Friday, May 15, 2009

Home Done Over

I'm back, all the way to Springfield. I hope everyone enjoyed reading. I'm preparing a little piece on what I learned about travel photography so stay tuned for that if you might be interested.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Oh My Buddha!!!

Girl walks up to the desk at my hotel (right by where I'm sitting).

Girl: Is there a Catholic church around?
Desk Man: Cafeteria?

Nice shot here at Flickr of the Taj Mahal, the building I didn't make it to. You can see some people on the deck there for a bit of scale. The whole deck was built so that the Taj would be raised and the background would be completely sky.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Buncha (Bad) Photos

Neelkanth, from Badrinath
All over these roads were cool signs like this one. Also "Speed thrills, but kills", "Better Late Than Never", "Don't Overspeed".
Indian seating, Indian Bidi(cigarette)
The elusive Indian woman(background), rarely seen in public.
I shot this one maybe from a bicycle rickshaw in Haridwar, not looking through the viewfinder. I like it. Here's Promod, the guide.

We've come to that bridge...
Here's a shot from one of the mountain bus rides. Rocks lining the photo bottom is the edge of our road. Beyond that is certain death.
Get your news. I watched this cow eat the whole page of newsprint. At first, I thought maybe there was some delicious flavor attached which the cow was trying to clean off, but from what I could tell, it was just a page of newspaper. His face seems to say "Yup, I'm eating sewspaper, what's up?"

Wow, someone actually cleaning up in India. I was genuinely surprised by this. I should've known better. See next.
The fate of that trash pile. The Mighty Ganga. Not a great pic, I know. Sad. Lisa and Gusti, what's that bumper sticker you guys have on the Outback? Something like "Everybody is somebody's upstream". They don't really have that here.

I don't remember the name of this mosque. It's the biggest mosque in India, built by Emperor Shah Jahan, same dude who built Taj Mahal. It was a horrible experience for me. I was harrassed one way or another at every moment. People wanting their picture taken, people wanting me to pose for a picture(these two I usually don't mind, but they contributed today), people becoming my tourguide who just wanted me to pay to go up the tower, teenagers following me around talking shit in Hindi, burning hot ground with no shoes allowed, etc. It just leaves no time to enjoy the actual place. The last time I got this angry was two years ago to the month working in the bike shop in New York. I had to find somewhere and sit down and breath deep. This was the last straw for me in India altogether, and when I lost track of time and missed my train to Agra, it took me about 10 seconds to decide to change my flight back to Bangkok and leave that night. I'm sure the Taj Mahal is absolutely beautiful. That's the way I want it to stay in my mind. If the experience was anything like that of this mosque, then I wanted no part of it.
As for the photos, not so good. George Skovera was saying once that if you get angry or if something is bothering you, the photos suffer. Well that couldn't have been more true a lot of the time spent in India. In addition to that, I couldn't really find the good light.
So I left and now I'm back in Bangkok. And India said, "Fine, you can leave, but not without a stomach infection." It was my fault, I ate a really filthy meal for 19 rupees. I got the right pills here for 77 Baht, and I'm partially recovered. It was nice in the airport when I met and chatted with the coolest girl in the terminal, who might be reading this. To you and the other Indian friends I made along the way, I apologize for some of the not so positive comments I've made here. I'm glad I went to India.
My weight has fluctuated I think. In India, despite being 90% vegetarian, I think I gained some weight back. The food is heavy and generally quite delicious. I didn't miss the meat. In Thailand, I generally eat all day, and not always the healthiest. In Cambodia, there is a lack of snack food, so I'd pretty much eat three meals a day, and it wasn't heavy. I think I dropped some of the Thailand weight there.
My worldview...I don't know. I know more about what's out there. I know about squat toilets and cold bucket showers. I just went 2 weeks without touching a piece of toilet paper. I know I'll laugh anytime I hear someone say "there's no toilet paper" from now on.
I can explain cricket now.
Check everybody later, I gotta go find another place to beat the heat, this place is dead anyway.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Throw Up Like You Just Don't Care

Blog Riddle:
On last night's train ride from Dehra Dun to Delhi, I travelled facing forward halfway and backward halfway. I didn't change seats. What gives?

Head On: Apply Directly to the Forehead

A: I guess we did 3-point turn.

The end of the story from last time is pretty boring. I sat in the middle seat and their son went and sat in the compartment with the driver. So Mom, Dad and two daughters had two seats. What worried me was the Barf Schedule. For some of you, this would be a great place to stop reading, or see 'ALAS' below.

April 6, Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Little girl sitting next to me calls up the aisle to her mother several times and she finally comes. Little girl throws up into a plastic bag her mother holds.

April 15: Flight from Bangkok to Delhi
Surely the one flight that has caused me, with a stomach of steel, to come the closest to 'Reversal of Fortune', grounds for disqualification in Nathan's Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest. As we began to descend, the pretty English girl next to me throws up in the 'aerial discomfort bag', or whatever they call it.

April 20, Bus from Delhi to Haridwar
This was a 6-hour bus ride. With less than 3 blocks to travel, the woman directly across the aisle throws up right on the floor of the bus. I suppose it would've been worse if she had done it earlier on, but she chose the perfect moment so that Vijay and I had to experience its aroma before getting off.

As a former bettnig man, I would've guessed that on this bumpy, windy (an horrifying) 12-hour bus ride from Jochimath to Dehra Dun(May 3), there would be another session to add to the list. About 20 minutes into the trip(5:50am), the man 2 rows up sticks his head out the window and generously deposits his last meal onto the roadway, or maybe into the 4000-foot valley. 10 minutes later, the woman across the aisle from him does the same out her window. These two don't count. I perpetually feared that the 5 year girl next to me, whose sleeping head rests either on her father's left arm or my right arm, was about to wake up feeling queasy and deposit a wet, smelly mess in m lap. I'm sure, at that point, with all the factors contributing, it wouldn't have taken much for me to muster up some retaliation, making sure to get at least a little bit on each of the 4 family members in my range.

Let me interject an apology here for the lowbrow content.

ALAS, everybody held it down and I soon upgraded seats. But wait, this is still India, and we're not out of the woods yet. The bus would go on to break down in Rishikesh. Fortunately, we broke down at a spot where "share-jeeps" gather groups for the beautiful ride to Dehra Dun. After half hour or a bit more of a couple guys tinkering and whole lot more guys watching, I pulled my bags off the bus and, in a rare move of extravagance (after 9 hours on a bus), purchased both seats in the front row of the jeep, for a total 60 Rs. I think the '4-seat' row behind me had 9 people in it, with a couple children perched up on our seat back. Safety not always first for the nice folks here. I enjoyed the space on the lovely ride with my left foot out the non-door.

I arrived at the rendezvous in Dehra Dun just about on time. I was meeting Raj, another guide with the company I trekked with, whom I met in Joshimath. Like Haridwar, having a friend and local tourguide made the town uch more enjoyable.

It was quite fun to be able to treat this guy to dinner at the relatively fancy 'Punjab Restaurant' and 'order the heck out of the menu". (-Bob Chipkin) We had:

-Russian Salad
-Mixed Raita
-Shahi Mutton Something
-Paneer Makhani
-Vegetable Biryani
-Bottled Water, for me

I ate too much. I almost couldn't chew and swallow the traditional moutth freshener of rock candy and anise seeds.

500 Rupees paid forthis feast and a tip for the waiter. For my American readers, that's like leaving a $10 bill.

As we stepped out of the restaurant, the power went out in the whole town. Just as we arrived home, it came back on (probably because Raj had just bought a couple candles). Lucky guys.

May 6(Today) Evening Train to Agra
May 7 Taj Mahal sunrise, explore Taj and Agra Fort, Taj Mahal sunset, train back to Delhi.
May 9/10 Delhi to BKK
May 12/13 BKK to JFK

For those of you who are worried about what you will read at work when I go home and this blog terminates, fear not. Simply send me a big bag full of money and I promised to take another trip and blog all about it, with or without vomit stories.

Till next time, try and hold it down.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine-Like Symptoms

I am showing no signs or symptoms of Swine Flu.

I return to Wmass May 13 or 14.

Blog Multiple Choice:
On yesterday's 12-hour bus ride, the back row of 5 seats was empty when I got on. Seats 19-22 from left to right with the middle seat having no number. I was assigned seat 21. Who bought the ticket for seat 22? Was it
A. Vishnu
B. An Italian fashion model
C. Mrs. Clause's sister
D. A family of five

Players, if you answered D, then have responded correctly and should reward yourself with a cold beer, hot chai or other preferred beverage.

Dehra Dun to Delhi tomorrow, 5am
Delhi to Agra the next day.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thousands of Words

Here's Pargantula from our turnaround. I wouldn't mind another crack at her with fresh legs, but I've already let it go.

Here's our team. Brendarsh driving Hira and Neelam. My pack in red on lead mule.
These two gentlemen agreed to disagree on whether or not to smile in a photo.
Keep all your dogs in a row.

I wanted to load up 5 more(the good ones), but the mule is full and the guy wants 400 rupees for another mule to Kashmir.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Back from the Trek

I arrived back from the trek a little while ago. It was early in the trek that I abandoned the fantasy, upon return, of a comfortable room in a guesthouse with a nice, hot shower. That sort of thing isn't really available. Some days there isn't even water. I had the choice of a cold shower or a warm bucket shower. I chose the cold shower and sorry, no towel. "No problem" said the man, "you're all alone in there", and then he waggled his hips in front of me for bit too long.

I dropped off my laundry (I'm gonna skip the details of this storefront and its proprietor) and headed for the computer. The first thing I wanted to do on the internet was email my friend Eric. I met this guy biking across the US. I told him he could take the biggest, blackest Sharpie and use it to cross my name off the list of potential participants for the Pacific Crest Trail hike. This is a trail, out West, where you have to hike something like 18 miles per day for three months to complete it without getting pinched by the weather on either side.

Our trek was fun, but I'm glad it was not 6 days. I know what you're thinking: Max, you're a fat, lazy blob, how did you do a five day trek in the Himalayas? These are some serious mountains, not like that little acne patch you find in Southeastern British Columbia. (Just kidding, Lisa and Gusti). Well the answer is mules. What I paid for was a giude and a porter. I thought this would mean a guide and another guy to help carry the sleeping and cooking stuff and I would still carry all my gear. But not so; what porter meant was the guy who drive the two mules. But Max, did you really need two mules? I don't know, but mules don't fly solo. So I just carried my camera some water.

It started off easy. The first two days were very easy but the third day was long and I stretched myself thin, laboring into camp. Added to this was the frustration of extensive miscommunication with my guide which caused me to be up on Kuari Pass with no jacket and no clue about where we were or where we were going. On Day 4, the plan was to reach the peak of Pargantula(sp?) at about 4700 meters. From the first few days and the look of the oft-visible peak, I decided this was going to be "easy". This was much like that time in college when I was about to play Trinity's #14 in squash and I had it in my mind that I was going to do really well. I was gonna play great, use all my best moves and get about 5 points per game. I think I got one point the whole match.

My body was pretty much dead from the first steps up, but we made a valiant effort. We got to a spot where we sat down for some lunch. My guide, Promoth, pointed up at the peak and said "I think no". I said "I think you're right", and we both lay back on the cushy, short bushes and fell asleep. Maybe another time I can post a picture of this peak.

For everything, jeep rides, forest pass, five days of guide, five days of mules, food for everyone, I paid about US$60/day. In the area of food, the service far exceeded my expectations. Breakfast daily was a big bowl of Ramen-like noodles but fatter with tomatoes and onions, an omelette and a bowl of hot cereal of some kind. Sometimes toast. Lunch was abit weak but it was a setup for dinner. Dinner, and this is just for me, was a bowl of Dahl, a big bowl of rice, 4 chopattis, like naan, sort of, a vegetable dish, papadums, a salad plate(cucumbers and onions), and then usually a bowl of hot cereal. Delicious tea was always served. It was all made fresh, pretty incredible. I'm not sure if I was weaker due to all veg diet, not sure.

Today was tough. We just plowed downward many thousand feet. At one point we rested and I asked the guide if we were halfway. He replied "no, no" and I knew from his history of answering questions that this could actually mean yes, no we already passed it, or no we're not there yet. Yes and no were interchangable. So were today and tomorrow. I eventually stopped asking. About halfway(maybe) along today, my right knee said "Hey Max, I'm finished, and Lefty's not far behind." As there was no 'Helicopter' button, I had to push them on. Literally, about 10 minutes from the village of Topovan, our terminus, I grazed my hand against a harmless looking plant whose tiny little barbs bit into my skin in four places. It burned immediately and swelled up. I showed Promoth, and to make me feel better, he replied "I think no".

All in all, it was pretty awesome. Please excuse my sharp tone. I'm pretty fatigued from the walking and 4 nights sleeping with nothing between me and the ground but a 1/4 inch foam thing. I tipped the guide and porter generously for their terrific service.

If anyone was interested, I'm in Joshimath, Uttrachan. Not sure about the spelling on the state. It changed between now and when my Lonely Planet was published. We're about 40km from China. To be honest and I'm surprised there's internet here, and it's actually not so slow. I was assuming the data for this post would have to be loaded onto a mule and carried off to another town, but I guess not.

I don't hate being in India, but it's tough. It's a lot to take all at once, and at time maybe doesn;t seem worth it. In Thailand, people smile, but in India people take you home. "Guest is God" is the rule here and it's taken very seriously. That love makes it worth it. I'm here til May 9 and I plan to put my time in and make it down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. At this rate, I'm not sure when I'll be back in the area and I think it's a must see. (The rest of Agra is apparently not so pleasant.) All I'm saying is think long and hard before planning your vacation in India, and then come, with an open-ended ticket.

By the way, the view in the mountains was incredible. I'm guessing about that. Anything too far away was washed out in smoke and cloud. Too bad for everyone. Sorry. Hopefully we'll do some more pictures soon. Bye all.