A Travellerspoint blog

February 2008

Varanasi

The Ganges River....."OF DEATH....."

So we left our driver and opted for trains after all. Well the train was planned all along, but I feel better if I say we got rid of him and his "DRIVING OF DEATH....."

The train was an all nighter, but that was OK because we both had a bunk-beds and slept all the way to Varanasi. We had a few tense moments when none of our ticket info matched the train that pulled up at the appointed time, but a few questions and a sprint down the platform had us set right. Varanasi looks and feels like a very old city. We are staying in a part of the old city, and found it quite the challenge to locate the hotel we had set our sights on. It only took a Tuk-Tuk from the railway station and a 45 minute walk with our back packs through a veritible labrinth of alleyways.
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The whole old city is off limits to cars. Not because they want to preserve the old buildings, but simply because they can't fit. It is a maze of cobbled side streets with; as far as I can tell; no maps. It is likely a good thing that I don't have my nose stuck in a map, if I had I would have stumbled into a watery cow pie long ago. The streets are littered with the nasty things. There is a cow around most corners, and the ones that don't have cows have either tonge waging billy goats, or crazy monkeys imploying facial aggression tactics.
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Our hotel is great, cheap, has tons of cool travellers to talk to, and one of the best views in Varanasi. Right now we are in the roof top restaruant overlooking the burning ghats beside the Ganges River. From where we stand we can see the river streach in either direction.
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It was rather sombering the other day, as we sat on the steps of the ghats and watched multiple families in various stages of relinquishing thier dead to the river. The final stage being burning the body on a pyre (we counted 15 different pyres) and then scattering the ashes in the river. That is of course unless you are one of the fortunate/unfortunate few who fit into a "exception to the rule". They are: Holy Men, Pregnant women, children, lepers (people with Leprosy.....It still exists here), and people who have been bitten and died of a Cobra bite. If you are among this privleged few (or many... as it would seem) then you forgo the intire burning ritual and they tie a rock to your wrapped up body and throw you in the river whole. Which is all good and fine, unless you use bad rope or didn't attend boy scouts and the rock falls off. Which apparently happens often. Then the body floats back to shore. If your body makes landfall on the city side of the river they wrap you back up, tie on another rock and try, try again. If however, your body catches a current that carries it to the far shore..... well if you really need to know email me, it's a bit much for the blog. - Nate
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Varanasi is certainly something else. It is just as colorful as the rest of India, if not more. I have spent hours wandering along the ghats taking pictures of holy men, chilren and water buffalos bathing, women doing laundrey and laying it to dry on the ghats and all manner of animals.

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It is possible to experience sensory and emotional overload here. There are so many children begging and dogs on the verge of death. Ahhh it is heart wrenching! I wish that I could start a foundation for the children here. I see far too many working when they should be enjoying thier childhood. There are also many old men and women walking around barefoot begging with little whisper voices. There are so many social problems that I don't even know where to begin. There are many beautiful aspects of their culture as well though. I love watching boys walking home from school with their arms around eachothers shoulders, kids singing at the top of their lungs, the smell of cloves in the air, strings of flowers hanging in the trees and floating down the river. I love to watch the the shy looks that children give me turn into huge broad smiles when I say "Hi". This is a precious country dispite its hardships.

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Posted by Seaurchins 04:02 Comments (1)

Rajasthan

The Land of Maharajahs

Rajasthan......

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Where does one begin to describe this place? I have only been in Northern India for a little over a week and already I am in love. Everywhere I turn there are cows meandering down the street, women in every imaginable color of sari, and huge towering forts perched on cliffs. It is sensory overload and it is everything I dreamed it would be. I have already haggled with vendors over pashmina's, eaten a year's worth of curry, and ridden a camel in the desert. Our accomodations so far have felt like 5 star hotels compared to many of the places we stayed at over the past four months. We are fairly hardy travellers now and I doubt that anything could phase us at this point in the game. Lately we have been staying in old 17 century mansions called havalis. They are carved out of red sandstone and painted with exotic murals and designs. The best part is that they are so cheap.
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My shopping paradise!!!

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After Nathaniel and I arrived in Delhi we started to research the best way to travel around India. Initially we had asssumed that we would take the train, as that is the most common and cheapest way to travel, but then we read that India's rail system is the most dangerous rail network in the world. It crashes anywhere from 4 to 500 times a year. Logically we started to explore other alternativeso only to discover that more than 233 people die on India's roads each day- that is 85,000 a year! We thought that figure sounded a little exadurated, but sadly it isn't. Nathaniel's friend Dan Richardson had warned us about India's "death traffic".... At the time we didn't quite grasp the full meaning of those words. Let me assure you, we are well aquinted now. We decided to hire a private taxi for two weeks so that we could see all of Rajasthan. We figured it was a little bit more expensive but it would be more convienient and would save a lot of time. For the most part it has been a good deciscion, we don't have to wait for hours for a train that may or may not come and we have the convienence of stopping whenever we want to. The downside has been the scary "death traffic". Here is an exerpt from from one of my journal entries:

" What a hair raising journey today has been so far. The stretch of road between Udaipur and Puskar is by far the most dangerous road that we have driven thus far - and not because of loose gravel, steep cliffs or blind corners but because of reckless drivers - ours being one of them. In the begining it was his constant use of his horn that was making us deaf and incredibily irritated. Nathaniel put in earplugs after counting 73 honks in 30 minutes. Painful. Now we are white knuckled with fear that we are going to be sandwhiched between two transport trucks or have a head on colission by a truck hurling towards us in our lane. It is utter insanity! I thought that perhaps I was immune to feeling afraid on third world roads, but apparently not. Our driver only stopped passing trasport trucks on blind corners after we yelled at him that we didn't want to die!"

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Alice the camel.. just kidding! There are camels everywhere and i mean EVERYWHERE

Aside from that scary traffic I really can't complain about India. The service here is impecable and people are incredibly friendly. We are throughly enjoying all the old forts, some that are hundreds of years old and full of intrigue. Today we climbed up a mountain to an old amory and saw Asia's largest cannon. Nathaniel was impressed that it could shoot a 50 kilogram cannon ball 40 kilometers. Crazy.

- Jocelyn

It feels kinda like we have hit our second wind. There was a time for awhile that travelling was getting stale, and I was finding it increasingly hard to remain enthusiastic about another 4 months of traipsing across the planet. But I'm quite happy to say that I'm back in good form, with Jocelyn close on my heels to keep me from antagonizing the monkeys. There are a lot of monkeys in India. - Nate
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Posted by Seaurchins 07:59 Comments (3)

India

Much better than we expected.

India is great. It is sooo much better than we expected. After 4 months of travelling it is nothing out of the ordinary to brush up against cows as you shop for new pants, or grab a bite to eat. We absolutely love how much better the animals get treated here than in most all of the rest of the world (better than some of the people). The condition of the animals is better most likely because of the Hindu/Buddhist influence. Like ...it is sooo refreshing to not look over and see a deplorable animal being beaten to pull it's load. All the working animals we see here are healthy and seemingly happy.
The food is sooo delicious, and CHEAP!. We have'nt had a meal yet that has been over $4.00 ...for both of us! And ya all know how I eat. We are very glad to be here and tomorow we are off for a 14 day tour of Rajasthan. We are planning to do a Camel Safari for Valentines that includes sleeping under the stars in the desert. Sorry if the other entry is a downer, but a few people have been waiting for the full version of what went wrong. I don't know whats wrong with us but when it rains ... It POURS. Nate

Posted by Seaurchins 08:51 Comments (1)

We "Finally!!!" got to India

The Arduous Journey...

So to say that we took the scenic route getting there would be a gross understatement. We definately took the long way around, but extremely short on the scenic part. It's sooo infuriating I'm getting myself all worked up just trying to figure out where to start.
Ok, well we left Zanzibar fully relaxed and sooo ready to begin a new aventure. We headed over to the capital city of Tanzania (Dar es Salam) "hereafter known as Dar" . Going to the airport we felt great because the flight to India was one of the last E-Tickets that we had so we knew that our flight would go off with out a hitch. And it did, We flew again with Quatar Airways (an amazing airline) like Air Canada used to be 25 years ago. I would fly with them agian anytime. Their airport is state of the art. After a 4 hour layover in Doha, Quatar, we grabed out final flight to India. We expected India to be around 16-20 celcius. Nope, 5 degrees. Once again in shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops. We head through Imigration....and .... "Denied"!!!
The most loathsome phrase in the world goes something like this "Return to point of origin."
Soo, if you remember, our passports were stolen in Equador. Well our Visas to India were in those passports. We had visited the Indian consulate in Madrid and they assured us that it should be no problem. We emailed several agencies and felt confident that all was in order. We even explained our situation to the airline prior to boarding and they seemed to think that it could be sorted out in Imigration. Other travellers had assured us that they could look us up on thier computers when we got there. (What computers. Indian Imigration.... in a major airport... in a major city.....They didn't have a single computer). I should have figured. 3rd world contry, 3rd world procedures.

Long story Long, The Indian Imigration denied us entry, and put us right back on the plane we came on and sent us back to Africa at our expence. We spent 49 hours on planes, or in airport terminals. I think airport terminals were designed so that you are physically unable to get more that 30 seconds of sleep at a time. During the stopover we did everything in our power to get routed to Thiland instead. I even got the flight figured out and gave them my credit card, only to have it returned half an hour later. I was told that it was against airline policy to buy tickets or accept payment for flights while I was in transit. What a roller coaster of emotions

So we arrive back in Tanzania, and have to obtain new Visas for Tanzania because when we left the country the first time they cancelled them, (more money down the crapper). Oh ya,...We got to Tanzania, but our bags didn't. It takes 10 days for our bags to find us. (we rangled $200 out of the airline for "interm relief" another warsaw convention provision.) We spend those 10 days wearing exactly the same clothes while we harass the airline to get our bags, apply for new Visas for India, and read alot of books. Almost 2 weeks later we board another plane to India, with new Visas, and cross our fingers. Sigh, we are very glad to now be in India. Hey, I keep being told that it'll make a great story, what do you think, Good story or what....NOT!!!

Posted by Seaurchins 08:03 Comments (1)

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