Archive for December, 2006

A tropical Christmas!

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

So we may not be decorating a Christmas tree this year, but drinking beer under a palm tree can be pretty festive too!  So after an arduous journey we arrived in heaven!  Goa is pretty amazing.  The food is incredible – the best we’ve had in India – but oddly enough, they can’t seem to make a good Indian dish!  They have, however, mastered fresh fish in the BBQ, thai curries, fruit lassis and cheap beer.

We thought that those of you enjoying the rain in BC, the snow in Colorado, or the wind in Chicago, we would outline a typical day here on Palolem beach, Goa.

As we rise grouchily from slumber to the typical Indian sound of someone horking up a giant spit ball we realize that it is almost 10 and we should be out of bed and embracing the day.  A short wander into town we gather fresh curd, milk, and fruit for our morning muesli and return to our coco-hut on the beach to eat on the portch in the shade.  Next we wander to one of the many restaurants along the beach front for a coffee and sit reading our books, playing Soduko, or writing in our journals.  The rest of the day is spent swimming, playing beach volley ball, sleeping, or having an evening workout in the ocean.

The pinnacle of the day occurs after dark as we spend 30min to an hour finding the perfect dinner spot.  Our criteria is harsh, we look at the menu and first of all judge on price.  No entre should be more than $2 and drinks should be less than $1.  Next is the display of fresh fish.  It should be only an hour or so from alive and be next to a BBQ and ready for cooking!  Last (but not least) is the atmosphere.  There should be good music, a young, English speaking crowd and hopefully a view of the beach (it is kind of escapism, but hey, this is our holiday from our holiday!)  The night is finished off with a beer or two on the beach, or a bit of shopping in the little town, and then back to sleep for a long, deep slumber!

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So for those of you in the colder regions of the planet, rest assured that we are thinking about you (and the great skiing!) and wish you a Merry Christmas and (if you don’t hear from us by then) a Happy New Years!


Gymnastics in Agra

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

So, we never did get a chance to write about Agra, you know, with the fever and the sickness and all.  It can pretty much be summed up by saying that the Taj Mahal is a very worthwhile, but also very expensive tourist attraction.  At 750Rs each it was more than two nights in our incredibly big, deluxe room with TWO queen size beds – and a room big enough to practice our cartwheel skills!

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Checking out the hospital in Mumbai…good times!

Friday, December 15th, 2006


So now that Seth and I are both sick again, sitting in front of our hotel computer is pretty much the only option for after dinner ‘fun’ activities.  So here goes another post…

On the way from Agra, I managed to somehow get sick again (sleeper trains are a curse for me) but luckily this time I was able to walk to a taxi with only two ‘sit down’ breaks.  Seth stayed strong long enough to battle with our taxi driver in the sweltering 35degree heat and get us a direct ride to our hotel (which still took us 1.5 hours in a non-airconditionned car in the middle of the day…it was GREAT for my fever!) 

Next, moments after checking in, Seth decided to join the fun ‘delhi belly club’ – personally I think he felt left out, I’m pretty much a lifetime member.  Of course, always trying to ‘outdo’ me, he managed get it worse than me, landing him in the hospital early this morning.  (Luckily by this point I was feeling a bit better so could help him get there!)  But don’t worry, he is definitely on the mend now, after being given a cocktail of antibiotics, rehydration salts, and other undefinable ‘pink pills’.  He had a very high fever all night and when he started to hallucinate/radiate heat from 30cm. away I took him to the hospital.  But his fever is much less now and he is looking much better, and even ate some dinner.   

Taking him to the hospital in the dark at 5am was quite the experience.  Even in obviously desperate times, the taxi drivers still must be haggled with from their exorbitant demands.  We finally arrived, but the guy at hospital reception was fast asleep on the desk, and I wasn’t sure whether to wake him or not – there were a few other patients waiting just down the hall on some chairs.  I plonked Seth down on one, and as he spaced out, went searching for a doctor.  Rather hard to identify since they wear regular Indian clothes, but in all white.  Finally found one, who told us to ‘come back in a few hours’.  I battled with that doctor for awhile, then gave up and found another one who agreed to see him.  After all that, the doctor was brief, and 10 minutes later we were walking out with 5 kinds of medicine, and we didn’t pay a cent – no one ever asked us for money, maybe we missed something…?  By this point we were exhausted, and I wasn’t up to my usual haggling standards, so we caught an overpriced taxi back to the ranch, and slept for a few hours.

The good news, however, is that Mumbai is fabulous when you aren’t deliriously sick.  As Seth slept this afternoon, I took a little wander, and enjoyed finding an air-conditionned cinema playing western movies, a real McDonalds, and many people trying to boost my ego by telling me how great I’d be as an extra in a Bollywood movie.  Probably all crap, but hey, if I was feeling better, I might give it a shot.

We have some more recuperation time here, and as soon as Seth is feeling better, we are heading straight for Goa to relax on the beach and take a holiday from our holidays!


From the city to the country to the city

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

So we left Varanasi, feeling good that we could still find our way around an Indian city and have fun (and we felt that much holier), and traveled back to the countryside.

An overnight train journey took us to Gwalior where we saw a fort at hyper-speed and were back on the train for Orcha in only 4 hours – and that included lunch!  Needless to say the Gwalior fort wasn’t all that great, mostly due to the screaming hordes of school children that were on a field trip to see the fort and the tourists within.

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Orcha is a 16km tempo-ride (sort of a shared rickshaw) from the train station and we were lucky enough to share it with a fat, happy, bean eating and bean throwing Indian lady!  She made our day forcing us to eat copious amounts of peas and throw the husks at the other tempos!

Orcha was great.  After doing our laundry in the morning (a surprisingly gratifying activity) we visited the fort, went swimming in the river – skinny dipping actually – and then went to the old temple.  We are generally forted and templed out, but the ones in this town were so unpresumptious that we could help but to love them.  And the thing that really made our day was having a swimming-hole just outside of town all to ourselves, to lay in the sun and read.  No staring.  No conversations.  It was heaven!

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The next day our whirlwind schedule took us to Agra.  This trip was one of our more ‘interesting’.  First off, we happened to share a sleeper compartment with the prince of a grand old estate and as we went deeper into conversation we discovered that this French student in Delhi had his own Lamborgini, houses and cars in Australia, Mumbai, and all over the world, as well as a plethora of servants.  Needless to say we got his number in Dehli and secured (hopefully) a place to stay with a train station pickup in a Lamborgini.

This distraction from the outside world caused us to miss our stop and travel an extra 45 min and 60 km past Agra.  Oops!  Thankfully, general tickets were available to get us back, giving Claire a luggage rack seat in the crammed open seating compartment.  For those of you who don’t know what “general ticket” means in India, it gets you a ride on one of 4 cars that contain 90% of the people on any given train.  Cheep and always available, it was our only option, and we were just lucky to be able to get on (and off) at the right times.

When we got to Agra, we took a rickshaw to our hotel, only to find out that they had given our room away.  Apparently reservations are good for a 2 hour window!  Luckily we ended up at a nice place with a view of the Taj Mahal, and a room with 2 double beds and a gymnasium sized floor.  So much space is something we haven’t experienced for awhile in this highly populated country!

Veranasi can be Very Nasty (but generally isn’t)

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

After an incredibly long journey from Kathmandu (11 hours on the bus and 6 on the train), we got the chance not only to check out another night at our FAVORITE town, Gorakpur (see the post involving lots of puking and rudeness) but also we got to meet about 647 new ‘best friends’ on the train.  A milestone – we started saying we were married and pretending we spoke French.  Kind of got busted reading a poster written in English though, oops!  We had a lot more patience our first two months, but after awhile, answering the same 5 question over and over again, and getting stared at for literally HOURS in a row gets to be a bit much. 

So it was with relief that we checked into our lovely family-owned guesthouse overlooking the sacred Ganga in Varanasi, and we had a chance to unpack and relax.  Our first impressions of Varanasi exceeded our expectations, and while it was dusty, hot and busy, it had an incredibly spiritual and holy presence.


We walked down the ghats, which are stairs leading to the river, we were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things happening – people washing clothes, bathing, burning their loved ones’ bodies, and praying.  The incredible thing is that this happens every single day of the year.  Some of the ghats had a very somber tone, while a few felt like we were at a mini-carnaval.  The interesting thing was that the cremation ghats were not somber at all – they had the busy feel of a marketplace as people bartered for the wood and services of the Untouchable caste members to handle the dead bodies.  If we hadn’t known what was in the wrapped cloths, we would not have immediately known that people were saying final goodbyes to their family members.  It really spoke to the power that people here feel is connected to this section of the river.

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At the end of the day, we watched the beautiful sunset from our rooftop, and were entertained by the little boys playing with their kites.  It reminded us very much of scenes from the book ‘The Kiterunner’ as they fought each other and ran after the fallen kites.  However, we WERE in India and soon enough the romantical mood was broken by a bloated cow carcass floating up in the river and being attacked by a pack of ravenous street dogs.  As they tugged off one of its legs, we knew we were at home.  At the end of our stay in Varanasi, we were in love with the city and were well rested for the next ‘leg’ of our journey.


Doing our chores in Kathmandu

Friday, December 8th, 2006

After much anticipation, we arrived in Kathmandu in the middle of rush hour.  We got a good view of the ‘automotive’ area of town while our bus waited in traffic with its engine off.  When it dropped us at the bus station (actually just a dirty street corner) we found a nice hotel and settled in for the evening. 

After our three days there, we had spent two of them doing chores and planning the next month of our trip, and only one day really ‘sightseeing’.  However, we didn’t feel like we missed out on much, in many ways the city disappointed us and we looked forward so much to returning to India.  At the end of a month in Nepal, we felt that the country really seemed to alienate us – in Nepal you are never a traveler, always a tourist.  There are special buses and every restaurant has a tourist menu with inflated prices and dulled down spices.  We did manage to get away from this a bit on our trek but it was never more evident than in the capital.  Kathmandu had some nice sights – we hiked up to a hill for a view of the city (covered in smog and haze), saw some gorgeous temples compete with resident playful monkeys, and stumbled across many hidden religious sites during our wanderings, but we missed the fairness of being able to haggle right alongside the locals and catch whichever bus we want.  Of course, Nepal does a few things the best: incredible bakeries (best chocolate cake ever in kathmandu, we went there every day) and more general politeness.  And it turned out to be quite the competetor with India in the ‘funny signs’ competition – when we entered the park to climb up the hill above the city, the sign announced that we would have to pay 20 rupees to walk on the path.  We felt relieved, because the same sign announced that if we happened to be riding an elephant, we would have had to pay 100 rupees.   


Overall, we did have a relaxing few days in the capital, but recommend the rural areas to the smog and busy nature of the city.  However, it did provide us with all the tools necessary to learn how to book our Indian rail tickets online (2 hours), plan our month and book said rail tickets (8 hours) and begin our search for accomodation in Goa over Christmas and New years (ongoing). 

Goin’ Rhino Hunting!

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Well after our long trek, we decided that we wanted to relax a little and head to the jungle.  Neither of us had ever gone on any kind of safari, so we didn’t really know what to expect.  We arrived at our ‘Unique Wild Lodge’, expecting, of course, some uniqueness and wildness.  I think the wildest animals may have been the tourists clambering over each other for photos of rhinos, but overall we had a great time.  The best part was our lodge was that it was all-inclusive, all you can eat.  Although I think the appetite Seth and I worked up over chasing animals and bathing elephants may have been a little surprise for the staff, and we actually ate everything they had a couple of times! 

First we checked out the visitor’s center and enjoyed a sunset by the river.

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The next day we woke up early for a foggy dawn canoe ride down the river, checked out the elephant breeding center where there was a 4-day old elephant (so cute and wrinkly!) and then Seth helped give an elephant a bath.  Or maybe the elephant helped give Seth a bath, judging by the way Seth was tossed into the river!  One interesting thing I learned about elephants is that they drink about 200L of water a day.  And watching how much they pee, I can believe it!

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Finally we got onto the back of a big elephant to go rhino hunting.  We saw some big crocodiles, wild peacocks, and a few rhinos, including a mother and baby.  We actually got surprisingly close to the rhinos, they seemed relatively unconcerned by the excited people on the back of the elephant – I think they were more interested in the delicious plants.


Later on we watched another sunset, had a beer to celebrate our hunting success, and called it a night.  Now we are off to Kathmandu!