Darjeeling (and some other things)

After leaving the Ashram, Lindsay and I went back up to Cochi (aka Kochi aka Cochin). We really wanted to get to Darjeeling, but Darjeeling is way in the North of India and it was going to take 50-60 hours (straight) via train to get there, so we opted for a flight.

Cochi itself is actually a pretty nice city. We ended up spending two nights there, and in that time we went to a fancy mall (Lulu) where I bought a shirt at Wildcraft (India’s version of REI?), we went to the nicest super market yet and tried some different foods (mainly deserts), we watch some traditional fishing (giant nets one a crane type device that four people lift out of the water), we had some great food, and we generally just hung out and walked around. It was nice to go to a slightly slower paced place. We walked around the night market also, which again was slower paced and felt friendly. Our first Indian park/night market/thing as well. Nothing too crazy, all of these things I’m mainly mentioning for my own memory.

Anyway, then we had a flight. Our flight was a mix of good and not ideal. We had three separate flights actually, and then an 18 hour layover! The flights were 1 hour, 2 hours, and 1 hour. So, 4 hours in the air, saving us roughly 4 days on a train or in a train station. We flew with Air India, and were served food on each flight. Which was awesome actually. After our first two flights, we ended up in the rather nice (not as nice as major US airports, but still nice) Kalkata airport around 6pm. Sadly, the way the flights work you end up outside of the security checkpoints. And with an 18 hour layover, that sucks. They wouldn’t let us back into the main airport (even the main lobby, they have guards with guns at the doors to the airport and require you show them your boarding pass before you get in. Basically, it’s a bit difficult to explain, but spend the first 2 or 3 hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs in this strange limbo part of the airport that was cut off from the main entrance (where you’d check in, etc) as well as the security cleared/gate area.

I’m rambling a bit. Basically, we eventually talked our way into the main check in area of the airport, where we could at least get some dinner. Then we found some chairs, and we tried to go to sleep in the bright/surprising cold airport. My back hurt very bad, and I think I got the most sleep at around 5 hours. Lindsay had around 2 or 3 hours of sleep. A highlight of the night: it’s common here for men to hold hands, lock arms while walking, put their arms around each other, etc. Men in camo with AK47s are no exception, and it was interesting to wake up in the middle of the night because two army guys with loaded guns were walking by hand in hand.

In the morning, around 6am when I wasn’t able to sleep again, I went to check us in. Turns out, our flight was cancelled until the next day! Luckily (VERY, i would have cried I think) they put us on a different flight (Jet Air or something similar), actually a few hours earlier which worked out really really well.

Eventually, we arrived in the city of Bagdogra (which is really difficult for me to pronounce correctly, btw). Like all of our India travel experiences so far, Bagdogra SEEMS like it should be a quick 30 minute drive from Darjeeling (our actual destination), but it ended up being an hour long taxi ride (for 10 bucks, which is a lot for our current standards), followed by a 4 hour process of locating a shared jeep, then waiting in the shared jeep for an hour for enough other passengers to buy a seat so we could leave, followed by a 3 hour trip (76km!) up a mountain to Darjeeling! That included an unscheduled 20 minute stop for the driver to get lunch.

But here is the real point of this post: The drive up the mountain (hill?) was amazing. It’s honestly near impossible to describe, but basically narrow, terrifying roads, at a steep incline, for 2.5 hours, most of the way through mist/fog, making the whole experience quite magical. Any amount of beauty/magic/steep lush green/colorful houses on cliffs/something from a movie/etc that you can imagine is likely not enough to do the experience justice.

Also, it got cooler and cooler as we ascended. When we arrived in Darjeeling, which for our purposes is a series of winding, dirty, but nice streets running parallel, connected in various places by series of nearly hidden steps winding through various strange allies/houses. It’s a bit difficult to describe honestly, because whatever you might imagine is likely not quite right because I’ve never seen something like this before. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get decent enough internet to upload some photos, but we’ll see. The buildings/roads/etc are just so amazing. Everything is super tight together, and walkways/paths between “major” streets are stairs/dirt paths/etc that are sort of just jammed wherever they could fit.

Anyway, when we arrived we first went to a guest house whose name I don’t exactly remember (“Sai N…..something”). Like most guest houses/hotels we’ve been to, they are generally not super clean, but OK. But, when you walked into this little dark/damp/dank/dirty room, you had a window that you could open, and when you looked out you basically just saw the edge of a cliff with mist surrounding you. When the mist leaves, you can see mountains in the distance, and to either side/below (down the steep cliffs) you see colorful houses, moss, tea plantations, green. Something like in a movie, that seems to awesome to be real.

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I have enjoyed imagining on foggy/cloudy days, when you can’t see below the edge of a cliff where I might be drinking tea with Lindsay, that we are on a floating island up in the sky. It’s very very easy to do.

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(Lindsay and I agree that this is our dream house, the one with the dude doing something with the roof. We’d like the top two floors, and we’d like it in the same location except closer to home.)

And, there is Tasty Hasty! Tasty Hasty is, so far in India, my favorite place I’ve eaten, with my favorite foods. In particular, every time I go there I got either the North Indian Thali, or the “Special” Thali. A Thali, btw, is basically a small amount of a wide variety of different curries/sauces/”curd” (yogurt)/etc, and includes rice and chapati (chapati being more common than naan, so far, in our experience). Anyway, it’s amazing, and it costs 1.50, and is enough for Lindsay and I to share. But, we also get other stuff to try/experiment. Tonight for instance, we got a paneer (cheese) dosa, which is sort of like a GIANT crepe that is fried crispy on one side, then rolled into a loose tube with a filling. And also we got another thing, whose name I forget, but is basically like a super puffed up elephant ear (looks sort of like a pita pocket that has been filled with air, except is made with a fried dough instead). This place is amazing, and the people that work there are awesome, and we get TONS of amazing food (and we eat it all!) and never spend more then 5 bucks. We could easily get more then enough food for 2.50, but again we try lots of different things.

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Other highlights from Darjeeling so far:

  • Went on a tea factory tour and walked around a tea farm/plantation/estate at Happy Valley
  • tried 3 different types of teas at a ladies little food stall/stand, including a quick demo of how to make the tea
  • Went to a bunch of shops that sell decent quality fake North Face, Mountain Hardware, etc, clothing.
  • Road a “toy train” (basically a small train) down the mountain a bit, then back up
  • Played some cards in various cafes overlooking the valley/hills/etc, again, too amazing to explain in words
  • Listened to music in this park near our house (there is a festival going on, the Durga festival?)
  • Had some traditional Tibetan food – Sogtham (sp?), another type of noddle, butter tea (seemingly tea, with butter), and this strange porridge thing with buckwheat flour and some sort of cheese, that you had hot water to and make a sort of paste out of…
  • Got an amazing haircut
  • (tomorrow)Going to an old fancy english hotel and having a traditional english tea lunch thing with scones and crumpets or whatever fancy people in england eat (or used to eat)

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So, for now, that’s sort of an idea of what’s going on. I actually went to bed before this paragraph, and now I’m back up and awake on this paragraph, but I don’t remember exactly what I was rambling about. So.

I guess I’ll say that today, I took a shower with our hot water heater, which was amazing. It took roughly 30 minutes for the water to heat up, but once it did! My hair feels clean for the first time in a long time, because although I’ve been taking showers, they’ve all been cold showers which just doesn’t seem to do as good of a job.

Hello to Infield Design if anybody reads this. I miss you guys! I’m actually waiting at this very moment for a new vagrant box to start up – I miss programming and am going to install Magento and see if I have any free time in the next few days to do some old fashioned programming. Or maybe I’ll just browse the default store. One problem I’m facing currently is only half of our 12.5″ screen on the laptop is working. So I have to resize all windows to be half of the screen. This has been annoying, to say the least. On the bright side, it lets me see the responsive versions of most webpages, which is nice (not really).

I’m asking Lindsay after I type this sentence what we should do now, and will write her answer here:

“I’m going to email my parents and tell them where we are, then we can do anything. What time is it? (I told her 10:30am) I’d like to get some tea maybe. (I mention that we need to get our laundry) We could go check out the tiger hill thing, and we need to make copies of our passport for the train.”

So, that’s our current plan. The passport copy thing is because we weren’t able to reserve a train from NJP (the nearest train station) to Varanasi (our next destination) when we went to do this, and have to come at 6am tomorrow (this sounds like hell to me, btw) and wait for 4 hours in a line to get a “last minute” ticket for the next day, which for whatever reason requires a passport. I think because they save a certain number of tickets for last minute tourist purchases perhaps (??) and the passport is to prove that we are in fact tourists.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this above yet, but Darjeeling is amazing and we are incredibly happy here, and feeling very lucky. It is a place that I would recommend anybody come if you have the time to get here. I’m looking outside (now morning) from where I sit, for the first time, and I see mist and fog and interesting buildings and it’s pretty great and magical.

Love and miss you all!

p.s. I’ve uploaded a few photos, the internet is pretty slow despite having actual wifi, and I’m just going to sort of put the images randomly throughout this post as best as I can… sorry if they lack context!

Amma Darshan and Kerala House Boat and Stuff

A lot has happened since the last blog post. For one thing, we left Hampi and traveled to Kerala, which is a state in the South of India. Oh, and we went to Bangalore en route to Kerala.

Bangalore, because to get to Kerala, we had to take two separate trains from Hampi. Both of the trains were ~9ish hours, and both were at night. It was a somewhat long few days and we felt very dirty. That said, if I were to be honest, I’d have to say that the trip wasn’t bad, and although I’m happy we don’t have any super grueling travel (well, an 18 hour layover is coming up!) anytime in the near future, I think I’ll look back one day fondly on the trip.

The first leg brought us from Hampi -> Bangalore. We took a “sleeper class” (SL) train, which is a second class train. What that means, basically, is that we share a train car with a bunch of other people, there is no air conditioning, and there are quite a few beds crammed in a relatively small space. Well, 8ish. Which doesn’t mean much I guess, without a picture (which I can’t post, as I’m currently using a VERY slow GSM cell modem to use the internet). Anyway, the train seats are not super comfortable, and it’s hot, and there are lots of people around, and kids crying and people talking and plenty of men snoring on top/below.

The worst part, at least for me, about this train travel is that it’s hard to get a good night sleep because it’s not easy to know when you are supposed to get off the train. For example, the last two trains we were on were scheduled to arrive at 6:10am and 4:30am. And on one hand, it’s super clear when you are stopping because you can hear the trains brakes come on, and the train slows down, BUT the trains make a ton of stops through the entire night, so unless you want to be up every 30-60 minutes, you need a better way of figuring out when the train will be at your stop. Now, after the past several weeks and a relatively large number of train trips, I can say that so far I’ve been very impressed to find that the trains are generally quite timely. So, our train that was supposed to arrive at our stop at 4:30am, did in fact arrive at +/- 5 minutes of that time. Though, we ended up realizing that we booked to the wrong train station, around 4:35am, and had to scramble to find somebody to talk with and find out if we could stay on and what would happen if we stayed on, etc. It ended up actually working out pretty well, and we stayed on until 5:20am or so and got off at the proper stop.

Anyway, whatever. The point here is that the train rides were long and we didn’t sleep super well, and we certainly didn’t shower or change our clothes, etc, in 2+ FULL days, and we did certainly sweat plenty. But, again, in reality the train trip(s) were pretty uneventful and successful, and I actually slept (when I slept) better on the train then (than?) I had the previous several weeks as I’m finally getting over my stomach thing and my cold/congestion.

Bangalore, where we had a 10 or so hour layover was quite nice. We heard from some people that it was pretty crazy/hectic, and I’m sure in places it was, but we realized we would be tired when we arrived so we ended up (and I realize this sounds weak!) looking on the internet for a mall with a food court (which we didn’t end up finding exactly) and we took a taxi directly from the train station to this generally more Western area of Bangalore. And there we hung out for a number of hours, reading, drinking a coffee, we even ate a pizza at Pizza Hut (though it was not EXACTLY a Western style Pizza Hut, the pizza we had was pretty good). Basically we just relaxed and didn’t do much, but we did get to do some people watching which was nice. There were a number of colleges and high schools near where we parked ourselves for the day, so watching kids come and go was pretty fun. Or interesting, etc.

Then we took our second train and arrived in Allepey, Kerala. Allepey was/is/seemed great when we first arrived. It is (I think?) called the Venice of India, which is a bit misleading (and possibly not even true, I might be making that up, or maybe I just saw a hotel that was called the Venice and made the fact up myself, not sure) because it doesn’t really look like Venice, but there are waterways running all over the place.

One of our big India Bucket List items was to rent a houseboat in Kerala, and that’s one of the big things to do in Allepey, and that’s what we did! We didn’t feel super into bargaining, and our guesthouse that we stayed at rented houseboats and we liked the people there, so we just rented through them. FYI, we paid ~6000 rs for the houseboat for one night, which is, roughly, $100. Which is the most we paid for anything since being in India, but we believe worth it. We could have probably paid less if we walked around and bartered a bit, but as I mentioned we didn’t feel much up to it.

So, we rented this houseboat. Which was pretty crazy really. I’ll post photos soon, but basically it’s a thatched roof houseboat, with a staff of THREE people on it. THREE people to cook, drive the boat, control the motor speed (which the person driving doesn’t control on this boat… There is a buzzer the dude driving rings to notify the person controlling the motor to speed up/slow down. One buzz == slow down or stop, three+ buzzes means speed up. I don’t know what two buzzes means, maybe the dude never buzzes three times.) We had a “welcome drink”, fresh hand squeezed lemon/lime juice with ginger. And we had no less than three spectacular meals, each consisting of three different curries, plus rice and chappati (which is like a thick flour/wheat tortilla sort of).

I think I really need to post pictures to do this experience justice, but we basically sat on chairs on the deck of this houseboat for 24 hours and read and talked and played a game of cribbage and just looked out at the people who live along this river fishing, taking baths, washing clothing, moving building supplies around in loads insanely large for the little canoes they had, etc.

Fake edit:

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View down the river:
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Terrible creature:
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Fearless captain:
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Dinner:
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After getting off the boat, we tipped the crew (200 rs each, which was a good tip considering we didn’t barter… Around 3 bucks each), and took a tuktuk to the bus station. There, we met a very nice lady who helped us get on a bus that went from Allepey towards the direction of the Ashram we were headed to.

Something got lost in translation, but luckily we met (as always!) more nice people on the bus who had us get off on a stop different from the one recommended to us, but it ended up being perfect. From there, wherever that was, because I don’t know, we got another tuktuk and took it to the Ashram!

First thing to say about the Ashram is that sadly, no photos were allowed anywhere within the Ashram. That even included our rooms, technically. I actually really really appreciated this to be honest as you had a lot fewer people standing around taking photos of people and a lot more people just experiencing things first hand. Basically though, no photos, other then those that I find on the internet, and considering the internet is really terrible and viewing images is near impossible, I wouldn’t get too excited.

But, the Ashram. First, an Ashram, as I understand it, is basically a community of people trying to lead a spiritual life. Anyway, the Ashram we went to was the home of a Guru (yes, a guru) named Amma. I guess Amma is a diety, technically, or a saint, or something similar. Basically she is a person that is quite spiritual and important, etc. It’s a bit difficult to describe just how big of a deal she is, but at this particular Ashram there are 3000 people living, and the Ashram, and Amma, have outreach programs all over the world. We watched an orientation video and she is pictured with with former president Clinton, various TV news personalities, various UN people, etc. So she is a somewhat important person in the global sense, but much more so to the people who stay at these Ashrams or otherwise follow her teachings in the capacity of students/followers/worshipers/whatevererererers.

One of the things that Amma is particularly known for is her darshan, a word that means (according to google’s dictionary it sources), “an opportunity or occasion of seeing a holy person or the image of a deity.” Anyway, basically, Amma hosts these things called “darshan days”, in which she basically sits on a somewhat uncomfortable looking mat (sp?) and hugs people, all day long. Now look, this shit is crazy. I say that because, as a non-spiritual person, I’d have to see this to have believed it, but one day, Saturday, Lindsay and I woke up and go downstairs out of our room around 10am. Amma was on stage, hugging people. She sat there, in that same place, all day long, until after we went to bed (around 11:30pm), hugging people. I didn’t see her move once. I saw her drink some water once, and maybe eat something, WHILE STILL HUGGING PEOPLE, LITERALLY WHILE HUGGING PEOPLE.

And guess what everybody. Guess what. GUESS. NOW. GUESS NOW! Give up? OK, here it is: Lindsay and I both received Amma’s embrace. That’s right, me, a skinny white man from Michigan, received the embrace of Amma, my new guru. I say “my new guru” although what I really mean is “I’m not really in the market for a spiritual guru, but I may never have the opportunity to say that I have a guru again in my life, so I might as well capitalize on it because it sounds quite strange to me and I find it entertaining.” But although I’m somewhat flippant about the whole guru/spiritual/etc thing, I really must say that this Amma character at least was quite impressive to see and I must give her some genuine respect for sitting in one spot all day and hugging sweaty, often times crying people.

My own (and Lindsay’s, to a large extent, at least as far as practical matters go) experience went something like this: First, Saturday morning around 11am Lindsay and I got “tokens” (which is the way Indians, and maybe folks in the UK in general (?) say “number for your place in line) that we could use at an allotted time later in the night. We were told around 8 or 9pm. Then, we went about our day (more on that later). Then, around 9:30pm, a notice board (basically a spiral bound poster board that was flipped over to show which numbers were up) told us it was our time. So, Lindsay went to one side of this giant auditorium (the womans side), and I went to the other (mens side!). Then we sat in chairs, and waited for another hour or so, moving one chair at a time. We made our way along the side of this auditorium, then we finally were allowed to an area that was on the actual stage where Amma sits where there was another line. There were probably 30 chairs in my area, and we moved one at a time. Lindsay was on a similar line, on the other side of the stage.

The stage itself is full of people sitting on the ground around Amma, meditating or praying or reading or otherwise doing spiritual things. There are spices and things being burned around, and perhaps most importantly nearby there is a group of musicians playing very religious hindu music, chanting, etc. Picture something from a movie or something where something spiritual is happening in a hindu temple, it was like that, quite loud and generally pleasing and very much inline with the general mood.

So finally, it was my turn to go next. I got down on my knee, where various handlers (there are like 10 people crowded around Amma just making sure things go smoothly. People bring gifts and Amma doesn’t have time for gifts, so people are there to take gifts, people are there to literally take your head and put it on Amma’s shoulder, people are there to talk with Amma about varoius things while she is hugging, etc) physically pushed me forward when Amma was ready to give me the ol’ embrace. Then, she did it. She embraced me. And while embracing me, she chanted in my ear something like “muduri muduri muduri” which I think means “peace peace peace” or something. Oh, also everybody get’s a piece of Amma candy! Lots of people bring things up for Amma to bless (another big thing is to buy a necklace and have Amma put it on your), but I didn’t do that. Amma smelled nice too, because she had one assistant whose job seemed to be to spread essential oils on Amma. Anyway, it was a pretty cool experience, and again while I’m not super into the spiritual part of it, it was none the less a somewhat spiritual-ish experience and something I’m very happy to have done.

Here is the candy we got, which was wrapped in the paper you can see below:
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But! I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The ashram itself was probably my favorite part, for the following reasons:

  • The food was amazing and clean and great and awesome and cheap
  • The room, despite being cheap, and without AC, was really nice because it was up high and had a great breeze
  • The place had a community/compound type vibe with lots of westerners, which was sort of a nice change of pace. Felt sort of like being back home at a hippy festival of some sort

When you walk into the Ashram, it feels like (and is) a small walled town. There are ~3000 people that stay at the Ashram, including around 1k students, 1k families, and 1k others that stay for various lengths of time (anywhere from a day to a year+). A lot of the visitors are foreign, and there are a lot of domestic Indian visitors as well staying at the ashram.

The thing is incredibly well run and that was one of the themes throughout. When you first walk in you see “International Accommodation Check In”, “Linen Rental”, “Tea, Chai, Milk, Ice Cream”, “Western Canteen”, “Indian Canteen”, etc. Basically everything you could want. Oh, and free (though not particularly exciting) Indian food if you wanted! You didn’t have to buy food, if you didn’t want. There were also various stores to buy things like essential oils and organic foods (no joke), there was an ecology center where you could rent books and watch free movies (Lindsay and I went and watched a movie on the Saint Francis of Assisi, and while watching this terrible movie I read a book about the healing power of water, orbs, and how angels can heal our shakras and bring us to the 5th dimension), etc.

Although I’m sure there is paid staff, most everything I saw was run by volunteers. There is this concept of “seva”, which is basically as far as I can tell volunteering. So if you stay at the Ashram for more then a day, you are supposed to register at the “Seva Office” (again, another well organized office run by volunteers, all western/english speaking) where you can sign up for various jobs that generally require 1-2 hours of work per day. Not bad. A way to meet people and fill your day with something slightly productive. Sadly, we only stayed for 3 days and didn’t end up doing any seva. Maybe next time.

The food as I mentioned was great. The free Indian food we ate on the first day, but the second day we went to the “Western Canteen” and paid a bit of money for amazing western-ish food. Stuff like sesame and carob (sp?) raw bars, and a beet salad. It wasn’t CRAZY fancy or anything, it’s all very much down to earth food, but great tasting.

As in many places in India, the cups/silverware are all stainless steel (or something similar), and you washed your own dishes as well as dried them. For the Indian food (which you ate with your hands, unless you bought a spoon, which Lindsay and I did) you got a plate/bowl thing, washed it, got your food from a line, ate your food with your hand, then wash the plate and put it back in this giant container. A super well run, sort of cool system.

So, the food was great. During the first day, we walked down to the beach with a bunch of people, where we meditated with a bunch of people (I mainly just tried to hold my breath as long as I could, which was hard because I kept coughing), which was pretty cool, Amma was there also to answer questions in a Q&A session. Then we went back to this giant building where everybody sat and listened to music that people sand about hindu related stuff for 2 hours, then we went to bed.

Here is the view from our room (10th floor – we took this one photo, plus the photo of the candy)
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For anybody who has had the chance to go to Harvest Festival in Michigan (and I’m guessing at least a few people reading this have), the vibe at the Ashram was very similar – volunteer work, lots of friendly people, etc. Except no drinking as it’s banned in the entire state.

Here are a few videos of Amma and all of the Amma related stuff.

A Week+ in Photos…

 

No photos of the chaos that was Mumbai (thankfully Delhi is still a few more weeks away :)) But here is some of the beauty located not too far away….

Tamarind and palm trees and monkeys galore: Elephanta Island off the Mumbai Coast.

Kev reading up on the symbolism behind the cave carvings.IMG_0448

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Kev, Oli and Eden (new friends) in temple.IMG_0422

On the way back to Mumbai, you will see the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (oddly (or maybe not so odd? This is India after all…), located only 21 hours away from the Taj….)IMG_0457

First legit Indian Meal: Paneer Masala, Rice and hella naan and chapati.IMG_0462

For a grand total of: 218 rupees ($3.58)IMG_0465

Sunset at Chowpatty.IMG_0470

After Mumbai, we took the train down to Goa. It was pretty awesome.

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A Sleeper 1st AC car (probably the only time in our life that happens) which pretty much meant for 13 hours, I got to sleep (ya’ll know how I like to sleep in mobiles!) wake, drink chai. Rinse and Repeat. Again, pretty awesome.IMG_0496

Like you would expect? Some of this for sure, but also a lot of beauty.IMG_0484

And then. We got to Goa.

Full disclosure: No one swims on the beach. Especially not women. So fully clothed, in the scorching hot sun (thankfully this day, under an umbrella) this is what we did. Therefore, we did not swim in the Arabian Sea.IMG_0560I also found a new favorite drink: Salty lime soda.  So that was pretty nifty.IMG_0549

Besides drinking beer and lime soda – we looked for rocks…ans shells…and crabs….IMG_0555

Goa has a huge Portuguese influence – behold the Virgin Mother all blinged out -Indian style.IMG_0518Mini Thali Dinner.

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Due to the heat, we really didn’t have a huge desire to eat – BUT! We found this AMAZING street food cart that had THIS! Dahi Aloo Puri, I believe. If ONLY you could taste the Ratatouille happenin’ with each bite…Yowza!IMG_0564

This morning, we packed up shop, and were on the move again to HAMPI! IMG_0568

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Today, no AC. cramped seating, Indian families and kids sharing apples and snacks with us, and broken conversations in English trying to alert us of breathtaking views ahead. Vendors and noise and vendors and noise, BUT! Cruising up and down the isles for 8 hours straight I’ve come to learn probably my favorite Indian phrase thus far: Garam Chai! Garam Chai! (hot tea! hot tea!) It was the perfect way to go.IMG_0581

And so you have it. Today, we landed (once again) in Hampi – Which I truly believe might be our own personal bit of heaven. Quiet, dirt roads, smiles and questions galore and awesome ancient ruins (from the 3rd century BC – WHHHHAT?!?)  to be explored tomorrow (did I mention the quiet?) Currently listening to the monsoonin’ rain smacking on tin panels outside  and embracing the rickety fan’s love, snuggled up under the mosquito net as I write to you. Life is good.  We’re doin’ this thing.

I fought with the A/C, and lost…

In the past, when traveling to a new place, Kev and I have splurged and opted for the extra fancy amenities. Now, mind you, besides a bed with (what we’re hoping are relatively) clean sheets, and a private toilet of some kind (you never know just how handy that might be!), every living situation we have truly ever stayed at is meager at best. BUT when we just arrive somewhere, we might opt for a room with A/C – just to get acclimated, you know?

Well, our arrival here was no different. We chose to go all-out, and with our rickety double bed, “clean” sheets and private bathroom, we went for the A/C. Great choice. Upon arriving in Mumbai at almost 11 pm it was 84 degrees. We’d be happy to have it.

After a rough night of sleep our first night due to myriad issues (incessant honking outside, torrential downpour thanks to the lovely monsoon season, dogs barking, overall jetlag, and various unfamiliar noises, we also had to struggle with our unbelievably loud air conditioner unit. When turned on, old man A/C was noticeably agitated having to work so hard to cool our tiny sweat-inducing room. Grumbling, moaning – coughing with frustration, hour after hour he bitched and moaned about being needed.

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty rough day on the streets as well for us. After waking up close to 1 pm, we finally ventured outside to exactly what we knew to expect, and worse. A simple task of finding me a suitable outfit to wear (after finding a place online just minutes from our guesthouse, securing GPS coordinates, and feeling fairly confident that we could find our destination just .1 miles away) took over 2 hours, with nothing to show for it. A trip to check out the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminu train station to learn how to purchase tickets to get South turned in to a comical 3-hour scavenger hunt to find various individuals responsible for the acquisition and approval of various applications by various people which were needed AFTER the purchase of our (quite expensive!) tickets (that we weren’t ready to even purchase).

“Please, sir. Yes, yes. Just go there and find Department Manager of Operations at the end of platform 1, CCM Building 2nd floor….yes, yes. You will find him.”

*On second floor at the end of platform 1…*

Us: “Namaste. CCM Building?”
“Oh no, sir. Not here. CCM building on 2nd floor! (then motions outside, beneath us and down the street) In ancient building. You will see.”

seriously?

“You need to submit application for coupe.”
Us: “What type of application? We don’t have an application?”

*rips off giant hunk of random scrap paper*
“This is your application, sir. Write these things and give application in box. Does not need to be formal…”

guess not!

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3 hours of this craziness and more. This, along with cows, limping dogs, scrawls of families, bright colors, dim lights, blaring Bollywood music, dirt, garbage and monsoon rains in open air train terminal. On some level, all stuff we have seen traveling before – but yet so. so. different.

6,000 questions later, 300 wrong places visited, and our application finally submitted – we left on the verge of tears coupled with crazed, maniacal laughter. It was exhausting and frustrating and hilarious at the same time. Again, exactly as we expected, yet worse.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to getting back and having a rock-solid night of sleep. If there’s anything I know about myself, sleep is paramount to a successful day for me. So we crawl into bed and within minutes, I’m wiping off the slime that has accrued all over my face. With old man A/C turned on, we attempt to ignore his grumbles without avail. On and off. Off and on. Beady sweat, face slime, on. Grumble, grumble BITCH, off. All. night. long.

So, now, here I am, awake – writing and reflecting on our last 24 hours at 6 am, when sleep is what I want most. Old man A/C, you win. I suppose though, this has given me a chance to nail down more specifics about our day…

On the docket today are the following tasks:

1) Purchase salwaar kameez to wear
2) Check out Fort (our current “neighborhood) and visit Eros theatre to watch Bollywood film with new friends
3) Head to Girgaum Chowpatty to watch sunset, and witness dunking of Lord Ganesh idols into Arabian Sea to end Ganesh’s Birthday celebration

Sounds feasible (and pretty fun), right?

Here’s to another (in the words of our new British friends) MENTAL day!

Mumbai is not the same as Bangkok – Travel to and Arriving in India

Last night we started our India trip. In short, the travel went about as smoothly as we could hope. We traveled with Swiss Air, and went Chicago -> Zurich -> Mumbai. We didn’t have any brutal layovers, no delays, no baggage problems. The food was pretty good on the flights (we had FOUR meals).

I managed to stay up most of the time, Lindsay slept a decent chunk. My hope (and I had thought I had succeeded) was that I’d avoid most of the jet lag if I was just really tired when I arrived.

Lindsay Sleeping in Zurich

When we got to Mumbai, we could right away feel the heat and humidity. Normally when you walk into an airport you automatically feel the cool, crisp, sterile and filtered air and I love that feeling. In Mumbai, we both swear you could smell spices. The air while cooler, felt humid and perhaps a bit dank. And the walls were all wooden panels and the floor was I’d say an Indian print. Basically, coming into the airport it already felt like we were in a different place.

I had read that there were prepaid taxi stands at the International Airport, and more specifically told that there were two sets of taxi stands. One taxi stand was run by private companies (generally more expensive), and one set was run by the government. Of course neither is clearly marked as such, and we were told originally that the non-government taxi stand was the government taxi stand. Pretty standard stuff I’d say. We had an idea of what to look for though, so we ended up going outside and asking a security guard who pointed us in the wrong feeling, but actually right direction.

580 rupees was the cost, and that got us a ~1 hour taxi ride South to Fort, which is an area within Mumbai.

And here is the crux of this blog post: driving through Mumbai at night after being very tired and having not really been around such a place in a while was a crazy, crazy experience. Much of this we’ve experienced before, such as the multiple near-death experiences we had. But, it’s difficult to explain just how insane things seemed. Men, primarily, everywhere on the sides of the streets standing around chatting. Piles of garbage (and when I say piles, I mean hills), complete with large sleeping cows and foraging wild dog. What appeared to be multiple (10? 20?) carnival type lighting situations (think bright, blinking, festive looking christmas lights) that I think may have been temple/shrines. Honestly, it’s just really difficult to explain. But, to be honest and not totally positive, I think both Lindsay and I were overwhelmed. Are over whelmed.

Our plan was to stay in Mumbai for two days then head off somewhere else, but when we were driving I said to Lindsay, “I think we might need a few more then two days to acclimate.” One thing that I think we’ll have to get comfortable with is the lack of females. There were by FAR more guys out last night walking around, and very few females. I want to make sure we’re safe, so it might be just that at night we don’t go out as much, at least not until we get a better feel for what’s safe, what’s not safe, etc.

After we got to our hotel/guest house (expensive, though relatively cheap for Mumbai I’m told, at ~30 bucks a night) we took showers, and went to bed. Somehow, I fell right asleep, but then woke up at 4:25am and couldn’t get back to sleep until almost 6am. This was, literally and figuratively, a dark time for me. Feeling both hot and cold (we have AC in this room which is incredibly loud), and wishing I was under a “real” blanket (as apposed to my silk sheet bed liner), thinking about the chaos that is just outside my door, and the fact that in the morning I was going to have to go back outside and face all of that. I knew that in the morning with some rest I’d feel better and more positive, but at 5 am that didn’t matter much.

But, sure enough, this morning I feel better. It was very nice to be able to talk with Lindsay. I’m very happy to be traveling with her. Full disclosure: I have yet to leave the room yet and it’s almost 2pm! We ended up sleeping in until 12:30, then took some time to organize our packs, get our money situated, and now Lindsay is reading up on Mumbai while I type this up.

Organizing Our Packs

Lindsay's Chicken

By the way, Happy Birthday Brittany!

OK, off for now, time to start the first day in India.

p.s. The reason I Sai this is different than Bangkok, is because I don’t remember feeling like there was just SO MUCH “stuff” everywhere in Bangkok. It felt a bit more like a “normal” city when we arrived, the driving aside.

Canada Part 2 and 3 and 4!

Well, blogging while in Canada proved more difficult then I had expected. Mainly because of a lack of power, the fact that it’s not super easy to drive and type, and the fact that we were nearly always moving somewhere. So now I’m home, short on time as our India adventure is about to begin, and looking back.

So, in the interest of time, I’m going to post a few photos that will generally give an idea of what the rest of our trip looked like.

First, Lake Louise/Banff/Jasper.
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We really liked Banff. It was, for us, more enjoyable then Yosemite. The water was all very beautiful, though not super practical as far as swimming went as it was pretty cold (glacier runoff) and mineral rich and so not great visibility. But awesome. The actual town/city of Banff was pretty awesome as well.

Here’s a video of some of the non-glacial water:
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And here is a video of glacial water:
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Lindsay at Lake Louise
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We went to a hot spring pool in Banff (the Upper Springs). This was awesome, although I’m guessing the water was about 1% spring water, 99% tap water. Still very nice.

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The campground itself we stayed at in Banff was a very nice national park. Of interest was the fact that our campground was completely enclosed by a electric fence to keep the animals from eating us.
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So, after Banff the plan was to head to Calgary and check out the city. After arriving, we realized that Calgary, while nice enough, didn’t really have a huge draw for us personally. We decided to move on, but wanted to see at least one “touristy” thing before we left.. We saw the Calgary Stampede from the outside, and then we read in our guidebook that there was a “bazar” with lots of interesting shops and coffee. Coffee sounded pretty good, so we opted to check this out. It was a crappy strip mall, it turns out. Thankfully, I had refused to pay the ridiculous parking meter so stopping into this place didn’t cost anything, but still we were not impressed.

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After leaving Calgary we ran into something that we knew we’d hit: flat wheat fields for ~1000 miles.

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Honestly, we knew that we were going to have flat land because everybody and everything we read said as much, but it really was crazy. Almost flat roads, for days of driving. We camped along the way and ran into some of the worst mosquitos either of us had ever experienced.

One night, near Regina, Saskatchewan Lindsay and I decided we wanted a short break from driving and to eat dinner at a sit down sort of (cheap) restaurant. We drove forever, looking for SOMETHING that was open that wasn’t fast food. We ended up sitting down at a place, looking at the menu and realizing that the food, even at a small hole in the wall crappy sort of place was super expensive (for our budget at least). This isn’t a very exciting story, but it was one of the most frustrating things that happened on the trip. We wanted so bad to eat, to stop driving, etc.

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During this boring part of the drive, while I was driving, Lindsay often played The New Super Mario World

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We stopped, for some reason, in this beauty of a town: Grenfell.

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Eventually we made our way to Ontario.

First, we bought some smoked fish near Lake Superior:
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Video of Sai eating some great smoked fish
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Then, we camped for a night at Lake Superior Provincial Park, which was awesome awesome. Probably one of our favorite places actually that we camped. We managed to catch a sunset which was awesome, and I was quite excited about swimming in Lake Superior…. On the down side, in the morning, just as I was coming back from taking a “shower” in the lake, Lindsay said, “well I think Sai has ringworm.” We looked at Sai’s stomach, and it sure LOOKED like ringworm, so we packed up camp and headed for the/a city.

To be continued/finished…