Monday, November 26, 2012

India introspection

I've been thinking a lot these last three months. When you travel solo you tend to do a lot of that, and India has been a gold mine of topics to think about. Like what is important to me. And how my capacity for change and for dealing with stress has surprised me. Right now, with one week left of my trip I am thinking about those things here in India I will miss when I go home. The things I'll be grateful to leave behind. And what I'm most looking forward to when I get back.

Quick list:

Things I'll miss from India...

* Invitations at nearly every shop to sit and have a cup of chai.
* Color everywhere I turn around.
* Paying the equivalent of fifty cents for a 2L bottle of water.
* Prices in general. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be shell shocked when I get home and am faced with the prices of things.
* The genuine friendliness of people as a whole.
* Kids. I can't get enough of how wickedly adorable the children are in this country. *Laughs*
* Enough sun to actually give ME a tan.
* The sense that I'm doing something with my life.
* OMG the food!!!
* Trains.
* Super inexpensive doctors and medicine!!!
* Haggling.
* Crazy ass motorcycle rides.
* Random gifts from total strangers.
* Laundry service so cheap I can afford to not do my own laundry!

Things I will NOT miss...

* Constant noise.
* Barrage of attention everywhere I go.
* Indian men.
* Pollution.
* How godawful filthy my fingernails get.
* Ditto feet. Manicure and pedicure are HIGH on my list of things I'll do in Delhi the day before I leave (cheaper than waiting til I get home!)
* Cold showers.
* Temperamental power.
* Iffy wifi.
* Hard beds.
* Mosquitoes. (Yes, I am actually thrilled it will be winter when I get home.)
* Foreigner vs Locals fees.
* Crazy ass driving.
* Not understanding 95% of what is being said around me.
* Having to carry toilet paper around with me.
* White bread.

Things I'm looking forward to from home...

* A LUSH vanilla bath bomb in a hot bath.
* Going to the movies!
* Steak, baked potato, and a huge salad.
* Cheeseburger.
* KRAFT Mac and cheese.
* Bacon and sausage.
* Coffee with lots of cream and sugar.
* Bottle of Champagne to celebrate being home again.
* Hugs hugs hugs hugs hugs hugs hugs from my friends.
* Ditto with cuddles.
* Gummy bears.
* Walking down the street and being virtually invisible.
* Space around me.
* My laptop.
* My teddy bear.
* A pair of comfy blue jeans.
* Familiarity with my environment.
* Dating again.
* Telling everybody about my awesome trip to India. :)
* Finding excuses to wear my sari.
* Celebrating the holidays with people I love.

Pushkar and the Pushkar Camel Festival

Oh my god.... This was even more awesome than I ever could have imagined. And I am so glad I decided to stay for the duration because not only did my ankle prevent me from being able to do everything all in a single day but also because there was just so much to see every day.

I have enjoyed meandering through the crowds of the bazaar, listening to calls of "nice tattoo" and ignoring the pleas for "no money, chapatti" from the begging children. Hearing the rumbles that warn of an approaching motorcycle. The popular elephant or camel chimes that dangle from practically every third shop that tinkle at the slightest breath or passing bicyclist. The chattering in many different languages. Drums and other musical instruments all through the day. Chanting. There is nowhere to go for even a moment of silence.

Watercolors
The entire town was just a burst of color... from the ever popular pashminas and clothes to the piles of red and orange powder you use to mark your forehead and various flowers (nasturtium, marigold, and orchid blossoms) to offer if visiting a temple. Saris and punjabi suits of every color imaginable make the women in the streets remind me of an explosion from a crayon box and I'll keep these images in my memory forever.

And the scents were enough to make me want to just stand still and close my eyes and try to identify each individual one. Spice and perfume shops. Incense burning at the temples and open air kitchens making my tummy rumble even if I'd just eaten. One particular stretch of the bazaar had three coffee shops offering REAL coffee, complete with that scent I hadn't realized til now I had missed so much. But not all scents were good. Men go to the nearest wall or corner to urinate, and one place even had "stalls" right there in public. I'd have to hold my breath every time I went by that particular location or find myself gagging and wanting to throw up. I have no idea how the people who run the shop across from it work in that stench day in and day out.

The town of Pushkar is situated around a small lake, considered extraordinarily holy to religious types. Holy men, both genuine and those just after your money, are there to lead you to the water and offer blessings. I managed to piss off one of these men when I went down and got a plate with powder, flowers and rice thrust into my hands. The man who took me down to the lake asked questions and started leading me in saying a blessing for my family until he reached the part where I was supposed to pledge a 7000 rupee donation to the temple for my family. I stopped him right there and said no, I am not saying that. He got all huffy at me and wanted to know how much I would give for the blessing. I had actually deliberately left my money in the hotel room that day and when I told him I had no money on me he got so angry! Started calling me a liar and telling me I'd be receiving bad karma for not giving to the temple. That I obviously have money to give or I wouldn't be traveling. I told him I would have been more than happy to come back another day to leave the temple an anonymous donation but how dare he accuse me of lying, that he is just a fraud out to steal from innocent tourists. He snatched the plate of stuff out of my hand and strode off. I couldn't believe that jackass. Another day I was at the lake up at the top of the steps, watching the lighting of all the oil lamps and prayers when a holy man gives me a flower and wants me to follow him down to the lake. I told him no, and showed him my wrapped ankle. He was pissed too. Around town you see a lot if holy men (wearing orange, usually) with little brass jars as they wander around hoping for donations. I was more likely to donate to them than to the predatory ones at the lake.

I don't know if this is just during the festival or if it's like this here all the time.... But you have to be careful taking pictures of people and I'm glad I prefer candid snapshots anyway. Many people, mostly women and girls dressed up in their finery but it has been a common practice for most people, come up and offer to have their picture taken. But then they want money in return. I am tempted to reverse it. Sooooo many people want my picture that I want to start asking for ten rupees for every photo. But I doubt I'd ever do that. It's truly not that irritating for me, and it really does appear to make these strangers' day to be allowed to take my picture. It's kind of flattering, actually.

All of this just as I walk from my hotel through the Bazaar and make my way out to the actual festival grounds.

The festival itself... *Smiles* Has been just as much a feast for my senses. I rode the rides, and I have never in my life been more scared than during the Dragon Boat ride. You know.. The ride where it swings back and forth and higher and higher til you're almost flying vertical on the high up and down swings. Back home, these rides have really major safety regulations. Bars and seats designed to protect you from falling out of the ride. Yeah, not even a seatbelt here. I had one hand gripping the seat in front of me and my arm curled along the back of my row of seats with my knuckles white from the tightness of my grip as I curled in on myself and tried not to scream in real terror. The kids seated a few rows behind me were so cavalier about the danger and laughed at my fear. But trust me, once was enough for me on that particular ride. And I've had nightmares every night since going on it a few days ago. Even the Ferris wheel was slightly scary due to the speed of the rotations and no door on the baskets. But the views were so worth the fear that I've gone up several times already and will probably go up again at least a few more times. For only 20 rupees a pop, it's cheap entertainment.

Winner!
Most of the "action" happened in the big sand filled stadium. Locals vs Foreigners football match played in deep sand. Most of the players played barefoot. And foreigners won on penalty kicks! Go foreigners! *Laughs* I missed the camel race, and the camel and horse dancing. But I loved every second of the camel decorating contest. And the turban tying contest was chaotic and crowded and I couldn't see through the crowd. But I was able to get a pretty good view of the mustache contest, and that was simply awesome! One man (I'm pretty sure he was the winner, but I couldn't hear or see when the winners were announced so I don't know for sure) had a mustache so long he raised his arms up holding up the 'stache and it still dangled nearly to the ground!

This guy came in second place in the camel decorating contest...the camel, not me.
Everywhere you look there are camels. Decorated, waiting to be ridden. Decorated, hooked up to carts and being offered as "camel taxi, I give you good price!" Camels in the distance. Camels on leads. Baby camels. This festival often gathers as many as 50,000 camels. I heard this was a smaller year, yet I was still in awe of just how BIG everything was.


Hi, I'd like a tattoo with a side of hepatitis, please!
 More stalls and tents line the entire festival grounds. And if people don't have a tent they just lay their wares on a tarp on the ground. That includes men with inks, needles, and tattoo guns. Right there in the sand, offering tattoos. Never! That was my thought on how scary the thought of getting a tattoo like that was. I think I am reassured that while I've seen a half dozen or so of these "tattoo purveyors" not once have I seen anyone actually being inked. It makes me have hope that people are smarter than I often give them credit for.

I found an Israeli cafe, with very good and very cheap food. I've eaten there a lot. I checked out a rooftop restaurant recommended by the guide book. Expensive. And food wasn't even that good. Except the dessert. Their lemon tart was spectacular. I plan to go back one more time just for the tart.

With just one week left in India I have found myself slowing down til I'm ready to just curl up and wait for the 3rd. I'm ready to go home.

















Udaipur

Looking back at it now I am very glad I gave myself time in Udaipur. Not because the city was particularly awesome, but because for the first half of my stay I was staying in the home of a couple who masqueraded as couch surfing hosts but in reality were more like an unofficial guest house and the house was a fair distance from the heart of town. I couldn't afford to get rickshaws every day if I wanted to save money (as I'd hoped to do by staying with this couple to begin with) and I also got rather tired of having no real privacy. So I faked a migraine and tried to at least get them to leave me alone so I could read or write in my journal in peace (it still didn't work, mind you, which irritated me). I did manage to get out a couple of times though with first one fellow guest and then another and walk around some, and what I saw was beautiful. But I needed to get the hell out of where I was staying if I wanted to enjoy my stay properly. And I am glad when my fellow guest also got fed up and also wanted to leave. I wasn't alone.

Now understand... My hosts weren't bad people, they were very nice, and the food was very good. But I expected something different from a couch surfing experience that I did not get here. And my final day they got into it with Gabe, my fellow guest, and I felt they kept dragging me into the middle and that did really piss me off. I will not call them friends, and while I felt that they did not understand or respect the philosophy behind couch surfing I am not going to leave a bad review of them on the site because they were at least upfront with me that staying with them would cost money. I went into it willingly.

Anyway...

The second half of my stay in Udaipur was marked by me spraining my ankle. Gabe and I had gone up to a hotel recommended to us by a number of people we'd met to see if they had any rooms, and when they did not we started back down the white marble stairs to check somewhere else. And I swear to you I was being careful on the stairs! I didn't want to slip and take a tumble. I had made it to the first landing and I stopped to look at the stairs in front of me, to see if the landing was flat or if it had a step there and it LOOKED flat...so I took a step and twisted my ankle in the fall. I ended up sitting on a stair for a good twenty minutes before I could handle moving. Gabe went out on his own to see if he could find a hotel with a couple of rooms, and I went back up to the hotel's rooftop restaurant to wait in relative comfort as my poor ankle throbbed. Luckily I've sprained my ankles enough times to know when a sprain is mild or serious, and I could tell this was a mild sprain. I just had to be careful with it.

Because of Diwali being the next day Gabe was having trouble finding a hotel that could fit both of us, so we agreed to split up. And the manager of the hotel I was at offered to make phone calls for me to help me with my search, since I couldn't exactly wander around on my own at that point. He found me a room within my budget at a hotel not far from where we were, and after hobbling my way over and having my stuff brought over by another hotel employee I spent the rest of the day with my ankle propped up with some ice on it that was provided by the guy at the front desk.

The next day was Diwali, and I really wanted to see things. That morning I had wandered a bit and met a group of Kiwis who invited me to join them that evening for a party. And since I had the pretty sari from Jaisalmer I decided it was the perfect day to dress up. So after going back to my hotel and resting a bit I called down to reception and asked if there was a woman around who might be able to help me put on a sari. The guy sent up his mother, and she had fun dressing me up. And oh it was awesome... So often on this trip the constant attention and comments frustrate me and make me yearn for invisibility but on this particular day I reveled in it. Tons of smiles, and namastes, and "happy Diwali" were exchanged and nearly everyone said how much they liked my sari. That I looked just like an Indian woman. *Laughs* I couldn't pass for Indian if I tried, but it was still lovely.

I wandered around perhaps more than I should have given the state of my poor ankle when I finally got home that night, but I really loved looking at all the lights and enjoyed the party atmosphere that surrounded me. Fireworks and various fire cracked set off from the street. People sharing sweets. And I just never stopped smiling. Met up with the Kiwis and we joined a few other travelers for beers and "special" lassis before calling it a night. It was a great time.

The rest of the following week had a pretty basic rhythm to it. I'd wander over to Dream Heaven (the hotel I where I had sprained my ankle) and hobble my way up to the comfortable rooftop restaurant. I'd have breakfast, enjoy the free wifi, and get my bearings. I'd maybe wander across the footbridge and explore town for an hour or two. Then back to my hotel to rest. In the evening I'd find a place for dinner and explore a little more, and then back to my hotel to ice my ankle and get some sleep. I am so glad I gave myself the time there, because I never felt rushed and was able to give my ankle time it needed to do some healing before I went on to Pushkar. I didn't know how much walking if be doing there but I anticipated a lot. So I wanted my ankle as rested as possible.







Saturday, November 24, 2012

An interesting bus ride

There is no train from Jodhpur to a Udaipur, so instead I went by bus. Even though technically there were assigned seats, because so few people were there the morning I left Jodhpur the guy said I could sit anywhere. It was a sleeper bus, which means that in addition to normal seats on one side of the aisle there were also sleeping berths above the seats and stacked on the other side of the aisle. I think maybe twelve berths total? Only one seat did not have something overhead, and that was in the very back right on the aisle. So I picked that seat. Plus.. Added bonus of having room to stretch out my legs!

One thing I had not realized about sitting in the back of the bus... When we hit a bump I would go FLYING! I don't know if the busses in India even know what shocks are. *Laughs* but it was fun. Like an amusement park ride.

I don't know how long I was on the bus before the big crowd boarded. I also don't know if it was one big family or a group of families, but wow there were a lot of people! And since the most room was back where I was, that's where they all headed. Most of them climbed up into the berths... men, women, and kids crowded together. One man had no "inside voice" and so was doing all his talking in a mighty roar. And with his crazy eyes and wild hair I was reminded of a character from the movie Lagaan. My sister Tracy will probably know who I'm talking about.

The hotel I'd stayed at had given me not only my breakfast to go, but the breakfast of two other people who never showed. Since I didn't need three breakfasts, and couldn't eat the bananas anyway (allergic), I offered the food to the people around me. It was accepted with many smiles in return.

Two kids immediately took a shine to me and they climbed up and sat with me for the whole ride. And naturally, I don't speak Hindi and they don't speak English but we had a great time nonetheless. Several women a bit further up had a very cute child asleep on their laps, and when I smiled at them they motioned for me to come forward. I did, and again with no shared langauge we managed to have a great conversation. Then another lady reached out of her berth up above (she'd been listening to us) and offered me a bead necklace as a gift. And as by this point it was nearing lunch time, another woman pulled out her homemade lunch and offered me some. Chapatti and some sort of cooked chillies. Ooooh they were tasty! Spicy as hell, yes, and everybody got a good chuckle out of watching me eat the chillies. But damn I really enjoyed myself.

I pulled out my iPad and showed everyone the pictures I had of my family, and then they wanted to also see my trip photos. People were dangling out of berths to watch the slideshow and everyone had fun shouting out the places they recognized in my pictures. I eventually went back to my seat at the back of the bus and read my book and listened to my iPod. I was listening to my dad's CDs, so I offered the kids my earbuds and let them hear my dad singing and they seemed to like it.

They didn't stay all the way through to Udaipur though, so when they all got off the bus truly seemed like a dead zone without all the chatter and energy. It had been a lot of fun, and I even ended up with a pretty necklace to remember it by!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Jodhpur was... disappointing

I think I found Jodhpur off putting right from the start for several reasons.

1) It was eleven at night, I was tired, it was very dark, and a large group of men crowded around me at the train station as I was looking for the person who was supposed to have a sign with my name on it who would take me to my hotel. This was actually the first time in India I actually felt unsafe. These men were staring, and not the usual stares. These were predatory, like a pack of hyenas. And they were surrounding me, crowding me, practically pressed up against me from every direction. And they were talking in Hindi... I knew they were talking about me but I had no idea what they were saying. I eventually burst into tears and shouted "get the fuck away from me!" I couldn't help it. I was so upset.

2) There was no man with a sign with my name on it, waiting to take me to my hotel. I don't know who is to blame, as both the tour company in Delhi (fucking IIRC) and the hotel blamed the other. Due to my bad experiences I leaned toward believing the hotel, but I was still angry. And pretty much demanded a refund for the cost of the rickshaw, because the cost of a pick-up was included in my stay.

3) The hotel I stayed at that first night had bedbugs. And I'm sorry, but no. Not for a place I'm paying that much a night for.

IIRC did go ahead and switch hotels for me the next day, and the new place was very nice. Comfortable, actually near things, and respectful. But I was already upset and did not bother doing a whole lot of exploring beyond the main market area and taking an afternoon to sketch the clock tower.

I'm glad I was only scheduled for a couple of days there, and was glad to leave. It's the only place so far in India outside of Kashmir I've had that much of a bad reaction to. So I'm going to write it off, shrug it off, and believe it was just an anomaly and not me slowing down and losing my ability to cope at the end of my trip.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Golden city of Jaisalmer

I'll post pictures when I have wifi again, but for now I just wanted to write about how much I adored Jaisalmer. After more than two months in India it has so far been the highlight of my trip. My favorite city. The place I most want to go back to visit again and again.

Jaisalmer is the farthest west city in Rajasthan, deep in the Thar Desert. Its nickname of the "Golden City" comes from the fort that perches up over the city. Made of yellow sandstone, it glows in the desert sun and reflects light just as if it had been made of gold.

I stayed at a delightful hotel just outside of the fort, called the Hotel Royale. It's much more expensive than I would normally pay but it was part of the bad mistake I made in Delhi letting the IIRC book part of my trip in advance. Since I didn't feel like fighting to get the full refund if I had canceled everything I just sucked it up and enjoyed the nice hotels for a little while.

The hotel was not only comfortable and colorful, but the staff was delightful! On Halloween night, feeling lonely and restless, I went to the hotel manager to ask if he had any recommendations on where I could go to be around people. I ended up on the back of his brother's motorbike heading up into the fort to the family's home. I spent the evening as part of the family. Playing with kids. Drinking chai. Talking. Petting the family cow (who knew that cows enjoyed having the backs of their ears scratched?). And when I mentioned wishing I could try on a sari, Ajay and his wife took me upstairs to their bedroom and his wife dressed me up in one of her sarees! I was so delighted, and couldn't stop smiling and laughing. And I was full of such pure joy that Ajay's wife and mother went out and bought me a sari of my own as a gift to remember them by. *smiles* I was struck truly speechless by this generosity. And couldn't help but hug Ajay's mother. I now have a blouse and petticoat to wear with the sari, so I will be wearing it proper for the first time on Diwali. I figure that'll be a good opportunity to dress up!

Another highlight of Jaisalmer were hanging out at the textiles shop I ended up at after meeting a guide up in the fort. I purchased a custom made jacket from there, and also got the blouse and petticoat made. But mostly I spent time just sitting inside, drinking chai and talking to the men who worked there as well as the many locals who would drop in. On my last day I pulled out my sketchbook and drew the inner wall (complete with tapestries and a poster of Ganesh over the front door). My guide took me on his bike all over the city. We dropped into a silversmith's shop, where I ordered a custom silver pendant made. I now have the compass rose I have been wanting. And we went to several shops and I drank more chai than I have ever had in my life, and looked at crafts that I wished I could buy. Perhaps when I have an apartment of my own again (and money to shop with!) I will come back to Jaisalmer and buy all those things I just dreamed of buying on this trip.

One thing that I enjoyed (though it wasn't as much fun as I had expected it to be) was the camel safari I went on. For one thing, I guess I am more afraid of heights than I tend to think I am. Camels are WAY taller once you're on top of them than they appear when you're safely standing on the ground. And the way they walk is so odd that I was afraid I would fall off! It took until the next day for my hands to stop shaking, and my anxiety was so high that I couldn't bear going out again after dinner that night and surrounding myself in darkness. So I missed sleeping out under the stars. But oh my god the desert during daytime was beautiful! I can't listen to anybody who says the desert is a dead, colorless place. Because when I looked around all I saw was beauty. The light playing on the sand. The desert plants with roots so deep they remained green even after a lackluster monsoon season. Birds and insects and animals everywhere I looked (I saw two antelope, but they were too fast for me to catch with my camera). And sunset from the dunes was magical.

My guide was a delightful man. 40 years old, who had never been anywhere but this desert. No education to speak of, just 25 years of experience as a guide. His dream is to save enough money so he can buy some land of his own and have his own well and be able to send his own four children to school so they will grow up able to read and write. So simple! I would love to spend more time with this man, and wish I could have met his family. I would love to bring paper and books and teach them all to read and write. That would be something to remember forever.

I spent 4 nights in Jaisalmer, and I want so badly to go back. It wasn't peaceful in the slightest. And the chaos would normally drive me batty. But Jaisalmer was magical. It felt like I'd dropped smack dab into the middle of an Arabian fairy tale. I could have stayed there for a lot longer.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pink City of Jaipur

The Bad:

Travel from Mumbai to Jaipur was a 22 hour exhausting move, and I arrived late, sick, tired, and out of money because the India Information and Reservation Centre had yet again failed to get me the money they'd owed me since mid-September and the PayPal transfer wouldn't arrive for another couple of days and the cost to get to the train station in Mumbai was WAY more than I'd expected. So when I get told that the hotel I was supposed to be booked in had overbooked and I was to be schlepped over to another hotel for the night I pretty much lost all ability to keep cope together and burst into tears.

To be fair, the Hotel Rajputana Haveli did the best they could to help me under these very trying circumstances and dealing with a hysterical woman could not be on their list of favorite things ever. They comped me dinner at the hotel and the manager contacted the IIRC about my money and was very helpful in me eventually getting it in my hands. But the person who most helped me was a driver who goes by the nickname of Janu. He gave me some emergency money to tide me over for a few days, and he gave me contacts at the police and the tourist bureau who would help me if the IIRC didn't come through with my refund. He gave me a friend I could call if I needed help in any way. But on my final night there even that wasn't enough to help stave off the sinking depression all the stress pulled me into. I remember emailing my best friend and just spilling my guts about how scared I was and how sick and how worried about everything I was if I didn't get that refund.

I was also very sick again, so earlier that day I'd walked (ok, stumbled) to a doctor who said I didn't have malaria just a bad infection. I used my last emergency money to pay for medicine and then I spent the whole day delirious with fever. (Three days later and I'm back to feeling good again).

My final day I was still fighting with IIRC about my money. They owed me 26,000 rupees but they were only going to give me 10,000 (later 15,000) with the promise of the rest "later." I told them no, full refund. It wasn't until I was in the rickshaw on my way to the police that I got them to promise me my full refund immediately. So I went back to the hotel and waited and then got all money in hand. I nearly cried with relief that it was all over.

The Good:

Jaipur is stunningly unique and I swear you can find anything there in the shops along the various bazaars. And yes, so many of the buildings really are pink! I understand the nickname now, *laughs*. Because I was sick for much of my stay there I didn't get to see or do as much as I'd hoped. But I did wander around for one afternoon, and even had some shop owners pull out a chair and keep me supplied in chai and water while I sketched the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) from the comfort of shade. A bunch of people took my photo, including a newspaper man! My picture was in the paper the next day (too bad I was too sick to remember and get a copy to save.) When I was done (my hand gave out on me and the sun had moved so I was getting overheated) one of the young men from the shop then showed me a secret place up high through one of the temples where I could get a truly stunning view of the palace. I'll never forget that place. Drawing it just etched it even more firmly in my memory.

I also got up to the Amber Fort, which I found to be well worth the 200 rupee entrance fee. I managed to find a super nice rickshaw driver to take me there, and several times he stopped or slowed down so I could take photos from the road. And since neither of us had change for the ride we agreed he'd pick me up when I was ready to leave and I'd pay him then. Got his cell phone number to call when I was ready.

So... the fort. From the outside you don't see the stunning tile details and silver working that decorated the inside. I spent a good three hours exploring, with about half an hour of it sketching one of the inner walls. I could have spent a full day there. I wish I had had more time but it closed at sunset. So I made sure to take photos of what I had been sketching because I wanted to go back and add the color when I had time.

My train wasn't until 11, so I had time to return to the hotel for a final meal and Internet usage and finished my sketch before grabbing another rickshaw to take me to Gandhi Nagra train station, where I waited for the train that would take me on to Jaisalmer.




Monday, October 22, 2012

Drawing in Mumbai

I'm really chill this time around in Mumbai. Spending a lot of time sketching and wandering around aimlessly, just admiring the beautiful architecture in this city. I love it here.

The locals are tremendously curious when they see me drawing. Everybody stops to look at my drawing and nearly everyone wants to take photos of the drawing, of me drawing, of them with me drawing. It could get on my nerves but I have decided to just accept I am a novelty here and be happy that I've managed to make a lot of people happy. Except for the street kids. They do still irritate me. Sue me. :)

Anyway. I'm in Mumbai til Friday. There are so many things to draw here! But most days I just pick a direction and wander. I like that a lot. I am feeling very zen. It's pretty awesome.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Craziness!

A week in Arambol was just what the doctor ordered.  Holy cow, so relaxed it is fantastic!  If I come back to Goa again in the future I will likely return to Arambol.  Met some more great people.  And I wish I could have stayed longer but I needed to continue my adventures, and laying on a lounge chair on the beach (while nice) was not the kind of adventure I came to India to find.

So I am now back in Mumbai.  Because I am not yet at 100% (mentally I am, but I came down with something in Goa and it has sapped a lot of my energy) I am not couch surfing.  It would have saved me a lot of money, but I need the space and freedom to come and go at my own pace so I found a relatively inexpensive guest house in an area of Mumbai called Colaba and will be staying here this week.  A woman I met on the train was able to split the cost of the room yesterday.  And a couple girls I met in Arambol are also now in Mumbai so I am hoping they come here and maybe I can share the cost with one of them while the other two get another double.  Otherwise tomorrow morning (I am swallowing the whole cost of the room tonight because Nelly is leaving today) I will switch the the cheaper (but not comfortable or secure) dorm beds for the rest of the week.

Anyway.  I have a ton more to write about.  I met some guys in Arambol who are also bipolar, and had a great discussion with one of them about travel and bipolar.  I gave him my card and hope he'll ping me on Facebook because I am currently putting together a list of questions I want to ask other people who are bipolar about traveling and use these interviews in the book I am writing.

Also met a guy who will possibly be joining me at the camel fair in late November.  Awesome British guy, who is just endlessly entertaining.

I just keep meeting great people.  This is what I love about traveling.  And what I will keep in mind as I continue this trip.

Today I am going to head out with my sketchbook and draw the Gateway to (or of) India.  It's a landmark.  And one I want to put down on paper rather than just photograph it.  Anyway.  Internet time's up.  Time to go now!  I'll try to update more frequently, but won't promise anything!

(And yes, I am feeling better.  The antibiotics I am taking seem to be working.  But keep keeping your fingers crossed!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

3 weeks in Palolem coming to an end

For a place I wasn't even planning to visit, Palolem has certainly been a very hard place to leave.  But tomorrow I check out of the delightful Seagull Hotel, say goodbye to the many friends I made here, and hop a couple of buses up to Arambol in North Goa.  I think I will be heading up with a group from here.  It all depends on if we manage to run into each other tonight and are able to make concrete plans.  I'm not going to stay up late again tonight, because tomorrow is now my last chance to watch sunrise here in Palolem and I don't want to miss that opportunity.

Until I have more time to write down full thoughts, here are the highlights from my stay in Palolem:

  • Ganesha festival - four nights straight of music and dancing in the street.
  • Dinner and drinks at Baba Little Italy with big group of new friends.
  • Jungle Juice - best drink ever!  Feni (Goan alcohol), pineapple juice, and lime juice.  Oh so so so good.
  • Frisbee on the beach.
  • Meeting three women on the beach selling jewelry and spending a delightful hour going through their stuff and trying on pretty things.  Invited for tea the next day at their house.
  • Hanging out with the owner of Ali Baba Jewelry and a bunch of his friends.  Drinking, smoking, and constantly having to whap whoever was closest and laughingly say ENGLISH! whenever they switched back to Kashmiri.
  • Late night bike ride to another beach and exploring under a full moon.
  • Playing cards and drinking with a group of Israeli guys at the bar.
  • Puppies!
  • Watching football at the bar with a great crowd.
  • Drinking with new friends last night and realizing that each of us came from a different country.  8 people, 8 countries, 5 continents.
  • Reached a new level with my meditation.  Need to think more about this and figure out what to do next.
So my current plan is Arambol til the 18th, then going to Mumbai for a week.  Then Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur.  10 days in Udaipur in mid-November.  Chance to rest up, relax, celebrate Diwali, and gear up for the camel fair.  9 days at Pushkar.  Then back to Delhi to finish out my trip, complete with a day trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal before I fly home.

I can still use help if I can get it.  Thank you so so much to everybody who has chipped in so far.  From small amounts to big amounts, it has allowed me to sleep comfortably, eat well, and stay healthy.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bipolar and getting sick

द्विध्रुवी Dvidhruvī
bipolaire
zweipolig
דו קוטבי
バイポーラ Baipōra

At home, when I tell someone I am bipolar, I usually get 8 out of 10 people responding with "Interesting! My friend/ex/second cousin fourth removed is bipolar too!" They have a context to place me in whether good or bad. But they have some inkling of what it means to be bipolar. And that it is a very hard disease to live with.

When traveling that number drops to somewhere around 3 out of 10, sometimes less. And I have to explain what being bipolar means. Many cultures are very dismissive of or not understanding mental illness. India seems to be one of them. A very nice guy I met while couch surfing in Mumbai saw me in the middle of a massive panic attack. His subsequent review of me on Couchsurfing described me as "a little emotional by heart." He had no basis to understand what it is like to be bipolar or suffer from major anxiety attacks. And couldn't understand why I reacted so intensely to something he found relatively trivial.

Last week I suffered from a near debilitating depressive episode. The kind where even the thought of venturing from my hotel room left me in a pool of tears so going for a walk was out of the question. Thinking about it I think it was just everything bad that had happened those first few weeks here all caught up to me at once and I couldn't bear it any longer. I had reached a place to stay put for a while so I had the time to completely fall apart.

I emailed the group of people I have been sending more private and frequent updates to and cried the whole time I wrote. I just felt so alone! I got immediate responses from Pasta and Kim and from my parents. Grateful to have people I can cry to when I need it.

Then the next day my boyfriend more or less broke up with me. By email.

It was just one thing after another. I fell apart over the omelet I had ordered for breakfast. I wrote in my other blog and I am grateful for all the comments from my friends there. And my best friend wrote me from Russia to tell me she loved me. I love my friends so much.

Ultimately, I chose the right place for this collapse. Not only was I here for the continuous four night street parties celebrating Ganesha that made me light up and be thrilled to have gotten to be here to witness and be a part of it but I had finally met a solid group of people and they helped me a lot. They got me out of my shell, forcing me to put on the mask I wear when I don't want people to know how much I am hurting but that eventually wears off when I begin having fun again. I opened up to them. They told me to go have sex. Sex would help. The girls suggested the hot Portuguese guy who was staying at my hotel. Unfortunately every time I saw him after that he was surrounded by these tanned young cute things and here I am sunburned and sniffly. Oh well. I have other options. *Grins*

I have finally, with help, reached a place where I can now treat this resting place as a reset button. Forget the emotional wreck that was most of my first few weeks here. Forget the boyfriend. From now til December 3 I have a clean slate. A better understanding of what and what not to do. I still have two months to marvel at the fact that I am in India! To explore. To dream. To discover. I still have the Pushkar Camel Fair to be excited about!

The depression lifted.

Then I got sick. *Laughs* I have spent the last few days drinking copious amounts of water, taking Sudafed for my poor sinuses, and trying not to do too much and taking it extra easy. Because I can't take either of the two anti-malaria pills (one gives me such bad dreams I can't handle it because of the bipolar and the other makes me violently ill) I am in constant fear of getting malaria and am always watching out for symptoms. But so far this is just a sinus cold. No signs of a fever or nausea or any of the other flu-like symptoms that would have me scurrying to a doctor.

So there! You see why I haven't written much lately! I don't have much to say about my time so far here in Palolem. Mostly my time has been spent reading, writing in my journal, meeting interesting people, laying on the beach, playing in the water, and eating really yummy food. But I do want to tell you about dancing in the street and puppies and the awesome people I've met. So I'll update again later.

Unfortunately on a low note - my food budget is dwindling. I'm down to 300 rupees to last me til Thursday. But that's enough for one simple meal a day plus water (I could save money by eating more street food type stuff, but my sister and others have strongly advised me not to do that so I spend the extra money for higher quality and safer food). I'll be fine. I am due to receive my refund from that tour company in Delhi by the end of the week. Once I get that I believe I'll be set again for the rest of my trip.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Now I'm in Goa!

Let me list all the awesome for you...

1) Nicest hotel yet, a three minute or less walk to the beach, for only 300 rupees. $5.50, about.

2) Gorgeous beach! In a cove. With warm water begging to be played in.

3) Lots and lots of other travelers without being crowded. It's still the off season.

4) OMG the eye candy!!!

5) Beachside bar has free wifi! First time I've had access since Amritsar.

My plan was to be here for a week. That may be extended. I can already feel myself relaxing.

Oh yeah, as I'm typing this I'm drinking a sea breeze, I'm wearing a white bikini top with a sarong, and I'm listening to the sounds of surf.

Yeah, this is what I needed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From Mumbai to Goa

I loved Mumbai.  And am so happy I have decided to come back after my month in Goa.  A group of nine of us took the ferry and went to the Elephanta Caves, and I experienced my first case of bribing the officials to get me through without paying the horrific "foreigner" prices.  10 rupees for Indians, 250 for foreigners.  So the guys gave the guard 100 and they let me through.

After the island we had time before my train, so ended up at a restaurant called Bhagdadi, and WOW yummy!  Then poked around inside the Taj Hotel (I have decided that I WILL stay there someday) and walking around before finding a place for a cold treat.

Another pain in transit happened when my train ticket got canceled.  But a woman I had met that day named Maria saved me that time by hosting me in her hotel room for the night.  I got to the train station the next day and spent all day on the train down to Goa.  Because I was arriving so late, another friend of a new friend came and picked me up from the train station and put me up in her family's home.

It's a huge mess, though, due to her mom being sick and the servants pretty much saying fuck it and not doing anything anymore.  So I don't think I'd be altogether comfortable being there for more than a day or two.  So today I came in to Margao and got a hotel room here for a couple of days.  Bargained the price down some, too.  I will look up some more friends of friends to stay with for a few days before I go north to Arambol.  That's where I think I want to be for several weeks.

But I do like Margao.  It's like big city India without the hassles of big city India.  You can find just about anything here.  It's colorful and smells of spices.  People friendly.  I sent my big items of clothes out to be washed and washed all the small stuff in the bucket and strung up a line to dry them.  Then I just grabbed my bag but no camera and went for a walk through the market.  Found a delicious dessert cookie thing called ??Dosh??  It's like a coconut shortbread thing and is just yummy yummy yummy.  Tried buying a pair of flip flops but they kept trying to charge me too much.  I'll go back another day when I am more in the mood to bargain hard.

Anyway, I'm still here and doing well.  Won't be popping online quite so often.  Lots more to say but no time right now to write.  Want to get back to my hotel room before it starts to rain.  I want to be sure I am there to pull in all my drying clothes.  Also need to just get some rest.

Be well, everyone!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ways of saving money

I had not realized I had been robbed when I made all of my bookings last night.  I'd put my money in so many different places I just figured I hadn't found it yet when I was paying the guy.  I am not going to let myself get angry at myself for not being more careful because I was being careful.  I just know now to be even MORE CAREFUL in the future.  Shit happens. And that's why I am writing this blog.  Learning how to accept these things and move on and figure things out.

Help from afar is one thing, but not something I can or would expect to happen (just amazingly helpful if it happens).  So something my best friend suggested is to see if I can cancel and get a refund on part of what I have booked and spend that time someplace staying still again.  So I am canceling Varanasi and the Kama Sutra place.  I'll be getting a 50% refund, but any is better than none.  Yes, I'm missing very awesome pieces of India, but I'm less here to see ALL THE THINGS than here to have great experiences and meet people and have a good time.  So I'm not brokenhearted.  And I have now figured out a way to spend that excess time, so it all works out in a way it wouldn't have yesterday.

Another thing she suggested is to see if I can find a place to volunteer at for a while.  I'll be in Goa for a month.  I will look into volunteer opportunities down there that offer room and board for exchange for work.

I've been in Mumbai 4 hours and I'm already meeting people through Couchsurfing.org.  When I realized that my sister's in-laws would not be able to host me I jumped onto that website and sent out a plea for help for a place to stay tonight.  By the time I arrived in Mumbai I had five responses.  Including the first woman I pinged.  Her name is Divya Jay.  She is a market research writer, just moved here from Chennai and lives alone.  She is already amazingly kind and wonderful.  Tonight she had planned a couch surfing get together, so we'll be going to that.  Then a party here at her house.  So I will get to meet a bunch of people.  Both locals and whoever is couch surfing here in Mumbai right now who shows up to the event!

When I come back to Mumbai after my month in Goa I'll be couch surfing again and will have people to do things with here.  So I have decided to extend the stay in Mumbai rather than going to Varanasi.  Rajasthan will be staying the same. Though... and I am really annoyed by this.  The hostel I had booked for the camel fair canceled my reservation without notifying me!  So now I'm trying to find somewhere else.  Argh!

Anyway.  I am currently curled up comfortably in Divya's place while she is back at work for the rest of the afternoon.  We had met at her office and then she brought me back to the apartment and she made sure I was settled in and fed before heading back out.  I'm going to take a nap.  Naps are good things!  

Friday, September 14, 2012

And with good comes bad - a plea for help

Somewhere I have managed to lose 20,000 rupees. I was shuffling money around so much between yesterday paying the guy at the hotel in Amritsar and today trying to come up with the amount needed to book everything that the stash I had stashed away has gone missing. It is nowhere to be found. All I have left is 2000 rupees. That's $36.

FUCK.

So, I am asking for help. If anybody can spare anything to help me finish this trip I'd be hugely grateful. My parents helped me get to this point. I am asking my friends for help now.

I don't have a PayPal button, but my PayPal is under my email. theloriest@gmail.com

Whatever amounts will help. It takes 3-4 days for PayPal to transfer money, so if you can do a direct transfer to an ING online bank account that is even better.

Thank you thank you thank you.

I hate asking for help. But I'd rather ask than fall apart right when things were finally looking up again.

Getting shit done! An actual official plan in place.

Today, after taking the train back to Delhi (speaking of which, I am totally in love with the trains in India!) I stopped in at the Indian Information and Reservation Center right after getting off the metro because I was already lost trying to find a place to stay for the night (I'd apparently come out the back entrance to the metro station and it turned me around) and because I figured this is the place I can discuss plans and figure out what the hell do to next.

Boy was I right! The guys here helped me in so many ways. First off they had me just sit down and rest for a moment. Two American girls were there and god it was nice hearing English spoken in a way I fully understood! One saw how frustrated I was and offered me a hug and chocolate.

Then Micky (who works there) sat down with me at the desk and we began with what had gone wrong for me so far, what I have hopes of doing next, what plans I already have in place, and what I need help with.

An hour later we've figured out a great itinerary for me for the entire rest of my trip. I'm seeing a lot, not going to feel rushed, have tickets for everything booked, and have hotels booked and a couple of tours/activities booked as well. This ate up nearly everything I have. I have enough left for a month in Goa, and for staying in Udaipur for Diwali and the Pushkar Camel Fair. But nothing left over for extras (so if you want me to try buying a camel - or any other lovely things - I am accepting donations to my cause! I am not too proud to accept help.) But seriously, I can live without buying pretty things. It's just do fucking nice to not WORRY all the time about how I'm going to make all this happen.

Turns out that foreigners cannot, in fact, book train tickets over the Internet. They used to but it's been changed. So no wonder I was having so many difficulties! And I can attest to this right now, doing things last minute here is near impossible. There are over a billion people in this country. And mass amounts of tourists. Trains, busses, hotels... They fill up weeks if not months in advance. I should have started booking trains back in July or August, around when I booked the hostel I'll be staying in during the camel fair.

So here is the official final itinerary. Things (trains, hotels, and tours) are booked. Most everything is paid for.

Tonight - hotel in Delhi
Tomorrow - fly to Mumbai

I just found out that my poor brother-in-law's family is dealing with a health crisis right now so I'm not going to go impose on them and possibly make things worse. So I've got a couple of pings out for more couch surfing options there. If not I'll bite the bullet and check into as cheap a hotel there I can find because I'm not heading out to Goa until Sunday.

Sunday - Train to Goa

September 16 - October 11 - GOA

I'm going to just kick back down there for a month! I am seriously looking forward to this. I know I'll be visiting Arambol in the north, then Panjim further down, and Palolem at the very south. All will have different feels to them, all will be wicked inexpensive, and I'll really find my zen again.

Before I had heard of how sick Nilesh's family was I booked travel up to Mumbai in mid-October for a few days. If I do end up couch surfing there tomorrow night and it turns out well I'll talk to them about me coming back up. Otherwise I'll skip Mumbai and change my ticket from Goa and stay those extra few days.

Goa is part of what is not paid for. I don't have a lot of money left, so I deliberately arranged to spend the bulk of this time in a place where I won't be spending a lot of money.

October 18 - overnight train to Varanasi

October 19-23 VARANASI

This is including a boat ride on the Ganges.

October 23 KHAJARAHO

Dude, this is where the Kama Sutra came from! But aside from that, I expect there to be a lot of really awesome things to see here.

October 23-26 JAIPUR

Much traveling in store for me.

Going from Khajaraho to Jaipur by way of Agra. Since I'm actually saving Agra for the end of my trip this is just a very quick stop to change trains.

Jaipur is mostly just a hey what's here so sort of stop. I do really want to see some of the sights, though. But won't be going in. It's the architecture and the markets to experience I'm looking forward to here.

October 29-November 3 JAISALMER

The first day involves the quick train from Jaipur. And then I'm booked on an overnight camel safari on November 1. Heeee! :)

November 3-6 JODHPUR

They have a zip line set up over the city! It lets you zoom over and see four of the forts. Since I'm not broken this time around and will be taking pains to keep me that way I am super excited about this.

November 6-18 UDAIPUR

I wanted another place to zen out after all that traveling and moving from place to place. Udaipur is supposed to be beautiful and relaxing. Also figured it's as good a place as any to spend Diwali. Hotel here booked, but not paid for.

November 19-28 PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR

Wheeeeee! This is the thing I'm most excited about. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but I'm stoked about it anyway! Camel races! Camel decorating contests! Ferris wheels! Music and dancing and a whole lot of people having a great time.

November 28-December 3 DELHI

Back to Delhi. Finish sight seeing here. Take a day and visit Agra and the Taj Mahal. My friend Leon will be making it to India at the end here. If our trips overlap by enough days I wonder if he'd want to go to the Taj with me. I would love to go with a friend.

If I get enough donations I really seriously hope to afford a sari made to commemorate my trip. A nice one. I'm not asking anyone to help me out with the rest of my trip because I really can do it with what money I have left. But help would still be very much appreciated. Then the sari would just be icing on the cake.

PayPal is our friend! :) theloriest@gmail.com

Anyway. I'm in a hotel for the night. I have a driver picking me up in the morning to go to the airport, free of charge. So tonight I'm going to kick back and lay in my comfortable bed and get a good night's sleep!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Real homesickness

I haven't gone out and done anything much today because I got nailed with a huge case of loneliness and homesickness. Sent my laundry out to be washed, and walked to the place my hotel recommended to put more minutes on my cell phone and that was all I could really handle today.

Because both kurtas were in the laundry I am wearing my sleeveless pink top. And oh god it was so nice and light and comfortable in this heat! But it also shows off all my tattoos and the attention was pretty overwhelming.

I made sure to put on sunblock today, even though I was only going two blocks and back. And drank a full bottle of water in just that short time. Everywhere around me were drivers wanting to take me places. I would shake my head and indicate I was walking. Two steps later another would be asking again. When drivers weren't vying for my attention beggars were. I just shake my head and walk a little faster. The little kids are the worst, though. It eats me up inside. They know that though, which is why foreigners are such perfect targets. I just have to keep saying no. It's all I can do.

I got back to my hotel and have been holed up in my room for the afternoon trying to come up with a plan. (Also, I have finally succumbed to not feeling well so I'm hoping a day of rest will help me feel better.). The more reading I do the more it sounds like nowhere I go right now is going to be what I am hoping for. Goa is still at the tail end of the monsoon season. So while it would be quieter there, I may not get the relaxing "lay on a beach and do nothing" experience I had hoped for. But travel is what you make of it. And rain I'm prepared for.

All in all, while I know I'll be fine, right now I just want to curl up and cry. I will let myself, too, once I have figured out my plans. Because sometimes a good cry is important. I'm just so damn lonely here! India is a very difficult place to meet people. I feel somewhat shell shocked, so my natural way of talking to other travelers gives way to a wide eyed stare of envy when I see people in any size group. They have someone to talk to. I've always loved traveling solo in the past. Here I wish to god I had someone to keep me company.

Just watch, though. In another couple of days I'll be happy and having fun again. :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sightseeing in Amritsar

I love India! I hate India! I love India! This country is completely insane. I did so much preparation and planning. I did so much advance reading. None of it truly prepared me for things here. I'm not saying that is all bad!! Because it's not. I'm learning do much. In one week I've experienced things most people only dream of, and have seen places even fewer people have actually seen. That's why my parents stepped in to help me out so I wouldn't cut my trip short. So I'm going to stick it out the full three months after all.

And damn it's nice to be back on the somewhat beaten track. *Laughs* It's nice having others around who understand me when I tell them how unnerving the attention can be at first and how amusing it is when people want their picture with you (happens all the time!).

I slept hard last night, didn't wake up until almost noon. So I got up straight away and went to the Golden Temple. Bargained with the cycle rickshaw driver (I know I got a damn good price, too, so I'm all kinds of proud of myself) and off we went! Cycle rickshaw vs autorickshaw is a hugely different game! I was white knuckling it the whole trip. And on big hills we had to get off and walk.

But after navigating the chaotic streets of Amritsar I got to where I was going. Found my way to where you deposit your shoes, and followed the throngs of people to the temple, making sure to pull my pink dupatta up over my head as I went.

Waded respectfully through the trough of water set before all entrances to wash my feet, and then there I was. It is spectacular beyond reason. The clear sky made the reflections in the pool even that much more serene. And the singing permeating throughout just made me want to sit and meditate.

It was also colorful!  The women in their saris, the children, the flowers.  It was everything India is in my imagination.  The people were also very funny.  So many people want their picture taken with you!  Kids, women, old couples.  You're just a total novelty to them.  I remember when I was staying with Gauri and Rohit, Gauri said that when I came out the first day wearing the pink salwaar kameez, it was the first time the boy who lives with them (god I can't remember how to spell his name!) had ever seen a foreigner in Indian clothes.  It's not something I would have ever thought of before I came here.

It was a very hot day, though, so I figure I'll come back tomorrow with my sketchbook and find a place in the shade. Partake in the free meals that are offered to all. And perhaps give in to that desire to meditate.

Got back to the hotel and was GOING to take a nap. But I remembered the guide book saying this hotel did a very good tour of this one Hindu temple, the India/Pakistan border closing ceremony, and the Golden Temple at night. There was one spot left for today and it was leaving in 15 minutes, do I said sure!

Our first stop was Mata Temple. Oh my god, I would never have visited otherwise and I also glad I did! It was like a fun house inside. Mirrors and fun and interesting things to see and tunnels to crawl through and a long tunnel of water to wade through and laugher and singing and everyone having a good time and wanting to make sure we did too! Tons of people asking to have their pictures taken with us. It was just awesome.
The next stop was the Indo-Pakistan border. Every day just before sunset the guards put on a big show to thousands of visitors. 20,000? As foreigners we got to sit in the VIP section and got damn good views of the whole thing.

Prior to the actual ceremony were activities to get the crowd up and excited. Races. Dancing. Music. When Jai Ho came on I was very excited because even though I have no idea what I'm saying I do in
fact know all the lyrics to that song and so I danced in my spot and sang along. Oh man that got attention! I swear, every person in the Indian section next to me saw me and turned to stare. Many were taking photos and a few had their video camera on me! I just smiled and kept singing. They smiled in return and sang with me. Huge applause for me afterward. The people sitting round me were all "how do you know that song" and I was like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE!! It's the Oscar winning song that closes out the film. Love that song.

Then came the ceremony. Oh man it was fun. Total rooster strutting and high kicking at each other at the gate! It was well choreographed, and from my vantage point I got a lot of great photos and videos. But for the most part I just ignored my camera and enjoyed the experience.

One thing I hadn't noticed til the end was on the Pakistan side of the gate. The men and women were separated. It's another of those things you know in theory happens, but to see it in person is another matter. Totally weird for me.

I had a lot of fun at the event, though. It was on the list of things I had hoped to see in India, and so I'm totally thrilled to have gotten to go.

Our final stop was the Golden Temple. And holy just... wow. I'll just share a photo so you can see what I mean.  So dazzling at night.


* * *
I'm staying in Amritsar for one more night, then I think I will be heading south. It's just so wickedly hot here that I want to go lay on a beach and relax for a while. So the manager here at the hotel is going to help me figure out how to get from here all the way to Goa. From Goa I'll make my way back North and explore Rajasthan on my way to the Camel Fair.

16 hours of travel

Getting out of Srinagar and making my way to Amritsar was a relatively simple journey. Toot toot (autorickshaw) from the house boat. Grabbed a sporting a shared jeep to Jammu. Bus depot and a ticket to Amritsar. Bus to Amritsar. Cycle rickshaw to the first hotel in my guide book and a solid night's sleep.

What wasn't simple was how long the trip took me, nor how harrowing the Srinagar to Jammu portion of the trip would be, winding and twisting along narrow Himalayan roads with crazy drivers every moment along the way.

It was a beautiful day, though! So at least the roads were safely dry for once! I don't think we would have made it otherwise.

The bus to Amritsar was wicked cheap. 135 rupees for a six hour trip. That's not even $3. That's barely $2. And it was easy. I threw on my iPod and listened to show tunes the whole way. I was in desperate need of something familiar, and show tunes were what did it for me.

Because it was late when I arrived (11pm!) I just picked the first place recommended by my guide book. Thanks to the generosity of a friend I can go ahead and splurge for a few days and stay somewhere nice where I can relax and figure out where to go from here.

My parents have also stepped in in a huge way to help me out. They don't want me cutting my trip short. With all the work I put into this. All the sacrifices I've made. All the planning and excitement. So I am going to take tomorrow off from sight seeing (today was go go go!) and figure out what my next steps will be.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Kashmir pros and cons

* The driver who picked me up in Delhi to take me to the airport at one point stopped the car and tried to kiss me and feel me up. I hit him and said no! I have no idea why he thought that was okay. But it got the entire trip off to a bad start.

* My flight was delayed about 3 hours. And I couldn't access Internet at the airport.

* On the one hour flight I sat next to a delightful little girl and her father and he and I talked the whole way. He and his wife are both from Kashmir and now they're doctors in the USA. He really was a very nice person and I am glad of it.

* No problems in Srinagar getting my bag, going through the foreigner registration, and finding my driver to the house boat. I reported the Delhi driver to the tour person who met me and he was also appalled. I don't know if anything will happen, but at least the ass has been reported.

* The houseboat is truly deluxe! I was afraid I'd be getting some dinky little thing hardly staying afloat, but it is really kind of cheerily awesome. I have a room and bathroom to myself. There is a dining room, sitting room, and a balcony over the lake. It's extraordinarily peaceful.

* What is not peaceful are the men who work there. Always pestering me. Do I want this? Do I want that? Would I like to buy some XY or Z? No, I just want to be left alone.

* The manager is who led me to having the panic attack last night.

* But what I do love about it is that I am in one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. Despite the rain, despite the mud, despite the chaos... Kashmir is truly beautiful. Yes, I wish I'd had better weather, but you can't let a little bad weather ruin a perfectly good time!

* Took a three hour boat ride yesterday. So relaxing I almost fell asleep a few times!

* Today I went to Gulmarg and went on the highest tram in the world. Again with the pouring rain! So I didn't see a damn thing. But riding up and down the tram I felt like I was floating up to the heavens. It was beautiful.

* Have taken tons and tons of photos! I'll try to post a few here. When I can't keep trying to post to FB and Flickr. It have had very little luck. So just keep your eyes peeled. At some point there will be more pictures!

* Have purchased two Kashmiri shawls. If you know me and my obsession with shawls are you at all surprised? The first one he offered 1400 rupees, I countered with 800 and we settled with 900. (~ $16). The second was quoted 1500, countered 1000, he responded 1200, I stuck to 1100 and refused to budge til he accepted it. That's about $20. Hand embroidered, and just amazing.

* * *

Tomorrow I have a jeep taking me to Jammu. Then I'll catch a bus to Amritsar.
McDonalds in India has some new items on the menu!
Bedroom on the House Boat on Dal Lake.
Sunset from my bedroom window.
People use the lake to get around.
Kashmiri tea is my new favorite thing.
Everything on the lake is used somehow.
Lotus blossoms everywhere this time of year!
Birds, too.
Yes, Kashmir is a very militaristic state.  It's creepy.
Traffic is no joke here.
Army caravan caused a traffic jam.
Little Girl coming out of her home.
Lucky I could see the trees.
We are insanely high up.
Road up to the Gondola.
Me at the top of the Gondola.
I couldn't resist all that yellow!