Friday, 24 August 2012

Lucknow


At the train station a man in a suit walked by and said "Good morning Sir" and walked away. This moment must be recorded, as this was the first good morning that we've received without anything being sold to us. I'm already used to being ignored. Most of the time men don't talk to me, which is good in a way, but not when "I" try to order something in the restaurant for ex. I would raise my hand to call a waiter, and the waiter would come and ask Andy what I want. What the hell? I was pissed off and didn't leave any tip. How are you doing sir? Would you like a room sir? How do you like your food sir? Sir, sir, sir ... maybe I should change my name to "sir".
On the train in our compartment was the most annoying child ever ... but again, I don't blame the child, I blame the parents. First of all I don't know where the dad was, but just a mom was not enough to handle her. She just yelled and yelled, and was given everything to shut her up. She'll grow to be very obese, cause I've never seen a kid eat so many sweets and snacks. Then she peed right on the floor, when the toilet was only 3 meters away. The train after a while becomes a moving garbage dumpster with everything being thrown on the floor and out of the window. Some kids took the job of cleaning it and getting a little money in return. He was arguing with her, that now he has to clean that mess, he finally did, and when he asked money for it, she yelled at him to go away. I was in shock! She spent so much money buying that devil daughter of hers everything she laid her eyes on, and she couldn't give him 5 rps to clean the mess that her daughter created. Then she peed again, and I couldn't let it slide this time. I told to the mother in louder than usual voice. What are you doing? The toilet is right there! You're the mother, where is the discipline?? She just looked down and said nothing. Her discipline was to buy the child sweets when she started yelling, and when she was yelling too much, she just smacked her head or her back, pretty hard. We put newspaper on the puddle, and I must say that my 1 months old cat never did anything like that in my home, without any discipline! There should definitely be some child control, or a test if parents should be allowed to have any children at all.
Andy was bare feet and the devil child stepped all over him with her peed on legs. They finally left, but the compartment was disgustingly dirty. Next set of devil kids reappeared, but these ones were homeless unwashed troll looking things with more holes in cloths than actual fabric, and they came to us (especially us), grabbed us by the hand or legs and shook us with tremendous force demanding money. I didn't even shoo them away because I couldn't touch their dirty hands thinking of what disease I could catch by doing that. Other than the kids, there were many homeless people on the train, and inspectors didn't even ask them for a ticket. It depends on the inspector. Sometimes they throw them off the train at the next station, sometimes, they are more kind hearted. Maybe it depends on how much bribe money they got this day.
Indians move very slow, but not on train stations. When I got out of the train at one of the stations and ordered omelet in the bread, it was done and packed within half a minute. They're so fast that I'm not even scared of leaving the train anymore. Or you just shove the money in the counter, say what you want and tell them to hurry up because I'm on the train, and I'm getting served immediately. The sellers outside the train must be in a great shape, because when they sell the stuff outside the windows, they usually run after the train to give you what you ordered or to give you change (very honest!).
We went on this train for 24 hours, and I had to have a normal dinner, I was tired of snacking, and needed proper food. The food was as always the same, rice and 3 types of dhal (lentil curry). I sat next to the window for dinner, and things were splashing at me from it. My entire arm was yellow, I hope from dhal.
Another hot day and another shower less night, and I'm covered in small sweat pimples all over my body, face, neck, cleavage... I NEED A SHOWER!
Arrived at Lucknow, another randomly picked destination. I don't think I could've done 36 hours on the train, or maybe I could, but I definitely don't want to. It took us 1.5 hours to find a hotel. This city is not touristic, and tourist hotels recommended in LP were full of some students writing an exam. One tout was following us and following us, we told him to go away, but he kept walking behind us. We don't need his help, because with his help, we could pay 50% more for the hotel due to his commission for "bringing" us there. We yelled at him, but he didn't listen, or he would go, only to magically reappear again 5 minutes later from some deserted alley. After a while Andy got tired of him, or of a sleepless night and him, or he just wanted to play around, he stopped and motioned him to go. JAAOOO !!! The guy was laughing jaoo, jaoo, look at this funny tourist! Andy have had enough, opened his 1 liter water bottle and splashed it all on him. I was laughing from the distance as the tout was dancing around the water not to get splashed, not a funny tourist anymore, a crazy tourist! But he didn't follow us anymore :)
I hate walking with bags, and I left Andy to search for the hotel. All of them said that they're full. I got enough of that, and told the owner that I know that they're not full, and that they just don't want to accept tourists! Why not?? He smiled at me and said that they need a special form for foreigners to give to the tourist police so if anything will happen, they would have a better time tracking us down. I asked them which hotel accepts tourists, was sent to a few, and finally found one, but the room was only big enough to hold a bed, and the walls were grey-ish. Even for one night that wouldn't do! When I came back to Andy the price of the hotel we was sitting beside was dropping and dropping until it dropped from 1100 to 600. We took it. I have no idea why in non touristy places the hotel prices are so high. The hotel was new, but the room wasn't clean. I asked them at least 3 times. 3 times I received a "yes yes" answer, but nothing has happened. Well, it's ok I guess. I already slept on sheets that looked like they haven't been washed for a month, but these sheets looked ok, except that the floor was covered in mud tracks.
I washed my travelling cloths (pants and a shirt), and after 3 refills, the water was still brown, and that's only after 1 trip! I feel yucky wearing travel cloths, but there is no other choice. If I'll wear any other cloths, they'll be just as dirty after 1 trip. Looking at my grey-brownish shirt I was missing the bright blue colour it once had. I slept for 2 hours before we went sight-seeing. As usual, Lonely Planet distances are wrong, and instead of 20 minutes, we were walking for an hour. Andy thought that I must have gotten lost because it took too long, but how can you get lost on a straight road? The temperature hit 50, and that was the only time we spent outside. The whole day we were jumping from cafe coffee day to a horror house which we randomly stumbled upon, an AC restaurant and waited for the sun to go down and for the temperature to drop ... even till 40! This is a very nice city, the center is super modern, fountains actually work, they have a black logo design going on, statues are not falling down, designer stores ... all 9 yards. Andy wanted to go to an electronics store, and I told him to shop till he drops, because it was nicely cooled. While he looked around, I sat on the couch watching Britney Spears videos. He found a camera case which had a shoulder strap on and wanted to buy it, but not just buy it, to bargain buy it. I swear it was the first time in India when I was embarrassed, it's one thing bargaining at the market, but completely another to bargain in a large electronics super store. He was surprised. No discount? Then what can I get (for free)? The sales person took the case and told him, "If you pay this price sir, you will get what's in the box" :) hehehe :))
We went to a shop of local sweets, they're all usually the same, milk based with sugar, molded into balls or squares with silver on top (real silver! but banged into a very thin sheet). I don't like these, but occasionally you come across a really nice shop, where I can't stop eating them. And it's usually different kinds of nuts with dried fruits mixed together in very pretty shapes. The salesman was feeding me more sweets than I actually wanted to buy. You have to try this and this, and I was just trying to say no ... unsuccessfully ... oh well, there isn't such a thing as too many sweets :)
Next was Bata shoes. My flip flops got ripped, and sports sandals are too dirty even for the most modern washing machine, not to mention that it was already tearing in some places, and I had to super glue it. I couldn't believe the prices, and after some walking back and forth in front of the mirror, I bought flip flops for $1.40, and sport sandals for $14! They are super comfortable and no "getting used to them" was necessary. I wish Bata shoes had these prices in Canada.
In the evening in the hotel we watched a movie "terminal" ... it's so rare that we watch movies, that even though we had to wake up at 6 am, we watched it till midnight.
We took a historic city tour. The 2 local guides picked us up at 6:45 in the morning, but before the tour we had to argue with hotel management to leave the luggage in the hotel which they didn't want to do. I told them that ALL hotels allow you to store the luggage after check out time, but they just wouldn't barge. Ok, I thought, the power of money works all the time, and I told them that we'll give them 10 rps per piece, which of course they agreed to right away.
The guides took us on their bikes to the historic city center.
First place was a church which provided escape for the town's people during floods since it's the only natural hill in the town, and later served as a public hanging place.
They told us about corruption, and why it's good and bad. As you all know by now that India is very prone to power cuts. I was annoyed at it first, then I got used to it. But apparently it's because of corruption, it's meant to be this way so that everybody will buy generators, and what a coincidence is it, that generator needs 22 hours to charge, and miraculously there is a 2 hour power cut almost every day in Lucknow. Also, before the drinking water from the tap was very safe, so they decided to pollute it in order to sell water filters. But corruption is also good, because it provides everybody a free public toilet (anywhere on the street).
We came to a monument which has an interesting story. At the time of food shortage the king offered people food, but people refused to accept his offer for free, and decided to build the king a house. The problem was that all the castes built it together, but they can't really be together, that's unacceptable, so the lower caste built the building during morning hours and the upper caste came in the afternoon and destroyed anything that they didn't like, and so one building took 11 years to build.
And since I'm talking about castes, I'll include another section about untouchables which I just read in a book: "... in her girlhood, when untouchables were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins would not defile themselves by accidentally stepping into untouchable footprint. They were not allowed to walk on public roads, not allowed to cover their upper bodies, not allowed to carry umbrellas. They had to put their hands over their mouths when they spoke, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they addressed".
Very interesting and short article by national geographic about untouchables: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0602_030602_untouchables.html
We then arrived at a 600 year old market and to a free natural public hospital. We asked what herbs we should take if we have food poisoning, and they gave us some greenish powder which you should chew and follow it up with water. Andy tried to give them money, but they would accept it.
We then came to a house which Mahatma Gandhi visited often to plan his peaceful revolution, but actually we met quite a few people who dislike Gandhi ... although I'm not sure why, they said that he's not what the public and media made him to be.
They told us about times when police was polite and not corrupted, even when they came to a house to arrest someone who was at that time sleeping, the police would be outside waiting for the person to wake up before arresting him.
Then we went to the best place in India for bread, this one was called Kulcha, and when they saw us, they also didn't let us pay, and gave all of us a free Kulcha, which was very very good, kind of like a layered pita thing. We then bought an 800 year old coin for $2 from Muhamud Bin Tughlaq period. Then went to a chai shop which supposed to have the best chai because the water and milk are just boiled when you order it, and wasn't boiled and reboiled 100s of times ... I don't know ... it was ok :) We always have a constant problem ordering tea Western style. It's almost impossible, and you know how much I dislike this word. Andy drinks black tea with no sugar and just a spoon of milk. Every time we order tea with no sugar and a little bit of milk, it pretty much comes with A LOT of milk, and most of the time A LOT of sugar. "Little" is a relative word, and how can you describe "little" milk, if for them it doesn't make any sense and they drink their tea with just milk, not even water?? We started ordering milk on the side ... just a little bit of milk, but of course were served a whole glass of it. They don't get "a little bit"! Most of the time it was successful though, and we managed to get tea without sugar and the whole glass of boiled milk on the side. We used the opportunity to ask the local guides about a solution ... what should we do, how do we order it right?! They were laughing saying that locals don't understand it because if they bring you tea with no sugar and no milk, then what are you paying for, just some water??? So they wrote us a note in Hindu with step 1: Money is NOT a problem! :) 2: Only 1 teaspoon of milk, and no sugar. When we used this note, the waiter laughed, but the tea came with no sugar but still at least half a cup of milk :S   :)
Then we saw a fabric where they make wedding costumes for men. And they transformed Andy from a peasant to a king by dressing him in an elegant white costume and a sultan's hat.
This area is just interesting because most of the stores are hundreds of years old with the businesses being passed on from generation to generation. There is even a 600 year old Kebab place! We didn't go to that place because apparently it has some health safety concerns, but we went to another one which is supposed to have the best Kebabs ever. These are special Kebobs. When one of the sultans got old and lost his teeth, he ordered to make him kebabs which he could still eat, and they developed “melt in your mouth” kebabs which for me was just a blended version of a steak, except that it had so many spices, I couldn't eat it at all :(
When we stopped at one temple, I asked the guides why are there so many gods, and why the cows are sacred - trying to get a different answer. He told me very defensively that Indian believe only in 1 god! , and all the other gods are just a manifestation of that one god. From the 1 and only god, there is the holy trinity of Brahman the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer, and from these gods and their manifestations, 33 million of other gods come into existence, and you can choose to worship any god you want, in fact you can worship a different god every day if you wish, but by worshipping any god, you in reality just worship the 1 god. And about the cows, I told him how could Shiva get all around India on a cow, he wouldn't have made it out of Lucknow in a year it's so slow! Well thank god it's a flying cow ... but the guide told me that Shiva did a favour to people, because he took all the burden of people on himself. And what's the use of a cow?? So he saved people by making it his transport. This is way too funny for me. Shiva thought that there is no use of a cow, and now 1.2 billion people worship it as a sacred animal cause it's Shiva's transport :)
I also asked him about the reason why Indians constantly make stories up, and he said it's for better understanding. Say for example I bring my son in here, and there is this generator in there. I think it's dangerous as it can shock my son, so if I'll see him go in that direction, I can't explain him yet about electricity and the danger of it, so I'll just tell him that there is a snake living behind that generator, and it will scare my son away, and then my son could tell it to his friends, and friends to friends, and soon enough nobody will approach this generator!!
So I call them liars, but they call themselves fairytale makers.
We then went to a chicken factory (the cloth kind), where we saw chicken making in process, which is very famous in Lucknow, but all this embroidery seems very old fashioned to me, and very disappointedly, I don't appreciate all the delicate work that goes into creating these cloths, in fact, I don't think it looks good at all, and I would pay more money to have no chicken on my shirt! :)
The tour has ended, they showed us around for 4 hours for only 50 rps, but we found the tour so interesting, and them so nice and friendly and informative that we gave them a 500 rp tip.
On the way to the train station it was so busy on the street that although it was only a 10 minute walk, I lost Andy somewhere on the way. I wasn't too worried, but Andy had the ticket, and I only knew the destination, not a platform number, not a train number, not a seat number. I had 10 mins before the train leaves, and luckily I found an English speaking tourist info, into which I barged in, and asked for help NOW!!! They checked their files and found my name, I was relaxed walking to the train when I saw Andy running towards me, grabbing my luggage, running in front of me with it, and screaming that the wagon is all the way at the end and the train is leaving in 1 minute! Not according to my watch, or the station's watch, it was still 5 minutes till the departure time. So while he was running with my luggage, I was slowly walking behind him (with no luggage) till I reached my wagon :)
We had a compartment with a couple and 3 children. Not the children again, and not through the night!! But unlike the devil child on the way to Lucknow, these 3 were such angles. Even though they were all under 8, they looked after each other, playing with each other, the elder ones were feeding the smaller ones, giving them hugs, entertaining them. It was a pleasure to look at them, and I even told the father of what a wonderful family he has. Their mother was not feeling so good and was in a lot of pain, and I couldn't see it under her sari, but she was pregnant, and the contractions started at the train. Soon enough we had the whole family (which seemed like the whole wagon) in our compartment, and all the train personal was there too. They stopped the train and the nearest station, and arranged an ambulance and a hospital for her.
11pm sleeping time, alarm set for 3am.


https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Lucknow

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Darjeeling, Pelling and Yuksum


What a difference! Darjeeling sits right on the border with Nepal and South China and it doesn't look like an Indian city at all, its people are more Asian looking and it's clean on the streets :) People are friendly and helpful, and I think because of that we kept extending our stay by one more night, and one more and one more :) Nobody is taking pictures of us and nobody but Andy knows my name. I think there are too many tourists, and they're used to seeing white faces ... they made us feel like we don't even exist! :((
:)
They're so honest in here. When I was buying candies, I asked if they're 1 rupee each, and he's like "no, they're half a rupee", and when I bought many candies, I miscounted them, and he gave me more. Amazing! That's a magic happening right there! :)
Darjeeling is in the Himalayas, but we've come in the wrong time of the year, and all we see is 50 meters ahead of us, and after that all is completely white with fog. No mountains to be seen, I even had no idea in which direction to look at. Even the jeeps that were doing the morning tours to see the Himalayas in the sunrise only drove half way to the "spot", because there is nothing to be seen anyway.
I got so relaxed in this city that when we went to the zoo and I was waiting in the queue to buy tickets when one man went in front of the line, I exploded in that split second. Strange ... I thought I was already immune to that :)
The zoo was alright, nothing special. It was sad to see the animals walk back and forth, round and round in the cage. I'm against zoos ... but is there another choice? If you let animals back in the wild, someone will shoot them right away, and will the animals be able to survive in the wild after been hand fed since birth?
Clearly most Indians are both blind and illiterate. On every cage there is a sign with a picture "Silence. Do not feed or imitate the animals". By looking from the side at the animal in the cage and at a group of Indians outside of it, you would think twice who should belong in that cage. They were yelling and howling, taking flash pictures, holding the fence and shaking it, throwing snacks in the cages...
The most fun cage was as always the monkeys’ cage. I love watching the monkeys. They're so human like, and if I sinned in this life, and were to reborn into an animal, I would definitely would like to be a monkey :) but not a monkey in the zoo, or the monkey with the red ass! :) There was one cage with a mother and 2 babies. 1 baby was feeding, while the other was being very naughty and a bit crazy jumping around the whole cage. Ok if it jumped around and left everybody else alone, but nope, it had to be the center of attention. It swung off of its brother's tail, just as if it were another rope while his mother would try to reach it and smack it, although that was not possible since the other baby was feeding. The mother didn't look relaxed at all, she was jerking her head from side to side and a hand ready in striking position to punish her evil baby, but the baby was too quick for her :) Although once it got too close, and she took him in and hugged both of her babies near her chest. Everybody was watching this circus Aaaawwwwwwwww'ed in the same time. It's like she was saying "I know you're naughty, but I love you all the same" :)
Back in town, there was some celebration on the main square with traditional, what looked like Tibetan songs and dances. The people performing were so beautiful, with their costumes and make up and Asian features, and I really wanted to take pictures of them badly!! But I resisted the urge knowing what it feels like to have a camera stuck in your face, I kept mine down, and only took a few pictures of people on stage.
Back at the hotel, Andy asked me to check out his usb key that he bought on the street. I was very skeptical when he bought it. First of all, it was on the street. 2nd of all, the price started at 600, and slowly but surely it ended at 60 ($1.20) for 8GB. What kind of price is that?? It started getting weird when he opened the package and looked at instructions. The band on the USB was green, but green band on the instructions was 4GB. He said, let’s hope that it has at least 2GB on it. I plugged it in, but the computer didn't recognize it. Andy, it doesn't seem to be working I said. When I pulled it out, the case slipped off, but it was still plugged in, and inside of the case was a plastic toy thingi. It wasn't even the real thing! It must have been made in China! They went through the whole deal creating it, making a sealed pack, a set of instructions, and a USB key that looks exactly like an original. I was surprised to see that there was even something on the inside! Why go through all the trouble?! But it was definitely worth 60 rps to buy a toy usb, and as always, it makes a great story ... or a gift! :)
You must know about the Darjeeling tea, and yep, that's exactly where it's grown in. We went to the tea estate that makes the best tea for Harrods, orange peako. There are many theories about the name. Orange for the color of the tea, Orange as in Royal British people, Peako = pick one. Only 1 leaf that is less than 2 weeks old is used for this tea. Older leaves produce lower quality of tea. Of course this is here where the premium quality is made, with other companies using last season, or last year, or not the whole leaves or just the powder. We were called into a small house on the way to the factory. The lady who "worked" there, made the impression that she does the factory tours or explains the tea process. None of that was true, and before we knew it, we were handed 2 cups of tea for 100 rps each! It's her "famous" 5 second tea. She shows us, so here, you take a handful of tea leaves, put it into the boiling water, and right away pour it into the cup, and it's done! That looked strange to me, why would you take a handful of leaves, when all you need is a small teaspoon? No wonder it's done in 5 seconds, there is so much flavour that you don't need to steep it at all. What happens of course is that she collects the tea, but she doesn't give it to the factory, and slowly slowly accumulates it in her house. She probably gets less than 200 rps a day from 8 hours of work, or she can lead all the tourists into her home, and make 100 per each tourist with no work at all!
We then went to the proper tea tasting place. I ordered the most expensive cup of tea for $5. My tea was yellow color, and it was served in a wine glass. Andy's tea was orange-brown color, so it was served in a brandy glass. The tea tasted nothing like the tea I'm used to. It was alright, but nothing special. I don’t think there is a tea fanatic hibernating in me at all :)
There wasn't anything really to do in Darjeeling. We went to "Avengers" the movie in a small movie theater, where the screen was jumping half of the movie, and they turned on the lights before the movie finished; We ate a bunch of yummy litchis from which Andy could’ve gotten sick as well, because in a few there were worm inside; We went for a walk where we couldn't actually find what we were looking for, but at least we got some exercise; We ate at a very nice restaurant with great food/service/speed and where locals were drinking alcoholic drinks, so strange to see that!
On the way to the "walk to nowhere", we had to pass through the town first. And I constantly heard from the back beep, beep, beep. I know there is traffic, and it's not moving anywhere, but stop beeping. We already got into the habit of walking along the streets with our ears closed. I turned around and just put my finger on my lips as in "be quiet please" and continued to walk. I didn't walk a meter when there was a constant beep behind me, I didn't think of it much, but when it continued to beep, I turned around and it was this guy in the car with his head out of the window shouting at me. I said that his beeping gives me a headache!! Thank god he had to turn, but he turned, and stopped at the road above us to keep on yelling and beeping! What a creep!!!
Took a jeep to the next place Pelling where you're so close to the mountains, you could almost touch them. It wasn't misty in Pelling, but there was a big cloud just over the mountain. In 3 days that we stayed there, a very small section of the mountain could be seen for about 10 minutes, and that was exciting enough! :) Pelling is located in the state of Sikkim, and for some reason, it's almost considered to be a different country. We had to get a special permit to go there, and we got an entry and exit stamp in the passport. It took the "border" control like 10 minutes to copy all the info by hand from our passport into their books, and I was happy there were only 4 of us. Pelling is very cute and small, with a cozy guest house where they practice child slavery. Well, not really. A lot of children work in India, and these kids are no different. They're up serving breakfast, washing windows, cleaning rooms, helping with all guests needs, and close the place at 11 at night!
Next day was very misty, but we still went for a walk around the area. We found a baby goat on the way which we fed, and tiny baby frogs, they're so small, and black that many of them were squished on the ground. You just can't see it unless it jumps away from you. We went to a monastery, where all the walls were painted with usual Buddhist scenes, of Buddha’s life, his commands and believes, but then there were cloths hung on the walls. We peaked underneath them, and what do you know???!!! There is Buddha .... having sex !!!!! Absolutely unbelievable!!! I think the whole religion should be changed because of that, why are they keeping the poor monks high and dry, where here you go, your leader is enjoying his life to the fullest?? Or is there something that I don't get?
We went to an ex capital of Sikkim (the state), with guaranteed excellent views, but when we got to the top of the ruins, all we saw was white mist :( Even the ruins weren't that impressive :(
Back at the guesthouse, we found out that the electricity is out, and nobody knows when it will be on again. We had a nice candle light dinner, with the dining hall being completely full, and everybody sharing their travelling stories. Sometimes it's nice to get out of civilized comforts and find yourself back in a civilized world, full of strangers who are only 5 seconds away from being your friends. Among the stories we've heard were:
- The great Australian reef is on the verge of losing its World Heritage Site status.
- In lake Tahoe, they have this saying "Black attack, brown down" ... talking about bears of course. One guy saw a bear coming with 2 cubs. It was a brown bear, so he lay down and played dead. The bear came over, started smelling him, and then stared chewing on his butt! Pretty much eating him alive! The guy couldn't move because otherwise the bear would kill him, so he lay there is silence! The bear didn't like the human flesh though, and left him after only a few bites
- Mosquito repellent (with DEET!) melted the plastic on the camera case
- Bear locked itself in a jeep
I should've written the stories down, cause there were some good ones, but now I can't remember them all :(
With our new found friends we rented a jeep and drove around Pelling's sites. The day turned out to be beautiful, and in the morning I got that rare glimpse of the nearby mountain! :)
The sites weren't that impressive, and I got motion sick in the jeep. We've seen a waterfall, sacred lake, a garden (it's so rare to see a nice garden in India, that it actually is considered to be an attraction!), and Asia’s highest suspension bridge. But it was a sunny day, and it was great to be out. What else was great is that the prices for tourists and locals were the same! It was the first time in India where that was the case. Usually it's locals 10 rps, foreigners 250! Taj Mahal: locals 25 rps, foreigners 750!!!
When we got back, the electricity was still off, and we were told not to wait for it, because it could be off for 3 days! That's the reason nobody has electric ovens in India, it all runs on gas, and except lights being off, everything else works just the way it should.
In the morning we went to a bakery which had opening hours from 7am - 5pm. It only opened at 9:30, and when we wanted to order baked goodies, they said that they're only baking them now, and will be ready for sale at 12pm! Who writes hours like that? 7-5, if you can only get food at 12??
Outside the bakery, while we were waiting for it to open, one guy bombarded Andy with questions. Where are you from? How old are you? What's your job? You don't look cool, why don't you wear labels? Your wife's pretty.
It was time for us to move to a different town. We went with a nice couple who we met in Darjeeling, Andrea and Peter. First we took a half an hour jeep to a town from where all the jeeps leave from. The train reservation office was there, and we went to get our onward tickets. We waited for 2 hours!!! I felt so bad for Andrea and Peter! First the system was out of order, then when it came back online, she ordered the ticket with the wrong date! Then the system went out again. GRRR !! By the time we got out, we missed the last jeep to Yuksum :( We had no other choice but to take a taxi which went back through Pelling ... how annoying! 2.5 hour taxi ride, we only paid $24.
Yuksum is very cute and very tiny surrounded by green hills all around. Not many people come there because there are no mountain views, but hey, we didn't see any anyway.
Went for a walk to a monastery, another sacred lake, an ancient king's throne, and a hike into nowhere, we wanted to find a river and walked and walked until we found it. Sikkim is a leech infested area, and we tucked our pants into socks looking completely ridiculous, but there weren't any tourists nearby to laugh at us :) Bloody leeches, you don't feel them, they don't cause any diseases, and they fall off by themselves when they sucked enough of your blood, but they're just disgusting. When Andrea started screaming that she saw a leech on the ground and I run up to her to even see what they looked like, I already had 5 crawling on my shoe!! We all armed ourselves with a leech stick and checked our shoes every minute out of paranoia. It's not enough that they crawl at you from the ground, there are some that live on the trees, and when they feel something warm passing underneath them, they launch themselves downwards like ninja leeches! Peter got one on his belly, and when he pulled it off, the blood didn't stop flowing. At the hotel I was so scared to take off my cloths, thinking they found their way in, but I was clean :) At night, I had nightmares that the leeches from my cloths crawled into my bed or into the suitcase, and I'd wake up covered in them performing an involuntary blood donation.
We had to leave at again some stupid 6 o'clock. Because I got motion sick the day before, I decided to take a motion sickness pill, cause we had 6 hours of jeep rides, and fell asleep right away. I slept through a very bumpy road, then when we reached our midpoint, I was barely keeping my eyes open when Andy was buying a ticket for the next jeep. There was a girl next to him, and I heard someone yelling all the time. I look at the "lineup" and the girl was just screaming at the locals who were constantly pushing their money into the window, and trying to get first to the counter. She growled YOU, MOVE OUT TO THE SIDE! And if they didn't listen, she took them by the shirt collar from the back and threw them from the line. Andy was impressed, "I have to learn that technique" he was laughing. We got into so many lineup "fights" in India that Andy said, how we would've managed to get anywhere, if the Indians were even our size?? I'm a very average height, and I'm considered to be a giant in India, I'm much taller than most men in there, so it's easy to push and shove.
We went to the "Burp out loud" restaurant, I pocked my fork at the plate, pretty much leaving all the food on it and fell asleep all spread out on the restaurant table, the closest table to the entrance. Andy said that I intimidated a few locals who came in :) Then I slept some more in the jeep till 4pm. We reached Jothang the city from which we couldn't find any jeeps into Darjeeling. Noooo ... I hate Jothang, I don't want to go there again! But the cycle rickshaw driver took us through a main street which was very clean and modern, tree shaded ... I love Jothang I declared! The hotel was in the best location right beside the tuk-tuk stand which will leave in the morning for our train station. 8pm I went to sleep, I was exhausted after such a tiring day :)! 4am wake up to make it for the train.
I feel like this blog is kind of blah, but nothing interesting really happened ... I wonder how my Thailand blogs will be like ... but hopefully you still enjoyed it :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/DarjeelingPellingAndYuksum

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bodhgaya


It's the journey, not the destination ...

The train ride was horrible again. As always we sat with our luggage near the washrooms because the rest of the wagon suitable for human occupation was completely over packed. We were constantly bitten by something and itching all over the place. People were staring at me again, and I had nowhere to hide. I was reading my lonely planet. I put it down, said something to Andy, turned around, and someone was already flipping through it! GRRRRR !!! I snatched it back. Give it back to me I growled, it's not yours!!! When it was time to get out, it was a war. 10s of people jumped into the still moving train, and it felt like I needed to put boxing gloves on, and punch everybody who was on my way. And it really is a war, because sometimes the train stops only for a minute at the station, and you don't have the time to wait for all the morons to get in first.
While Andy was getting the tickets, I found out where all the bites came from. My suitcase was attacked by ants, and there were literally 1000s of them running around it, and inside of it. There were big ants and small ants, and flying ants, and most of them were carrying food, and it looked like they were going into one of the pockets. It was horrible, and I had no tools and nothing to remove them with. I took the few Kleenex napkins that I had, and smashed them with it. I killed hundreds and hundreds of them, but I had to get to the source. I unzipped the pocket, and it was like out of the horror movie, a black river of ants poured out of it. They built a nest in there. You couldn't distinguish the things in the pocket, because it was all covered with a thick layer of ants. The pocket was tight, and I had to put all my hand inside of it to squish them. I tried to press on the pocket from outside as well. Then I remembered that I have a mosquito spray inside. I opened the luggage and took it out. They died in the first second the spray touched them (think how good it is on your skin. A whole living creature dies, how many cells die when you put it on your skin, and how many more die when it's absorbed into your blood, and goes through your body??!!). I then found another nest on the outside between the buckles ...
We couldn't get out of the ticket space to get to a restaurant across the street. The rickshaw drivers didn't give us any space to move, as everyone who saw us run to us and started to drag us to their rickshaw, I really lost it, and yelled at them to get the hell out of my way. We were both very tired and luckily we found very clean and cool restaurant nearby. The food was excellent, but when I ordered lemon tea; lemon tea - ok! and 5 minutes later I asked where is my lemon tea, and I got a surprised look in response ... lemon tea???? I had to hold myself from exploding again. Now it was Andy's turn to calm me down.
Back at the train station we fight through the rickshaw mob again, go to the station master to find our platform. We get into the train, and as always people talk to us and ask us where we're going. They start talking between themselves, and something doesn't seem to be right. They tell us that it's the wrong train, and pointed to another train through the open door, the train that was just moving out of the platform. There was no way of calming Andy down this time around, he just lost it. He was going on the platform shouting at people and hitting everything on the way. People jumped out of his way and some said "What's wrong with YOU?"... How many f#*#^* people do you have to ask to get on the right train???????? There is no train number/name/time/platform nothing on the ticket, how are you supposed to know?? We go to the station master, he said sorry they changed the platform. Sorry? No sorry! We have no way to get to Patna, and it means that we lose the ticket for our overnight train. He tells us to take the bus, but of course there is no bus. The way to the "bus" was again through a tuk-tuk stand, and when one guy run up Andy to take the tuk-tuk, Andy put his hand on the guy's shoulder and pushed him as hard as he could such that the guy flew back to the road where he came from. There were no other brave souls who dared to bother us after that. I was laughing watching from the back, but I was keeping my distance.
Back at the ticket office spot, we've lost our next train tickets, but we still could cancel the night train. I was watching over the luggage while Andy waited for half an hour in the line. When he finally got there, the agent gave him a cancelation form and told him to get out of the line. Nobody would wait for him to fill it out. So he comes all angry to where I was sitting, and with a shaking hand fills out the form. He goes back to the line, but thinking that he already waited his turn, he gets to the side of the line. People yell at him telling him to go to the end of the line, but he pushes his way to the window, all the hands are at him trying to push him away, but he wrestles with them, and 5 minutes later he gets to the agent who just gives him the money back and says "Next". Andy: no, no. I need the same tickets for tomorrow. The agent just looks at him and does nothing. Andy storms back, and he was like an enraged bull, he was seeing all red, and if he had a weapon of any kind with him, I swear he would've killed someone. I understand, but not really at the same time his reaction. Yes, we've missed the train, and yes the agent is an a$$hole, but this is India, and this is travelling, anything can happen, and besides we were contemplating on staying in Bodhgaya anyway for a day. I couldn't send him back there. I took the form and went to the agent, again from the side. The guys (it's all guys) were telling me to go to the back, I said that we already waited in line and besides I'm a girl, I can go without a queue, and I remembered what they have told me many times themselves. I'm a guest in their country so I have the right of way. But they have been waiting in this queue forever, it seems that this agent is working like a snail. Ok they told me, if you're a girl, it's 1 girl for 3 men, so 1, 2, 3, and then you. No, I don't think so I say, and I shoved the form with the money through the little hole when the guy who just got his tickets got out. I had a better positional advantage from the side, and I took it! Ha! I wonder how you feel now!!! How many times did I have to fight them when they did the same thing? I'm learning, and I'm learning fast!
On our tuk-tuk drive to the hotel, the driver asked us if we have reservations. I said no. Andy asked me, "Why does he care?", I said because he'll take us to a different hotel (either friends or relatives or somewhere where he'll get commission) ... and yep, he did. The hotel was nice, but it was very very hot, and AC rooms were crazy prices. I didn't sleep the whole night, and I must have taken 10 showers to cool myself down.
In the morning I woke up sick :( We also woke up early to sight see before it got too hot. But when I opened my suitcase, I discovered another ant nest in between my cloths. Aaaghhhhhhh!!!! And it was much harder to get rid of them like that. I took my cloths to the bathroom, and tried to spray them again. In the result, I was bitten all over my body with ant bites, and I ruined a few cloths with the spray. But I think I got rid of all of them, and the ant nightmare was over.
The town was small, and it was easy to get around by foot. The problem was, that it was one of the hottest places we've ever been at. We drank liters upon litters of water, and absolutely nothing was coming out. We could've gone the whole day without going to the washroom once.
This IS the place where Buddha got enlightened under the tree, and it's one of the most sacred places for Buddhists. The main temple where the tree is (well, the actual tree is in Sri Lanka, and they moved a branch of the real tree to its original place) is very nice and different from all the other temples we've seen. There are a bunch of bells and small stupas, people meditating, but most importantly it's clean and quiet! It's also free, and it's a world heritage site. Buddhists don't charge money to enter temples ... and I don't think anybody should. It's sooo hot !! I haven't sweat that much in my life. I looked like I just stepped out of the shower with all my clothes on. The sweat was dripping off my nose and ears and chin. I couldn't even wipe it with the pants or a shirt because they were soaking wet. And even though we didn't need to, we went to an internet cafe for 2 hours with a nice cool fan. We then did a circle around the street that seemed to have every monastery around the world. There was Thai and Chinese and Japanese ... some more, but I don't know what country they belonged too. Inside, on some images, the women are portrayed as evil. There is this Buddha sitting, and a holy circle around him past which nobody can pass. There are demons that try to attack him, and there are women who try to seduce him. A few of the Buddha images are shown like meditating skeletons. They meditate so long, that it looks like they starve themselves to death, but they don't feel the pain or hunger, and they die peacefully.
Back at the station, things don't seem to be that bad. We got tickets quickly, ate at the same very good restaurant and got to the RIGHT train. We went back to the station master, and I asked him which platform. He said that it's not yet confirmed. I said that I'm not leaving his office until he tells me 100% where to go. He made a few phone calls and gave me the platform. Apparently there is a choice between 4 platforms, and before the train comes, there is an announcement ... in Hindi of course! It was funny how we were the only ones waiting at the empty platform. Then an announcement came and thousands of people jumped down on the tracks to cross them.
When the train stopped at the station, we were frozen at our feet watching what was happening. 10s of people were jumping in each door, they were elbowing each other, punching each other, grabbing at shirts and pulling each other out to get into the train first. People on the train didn't even have a chance to get out yet, and I saw one man furious like a caged animal pushing his way through the mob. One guy just jumped on the train, and the next second he was shoved so hard back that he flew to the platform concrete. It was like a scene out of a movie when a group of people were roaming in the jungle for a week without food or water, and then somehow magically were given enough food for only quarter of them, they would kill each other to get that piece of chicken! We couldn't even attempt to board the train with the luggage, we only had to wait until everybody else got in. There wasn't any space at all. We were all jammed there like a bunch of sardines if not worse. Then a hand came in grabbing my arm. I couldn't even see where the person who this hand belonged to was. "Come here! Come come quick! There is a seat for you!". I left Andy with the luggage ... (poor Andy), and went to share a bench too small for 2 people with 2 other people. I had maybe enough space for one of my butt cheeks and it was hard to balance without stepping on someone on the isle. I couldn’t change position or stretch, and my body felt like needles were piercing through it, and then it went numb. Nevertheless, it was much much better than standing for long, horrible 3.5 hours!
Our waiting list tickets for the night train didn't get confirmed :( I went to the TTE (the important guy in a black coat) and asked him to confirm it. He shook his head. So sorry madam, the train is overfilled. We went to a cabin that seemed to have the least amount of people and sat at a random bench. The guys who occupied these seats obviously started talking to us and when they found out that we don't have seats, they offered me one of their beds, while 2 of them cramped into 1 bed. I tried to object but they wouldn't listen. No, no, no, this is not our culture. You have the bed!
Andy on the other hand slept on the aisle. I wouldn't call it sleeping. In the morning he told me that a bottle from an upper bunk fell on his head, he was stepped on throughout the night sometimes with urine covered shoes and someone threw up on him ... wasn't very fun night.
In the morning 3 transvestites came. They loudly clap their hands together and present their open palm to the passenger faces. People in fear scramble through their pockets trying to find some change. People across from me, gave them 10 rps each! Then more transvestites came. They clapped their hands, but the guy was sitting there frozen. The transvestite run his hand through the hair, and petted him on the shoulder and his thigh. The man was sweating cold sweat. He finally admitted that he has no small change, that he gave it to the other transvestite. No problem, they have change. So he gave them 100, and got 90 back :) When the transvestite clapped his hands near my face, I just laughed at him and waved him off. We had so much bad luck in the last 48 hours that I don't think it could get any worse! :)
When we arrived at the station, they charged a stupid price for the jeep. We knew it isn't the right price, and took a tuk-tu to nearby town where the normal jeeps will leave from. There is no information anywhere. Nobody is helping us at all, everybody we talk to give us different information. We go to places where people point their fingers at only to be pointed a finger in the direction we just came from. There should be a bus. We went to a bus station, and just got a response, "no bus" that's it, no alternative options, no nothing. We found 3 more backpackers, and were standing on the road for an hour waiting for I don't know what. I got tired of waiting, and after hearing a few more rumors about the bus, I went back to the bus station again to get a response "no bus", but thankfully there was a guy standing right there who overheard me, and took me to a location where the jeeps leave from. Finally!! But why are there no signs and nobody knows where the jeeps are?? I waited in line, but when it was my turn at the ticket counter, the agent told me that there are no more jeeps for Darjeeling (the next place we were going to). He didn't give me a ticket, and told me to sit and wait. We wait, but what are we waiting for???? Why is he not telling me anything?? I was thinking, and I was thinking right, that there are no more jeeps going to Darjeeling that day. I sent Andy to buy the tickets, and I told him, do not leave the counter until he got the tickets! There is another town in between, so if anything buy tickets to go there. He returned with 2 tickets. The ride wasn't bad, we changed 2 jeeps but we were finally there. We arrived at the dark in Darjeeling.
(There will be a separate blog on Darjeeling ... I just want to finish the hell part of the journey)
It took us half an hour with heavy bags in thin air to get from the non touristic jeep parking area, to the very touristic area which is all the way up hill taking 100s of steps to get there. All the hotels were full, and we were walking back and forth in the starting rain to find just about anything. We finally found 1 room, it was pricey, but it was the best bed and blanket and pillow ever! And it was very refreshing to wrap myself in a duvet blanket, after the oven hot Bodhgaya ... and all the previous weeks combined.
This is the dirtiest I've ever felt in my life. Imagine sweating and being wet all day long with all the dirt and dust getting glued to you. If you scratch your face or your arm, all the fingernails turn completely black. Some people walk with constantly black fingernails, but even though I can't get the dirt off from my feet, I clean my fingernails every time I take a shower, and I take many showers every day. We checked out of the hotel early in the morning, and went through a dirty and sweaty day, followed by a dirty train station, followed by 10s of equally if not more dirty and sweating people brushing against us on the train, followed by a dirty bed at the train and 2 dirty jeep rides. The cloths didn't resemble their original color at all, and I felt disgusted and disgusting! I couldn't wait to take a shower and maybe burn my cloths, but the water was still freezing and it needed at least half an hour to warm up. There was no time to wait, as we had to find something to eat. But when he hit the streets, and it was already after 9, we found out that all the restaurants close at 9, and nobody let us in. We were starving! The last time we ate was at 5pm the day before. I know how to deal with hunger pretty well. I know that from the moment I start to feel hungry, it will get worse for a few hours ... maybe 3, but then the hunger will go away. I think the brain gets the message! There won't be any food for a while now, so stop bothering me!
We found one posh restaurant that was half open. They didn’t let us in, by they agreed to make the food to go. The food wasn't good though, and the portions were small :(
Next day Andy and me that a huge fight. We both snapped, we both did things we regretted doing, we both spent the day pissed off and separate from each other. When I came back to the hotel at night, Andy informed me that he will be moving to a different hotel the next day. We continued to read quietly, testing each others stubbornness. We travelled for almost a month together, and even though I was still mad at him, we had good times together, he's a good person, and it's not a nice way to say goodbye. I came over and apologized, and just like there was a cue, we both started crying. In the last 3 days we've been through hell and back and we need each other’s support more than anything else. I told him that it's difficult because not knowing anything about each other, we spend all the time together, every minute of every day, and we travel through probably the most difficult country in the world. We have to know how to deal with what India throws at us, and we have to know how to deal with each other, how to manage our mood swings, and differences of opinions. He said, and he's right, that because of it we have to be even stronger and fight India together, and not it ripping us apart. We promised each other to be nicer from now on, and it worked. We started to get along much better. Of course we still had mild irritations and days apart followed by "GGRRRRRRR", but there were no doors slammed, and we knew that everything will be fine in the evening.
We went to have dinner in a Tibetan restaurant. Back at the hotel Andy started getting sick, I don't know what it was, food poisoning, or reaction to high altitude, but he got really sick. Most of the time in Darjeeling he spent lying in a crunched position in the bed. His condition was ranging between bad and worst with occasional "happy" moments in between when he could get out of bed, and have something small to eat. Cloths were hanging off of him, sometimes he looked as white as a ghost, and it started hurting him to ride on jeeps/buses/trains because there was no fat left on him to cushion his butt. He lost about 10kgs. He was sick on and off for a month.
Now if that wasn't a curse, I don't know what it was.

I found 2 links of youtube that show train rides. Of course they never seem as bad as they actually are. And boarding the train link doesn't even stand in comparison to how we boarded it in Bodhgaya.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Utb2AgvNx0E - boarding the train

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usrHJMWoERY - riding in general class

pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Bodhgaya