Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ghorka

So, this is Ghorka. it is a very rural place which is lovely for the peace and quiet and lack of air pollution (except around the bus park of course). Also, i only paid 100 rupees for my room! That's like $1.25! Ridiculous. The only people in the family who spoke English were the exceedingly charming children of the family. They had the biggest smiles and most open faces I'd ever seen in my life. The down-side to a $1.25 a night room is that the sink and shower are one, which is a cold water spigot coming out of the wall above a squat toilet which was pretty gross. But for $1.25 I don't think I have the right to complain.
The other thing about Ghorka being so rural is that it is filled with villagers who seem like they've never seen a foreign person before in their life. Everywhere I went I was stared at and laughed at. It's a very alienating feeling. I'm not talking about curious glances, I'm talking about hard-core staring. On my first day there, I went for a walk around town and I was reposing on a stone wall, smoking a cigarette and writing in my journal, and a woman coming up the hill stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me for a full 30 seconds. I got kind of wierded out, so I smiled and said "Namaste", to which she smiled back and said "Namaste", then took 3 steps up the hill and turned around and stared again. She didn't stop until I got up and walked away.
That being said, Ghorka is a beautiful place. I hiked up to the top of the hill to a temple at the Ghorka palace. The climb nearly killed me but it was worth it. Apparently twice a month they sacrifice goats and chickens up there and there was dried blood all over the place. I also saw some villagers skinning a beheaded goat in their front yard on my way up the hill. By the time I was headed down, they were hacking up the ribs. It reinforced my vegetarianism.

Here is Rani Pokhari (Queen's Pond). You can't see them, but to the right of this picture was a group of 4 girls staring and laughing at me.


The neighbors beautiful garden just before a crazy hail storm.
I was going to get some food, and it had just started sprinkling. I was standing in the doorway of my guest house watching the street and it got real windy and everyone was running around like crazy, closing up their shops, running home, the portable ice cream stand guy was hauling ass down the road and I didn't get it. Why are they all freaking out? It's just a little wind. So I set out. I made it about 300 yards away when it starting hailing stones the size of golf balls. I was stuck out in the hail with another guy, getting pelted, when a nice watch repairmen let us into his shop to wait it out. When it was over, I went back to the guest house and kids everywhere were ecstatic. The kids of the house brought me up to the roof to look at more hail, and their neighbors were having a rooftop hail war from opposite sides of the street. It was classic.

The ride back to Kathmandu took forever but here is an awesome shot of a goat on the bus. Three of them came on mid-journey.
I am back in Kathmandu. I'm here for 5 days, then I head to Beijing. Joon's going to meet me after about one week. I'll be doing some day trips from here; there's lots to see in the Kathmandu Valley. So far the weather's been nice- raining in the afternoon/evening and sunny with clean air in the mornings.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pokhara

Strange inedible fruit outside my hostel room.
This is the lake in Pokhara. I don't know for sure, but I think that Pokhara means "lake" or something like that in Nepali. The tourist part of town is along this lake, and as you can see, it's very pretty.
Yesterday some new friends and I hiked up to a Peace Pagoda on top of a big hill. You have to take your shoes off, or Off Your Shoes, or F your shoes, before going up to the temple.
On the way back down, we walked through this little village on the side of the dam. There were kids swimming in the river and mommas washing clothes. We got to cross over this cool suspension bridge.
Pokhara is beautiful! It's mainly a town for starting treks, or if you're lazy like me, sitting around relaxing and watching other people plan their treks. I am definitely coming back here one day to do the Annapurna Circuit, which is a cool trek that takes about 3 weeks and you get to walk through all these small villages in the Annapurna mountains. I've been walking around town and up the lakeside mountain, and eating and reading a lot. It's been very relaxing to be out of the chaos of Kathmandu.
Tomorrow I leave for a town called Ghorka, which is where the republic of Nepal was started. It sounds like a small town with nothing much to do but read and walk around. I'll stay there two or three nights, then head back to Kathmandu. Only a little over a week left before I head to China. Once again, I am amazed that my trip is almost over and I'm trying to enjoy the last bit of nothing to do but read and relax and enjoy. I am looking forward to getting back home, though. Can't wait to see everyone and catch up on what's goin on in SF!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

kathmandu pt.1 and chitwan national park

There are about 8 million temples in Kathmandu, which is wonderful and beautiful- and confusing. The other day i went for a walk and thought i'd be able to find my way back, no problem because of all the temple landmarks, but i just got horribly lost in the rain (of course it started to rain) for an hour or so. Eventually I hopped into a cafe for tomato soup and momos (did i tell you about momos yet?) to wait out the rain.
The photo above is the house of the living goddess. According to the guidebook, Nepal has a living goddess who is chosen as a child and has to meet many requirements, including certain measurements of her face. When she hits puberty or if she loses a certain amount of blood, she ceases to be a goddess and just becomes a mere mortal and another girl is chosen to be the living goddess.

These two photos are taken in Durbar Square- it's a pretty big square with many temples. It's great for sitting and people watching because some of the temples are tall and you can climb up to the top of them, which i did in order to escape the rain and take these photos.


Ha- I thought this was funny. It looks like this is the place where Mischa Barton gets her hair styled when she is in Kathmandu.



OMG!!! Can we all just take a moment out of our day to appreciate how fucking CUTE this baby elephant is? Some people were feeding it cookies and I think it ate 4 or 5 packages of cookies in the 10 min. i was standing there.

I spent the last couple of days in Chitwan National Park. I had a pretty fantastic time. I was one of two people staying at the lodge and I got a lot of individual attention from the staff. They were all really great people. My guide was hilarious and he loved to speak American English. I taught him some slang and he taught me some basic Nepali.


Here's me with the baby elephant. Notice how uninterested he is in taking a photo with me. I didn't have any cookies.

The first thing we did was visit the elephant breeding centre. It was great to see pregnant elephants and their babies (obviously), but the life of the captive elephant is pretty depressing. There are some working elephants who carry tourists around the park- it's pretty much the only way you can get really close to wild animals like tigers and rhinos without risking your life. The sad thing is that they work so hard, and they have to be trained in a way that isn't exactly humane. There's a certain amount of cruelty that has to happen in order to "tame"(break the spirit of) an animal that is way more powerful than you. The mamas at the breeding center were chained up by their feet to a post. That alone is enough to break this vegetarian's heart.

Afterwards, we walked home through the village. The indigenous people who live in the area are the Tharu people. They live in huts made of elephant grass, mud and dung. They do a lot of farming- rice and wheat mostly, and...

marijuana! The stuff is growing everywhere, mixed in with the wheat or on it's own. My guide said it's not for everyday use, just special occasions.



There's an underground spring in the area and the water is pretty clean. Apparently the use of pesticides in the farms is gaining, and my guide said that in about 50 years time, the groundwater will be too polluted to be safe to drink. Here's a shot of water being pumped up to irrigate the rice fields.


A photo from my jeep ride into the park. Probably the dustiest 5 hours I've ever experienced, by the way. The jeep was open in the back where everyone sits and they haven't had rain in awhile. When I got out of the jeep I was covered in a layer of dust and my lungs hurt today from all the dust I inhaled. Gross.


The one-horned rhino! These guys are huge! way bigger than I expected. They can run 40km per hour, and if they get spooked they will charge you. We saw two on our jungle walk and got close, than sort of trotted away when it looked at us, then snuck back, then ran away when it started moving. I was questioning my purpose in the jungle as my heart was beating out of my chest.
When we got back home, my guide showed me a gnarly scar above his ribs where he was mauled by a rhino years ago.
These rhinos can only be found in Nepal and in one area of India that used to be Nepal. There back is really weird. You can't tell in the picture, but it looks like a suit of armor.

Today I took a bus to Pokhara. It was so beautiful! We drove alongside a big river most of the way, and of course it reminded me of California. Looks like the Trinity River up by Hoopa. Pokhara is a really pretty town. There's a nice lake and lots of mountains. A lot of folks start their treks from here.
I will email again in the next few days. I'm planning to stay in Pokhara 3 or 4 days, then maybe make my way back to the air polluted Kathmandu from which I will do a bunch of day trips.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

welcome to nepal

i had the longest journey to kathmandu, ever. first, i went down the hill from darjeeling to a town called siliguri. then i had to take a taxi to the border town of panitanki (india side) to cross to kakarbhitta (nepal side). there are supposedly buses from there to kathmandu, but there's some sort of strike going on. which entails people protesting against the government by blocking all the highways between kakarbhitta and kathmandu. i'm sure there is more to it, but this is the most information i could get out of anyone.
so, i was stuck in kakarbhitta. which is a dusty town which has nothing but tourist offices and hotels, and their main square is the bus stand. also, no atms, no electricity for 16 hours a day, sometimes no water, and dodgy phone lines that were never working at the same time as the electricity or when i wanted to make a phone call. i was only there for one night, but i was starting to feel as trapped as the indian tiger i saw at the darjeeling zoo. it was only a matter of hours before i started pacing back and forth down kakarbhitta's only street. so this morning when i woke up and the hotel people told me the strike was still on and could be for another 7 days, i decided to take drastic measures to get the hell out of there.
this involved booking a plane ticket from the nearest airport (4 hours away), jumping in a shared taxi and driving back into india and around the nepal border to a different shithole border town, using the atm machine, and making my plane 10 min. before it left.
but i am here, in glorious (by that i mean dirty and big) kathmandu!
actually, kathmandu doesn't seem terrible. i've seen much worse on this trip. like delhi. also, nepali people are really nice. they are amazed that i'm not nepali and they all seem to feel the need to tell me that i have a nepali face at least 4 times after realizing i'm not from nepal.
tomorrow is a new day and i will have a look around the city and then the next day head to chitwan national park in the south, where i will hopefully see tigers or some sort of wildlife.
ok, goodbye for now

Monday, March 16, 2009

Darjeeling is the Humboldt of India

Hi from Darjeeling. It's pretty different here from the rest of India. In fact, i feel like I'm in a different country. First of all, the faces are more Nepali and Tibetan than Indian-looking. That's good for me because i feel like i fit in more. The climate is cooler- you could say freezing cold at night if you've been sitting still for a while. It's a welcome relief from the scorching, sweaty heat of the south.
The picture above is a temple on the top of the hill near Central Darjeeling. I wandered up there and there were millions of prayer flags all over and a lot of small shrines.

Today i visited the Happy Valley Tea Estate. This is tea. It doesn't look how you'd think, huh? I took a lame tour (lame because the factory was empty- it's the start of the season but nothings happening yet). It was explained to me that the tea gets picked and dried and rolled and dried and some other stuff. It wasn't that interesting for me; I only went because my friend Cassie is really into tea and I thought I could learn something and tell her about it. Sorry Caxie!
But the tea plantation is really pretty, isn't it?
Here are two photos of the toy train. The toy train is really cool because it's very very old and when it was built it cut the travel time to Darjeeling from one week to one day. Of course nowadays we have jeeps and buses so the train is the long way to go (7 hours vs. 3 in a bus) but being enamored by old-timey things, I had to take the toy train.
It's called a toy train because it's really small compared to normal trains. It's on a narrow guage rail and when it pulled up in the station it really looked like a toy. It moves about as fast as Lance Armstrong going uphill, and some of the turns are too tight so they make a path like a "Z"- which means they have to go backwards in some spots. You can see in the pictures how it crosses the road. The tracks were there before the road, and the cars just wait when they here the train horn.

Today after the tea estate I went to the Darjeeling Zoo, which was kind of depressing when it came to the leopards and tigers, but here is the red panda, which is adorable! Just look at that face! It's also called a cat bear because it looks like a cross between the two. This one was pigeon toed when it walked across that branch and it made my heart feel like it was going to burst with the cuteness.
Oh! I almost forgot- Darjeeling is the Humboldt of India because there are all these trees here that look a lot like Redwoods, though they are not. I got up close and inspected. It's also really quiet here (relatively speaking) and there is more fresh air than exhaust fumes.
Well that's about it. I have all day tomorrow in Darjeeling, then i head down the hill and cross over to Nepal. More on that later.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

slowest computer in all of india.

hi, i'm in darjeeling now and i've been in the process of uploading photos for the last hour, but i give up. I will just say that it is beautiful here and it reminds me of home because it is hilly (though a different kind of hilly from sf) and cold. i walked around a lot today and ate lots too. i will do more of the same over the next few days. i will take pictures and find a decent computer to share said pictures.
i've been thinking about home a lot as the trip is winding down, and i must say: i am really excited to go home! at first this was mixed with regret that my trip isn't longer, but today while i was taking a "shower" with my one bucket of hot water for the day, i was really wishing for a real shower and maybe a bigger towel. it's cold here!
also i can't wait to see everyone back home (esp joon). i have big plans to spend more time with friends when i get back, especially since i'll be unemployed and i'll have plenty of time on my hands, so watch out! anyways, i miss everyone and i will see you all soon (5 weeks and counting).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Hi! I'm really excited because for the first time ever, I was able to upload a video onto the blog. It's on the bottom. Hopefully it works.
Well, I'm in Calcutta now. It's pretty hot here but not humid, so i am happy. (I can take heat, just not the sweaty, sticky feeling of humidity.) I have done very little here in the last three days. The first night, I arrived by plane from Chennai. Took a taxi into town- there was a lot of traffic and I could feel the stress emanating off my poor taxi driver.
The second day was Holi- a big festival where people run around throwing paint at each other. Everything was closed, and I woke up at 9am to loud drums in the street. I went out there and there were pink, purple, and blue people everywhere. I managed to stay out of the paint throwing (pretty boring of me but I only have one pair of pants) but did get to watch. Looked like fun. The next day I saw people stained different colors on their faces, necks, arms, hands, legs and feet. Today is the 3rd day and some people still look faintly orange, like oompa-loompas.

Yesterday I walked around and went to the Victoria Memorial museum, a big building built by the British (?-don't quote me on that). There was a lot of interesting information in there about the history of Calcutta and about when the British came and how things changed.

Tonight at 10pm I take a night train to New Jaipalguri. From there I take another train to Darjeeling. I'm really looking forward to Darjeeling because I've heard it's beautiful and it's actually going to be cold there! I can't wait to use my hoody again. After Darjeeling I head into Nepal.
Tough, mean old alley cat outside my hotel window. Apparently it's their favorite place to hang out at night, because they like to fight under my window every night at 11:30pm onwards.

See that big lump? That's my jacket and some other stuff I mailed home yesterday! Here you have to wrap parcels in white cotton or else they won't send it. Hopefully it gets there! there's no box or anything...
The Victoria Memorial Museum. It's made from the same marble as the Taj Mahal.


This is just pretty. don'tcha think?


video
And here is the first video on the blog ever... It's just the view from my taxi window as I came into downtown Calcutta. Hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kerala

So the story starts in Cochin. I flew there from Mumbai (flying! so wonderful!!) and it was air conditioned and great. I got off the plane and was met by a cloud of humidity that followed me around the entire time I was in Kerala (which is a state, by the way; at the very south end of India, on the west side).
Here are the Chinese fishing nets. They have been around for quite some time, since the Portugese? French? were in India. I watched them pull up some fish but they only seemed to get about 5 fish at a time, and the seagulls flew off with half.


The plants in Kerala amazed me. The dirt is red and all the plants are a lush green. Everything is cleaner because there is less city (at least in Cochin) and it was very beautiful.


Here is an Enfield bullet. I'm seriously considering buying one and upgrading Gladys. They only cost a couple thousand dollars here, but apparently are hard to find in the US. Maybe on my next trip to India, I can buy one and ship it back?...
I went to Alleppey (about 1.5 hours by bus from Cochin) and met these two guys on the bus ride over there. They were Tom and Adrien from London and France, and they were good company. We stayed the night in Alleppey and then caught a backwater tour. It was 8 hours of views like the one above. The cool thing about it was that we went through all these little villages where people's backyards basically were right at the water. There were about a million kids waving at us and screaming "One pen! One pen!". Tom wondered what the kids would do if we actually threw them a pen, and the next day he went out and bought a couple but of course didn't see any kids who wanted a pen.
Our boat ended up in Kollam, which was a dusty little town with zero English speakers. There were lots of big structures strung with lights being set up, here's one. I'm not completely sure what the occasion was, but I think it may be Holi, which starts tomorrow. It's a holiday where people throw paint at you. I'm not particularly looking forward to it, but hey. When in India...

So yesterday I hopped onto a train for 17 hours, took another train to the airport in Chennai, then waited 7 hours (in air conditioning) for my flight to Calcutta. I arrived here not too long ago, and it is hot! but not as humid, so I am happy. I have a lot of errands to do while here, like laundry, mailing stuff, and booking tickets. Hopefully I'll do plenty of walking around town in the process and I'll get new stories and pictures to share.
In a couple days I'm headed to cooler climates in Darjeeling. I am really looking forward to being cold. Until next time...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mumbai (Bombay)

India Gate- You can't tell in the photo, but the ocean is right behind it.


The Taj Hotel, where there was a terrorist bombing a couple months back. It seems like it's up and running again. The only difference is that there's guards and barriers all around the perimeter and a big chunk missing out of the top side- well, it's covered up by something so I don't really know what's going on there, just guessing. My hotel is a couple of blocks away from here but not nearly as glamorous.


Flora Fountain- Just about every novel I've ever read that's set in Bombay refers to Flora Fountain. As you can see, it's very pretty even though it's not on. I would like everyone to appreciate that I stood in the direct sun in ridiculous humidity to take this picture.


Here's a funny bus- they are everywhere all over India.


A paan-wallah! I bought cigarettes from this old man and he was mixing a bunch of stuff together (see all his ingredients?) and I watched him for a bit. Paan is like a chewing tobacco that a lot of men walk around with in their mouths. I think it's got beetle nut in it? I'm not really sure to be honest, but it turns the teeth red from the juice and people are spitting it out in this impressive arcs. It really seems like an art the way they spit so far. You can see red streaks on the streets and sidewalks everywhere you go and that's what it's from.
So, I was watching the paan guy and I started asking him what stuff was; he didn't speak English but he made me a little bit to try. It made my mouth tingly and when i spit it out it felt like I brushed my teeth to the 80th power. Apparently there is regular paan and sweet paan. Sweet paan comes in a leaf (look on the left of the pic. under a red cloth) and the regular stuff just goes straight into the mouth.


Here's a shot of one of the crumbling mansions in the neighborhood I'm staying in. Doesn't it look like New Orleans? The weather is really hot and really humid, just like New Orleans in the summer. There's a lot of big trees with vines hanging down, and in the Colaba neighborhood at least, there's a lot of giant houses that seem to have been converted into different stuff. My hotel, for instance.


Yesterday I went to the Hanging Gardens in the middle of the day- stupid idea with the heat. I guess I thought with a name like Hanging Gardens, there'd be a lot of big trees but as you can see, there aren't. So I found a spot in the shade and waited out the sun for a bit. It's a really pretty garden and it was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city.

You can't see it, but to the east of hear, there are these things called the Towers of Silence. It's Parsi tradition that when someone dies, they put the body in a tower, stripped of their clothes, and let the vultures eat them. So there were tons of vultures in the sky in this area. I kind of like the idea- no embalming with chemicals and you go back into nature. There has been some controversy over the tradition though, because of course this is taking place in the middle of a major city and people are worried about the possibility that the vultures will drop pieces of body in the city. I don't know if there's much to that, though.


And finally, the Gandhi museum. It's in this house where he used to live and work. There was a photo gallery and a bunch of dioramas that demonstrated the important things in his life. It was kind of nerdy but cool. I learned a lot about Gandhi, like: he lived in South Africa for 25 years. Also, he has said that if he had to die by the bullet of a madman, he would have an open heart and the name of God would be on his lips. So when he was assasinated on the way to a prayer meeting, he actually bowed to his assasin.

Yesterday I saw Slumdog Millionaire and it was really good. I recognized a lot of the places in the movie. A couple funny things about going to the movies here are: there is an intermission in the middle of the movie for 5 min. or so; before the movie starts, they play the national anthem and put an image of the Indian flag waving up on the screen. Everyone has to stand up for the anthem; and you get assigned a seat in the theatre. Also, apparently it's cool to bring your 3 yr old to a somewhat violent movie, because the people next to me did it. The kid of course wasn't interested in the movie at all (despite the Oscars) and instead babbled and knocked the seat around throughout the course of the movie. Luckily I was so mesmerized by the dancing images on the screen, having not watched tv for four months, that it didn't bother me at all.

Today is my last day in Mumbai, then I fly to Cochin in the state of Kerala. I still have a long way to go before I get to Nepal so I'm going to take a couple flights around India. It's relatively cheap- only around $100 for a domestic flight. I can't believe I only have a couple months left in my trip, and even more that I've already been gone for four! Well, until next time...

Cities I've Visited