Back in Punjab and Goodbye India

Tuesday, February 28

It's strange to pull into a city in India and have it feel homey but after two months away it felt like that pulling into Chandigarh. It was nice to be back in the Punjab or at least the UT where I quickly remembered how ridiculously expensive rickshaws are in Chandigarh. It was a nostalgic visit with my favorite paneer tikka butter masala and naan from Kumars in sector 37. I took all of 2 minutes for me to be joined by three guys who work at an IBM call center who proceeded to tell me about all their friends in Canada and how one of them was planning to move there in three months, yep, back in Punjab!

Thanks to Jean and Nacho I had a great sleep and woke up to the nostalgic sound of the polyphonic silent night that is the reverse noise for so many annoying little cars here. So bright and early I went to the FRO office to check out thinking that I'd find it fast since I've already been there twice and both times had a nice tour of the neighborhood getting wrong directions from people. I was wrong and realised at the first wrong building it was a problem. Wrong directions were again given by two people but luckily I recognized the fortified barbed wired building after 2 tries and got everything taken care of. It's hilarious because my papers were literally sitting in a file in a drawer where I'm sure they have been since I gave them to the office 7 months ago.

So now I'm back in Delhi and to kill time I've been actually responding to people who try to sell me stuff and ended up having a nice chai with a guy from Kashmir who owns a shop just off the Main Bazzar.

On that note farewell India. I'm off to Hong Kong ridiculously early so goodnight and good bye. It was good, It was bad and I have scars (especially on the inside) to prove it but I know she hits me cause she loves me. Check back soon to see if India and I are breaking up or just seeing other people.
nicholas, 8:19 AM | link | 7 comments |

Chai Talk - Rishikesh

Saturday, February 25

Location: up the lane from the green hotel with a yoga teacher
Rating: */5

So being in Rishikesh I decided that I have to try a yoga class. I don't think any self respecting person can come here and not at least try a class. I asked around for a beginner class and ended up in the basement of a hotel that smelled like a barn, waiting for a yoga teacher. He came late but apologized that he had another class and couldn't teach me. Great, ok so they called another guy who came 2 hours later. A very nice old man who spoke broken english and I was excited because he seemed like a great guy and even promised that he does not charge to teach because it is not the way of yoga. While I was also initially sceptical he actually stuck to it!

The let down however was my misunderstanding of yoga. I thought we'd get right to doing some streching and a light workout. Nope, turns out I have to understand the essentials of yoga first. This proved to be rather difficult as apparently the essentials are written in a book in sanskrit and my teacher could barley speak english. Two hours later I understood the seven major elements of yoga and mediatation (I think?), had a chai that I'm sure was instant powder with the teacher and went on my way. At least I tried.

Also if you're in Rishikesh, get a shave at the barber shop halfway down the main street in Swarg Ashram area. The posters of "Male Therapy Treatments" and "New Hair Cutting Styles" are priceless. Really, I tried to buy one off the guy but he wouldn't sell. I'm particularily glad to see that the 6 inch mullet, perms and huge glam rock hair for men and going to be the next raging styles across India if these hair dressers have anything to say about it!
nicholas, 9:19 PM | link | 1 comments |

Tourists in India

With only a few days left in India I've been getting rather reflective on everything here. Being in Rishikesh surrounded by people seeking spiritual enlightenment or just getting high also helps. I've been thinking about the different types of tourists that you find floating around this huge country and trying to categorize them. Here's what I've come up with. Please feel free to expand the list.

1. Where's the beach
There are many people, especially in south India who came here for a relaxing vacation only to quickly realize that there are few things about traveling in India that are relaxing. Perfectly representing them were the couple I sat with having dinner last night. They were debating over what cheap hotel to stay at and the women said, "Is there one with a heater and a fireplace we can stay in?" and the guy then said, "well whatever, we need a tv because I'm not going to spend the day in little chai shops again."

2. I found myself
There are many all over India taking meditation and yoga classes or staying in rural areas talking about how the Lonely Planet is the devils book. I saw a guy yesterday who had dirty dreads, spit on the sidewalk and then peed right beside it. Hmmm, maybe I don't want to be enlightened?

3. You have health insurance right?
I figure this is where myself and most of us fit in here. We are having fun, traveling and willing to try anything once or twice. While occationally in trouble with the local police we generally blend (blend is obviously a relative term) into Indian society and can carry on a conversation in Hindi if it doesn't go beyond hello, what's your name and a bartering.

It's a little sad to think I will not be a tourist for much longer :-(
nicholas, 3:02 AM | link | 6 comments |

Identity Crisis

Thursday, February 23

Yesterday a kid asked how old I was and I said guess. He guessed 17 or 18 because I didn't have a beard or a moustache.

Yesterday a guy asked me if I was Korean or Japanese?

This morning a bus driver got mad at me because I couldn't read the hindi sign on the bus saying that it was the conductors seat?

Who am I? I think I must be starting to look a little Indian. Now if only I could grow that moustache.
nicholas, 7:58 AM | link | 3 comments |

Chai Talk - The Amritsar Mail Take Down

Tuesday, February 21

Location: The Amritsar Mail Train between Kolkata and Varanasi
Rating: **/5

It was I high risk take down from what I could tell. I had just fallen asleep an hour before when at 3:30 am I was awoken by lights and a loud commotion in the sleeping area next to mine on the train. As I came to and looked around men were all rushing to look and there was the sound of flesh being hit. I made out that the guy in the next sleeping area over had caught a thief and was beating him up with the help of a few other passengers. It was quite a stir and every male passenger in the train car and probably the next two were crowded around watching and giving a helpful kick now and then. Luckily with my upper berth I was out of the action but also had front row seats. The mob was actually rather gentle with the thief but I think it was mostly because there was not enough room to get a good swing or a kick in.

I learned the next morning that he was stealing shoes but none the less I was happy that I had heeded my hotel managers warning of that particular train line and chained my bag to the seat the night before.

Eventually the guy stopped fighting back and things settled down to a negotiation of if the police would be brought into the fray at the next station. As the train slowed 5 minutes later and pulled in the thief started to try to get away only to be beaten back with the shoes of the man who had caught him. Only in India can mob mentality still maintain Karmic irony. At the station he was escorted off the train but from what I gathered the next morning the police didn't get involved.

So an eventful morning on the train and suddenly at 4am after everything died down everyone decided that it was morning now and turned on the lights and started talking. Next thing I know there's a chai guy on the train yelling chai and it's only 4:30am! It was instant mixed with hot water, not the best. Ouch, not much sleep but the chai in Varanasi while sitting on the ghats has already made up for it.
nicholas, 7:44 AM | link | 4 comments |

Problems with Authority

Sunday, February 19

My day started innocently walking around the polo grounds and being invited to spontaneous cricket games that seem to pop up on every patch of grass, gravel or road on Sunday's. I caught a few stragglers finishing the Kolkata Marathon, congrads to Bimal Mahato who finished in an impressive 2.23.11 on a warm day and a city filled with dust and pollution, impressive.

Anyway my first run in with authority was when I had wandered all the way back to the Horwah bridge and decided to take a walk over it and get a few photos of the flower market from above and the impressive view of the river below. It took all of 30 seconds and 2 photos before a cop was on me tapping my shoulder with his big stick to get my attention. Apparently photos of the bridge are not allowed, opppps. I swear this photo is off the internet and not taken by me, please don't hit me.

So then I wandered around for awhile watching a couple street cricket games before heading back to Park Street. Somewhere I got a little lost and ended up in front of what I guess it the police headquarters. I tried to walk down the road and was quickly whistled at by the guards in their sandbagged machine gun positions saying that the road was closed. Mmmm, k so, finally I made it to the gardens around the Victoria memorial where I was so excited to settle on the nice lush grass and read my new modern history of India book when again whistles were blowing at me. The guard rushed over and was frantically pointing at my sandals I had taken off and my bag and at the grass. Finally I understood that people are not allowed on the grass in the park (which is almost all grass and a few walkways). While that was about all the authority I could handle for the day so I settled back on a bench at the park and watched the guard whistle at at least one person every 2 minutes for the next 2 hours. It's strangely relaxing watching the blind enforcement of rules in India, it could actually be a sport I think.

Well I'm off to find chai as my level is getting dangerously low. The temperature above one of the metro stations said 40c this afternoon and I was having trouble getting in the mood for hot chai but now that night is here I have to stock up.
nicholas, 5:23 AM | link | 3 comments |

Chai Talk - Kolkata

Saturday, February 18

Location: A stand on the road somewhere north of the New Market in Kolkata
Rating: ***.5/5

It's been a hectic week of traveling. Getting to Orissa took me 25 hours instead of 17 because the train was late and I think I might have been on a slow one. The train ride was long and after about 10 hours the cars started to fill with garbage. I ordered lunch and got a prisonesque meal of rice and some spicy red water in two different shades. Yum! On the second night I was walking around trying to get the blood back into my legs after begining cramped on the top bunk most of the day because people kept sneaking on the train and taking my seat when I noticed cockroaches crawling all over the place and then a rat ran past my foot into the next peoples area. In any case Orissa was worth it. It's a very nice place full of temples and nice people. The Sun Temple at Konark was amazing. Kinda like a carved porn magazine / sex manual for Hindus I guess.

After Orissa I was off to Kolkata again on a train that was 3 hours late. I've read allot about how dirty and awful Kolkata was so I had to see it for myself. I've been amazed at how nice it is in fact. It's dirty just like everywhere else in India but the people are very friendly and there are tons of great things to see. It also has the biggest garden and most public space I've seen anywhere in India. Outside the Victoria Memorial there is a beautiful garden, a polo ground and just down from it Tata Steel has a nice public garden and at night there are street stalls with behl puri and peanuts all over. It's great. The flower market under the Horwah bridge is amazing and I got lost for an hour wandering around all the flowers and down to the ghat under the bridge.

And the chai. As I'm sure you read the chai in the south was sadly lacking in flavour and masala. However as I was told by my fiend Kent, Kolkata is where the chai is at. Mmmm, I've been having one about every 3 hours I think. Generally it comes in a porcelain cup that you throw away after using. This gives an earthy flavour even if it is only in my mind. The chai is pleasantly sweet but not overpowering and tea is nicely flavoured with cardamon. It's good to be back in the north.
nicholas, 4:37 AM | link | 2 comments |

Bored and waiting for a train

Sunday, February 12

Well I'm bored and waiting for a train. Chennai had been abit boring actually. Not much to see or do in the city that I've run across. The sites were less than stellar and the city itself is a large mess of dirty old streets and a couple of churches. While the rickshaw driver I had touring me around claimed that the beach I saw is the second biggest in Asia I found it tough to enjoy having just crossed a river that fed into the bay. The river, while not unlike any other Indian river, was filled with garbage but it also had a very strange smell. I think it was a mix of chemical wate and sewage, also not unlike everyother river in India, but in any case it kind of killed the mood at the beach.

Fort St. George was interesting to see with British and French memorabilia on display. It was a major British fort and apparently the French took it at one point in one of their many wars. Half of the fort is offlimits though as with many forts in India because the military has decided to use it as a barracks and training facility. I was trying to find the oldest Anglican church in India which is inside the fort and no less than three times did army officers blow whisles at me a wave that I was some where I shouldn't be. Not a big deal but stop pointing that gun in my direction hey. After finding the church it turns out that it's complely ripped up for renovations so not much to see.

The best thing about Chennai is that unlike other places in the South, they don't seem to get many tourists so I'm a celebrity again. I had a family who might as well have been sitting in the bleachers at a cricket game watching me eat a dosa for breakfast today, a guy at the art museum followed me around and talked to me in broken hindi-english and when I relaxed and read the paper in a garden a guy came and stood right by me reading over my shoulder for awhile before popping the question, "What country?". Feels good to be famous again. I'm not sure my ego can take going home.
nicholas, 6:42 AM | link | 3 comments |

Tamil Nadu takes the first annual Most Annoying Public Bus Award

Saturday, February 11

Well Tamil Nadu State buses did it, they clinched a victory in the coveted "Most Annoying Public Bus I've ridden in India" award. It was a tight race with state buses from all over the country competing. Back in my old backyard the Haryana, Punjab and Himanchal Pradesh buses put up a strong showing with unbelievably tiny seats that leave bruises on the knee caps of anyone over 5'9'' and having absolutely no where to put a bag if you happen to be traveling with anything larger than a purse.

However Tamil Nadu pulled ahead to take the prize. When I fist got on a Tamil Nadu public bus in Bangalore heading for Trichy I was initially surprised at how spacious they seemed and with seats that actually support your head rather than leaving it to flop around as you invariably fall asleep from an intoxicating mix of heat and exhaust fumes. I put my bag right up front and settled in. As soon as the driver got on he looked disgusted that I had put my bag at the front of the bus and motioned to the back where the ticket taker showed me I could shove it under the back seat. Fine, this happened on every bus I rode here and I always ended up in the back seat shoved between 4 other sweaty men being thrown at least six inches into the air on every bump.

That wouldn't be so bad except none of the buses here seem to have a back door on them. I think they spend the money on dvd players instead. So anyway, bumps sent me and my bag hurling towards the ditch while the bus went along at 50 km an hour. Trust me though it feels allot faster when you are sitting right behind an open door being sand blasted by the dirt of the road.

The real toppper though is that somehow the government decided a good way to spend money would be to install dvd players and a sound system on each public bus. This allows for Tamil movies and music to be played at a deafening volume for the entire journey, yey. Now these are not like big budget hindi productions. The movies are like bad kung fu with chubby Indian guys doing the worst fight scenes you've ever seen and sporting Tom Selek mustaches. The music that is generally played is a piercing high pitch woman and the lyrics for one song were literally five minutes of, lalalalalala, in various pitches over a synth line. Actually the whole thing feels a bit like your in some kind of postmodern installation piece. While entertaining for about 10 minutes it wears thin quickly and today I had to restrain myself from ripping the speakers off the roof of the bus and beating the dvd player with them.

Stay tuned for photos, stupid iway wont let me pull their cpu out and hook up my ipod.
nicholas, 4:22 AM | link | 0 comments |

Chai Talk

Thursday, February 9

Location: Sweet Shot beside the Meega hotel Trichy, Tamil Nadu
Rating: */5

First I must apologize to my faithful blog readers. I've been neglectful the past two weeks while I was touring around with my parents. I enjoyed living a slightly more comfortable life in India traveling through Rajasthan with a car and driver, flying to Goa and spending a couple days in Mumbai. I think was a good guide and for the most part I kept my parents out of trouble while introducing them to the wonders of India including a stop at the post office on the morning of their first day where they saw first hand how many people and bribes it takes to mail a package to Denmark. Thank God, I just heard from Mads he actually got it to!

So after the tour with my parents they were nice enough to fly me back to Bangalore to start my travels in the South again. I went straight from the airport to the bus stand and hoped on the first public bus to Tamil Nadu. It felt good to be uncomfortable and have Tamil movies blaring over the bus again as I made my 10 hr trip to Trichy. After asking numerous people which bus I should be on and trying a few I finally made it at 12:30 at night and settled into a decent hotel near the bus stand. Yesterday I saw the extremely disappointing rock fort temple which was really just a bunch of stairs going up an 80m piles of rocks with some stands selling fruit and an obviously recently "reconstructed" temple on top. Reconstruction seems to have meant adding railings and a marble interior reminiscent of a hospital. At least the second temple was cool. The Sri Ranganathaswamy Templa is huge and actually still in use. It was filled with Hindus walking around a praying, having lunch, and an elephant moving logs around. The large brightly painted gateways were amazing and the atmosphere was fantastic. Of course it also had the standard temple shops selling crap and priests asking for donations but it was one of the coolest hindu temples I've seen and the least annoying for tourists.

After diner I was craving some sugar so I went the sweet shop near my hotel. Their limited menu of sweets seemed to be gulab jammin and halwa. I went for the gulab jammin which I think must have been package because it was awful. My masala chai came after the gulab only to had no masala and a thick skin on top. The milk was heavy and the tea light giving the feeling of drinking whole milk. I left unsatisfied especially after being spoiled with good chai in Delhi and Rajasthan when traveling with my parents. I have to say the best chai in India is in the north. I think I might just stick to fresh juice and lassi's down south. Luckily when I got back to my hotel I realized I had a couple english channels and one was playing Clueless, ahhh perfect way to end a day in Trichy
nicholas, 1:21 AM | link | 1 comments |