Archive for the 'India' Category



MY ADDRESS

I almost forgot. I found out where I am so you can actually mail things to me. The address should be as follows:

Nick Lacke
c/o V.K. Sharma
15 Vasant Kunj 1
Vasant Vihar Phase 1
Dehradun 248006
Uttarakhand, India

Don’t ask me why it’s six lines long. I have no idea. That’s just how they roll here.

P.S. I also have this feeling that there’s a possibility that this address might not get your mail here. I don’t really have a reason to but I’m suspicious of the number of lines on this address. However, send it nonetheless and let me know if you sent me something (unless you want it to be a secret and then we’ll just never know).

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Shimla: A Retrospective

There might not be a whole lot to say about our three days in Shimla, but I am quite content with that. We arrived in the train station to be hounded by a bunch of porters and touts insistent in following us and telling us about “really cheap” room rates at other hotels, saying our hotels were booked, offering to carry our bags but not telling us about the hefty commission we would be charged and for all intents and purposes not taking No for an answer. Because of dramatic topography of Shimla, we had to carry all of our luggage up a steep incline while not exactly knowing where we were going.

Luckily, once we got to the hotel and put our bags down the forecast of our trip brightened significantly. Shimla is the largest foothill town in India—foothills to the Himalayas, that is. The British used to vacation here and send their children to school here so there is a decidedly European feel to the city. The scenery is beautiful. The air is crisp and clear. There are actually signs encouraging people to throw their trash in a garbage can. People wander around about their business and we didn’t have to deal with being targeted as rich, white tourists and being approached by people trying to take advantage of us. People who would approach me asking about tours or staying at their hotels were very pleasant about it and when I politely declined they actually listened and we said our farewells. I got to speak with some different people—mostly Indian—about their lives and my life and was able to get to hear their perspective of India and the U.S. Above all, I just got to wander around feeling entirely comfortable and enjoy the mountain scenery and do some serious people watching.

The only downside to Shimla is that people watching, shopping, relaxing and eating are really the only things to do so by the third day I was ready to leave. Now if I had a volunteer job there, I would be in HEAVEN.

Kelly and Mary of course did a lot of shopping so I sort of wandered around with them much of the time or sat outside stores they were in. Much like shopping with girls in the States. Being in the north, I finally found Saag on the menu and ordered it for dinner the first two nights in Shimla. The second night we got all gussied up and headed over to The Cecil, the fancy-pantsy hotel from who knows how long ago where all of the wealthy Brits (including Rudyard Kipling) stayed. Now the English are more difficult to find and it is the wealthy Delhi-ites that frequent the place. We got there a bit early, so we went over to the bar area, complete with a man playing piano and an echo reserved for only the most distinguished restaurants and hotels. There I got a martini or two—classy, I know. Of course, even with the exchange rate of 40 rupees to the dollar, these drinks were quite pricey. Things got even better at dinner. When we were finished at the bar we went downstairs to the restaurant. I felt sufficiently awkward the whole time, never knowing how to act in really classy restaurants and feeling like the collective eyes of the employees are staring me down. Mary and I scour the wine list, determined to find something. Of course, she gets the bright idea that we should just get a bottle. We get the cheapest bottle of red, something from Italy, which turns out to be $45. Yikes. I got some delicious Thai soup and munched on bread until my Saag came, which was again fantastic. All in all I think I spent about $70 on dinner knowing that that would be the last time it would ever happen in India. Hopefully in my lifetime as well.

Here are some pictures for your delight:

The view outside my window. This picture doesn’t give as accurate of a sense of scale to the landscape, but was a prettier picture. And you know I have a reputation to maintain. Still, it baffles me that the Indians call these “foothills” when I saw just how high they went. I can only imagine what the actual Himalayas look like.

This is of The Mall area in Shimla where a lot of the nicer shopping spots are. I think this part is actually called “Scandal Point” because people used to come here to gossip. As you can see, there is a palpable European air to the place. Just one of the many presents left behind by the Brits as they so like to do.

Here are some Indian Communists doing their thing. I have no idea what they were saying, but I’m guessing it was vaguely political. India, like many other countries and unlike the U.S. has many different political parties that are actually included in the system, instead of just two. The Communist Party in India seems somewhat prevalent as I have seen some demonstrations and signs scattered about each city we’ve visited.

Here’s another shot of The Mall area. I honestly got flashbacks of Switzerland while in Shimla and it definitely made me want to return there because Switzerland was my favorite place that we visited during my Europe trip. You can see a Barista there, which is a dandy western-style coffee shop that we spent at least four or five hours in total.

A sign found outside of a restaurant. Because if there is one thing that bothers me more than racism, it would have to be people bringing in food from other places. GAH! There is nothing worse than a bunch of skinheads bringing their Panera into Chipotle while I’m trying to enjoy my burrito.

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In other news, today is my “official” first day of volunteering at Latika Roy. However, the only thing I am currently working on is a logo for a different organization “Astitva.” This organization is aimed at providing services to Indian women of a lower income status because they suffer from far fewer rights than affluent women. I’ve spent a few hours working on this logo and have realized a few hurdles I am going to have to jump over:

1. My mouse broke and I am forced to used the damned worthless track pad.
2. I am a month and a half out of design practice and my right brain has gone into apathy.
3. I can’t just come in here and design in a completely Western style, I’m going to have to find a
way to throw in some Indian flavor without many examples of Indian design (which is hard to
come by on the net)
4. I have none of my books and other resources to go by.
5. I don’t have any classmates to run things by.

I’ve come to the conclusion that by putting myself to work for this organization, I will be putting my skills and abilities to probably the most difficult task up to this point in my life. Oh India, can’t you give me some slack? Just this once?

Dehradun!

Quick update: I have finished my travels around India, bade farewell to Mary and Kelly and arrived successfully in Dehradun. My bus from Shimla was pleasantly uneventful minus the whol experience of being in a bone-shaking Indian state bus winding rapidly through the mountains crammed with far too many people. But I was prepared for that so I just listened to music and tried to sleep the whole nine hours.

I am using the internet at one of the offices of the Latika Roy Foundation, the organization I will be working for. The office I am currently in is the one in which I will be working and will have wireless internet during the day—when all of you are asleep. I will try to arrange some way of me getting the internet at night so I can iChat or Skype with anyone who wants to. And once I get an address that can be used to mail me things I will post it here and send out emails to people who have personally asked.

Apparently they have lots of work for me to do/design, so I’m excited about that.

More updates as life unfolds.

To Shimla

Our visit to Delhi was in my opinion quite a success. However, we were quite excited to get to Shimla and experience the Himalayas and the beauty of an Indian hill station. Of course, we didn’t realize what an ordeal getting to Shimla would be.

It was 8:30. We had our bags backed and ready to go and the train tickets as well. Our train was scheduled to leave at 10:00 PM. We went outside of our hotel to catch a rickshaw or two. Of course, seeing a few young white and wide-eyed travelers with tons of luggage must have looked like a way to make a quick few bucks, because the rickshaw-wallahs decided it should cost over Rs100 to drive us a few streets down. Eventually we had a man from our hotel help us get cycle rickshaws, where the driver actually bikes the passengers. The rickshaw did not seem like it could hold all of our luggage, but Kelly and I managed to get on one and Mary on the other. We agreed for a Rs20 fare to the New Delhi Railway Station. Unfortunately once we got there, the wallahs decided to double our fares. While we were arguing about money, we became surrounded by beggar children whose insistence and in-our-face attitudes only heightened the already high level of stress of making our train. We broke down and gave the drivers the fairs they wanted and I pushed through the mob of children while running across the street, dodging traffic and holding on to my belongings. Upon entering the station we were harassed by other rickshaw drivers who were insistent on getting us in their vehicles, which at the time we didn’t think we needed.

Of course, upon arriving in the train station we can’t find where our train is leaving from. We are approached by a few different men who we think are trying to take advantage of some tourists (already frazzled from our earlier experiences) and who tell us that the Foreign Tourist Bureau—the haven we escaped to in the Varanasi station—was closed. We didn’t believe them but found out it WAS closed. I showed one of the men we didn’t trust our tickets and he told us our tickets were for the Old Delhi train station, our seats were wait-listed and we needed to come with him out of the train station, across the busy street and in some building. At this point, knowing usually not to trust men that just walk up to you and start saying odd things, and from the earlier difficulties, we were really freaked out. But not having any other options and against every single vibe, inclination, and fiber in my body I agreed to follow the man. He led us to a room within a building that actually had a legitimate railway sign on the front. Mary stays outside and Kelly and I go upstairs into a room with a man and a computer. He tells us we need to go to Old Delhi and that we are wait-listed but he finds seats on our train and (since we were pretty low on the wait-list number) we get on. I check to make sure he’s actually on the railway website and he writes down some numbers which I guess are ID numbers or something. From then we run back across the street and I go up to a counter pushing through men butting in front of each other left and right and ask the man if our train was actually leaving from Old Delhi. He says “yes” and that is enough proof for me (given our train number wasn’t on the board) to get us to jump into a rickshaw to Old Delhi. Of course, being stupid we go for the rickshaws near the station with the men who earlier had been in our faces and who (as Rough Guide tells me) charge way too much. We should have walked down the street a bit but we had no time. Kelly barters one of them into driving us for Rs100. Of course once we pile into the rickshaw with all of our luggage, he starts changing the price saying its Rs100 for each of us. He pretends to be generous after much arguing and takes us for Rs200. By this time (about 9:15) it had been dark for a few hours. And as we began to ride through Old Delhi, I become more conscious of this fact and more uncomfortable as we ride through areas that at night seem rather seedy. Part of me thought the man wasn’t taking us to the train station and I was beginning to memorize streets and hotels in case we have to jump in a different rickshaw. After another eternity of fear going to a train station, he drops us off at the station. We pay him and run into the station. We find our train on the board and head towards the correct platform. The train station was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people—even at night. We impatiently push through groups of people and make it to our train. Of course we don’t know what carriage we are in and we frantically ask a bunch of people who tell us different directions. We finally find our carriage and our seats—A/C with a privacy curtain—and with our last bit of energy drop our bags and lay down. After venting and regaining some sanity, we read a bit and turn out the lights at 11:30.

Disoriented, we wake up at 4:45 AM to find out we arrived in Kalka, our transfer point to our train to Shimla. In a frenzy to get off the train we gather our items and I get everything except my Holga camera, which I left in the train and only remembered several hours later. The man we talked to the night before and confirmed our first tickets let us know that we were also wait-listed on this train, however we were high up on the list. Our scheduled train leaves at 6:00 AM. I try to find official-looking people who I can communicate with to ask what to do. Mary and Kelly set up camp with the luggage while I start the goose chase for our train. We went to the chief ticket inspectors room, but he wasn’t there. So someone I ask suggests I go to the Ticket Extension Booth where I learn I need to go somewhere else, and so on. I was literally in the middle of the famous Indian bureaucracy. I eventually find out we have two options—to try to board our original train in ordinary class (which is already packed with people) or refund and rebook. At this point I really miss the western concept of the queue (or line as we say in the states) because every time I need to talk to someone important, I have to enter various-sized mobs of people who are routinely ditching each other. The worst mobs were at the Ticket Extension book where I had to go to to tell the man I want to refund my tickets so he can mark them, run over to the main ticket booth and get a few cardboard vouchers and rebook for a separate train. While waiting to talk to this man for the second or third time (the second to last time) the mob was particularly impatient and a small women pushes in front of me and because of her small size, she gets through. I find out that the best way to get help is to shove your hands towards the little opening where you would ideally hand things back and forth the to guy. After shoved and pushing my way for 10-15 mins and setting up body barricades, I am almost first “in line.” However, some particularly impatient guy who had tried to go around the back and got kicked out four times decides to come around front, and shoves his hand containing his ticket to the window in front of everyone else. I think this is when the last straw of my dwindling Western non-confrontational politeness snapped. I grabbed the man’s order-offending ticket right out of his hands and through it back at him. The man looks at me, bewildered, and steps to the back of the line. I tell Mary and Kelly who are guarding the luggage and they crack up. And then another man tries to slip his ticket by my right arm, so I slam my elbow down on it and in doing so block of my right side. After a few seconds, the man politely asks me to raise my elbow—which I graciously do—and he pulls his ticket back and stands in line like a good boy.

I talk to the guy, run over to the other desk to get my vouchers and run back to the Booth of Confrontation. The man who I’ve talked to half a dozen times motions for me to go around back and writes out a ticket for us. I graciously thank him and get Mary and Kelly and we run onto our train. We ended up paying a hefty Rs510 each for this train but soon find out why:


As far as I’m concerned, I deserved a nice spacious train seat after all of that running and legwork I did earlier in the morning (not to mention the night before). Of course the reason we got those awesome seats is because the only seats that weren’t booked were the most expensive ones. We get on the train, and sit and laugh about the past 10 hours.

Only in India have I ever experienced highs as high and lows as low. And only in India do the highs and lows follow each other in such a rapid and unpredictable fashion. Its like a rollercoaster guaranteed to give you a concussion.

We are served breakfast on the train and are treated to breathtaking views of the Himalayan mountains:



We also met a young Swiss couple—a very sweet girl and a completely odd and hilarious Euro-wangsta. We met while standing outside of our train during a routine 10 min stop and exchange the obligatory Who What When Where and Why’s exchanged when meeting fellow Westerners in India.

Currently I’m in Shimla, enjoying the heavenly scenery, the relaxed and beautiful town (which actually reminds me a bit of my travels in Switzerland) and the ability to relax. While wandering through Shimla and stopping in a coffee shop we actually ran into the Swiss couple and sat and talked with them for what seemed like a couple hours. One of my favorite parts of traveling in India is meeting fellow travels from the States or Europe and learning about them and their lives, culture and perceptions. This might be one of the most enriching aspects of the trip.

In other news, if anyone wants to donate a Holga camera to me, I still have a dozen unexposed rolls of film and am willingly to give an address once I get one in Dehradun.

Delhi

With all of this jumping from place to place, it seems I will forever be playing “catch up” with these posts. We currently just arrived at our hotel in Shimla—apparently the largest hill station in India which was also a very popular vacation spot for the British during the Raj. Arriving here was quite an adventure which will be discussed in a later post.

The sights, sounds and stresses of Varanasi left us quite exhausted Emotionally and Physically. We after arriving to our fantastically corny and comfortable hotel “Cottage Yes Please” (which if I haven’t mentioned in a previous post is made to cater towards Asian tourists…which explains the hotel’s awesome name), we crashed. I showered—my first non-bucket shower since arriving in India, took a hearty nap and watched some TV. The hotel room was definitely the most comfortable living environment we’ve had.

Interestingly enough, Delhi, the stereotypically Indian large city known for its chaos was actually an Emotional and Physical recharge spot. I think having been in slums and immersed in poverty for over a month really took a toll on us…or at least me. After physically recharging in the hotel we decided to head to Connaught Place, a posh shopping district built by the British with upscale shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars. Of course, in a perfectly Indian style. My trusty Rough Guide guidebook, so thoughtfully given to my by my brother, Brad, recommended a restaurant called Zen which specialized in Chinese cuisine. We arrive there by autorickshaw—driven by a Sikh named Jolly who after a 15 minute conversation about how he knows “The Lonely Planet tells you not to trust the rickshaw drivers and this and that,” we get in the vehicle and he proceeds to take us to his buddy’s tourism center where he tries to encourage us to book taxis to Agra and do all these sorts of things. To Jolly and his agent’s credit, they were both very nice and Jolly had to leave to meet his son so he didn’t charge us for the ride, the agent didn’t make us pay for anything and was rather friendly when we ran into him the next day. Still, I don’t like the feeling of being a commodity used for people scratching each others’ backs.
At Connaught Place I encountered things that were drastically different from anything I’ve seen in India so far: young hip and affluent Indians milling about the stores, women wearing jeans, heels and other more Western clothes while smoking cigarettes. Of course, the Indians in the slums already dress nicer than us travellers, so the hip Indians made me look like complete crap. Zen was delicious, I ordered fish and had a mojito (pronounced “mo-gieto” in India) and after that a Heineken and some delicious black current Baskin Robbins ice cream. Drinking alcohol in India, which is something I do legally in the states, was decidedly more awkward because of the attitudes towards alcohol I’ve seen in other parts of India. However, the people in the restaurants loved us and treated us well, despite our being dressed like dirty, sweaty travellers. Maybe it’s also because we spent a combined Rs4300 on dinner and drinks.

After a slow, leisurely and comforting dining experience, we headed to a bar called Rodeo, also in Connaught Place and recommended by my Rough Guide. This place might have been the most fantastic thing I’ve seen in India. It was a Wild West -themed bar, complete with Indian men dressed as cowboys, a bar with saddles for stools, a saloon-style door you have to swing open to get in, and fantastically random decorations like Clint Eastwood’s face. The soundtrack was also very good with notable Country hits like “In the End” by Linkin Park, some Metallica song, “Hotel California” by the Eagles, “Can I Touch You (There)?” by Michael Bolton, “Last Christmas,” “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, Santana and others. The salsa and other food we ordered was pretty darn good for being made in a completely different culture, and better than a good number of Tex-Mex restaurants in the States. The draught beer sort of tasted like white wine though and might have been the cause of my fellow travelers’ “loose motions” (a term used by Indians and jokingly by us to describe diarrhea).

We left in great moods and I was more care-free than I had ever been since we started our traveling.
The next day we woke up and after much deliberation decided what the plan was for the day. We decided to head to the India Gate area of New Delhi, an area of wide, tree-lined streets, nearby museums and is the center of India’s government. We got in a richshaw and headed to the National Gallery of Contemporary Art. Our rickshaw driver was persistent in getting us to stop at a few shops in order for us to purchase overpriced merchandise that he would get a hefty cut of, but our relentless arguing paid off. I think he shut up when I said “National Gallery or no rupees!” He wasn’t nearly as friendly for the rest of the trip. The gallery was awesome and I’m glad I got to at least see a little bit of art while in Delhi. There was a traveling exhibit of some German post-modern art that was Out There. Upstairs there was a somewhat small, but really beautiful collection of Contemporary Indian art. A lot of it was very much influenced by Japanese art but with an Indian twist. We then headed to the India Gate, which is at the center of this large area of roads and full of ice cream, soda vendors, Indian tourists, and of course people persistently trying to sell things to us. I’m definitely getting better at brushing them off in a friendly way and not getting as frustrated with it.

Afterwards we took a rather long walk down one of the roads and reached the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President’s Palace and where many of the governmental ministries are located. It was quite an impressive building.

We headed back down and hailed a rickshaw back to Connaught Place to do a bit of wandering and eventually get dinner. We stopped in a Cafe Coffee Day for a coffee and a snack (the place was packed) and then moved on to some bookstores and other little shops. We actually tried to see if we could catch any Western movies, but even the fancy new theatre was showing only movies in Hindi.

Near the theatre was a restaurant that looked too kitschy to pass up. It was called PiccaDelhi, and was a London-themed restaurant that immediately reminded me of my friends Hillary and Amanda who are actually in London. It was amusing and also a bit sad because it was the worst case of Anglophilia I’ve seen on the trip so far and I’ve seen a few. Nevertheless we stopped in and got some food. They had Indian, Chinese, Italian and British food all from different kitchens appropriately labeled by the areas of London (Southall, Soho, Little Italy, etc). Our experience was also completed by a Charlie Chaplain-style mime and a double decker bus busting out of the wall that had room for a man to play favorite Western hits—such as the Beatles and of course, Hotel California.

Then we were drawn back to Rodeo where we were greeted like old friends and I ate a fajita containing beef—the first time I’ve had beef in a Long Time. We got back to our hotel and prepared for our next day, which we spent in Paharganj, an area with a large Bazaar full of Indian goods and of course, hippies abound.

Getting to Delhi

Arriving to Delhi was quite the experience—my first train ride ever. Getting there was also its own adventure. Kira decided to stay in Varanasi a bit longer until she goes and works with an NGO in Kolkata (Calcutta), so Mary Kelly and I set off from the hotel to get to the Varanasi train station. We originally ordered a taxi because of our luggage however when the man at the front desk said the taxi would take an hour we went out and jumped into two auto rickshaws.

Of course, being the boy I was thrown into my own auto rickshaw while the girls were in the other. The rickshaw driver was eager to strike up conversation but didn’t feel the need to actually keep his eyes on the road and almost hit a few different vehicles. Then a bunch of his buddies jumped in the rickshaw and, cramped together, we kept on driving. The driver started saying some odd things to me and then the kid in the back started being persistent and asking me for money. I tried to be friendly but firm that there was no way I was just going to give him 100 rupees. Then he points out that we’re in a dangerous area and I start to get a bit creeped out because the driver and the passengers are all sort of creepy and Varanasi is not the safest of cities. I begin to worry about the fact that I am not entirely positive we’re even headed towards the train station and that I don’t know where Mary or Kelly are and have no way of getting in touch with them (they both have cell phones and I don’t). I reassure myself that things will work out and after what seemed like an uncomfortable eternity, we arrived at the train station. I paid my money and jumped out of the vehicle.

Now I had an idea in my head of what the train station looked like…and of course, like everything in India my perception was thrown out the window. The place was super crowded and people everywhere (you must be thinking “Nick! You’re in India. How could you NOT expect there to be people everywhere?”). I look around for awhile for tall and blonde Mary but cannot find her. Then I discover the most wonderful place! It was a foreign tourist room, where all of the out-of-place non-Indians can go and sit and try and figure out how to get on the correct train. I walk in there and my eyes are welcomed by a crew of what seemed to be mostly Europeans traveling around. And I can just tell by looking at them how much more seasoned at traveling they are than I. I look out the window of the room and find Mary. Her and Kelly come and sit in the room and we sit around and eventually actually meet some of our fellow travelers. First we met this young guy from Germany who’s just traveling around Asia by himself. He was the nicest guy and actually from Freiburg, which is interesting because I visited there during my high school Europe trip with Mr. Ellwood. He joked about how no one ever goes there and I thought how small the world must be because out of the 5000 places he could have been from in Germany he’s from one of the three places I’ve been. Then we met Laura and Jim, American college students traveling Asia after studying abroad in China for a semester. We talked the most with them and it was a rather encouraging experience to hear of the difficulties and culture shock they were having even as more experienced travelers than I. There were some older folks in and out of the place, looking like they were German.

(Renata, you will appreciate this) There was also this super cute stereotypically French girl (long brown hair, overly skinny, sad but pretty face) that I talked to. She was from some small town in France and I told her how I was from the boring Midwest. It’s really hard to make the Midwest sound exciting when talking to Europeans. Apparently her and her friend lost their luggage in Delhi and had to return there to get it. Our train announcement came and we all went to our train to figure out what car and what seat we were in.

We were all roughing it in the second-class seating, which once again was not what I was expecting, but much easier than the horrible busride to Vailankanni. Luckily a very nice man helped us figure out what to do and we played with his cute kids for much of the train ride. The only issue was the men creepily starting at the girls and how a 12-14 hour train ride turned into 18+ hours. And the fact that prisoners were on the train was unnerving. Despite all of this, and the constant men yelling “chai” to sell their tea, I managed to get about five hours of sleep.

Once again, I have written a lot so I’ll update you all on our Delhi travels later. Tonight we leave for Shimla which is at the bottom of the Himalayas and we’ll be enjoying much more pleasant mild weather (although interestingly enough, Delhi’s mid-90s temperatures are much more tolerable than Varanasi’s 100+).

Varanasi

Currently, I am sitting in a hotel in Delhi enjoying some wireless internet (something I was not planning on having during my travels). I figure this would be a good time to update you all on my travels.

Tuesday (if I remember correctly) we arrived in Varanasi via Jet Airways flight. Was I realized I found so precarious about these flights is the service is ridiculously better than any of the flights I’ve been on in the states and even intercontinental flights with American staff. After leafing through the airlines magazine and seeing the types of luxury items advertised, I have come to the conclusion that it is because only the really affluent go flying around India. We were fed more food than I could eat on the our flight from Bangalore to Delhi and then Delhi to Varanasi, because I stuffed myself on the airport in preparation to not be getting enough food (which was my experience on the 15 hour Continental Airlines flight from New Jersey to Mumbai.

Mary, Kira, Kelly and I arrived in Varanasi in one piece, minus Kelly’s checked luggage. From everything I’ve read in the travel books, Varanasi is a city where many people are ready to take advantage of tourists and this notion was burned into the back of my brain in fear of taking an overpriced ride to the wrong hotel and getting charged a ton of money. We called the Sita Guest House, where we were planning to stay and they sent a taxi to come get us. Also, the Jet Airways staff was ridiculously helpful about Kelly’s luggage (far more so than in the States) and she eventually got it back later that night. We loaded into the taxi and made it to our guest house which was situated on the edge of the famous Ganges River.

Where we were staying (the old city of Varanasi) there are tons of guest houses (something between a hotel and a hostel) strung along the side of the river. On the other side of the guest houses were a confusing series of narrow streets and alleyways to get to the larger streets where shops and banks and markets and the like are. Because of the amount of crime it is not at all advisable to be walking through these narrow catacombs at night and instead we were told to make our way down a main street until we hit the ghats (steps leading into the river). There are dozens upon dozens of different ghats where different things happen.

Tuesday we just relaxed and walked along the ghats, of course constantly getting offers for flowers and post cards and boat rides. I think one of the hardest things for me in India is being seen as money and having people come up to me either trying to sell me stuff or begging and either way not taking “no” for an answer easily. Mary Kelly and I went to get money from a bank and along the way a guy started talking to us and after we broke off conversation because clearly the guy was trying to take advantage of us, he decided to tail behind us while we walked to the bank until we stared him down enough that he left.

We ate dinner at the rooftop restaurant at our guest house where Raju, the cook/magnificent masseur introduced himself. And was constantly trying to convince Mary to get a massage from him. Which if you could have seen his little massage parlor set-up, you would have graciously bowed out as well. But according to Raju, Goldie Hawn was just in Varanasi and received a massage from him. As well as Michael Jackson. Hmmm..

Wednesday we took a morning boat ride on the Ganges, which was quite pretty. The thing about the Ganges is that it is THE holy river of the Hindus and when they die they are supposed to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges and then sent into the river. The reality is that the river is extremely extremely polluted—septic actually. But you will see people doing everything from cremating their dead, to washing their clothes, washing themselves, brushing their teeth and playing. It is really quite a sight for Western eyes.

I also saw more Westerners milling about the streets and the ghats. And from what I’ve seen I can break them down into two groups: hippies and European hippies. And then there’s the odd European. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve only seen Americans very sporadically. Maybe its the fact that Europeans have gone everywhere in Europe and are looking for something else and Americans usually go to Canada maybe once or twice but thats about it. And I thought we were going to meet some of these cool travelers at our hotel or in the Bread of Life Bakery (a wonderful little restaurant where I ate omelettes and pancakes and all of the American breakfast items I’ve missed), but we did not meet anyone. All of the Westerners seemed to keep to themselves and looked at everyone else with critical eyes. Especially some of the hippies. You could tell they didn’t want you there.

Later in the day we met the man who owned one of the “burning” cremation ghats and sat us down and told us all about the ghats. I was pretty skeptical of this guy’s motives, but the girls seemed interested so I went along. After telling us about the ghats he offered to give us a tour which we went along with. He then proceeded to show us people making silk fabrics and then into his friend’s silk shop where we spend a few hours been shown silk saree and bedspread fabrics. Then they started giving out rather outrageous prices for these goods. The girls seemed really interested in the fabric and since this was what seemed like the 20th time I’ve had to sit around while girls look at sarees or jewelry I excused myself and rested in the hotel.

Which was necessary because Varanasi was ridiculously hot. The day we left (Thursday) it was around 110F with the heat index and disgustingly humid. More about the train station and getting to Delhi later. I think I’ve typed far too much right now.

Here are some PHOTOS!