Gregory T. Wilkins
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
December 1, 2012
I slept well last night and was unsure if I would toss and turn because of the excitement that stirred within me. India is so close but yet so far away. This time tomorrow, I will be there if everything falls into place.
Last night I attended the Newman Center fundraiser at the Centennial Student Union with goal of $4 million. Cornerstones start at $500,000 and one was announced, as well as a $100,000 and a $250,000 gift. It was a good evening and my table hosts were splendid. It was an honor to be asked to sit with them, Mr. Jeff Halbur and Ms. Bonnie Bennet.
Ending the evening around 10 p.m., I hustled home to pack. I had already set things aside, and all I had to do was to get each item into my bag(s). I was going to take a backpack carry on that would fit my camera, laptop, sunglasses, extra pair of spectacles, blow-up neck pillow and eye mask with earplugs, hygiene gear as well as electric converter, and first aid kit. The larger of the two would fit three pairs of underwear, a pair of slides, a V-neck sweater, two undershirts, house slippers, a lock, and an extra collapsible bag.
Throughout the day on Friday, I recharged my camera batteries (3) and made sure my laptop was juiced. I figured it is better to have everything ready to go than to wait last minute and not have what I needed at the tip of my fingers. I am glad too at I purchased an extra battery for my camera because it came in handy during my Russia trip. It was a lessons learned in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s a gut wrenching maneuver when I sat at the temples and my camera went dead. I was fortunate to have had the extra one, but it too went dead after a day of shooting. So now I have three! As the ol’ adage goes, “It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.”
I reviewed and set aside what I was going to wear on the plane and made sure the day was ready for today. I wore on to the plane all black— Ralph Lauren undershirt, long sleeve shirt, dungarees, money belt, sock, undies, Patagonia zip-up jacket, and blazer with Nehru collar. I also set aside my scarf and gloves for the MN snow and wind (and just in case for Amsterdam).
I drove up to the cities and parked my Audi TT at Richard Colombini’s. I had met Richard in passing 2 years ago at a holiday party. I had lost touch with him a year ago, and when he sent me an email this summer, I was surprised. We reconnected, and I stayed at his house one weekend. His boyfriend too was there, and the three of us had a good time exploring Minneapolis together.
I set Richard an email this fall to see if he would be willing to let me keep my car in his garage during my trip abroad. He was gracious to let me do so. I thought I might have another option that did not pan out and was blessed that he said I could leave my vehicle with him. I was hoping that maybe I could take the Land to Air shuttle from Mankato to MSP Airport, but the van did not leave in time for me to catch my flight. So, I drove up this morning to Richard’s, left my TT, and I had requested a shuttle to be picked-up at his place at 11:45 a.m. It worked out perfectly.
Last night, I received a Facebook note from Scott Norman telling me that he was going to be at the MSP Airport. I told him via email I was unsure if we would be able to see each other or not because of my flight departure time and if it would coincide. But you know what?...as soon as I got to the gate he came running up to say hello; I was at gate 4 and he was at gate 3! AMAZING!
I was able to meet one of his flight companions, and then Scott went to see if I would be able to get on my scheduled flight. Well…it looks like it is booked. There are 12 people in front of me. The agent said that maybe I should wait to see if folks don’t come. Scott got on his flight, and I would wait in MSP for 3 hours to see how my luck would fall. If booked, we thought that maybe that instead of flying into Amsterdam that I would be able to get to Paris. But no. Buddy passes are not welcomed on Air France. So we decided that if I can’t get on this flight we will try another flight and if all else fails I will get to Atlanta, stay with Scott for one night, and then try my luck the following day. One downer is that would lose my hotel at the YWCA that I already paid for on December 2. Let’s see what develops…the clock is ticking as I write--2 more hours and counting.
December 2, 2012 - Stuck in Schiphol Amsterdam International Airport
I made the flight from MSP to Amsterdam. I was unable to get 1st class, but at least I was able to move forward toward my destination. The next challenge will be getting from Amsterdam to Mumbai, India. The hour is now 6 a.m. Amsterdam time which is around midnight in the USA. I was able to get in an hour of rest on the plan, but I am already feeling a bit exhausted. The good thing is the family behind me in the plane (with the 2 year old and new born) were perfect; no one disturbed me the entire light. Even better was the gentleman next to my row by the window who sat perfectly still and I not get up once. YEAH!
My plane is to leave at 1030 a.m. with boarding process to begin at 830—if I am reading the sign correctly. The airport is very modern and up to date as a major hub across the continent, Asia and Africa. There is plenty to see and do here with a constant buzz of activity. The one thing that will drive me nuts if I let is the people move that talks and says, “Mind your step” every 5 seconds. I did not expect there to be a casino in the airport as well as a mini-museum. I have more time to explore but wanted to get time to write in my journal before it escaped my thoughts.
One funny thing that I giggle to myself is when people try to put large luggage into the overhead compartment. It’s like trying to fit a fat lady into a size 4 dress. People push and push, readjust, slide the rolling bag in again—then again, and again. Giving up, they glance over--all the while thinking they are going to have better luck at another bin but just one over. The whole while it stops traffic in the aisle, people get flustered, and you can begin to see temperature rise. It reminds me too of Cinderella and the ugly stepsisters trying to fit the glass slipper on their overly plump and misconfigured feet. Somehow though success is achieved with bins closed and off to blue skies.
What is flustering to me is when the bin is reopened by a causal passerby and the guts come spilling out—and if I am lucky not on top of me! I was fortunate this time around to not get my head smashed, but my backpack did come tumbling out. I remained seated to allow the perpetrator to figure it out and get my things back into the bin. He casually apologized, and I told him, “No big deal, it was only a computer.”
After no getting on the flight to Mumbai, I was told by the gate agent that there would be 5 seats available tomorrow. I could either hang out here in Schiphol o venture into the city. The weather is cold, windy and rainy. A part of me wants to venture out but being tired from the plane ride, not getting onto this flight and now having to redesign my plans I think I will call the airport home for today. I was told where to the find the Delta customer service guest, and I decided to venture fourth. My luck I was able to discover a Wi-Fi area, located the mini-museum, see great duty-free shopping, and tucked on the 2nd floor a meditation space with reclines that remind of my a modern psychiatrist’s office.
I got to the Delta desk and as luck would have it they were on break until 11 a.m. I saw a passenger who was trying to get on my plane and struck up a conversation with him. He was a pilot for Delta, lives in Boston, and was in India to see his family. We chatted about my itinerary, and he thought I was spot on with my plans. He also made a couple of recommendations that I am going to consider, and he also provided his brother-in-laws cell number in case I run into difficulties in south India as well as his own Skype address. He was fortunate to be able to catch a flight to New York at 12:30 p.m., and we bid each other farewell.
I walked about the airport and found the airport business lounge, a hotel called Mercur where you could rent rooms for the day or the hour to rest, and McDonald's (most affordable place to eat). I thought I was going to get something to eat but decided against it for the moment. The Euro is almost 1.5:1 and not that hungry. I need sleep over calories. I meandered to the meditation space, pulled out my eye mask, blew up my neck pillow and settled in for some shut eye. Waking two hours later, the sun was setting at 4 p.m. A long night is in store for me and don’t want to over sleep with the impending night around the corner.
Well, I broke down and spent $6.95 Euros at McDs—chicken sandwich, medium Sprite, and small fry with no ketchup. Like in Russia and additional condiments would cost (each was .55 Euro). I am fortunate that the Wi-Fi gives you one free hour on the internet. After that it is $3 Euro/15 minutes. I don’t know if I get the one hour daily or as a max total. I am hoping daily. I checked my email and Facebook on it to keep folks up to date. If it’s a one-time shot tomorrow will be bust. God, please get me on that flight!
The thing that blew chunks is that today the plane landed at 6 a.m., started going thru check-in at 8:30 and boarded at 9:45 with me being informed at 9:55 that I was not going to be on the plane, and take-off at 10:05. Sleeping only one hour on the plane and with the time change, I was spanked. The two plus hours I got on the lounge chair in the meditation space was a blessing this afternoon. I just hope that the waiting I have done will come out to my benefit in the end.
December 3, 2012 - Schiphol Airport
I slept in the meditation space from 10 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Others too found their way to this sacred space—actually there is nothing sacred about it except in namely only. It is open on both sides to hallways with speeding security on Segways, cleaning people with carts, and the sound of women’s heels hitting the tile and echoing down the corridor.
I am glad that I brought my eye mask;it makes a world of difference to block the day out.Other than it pinching the sides of my ears and me having to readjust it in the night, it does the trick perfectly.
On the lower level by the library is a children’s play area called the Kids Forest. It’s a climbing space with modern lounge areas right outside of play area and set with mock fireplace, mod furniture, and Delft-like wall tiles. People are strewn about on the open concept furniture, but I am glad I found another place to rest my weary head as the play space has sound of birds (song and crow) that is on constant repeat and piped not the room. If I were trying to get some rest, it would drive me bonkers.
There is a hush about the airport except for the occasional floor mop and bump in the night. For an airport this place has a lot going for it. I was thinking too that if I was homeless it would be a good place to get out from the cold, steal away a quick bite to eat from the thrash, get a book read, and even shower (pending the price).
I have been contemplating too as to what the universe is trying to teach me in this moment of transition. What have I not learned that I must endure this angst? I try to breathe it in and to find peace in it, but despite my attempts my mind keeps racing as I reconsider my next plan of action. I keep imagining 5 open seats on the next plane, but I was told late last night by anther gate agent that she sees 10 available. It’s the unknown that drives me; trying to find reason and a solution that is far beyond my control. This is the human spirit.
I have also been thinking about the Thiel Fellowship—20/20—a documentary that I saw on the plane ride from the USA to Amsterdam. It provides a year fellowship for 20 students who are 20 years old or less and are entrepreneurs to develop their innovative idea. The fonder was a Silicon Valley CEO. He mentioned the controversy that some feel that his ideas can be damaging. Some feel that not by going to college it will affect their future. They think the drive is money. His counter is that education is like the housing bubble—constantly increasing prices and where does it lead you...maybe $250,000 in debt and the poor house? He has some good points.
Learning is important but is college the way to get there? I value my education experience, but is it right for all people? I see far too often students are that under prepared, don’t have the drive to excel, and are in it for a quick“win” versus the drive to learn. It has become a stepping stone for credentialing but is it engaging and moving people forward? I can see how it can be stifling and unimaginative. It becomes status quo versus moving knowledge forward. It turns facts and figures versus creativity and passion for knowledge leading us forward.
In my jaunt about the airport I also found a tour desk. They have a variety of tours that leave from the airport for town. You can get boat our, street scene, museum. I am not sure how detailed they are if it’s something I want to do if I don’t get on this next flight. It is an option though that I am considering. Pending how easy it is to get into the city, I would even go at it alone on my own schedule. I will wait to see what the day brings, but I must admit that I would rather get to India than to stay another night. I would rather have this problem returning back home than starting my vacation.
December 4, 2012 - Adventure Continues
I anxiously waited for Delta to confirm my seat. I got to the customer service counter yesterday as soon as they opened. I asked how many seats were available, and that day she said 1 in business class and 18 in the coach. (It’s amazing how the numbers change in a day or two. It’s like the stock market for airline seats. I wonder too if sometimes I just being told a bold face lie.)
I got to the gate early to watch the chaos ensue as people arrived from flights across the globe. What appeared at first with very few soon swelled to over 200. I joked with another guy from the USA who now is a pilot and works for Google maps about my experience thus far. He was waiting for a flight to Nigeria. He wished good luck on getting on this flight. I told him it looked like this yesterday, and things or the most looked good today.
Fortunate me, I was able to get on the flight. The business class seat got snatched up as I expected but at last I was able to get coach. I slept like a baby even before we left because we remained at the gate for over one hour because of snow. This would get us to Mumbai really late. There was a universal groan when the announcement was made on the intercom, but who was I to moan. I finally was on my flight to Mumbai! I slept solid and stirred once for the washroom. The man seated next to me did not get at all which allowed me to be at peace the entire flight. (He was from Germany and going to Mumbai for business. He constantly complained about the Indians and different rules for them versus everyone else. I shrugged it off.)
Arriving to Mumbai the chaos started up again with too many people crammed into too little space, lines going here and there for tourists, nationals, people with disabilities, diplomats, etc. I was through the cue in half an hour with the next wait for baggage. I kept thinking what would happen in Heaven; let’s just hope that God has his shit together because after all these of experimentation on how it’s done down on Earth anything is better than this mess.
The next wait I was to endure was for luggage. Around and around the belt went with people bumping and grinding their way toward the trough. It can be rather maddening if you let it get to you. At first I had to take a deep breath after having one to many people step on my feet, bump into me and not apologize or weave their way into my secured spot. One by one folks picked-up their things, and I remained empty handed. Nothing!
I inquired to the staff who was managing to the area, and he whisked me off to a desk to file a missing claim. What color was the bag? Did I have a computer in it? Was the jewelry in it? Do I know where it was left seen? Where was I staying in Mumbai? Did I have a mobile telephone? What was estimated value of the contents? The list went on and on. I wanted to be done with it.
I was then taken to another counter by another person to get the paper work stamped with yet even more questions with most being the same as the first time. The young man graciously got me through the hustle and bustle and over to a money exchange so I could get a taxi to the YWCA. For around $14USA ($6880R), I got into the city. Before leaving I was asked over and over again by men for a dollar or rupees. I ignored the requests.
I got to my hotel at 3:15 a.m. I was whooped. I got to the\secured gate, and the guard called to make sure I was welcome. He opened the gate and made another phone call. He asked me to come to the phone and chat with the next guard on the other line. He said they were booked and had no space for me. I told him I had a confirmation. He said there was nothing; He asked that I come inside to speak with him. I was ushered upstairs.
He had been sleeping and was in stocking feet. I showed him my confirmation. I pleaded with him that his assistance would be appreciated. He said he would see what he could do.
He could get me into a shared room for $1500R. I was reluctant to give him my money and passport, but where was I to go at this hour? I accepted his gesture. The room had four beds and I was the only person there. So much for being entirely booked—maybe it was booked only for doubles and singles?
I settled immediately into my room. Not having a change of clothes, I slept in my underwear. I tossed and turned every hour or so but for the most part I slept well. I got up at 7 a.m., showered and made my way to the dining room for scrambled eggs, hot tea, water, guava juice, and something Indian with beans and sauce.
My passport was returned to me; I was changed for the room, and given an internet password for Wi-Fi. I got directions to the bank and for a mobile phone. I opted to not do the phone as I would need to show passport, two photos for the application, a $30US down payment plus more a slim card fee. I figured I got this far in life without needing one in my travel, maybe I would still not get one and opt for kindness and small fee use at a hotel.
I told the taxi outside the Y that I wanted to go to Thomas Cook, a local bank to exchange money. He whisked me away and then leaned over the seat asked how much money did I want to exchange. I told him $80. He said if I had $100 he could get me a better price by not going to the bank. He went around the block, I paid him $1US, he parked the car and then disappeared. He returned in 15 minutes with a wad of cash. It had $5200 rupee. He asked if I was happy. I told him no; I needed at least $5300. He said I got a good price. I told him no I did not b/c that was what I was getting in the airport. He left and returned back again with the full amount. He insisted I got a good bargain I told him that I doubted it because I should be getting at least 55/$1US.
He then tried to sell me on a tour of the city I told him I was flying out and not able to go. I did however ask or his number in case things change upon my return on January 9. I also asked what it would cost for a taxi ride to the airport. He said $450R; I countered with $400R and he accepted. I am sure he probably made a cut my $100 rupee exchange plus the $1 I gave him for my taxi ride. All the same I am off to my next adventure to Goa this afternoon. R:USA = 53:1
December 5, 2012
I got from the YWCA to the Mumbai domestic airport in 1.5 hours, just as Lonely Planet predicted. I went to the Spicejet service counter, and was told that I did not have a reservation. I showed the woman my receipt, and she told me to get in line for check-in from the guards so I could enter the main terminal. Getting there it was discovered by the guard that my receipt was not for December but rather January 4. Major mistake!
I could pay a fee plus ticket change for$2280R bringing my total to $5763R. I originally paid $3940. What a total numbskull. I should have checked and double checked the original receipt. So, I went ahead paid the difference. After all, I already had prepaid for three nights at Hotel Blessing. If I bailed now, I would lose another $100 there. So, I put on a happy face.
I returned to the front terminal line and was escorted into the modern air conditioned hall. I immediately went to my gate, and I was told that I would have to return to the Spicejet counter in the min hall for my ticket, The receipt that she had given me would not suffice even it had a barcode confirmation. I reluctantly went back and stood in another line for my turn. I received my official ticket, went through security, and then chilled at gate 6 for my flight to be called.
My mouth was parched and got a smoked chicken sandwich and small water for $170R.
My flight was called and boarded a bus to get out to the jet way. There were only a few others on the plane, and I took a seat by the widow the see the Goa view. In a little over one hour I arrived. While I had good intentions to see the view, it was difficult to make your eyes through the smog—too many brush fires were burning below.
I paid my prepaid taxi at the stand ($690R). And no sooner had I left the stand was I sent to another taxi, returning to the stand for a new number, and then again to another taxi and returning to the stand for another number. Third strike and I was off. Bases were loaded, and I was ready to high tail it to Panajim and Hotel Blessing.
December 6, 2012 - No Rest for the Weary
Waking to a luke warm shower, I had the intention of getting a head start on the day. I woke at 4:30 a.m. and went back to sleep figuring things would be pretty quiet downstairs. By 5:30 I was up and Adam and ready to begin the day. No rest for the weary. I wanted to beat the tourists to Old Goa. I’m told it gets pretty full, and besides, I was going to take a local bus. I still have no idea exactly where that is located, but I will stop down to ask at the desk. Showered and dressed, the staff was sleeping on the floor. No such plan of getting head start. I returned back to my room to journal.
Last night I drank a fresh squeezed glass of orange juice from a local shop for $50R. I made my order and the center staff disappeared out the front door and down the road. I had no idea what I had in store for me. He never re-emerged, but in about 5 minutes an opening in the ceiling with a wooden tray that reminded me of a dumb waiter emerged a glass. It tasted good.
I am always a bit weary of drinking something I did not see prepared when traveling in a developing nation because I am unsure how clean the water is, if they’re even taking from a clean sourced. I decided my system needed the extra vitamin C because of the air pollution. Anything I can do to help prevent a cold bug or worse is a good thing. And if it was bad water, I would crap out any infection that was tossing and turning inside of me; thus far this morning, all is well.
I also popped by an internet café last night to get a feel for my surroundings. I was given directions from the hotel which was very easy to follow. He told me it was on the first floor. I circled the building and saw nothing. I went a quarter time around and then it hit me. Then it dawned on me, they are probably using international directions with the ground floor being on the street and the first floor being up a level. And yes, I was right. I was around the bend from the Apple shop. I wanted to get a print out for my hotel in Chennai. I had the name, but I have found that it is very limited when working with the taxi drivers.
Address directions here are old school. There are not necessarily numbered on the building. Instead they will have the name of the place, what lane/street it is located but then say something like it is close to that of something prominent—across from the St. Anne’s, in the vicinity of Plaza Royale, etc. With this in mind, I got a copy ($5R) of my confirmation for my future hotel to save me any potential grief.
What is highest on my priority list is retrieving my backpack from Delta. Today makes my 6th day without it, and I am concerned. I have done splendidly well considering the current state of affairs, but I want to get it resolved before my next leg in my journey. I have one more day to get it resolved in case it does not show up at the airport today. Delta said that they would send it through to my next destination (Goa) but that is if everything falls into place without any drama. With how my experience as been spun thus far, I am not counting on the mundane.
It is shortly after 6 a.m. and the crows have begun their morning routine of hollering to break the day. It wouldn’t be so bad if they had a nicer tune, but the barrage of whiny voices is enough to drive one mad. It reminds of me a Jewish woman constantly complaining—even if everything is perfect—argumentively moaning that the perfect day would be even more perfect if it weren’t so.
Most tourists get to Old Goa via taxi or through a travel agent.I read that I could get there by public bus and was off. Winding my way along the water front, I am told the Kadamba bus station would get me there. Around and around the circle I went and wondering if there was ever going to be an end in sight. Asking at a hotel first for a $10R change of which they couldn’t do….AMZING!) I finally found it. Buses were packed in like sardines with street vendors selling all kinds of quick snacks and drinks to your heart content. It was significantly cleaner than the bus stations in Nicaragua with a controlled chaos feel about the place. Asking around for the bus to Old Goa, I boarded early to get seat.
Paying $10R I sat and remained so as the vehicle started to fill-up quickly. Children with school uniform an vendors selling vegetables boarded, and before long we were bumping around to Hindi club music with a pulsating base that rocked us—or maybe it was just the badly paved road. In about 30 minutes or so were swept into Old Goa. I thought I was going to stay on but was encouraged by the pole to get off (they knew that I didn’t belong or want to go further—particular this is where all tourists would get off. And so I did.
In front of me were two major churches—one red brick/stone and the other white stucco. The one on the left was the Se Cathedral, the largest in Asia and constructed in 1562 by orders of Portugal’s King Dom Sebastiana completed 90 years later. The church itself is pretty ordinary but up in the belfry I am told the largest bell in all of Asia rests with a close second in the chapel behind. The church named for St Catherine who went to Egypt and was beheaded. The chapel of the Cross of Miracles was closed but could get a glimpse through the wooden screen. It was ornately painted with a great altar. It was very impressive—gardens up front of the entrance and in the back an art gallery f Christian work.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is across the street and proudly stands cast in brick/red stone ad completed in 1605. St. Francis Xavier is buried here and told his diamond encrusted fingers nail remains in Chandor. He came here to Goa to correct the behavior the lavish and unseemly Portuguese. The building is tented in the front to keep the throngs of people to not scorch in the heat. When I got there it was still mass and the priest was giving communion. These people were very faith and amazed to see their dedication. I was particularly interesting is went they would go to the saint’s tomb, caress is, pray, and walk around the mausoleum captivated.
Walking up the sidewalk there were vendors selling waxed pieces that resembled human body parts—legs, arms, whole figures, etc. My estimate is that they were to offer as gifts and prayers to the saints for aliments and good health. Further up the street is vendor hell with every type of plastic whirligig and shoes sold from Chin with merchants vying for your attention with good deal galore. I refrained from the chochscky and got to the top of the road. I was hoping to find another church but got myself turned around I stopped into a gas station purchased a Coke ($30r) and made my way back into the abyss.
Speaking to one the security staff I inquired about churches. I was told that a five walk would bring me to Church of St. Cajetan. Turing down the hill in the distance rested two large trees with canopies that covered the road. The church lay just beyond. To the left is a research area and in front is the church. No one was in the space when I entered except for an elderly woman to watch the room that rested empty. All the furniture and artifacts were stripped, but the alter remained with a finely, carved lectern on the column. One could imagine how spectacular this room must have been once.
In the distance I could see a steeple and tower. Walking up the steep hill was Church of Our Lady of the Mount. It rests on top of a hill with awesome views of the river below twisting and turning. There is nothing in the space but roof and walls (not even furniture) but the acoustics were fantastic whistled away to Mozart Ode De Joy slowly to hear it resonate cross the void. I am told the place also hosts concerts because of the fantastic sound qualities.
Down the hill is the Monastery of St. Augustine which is now in ruins. It was founded in 1572 and abandoned in 1835 when they were expelled from the country. The building slowly deteriorated and in 942 came tumbling down with heaps of ruble strewn about. The tower casts a shadow on this once amazing structure.
I then popped into the Museum of Christian and got a discount ($10R with student ID, $30R w/o). There were artifacts from the churches—a chalice, robes, crosses, painting, etc. There was also a gift shop that I supported—handmade pressed 10 sheets of paper ($30R), handmade draw =sting bag/pouch ($50R), hand carved bust of Jesus (140R).
I decided to return back to Janji and paid (10R) and poke myself into an already too tight of a bus like a sardine. The joys of a day of hot weather and smelly armpits got this bus ripe. I put on a happy face and tried to breathe out of my mouth to keep from gasping or tossing my cookies.
Instead of returning back home and already at the bus station, I boarded another bus to get to he airport (28R). Getting off in Vasco in the market, I boarded another bus ($6R) for the ride to the airport. I went to claim my lost backpack but after waiting an hour and half, it was nowhere to be found. Pleading my case other Spice jet representative, she made a call to Mumbai to find out where it was. It was located and would possibly make theflightback to go tomorrow in the afternoon.
I have now been a week without clean clothes—socks, underwear, shirt, etc. I am in line for sainthood. I am also amazed by good and well-tempered I have been about the entire fiasco. Deltaclaims noresponsibility and being a nonrevenue ticket, they care even less. I am thankful for Scott getting me a Buddy pass but wonder sometimes if it’s worth the hassle and poor customer service if/when there is a problem.
I went across the street for the bus back to Vasco ($6r) and another to Panji (28R). The taxi drivers shouted me down insisting that I take a tax with them and had one offer as low as $200R, a far cry from the a lot $14 I spent when I arrived. I waved them away n figured I was up for the avenue once, w=hat is once more?
Before walking back home from Kadamba station, I found where I need to go to get my overnight bus to Hampi and was told three would be plenty of seats and would not need to get a ticket in advance. I headed back u the windy road to panji, bought an inlaid incense box ($100 R) and decided to get back to my hotel to use the restroom and regroup before dinner.
I heard about a restaurant called the Upper House in Lonely Planet as well as Trip Advisor. I found it and ate a very full meal—Sausage beef chili fry (I was told it would not be hot but it was; I couldn’t finish it), mango ice cream for dessert, Goan bread called paw, large bottle of water with lemon on the side, and mug of King Fishcher draft beer. With tax and charges it came to to be ($600R). I left a dollar tip and took my left overs to the church to leave for the poor.
December 7, 2012 - Goa, India
The morning, neighborhood, car horn sounded waking the weariest of souls to conquer another day. Remembering that I had not charged my computer the night before, I plugged it in for 100% power. In India you never know when you will have either an outlet that works (some are incognito) or power is on in your area. (I remember my 1st day in Mumbai when it went out. Thank goodness I packed my flashlight. I gasped at the heat inside my room without the ceiling fan.)
I had packed and repacked the night before after having dinner at the Fidalgo. There is a restaurant there called Chili and Spice. My meal was tasty with mushroom and cheese appetizer, beer, large water with lime and skewered, grilled cheese chunks with mushrooms and pilaf. ($650R with $1US tip). Later after dinner I stopped by the street vendor and had a lime spritzer for 15R. I’m told it aids in digestion.
Before going to dinner, I had found an antique shop that wanted too much money for ordinary goods, and it was then I heard a pulsating bass. Looking out the window I saw disco lights pulsating. Intrigued, I asked the sales woman what was going on, and she told me it was a 2 day dance festival/competition at Don Vasco High School. And to boot…it was free!
I dodged the endless barrage of rickshaws, scooters and broken down taxis and made my way through security. I pretend I knew what I was doing, and no one stopped me from entering. No questions asked.
The event was held in the gymnasium and as soon as I stepped inside I was knocked down metaphorically by the heat—bodies and sweat cramped into a tight space…fire code alert was all that kept going through my mind, trampled to death by teenage Indians. Taking a full breathe, I zigzagged my way thru the crowd and found a seat with my name on it. Yours truly was going to be swooned for a free night of entertainment.
Group after group was introduced with each beginning with a traditional Indian dress and music element and then spiraling into modern mayhem. Hip hop and trance was the music of choice. The student dance trams were great! Free enterainment with an Indian twist.
The competition was over by 7:30 p.m. Then I decided to head to the dinner at Fidalgo. The food was great, the space well-appointed and to my surprise…additional live music. There were 2 singers from the Philippines names Shirley and Shur, their voices were spot on.
Thinking back to this morning, I was ready, packed and dressed by 8:30 a.m. and checked-out by 9. I was told check-out was at this time, but it did not appear that anyone else in the hotel followed this expectation. I was the only guest in the lobby but the porter, housekeeping staff, and bell desk worker.
I left my large backpack at the front desk and was out the door to get to the DHL air carrier. I found it last night after purchasing my sherwani. I waited and waited there for 1.5 hours. I had purchased the sherwani for $80US and wanted to get it shipped as I was running out of room in my pack; the shopkeeper came, weighted my things, and promptly told me it would cost $100US to have emailed. I gasped! I decided to wait and see if I would get either a better price at the post office or find another way of getting it home.
I got to the post office and went to the front of the line so that I would ask how to go about doig things and not waste more time. I was told that if I was going to send a package I would have to go out of the building, head down the side street to a local package handler who would wrap it up in cotton cloth, fill-out the required paper work, and stitch it together before returning back to the post. Before going, I would have to get a photocopy of my passport. Getting back in line at the post office, I waited for my package to be stamped for air mail—and it cost around $20US.
I went out to find a money changer to get $100US exchanged b/c I was unsure how available money was going to be in rural areas. Knowing exactly where I was I made record time and then SCREEEEECH!
I had plans to find a G3 for my computer so I could get access to the internet. Back and forth I hiked like a mad man all over Panaji, and as the morning wore on the heated escalated. I was coming to a boiling point by 1 p.m. when I found that all the running around was of no use. I was told by a shop girl that it would take 5 days for approval b/c of identity theft throughout India, and if I got it would have to come back to the original place I made my purchase. No G3 internet for me. Oh well, the journey continues.
I decided to head to my trusty neighborhood internet source, showed him my passport and was off like a wild man to investigate hotels airlines and schedules for the next 5 weeks, it was a good thing I did too b/c I found that had lost my bus ticket! The internet saved my life with a confirmation schedule. Downloading it as well as hotel confirmation for 2 other cities and an airline ticket on Spicejet, I was off again for my last Goan meal at the neighborhood watering hole--$135R included pizza (cheese and pineapple) with a Pepsi.
Something I forget to mention was my haircut. When I left Don Vasco and the dance performance, I noticed a corner barbershop. There was an Indian man crouched down in a corner, and I chatted it up with him. His space was shared by three barbers with no more than a yard between themselves. Tight and closely chaired, scissors came out clattering away—Edward Scissor Hands, watch out! Inch by quarter inch the hair came off my head and in less than 20 minutes I was out with a new style, closely cropped and youthful. Viola!
8 December 2012 - Bus to Hampi
I go to the bus station last night early as I was unsure exactly where it as going to leave. The gentleman directed that I stay put and not move as he would find me when the time would come for me to go. I stood proudly not flinching.
I had purchased bunk #27 on Paulo bus line with A/C. I got it on-line with redbus.com after I visited the bus station and cold not find an a/c bus. Reading in Lonely Planet I knew there was another option and a Google search did the trick. I was concerned that if I was already melting, an evening bus ride w/o air conditioning was not how I wanted to remember Goa.
Just as he had promised, the man came and found me. Boarding began at 7:46 p.m. with departure at 8:03 p.m., promptly. (Like clockwork we were off just as the ticket promised.) I was told my berth would be 4 stations on the left on the bottom.
A narrow aisle of if 20 inches was the space between the two sides of the bus berths. Each side had a blue curtain that could be closed for privacy. One side had two beds and the other singles. Mine had two and was unsure if I was going to be bunking with some else or not.
I put my backpack under the bus for safe keeping (though unsure how safe it would be), and glad I did b/c the space was tight inside…very tight. It reminded me of a double wide coffin—minus the double. Each sleeping space was approximately 6 feet by 24 inches wide. Good thing I was not obese. I hope that my bunkmate would be thin too as well as friendly, non-stinky, and clean.
I took my shoes and stuffed them at the end of the bed with my glasses and wallet tightly tucked inside. I had the window side which was good so that if I had a roomie I would have to have one side with the other person to the aisle and possibility of getting bumped. Lucky me, I had the entire space to myself for the entire ride! YEAH!!
I had heard that the a/c was excellent on these buses. To prepare I had bought on board with me my black, cotton jacket with the Neru collar that I also thought would double well as a pillow. And while I was prepared, I did not expect it to be as cold as I had imagined. It was darn right chilly----brrrrrrrrr.
I put on the jacket but even that was not enough for the long 10 hour ride. The weird thing was that my body was cold, but my hands were sweaty. I never experienced that before. What was my body telling me? Note to self: If I take another bus with a/c I will bring along with my Patagonia as well as my plane, blow-up pillow (both were under the bus in my pack.)
I did not sleep well; I slept but not solidly. The road was bumpier than expected and between stops and starts, I drifted in and out of sleep. And with clammy hands, chilled bones, and bizarre dreams I tossed threw out the escapade.
When we arrived to Hospet, I took my things from under the bus and for $200R I jetted off to the Hampi Trust. This was an error on my part b/c the bus was going to Hampi and the trust was not in Hospet as I had thought. We followed the bus I rode in all the way to the bazaar. LOL! The one cool thing (literally) was the chill of the morning air woke me up, I got to see the daily beginnings of the town unfold, as families made their way to the watering hole, feeding their animals, and beginning their morning rituals.
My driver brought me to the front door of the Hampi Trust. I opened the gate as it was very early—6ish—and was ushered in by one of the staff. I was unsure if they would be ready for me and so politely kept to the shadows. I was waved inside. All things Hampi, time is on a different schedule and they understood the life of a traveler and crazy bus schedules. They were all smiles and hospitality.
The Hampi Children’s Trust was started 5 years ago by a man from New York; he wanted to help the children of Hampi, by getting them of the streets, into schools and prepared for the future. He met a guide (Kali Shetty) who helped begin the program. Initially with 8 children, the program has grown to 40. They receive 3 meals a day, before and after school programs, a uniform and schooling as well as health care. It costs about $9,000R to host a child for a year. They do not receive government assistance, and all dollars provide by tourists and friends support the work.
The building is centrally located in Hampi Bazaar and has simple means--a welcome area, seating for children and programs squat toilet, hand washing station and a corridor with rooms off the side that holds an office, kitchen 2 bedrooms of which one is the caretakers, and a multi-purpose space, with a shower and toilet in the back. I was given the office to sleep for one night as another Couchsurfer from California had the guest bedroom. Once he left, I would get his space.
COSTS 800R bus from Goa to Hampi with A/C
200R tuktuk to Hampi—got off at Hospet L
35R large water
15R large water
7R bus from temple to Hampi Bazaar
100R dinner at Mango Tree—house special (cashew, veg, coconut and rice) large water with lime
9 December 2012 - Bewithed by Hampi
Hampi has a bewitching feel as rocks that appear to gravitate are suspended in clusters. Mighty in size, they could come tumbling down, but they remain perched precariously basking in the sun. Boulders tease you and leave you spellbound wishing you knew their magic spell. With one little push, it appears that they will come plummeting down and go crashing below. But no, I am told the mighty elephant can’t even budge these rocks of ages.
Arriving yesterday in the early morning and as the sun peaked its way across the void, I darted to the ruins to catch their grandeur before being engulfed with tourists, clicking cameras and throngs of school children. Rocks called out to the traveler in me, beckoning and teasing me further down the river. As the water meanders in the distance, it whispers to join it down its many twists and turns. And at every bend, another surprise catches your eye— a linga, a monument, a wall cast down from neglect, a scrambling lizard scurrying toward shade. And fortunate for me, the tourists never came. I was in solitude.
These hills and valleys ranging from over two to five hundred years of Hindu history ring rich with spectacle. The empire some say began in 1336 but others report people were here long before that. A Telug prince in 1336 began the building of these temples, and by the 1500 it was a metropolis. Over half million people came to reside here only to end in an attack in 1565 collapsing these mighty structures. Politics, ego and war resulted in vast destruction.
While broken and pillaged, people remained residing in the market and former temples. For over 800 years the bazaar has been a way of life for the inhabitants; 3 to 4 generations of squatters called them home. For the last 12 years, the future of these “neigbhorhoods” has been called to question and has become political theatre. Only a year and half ago, it was decided in the state courts that the people must go; they were given 24 hours notice to be gone forever. 40 years of family living swept away by legalities. It has become a game of finger pointing--the state, the people, UNESCO.
There was a sit-in and people took to the streets. The government came in heavy handed and bulldozed their homes—swift and quick it was over, gone in an instant. People scurried for their lives with nowhere to go. The government gave them temporary housing in a flood zone with the promise that new land would be forthcoming. That was almost 2 years ago and still nothing. And yet the community waits on empty promises. The people who were provide resettlement money but can’t touch it until the land is ready for them to build. It’s only to be used in the new area. When has become the monthly joke.
To add insult to injury, the families who once were able to care for themselves are now penniless beggars on the street. Their “temporary” housing gets flooded each rainy season with nowhere to go. Children are left to the streets to scavenge and the disruption does not see calm anytime soon. It’s truly a tragedy. Today it looks like a tsunami hit the town with broken walls, cement cast in heaps, and people taking what they can to salvage.
Side note: A fact that I learned today is Hampi is a religious area and no meat can be bought in the cafes and restaurants. The same is true for alcohol. The purchase of alcohol is actually illegal.
COSTS 45R breakfast with 2 chai
60R 1 hour of internet and 4 copies
100R lunch—large water with lime and thally (Indian dish)
1250R shoes—leather sandal (350R); 900R sherwani shoe
10 December 2012 - A Day of Waiting
I woke early to make sure I got to see the village elephant from the temple for her morning bath; the river was full of local people having their bath too, washing clothes, offering flowers and incense. The grass was covered in saris drying in the sunlight and loin clothes were cast in a different row. A pageantry color surrounded me. Resting, the senses were delighted with the pungent smell of incense, prayers from the temple, the rushing of the babbling river, and cinnamon from morning chai. I perched myself by the river temple and waited. The elephant would soon arrive. The stairs were filled with fresh tourists from the early morning bus from Goa. Backpackers set aside and conversations intense, but there was a commotion--an excitement in the air. Tired tourists rested along the river bank and some in the shade of the temple column. There appeared to be a skirmish with the boat that delivered people back and forth from one side to the next. Inquiring with my new found friends what all the commotion was about, I was informed that the boat man had not paid his taxes. All transportation would stop until an agreement could be met. No one was coming or going. All boats would be halted until the matter was resolved. This situation resulted with no one going back and forth. All traffic was halted until further notice. No one was to pass ago or collect $200. I quickly became the village concierge giving out information on where to go for breakfast, other ideas on how to spend a morning or where to cross, things to see and do, etc. The tourists did not believe the locals; they were lied too one too many times. I was their confidant, and it was rather amusing. I had wanted to take photos of the elephant but was told that she had a previous engagement. She may not be coming for her ritual bath today—no boat, no elephant, no problem. The question was for me…what was I to do with my day? I set-off back to the bazaar to speak with the travel agent that helped me get my ticket to Mysore; I was going to see if he could help me with my further excursions. I was going to keep faith, other ideas and reading in Lonely Planet it did appear as if I would have much luck, especially with high season. When I got there, no one was seen. The place was open but no one was in the shop. I sat down on the steps and chatted with school children taught them the song “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and before long a young man without the use of his legs came to help me. His legs were mangled like a pretzel, but he maneuvered with great ease. He was 17 years old, and lived in the alley way. His English was perfect and asked if he could be of assistance. I told him what I wanted to do, he made a cellphone call and within seconds flat he said my request could be honored. I decided to not only book the bus from Mysore to Chennai but also Delhi to Agra, Agra to Jaipur, and Jaipur o Bikaner. For less than $60US, I was able to get first class for most of my travels and one in 2nd class with a/c. My tickets would be ready on 4 hours. I had to provide him the dollars in advance, provide my name and age.
Last night I went to see the sunset at the Jain temple. While up there, I was asked by a young, Indian couple if I would take a picture of them. I obliged and quickly started a conversation with them. They were married one year ago come March. They both were in IT. His father was a professor and her father in agriculture. Their marriage was arranged, and they live in Bangalore. When they were married (Hindu), they do not exchange rings. Rather, the wedding is finalized when the groom ties three knots in her gold threaded necklace. Each state does things differently. While not traditional, they also took honeymoon. What was particularly interesting was they a=had 2,000 guests they had to feed and entertain. It is rare that an Indian couple is divorced. The family has a lot of influence. If a divorce is warranted, it can take up to 3 years of convincing as to why it should be dissolved. Many times people believe that if a marriage does not work, it is the fault of the woman. The dowry that was paid to the man’s family is returned, and she is set free from her duties as a wife. Children re expected soon after—often times within 3 years. Adoption is not a common occurrence here. The couple must try to become pregnant. If they ware infertile or too old to conceive, they then can request the permission of their family to adopt. I told them about my family, and they were intrigued. They were surprised to see that my mom and dad would adopt so many kids. I also shared with them about the ease of divorce in the USA, and how it can be done on-line.
COSTS 60R Coffee milk shake 60R cheese and tomato sandwich toasted
20R Large water with lie
75R orange oil
150R vanilla oil
10R roasted bag of peanuts
3070R train tickets: Mysore to Chennai; 761R, Delhi to Agra; 424R, Agra to Jaipur; 672R, Jaipur to Bikaner 770R
11 December 2012 - Mysore, India It was a bumpy ride on the bus from Hospet to Mysore. Even before I had left Hampi, I had a near miss of a booboo. I thought my bus was to leave from the Hampi bus stand. Speaking with the tuktuk boys on the river, I found it did not leave from Hampi but rather Hospet. Maybe this is why I got off to Hospet when I first arrived 2 days ago? I got back to the Hampi Children’s Trust, packed my things and ready to go by 6 p.m. My bus was not to leave until 9 p.m. but wanted to be there early just in case. Kali told me the ride would take 45 minutes to an hour because of traffic and the bad roads. I am glad I heeded his advice; roads in India are rarely decent. Arriving to the Hospet station, I inquired to the staff where the Mysore bus left from s I cold snag a bench and wait I did not want to spend the next few hours on the ground with chow shit, dogs and trash. I befriended several young people on their way back home from school. Many of them travel 45 minutes to an hour each way. There was an older man that I came to learn was a Christian minister. H was trying to save the souls of he lost”. He said that America only had one religion (Christianity). And India had many gods and religions that were leading the people nowhere but eternal darkness. I informed him that the USA had many religions n our laws protected people from religious persecution. He promptly told me I was wrong. The odd thing about being in a bus station and being the only white guy is that you quickly become an oddity and center for attention. Kids would gather and practice their English, old men would inquire to why I would visit India where America is a beautiful country and quizzing not understand what was the draw. Over the several hours I was there once 18 men surrounded me as I sat waiting. They were of many faiths and practices—Hindu, Jain, Moslem, Christian, Buddhist. It was interesting trying to read their body language and speech as to what the conversation entertained. It was something about Obama and my thoughts of him a president. 830 p.m. came around and I did not see my bus. It was started boarding now and concerned that possibly I was in the wrong location. All he vehicles here were local, and I was on a private coach with a/c. I went to the police to inquire and was told I had to leave the terminal, walk a few blocks and find him private buses. The minute hand was ticking. I had to find where I was to go quickly or would be left behind. I asked a young guy on the corner, and he had no idea where to go. I saw a group of young high school women, and they told me to head to the pharmacy. I darted in and out of traffic of make my connection—horns blaring, weaving between bikes, cows, dogs, and vendors. The sense of dread is awful. Wandering about and frantically asking every Tom, Dick and Harry and w/o avail coming-up empty handed. And sure enough there was a white guy that I saw from Goa who came on the bus a couple of days ago. He was Scottish and British. He gave me a wave; I asked where he was off to and score! This time I had the upper berth from Hospet to Mysore, and lucky for me I did not have bedmate. He entire side was single beds! I had the entire place/cubicle to myself. This bus however was non a/c which at first was a concern, but as the evening wore on I was child to the bone. I did pack this tie my low-up pillow which was a blessing. The go around I have to remember to pack my Patagonia. The ride as far from smooth—every bump in the road pushed and pulled me in my cabin. I was yanked back and forth in every direction. Good thing I did not fall out of y bed. The good thing is that railings are a godsend. It felt as if I was a on ship out of sea with rough waters. Or if In India on an elephant with only three legs. I swayed back and forth and it was no rockabye lullaby. I would go in and out of sleep between the holes in the road, my clammy hands, and too cold toes. My tuktuk was only $50R from my bus and dropped me to the front door of Hotel Bombay Tiffany. The room was ready for me, but the catch was that this time I intend to be out on my by departure…7:30 a.m.—OUCH! I asked if they could hold on to my things, and I was assured that would not be a problem. Not soon after I was informed my room had a squat toilet and not a western one. This made me a bit weary b the first thing I think of is poor sanitation and a filthy space. I insisted that I see the room before accepting it The porter took me back and it was fine. I tossed my pack into the room got off y grimy clothes an jumped into s steamy, hot shower. There is a God! The first real, hot shower I’ve had in almost 2 weeks. I re-arranged my pack, got my clean clothes out and set my dirty ones aside. The hotel would do my wash for me got s small fee. I =tossed in my trousers 2 shirts, and 2 pairs of undies. Amazing how little you can travel on when needed. The hotel would have my things ready that night before bed. –Sweet! My goal today was to go to Somnath Temple. Getting direction from the hotel porter and speaking to the bus operator I opted out of not going b/c it would take almost 3 hours to get there. I chose instead to wait for the 10 a.mm. opening of the Maharaja Palade to open. Afterward I took a tuktuk to the Catholic church and was unimpressed with its contents. The place was rather bland by Catholic standards. The other two places I wanted to visit were Belure and Halebid, I found that they too were ½ days journey. I said a quick no to that idea. Urgh! I feel like lost some ground. It does no si well with me. Oh well… The one thing I could do here in Mysore I visit Chamudi Hill. Looking in the distance, it’ not too impressive. I think I will stay closer to h city and instead explore the side streets and get lost in them. My goal is find a sherwani, shoes and other goodies. I will be quickly ready to head to Chennai in the next days.
COSTS 17R Hampi bus to Hospet 50R tuktuk to hotel 200R entrance to Maharaja Palace 10R glow-n-dark Jesus 68R lunch—Thali (Sambar, Rasam rice, chapatti, palya, sagu, curd, pickle) with Coke 16R large Coke 210R long-sleeved white shirt with sequins 50R package wrapping for post 1057R airmail -- 4 scarves and one shirt
12 December 2012 - Palaces and Chaos I got turned around this morning when trying to find the bus station. Like a tangled skein of yarn, I know there is a beginning and end but somewhere in the mangled mess you get lost in the twists and turns of lanes, streets and alleyways. I definitely went way out of my way. I ended up at the Maharaja Palace, and unfortunately for me, I bumped into the same tuktuk driver form yesterday that tried to rip me off. Yesterday he told me he was going to take me to St. Philomena's for 10R but then dropped by to pick-up a buddy of his to take me a on "shopping spree". I told him to get lost. Once I got to the church, I told him that if he did not leave me alone I was going to call the police. He insisted he was not trying to take me for a scam. I knew other wise. I gave him 10R, and I walked away. He persisted. I abruptly turned around like a furocious animal, gave him a long, wicked look of a craed man, and whisked away. Well, today he was there all smiles guranteeing me a great visit of the city. I told him that the day before was unpleasant, and I had no interest in working with him again. He asked where I was going and told him Srirangapatna. He said it was waste of my time as the place was falling apart and was a shack. I told him I thought differently. He waved me away, cursing in Hindi with his tuktuk sputtering black smoke as he turned the edge of the block.
The renovated bus station is wonderful but still very busy with people rushing from one end to the next, here and there--everyone with an important mission but nowhere to go. The good thing is when the country was colonized, the people learned the value of a line (cue). It helps with the craziness of the place. The other good thing is the British also brought English, and it makes a significant difference in the quality of life for tourists from around the globe as well as he livelihood for the locals. It has surely made a difference in my comfort. Srirangaptna is about 30 minutes away from Mysore. The cityscape quickly turns to fields and calm. The rat race of city life dissipates. I watch the driver make sure I am settled and safe. He too makes sure I don't forget where to get off. I am the only tourist on the public bus. The town is relatively quiet, and I am the only white man who departs from the bus and descends into the dust bowl of the street. I am an oddity? I find an tutktuk driver and negotiate back and forth on a fair price. Starting high at 600R and down to 50R for a ride to the palace. I board and before leaving the town gates, the driver says he will do the entire day for 300R--8 monuments. I agree. The town is more spread out than I had imagined, and there is no way I could do it walking. The entrance fee for non-Indians is 100R, with Indians as at 5R. The grounds are extensive with square yellow house and green shades pulled down on all 4 sides to protect the porches and interior from the scorching heat. And to think that this is their winter! It clearly states there was to be no photos. I do not understand why this a and unsure what they are trying to protect and save. I can see where a flash may harm the place...but a single shot? I inconspicusously take three shots when seated at the exit after observing Indians taking pics with their mobile phones. If I am going to pay 20 times their entrance fee, I am at least going to get a couple of frames in before I leave. The palace was built by a sultan. It's made of wood and all surfaces are painted--ceiling, walls, sills, etc. It's very lovely and well worth the trip as it's quiet and away from the noise and pollution of tourist central. Something I can't explain here is their driving. Pedestrians do not have the right of way and will be run over in a New York second (not minute). Getting across is a sheer miracle and act of God. And to add to all the commotion is every horn blaring as well as managing to not step into pot holes, animals and small children. I am surprised more people do not die. (If there was less noise pollution, it would make the city more tolerable and habitable.) What is practically annoying is they can see you need to cross, but the driver looms forward blindly and curses at them in annoyance. Pedestrians are a nusance--not people but mere objects to hit or miss. COSTS 18R Mysore to Srirangapatna 100R Palace entrance 300R tuktuk all day --8 monuments (used 1/2 day, paid full) 2R shoes left at tomb 12R Sriamgpatna bus to Mysore 40R large 7-up 40R 2 copies and 1hr. internet 110R Coke with chicken pizza (personal pan pizza) 115R toffee candy, Oreo pack, incense from grocery 30R 7-Up
13 December 2012 - India's Rail Because I had arrived to Mysore so early in the morning a couple of days ago, I had to be out of the hotel by 7:30 am. today. I thought I was going to hang out in the lobby, but with chilly morning temperature, I decided to walk to the train station and meander there. It would also save me 30R with tutktuk fare. At first I thought I would drive myself out my mind with boredom but a train station has many diversions, an Indian one especially. Sitting and waiting, it takes but moments to see a cast of characters that no Bollywood director could dream up that comes scurrying along with boxes, bags, and children, while balancing gracefully everything on top of heads, backs, and jingling to tunes of bells on ankles, rings on toes, and smudged by God on their third eye. American reality TV has nothing on this place.
In the last half hour of my 6 hour wait, I saw the guy from England that I chatted with the day before in front of the Maharaja Palace. He was admitted into Berkeley this coming year and will study economics. He said that he did not get into top schools in England, and when America came calling he was off. Short in stature and no more than 5'6", his strawberry blonde hair with cow lick was pushed back revealing a high forehead. His pack rested high on his shoulders. He was off to the Mumbai for his return home to spend Christmas with his family. Blackened feet with rubber flipflops worn to the bits, you could tell he was ready to return back to Union Jack. We departed when my train came into the station. I had not yet ridden an Indian train and was unsure how the process worked. I wanted to keep everything together in case there was a mad dash for the entry. A young boy in brown sweater and polyester pants took a roll of paper from his satchel and with a bucket in hand glued onto each car a list. I walked over to read it, and saw my name clearly written--Gregory T. Wilkins. I had paid a few extra dollars for an a/c car, C2 seat #78 (a window). Very calm and orderly, people came and took their seats. I placed my over stuffed backpack into the overhead and buckled my day pack to it tightly. Looking upward through the see-thru glass, I could make it out. No one was going to fiddle with my things.
What I did not expect on my ride was the large bottle of water that each passenger received within the first fifteen minutes of our journey. I also had not expected to be fed--and more than once, at least 3 times. While some of it looked a little sketchy and wasn't going to risk an unpleasant aftermath, I settled for what looked clean, wrapped and appetizing. And to top it off, the last meal ended with vanilla ice cream for everyone! COSTS 30R lime soft drink 10R tip 300R taxi from train to Hotel Mount Residency
14 December 2012 - Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram, India
Oh, what a day...I woke at 7 a.m. got up at 7:15 and out the door by 8. I asked at the front desk why I did not have hot water in my room. I was informed that I had to let them know when I was going to shower so they can turn it on. Oh well...a little chilly water did not do me any harm. I told the gentleman I was off to Mamahabalipuram and Kanchi; I asked if he thought I could do it all in one day. With a slight giggle he assured me I could, but I would need to hustle. I was up for the challenge. My friends in Nicaragua don't call me Road Runner for nothing. I received directions to the bus stop--down the street, cross and under the metro and to the corner; take the Broadway bus. It would cost me 7R and would get me to the main bus terminal. From there I would need to ask how to get to Mamahabalipuram.
Silly me got on the right bus but got off at the rail station. Lucky me the bus man did not charge me and was off onto the next one in seconds flat. The bus terminal is a huge mega mess with people, luggage, vegetables, stray dogs and beggars going every which way. It's a steady stream of madness and aggravation. Lucky for me I am able to get through it unscathed. I found I would need to take the first bus as it would go there and then transfer to another one.
It's odd but I never think too often of my whiteness. Here in India, it makes me stick out from the ordinary. Sometimes it creates opportunities for conversation and other times my life is under a microscope. To be the only Caucasian on the bus, market and streets is not disquieting but rather feeling like a fish out of water. When I order at a local restaurant, everyone wants to know what I ordered, watch me eat, and ask if the food is to my liking. The young, bus boys stare at me intently and when looking over to them give me the Indian bobble head.
I must admit that I am not a fan of Chennai--too many people, pollution in the air and waterways, too many vehicles beeping--beeping-beeping. I am amazed that they can live like this in the bewildering unending stream of headaches. I would rather settle for Hampi over this any day. It makes realize too that if they can make it here, New York would be a breeze. Mamahabalipuram is unimpressive when comparing their monuments to others in my travel. To top it off, there are one too many tourists in my face, bumping into me and getting into my picture frame. The people of the town are not very pleasant either; there's is this push for the dollar--postcard pushers, tutktuk gawkers and China, junk plastic hawkers.
Kanchipuram on the other hand is night and day from the other--fewer tourists, more fantastic monuments, and less in your face. There's something more grounded about the town. In fact at one temple, I was the first person they had all day. It was so out of the ordinary that the caretaker took from beneath his cloak a large bundle of keys on an old ring. He asked me to the back of this temple, located one key from many and unlocked the main temple door. He invited up a steep step of stairs that turned upward to the sky. Shiva was at the landing with stairs being split. I ended at the top of the monument overlooking the village. What a pleasant surprise and treat!
I was delighted that I was able to get both temple towns in the day. I had completed the challenge in good time and without losing my head or wits. I feel accomplished though a bit tired. I wouldn't feel drained if I had not spent 2 1/2 hours getting there, 2 1/2 hours getting to the next town and almost 3 1/2 hours getting home with traffic. And to add more teachable moments to the day, trying to find my way home in the dark, on a bus I can't see out the window, to a driver that doesn't speak English and kind-hearted strangers helping me maneuver it all with great style and ease. It's good to be back in the hotel after a very, long day with uncertainty if I was going to even find my way back through dark alleys, street corners that all look the same, and uncertainty all around. It's good to be alive!
COSTS 5R Hotel to bus station 50R bus to Mamahabalipuram 250R ticket for heritage monument 300R tuktuk to all monuments (driver wanted 500R) 30R Pepsi 31R bus from Mamahabalipuram to Kanchipuram 300R tuktuk to see Kachi monuments 47R bus to Chennai 205R dinner--nan, tangri chicken, three 7-ups
15 December 2012 - Chennai, India I slept-in this morning; what was the rush? The city whizzed by outside my door, and I didn't care. It was nice to be in a cocoon, safe, and unwanting. In truth I knew that once left these doors, the Chennai traffic would sweep me away, toss me off my feet and run over me if I let it. But what use would I be if I remained behind closed doors with a city calling out my name to explore it? I turned on the TV and picked through Indian soap operas--boy meets girl, girl's father/mother has drama with the young lovers or some other twist, girl and boy fall in love despite parents, dance music and longing looks, pause with more music, and curtain. Then there is the Indian mob show with men with too many rings on their fingers, dark slick backed hair, fast cars, huge houses, car chases and guns go spiraling out of control. I settle for Fashion TV--mind fluff of what is hot for the season.
I have $40US on me and want to exchange $100 to be on the safe side. I am not sure how easy it'll be to exchange in Varanasi and don't want dollars to stop me from eating, sleeping and buying. I walk up the street to the Bank of India, I ask a man at the counter where to go to exchange money. He said all international currency is welcomed at Bank of India. I would have to go out the door, down the alley, enter the back of he building and take the elevator to the 7h floor. (The bank building looks old and tired. It was rough around the edges.)
I followed his directions and got to my floor, took a right and opened the door to the exchange room. I introduced myself to the man; I was there to change dollars for rupees. He said if I did not have an account with them, he could not be a of service. NEVER trust a bank that doesn't want your money! I headed out of the joint, down the elevator to the street. I found a different bank and with their ATM removed 5200R. I have no plans of banking with Bank of India the remainder of my trip.
COSTS 212R lunch--2 chicken legs, fries, large Pepsi
150R 2 boxes of nut candy
16-19 December 2012 - Sick in Varanasi, India
I have been sick for the last few days, and it's not Delhi Belly. It's definitely from the pollution. This same thing has happened to me when I went to Bangkok and other polluted cities. It's the air quality. I get the same way with a room full of smokers. Sometimes I know its going to happen and other times it sneaks upon me, punching you in the lungs and head. I was hoping that India was going to be different.
When I arrived on December 4, the first impression I had of India was I couldn't see out the plane window below and once the cabin door opened the stench of rotting vegetables mixed with smoke and incense pried into my head. I prayed that sickness would stay at bay and was fortunate that it kept arms length way as long as it did. I know for example that in Bangkok it hit me within four days. A least I got a couple of weeks in before being bashed by it here in India. Then again maybe it would have hit me sooner if I had not taken a mad dash out of the city and traveled further south to Hampi. All the same, it is here and hope I can shake it.
On the outside I look fabulous--bright eyed and bushy tailed but deeper inside I feel heavy, hard to breath with a nose that is stuffed-up, and a pang of dread in the back of my head pushing on my eye sockets. I feel the back of my neck and forehead with outstretched finger tips; I have a temperature. I try to put on a happy face and fake it, but even in the act I know that nature will win out leaving me cold and shaking. I pile on the blankets as the northern air creeps in from the windows and under the crevice of my door. Winter here in India is not compared to celcius on the thermometer but how many blankets one needs at night to stay warm. (It is 9C at night but feels like 30F b/c of the dampness.) I feel winter's fingers creep from the outer blanket edges of my bed begging to be warmed, and I clench them tighter burying my head closer to my chest as I quiver. Life and a holiday is no fun with sickness on a doorstep.
I wish and pray to almighty God that this too shall pass, but somewhere Doubting Thomas keeps in the forefront of my head knowing that I am kidding myself if I think I can chase this one away. The thing too is I am here for several more weeks and know that the cities will not spare me. They will pounce on me unforgivingly. And to be sick in a city that you don't like only compounds to the dread. How long can this linger? I had hoped last night I would have woken this morning with a renewed energy because it felt like my temperature had broken. But like a bad April Fool's joke, I rose to a runny nose, sinuses full and with deep yellow mucus. This is a sign for a sinus infection. Egads! No matter how many smiling faces can cure the eyes from speaking truth. I was asked at the airport counter if I was okay and I told a little, American, white lie. I said I was lamenting the children who were killed recently in the USA, and the staff understood my grief. The murders were headline news across the globe. And while I still got on the plane, I prayed that the cabin pressure wouldn't internally explore my brain. I am going too if I can find some antibiotics if this doesn't pass soon. Varanasi is a conglomeration of the ancient and modern. They compete for the attention of saints, sinners and worshipers. Every corner of the town comes pressing down on you, inch by inch, and will uncontrollably rip you apart if you let it. And while this holy city on the Ganges is one step closer to heaven for Hindus, for me it feels like I am between the crossfire of hell and purgatory. Early morning people wash the filth from the street and bathe in these holy waters. Residue from the evening past is swept into the garbage filled streets, children and mothers beg for rupees and food scraps; dogs in the U.S. live better. And it's in those early waking hours that I am called to the river--quiet, safe, away from the chaos of how the day will unfold because each day is mind blowing. Here, there is no resprite, no retreat, no forgiveness to the senses. I am torn between loving the energy of what Varanasi represents and the pain that is all around me--hunger, poverty, death, sadness. I want to raise my arms in celebration while pulling my hair out and screaming on the top of lungs. How can a place that is so important to a community be so vile and inhumane? COSTS 16 December 2012 241R pizza with Pepsi at airport 500R taxi at airport 620R airport to Varanasi 17 December 2012 200R boat ride on Ganges 30R tip for boat driver 300R faux silk scarf 600R 3 silk scarves 145R 2 Cokes, grilled tomato and cheese sandwich 604R 2 beers, garlic nan, egg curry
18 December 2012 180R laundry 30R 7-up 19 December 2012 50R tuktuk to train 560R taxi to airport 130R veg sandwich, Coke at airport 1100R 2 cotton handmade shirts with stitching 100R internet wifi 320R cotton handmade shirt with stitching (3) 63R large pot of lemon tea, large tomato salad, pumpkin soap, nan 13R tip
20 December 2012 - Khujuraho, India The temples of Khujuraho are well preserved with the assistance of UNESCO, especially the western group. The east group are spread all over the city and require bike to get you back and fourth--some are listed well by road signs and others are not--just ask the locals for help. I rose especially early to get to the temples as I wanted to see them in good morning light and not congested with tourists pushing me to get u the stirs or into a picture. i am glad i arrived when I did b/c by the time mid morning came the place was very full. The temples are well known for the karma sutra---erotica at its finest. The temples are spread out in a well preserved landscaped area with green grass and very few hassles. I like this town considerably more over Varanasi. And while the young boys and touts are there to make a sale with postcards and commissions to shops, with a gentle nudge they will go away and leave you in peace.
Last night was a bit rough because an Indian family arrived late to the hotel and were all abuzz with activity. It wouldn't be so bad if they ere quiet, but all systems were go until after 1 a.m. I would open my window and give they a shhhh, but it did little good. It did not seem to matter and had little influence.
By the time 1 a.m. ran around, I had it. I opened my door and barked at them,"Quiet! You are not the only guest here in the hotel. I said QUIET!" They quickly headed into their rooms and closed their doors. All was quiet the remainder of the evening.
This morning I received accollades from others who were staying here as they were thankful that I said something. Why didn't they, I have no idea? The middle class Indian has no understanding of how loud they are, and their children are unruly and undisciplined. It is mind blowing that their parents fail to keep them in line and do not require them to sit and be quiet. It takes a foreigner to put them into their place and demand silence. However the lower cast are quiet and well mannered.
The western temples of Khujuraho are very old. The name Khajuraho, ancient "Kharjuravāhaka", is derived from the Sanskrit words kharjura = date palm and vāhaka = "one who carries". Locals living in the Khajuraho village kept the jungle away as best they could, but it took a toll. They were pointed out to the English in the late 19th century when the jungles had taken a toll on the monuments.In the 19th century, British engineer T.S. Burt arrived in the area, followed by General Alexander Cunningham. Cunningham put Khajuraho on the world map when he explored the site on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of India. The Khajuraho Group of Monuments has been listed as a UNESCO site and is considered to be one of the "seven wonders" of India. The afternoon I took a bike ride into the country to see the eastern monuments. They are scattered across the countryside and as far way as the airport. I am the only one like me on a bike to see them--most tourists have a private driver and remain secluded from the commoners.
Before heading out I was greeted by a boy from the old village. He invited me to see his town an visit his elders; I learned some interesting things when there. The village hosts every cast of Indian and each group has its own temple, water well, barber, etc. Each cast has an chosen elder to represent them and with a mayor casts decisions that are best for the villagers. They do not call the police as they police want money and creates more difficulties for the locals.
If there is a problem with cattle, goats, relationships, business, etc., they request a public hearing by an old tree outside of the temple. Each person will represent themselves and talk about what the problem. Each cast leader will be able to make a decision as to what should happen and decide the outcome of innocence, guilt, fine, punishment, etc. The final decision will be made when all cast elders state their opinion and a verdict is created. If someone is especially bad they are banned from the village and are sent away.
As they are all poor, they have a community school that is supported by westerners. They wear a uniform to create equality, but everyone knows what cast they are from. Children can marry for love or by arrangement; however, if lovers are form different casts it can create problems and be frowned upon and unsupported by their families. The boy shared with me that he is 17, likes boy and girls (but boys more but will marry to meet family expectations). COSTS 400R massage (45 minutes) 100R tip to masseur for herbal oil 250R temple admission 100R bike rental for all day 70R coffee shake--cold coffee with vanilla ice cream
21 December 2012 - City Rat Race
The hawkers of plastic beads, polyester shawls, and poorly made hats called out to passerbys in the mall and encouraging them to step inside their store "just for a look". Their store is the same as every other--just different faces and store fronts. Waving shopkeepers along becomes a bother and in the end it is better to ignore them than to give them the time of day or even a glance. One look and you are snagged like a fish on a hook. There is no escape.
My one advantage is that instead of getting angry like so many, I use humor in my snare to get them laughing. There is no reason to get upset; they only want business in this city rat race. A storekeeper catches my eye with the intention of bringing me in for the big haul. He wraps his hand into mine and brings his arm around my shoulder as if I am his new best friend. I do the same to him, and he is oblivious to my ploy. He gives me the low down on his merchandise--the best in all of India, the purest stones, the finest pashmina, the best quality items made by Indian hands.
It is then that I draw him in and tell him that, "I am selling magic genie lamps. If he will follow me around the corner to my store, I will make his day. This opportunity only comes once in a life time and won't be repeated." He stares in disbelief. "Magic genie lamps," he asks? I tell him, "the lamps are the best in all the world and even the most prized possessions of kings, maharajahs, and prime ministers around the globe." I go on and say, "If you buy today, not only do you get one wish but two for the price of one." He appears skeptical. (He is now mine all mine.) I go on to say that if he acts now he will also get for free a ride around the neighborhood on a magic carpet, but he must act now or the special will disappear forever.
He laughs, and I thank him for his time. The traveler in me has won with smiles and a new found "friend" as I dart around the corner to score again from another unsuspecting soul. Smiles abound in the bazaar as faces I see again grin from ear to ear before I depart the building. Don't ignore shop owners with a wave of a hand but charm them with laughter.
COSTS 15R tuktuk to airport 1670R hotel for 2 nights with airport transfer plus tax 190R Sprite, spring roll, tomato salad, garlic nan at Loknath restaurant in New Delhi
22 December 2012 - Public Urination
What is it about men urinating on the side of the road, around ditches, walls and bushes that alarms me? It is pervasive throughout India. I could understand maybe if it were out in the countryside without washroom facilities, but in the city men pull out their privates and pee without a care in the world. And the world doesn't seem to mind; it's accepted as the norm.
And women...what would happen if they did it? I can only imagine the Indian uproar. I have never seen a woman in sari squatting to relieve herself. I wonder where she goes? And if she did, I can assure you that country would go into a tyraid. If it is acceptable for men, why not the ladies? It's not that encourage it. I am glad they have more decorum than to relieve themselves like their male counterparts. Can you imagine if men around the globe acted like this? One huge toilet bowl for men. It is not hygenic and rude. And in this day and time in this century, you would think men would get their act together and become more civilized rather than acting like cattle and wild animals.
I know what it is like to hold yourself feeling as you are going to burst. I remember when I was in Nicaragua and could not find a bathroom. I searched and searched. Walls and walls of streets and alleys kept people like me on the outside. There was no toilet insight--not even in a church. The one saving grace was that if you were in a tourist area you could at least make a mad dash inside, but this was reserved for tourists and not the common person on the street. COSTS 300R wool vest/jacket 60R 2 Snickers 30R Sprite 40R bag of peanuts--large 280R pasta, nan, Coke--dinner 23 December 2012 - Delhi, Rape and Assault A young man and young woman went to the movies in Delhi. It was late and the sun had gone down. He was going make sure she got home safely. They boarded a public bus, and there were 5 other men on it plus the driver. The other young men on the bus had been drinking and started to harass the couple. They beat them up, forcibly undressed the guy and threw him off the bus. The driver stopped the vehicle, and all six of the men gang raped the woman.
One after the other they took turns on her. She pleaded for help, and no one came to their rescue. After they were done with her, they found a rusty, metal pipe and ripped her open with it. Tearing her internal organs, she was thrown out of the bus without clothes and left. She and her boyfriend scarred. No one came to their aid until much later. The police were called, and they did not even provide her or the man with a blanket. They were left naked, scared, and in turmoil. The young woman was later taken to the hospital and put into immediate surgery.
The country has gone wild with alarm with regards to this recent incident. The young woman has undergone repeated surgeries the last few days. People across the nation have taken to the streets demanding justice. Connaught Place is unsafe as police with water cannons, plastic bullets and tear gas have tried to keep the peace while the people push the government for justice. Police have died in squirmishes, and the people have been beaten with sticks by the cops. Metro stations have been closed to help stop the people from coming into the city center, but private cars and caravans keep the people coming. A curfew is set and the government has stated that people cannot be in groups of 4 or more people or they will face arrest. The people demand the rapists to be hung. Only time time will tell what will prevail. The government too has requested immediate action for other rapes that are occur with swift justice--one day trials.
The papers and television are filled with rape stories...sensational journalism as it is the hot issue for the week. Rape is nothing new in this country of 1.5 billion. But is hanging going to end this violence? Even while government is trying to bring some sort of peace, it fails to deal with the real situation. And their poor attempts to expedite justice in light of his recent case only begs to question this Bandaid to a solution.
It is peculiar too that even if this is resolved (which it won't), the country still allows a man who is married to rape his wife. She does not have a voice. And while some would argue this, truth is men still hold the cards on justice and what is right despite what truly exists. Woman are seen but rarely heard. Men own them and hold them in their place. I feel that as long as a woman has a dowry that must be given to a man's family, she will remain a commodity to be bought and sold. And while the country has come far, it has a long way to go to catch-up with the rest of the modern world.
The civil unrest has left me to my part of the city--an arms length away from safety. I wander down to Connaught but keep my distance. I don't want to be caught in the nightmare. Blockades are evident on the street, and while politicians hope that cold weather will keep people away, it does not detour them. I applaud the women who have come here to be heard; they are the future. And while others come for political gain and for rioting, these brave souls have stirred a nation. The sleeping giant will not rest. COSTS 50R laundry 100R breakfast--potatoes, egg sandwich, drink 20R tuktuk 30R Sprite 20R photo copies (2) 25 December 2012 - Cold Agra Fort
Agra is cold...very cold. The damp air squeezes its way under the door and into my bed covers. No matter how far I pull the blankets over my head, the air finds its way in and deep inside my soul I keep wishing that I had packed my long underwear. My black, wool sweater feels good against my skin, and I tuck the ends of my Polo scarf inside the v-neck. My legs are curled close to my body in a fetus position; I don't want to look outside the sheets as I know the morning air will cut like a knife. None-the-less, I want to get my day started, into a hot shower, packed and ready to go to Hotel Sheela.
The good thing about brisk air is that it gets you moving and into your clothes. No bare ass waitin' for me. Pulling on my gloves and four layers of clothes, I get to Hotel Sheela. All is ready for me--room 106. I ask the gentleman at the desk what he advises to do with my day as the Taj is covered in a blanket of fog. I don't want to waste $15 don nothing. He advises that I walk or take a tuktuk to Red Fort first and to see how the day unfurls. Sometimes in the afternoon the Taj comes out when the sun appears around 3 p.m.
I make my way up the store-lined street. Young boys and old men sit around make- shift fires telling lies over chai. Women scurry about getting children ready for school and sweeping the dust from the front of their stoop. Monkeys and cows gather in the lane and garbage filled corners eating scraps and marigolds. I turn and get lost in the weave of lanes and alleyways. Round and round I go. Each turn looks the same with no idea exactly where I am going. I follow the pedestrian traffic as I guess that they are going to work or to fill their tourist quota. When in doubt, follow the locals.
I find my way out and to green street signs pointing every which way to temples, hotels, and sites. Arrows point toward circles roundabout that don't seem to make any sense. If you follow the arrow you wind up more lost. It's better to follow your instinct and everyone and once in a while ask a traffic cop a landmark pointing you back in the right direction.
In the mist I make out what might look like a fortress; and yes, it is Agra Fort. A large, red monster with an empty moat greets me. Korean, German, and Italian tourists dart back and forth from ticket office to photos with family. I pay my $6US admission, get through security, and try to lose the crowd.
Agra Fort, is a monument, (Hindi: आगरा का किला, Urdu: آگرہ قلعہ) a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. It is about 2.5 km northwest of its more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort is a walled city that has seen history rise and fall across the centuries. The 94-acre (380,000 m2) fort has a semicircular plan, its chord lies parallel to the river and its walls are seventy feet high. Within its walls are fountains, galleries, and gardens.
The fog swept over the fortress creating an invisibility shield around the walls. I could not make out the beginning or the end--only knowing it must be mighty in length because it surpasses the cold that it is wrapped in. This makes for eerie pictures and leaves me a bit frustrated because I cannot truly encapsulate its grandeur.
The overcast sky leaves me bundled from ear to toe. I keep moving just to stay warm. I decide that I am no going to wait for the shy Taj. I find a coffee shop, warm up in a corner and eat chocolate cake and ice cream in celebration of Christmas. It's the first cake and ice cream I have had in almost four weeks, and it is tasty. I am raptured and barely want to move away back into the cold as my hotel does not have heat or other modern conveniences. COSTS
310R Pizza Hut---Sprite, tomato soup, veg pasta
100R large pot of Chai
600R Sheela Inn--1 night
300R Agra Fort Admission
26 December 2012 - Taj Mahal Veiled, she remains a mystery. No flirtacious moments, not even a glance... will she allow visitors to bask in her glory? She rests in my thoughts--a world treasure, a National Geographic spectacle, a tomb of a husband's undying love. And I wait with baited breathe.
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shah Jardan for his third wife (third one is a charm as they say in English). She died giving birth with their 14th child. Regarded by many as one of the finest examples of Mughal art, UNESCO gave it protection in 1983. It took 21 years to build and over twenty thousand people to construct it with artisans from across India and abroad. Built in white marble, the main structure is mighty indeed with two smaller structures made of red sandstone as a guest house and mosque to the sides. Minarets balance the larger mausoleum in the middle and decorated with precious and semi-precious stone. The main building holds what appears to be tombs but graves are forbidden traditionally to be cast with design. The bodies lie below with their faces pointed toward Mecca. Shortly after completing the building of the Taj, the Shah was deposed by his son. He placed his father into Agra Fort to die and later be buried with his wife at the Taj.
The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you." Some say that the Shah cut off the hands and plucked-out the eyes of the builders and artisans so that no other building like it could be made. This is a myth with no substantiation of truth. They also say it is sinking as the river behind it is losing its water. To date there is no proof this is occurring but signs of cracks have appeared in the minarets. What is true is that acid rain and pollution has had an impact on the structure. The air pollution was so bad that a law now requires there to be strict air quality within 4,000 square miles. With the amount of money ($15US/foreign ticket) and tourists (over 2 million) that flock here, it is no wonder they want to save it from eroding. COSTS 250R Taj Mahal Admission 160R Mocha Coffee and chocolate cake 270R pot of chai, Sprite, fried rice, tomato salad 27 December 2012 - Escape to Agra
I wasted a day doing nothing in Agra as my train was to leave at 9:15 p.m. I was out of my room by 10 a.m. and put my large pack into storage. My small one remained with me so I could type my journal.
It was cold last night (7 celcius), and the air was chilled this morning. No hot water greeted me (as it had been promised), and I refrained from shaving. I looked a bit rough around the edges but overall in good spirits. I am ready to leave Agra.
I sat in the dining room and tried to keep warm with hot chai. The sun was probably not going to appear today, and I was glad I went to the Taj yesterday. Keeping my scarf close wrapped around my neck and my Patagonia zipped, I attempted to keep as warm as possible. It was of little use. My teeth began to clatter.
My promised ride from the commission hungry, rickshaw driver was no where to be seen when it was time for me to go. I put my large pack on my shoulders, pulled the straps down tightly and was off.
I was asked by several guys if they could take me to the rail, but no one wanted to do it for less than 100R. I told them I would walk. By the time I got the turnabout, an older gentleman approached me and settled for 30R. (Beware of young men looking for a quick buck.)
The day felt wasted. At least yesterday I was able to see the Taj and connect with John and Janet Anderson. They are world travelers and spend 1/2 the year trampling about the globe. I shared with them ideas and exchanged information (business card and my hotel info). They too were going to Jaipur and would see if we could connect again.
The Agra rail station was packed to the rafters with people, luggage of every size and shape as well as stray dogs weaving in and out of the mess hunting for meal. I got inside and on the board my train had not yet arrived, but it appeared that it was on schedule. I perched myself and pack on a stone ledge. It would be a perfect place to watch the circus and keep my other eye on the electronic, ride board.
As the clock ticked, the board clicked updated and new information. One by one the tracks were adjusted and readjusted leaving everyone on baited breathe and not knowing if they were coming or going. My train shifted from 30 minutes late to one, then 2, 4, 7 and finally 15 hours late! I was going no where. My life was going to revolve around the Agra Fort Rail Station. Afraid to move in case the train would be rescheduled yet again an upteenth time, I decide to call this place home for the night.
I had to pee badly but if I got up my ledge would be snatched up in seconds flat. I decided it was far better to wait and have a seat here than on the cold, marble floor. A least on my perch I had the scan of the room coming and going as well as a hop and skip from the tracks should my train suddenly appear.
The Agra fog settled in around the station and families hunkered down closely to keep each other warm. I was the only westerner here in the hall and knew it was going to make for an interesting evening.
I had not packed any food, but my water bottle was close should I need refreshment. Then again if I drank, I would have to go to the restroom even more and so sparingly tried to keep my mind on other things like reciting mantras in my brain, swaying from side to side to keep warm, and occasionally lifting my rear-end off the stone to keep circulation going through my legs and not having my feet go to sleep. My back was fully upright from the pack. I left like a soldier at attention but sitting intently. I was going to have to survive the evening no matter how miserable I was. I began talking inside myself of poems i had written and lyrics from pop songs. I was not going to be defeated.
At 3 a.m. when all trains were halted, there was a communal sigh among the Indians. No one was going anywhere. While my train was going to be at least 15 hours late, it was better than the 22 hour train that never made it and finally cancelled. I was hoping mine was not going to go that route. I was told by the station master that if the train was cancelled, I would automatically lose my money and not get a refund.
I hoped that my money would not be lost and would be able to get on this train. I did not want all this waiting to be in vain and then have to take the bus after this mess and loss of a day. Only time would tell the truth and what course of action I would take next.
As 3:00 a.m. came to pass and no other trains would be pulling into the station, the people pulled out from the bags and sacks blankets and cotton sheets to call it a night. No one was going anywhere, and this would be called home for the evening. I was the only westerner in the hall as a sea of bodies was cast on the marble floor in a Persian carpet of color. Huddled in family groups they tried to stay warm with children tucked tightly inside the puddle of blankets. Children cried and were hushed with mother's breast milk. I prayed that the evening would pass quickly as I was frozen to the bone.
Remembering the KLM, blue, airline blanket that I rescued from the Amsterdam airport, I pulled it out of my daypack and wrapped it around my head snuggly. My ears would at least stay warm and if my head and core were warm the rest would be okay. The ends of the blanket were pulled across my face, and you could only see my platinum, framed glasses protruding from the opening. I was a feast for sore eyes indeed. I stamped my feet and rearranged my ass on the stone seat so that my body would not go into hibernation. And as they would got into pins and needles, I would rise and sway myself to peace with thoughts of escape. The hands on the clock could not tick fast enough.
As daybreak came, the inevitable change from the time when my train would leave became a bad joke--7, then 8, and past 9 a.m. I kept praying that I would get out of Agra. And the words of Father Tim kept ringing in my brain, "God is all the time; all the time, God is good." And with each mantra I would make empty promises that I would love God more or do some act of kindness if he would rescue me from this present moment knowing that as things would improve these shallow wishes would be forgotten once escape was evident.
A local man came through the hall and approached me. He wanted to know if I would be interested in a private car to take me to my destination. It would cost $80US. I politely said no. He asked why didn't I take the bus and cancel my rail ticket. I figured I had lost this much of the day I was going to persevere and get through this, despite taxis and claims that my attempt would fail. I shared with the guy that even if my train was cancelled, I would not be going to Jaipur via taxi but would settle for a bus. He was not going to get rick on me; I had all the time in the world. (Though secretly I was dreading the idea.) COSTS 16R large pot of hot chocolate, 2 boiled eggs, 2 pieces of toast with jam
1000R 2 night stay at Hotel Sheela
30R tuktuk to train station from hotel
28 December 2012 - Arrival to Jaipur
Janet and John called me to make sure I arrived to Jaipur. I let them know that I just got into the hotel after waiting for 15 hours in Agra. They too had a horror story of getting stuck in Agra as they were to be on the morning train the day before which did not leave until the afternoon. The joys of winter travel in north India. They wanted to know if I wanted to get together this evening. I told I just got out of the shower but maybe we could connect for dinner. Janet's aunt (Joy Lily) from California was visiting India and would be arriving to Jaipur via bus in the evening. I connected with Janet and John a couple of hours later. They came to my hotel, picked me up and we waked over to the bus terminal. Janet had sen her aunt on 20 plus years and was unsure she she would know her or not. he said just look for the Herman nose. And low behold, there she was, nose and all. We collected ourselves and got a rickshaw for her aunt and Janet to ride to the hotel. John and I were to hoof it and meet them. Getting them situated, we got her into the room and then off to dinner at a restaurant around the corner. Janet's aunt was an artist--her strength was textile. She had received several grant from the state of California. She was in India to se local practices that might inform her with her practice. her aunt was in her early 80s and appeared wise. Her hair was braided and tucked to the side of her head. She reminded me of my own mother, and I could envision they traveling together. She had hurt her leg during the journey and needed some assitance getting around, but for the most part she was quick and agile though a bit sow for Janet's taste. They were to be off tomorrow to Sanganer, and I was to see the usual sights--fort, market, temples, etc. We would see if we would connect the next day or not pending how the day unfolded. I bid them farewell and was off. COSTS 50R tuktuk to hotel 155R dinner--pizza and soup 50R chips and Fanta
29 December 2012 - Super Duper I met Shakir at the rail platform upon my arrival to Jaipur. He was in his 20s and a man on the go He was hustling up business for himself. He approached me in perfect English when I got off the train, and I usually wave touts on so not to be bothered and to get handle on the going price. When he told me it would be 50R to get me to the hotel, I said an immediate yes. It was a fair price, and UI did not want to the hustle from another rickshaw.
He said that for $9US I would get a full day with him first thing tomorrow morning. Again, it was a fair price as the country drivers I was paying $6US. We agreed to 10 a.m. in the front of my hotel. He said that I wold not even have to pay him the 50R from the rail as for me to know he could be trusted. And sure enough he was there and ready to go after a disappointing breakfast with poor presentation and dirty table clothes.
His tuktuk (aka as a helicopter) got me from point A to Z quickly and efficiently. He was a wiz at his trade, and he knew where to go. He could get an easy $9US and chill while I toured the fort, palace and sights. It was a win/win.
He named his tutktuk Super Duper. It was done to the 9s--lights, padded seats, chrome, clean paint job. He was proud of his vehicle He was renting this one until he could buy his own. He wanted to be a driver the rest of his life. He was happy to be of service and quick to respond. There was a passion in what he did. (Should others want to use his service his name is Shakir Khan. His cell # is 91-9602737303 and his brother's cell is 91-9829897734. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I asked if he could have one wish what would it be. He said to be happy. I waved my magic wand and said, "abracadabra". POOF! He wanted to know what it meant. I told him it was magic words that every magician would utter. He said that for now on my name would be Abracadabra.
The Amber Fort is not actually in Jaipur but a few miles outside of town. It is actually called Amer Fort but pronounced Amber. The fort was built by Raja Man Singh. It is known for its artistic style blending both Hindu and Raipur elements. It overlooks a lake that used to provide water to the fort. The fort surrounds the hills and was never conquered. The maharaja is said to have had 250 concubines and another 150 girlfriends in town. There are over 100 toilets in the palace with many twists and turns. It is a perfect place to play Hide and Go Seek. The palace is connected with an underground passage to the upper fort, Jaigurgh. The areas used to be protected with over 1,000 soldiers.
It more recent history, Bollywood came to shot a film here. It damaged a 500 year old canopy, drilled holes into the fort stone and paid little respect to this UNESCO site. The government was more interested in quick money than historical significance. The film was halted. Preservation of the palace and fort is estimated to be $9 million US. COSTS 450R tuktuk all day (Shakir and Super Duper) 300R Palace 300R Composite ticket 30R Cemetery 136R cake and ice cream 350R Jaipuri Nagra (black leather sandals) 135R laundry 220R dinner--fried rice, Sprite, soup
30 December 2012 - Hand Block Print and Paper Making Last night I got a phone call from Janet and John to see if I wanted to go with them to Sanger. I thought that Aunt Joy Lily had gone with them yesterday to see the town, but apparently they did not. They stayed closer to town and shopped for pots. I said I would be delighted to go with them as I had been planning on going away and with additional company it would be fun as they too were travelers and not tourists. They picked me up at my hotel and I squished in the back of the ride (the trunk space). We were off to Amjeri Gate but before heading out we would grab a bite to eat at the Indian Coffee House.
After a quick breakfast we crossed the road to catch a bus to Sanger. We were not sure what the schedule would be like as it was Sunday. Buses were on schedule, but the town of Sanger might go into hibernation. We were assured by Janet that the place would still be bustling but not to the usual scale. She had called the day before to make sure that we would not have wasted our time.
Down the typical bumpy Indian road, we made or way into town. We were dropped at the main circle and asking about got directions to see hand block fabric houses as well as the process of paper making. The streets were quiet and not another tourist or traveler in sight.
We made our introduction at one of the houses and were escorted into a dark room. Down the corridor and up the stair, we entered a large flat-like warehouse. Young men were making block prints. Tables were lined up in rows with white fabric pulled tight. They were focused on their work and were very intent. One block was used as the first pattern with a color was placed. After one was done, the next color and new block would be added. It was like filling color in like a coloring book, but one mishap and the entire fabric would be no good.
Each piece was dried on a line with blocks on shelves in buckets and under the table were scattered. In another room you could here sewing machines and scissors cutting. There was a room with 12 men at work and glancing upward as we made our way into the work space. They were quick at what they did with garments being stacked up and remnants piling up in corners for future crazy quilts. Nothing was to be wasted.
I asked how long they had been working here. One guy was here for 12 years and another for 9. At another warehouse an old women had been there for 60 years doing the same work; She and her girlfriend were doing this work together. It was a career for a lifetime. They had good concentration and were exports at what they did. Hands were colored from the dye and rough to the touch.
Further down the street, we met a man who made the blocks. He would chisel away the wood to create a positive and negative space on the block. Where a line was left the color from the dye would hit. Some of the blocks were very detailed. I bought one small paisley pattern as well as a small piece of hand block fabric for my trip back to the USA.
As an undergraduate, I had taken a course in printmaking. We experimented on fabric and paper. I learned the process of batik, as well as hand block and screen. It was a challenging process. The work of these artists was exceptional. Their fabric creations were on the backs of Indians across the nation and in homes around the globe. From shirts, dresses, tablecloths and wall hangings each piece was given attention.
When I went to the paper making warehouse, I found out that this is where TJ MAXX in the USA gets their handmade cards and bags. It is so well done that the place also puts on the sticker for sale. It says the retail price is one thing but now know that it is all a gimmick. I will always wait for these in the future to go on sale before I buy one in the store.
Each piece of paper is handmade, put through a paper bath, dried, hand folded, and glued. The only piece of machinery that is used is for the hole for a string to be placed in their gift bags. Every color and print could be imagined was here. It was pretty amazing to witness this in person. It was also the best warehouse I had seen in my visit to India. Everything was tidy and in place.
COSTS 10R shared tutktuk to Indian Coffee House (Amjeri Gate) 65R coffee, egg omelette toast 135R yard and quarter of cotton, hand block, paisley fabric 15R bus to Jaipur 200R lunch--lime drink, fried rice 10R tuktuk 70R junk food--cookies, Coke, chocolate candies 135R laundry--jeans, 2 shirts, handkerchief, 2 socks, underwear 220R room service-Sprite, soup, rice 31 December to 1 January 2013 - Train from Jaipur to Bikaner
I rode the Indian Rail from Jaipur to Bikaner. It was an over night train that was an hour late. It would arrive to Bikaner in the wee hours. We were to leave at 10 p.m. but with the winter fog the train was delayed. I had a reserved berth which was going to come in handy so that I could get some shut eye before getting into town. I was unsure if the haveli would welcome me at such an ungodly hour or not but was going to hope for the best and think happy pleasant thoughts. The Harasar Haveli is said to be very nice with an old world charm. It costs more than some places I have stayed in India but hoping that will also take into account good hospitality for weary traveler. Pushing my way into the too small doorway of the train, I waddled to find my berth. My pack blocked the passage and wanted to get settled quickly so that others could board. I decided to use the pack as a headrest because I was unsure if I placed it on the floor if some strange critter or liquid would make its way into it. Shortly after getting settled, I wanted to greet others along the hallway. I wanted to see if there was anyone else who was going to Bikaner. The last thing I wanted to do was miss my stop as I did in Agra and end up almost 4 hours in the wrong direction. The other good thing about traveling in a better class is that I was sure to find someone to speak English. As I made my way back to my berth, an elderly man said hello to me. He was going to sleep in the berth across the hall from me. He said he was going to Bikaner. He wanted to know all about my travel--the joys and the mishaps. We had some laughs and before long long our train lurched forward and off to a New Year chugging along the rails of northern India. His name was Collin C. Theodore. He was a Christian and a retired, former Bishop of the Anglican church. He belonged to the Brotherhood of the Ascended Chist and lived in Delhi ( 7 Court Lane, Delhi-110054, tele 011-239685, email email@example.com). We talked for a while and then called his host in Bikaner and told her about me. He said they would be honored to take me from the train station to my havli. He shared with me that on January 1 at 10 a.m. other Christians were going to gather by the Circuit House in Bikaner. He asked if I would like to attend. I said I would be happy to go, meet others in th congregation, and celebrate he New Year with them. I was unsure if I was going to be up to the celebration with over night travel on a bumpy train and sleeping with one eye open, but I figured it would be the right thing to do as he was being so good to me and helping me along my path. When we arrived to Bikaner, fog clouded our path and the chill of the air made you pull your scarf close. His hosts were university professors (communication and geology). They were delighted to meet an educator from the USA. They got me to my haveli, I checked-in without any difficulties and was off to bed. I would complete he registration process in decent hours. I slept for 4 hours and was up and washed by 9. I took a quick breakfast after getting my booking settled, and asked for directions to th Circuit House. Well, folks here say take a left or a right but they don't really mean take the next left. They assume you know where you re going and eventually will take a left or right. I went around in circles trying to find the Circuit House but wanted to get there before 10 a.m. when the service began. Lucky me with asking the rigt questions and saying a prayer under my breath at each turn, I found it! I was the only westerner there and sat at the back of th church. I did not want to stick out any more thn I needed, especially not knowing how their service was conducted or if I would need to take an exit out the back. Collin and another man were ushered into the room, and an electronic organ played. The people sang familiar Christian songs, and I would chime in with English at the chorus. Collin was to give the sermon, and he made an extra specail acknowldment that I was a guest and how he met me. He went in and out of Hindi and English with his message. What a great way to start the year--new country, new friends, faithful in song. The Junagarh Palace is fabulous and probably the best I have seen since my arrival to India. Every surface is painted--walls, ceiling, etc. and there re hardly any tourists here! It is quiet without any rush. It is perfect in every way! COSTS 50R tuktuk from hotel to train station
30R tuktuk to palace
200R fort admission ticket
30R tuktuk to hotel