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Archive for the ‘India’ Category


In Asia, India on October 3, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Dharavi Slum

View of the rooftops, Dharavi Slum

Today a bunch of us decided to take a tour of one of the slums of Mumbai.  It felt kind of awkward, like we are touring others’ misery just to get a glimpse into another life.  But other people said in spite of their initial misapprehensions as well, the tour would be worth it and not as voyeuristic as you might think.  So we caught the train down to Mahim Junction and were immediately identified by our tour guide, Janna.  For the record, ‘slum’ is a derogatory word since it conjures up the idea of dirty, poor, and lazy, but even the guide kept referring to it using the word so unfortunately it sticks.

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Last Day in Delhi

In India on May 26, 2009 at 1:57 pm

One more bus ride to bring me back to Delhi and the end of my trip.  It was an overnight ride and as we sped through the night, we passed tiny houses on the edges of fields, and shanty shacks lining the roads.  No electricity except the glow from TV sets as locals crowded around to watch the cricket finals.  Doesn’t matter what happens in the day, there’s always time for sports at the end.

We arrived at the Old Delhi train station around 6am.  Too early for having to keep defenses up against the scammers but it was necessary to get to my autorickshaw.  I got off the bus, grabbed my backpack, and was immediately surrounded by men yelling, Madam! Madam!, everyone trying to get me to take their taxi.  I pushed through on my way to the prepaid booth when a little man planted himself firmly in front of me, stopping my path.  “Madam, where are you going?” he shouted.  I answered, “To the prepaid booth.”  He yelled back, “There is no such thing, Madam.  You should come with me.”  So I asked what the booth was and he responded it wasn’t what I thought it was.  I kept moving, almost stepping on him for all the times he tried to stop me with his body.  He kept yelling there was no such thing as a prepaid both, and even as I got to the booth, asked for my voucher and passed the seller my money, the little guy kept throwing his arm in front of me.  As soon as I got my taxi ticket, he shrugged his shoulders and stomped off to find his next victim.

I managed to get to my hotel and check in in time to get a free breakfast.  I had a shower and jumped into bed to sleep off the last few days in air-conditioned bliss.  Afterwards I had to organize my next day’s transport to the airport.  Still in cheap mode I was determined to find the city bus that went directly there from somewhere near Connaught Circle according to the Lonely Planet.  I walked into the centre in search of this bus and got sidetracked by some shopping.  As I walked along I heard a young voice next to me, “Would Madam like a necklace?”  I looked down into the dirty face of a street kid with strings of beaded necklaces looped over both arms.  I said “No” and kept walking.  He kept pace with me and said, “Madam wants, yes?”  “Madam doesn’t want,” I responded.  But he kept at it, and started smiling at which point I started laughing because he was very cute and trying to be persuasive.  I told him to bug off and turned the corner into a Bangladeshi street where refugees sell different crafts.  They were almost as persistent as the kid and my attention was finally caught by the beaded edges of saris.  As I started bargaining with one of the ladies for 7 metres of fringe, all of a sudden a voice said, “It’s a good price, Madam.  You should take it.”  The kid had followed me and taken me on as his mission.  I thought why not, used his help to negotiate a final price, and then told him if he wanted to hang out he had to be useful and help me find this bus.  We spent the next hour looking for the bus only for me to conclude it was only a legend after all and I’d have to take the subway to get to the main bus station.  By this time I’d found out the kid’s name was Sami, he’d taught himself English by talking to tourists, his mom made the necklaces, and his life was almost identical to the little boys in Slumdog Millionaire.  When I got to the subway entrance he said goodbye as they’d wouldn’t let him in there.  I ended up buying two necklaces in the end and getting a promise from him he’d meet me the next day so I could buy him an ice cream.  No success at the bus station either so an afternoon chasing shadows once again.

I went back to my room, watched crappy TV and enjoyed more air-con before venturing out to the hotel I originally stayed at 3 weeks earlier to negotiate a cheap cab to the airport.  The clouds came in and the skies opened up to pour down for the first time since my arrival.  I stood in the middle of the street with everyone else, face turned upwards, arms out, and welcomed the cool water on my skin.  The street turned to mud and we all ran for cover.  I eventually made my travel arrangements and returned to my room for one last sleep in India.

The next day I was determined to find something beautiful in Delhi, a city I find ugly, loud and dirty.  Everyone said go to the Lodi Gardens and they turned out to be paradise in the midst of chaos.  Cool air from all the trees, heavy fragrances from all the flowers, silent streams and mirrored pools everywhere.  I went towards the ancient Muslim tombs in the middle of the park and as I was almost at the entrance of one an elderly gentleman said good afternoon.  By this point I was used to ignoring any kind of greeting as it usually signaled intense bargaining and shouting sessions, but for some reason I answered him back and ended up sitting with him in the shade of a giant tree.  We bought water from a garden water-wallah to stay hydrated in the heat and discussed the recent Indian election and the politicians.  Dr. Singh was a retired ayurvedic doctor who still had a few patients in the neighbourhood.  When he finished his rounds he often came to the garden to enjoy the silence.  His wife had passed away 5 years earlier from cancer and he found his life to be lonely and challenging since then.  He spoke of his travels to Montreal, Los Angeles, and New York for medical conventions and how much he enjoyed his job.  I told him how lovely I had found Kolkata and he agreed it was a magical place.  Then I told him about the beauty of Darjeeling and some of the crazy situations I had found myself in on my journeys.  Then he said he wanted to show me something in Delhi that would help take away any negative feelings I had towards some of the people I had encountered.

Tombs in the middle of the Lodi Gardens. Delhi

View from inside a tomb at the Lodi Gardens. Delhi

After assessing that I could break him between my fingers if things got weird, we got in his car and drove into the city where he took me straight to the Presidential Palace.  I jumped out of the car to snap some pics while he circled because he wasn’t allowed to park while I looked around.

The gates to the Presidential Palace. Delhi

Then I got back in and we turned around and headed down the main thoroughfare to India Gate.

India Gate. Delhi

We spent about an hour wandering around, watching the tourists and kids playing with kites.  We had ice cream and chatted about life and what was to come.  He asked if we could have our picture taken together and then we got back in the car so he could drive me back to Connaught Circle to find my little slumdog. We said goodbye and I spotted Sami almost as soon as I got out of the car with his little friend, Anil.  The three of us grabbed another ice cream and sat on the side of the road as they told me about the village they came from and where they were headed in life.

As we walked back towards my hotel and the train station, we crossed the street while the crosswalk light was lit.  They scampered across trying to beat the waiting cars and I lingered, enjoying that the cars were indeed stopped and I didn’t have to scoot in between them.  Anil yelled back, “Madam, you must hurry!!”  I told him not to worry, the cars weren’t moving, but he didn’t trust the drivers, ran back into the middle of the crosswalk, faced the cars and threw his hands out in spread-eagle fashion to make sure they didn’t start til I got to the other side.  As soon as I reached the sidewalk he ran back to us and the cars were off.  They were going to miss their train back to their village and jumped up into a rickshaw but not before I snapped a shot of them.  These two were what I’d been looking for most of my trip and I loved that I’d finally found them at the last minute.  Between Dr. Singh and these two, they certainly had given me something to find beautiful in Delhi and a truly lovely end to this latest trip to India.

Sami, on the right, was my tag-along the last day in Delhi. His little buddy, Anil, joined us at the end for an ice cream. Delhi

Rats, Camels, and a Bus Driver From Hell

In India on May 24, 2009 at 11:55 am

Got to Bikaner yesterday after the hottest bus ride ever.  Imagine sitting in a small box with 20 hairdryers continuously aimed at you, mostly on a low setting but on occasion cranking up to high, for 7 hours straight.  What a relief to finally get off the bus, driven by unhappy mad man who must have been a terrible driver judging by the other females on the bus hitting them with their shoes, and the motorcyclist and autorickshaw drivers pulling up to his window to yell at him after he tried squishing them to get more room.  I guess I don’t blame him, it is a crap job with crap pay, but still, killing people isn’t the way to go either.

View of the driver, maybe the driver’s view explains his driving. Jaipur to Bikaner

Checked into a clean hotel, showered up and spent the evening wandering around booking onward bus tickets and getting goosed by 7 year old boys who got THIS CLOSE to having their ears boxed.  Got up early this morning to go to the rat temple, Karni Mata.  I’ll say this, it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought, 2000-4000 rats in one place at one time.  And when they run across your feet, because that is what they do, they don’t stop and they move pretty quickly so you barely even notice it.  It was a temple however, which meant removing shoes, which also meant stepping on rat shit, bird shit,  broken chunks of coconut shells, and who knows what else in bare feet.

Click here for a movie of my feet in the temple.

The rest of Bikaner was a nice surprise considering I was only checking in for the rats.  Spent the rest of the day at a beautiful fort around the corner from the hotel, and then headed off to Asia’s only camel breeding farm where I saw 150 camels coming in from the fields for feeding time.

I AM the English speaking tour group, the fort. Bikaner

One of those optical illusions that makes your eyes bug out if you look at it took long, the fort. Bikaner

Arched hallway, the fort. Bikaner

The night club at the fort. Bikaner

I’m going to try to replicate this in my apartment when I get home, the fort. Bikaner

I can’t think of a better way to wake up than to open my eyes to a glittering ceiling, the fort. Bikaner

Why not sniff the basil? That’s my favourite thing to do at the grocery store, the fort. Bikaner

A very lovely modern toilet at the fortress. Bikaner

It’s not mating season right now but my guide showed me a video of two camels getting down.  While my neighbours upstairs are loud, these camels beat them hands down, although I suppose if the apartment folk weighed 750 kg each they might be that loud as well.  Not attractive but highly entertaining.

Camel transport. Bikaner

Camel dinner time, Camel Breeding Centre. Bikaner

I’ll catch the 9pm bus to Delhi tonight, the last of my long-haul journeys before two long flights back to Canada starting Tuesday night.  It’s been a great trip and surprisingly I have not been annoyed by any of it.  Well, that’s not entirely true. Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ spoiled the 6 hours I tried reading it before I finally gave up in misery.  What a grind, like everything needs a symbol, and then repeat that symbol OVER and OVER and OVER.  This is the written tradition, Mr. Rushdie, not the oral, we don’t need things retold TEN TIMES to get the point.

I’m In Heaven

In India on May 22, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Heaven = airconditioning, TV, soft bed, and clean bathroom

After the grossness of Hotel Maria in Kolkata and getting Delhi Belly there and having to spend way too much time in that disgusting place, I am now in the most beautiful place on earth.  And it’s pretty swank by western standards as well, all this for $15/night.

I totally princessed out for this part of the journey, flying from Kolkata to Jaipur in 2 hours instead of a train ride of about 32.  My hotel, the Hotel Pearl Palace, was listed under budget, still costs more than anywhere else I’ve stayed but what a difference it makes to a traveler’s psyche, especially one who lay in state for most of yesterday because she dared to eat the chow mein at the street stand.  I knew as soon as I did it that my illness-free run was over and the runs were beginning.  It’s always a weight-loss opportunity though, so no complaints.

The chow mein cart. It looked so very, very tasty and wonderful. It was evil. Kolkata

The heavenly bathroom in my high-end hotel room at the Maria Hostel. This is where the chow mein forced me to hang out for about 9 hours. Kolkata

Suffering the consequences of the street cart chow mein. It looked awesome, it felt awful.

Still love Kolkata and found even more things to like about it.  There’s no way I can accurately describe the feeling of the city, but for all the people and traffic and beggars and size, it’s remarkably laid-back and easy going.  The people seem happier there – maybe I’m just imagining that – but it might have something to do with all the wonderful green space.

The highlight had to have been my sunset walk over the Howrah Bridge, the largest cantilever bridge in the world.  Packed packed packed with pedestrians on either side sandwiching in about 8 lanes of solid traffic.  As I walked over the river, I noticed ferries running back and forth between the banks, so I made my way down to a stand and got a ticket to who knows where.  It happened to be close enough to the giant park again, so I was able to stroll leisurely back to my dungeon.

Looking down on the flower sellers from the Howrah Bridge, Kolkata

Approaching the Howrah Bridge from the feeder streets. Kolkata

A view of a ghat from the bridge deck. Kolkata

A beautiful colonial building in the middle of the bustling Indian streets. Kolkata

The ferries cross the river all day. A lovely way to commute. Kolkata

Looking back at the Howrah Bridge from the river ferry. Kolkata

James and I found a great Swiss patisserie, “Flurys”, and had the most amazing almond macaroon and rumball.  Top notch bakery and still cheap by anybody’s standards.  But I ended up eating most of my meals at the Blue Sky cafe where the waiter flirted with everybody and gave great service.  That is until I tried the street stand and then there was to be no more eating for about 36 hours afterwards.

The difference between outside the airport and inside was night and day.  I grabbed a cab to the airport and asked my cabbie tons of questions on the drive over.  He rents his cab, has no home, sleeps in the backseat when no one else is parked in there.  All the cabbies in the neighbourhood I was in were like this, poor, skinny, and rotten teeth from chewing paan all day.  Then I get to the airport where the middle class people are.  They queue up, they have nice clothes and all their teeth, and a large percentage of them are overweight.  The airport was one of the more efficient ones I’ve been in, but maybe it was just the sheer luxury of it all.  And the best part, I didn’t have to wrestle anyone for my seat.

Tomorrow the luxury ends when I have to take a local bus to Bikaner, a 7 1/2 hour ride without a/c in the desert.  Speaking of desert, a sand storm has swept in tonight and during the ride back from the Monkey Temple (yes that’s monkey temple #2, 2000 monkeys milling about waiting for peanuts to be thrown at them) a brown haze descended on the city.  Reminds me of when I was living in Damascus and I’m glad I don’t have to clean up after it.

The golden monkey. Monkey Temple, Jaipur

Monkeys everywhere. Monkey temple, Jaipur

That’s it from Jaipur and probably it til I get back to Delhi for my last day there.  Bring on the rats…

The rooftop restaurant at my luxurious hotel. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

The hallway outside my room. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

THIS is a proper toilet. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

Happy,healthy, and a little bit sweaty again inside my beautiful, wonderful room. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur


In India on May 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

You can’t really write about India without writing about the poverty.  I haven’t written anything so far, not because I don’t see it, but because I’m trying to process it all.

In the Paharganj in Delhi where I first stayed, it’s so visible it’s painful.  I call a lot of the kids ‘spiders’ because of the way they move around on their misshapen limbs, or what’s left of them.  Everywhere you go there little kids accost you with hands outstretched asking for food.  “Please madam, one rupee”.  In Varanasi there were many as well but I don’t think I noticed them as much, possibly because when I was out I was usually in a rickshaw or down on the ghats.  Barely any in Darjeeling, except for one man I noticed on more than one occasion.  He was probably somewhere in his forties, bent and crooked legs, missing his left arm.  He was fairly quiet as far as the begging goes, but I noticed him especially because of his turqoise eyes, the exact same colour as Lake Louise in the Rockies.  I must have passed him two times up on the ridge towards the zoo and back, but the last day I was shoveling some Dairy Milk into my mouth when I passed him again with his hand outstretched.  It felt absolutely cruel to walk by someone in need while I have more than he could ever want, so I walked back and gave him the rest of my chocolate to be rewarded with the most beautiful smile.  You wish you could do more, but what?

Down here in Kolkata it’s bad once again.  Yesterday I passed a boy who might have had polio, his legs twisted out at weird angles behind him while he scooted past on his arms.  Another young woman lying in the gutter dragging her useless legs behind her.  Then in the evening I saw a man who had no legs below his knees.  We passed him on the way to the book store as he shuffled along on his arms, trying to keep his scarf from falling down and getting in his way.  Later on we passed him again, sitting with his back to a bank building, and when he saw me he reached out both hands pleading for money or food while his stumps wagged in the air.  That one was the worst, and again, what can you do?

Then there are the ones that make me chuckle for the sheer weirdness of it all.  Just around the corner from the hotel there is a woman who I don’t think can walk at all.  She’s missing most of the teeth on the right side of her mouth and the ones on the left are huge and fit poorly in her mouth.  She reminds me of those mechanical witches at halloween or santas at Christmas, the ones that stand there and wave back and forth.  She’s the same, she lies on her left side and with her right hand joins her fingers lightly together at the tips and bring them towards her mouth and then back about 6 inches before doing it all over again, again and again in rhythm.  The one time I didn’t see her doing that was when it looked like her hand had stalled in front of her mouth while her left hand tapped her begging dish, almost like her system had shorted out.

It’s hard to see this and I understand why people don’t want to know about it.  At least in Vancouver most of the worst of the worse is contained in the East Side so if you don’t want to see it you just avoid the neighbourhood.  But here it’s everywhere and it doesn’t take long to start blocking it out in one way or another.  Once in awhile it breaks through again and you’re overcome with a feeling of total hopelessness.  A bunch of us were discussing it one night, we can’t fix what the country’s government won’t fix.  I guess the best you can do is behave responsibly in your own country and try to right the wrongs there.  It’s frustrating and it’s sad.  How on earth could you ever repair something like this?


In India on May 19, 2009 at 9:49 am

View of the Victoria Memorial from The Midan, Kolkata

We arrived this morning at the Sealdah train station just after 7am and the first thing we saw leaving the station – hundreds of yellow ambassador taxis.  Even that early in the morning the city is moving; taxis, human rickshaws, beggars, fruit & vegetables sellers, and everything else.

We left Darjeeling at about 3pm yesterday for another hair-raising trip back down the mountain this time.  Views were spectacular and we could feel the temperature rising as we descended.  We stopped for about 15 minutes when we reached the plains and the most beautiful scents were coming out of the bamboo forest.  We had one slight traffic delay when the driver pulled over so we could look at the wild elephant in the forest.  Then all of a sudden all the jeeps behind us started backing up super fast, and we did the same.  Apparently the elephant was about to cross the road (no joke intended) and no one likes to be in the way in case it charges.  Two minutes later it was all clear and when we started moving again we could see it moving off on the other side of the road.  I think I might have a better understanding now of why the German tourists get all excited about black bears on the sides of the highways.

Ten hour train ride was uneventful if it rocked a little.  This morning I started talking to the gentleman on the bunk across from me and he turned out to be the director of the Darjeeling zoo, or “joo” as they say here since there is no sound for “z”.  At first I was wondering what he meant by “Did you visit the joo in Darjeeling?”  Ummmmm, yes?  Then Yes! when I figured out it was an honest question and not a semitic one.

Checked into the hotel, more like a prison block actually, complete with bars on the windows.  But it has a shower and you can’t ask for much more for $5/night.  After I showered I went for a longish walk through the Midan, a field inhabited by herds of goats, cricket players, horses, trees and green grass everywhere.  It’s one of the largest city parks in the world.  At the other end of it was the Victoria Memorial which was well worth the price of admission, 15 times the local price for foreign nationals.  And as it was hot hot hot and sunny sunny, my farmer’s tan is now gone and replaced with a purse strap across my back tan.  Tomorrow I’m off to the Kali temple since it sounds rather grotesque and interesting, and apparently they sacrifice goats in the morning so we may just try to catch that.  Don’t know what else I’ll do but there is tons to see and I think I love this city so there won’t be any boredom for the next three days.

My upper class accommodations at the Maria Hotel, Kolkata

Entrance to the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One

In India on May 17, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Tea leaves lie above fans that dry them for use. You can’t see or hear the fans but put your hand over the leaves and they’ll shoot up all around.

That is the name of the tea we tried yesterday.  Orange Pekoe is easier.  Today was the last full day up on the Darjeeling stair master.  After 4 1/2 days I now have calves of thunder.  Apparently it’s not uncommon to get charlie horses in the middle of the night and last night I woke up a few times needing to pop extra strength advil to help stop the burning.  All of us have also developed a strange scratchy throat with cold-like symptoms.  I think it’s from the altitude and breathing in jeep fumes through hairless nasal passages.

It’s a good time to leave, not because it’s bad but because of the following:

1.  Always leave on a high.  Darjeeling is awesome – the time here was worth every minute of the journey up.

2.  Saw one of the girls I met puking in a gutter today.  The shopkeeper who’s store was on the gutter came out to say “Vomiting is bad, it’s not healthy.”  Couldn’t tell if he felt sorry for her or was telling her that puking in public is unhygenic.  She could have used some of my VomitStop tablets.  I like that they call it what it is here, what does “Gravol” tell you it does?  Whenever you see the white people puking in public it’s time to move on.

3.  Feels like I’m cheating my trip up here.  It’s not conventional India, it’s rather modern and not nearly as dirty or hot as down below.  It’s great but I need the grit again.

4.  Really looking forward to Kolkata now that I’ve had my break.  Want to see the masses of people again and check out the sites down there.

5.  I have a farmer’s tan from wearing t-shirts.  Those have never been attractive, need to even it out for a new look.

The one sad thing about leaving tomorrow is that me and my two little brothers will be separated.  The guys will head north to Sikkim and then onto Nepal from there.  They’ve been great fun to travel with, very entertaining and they certainly made the journey up here almost bearable.  From here to Kolkata I’ll be with James which is nice since he’s been there before so I won’t feel so totally out of it.

Dave, Me, Andrew

One more quick walk/hike tomorrow to find some monasteries and then sucking back the rest of my VomitStops for the 3 hour jeep ride back down to the plains to catch the train.

That’s it from Darjeeling, one of the finest places on the planet.

Crossing the street or climbing it.

Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!

In India on May 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm

So we didn’t see any lions, but at the Darjeeling zoo yesterday we did get face-to-face with Snow Leopards, Cloud Leopards, a Siberian Tiger, Red Pandas, Yaks, Tibetan Wolves, and the Himalayan Black Bear.  It’s a pretty decent zoo and they seem to have done a good job of protecting and repopulating some endangered species.  The walk to the zoo was a pleasant 20 minute stroll out of the main town centre.  The Himalayan Mountaineering mMseum was included in the entrance so we also managed to check out the salutes to the pioneers of the big climbs out this way.  Tenzing Norgay is buried a short way away and that is pretty cool.

Today I headed up to observatory hill in the morning to see if I could see Kanchenjunga from the lookout, I think I saw it but not sure as I have no idea what it looks like.  That used to be considered the tallest peak in the Himalayas until one day someone saw Everest peaking out from behind.  Afterwards I met up with the guys again and another British fellow we met a few days ago to go for an afternoon trek to the Happy Valley Tea Plantation for a tea demonstration.  I don’t drink tea and I find the cult following kind of weird, but the tea we got to sample was pretty impressive.  With the workers being paid about 50 rupees a day, about $1USD, it makes you appreciate what you’re drinking.  Another 30 minute walk after that to the Botanical Gardens where we saw a wisteria planted in 1878.  It’s aged well and I’m hoping the pictures I snapped do justice to the massiveness of this thing.

Just picked up my beautiful new sari, gorgeous handwork and embroidery all along, got the top tailored so I think once I’m cleaned up and actually find something to wear it to it’ll look pretty good.

Today was the counting of the election votes.  Darjeeling is a BJP stronghold since the BJP promised it could separate. Congress won by what I guess is a landslide but the BJP did win a seat here in Darjeeling.  There’s a big military presence here tonight, men in green patrolling the streets and there’s a chance things will get a little hairy before the night is out but at this point all is calm.  There were firecrackers being set off in the streets this afternoon but that seems to be the extent of it.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.


In India on May 14, 2009 at 6:21 am

Tree branches bending over perfection. Darjeeling, India.

This is heaven on earth. Lush beautiful land all around, the heavy scent of tea thick in the air.  It’s about 30 degrees cooler here than Varanasi and beggars don’t seem to exist.  Everyone is so nice, very few seem to be on the take.

We found our hotel after searching for about a 1/2 hour.  This is a hill town which means everything is up or down, nothing straight across, and lugging a backpack around is a bit rough.  I felt better though when the young boys who attached themselves to us temporarily were huffing and puffing way more than me and they were only carrying jackets.

The hotel is pretty simple, no running water so everything is done by bucket.  This morning when I woke up the owner already had water boiling on the stove so I was able to take a hot bucket shower.  It sounds primitive but when you’re washing the pollution and a day’s worth of gross travel out of your hair, it’s absolute bliss.  It’s not just the hotel that does this, it seems to be much of Darjeeling.  Walked to the outer deck to see the view, breathtaking with the mountains all around, flags flying everywhere in the city.

View from the hotel balcony. Darjeeling, India.

The views are spectacular and tomorrow morning I’ll be up at 4am to catch the sunrise and a view of the mountains.  I’m fairly certain this place will be the highlight of the trip.

The mist that seems to constantly move across the mountains. Darjeeling, India.

Mountain valleys. Darjeeling, India.

The city is terraced, this shot was taken from one street level above the main street. Darjeeling, India.

The Not So Nice Train Ride

In India on May 14, 2009 at 6:06 am

Apparently I booked my first train ride for princess package.  Not so this time, I booked on the cheap sleeper car to save money thinking it would be ok after everyone I talked to who rode it.  What train did they ride?????  Here’s the journey in time blocks:

7:20pm:  Leave hotel by autorickshaw for 1 hour 10 minute ride to train station.  Vehicle that fits 12 nationals barely fits 3 North Americans comfortably.  Driver nice, roads not.

10pm:  Train leaves station 1/2 hour late.  This is good considering this particular train is usually 5-6 hours late.  We get on our car after running up and down the length of the platform (looooong), finally find ours marked in chalk, and find a family of 6 sleeping on our beds.  I feel like a cheap white person until Dave loses it and manages to get all 6 of them out with no hassle.

1am:  Some loud obnoxious person is walking through our car, filled with maybe 200 people, clapping and yelling.  It’s a transvestite, might be pretty but very annoying.  When she gets to my bed she whips my towel off my head (it provides some privacy in a car filled with about 100 people) and fully wakes me with a slap to my head.  I slap her back and pull the towel back over my head.  Someone else pulls it off, it’s an old woman, she slaps me because I slapped the transvestite.  I slap her back and pull the towel over my head again.  She goes away.  On the bunk below me Dave is trying to sleep despite the family of three who are snuggling up next to his bum.  He beats them off.  Andrew is in the bunk above and apparently unaware of the chaos below.

6am:  The chai, food, watch, electric-wallahs have arrived and go up and down the car repeatedly yelling their respective ware “CHAI CHAI CHAI CHAI” “PAKORA PAKORA PAKORA”

8am: Can’t sleep anymore, a teeny tiny family of 10 jams into our area.  The kids heads are shaved, I think it’s because of head lice judging by how the cute little boy keeps picking at imaginary bugs on his head, placing them in his palm and smashing them with a satisfied “pow”.

9am:  We make friends with the nice 15 year old sleeping across from us.  Two others shared his bunk while he slept, unbeknownst to him.

The rest of the time we try to sleep, look out the windows, avoid the bathroom which can no longer be done due to 3 litres of water the day before.  A squat toilet on a moving train is interesting.  I’m tired and cranky until I’m walking back to my bunk when I discover you can hang out the side of the train and catch the views from there.  All of a sudden traveling is fun again.

4pm:  Have finally arrived at next major point of departure and catch a jeep, $2 for a 3 hour hair raising ride into the mountains, through tea plantations up up up on those roads you hear about in the news when buses plunge hundreds of feet, killing all inside.  It’s the best part of the trip in my opinion.

7:20pm:  Arrive in Darjeeling and despite being tired and smelling overripe, I am 100% in love with this place.

Up close and personal when you hang off a train. Somewhere between Varanasi and New Jalpaiguri, India.

Some building, don’t know what it is because I was the only one hanging off the train, no one else to ask. Somewhere in India.

You see lots of fields when you hang off a train. Somewhere in India.

Notice the blurriness indicating the truth that I am hanging on the outside of the train. Somewhere in India.