Friday, February 25, 2005

Life and death in Varnassi

This is my third try at this blog entry - the other two vanished into cyberspace!
Varanasi continues to enthrall me. The ghats (stairs leading down to the Ganges) are busy all day with a variety of activities - people bathing, praying, washing clothes, going to the toilet!!!, all kinds of animals bathing/drinking and then a whole host of related stuff like food vendors, boat trip operators, etc...
The city seems really old - definitely the "oldest" feeling place I have visited in India. The back alleys are quite something. They are very narrow and wind all over the place seemingly at random. I have been exploring them quite a bit and , although I get lost a lot, it is a lot of fun to see what is around each corner. I have encountered several cows jams - where some cows and usually a motorcycle or vendor pushing a wide cart - get all tangled and traffic grinds to a halt. I am pretty amazed, but people actually drive motorcycles down these alleys while pedestrians, animals and cyclists have to jump to the side to let them past. At first I was a little hesitant to go too far a field from my hotel, but people are super friendly and the alleys have way less hassles for tourists than the ghats - which are where more tourists tend to go.
Speaking of ghats - I have watched several crematory ceremonies so far. They are very moving and I can sit for hours and watch all that goes on around them. There are quite a few steps from the time someone dies till they are cremated. The cremations happen 24/7 and to is rare to go there and not see something happening. I have also seen a few children's bodies deposited straight into the Ganges. They row out to the middle and drop the body weighed down with rocks into the river. Children, pregnant women, holy men, and diseased bodies are not cremated - cremation is supposed to purify the body and for various reasons these categories do not need to be cleansed. Women are not present when the cremation happens - I have been told this is because 1) women are very emotional and they feel crying and such would disturb the dead soul 2) some women (on their own or after being forced) have jumped on funeral pyres to die with their husband. The gov't has made this illegal - although I have read it still happens to some extent. Hindus believe dying in Varanasi means and end to cycle of reincarnation and direct access to heaven - so there are a lot of older people here waiting to die.
On my second day here I was given a room with a balcony facing the Ganges. It was smaller than the first room, but I figured the balcony was worth it. It was nice to sit and have some privacy (a luxury in India!!) while watching the action below. However, there was an ugly side to balcony life - there are large monkeys in the banyan tree nearby and a large aggressive one came onto my balcony and tried to get into my room twice! I had to use a chair to push him out the second time and he was not at all scared of me. This meant I had to keep the balcony door closed all the time and since the room was small that made it hot and stuffy in there. I told the hotel manager I was moving back to my old room and he offered to give me a bamboo stick to fight off the monkey with, but I declined.
My room is quite nice - it is large and there are no mozzies...=-) It is on the same floor as the room top terrace - so although I don't have a balcony I can go sit on the terrace anytime I want. The only down side is that it is quite noisy at night until the restaurant closes and then later the monkeys go crazy all night throwing around furniture and knocking over crates of empty bottles. In the morning the terrace restaurant looks like a battle went on - and it did!!! Mostly I can sleep through it all - better the monkeys are fighting each other than me...=-)
On a sad note there was an explosion here on one of the main ghats where I hang out a fair bit killing several Indians and tourists. A gas cylinder rolled into a fire near a chai stand and it exploded. I was 300m away and thought it was a very loud firework (not uncommon) - it was not till that evening I heard what actually happened. I was regularly going to a particular dosa stand to fill my dosa cravings and was shocked to find out the owner had been killed in the explosion. It is sad when I walk past his now empty stand. The city was a bit subdued for a couple days while they cleaned up the mess and held some services for the victims. 10 people were killed and quite a few injured.
My time in Varanasi & India is growing short now. Only 3 more days here and 8 more days in India. Time flies! I will definitely miss India, but I am really looking forward to getting into the desert backpacking. Two things I am craving at the moment are 1) tacos! 2) some peaceful solitude.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Wonderful madness

I had dinner at my hotel last night - the food was not fantastic, but I had a funny conversation with the same guy who was on about Bengali supperiority earlier. He wanted to know if I was single and when he found out I was - he suggested I move to India. Even went as far as saying he would help me settle down here and find a told him that was very kind offer, but I would have to think about it a bit.

He mentioned that he was happy because everyone in the world idolized India - his proof was that so many tourists come here. He asked me what I thought of India so far, but before I could answer he gave me four choices 1) good 2) great 3) excellent 4) chose excellent and he seemed satisfied with that...=-)

I met another guy who would not tell me his nationality - he was on about some alternative way of communicating that broke through normal boundaries, yadda , yadda, yadda...I tried to talk to him, but he just went around in circles not actually saying anything. Nice, but a little cracked.

The ghats are really cool with so much activity. It is a little crazy at times, but the whole places throbs with vitality. I haven't been too far today as I am a lazy I plan on getting up early tomorrow and walking to the crematory ghats for sunrise. Luckily the view from my hotel's terrace is quite stunning so even when I am being lazy I can still take in quite a lot of what is going on.

I hope everyone at home had a good long weekend! Happy birthday Lair...=-)

I miss everyone, but I do not miss the cold!

Varnassi - Old Skool

I don't know if I have ever seen a place that better exemplifies Socrates' famous truism..."...there is no school, like the old school..." just arrived this afternoon and so far I think Varnassi is rad! Everything looks ancient, with winding alleyways leading back into this crowded old city. By far the oldest seeming place I have been.

My two days in Kolkata were relaxing as everything seemed so normal compared to my first visit. Sundar's brother in law got married the day before we arrived so I went to his Father-in-law's place for lunch to meet all the relatives. I couldn't speak to them, but I could tell I was being discussed in detail for a good 15mins while I sat there drinking my tea and being! I was also invited to the wedding dinner that night - which was delicious!

The train ride was pretty standard and I met a cool guy named Ajoy on the train. He is doing grad studies in the US and just visiting his old prof at the University here.

I was a bit concerned about dealing with the touts when I arrived as I had read about how aggressive they were here in numerous places. So I called ahead and booked a room down by the ghats. When we arrived in Varnassi a couple touts velcroed onto us, but we told them to piss off and just walked out of the station to the first major intersection and grabbed a bicycle rickshaw down to the ghats. From there I walked along the Ganges until I saw my hotel. Nobody hassled me at all. I don't know why, but I just don't seem to be experiencing a lot of the hassles people write about in guidebooks & travel stories. I don't know if it is me or if they are just exagerating to make things sound more interesting???

I am staying at Ajay's guest house which is situated right next to Rana Ghat. It boasts a 2 story terrace restaurant with fantastic views of the river and the ghats below. It also has a nice flat area for yoga - so I was sold! The room I got is nice, but I have been promised that I will get a room with a balcony facing the river tomorrow - that should be wicked. Even better - they have a nice selection of books to read so I won't have to spend my $$$ on books. At the rate I read that can be expensive.

I chatted with a couple India gentlemen who were from Kolkata and were happy to inform me wow most excellent Bengali people were and how high my caste was.

I took a walk along the ghats and found a cheap cyber cafe with a fast connection - yeah! That is like finding a jug of ambrosia - nectar of the

Well I am off to explore a bit and track down some dinner. I have only got 11 days here in Varnassi - I better get on with it...=-)

BTW - my return flight to LAX has been confirmed for 8 March 05. I was a bit disappointed to learn my lay over in Singapore was only 3hrs - oh well you can't have everything...=-) Tacos - here I come.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Moving on up

I just got back from the train station with my ticket to Kolkata in my hands - yeah! I made peace with the beach at Puri. By enjoying it from my hotel balcony it was beautiful and I couldn't see any is quite a large fleet of fishing boats that cruise past the hotel in the morning and evening - it is fun to watch them as the sun rises & sets.

I spent quite a bit of time last night cruising Marine Drive (where all the Indian tourists hang out and stay in Hotels). It was a very interesting comparison between that and Western tourist areas. The shop keepers/vendors here are super chill and don't hassle anyone. I was able to walk by stores and look at what they had on offer in peace - something that would not happen in Goa for example. No one was begging - at least I have yet to meet anyone doing that in several trips there. Except for the ridiculous traffic and cleanliness, it reminded me of a busy day in Banff - okay that might be a stretch, but you know what I mean.

I think the shop keepers in other parts of India are missing the boat - I know I would have spent way more money by this point if I was able to shop in peace and browse without having to deal with a super aggressive salesman on me the second I show the slightest interest in anything. On many occasions I saw stuff that I might want, but then I figured I don't want to get into a hassle for something I may not really want. So I only ended up buying things when I was absolutely sure I wanted them - so they lost out on all the possible impulse purchases - which for me could be a!

I am leaving Puri Friday night so I only have two days left here. Not much of an issue since I am not actually doing a whole lot. After breakfast at the hotel I usually walk into town to use the internet for a while and then have lunch - followed by a well deserved nap and then some reading until dinner and then more reading until too exciting, but I am spending loads of time with my Dad - even if we don't actually speak to one in the same room is pretty good for us.

I forgot to mention that Gabriel Marquez's book Love in the Time of Cholera was excellent! I have managed to read 4 books since I have arrived in Puri and will probably polish off another 2 before I go. The book store owner is quite impressed with my reading speed. Now if only there was a way to make a ton of cash reading novels I would be all over it!

I had to laugh last night I was the only person eating in a small restaurant. I had 8 staff waiting on me in the dining room and that did not include the staff in the kitchen. Everyone had a job and would not do anything else. I couldn't finish everything and I asked to have the rest packed up. The 7 guys in the dining room said no problem, but the packing up guy had to go out so it would be a few then they sat down and started talking and playing cards until he returned. There was the big boss who did nothing, the door greeter, the guy who gives you a menu, the guy who takes your order and yells it at another guy who actually goes in the kitchen to yell it at them, the kid who runs out to get you a Sprite, the guy who turns on the fan when you say it is hot and the guy who packs up your must have a wicked union! Oh ya and my whole meal including appetizers, main course and a soda was Rs. 45 or about $1USD - yet I have been the lone diner in so many places like that and they seem to do okay - go figure????

I walk most of the time just to get some exercise, but last night I decided to take a bicycle rickshaw back to the hotel - wow do those guys work hard - especially up hill as they have no gears and can't shift down! I don't mind paying 200% the going rate to those guys - they earn it for sure.

I have been doing all my own laundry in my sink or in the shower as necessary. I knew my clothes were not sparkling clean, but they weren't super dirty and more importantly they did not smell! Well when I got to Puri my dad had some laundry detergent from home which I used - I had been using my bio-degradable body wash to do my clothes as well. Wow - I was quite shocked to see the water turn dark brown when I was my first two the time I was done it was virtually chocolate brown. I had to rinse everything twice to get the water semi-clean. Since I only have two shirts and two pairs of pants I wash something virtually everyday and after two detergent washes things are finally reasonably clean. My next trip like this I will definitely pack a bit of real detergent with me!

For you hockey fans I have been asking around and Indians generally are not bothered by the NHL am I frankly...multi-millionaire players fighting with multi-millionaire owners for how they split up the millions they make from pushing a black rubber puck around the ice???....sorry no sympathy at all!

Monday, February 14, 2005


I had lunch then a nap and I am feeling better!

We have a TV in our room and I have been able to get Animal Planet 24hrs a is kind of weird though because every show I have watch so far is about the the MOST EXTREME ANIMAL KILLERS!!! or some such theme where they do a review of the top ten most deadly animals on the planet. I was kinda hoping for something along the lines of "Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom" guess those days are over.

Although to this point Puri has been the one place I have visited that I would not return to - there is one upside - the hotel restaurant does provide some pretty tasty much consolation, but hey you have to focus on the positive.

I went for a walk on the beach this morning as the sun rose. It was neat to see Indian families on the beach - how different from the Western beach scene in Goa. The women would walk in just a little bit, but they would be fully clothed in a sari or salwar kameez (sp?) pant suit. The men would strip down to a lungi (Indian sarong for men) or wear shorts. Kids could run around in their underwear. I noticed that the vendors that were on the beach were being very chill - no high pressure sales tactics here.

Once they got wet the women would gather together and take turns changing their complete outfits while their friends/relations held up towels to maintain their modesty.

It was quite pleasant except for having to dodge the steaming turds people left all over the beach!

After dinner tonight I am going to go book train tickets to Kolkata and then to Varnassi and back.

My dad is not feeling really well so he is going to move our flight back to LA to early March. I will go back with him as far as LA and his wife will pick him up at the airport in Toronto.

I will use the extra time in the US to do some backpacking in CA and possibly in AZ & TX depending on how much time I have.

Unfortunately this means there is no possibility of meeting up with "The" Jenn in Sri Lanka...=-(

On the upside I will be sitting down to a plate of delicious tacos sooner than I expected and the fantasticality of that cannot be overstated!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

On a happier note I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Valentine's Day!

It seems people in some of the bigger cities (like Mubai) are attempting to celebrate this occasion while more fundamentalist groups want to see it banned. A news reporter on TV pointed out it is a great way to sell people a whole bunch of stuff they don't need and wouldn't normally want on Feb

I just can't believe this shit

I just had THE WORST experience of my India trip to date at the temple in Puri. I am so pissed off I could scream. I was going write a scathing blog about how fucked up the whole place was, but I don't even want to think about it anymore.

If I had to choose between visiting that place again or food poisoning - I would eat some bad chicken!!!!

I know very few things for sure, but one thing I am 100% certain of is that my God isn't sort of cash.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Puri - a beach too far

I made it to Bubaneshwar (2hrs from Puri) with no troubles. I had some very friendly people on the train with me and managed to get a decent amount of sleep.

I was planning on buying a train ticket to Puri at the station, but before I could do that an older man comes up to me and asks if I am "Vikram Banerjee". Apparently he has worked for my dad since he was 12 yrs old and he was sent to collect me. We made our way to the bus stand and took the 2.5hrs bus to Puri.

My father is staying at a fairly upscale hotel on the beach. You would think I would like it after all the cheap rooms I stayed in so far, but I feel really isolated on the 3rd floor very far from all the other tourist accommodations and tourist services (food, email, etc..)

I got up early this AM and went down to the beach to watch the sunrise. It was magical - there was a 20ft area of wet sand that reflected the various shades of orange from the and then the sea was a dark gray colour sandwiched between the wet sand and the sky.

My bubble was burst however, when four guys walked past me into the shallow water and proceeded to squat and shit right this is not! I turned and walked a little further from the water to get away from them and nearly stumbled on a dead dog carcass some crows were feeding on. With a sigh I resigned myself to the fact the next few days will not be a beach paradise like Goa. However, there are lot of Indian tourists here and it is interesting to see how their beach "scene" is different from the one at beaches dominated by western tourists.

I am off to grab a shave!

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Just when I say there will be no pics available till April I figure out a way to share some pics with you!

If you want to see them just go to and login.

account: vikindia2005pics
pw: stoopidpw

The pics are there attached to emails.

I will still be adding pics and captions to the blog in April, but at least this way to can see some right away.

Enjoy! But, please don't sign up for any porn or send death threats to GW Bush with that account!....=-)~

Chilling in Chennai

My night in the dormitory was interesting. Obviously the local expectations for privacy and being quiet at night are different than what I would expect. People kept answer or making cell calls all night and they seemed to be yelling into the phones as if they had a bad connection. I also had quite a few people walk by my "cubicle" and then come back and stare at me. I even had one guy take the book I was reading out of my hands with out asking, look it over and then hand it back after losing my!

It is kind of weird how Indian woman have to cover up and be very discrete about showing any skin, but Indian guys run around half naked all the time. In the dorm bathroom guys would be doing all their business and just ignore the female cleaning staff.

At first I was a bit concerned I would offend them running around in just my sarong, but I got over it.

People here don't seem to have any embarrassment about farting, burping, picking noses or picking their teeth in public.

Heck as my train left Banaglore yesterday to Mysore I watch as guys here squatting and pooing right next to the tracks. They just ignore the train and did their thing.

Two things you don't have much of in India is relaxation or privacy. The only times I really can relax is in my room, but then again a lot of the time it is too hot or their are too many mozzies to do even that. I think this is why India is described as intense by many travelers as you don't get much down time unless your eyes are closed.

Similarly there isn't much privacy either. Not only are there so many people that it is hard to find a place where you would be alone to begin with. And when there are people around they will not feel shy about staring at you if they find something that interests them (ahem....ladies' chests for example) and for the most part Indians find western tourists very interesting and will stare at you until you leave their field of vision. This doesn't bug me very much, but I have met people for whom this is very irritating.

I have been having some serious cravings for Mexican year in Baja it was Indian food/Swiss that I am in India I want tacos!

trains, trains and more trains!

My last evening in Hampi I went up the hill next to the main temple and just chilled out for a while listening to the sounds of the town. I noticed there was music and clapping come out of one of the temple courtyards so I went to investigate. There was a Indian classical music concert underway which was quite good. I found my self head bobbing and clapping in time to the music. I think my next trip to India I will bring a tape recorder as well as a camera - there are so many cool sounds here!

I grabbed a taxi to the Hospet train station and met a German girl there named Sabrina. She was quite friendly and it was nice to have someone to chat with for the 2hrs till my train arrived. I am getting quite accustomed to riding the trains now and have my own routine so that when I climb into my bunk I can just go to sleep. At first I had my backpack with me on the bunk, but that made it quite short and I had to sleep with my legs bent which was not so comfortable. I have become less worried about getting stuff stolen so I just leave my backpack on the floor under the lowest bunk and don't worry about it - I keep my money, documents and camera with me though.

The train ride from Hospet to Bangalore was uneventful and I managed to sleep for 4 hrs until various babies in my carriage decided to cry non-stop - those damn breeders!...=-)~

Sabrina was going to Mysore and since my train to Chennai from Bangalore did not leave till 23:30hrs that night I went with her so I could meet up with Tom (my seat mate on the flight over) who was doing yoga with Patabis Jois (SP?). The train to Mysore was super slow - taking 4hrs to go 139 kms! But, Sabrina has been eating train food for a long time and was not getting sick - so I decided to give it a try. I had a masala dosa on the train - which is like a pancake with veg curry inside. It doesn't sound so hot, but it is quite tasty!

I said goodbye to Sabrina in Mysore as she was headed to visit a Buddhist university campus a couple hours by bus outside the city. Tom and his driver/friend Ravi came and picked me up and took me back to his hotel so I could grab a shower and wash/change clothes. I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to wash up after traveling for 12+hrs. Tom took me for lunch to an Indian family's house. They provide meals to some of the yogis. I had just been thinking I wanted some dal and rice that morning - sure enough I was served 2 kinds of dal, 3 kinds of rice and some yummy fresh soy beans. This was for sure my best meal in India so far.

Tom and then went to Mysore's famous market. They had an amazing selection of fruit, vegetables, herbs/spices and flowers. I loved the smell of the flowers and the herbs/spice.

After that I went back to Tom's hotel room and we chilled out for an hour while I repacked my bag and headed to the train station. After my slow morning train I was a bit paranoid about missing my connection in Bangalore so I left Mysore at 5pm. Ravi demonstrated how to get a train ticket quickly by just pushing to the front of the line regardless of everyone who had arrived there have done this to me several times and I have just been left speechless!

BTW - thanks for everything Tom!

I got to Bangalore after only 3:15hrs this time and had a yummy meal of chicken curry at the station. They also had the first honest to goodness high speed internet connect and it was the cheapest one as well at Rs.30/hr.

My train was quite full, but I got to my upper bunk and was asleep quite quickly. There was a baby in my area, but thankfully he slept the night through.

The Chennai station was quite large and it took my quite a while to figure out where I wanted to go. I tried to get a retiring room at the station, but they were all full up. That sucked because my next train left at 9am the next morning. They did, however, have a dormitory that had spots free so I grabbed a bed there. Not very private, but my bed has a small space underneath that you can lock up luggage. Luckily my backpack is not very big and it just fit.

I had a refreshing shower and washed some am becoming the king of the shower laundry. I had just laid down when my tummy started feeling nasty - not from any food, but from my anti-malaria pill. I tried to fight it for 15mins, but eventually I knew the cause was lost and I went and threw up. I felt great after that and made a mental note to ensure I eat when I take one of those pills. I had a nice 7hr sleep complete with some crazy, but fun dreams.

I got up and went in search of internet and food. I found another high speed cyber cafe - the same company I think. It is so nice to hit a button and not have to wait 10 secs for something to happen. I answered my emails and wrote part of this blog before going out for some food.

There was a restaurant in the station that looked worth a try. I had another dosa - yummy, but I was still hungry. For about 2.5 weeks after my I got sick in Anjuna I wasn't very hungry, but that is past! I tried to order some rice and dal, but even though they had both they couldn't sell it to me like that. So I asked them to bring me a mixed plate of food that contained rice and dal, but I asked them to hold everything, but the rice and dal. They couldn't do that either even though I would pay for the whole thing - too expensive they said. Finally they were able to sell me some rice pre-mixed with dal and home made potato was just glad to have it.

Now I am back at the cyber cafe finishing my blog and surfing the net.

I have an overnight train to catch tomorrow and then a shorter local train to catch on Saturday and I should be in Puri around noon!

While I was eating I watched an older woman follow around the porters who were carrying large bags of rice. She would sweep up any rice that spilt out of the bags and collect it. She had a fair bit of rice already and didn't look like she was going to stop any time soon.

Earlier I saw a man and a woman whose job it was to walk down the tracks and the station and collect any poo that was on the tracks. People are not supposed to use the bathrooms on the trains while in the station, but of course they do.

You know what's dumb? The spell checker at does not recognize the word "blog"

I am getting quite good at using the squat toilets here. I have to say I don't mind them while traveling as I would not want to spend any extra time in a bathroom here than I had to. However, at home I get a lot of good reading done on the throne - particularly magazines. You are definitely not going to squat and read the latest issue of Bike.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

So Punny!

What do you call it when a God get's angry?

A Temple Tantrum....=-)~

Monday, February 07, 2005

Freeze Police!

Last night I hiked up a hill near the main temple to watch the sunset - which was beautiful. I ran into a Dutch fellow who had been staying in the same huts as me at Palolem. He had an American guy with him (only the 3rd yank I have met on this trip) and we decided to hike up to the temple on the hill I found the other day - to watch the sunrise. This was cool because I was going to go alone and the guide mentioned there had been some muggings on the trail as it was isolated and dark.

This morning they failed to show up at our rendevouz spot outside the main temple. I waited for 10 mins and then I headed off on my own. After a while it was quite dark and I was a bit nervous about the possibility of being robbed since there were so many good places to hide and there was only one route to take to get to the top. I had a small folding knife and my LED keychain flashlight with I could blind them and then cut if! But it made me feel better not being totally defenseless. I also wore my trail runners so I could make a quick get away if trouble arose.

I had just crossed a small hill and a minor temple when I heard some people below me on the path to the view point. The were speaking Hindi and started to come my way. I wasn't sure what to do so my first instinct was to hide behind some bushes, but they must have heard me because they started calling out to me.."..hello...hello...hello friend...friend come here..." It sounded wonky to me and I was looking for a better spot to hide, but I didn't see any. They started coming up the path towards my hiding spot. I figured they would find me as my bush was not very big and quite close to the trail. So I started running back up the trail the way I had come and they started yelling and chasing after me. Damn - I thought what bad luck to end up as a footnote in a travel guide book! I had to be very careful as the trail was all large loose rocks - easy enough in day light at walking speed - quite another thing in the dark and running in a panic.

I made it back to the minor temple and noticed there were two western travelers sitting on top waiting for the sun to rise. I said hello and they seemed friendly so I just waited there figuring three against two seemed like reasonable odds and I had my light & knife! Just in case things went wrong I hid my digi cam on a shelf of rock behind the temple.

When the two guys got there they turned out to be local wanted to know why I as running. I told them that there was no way I could tell they were police and I was afraid they might rob or attack me in the dark. I pointed out that I stopped running as soon as there were other people around and I felt safe. I also pointed out that robbers were not likely to yell "....stop we want to rob and kill you!.." They would try and seemed safe - like being policemen for example.

They were quite suspicious and called into the main station. Then they told me I had to come with them to the station. I told them to piss off and that I was going to the top of the hill to watch the sunrise. I said they could join me if they wish and then we would go to the police station. They said no that wasn't okay - so I just grabbed my camera and started walking away from them and up the big hill. They didn't try and stop me.

I made it up to just below the top of the hill with no problems following the same stairs I had discovered on Sunday. I found a guide and his tourists lost at that point because he couldn't find the way up - great guide!! So I showed him the rest of the way to the ruined temple on top. I asked him a couple questions I had about the various ruins I had visited and he couldn't answer any of them. It made me happy I had not bothered to hire a guide.

The sunrise was spectacular! Easily one of the top 10 I have seen in my life. The colours were fantastic and the changing light bathed the ruins magically as the sun came up. I had a good chat with a few people who were clustered on top and then went back down. I didn't see the cops again.

I had spotted some ruins from the top that I had not visited yet so after a nap and some breakfast I went and checked them out. So far I have only been to ruins within walking distance of Hampi. There are several more sites I would like to see, but there is no way I can do them justice in the time I have remaining today so I decided to just leave them for another visit.

Now I am off to do some laundry and pack my things so I can catch the 8pm train from Hospet to Bangalore.

Monkey Business

BTW - for those of you that enjoyed yesterday's long post - don't get your hopes up for too many more. I was in the cyber cafe for 2.5hrs yesterday - which was a record. I am at the same place today and it is in the high 30 degs C with all the people & pcs, but no AC!

In fact I was wearing shorts and a SS shirt last night at 9pm and I was still here must be insane!

I explored another temple complex today - not much new to report on that, but there were a huge troop of monkeys in the area so I took some pics and shot some video of them. I climbed some large boulders (a la Jumbo Rocks) and found a nice shady nook where I could chill out and watch the main temple and Hampi bazaar. It was very peaceful (and cool!). After 30mins I heard some noise below me and saw a few monkeys had come over to the shady area cast by the rocks I was on. They seemed cool about me being so close so I took some more pics. Then I got the brilliant idea I would pour some water on the rocks and see what happens!

As soon as the water cascaded down to the monkeys a baby monkey bounced up the rocks like popcorn and started licking the rocks. That's when things started go mother comes up to keep and eye on her baby and the baby starts moving closer to me. The really messed up part is that the only way down was the exactly where the monkeys were - I had 20ft overhanging drop behind me and sheer rock walls on either side!

So running out of options I shoo'd the baby monkey hoping to scare it away, but all I succeeded doing is getting the mother agitated and making the baby more interested.


I moved as far back as I could and tried to look harmless. Eventually the baby move to the far edge of the rocks and the mother climbed back down.

Definitely a positive change to the situation, but the only way down still required I clamber down some rocks within 4ft of where the monkeys were hanging out. Oh well - I made my move very slowly all the while talking to the monkeys telling them how cool they were and that I was just climbing down so I could be on my way. I chanted a few Oms - figuring that would calm them down.

It worked - they got a little agitated, but nothing happened.

The morale of this story is don't conduct behavioral experiments with animals when perched upon some high rocks with only one way!

The rest of the day was pretty chill. I burnt a couple of my digi cam memory cards to CDR. I will probably end up with at least 3GBs of video and pics.

I am going to go find a cold drink and some shade now till the sun starts to set - then I'll climb a hill near the main temple to watch the sunset over Hampi.

Tomorrow I have most of the day here, but I need to catch a train to Bangalore at 8pm from Hospet.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Happy Snaps

Just a quick note for those of you who have inquired about pictures. I am taking lots of pics and video as well, but it is just way too much hassle to try and get them online from India. By the time I have done my work online, responded to emails and a brief post on the blog I will have been online more than 1hr - things are super slow online.

I just don't have the energy to deal with more online applications - particularly trying to send files.

But don't fear once I am at home I will illustrate the whole blog!

Check back around 15 April 2005.


I started the journey to Hampi at 3:30am on Saturday. I got my stuff packed and trekked across the beach to the main street hoping the taxi I had arranged would be waiting for me there - and it was! I woke up the driver and he sped me to the station. I was supposed to take the 5am train so I became a little concerned when the ticket booth was still closed at 4:50am. They finally rouse just before 5am, but nobody seemed real interested in selling me a ticket. I finally managed to talk to one guy and said I needed to buy a ticket on the 5am train to Margao - he nodded his head in agreement and then went back to sleep on his desk!

What I didn't realize (and presumably he did) was that the 5am train to Margao would leave the station a 5:45am. He must have been thinking damn tourist what's the rush??

On a side note I finally met a "dirty backpacker" (two girls actually) - you hear all about them in books and online travel accounts, but I hadn't met one before. I did start to get concerned that I was a "dirty backpacker" because I wash my own clothes and they certainly are not machine washed clean - in fact I will acknowledge they are starting to get a bit dingy. However, I had nothing to fear - I am a "Martha Stewart" backpacker compared to these guys. They were just filthy - with clothes that were stained a million times and looked liked they had not been washed in a month of constant wear. I didn't get close enough to smell them - I appreciate all life's small blessings. What is really mind boggling is that the fisherman's pants and cotton shirts they were wearing would cost $4USD to replace with new ones, and they were carrying $300USD backpacks. Go figure??

Once on the train I was super tired and kept nodding off. I was afraid that I might miss my stop. We came into a station and I asked an Indian man if this was Margao - he said no it was Old Goa. I was too sleepy to work out that Old Goa was farther North and this had to be another stop. Thankfully I leaned across a bunch of men and was able to read the tiny station sign in the dim light. Sure enough it was Margao!

The train ride from Margao to Hospet (closest station to Hampi) was nice as my car was half empty and I could sleep a bit. When I did wake up I enjoyed some fantastic scenery. The train ride took about 8:45hrs and I arrived in Hospet at 5pm-ish. Like all tourist stops people jump all over you if you have a backpack hoping to give you a taxi ride or some other such service. I have adopted the "pick & roll" tactic from basketball and it works quite well. If I get hassled by someone or I see someone moving towards me I get close to another backpacker (who preferably is really white and slow moving due to a huge pack) and walk by them closely on the opposite side from the taxi driver/guide who invariably locks onto the other tourist. This move has never failed feel a little bad for the other tourist, but only a little...=-)

I decided to walk to the bus stop and grab a bus since they are super cheap at 6-8 Rs. On the way a motor rickshaw guy offered me a ride starting at 100Rs by the time he got down to 50Rs I decided it would be worth it to just get there quickly and not deal with the hassle of the bus. He was a nice guy and gave me a bit of a poor man's tour as we drove.

I checked my email last night to get some project mgmt info for an ongoing project in Calgary, but I was way too tired and hungry to do very much. I had a recommendation for a guest house across the river, but I didn't feel like the hassle of crossing the river all the time so I grabbed a small room close to Hampi bazaar and the main temple.

So far Hampi has two main features - amazing ruins and an unbelievable amount of mosquitos! I have had mozzies every where I have been in India, but Kolkata there would be 5 in my room each night, in Anjuna 20 each night, in Palolem 3 each night - well here I have a minimum of 100 in my tiny room. Unlike everywhere else where they pretty much disappeared after the sun was up until the dusk, these guys don't quit because it is day time! One good side effect of this is that I am highly motivated to see the ruins and not hang out in my room napping. So far I have been really good about taking my anti-malaria meds - even though I get an upset tummy now and then,

I found a nice little restaurant and had some veg curries. Hampi is supposed to be completely vegetarian in deference to all the Hindu pilgrims that come here, but most of the restaurants serve meat to capture the tourist dollar. I have decided to respect the pilgrims and I am going to be 100% vegetarian while in Hampi. In India this isn't much of a sacrifice as more than half the menu in most places in vegetarian.

After eating I slept really well after the long day traveling - I woke at one point and was totally freaked out my the super loud buzzing of hungry mozzies right next to my ear. Luckily my mosquito net has no holes or I would have been done for.

I got up and decided to check out the main temple. It was really cool, but there were a lot of tourists and every shrine had people demanding money if you wanted to have a look, what was worse though with all the hustle and bustle you couldn't really take some time and contemplate what you were seeing. I did luck out on my way back towards the gate I saw an old sign point down to some dark stairs. It actually looked at bit scary as the stairs descended to 4ft high door below the temple. Feeling a little adventurous I went down there and found a shrine to Shiva that seemed forgotten by everyone. There were no offerings, but the shrine had been cleaned recently. I sat cross legged in front of it and took some time to appreciate the effort someone had put into the room. It wasn't as dark as I had thought because there was a small sky light that illuminated things nicely and allowed for a refreshing breeze. Sounds from the busy temple above echoed down to me. I spent a relaxing 30mins there - definitely the highlight of the temple for me.

Andy Warhol says everyone will get 15mins of fame. So far I have had about 5mins with three TV appearances and one magazine article, but I think I burnt through the remaining 10mins today. I was just about to leave the temple when an Indian man asked me where I was from - I went through my usual long explanation that I was born in Kolkata, live in Canada and that my mom is swiss and my dad is Indian - I have to repeat this at least 10 times each day! This guy was totally stoked that I was sort of Indian and lived in Canada. He called over his friends' and suddenly I had 50 people milling about me. He was the only one who spoke English so he would ask me things and then translate for everyone else. They tried on my sunglasses and everyone thought Oakleys were very clear - they also liked my watched and asked how much everything cost. I have stopped telling Indians the truth about prices for things at home it just blows their minds and I think it puts walls up between us because they think I must be super rich. Even when I said the sunglasses were $30USD and the watch $20USD - they nearly fell over.

It was kind of fun, but then things got weird. One guy thrust a piece of paper and pen at me - I wasn't sure what he wanted until the translator said he wanted my proceeded to sign 20 autographs - a squeal went through the crowd when they saw my name was Indian - "...very good name...very good name...!!!" I then posed for 10 photos and shook all 50 hands. It was surreal. After they finally moved on 4 or 5 more people shook my hand - one guy admitting he only shook my habd beacuse assumed I was a celebrity when he saw how the other people reacted.

I felt a little like David Hasselhoff at the Munich

I spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon exploring the ruins. It was a lot of fun, but without the proper historical & architectural background one ruin starts to look pretty much like another. I did find something cool though - I spied some steep rough stairs in the side of a hill disappear amongst the rocks. I started climbing and after 15mins I was at this super old temple all in ruins on the top of a hill with a spectacular 360 view of of Hampi and the remaining ruins. As per normal there were zero tourists up here - it seems a universal rule that if you want to get away from the crowds just sweat a tiny bit and you will have solitude.

For anyone who has been to Joshua Tree you will be amazed to hear that Hampi looks just like Jumbo Rocks! - just with the addition of a beautiful river, palm trees and the ruins of many temples! I spent quite a while chilling on some rocks enjoying the spectacle of tourists below me.

I met several more groups of Indians who were extremely friendly once they found out where I was born and what my name is. I was discussing with one guy how much it cost to travel and live in India. He blew me away by telling me his monthly budget in Hampi was daily budget is 1000Rs - although I try and spend around 600-700Rs most days so I can buy souvenirs and have the odd expensive day of luxuries. Quite a contrast!

By 2pm I was out of water and it was well over 30 degs so I decided to grab a shower back at my room. Since I have no sink in my room I came up a new way to wash my clothes. I just wore everything in the shower and soaped up as I would if I was naked and then rise everything out the same way. Once they were clean I took them off and showered for real.

I would have hung out in my room, but the mozzies made that undesirable so I wandered around and did some yoga by the river. I saw my first elephant and got a video of it as it walked past. I also watch a monkey steal a mango from a fruit vendor and then run up a tree. He sat on a branch just out of reach and ate it while the vendor cursed him - the monkey just bared his teeth and gave out a few"...OOO...EEE's..."

I stopped in a restaurant for a snack of veggie pakoras before getting online, but now I am hungry again so I will sign off and go get a veggie thali for dinner.

One funny thing the dial up connection in Hampi is faster than the cable connection in Anjuna or Palolem - keep in mind faster is relative - it is still dead slow!

Even funnier a dutch guy was just here picking up his train tickets. He was totally stoned and after getting the tickets he asked the guy where he should go tomorrow in Hospet to get the Indian shop owner looked at him and said..."...the train station...!" He then suggested the guy smoke less dope tomorrow so he would not miss his train!!! The dutch guy gave him a sheepish smile and agreed that was a good suggestion.

India - never a dull moment!

Saturday, February 05, 2005


I just got 50 invites to give away for Gmail. If you want a Gmail account email me at

You get 1Gb storage, 10MB attachments and it actually works fast all the time - unlike hotmail and it is completely free.

It is still in beta testing so the only way to get an account is via these invites from existing account holders.

PS - I made it to Hampi, but I am too tired to write anymore. I still need to find a room & eat and it is 6pm.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Here is a quarter call someone who cares!

I laughed my ass off when I read this article - like anyone has sympathy for Microsoft. Especially when the issue is monopolizing a specific market segment.,2125,66460,00.html

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Not so fast there mister!

I have been getting along quite well in India, figuring out how much to pay for stuff, how to bargain, what to expect and such. But just when you think you know what is going on India reminds you she isn't that easy!

I went to book my tickets to Puri yesterday and found all the trains were booked till around 24 Feb. Since I am paying in rupees I can't try and get some of the tourist quota seats they save for foreign travelers. After puzzling it out I found that I could get to Puri on 12 Feb if I went via Margao, Hampi, Bangalore, Chennai & Bubaneshwar!!! It is a bit of a long trip, but it means I get 3 days in Hampi which is rad and I might be able to get to Mysore for a day - still trying to figure that out.

You really have to stay flexible here. If you need to do certain thing s in a specific order at precise times - you'll get an ulcer!

I am going to stay in Palolem one extra day and then take a cab to the train station in Chaudi at 4am. I will take two trains and be in Hampi by 4pm - a short train ride by Indian standards.

I had breakfast today with a Brit that is convinced the Tsunami was not caused by an undersea earthquake. He believes there was a nuclear detonation that caused it and the movement of the plates was a result of the nuke. I couldn't understand if he meant the explosion was a) a planned nuclear bomb test, b) an accidental nuclear bomb explosion of some sort c)a nuclear reactor exploding or d) somehow the result of dumping nuclear waste into the ocean. He seemed to be talking about all of them and when I said "...wouldn't there be a lot of radiation we could detect?..." He closed the discussion by very emphatically saying.."...Exactly!!!.." was very entertaining. Let me know if you hear anything about this possibility.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Coast to Coast

I was talking with my Dad today and his health is not great. I think the pollution in Kolkata is exacerbating whatever health issues he is already experiencing. He has decided to go to Puri - a beach town on the East coast 600kms from Kolkata and asked me if I would join him. So instead of going to Hampi tomorrow I will make my way right across the country (again!) and try and get to Puri by Monday or so. - will defintely be another long train ride(s).

I think this will mean that Hampi & Mysore are not going to happen. I am doubtful I will cross the country once again to get to them, but it is possible. I think I will redirect myself up into the mountains North of Kolkata to see Darjeeling and possibly Manali. I will still make it to Varnassi as that was one of my prime objectives aside from Goa.

I guess I will just have to see how things are when I leave Puri and make some plans from there.

I found a Mexican restaurant in Palolem - as much as I would enjoy some Baja food I just can't bring myself to try their Indian interpretation of Mexican food - go ahead call me a culinary coward - I can take it!...=-)~

Oh ya I almost forgot the da vinci code is a terrible book. Give it a wide berth and definitely don't pay for a copy. I almost want to sue the author and publisher for the time I wasted on maybe that is going too far! I am on to the LOTR so no worries about a good read there.

I have to go do some laundry and figure out how I get to Puri from here.

Got crabs???

I sure do! I love hanging out in the surf and watching all the many varieties of crabs do their thing. It is like having your own 360 deg 3D discovery channel! The only thing missing is the narrator's voice telling you all the useful factoids about these cool little guys.

One strange thing is that I have found several larger crabs (3-4" and the same type) on the beach just outside the surf each day. They are alive and apparently uninjured, but they barely move and don't try and defend themselves or run away. I don't know what is up with them. If they stay like that they will either die because of the heat/drying out or because a bird will eat them. I have tried putting them in the water, but they don't react and stay all stoned - weird.

I have also been doing some research on flies. India doesn't have a ton of flies, but definitely more than you would deal with on a patio in Calgary. Anyway I obviously don't want them in my food so I have been observing how they react to being shooed away. It seems one shoo just makes them evade, but they are still locked on to the target of my food. They seem to be saying it easier to evade and come back to my food than to go elsewhere. So I put forward the theory that multiple shooing attempts rapidly one after the other may make the fly figure it wasn't worth the energy to land on my food and get the fly to move away and start his food acquisition subroutine all over again.

So far my findings are that about 4 shoos seem to do this about 75% of the time. This tactic is only useful if there is another source of food nearby and the people there don't shoo the fly away multiple times like I am doing. I am not 100% sure that my theory is correct, but I will continue with collecting empirical evidence. If anyone at home with a fast internet connection can add any useful info to how flies deal with locating food and dealing with being shooed away send it to me.

I have been reading books here like mad. So far I have read:
- 1 science fiction book
- 1 fantasy book
- 1 WWII spy novel
- 1 science book about Darwinism/evolution and genes
- 1 fictional humorous travel book

I am currently reading the da vinci code. I had read some terrible reviews from literary critics so I didn't buy the book, but I found a free copy here so I figured I would see for myself - so far it is not fantastic, but not bad either. I have a copy of gabriel marquez's love in the time of cholera in my pack for the trip to Hampi and I found a copy of the LOTR's two towers. I wasn't going to bother with it at first because I couldn't find the rest of the books in the series, but I later decided it was most likely my favourite part of the story so why not.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Palolem and I have many little things to do so I am ready to leave for Hampi on Friday.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Nothing "hot" about it!

Hotmail sucks the big one. It is barely functional. Please use my gmail account ( until further notice or don't expect much in the way of a reply to your msgs.


I had a surreal experience tonight. I went out for some tandoori food and while I was waiting for my meal to arrive I observed the whole restaurant staff gather around a TV and intently watch some US WWF wrestling. They were totally into it - gasping and cheering as various people pummeled or got pummeled.

I was grinning from ear to ear - it was so funny (and sad) to know wrestling has infected the Indian subcontinent.

Motorcycle Madness

I have been riding a lot of motorcycles and scooters since I have been in India - well a lot compared to the last three years in Calgary - ie. more than none. I have really been stoked by how much fun it is - especially in less scary traffic situations. I think a bike is in my future - not likely in 2005 for $$$ and logistical reasons, but hopefully in 2006. Luckily I have saved all my bike related clothing and such from my last one so I won't have to reinvest in all the gear.