor people here in India seem to have what seems to be an original way to ease their minds.
They move dirt.
I mean this literally. They move it from one corner of a room to the other. Ok, so it's NOT meditation, but then what the hell is it??? It seems every where I go, I see some man, woman, or child with a twig broom moving dirt around.
The twig broom in itself is a mystery because unless the dirt is of a decent dust bunnie size (though often it is), it doesn't get swept. There are almost no handles on these brooms so the sweeper has to get down in a squat and then waddle after the broom.
Even more ellusive is the combing of dirt. Anyone seen Spaceballs?? Ya know the part where they comb the desert?? I swear, it's the same. People make dirt designs with their twig brooms in pretty arcing designs.
And finally, Ant and I have been partaking in the moving of dirt ourselves. After one of us showers and is toweling off, I noticed that no matter how hard I rub my skin, I just can't get it to not come off grimy. I could have been in a hot shower for 20 minutes with my Dettol super strong soap. Doesn't matter, I'm still grimy. So, I suppose, this is my way of joining into the meditation fun. Hopefully, my need to partake will soon be over!!!
Or we're going to be reincarnated as snails. Something like that. Claudia's already talked about our Amma Ashram experience at pretty good length, but this has been one of our most interesting and disturbing experiences so far, so I'll chime in with a bit too.
I want a hug, dammit!
Ever hear of Amma, The Hugging Mother? She's one of the hottest gurus to come out of India in a long, long time if not the hottest. Why? Because of how she's "embracing the world" (a PR slogan we saw all over the place).
Gurus are often known for giving darshan, or transmissions of divine energy, during satsang, essentially the meeting with devotees where guru's circuit gets opened. Often, you can just sit in a room and receive this transmission; Amma's reknown comes from doing things a bit differently: she gives you a hug.
As you can imagine, Americans and people from other Western countries eat this up.
Here are a couple of my observations... and why Claudia and I are going to hell.
As we also found out, there are several things discouraged at the ashram. 2 examples (and the ones we found the most disturbing):
Claudia and I discussed at great length how it seems many people come to ashrams simply so they don't have to make decisions about their own lives. We didn't get comfy enough with anyone at the ashram itself to spring this question on them I wish we had, but that's what other trips are for.
That said, are there people who are truly devoted to Amma and what she believes in, and want to live a life of service and altruism for divine love, their fellow humans, the alleviation of suffering, etc.? I'm sure there are mad props to them. Are people following Amma because they want to find truth and peace, and seek out their own spiritual fulfillment and enlightenment? No doubt, and good on 'em. But are a lot of people there because they just don't want to face up to the outside world? Your guess is as good as gold, er, mine.
No, kitty, that's my samosa!
So why are Claudia and I going to hell? Well, I have to admit... we're irreverent, cynical wee tossers. (I'm sure that comes as a massive surprise.)
After breakfast, we sat at our table, drinking coffee and sharing our observations so far. All around us, people did their seva, or prayed, or attended a lecture given in Hindi (we thought it was a sermon of some sort, but it turns out they were being given lessons on raising hens and would receive a chicken afterwards. We didn't find out if the chickens had been hugged). Now amidst all this, did Claudia and I feel the energy moving throughout the ashram? No.
Did we go help the Massachusetts immate make french fries (which she was doing as prep for lunch at the "western" cafe)? No.
Did we sell our passports and donate the proceeds, along with all our other money save what we needed for a room and the all-white saris and pajamas of renunciation? Hell no!
But did we sit at our table and make up an episode of South Park, based on Amma? You bet your third eye we did. (We're thinking of trying to sell it to Parker and Stone... who knows. It might actually be funny. All I have to say is, imagine Cartman dressed in a white sari and tell me you don't laugh.)
We're evil... pure evil... but you know what? I'll take laughter to silent piety any day. But that's just me. I "found myself" a long time ago. I never was one for believing that you have to cloister yourself off, much less even travel, to do that; no matter where you are, well, that's where you'll find yourself.
I wonder what would happen, though, if people tried a little less navel contemplation, and instead busted their guts with a big belly laugh now and again. I don't know. If I become a guru, perhaps I'll give my darshan with a knee slap, a clap on the back, and a dirty joke The Laughing Daddy. Watch his special guest appearance on the next South Park, as the voice of Amma's pet elephant (yes, she really has one he was on tour too; I don't think he gives trunk hugs though)...
All the best to Amma and the inmates. We're heading to Goa... where I'm sure we'll see more people with glazed eyes, but from a different sort of "spiritual state"...
I am going to be a guru.
Ant had mentioned our plans of becoming gurus in a prior post and I have to reaffirm that idea after our recent excursion to the ashram of Amma, The Hugging Mother. I had read about her method of giving darshan (physical connection with a guru) in the hysterical book Holy Cow, by Sarah McDonald. Even though I knew Amma would not be in town (she's in the States), I felt I had to come by and check the place out.
Our journey to the ashram was a very pleasant one. We arrived in Alleppey a few days ago to take advantage of the backwater cruises offered between there and Kollam. The scenery was lush and green, and in its own way, a very fragile paradise. One flood or drought could quite obviously bring misery. We enjoyed the quiet ride filled with people waving from the riverbank and silent paddle driven passenger boats slipping through the water taking with the boatmen their fares up and down the canals. The cruise cost allowed for us to stop at the ashram, which is about 25k from our final destination, and pick it up when we wanted to get to Kollam.
We were let off amid pouring rains and ran as fast as our packs would allow us to the first open door we could find. As it turned out, the door we wandered through was Amma's dad's house!!! If any of you Intrepid peeps are reading this, I met Amma's DAD!!! Woo-hoo!!!
After we checked in, we were told we could have an orientation to the ashram at 5 PM at the information center. Being that I wanted to meet and talk to ashram folks, this seemed like a good idea. Ant and I wandered over to the International Visitor's dorm and he picked up our bedding. This meant straw mat, thin mattress, sheets, and pillows, all which go on the floor. After a brief rest, we went off to begin our indoctrination.
We walk into the Info center, and are greeted by Amriti, a white sari clad Swede in her early 30s. She began to tell us about Amma's charities, but then switched to asking us questions.
"Are you on a spiritual journey?"
Me and Ant look at each other not sure what to say because we can't exactly say that we are there to see all the cattle being spiritually herded.
"I was in Rishikesh for a while and I visited a few of the ashrams there," I replied and this seemed to be acceptable.
Then we asked about her experiences and how she found up as an inmate, err, devotee.
She met Amma back in 1997 in Stockholm, where she received her first darshan hug. From there it all snowballed and she now lives at the ashram. When I asked how she could afford to do that, she mentioned that her parents paid for her. This seems to be a common occurance among deep people in India for some reason. Or, it could be that these peoples parents would rather pay for some guru to keep them in line or fix them than to deal with them personally.
Anyway, our friend the starchild showed us where everything was, invited us to evening and morning prayers.
"I am certain you will meet Amma on your journey. I can just feel it, and we will see each other again," Amriti said, and we said goodbye.
We skipped the prayers due to exhaustion, but went to the free communal dinner, where the fare was gruel on a good day.
The following morning at breakfast, we sat around chatting with a recent inmate from Massachusetts and another from southern western France. Both seemed to have their heads screwed on pretty decent, so there is hope that not every devotee becomes a space cadet. They both seemed not to have been around India very much, which I find interesting. Also, the devotees are discouraged from leaving the compound. It seemed a little unnecessary until I recalled the dizzyness of the Swede. She would get eaten alive and I suppose they do need to protect their own.
Here's why I am going to be my own guru. After spending just a day at Amma's, we realized that all you need to do is tell people that everything is just an illusion. Your misery, depression, hunger, pain are all an illusion which prevent you from seeing the "truth." The actual "truth" doesn't matter anyway because no one can find it anyway and are working our their issues in the mean time. Hence, "there is no spoon." I have a bit of a problem with this, but who cares if the money comes in. In Amma's case, she chooses to do good works with her donations and funding (earthquake relief in Gujurat, widows pensions, free meals, educational opportunities, etc.), but not many guru's do. In fact, we heard of one guru who has a solid gold toilet seat and when his devotees asked "Master, why do you have a golden toilet seat?" he said it was an illusion!!!!
Can people really be this gullible???
If so Pinky, I think I've found a new way to RULE THE WORLD!!!!!
Claudia and I have alluded to this a bit here and there, both on the blog and on our various posts on the BootsnAll message boards, but the silk shop she gots some shirts from deserves a wee plug. As many annoying touts and lying merchants as there are in India, the honest ones should get some attention, after all!
Suba Silk House is the place. The owner is Mr. S. Sekar, and his son, Vivek, is a fashion design student at the uni in Chennai. They are courteous and bloody nice; we just sat around chatting with them for a while, as Claudia looked through the racks.
They offered fair prices, and Claudia got some good-quality shirts. The two of them are some of the most genuinely friendly people we've met so far, and on top of that they run a good shop. Here's their details:
SUBA SILK HOUSE
18 Othavadai Street
Phone: 242 025
It's not the rush that kills you, it's the sweats at the end...
If you're going to India, you're supposed to take some sort of antimalarial. There's quite a few on the market, such as Larium, but most of these also have some pretty scary side effects. Doxycycline, pretty much just a hepped-up antibiotic, is much milder and pretty highly recommended. Claudia and I both are on it, and though we've not really had any problems, the other day, oh, did I have some freaky side effect reactions.
You're supposed to take Doxy with lots of water and on a full stomach. Usually I pop mine in the morning when I get up, or just as we're leaving for breakfast. This one morning in Maha though, we didn't have much water left, but we were about to jet out for grub so I just took one and off we went.
At the restaurant, my body started going haywire. Nausea hit me; I felt lightheaded; a wave of pricklies washed over my body and I was drenched in sweat. I just put my head on the table and focused on breathing; Claudia was pretty worried, and made me sit up and drink water.
At first I wondered if I was getting sick Last night's fish curry! I thought. But no; it had to be the Doxy. I'd had too little water, and my stomach was empty, so it hit my body harder than a bottle of red wine in the same circumstances. I took a bunch of deep breaths, and soon everything was all right. I sat back up, had some more water, and all was good. For that few minutes though, we were both pretty worried.
Before or since, no problems, just this one time. If you're heading to India, Doxy is cool for antimalarial. Just be smart about taking it always with loads of agua, and always on a full tummy. Trust me on this one!
(By the way, Doxy is also a really good antimalarial budget-wise. Whatever drug you settle on, call every pharmacy in town and compare prices. Rates for my Doxy varied from $17-45 for 90 pills. I filled mine beforehand, but you don't have to; you can also get Doxy over the counter in India, for dirt cheap, which is what Claudia's been doing.)
I can't believe it, there is efficiency in India outside of Bangalore.
I've been in India 1.5 months now and I have gotten used to things taking a while to get done. Train tickets, bus tickets, whatever. So the prospect of getting to Chennai, getting a hotel, changing Ant's flight, AND buying tickets for the train tomorrow night to Alleppey had me stressed out this AM. Little did I know I would find in Chennai the type of speed and efficiency in service (AND WITH A SMILE!!) that would get all this done.
I am still in shock at the ease and perfection of the day. Ok, no. It wasn't perfect. As we crossed a major road on the way to Citibank, I look over and Ant is gone. I look again and a bunch of Indians are helping him out of the way of oncoming traffic. In his brilliance he had scampered across the road a bit late, his Teva caught on something and a motorbike almost killed him. I nearly had a heart attack. The road was huge and there was major MAJOR traffic (Dusty, not even venomous snakes could have gotten you across). I generally don't get phased by major traffic, but seriously this was heavy traffic. Finally when I got over to him, he was slightly bruised up on his palms, and I proceeded to beat the crap out of him (good natured of course) for giving me a panic attack.
Other than that, the day was great. Ant won his argument with our driver from Mahanalpuram (my first time hearing Ant yell, EVER), our hotel manager at our new place witnessed it and decided not to provoke him further and offered us a very fair price for a decent room. We wandered around a bit, found the Cathay Pacific office where a VERY competant and helpful woman fixed Ant up with a new ticket for the 27th of Nov, with no problem or delay.
In celebration, we hit the Spencer Mall. After dragging Ant out of the pen (kicking and screaming) store, we had some coffee at a swanky coffee joint where I was respectfully hit on by Abdul as soon as Ant walked away. Which brings me to another reason I like Chennai. I have not been leered at once that I have noticed. If someone did, they kept it to themselves. Everyone we have met, from ticket agents to rickshaw drivers to servers in eateries have been genuinely friendly. Little kids have been screaming and fighting to shake our hands and don't beg for pens/chocolate. School girls in particular like Ant and giggle at him ALL THE TIME.
So after the mall, we expected a fight with the rickshaw driver over a price to the railway station. Nope, he gave us a fair price. We found the "Tourist Cell" where foreigners are alleviated from the torture of waiting in line for tickets and bought our train tickets in 10 minutes flat. I walked out in shock.
Tomorrow I am going to go in search of a sari so we will see if I feel the same way tomorrow about shopkeepers. :) This city just seems to have a lot going for it and it seems like a very livable place. I just wish I had more time to spend here even though there is not much for the tourist to see.
Or, The Cockroach from Hell
Call me Ishmael... No, stuff that, call me Anthony, and call me shell-shocked by some severe entomological homicide-induced post-traumatic stress disorder.
After a lovely day of haircuts, laughter, mid-afternoon rain and then sunshine and clambering around beaches and over rocky hills, Claudia and I finally returned to our room. It had been an awesome day, laidback, glorious, full of fun and chillness.
Oh, the horror that awaited...
As I was fiddling around in my bag, Claudia yelled for me to rush over to the bathroom. She didn't say why, she just sounded panicked, so I did... and a massive cockroach at least the size of my thumb came flying towards my face.
I ducked; Claudia jumped and shrieked and tittered a bit at my expression. I don't blame her. The panic in my eyes may have been not only visible, but damn near tangible. I hate bugs. I especially hate LARGE bugs that can FLY. They should be rounded up and shot, stamped, and burned to a crisp.
Standing back up, I slammed the bathroom door to trap the beast. "Kill it! Kill it!" Claudia shouted, which she had to do since I was screaming a bit like a schoolgirl myself.
Get it together, Ant, just kill the bastard, I thought. And I've killed before, mind you. A slightly smaller cockroach in Calcutta also met its ultimate fate beneath my Teva. This one was different though. The bathroom was bigger, so the battlefield was larger and we both had more room for maneuvering. And the Calcutta Cockroach did not fly. This physical aspect gave this insectile menace a distinct psychological and tactical advantage over me. I just had to hope the damn thing was too stupid to know that.
Suit up, I thought as I walked back towards my bag. I knew this could be a hand-to-hand battle, and the Tevas on my feet might not be enough. So I picked up my walking shoes, put them on my hands, took a deep breath and faced the door. "Shut it behind me," I said to Claudia (she didn't though; but who can blame her for wanting to watch?)
Inside, the winged demon roach sat in a corner of the wall. I focused my strength, breathed in deep, and struck out open-soled with my right hand. Splat. Game over. Ant 1, Roach 0. A bit anti-climactic I know, but there was no drawn-out battle. Roachie didn't move, I just nailed it as hard as I could. It was a bit like the anticipation leading up to a Mike Tyson boxing match; you get pumped and pumped and pumped... then BAM!, 90 seconds in and it's all over. Pay-per-blink-oh-damn-you-missed-it.
I grabbed some TP and scooped up the kill, wanting to make sure it was really dead. It looked dead: body a bit smooshed, head at an extremely awkward, unnatural angle on the body. Then its leg twitched. And moved in one direction... then another. Then another. Naw, stuff that; I chucked the roach down on the floor. "It's dead, Ant, it's dead, what are you doing?" Claudia said.
"It moved, dammit!" Stomp stomp stomp. "It's !#@ leg was moving!" Stomp stomp STOMP! I picked up the TP and saw what atom-thick cucaracha looks like. "Now it's dead," I said.
I dropped the demon into the toilet, so we could send it back to where it came as a warning to any who might follow. "Claud?"
"I need a beer."
We hate Kingfisher. We drank two, until the shock subsided and I stopped shaking.
I don't want to see anymore cockroaches. I just hope they don't want to see me, either. But if they do, they're mush. Bloody, squishy, mush. Got it, roaches?
After lopping off most of Claudia's hair, we ventured back out into the wide world of Maha. First, the beach (about 2 minutes walk).
Just off the beach and behind some fence (to keep non-Indians from dodging the $10 entrance fee), the two structures of the Shore Temple waited for Claudia to whip out the ol' cameras. On the beach where we were, 2 rocks stood in an uncanny similarity of height and positioning to the temples. We scrambled around and up the rocks, Claudia snapping a few pix, then wandered up and down the beach some more while dodging sarong sellers, trying to get shots of the colorful fishing boats.
Back towards town, near the western edge of Maha there's a large park filled with boulders and rock carvings. Tamil Nadu is full of rocks. On the bus ride in from Bangalore, Karnataka, we'd pass by miles and miles of jungle and forest and then, suddenly, there'd be hills. Or piles and piles of boulders stretching for a couple of miles. Or just a bunch of rocks amidst some trees, apparently just bunged there by the denizens of the Hindu pantheon during a divine cricket match that got rather off-color after tea. (Cricket lasts for about 7 hours a match, according to our fave silk tailor who tried to fill me in on some of the basics it's so bloody long they have breaks for tea and food!)
Our fave? Probably "Krishna's Butterball". On a gentle sloping hill of flat rock, a massive boulder is just chilling out, balanced by a flat edge on the hill. It's a bit disconcerting. People just hang out in its shadow; it makes sense, I suppose why worry about whether or not a big rock is finally going to move after centuries of just sitting there?
We dodged touts and goats, though I prefer goats to touts. To Claudia they're just more vermin. To me, a Capricorn for whom the goat is my sign, they're like my brethren. They like to clamber up rocks, and so do I. It's a natural environment for us. (Also like goats, I'll eat damn near anything.) All along the top of the rocks and rock hills, Claudia went nuts on some black and white photography, while I just ran and climbed and wandered off into every little path I could.
Though we loved wandering amongst the hills, goats and boulders, we were very disappointed by the "feature presentation" of the park. Let's Go details "Arjuna's Penance" as "One of the largest bas-relief sculptures in the world.... Particularly engaging are the elegant, humorous depictions of animals and birds which include whimsical renderings of an elephant family and an ascetic, meditating cat surrounded by dancing rats."
There was plenty of carving and sculpture. Elephants? Check. Cats? Check. Monkeys shown picking nits off each other? Check. But what had me and Claudia excited were the dancing rats and they were nowhere to be found. I think Arjuna needs to do some more penance, for false advertising.
Being in Maha has been one of our most chill experiences so far. It's a tourist town, yes, but it's extremely mellow. Maha also has the most white people we've each seen since coming to India. All of them seem to be either Australian or French, or Germans who own bakeries where they employ Nepalis and Tibetans; go figure. Anyway, we've loved this relaxing little town, where we've gotten to chill and chill and chill...
I had had it with my hair.
Back in Bangalore, I had meant to get my haircut, but I kept forgetting or was busy with something else. Either we were hanging out with Dusty, eating, having a frappe at Cafe Coffee Day, whatever, I was out and about.
Finally, I lost patience with my long ass hair. I was all shaggy and it just kept getting tied up in something. Today was the day. Anthony and I were going to lop it off in this weird cut I decided I wanted. I wanted some sections long and some short.
So Ant prepped me, we sectioned the hair with rubberbands. It was all very scientific. An Indian lady kept wandering by and chuckling at the sight of Ant trimming my locks off.
Snip, toss hair into courtyard, snip, toss hair.
Ant began to get very methodical and picky about how he trimmed.
What resulted is a cross between a hasidic Jew and a Hare Krishna. I decided the locks in back were just too mullet like and they had to go. So I am now left with two super long locks, one on either side of my head, but one further forward than the other, and the rest, well, it needs some evening out, so I will comment on that some other time. :)
Moral of the story, for an amusing afternoon, have your boyfriend cut your hair and the laughes will never cease.
Or maybe "loco."
Being a westerner in India, my bathroom habits are somewhat different than the local Indian. I use toilet paper and not my left hand. It's a habit and custom I like to keep for myself. Some people say tomayto, some say toMAAAAto.
So when at breakfast when I had to hit the toilet and I asked Ant if there was TP (a silly question really) he replied no.
"So then what did you use?" I asked, knowing what his business was while in the toilet.
"My left hand, what else??" replied Anthony. "Pass the hand sanitizer."
WHAT THE FUNK????? He did not, he couldn't have. He's pulling my leg.
But no, it was true. He had wiped his ass clean with his left hand. He then proceeded to desanitize it at the table and then tease me all day by handing me things with his left hand.
Such is the torture I have to endure to travel with Anthony.
"Maha", for short, like "Baja California".
From Pondicherry, Claudia and I were planning to go to Chennai for a day or two, to see if we can do some finagling with our Bangkok tickets. Over breakfast the day we were going to leave, Claudia was flipping through the Let's Go and started reading about a town called Mahabalipuram, a couple of hours each day between Pondicherry and Chennai.
It's a seaside town, supported a little by fishing (traditional lifestyle) and mostly by tourism (modern lifestyle). There are loads of rocks, temples, and seafood. As it turned out, it was a holiday weekend anyway so we couldn't do jack about inquiring about tickets, so we caugt the first bus up.
This town rocks.
You can walk across the place in... probably 20 minutes. Maybe 30, if you grab a soda and have trouble waving off touts, of which there are many. They also cop a bit of attitude here, which is actually kinda nice for a giggle. For example, when we'd just gotten off the bus, the same guy had asked us about a rickshaw a few times. We don't mind once or even twice, but following us to the drink stand and continuing to ask as we sip Mirindas.
"We don't want your rickshaw! Go away!" Claudia said.
"No, I don't have to go away. You will eventually leave India. You'll go away," he said, standing firmly in one place for a bit, then walking away and bothering us no more.
We wandered on, to a great hotel near the shore. 300 rupees for a large room, and decently fast internet. We've roamed rock carvings, fought off sarong sellers, shot fishermen (she's a photographer, peeps, chill), and in general have just dug roaming this very cool little town.
More later. It's dinnertime and we're hungry... to come in future posts!
After all these days of basking in the warm darshan glow of ashrams, ashram communities, and our ashram-run guesthouse, the divine has guided me and Claudia to accept our destiny as gurus.
1000 rupees, please.
Our ashram will be called "The Supreme Truth Community for Profound Depth". As long as you accept what we say and don't mind our penchant for buying solid-gold toilet seats (which one guru in India is quite partial to apparently), you may gladly continue to donate your membership fees and tend flowers, cook us naan (our favorite bread), and feed us sodas and beer until we pop, er, transcend this mortal plane for Nirvana.
You drive a hard bargain for enlightenment and salvation. 800 rupees.
Please excuse us while we burn our passports, buy some property, and seek out the first lost-looking westerners as followers ;-)
More from beachside restaurants south of Chennai...
Okay, okay 500 rupees. (And a case of Kingfisher.) Step into the light, grasshopper, step into the light...