Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Desert Fever

the blue city of Jodhpur in RajasthanSince I left Varanasi last week, I've been enjoying the benefits of travelling solo. It's the last time on my year and a half trip that i'll be selfishly travelling at my own pace, seeing things that I want to see without discussion, and being able to really absorb the local flavor at my own leisure. Don't get me wrong, if I fly solo too long, I get schizophrenic. But in a week and a half, I meet some old friends in Bombay to travel down south for a month, then in April I'll meet a couple of representatives from the Anderson Lanbridge Foundation on a goodwill mission in Turkey, and finally spending the last few weeks at a friend's house in Spain. So basically, with my trip coming to a close in a few months, I've been rejuvenated by this magnificent and magical country that is India, and I'm trying to absorb everything I possibly can every waking's as if I see the finish line, but I don't want the race to end. And this country, India, demands your full attention.
One of the nice things about solo travel, is that I tend to meet a lot more locals. While wandering the backstreets of Jodhpur near my guesthouse a couple of days ago, a bunch of kids yelled the customary 'hullo, hullo! take photo, take photo'. These kids stopped me and asked for their photos taken.
You probably think I'm a pedophile or Michael Jackson from all the kid's shots I've posted, but I'm telling you, the kids in India beg/harass to get their photos taken. They like seeing their images on the back of a digital camera. I just happen to be the muse.
Continuing on my walk, more village kids wanted photos taken, and hearing all the kids cheering, the mother of one of the kids invited me into her house. Word must have spread fast that a westerner was there because the next thing you know, half the neighborhood dropped in. And of course they all wanted them or their kids photos taken.
a local village mom picking up her kids before inviting me inside
The mother, named Sudya, took a break from her breastfeeding (must you do that while we're introducing ourselves) to make some chai tea. She introduced me to her 3 sisters who stopped by, and then Sudya's mother came walking in. At this point, this lady's 12x12 room/home was filled with 7 adults, 6 kids, a pile of stuff, and me. Conversation consisted mostly of Sudya and her sisters telling me their life stories (which is based on the amount of kids they have), and asking me why you not married? do you have a girlfriend? how come you are not marry? Sudya said that she was recently divorced and had two little kids, numbers 3 and 4 in the room. The rest of the conversations were limited because of their limited English and my knowledge of 5 words in Hindi.
Sudya's neice and son
Sudya and her daughter
At this point, I told them I had to leave to go visit the Mehrangarh before it closed (an absolutely magnificent fort by the way. Highly recommended). They made me promise (borderline threaten me), that I had to come back later in the evening to visit this sister's house, the other sister's house, and then the mother's house.
the magnificent fort of Mehrangarh
Mehrangarh from the rooftop of Hillview Guesthouse. Great place, the owner let's you name your price on a room, and she always forgets to charge your meals. She's good at chess too.
the intricate detailing of the palaces in the fort
musicians in the fort for your listening pleasure
I stopped by after sunset at Mehrangarh and Sudya, with 2 kids in her arms, took me to visit her sister's house where I met yet another, a fourth sister, as well as the husband of one of the other sisters. At this stage I lost track of names, who's kid was who's, and so on. Sudya and her youngest sister wanted more pictures taken, and after this last photo shoot, in front of her entire family, Sudya asked me if she could be my girlfriend.
Girlfriend?? I was caught offguard.
OK think.
I wanted to explain to her that in western societies, when a man is propositioned by a female who is walking barefoot with 2 kids in tow (one who happens to still be breastfeeding), has no source of income, has 4 nosey sisters and one nosey mom, speaks maybe 5 solid sentences of the same language with said male, lives in one 12x12 room where the toilet is a dirt patch behind a boulder out back, the inclination is for the western male to get the hell out of there. But I didn't want to hurt her feelings, and I also knew these concepts would be impossible to i said, ....Okay, much to the joy of her family. She then made me go back to her place where she was going to make me dinner. ..... Dinner? How do I get out of this? Before leaving, Sudya's mom (if you're keeping score, my future mother-in-law), made me promise to visit her home the next morning at 10 AM. She also asked me if I was Hindi. Great I'm being sized up for a ball and chain by people I just met 2 hours ago.
OK, how do I get out of dinner?
How do I get out of dinner?........hmmmmm, wait a second, a girl is offering to take me back to her place. She wants to make me dinner. And god knows what else she has in mind........and I'm refusing? I turning gay??.......wait, no, of course not. I just don't want to spend the rest of my life caste as an Indian village peasant...that's all.
OK, now that that's figured out, how do I get out of this? How do I get out of this?
When I got back to Sudya's house (2 doors down), I told her,....ummm, no I can't stay for dinner, I just ate 12 hours ago, I'm stuffed (great response, checkmate!).
Meanwhile, a crowd of children and adults gathered outside. I felt like an international celebrity.
She eventually let me go and made me 'promise' (the one English word she happened to use on a regular basis without hesitation) to stop by at 10 AM the next morning to visit mom. I said, OK, of course, I promise. However, of course I did what any other chickenshit guy would do in this situation, which is to catch the next overnight train to Jaisalmer the following day. The other nice thing about travelling solo, is that you can get the hell outta dodge in a moment's notice if the need arises.
if I stayed in Jodhpur, this would be my family photo of my wife, daughter, sister-in-law......
and new son

speaking of international celebrities
Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

pictures from pushkar

monkey chilling, taking in the view of the ghats in pushkar
for those of you keeping score at home, i'm now in jodhpur in rajasthan. spent the previous 5 days in pushkar. if you are ever in india, i highly recommend it. while the rest of india has the volume knob dialed up to 10, pushkar is a pleasant 1 or 2 on the intensity scale. it has a population of about 60,000 which is pretty much a tiny village by india standards. it's an oasis in the desert, it's a holy city with ghats surrounding a lake, and like the rest of india, everyday there's either a parade, a festival, free concerts, or all of the above. here be some photos from the guesthouse roof/restaurant i stayed at. it's only $3.25 a night with a private bath, balcony, beautiful views of the lake, and the best part is that it's not in the lonely planet. get to the sanjay hotel before the empire gets a hold of it for their next edition:

this here is the gandhi ghat. gandhi's ashes were spread on the lake from these steps. henceforth, the renaming of the ghat to the gandhi ghat.
a dog chilling by the ghats
there are 100 temples in this town, about 5 or 6 are worthy of visiting. this one like many other hindu temples, doesn't allow foreigners to enter. sometimes though, if you're with a sadhu or brahmin priest, they can get you in. even in the eyes of the gods, it's not what you know, but who you know.
shiva temple
like i said, there is always a festival in india. on average 1 every 1.63 days. the only problem with pushkar is that the town is completely dry. you can not find alcohol, or consume alcohol anywhere. the hotels strictly forbid this. the alcoholics anonymous branch has a 100% success rate here in pushkar. however, 94% of those treated eventually become hashish addicts since it's so easy to come by here, including the bhang lassi with the special added flavoring.
also, in pushkar you can't eat eggs. so you're outta luck if you're looking for a yolk high.
this is my homeboy ricky, a brahmin priest in pushkar. i did a holy puja with him along the ghats sprinkling rice, sugar, and saffron onto the lake, and chanted to brahma the creator. at first i thought it was a scam (typical of almost every tout you meet), and i thought all he wanted was my money. we got into a heated discussion, but when i realized that he was a real brahmin priest, he almost didn't take my donation because he said it wasn't coming from the heart. i had to force my money on him, something which normally goes against my moral fiber. he then offered me to sit with him over some chai, as seen below.....of course after the tea, he told me he also does camel tours, his brother runs a good restaurant, and other tourist type stuff. yes, even the priests here know about the tourist dollar.
i've been getting stuffed at places like this for a mere 50 cents a meal
i'm a sucker for sunsets
i'm also a sucker for, Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rajasthani Poetry

A 24 hour train ride from Varanasi to Jaipur that was 6 hours late, allows one much time for creative reflection and introspection.
Please allow me to indulge you in poetry and prose, with a few selected haikus that I wrote on my journey to Rajasthan.
Please enjoy.

Waiting on Trains
Nothing is on time
When will this train get going
I've lost all patience

Morning on the Marudhar Express train
Can't get any sleep
Little snotty kids shut up
Miss, control your brats

Bollywood Movies
Dance Sing Dance Sing Dance
World's biggest film industry
No need for plot line

The Best Hindu God
My favorite god
Walks with cut off head in hand
Destroyer Kali

Chana Masala
Chana Masala
I love your chickpea goodness
With naan I'm in love

Street Food
Delicious and cheap
Samosas, Bhel puri, yum!
Uh-oh, need toilet

Indian Head Nod
Indian head nod
Does that mean yes, no, or maybe?
All of the above

Clogged Streets
Traffic jam again
Is it from too many cars?
No, damn cows in road

450 Days with the Same Clothes
Clothes falling apart
I wish I knew how to sew
Both pants, holes in crotch

Dónde está Ché?
Where are you Ché Pelotas?
Dónde está Ché?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

varanasi has completely blown me away

on one side, hindu pilgrims bathing in the ghats(steps) of the ganga
on the other, a wedding on the ghats
a lineup making offerings to the goddess river ganga
ok, do you remember what i wrote in last week's blog about delhi being so intense? well forget that. the intensity of varanasi is delhi on steroids with a few hits of crack. you read about it, see it in photos, and hear it from other travelers, but nothing can prepare you for the visual onslaught. i do not recommend this place for prozac users. everything happens in the river ganga (ganges).
yes that's right, everything.
these photos barely skim the surface. (as we speak, a procession with a dead body set for cremating has just walked by)
sadhu chilling in the nude
after awhile, seeing cows everywhere becomes passe
a favorite sadhu pastime, smoking ganga on the ganga
a young 18 year old sadhu smiling as he's packing a bowl
varanasi is the holy city of shiva and hindus believe being cremated here leads to heaven. it's a city of life and death and at times somewhere in between. sometimes i feel like i'm walking in a half world because the things that i see, my mind cannot comprehend. naked sadhus bleached in white walking around, cows and goats crapping everywhere, westerners smoking dope with holy men teaching them the meaning of life, a dog eating a mouse, monkeys running around on the roof of my hotel, weddings, sacrifices given to the river, people bathing, cleaning clothes in the river, parakeets flying above, touts selling everything, tourists with eyes wide open, bodies being cremated 24 hours a day by the river side, and a dead baby attached to a rock dropped in the middle of the river (children under 10 are not cremated since they're considered pure). i find i have to run back to my hotel or hide in a restaurant for awhile, just to decompress and come down from everything i've seen. i tried to describe delhi two entries ago, but that description didn't do it justice. so i won't even try to describe varanasi in words.
to even get an inkling of what it's like, do this: take a hit of acid, read my description of delhi backwards and search for hidden satanic messages, listen to enya and slayer mixed together, throw a tarantula down your pants, watch a david lunch film in slow motion, and jump into a washing machine with the extra rinse cycle turned on after taking speed. do this all at the same time. that's what your mind on varanasi would feel like. it's the greatest people watching place i've ever seen. but amidst all the chaos, there is something incredibly enchanting and beautiful about it all. i find myself unable to leave this place after a week.
bodies being cremated at the burning ghat. first the body is dipped into the ganges, being carried there by lower caste workers. the body is then placed on a pile of wood, with the amount of wood based on the weight of the body (so that the body completely burns) the oldest son shaves his head except for a small tuft in the back. he lights straw from an eternal flame, walks around the corpse 5 times, representing the elements and then lights the wood. it takes about 3 hours to completely burn, and watching workers with a pole twist limbs and torsos around in the fire so that they burn completely is mindnumbing
this is perhaps the most bizarre thing i've ever seen. this sadhu would put his testicles between his legs and have them hang out the other side under his butt. he would then wrap them around a pitchfork/pole a couple times and then do jumping leg squats, henceforth stretching his nuts. then he had another sadhu stand on the pitchfork, balancing himself, and putting all his weight on this guy's nuts (i've got video of this). who even thinks of these things?!?!? then afterwords, he took a big toke from a bowl, and everyone rushed the stage and he blessed them with white bindis and a blessing.....of course, most of the people rushing the stage were young males seeking holiness from their idol. now i can truly say i've seen everything.
but not all in varanasi is shock and awe

i've been in varanasi for a week, sort of being stuck here because of a festival for shiva (all trains out of town are completely full), and sort of can't pull my eyes away from what i've seen. i've made of friends with some locals here (half the adults want to sell you silk or clothing, the other half want to sell you hashish), including these kids below, who i see every day. it's interesting, they just want to have their photos taken and don't ask for money like most people. everyday i pass them by as they're playing, and everyday they yell 'hullo hullo! photo photo, take photo!!'

a couple of adults were watching me taking photos, and decided they wanted their picture taken. of course they didn't smile as is customary for those 21 and over.
but these kids were the stars

watching a twilight puja (religious offering to the ganges) and floating candle lit flowerebeds down the ganga is a heavenly experience.

a holy sadhu contemplating past lives, current life, the afterlife, and

Dónde está Ché Pelotas?