roblog - Official Blog of Rob Hurvitz


Updates from the Road: India

I'll be in India from December 28th, 2000, to January 28th, 2001. I work with a bunch of folks from India, and two of them were planning a trip back. Since I think the hardest part of any trip is looking into plane tickets, I decided to tag along and let them do all the work. As it turned out, I wasn't the only lazy traveller -- there were eventually a total of six of us flying into and out of India together. At first my itinerary was pretty simple: fly into Bombay, head north to Rajasthan, fly out of Delhi. Then I found out another guy at work, Vaibhav, will be getting married in the south in Mangalore, so I'm planning to take some kind of southern detour to attend the wedding. Then I found out another guy at work, Anand, will be in Chennai and would like to show me around there, his home town. It's all gotten very complicated. Wish me luck.


1 Jan 2001 - Mumbai

Happy New Year

Well, I'm in Mumbai, and I think I've recovered from my jet lag, just in time to get on a 18 hour bus ride to Goa. As it turned out, trains and planes were all booked up. I guess I'll get to catch up on my journal during the ride (yeah, I'm already behind).

The flights to get me here went better than expected. The second segment (Amsterdam to Mumbai) was overbooked, and I ended up getting an upgrade to WorldBusiness Class. Pretty decadent.

All of us (Prash, Vinay, Sally, Josh, Jen, and I) stayed at Shirley's family's place. Vinay and Prash left for Hyderabad yesterday, and the rest of us are leaving today. Josh, Jen and Sally will be flying to Udaipur, and it looks like I'll try to meet up with them somewhere in Rajasthan after Vaibhav's wedding. But that's too far in the future to worry about...

Mumbai's a crowded place. It'll be good to get to Goa and relax for a few days. There's a lot to write, but I gotta go. I'll try to write something interesting while I'm in Goa.


2 Jan 2001 - Benaulim

Finally in Goa

After a false start and about 24 hours later, I ended up in a room in Benaulim, Goa. The bus ride was long, and I didn't sleep much for various reasons. But hey, I made it, and now I have four days to relax before I take the train to Mangalore for the wedding -- I got the reservation this afternoon.

Hanging out here is a little odd, actually. It's a beach town, and I feel like I could be just about anywhere -- Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal even. There's water, there's a sunset, there are cafes where you can hang out and drink beer near the water while watching the sunset. There seems to be plenty to do around here, though, than just lie on the beach, which is good. I can only take lying on a beach doing nothing for so long. Life's pretty rough, eh?

I'm traveling solo again now. I don't usually like traveling in a group, but the past few days in Mumbai with Josh, Jen, Sally, Shirley, Prash, and Vinay went pretty well. I hope I'll be able to meet up with them again in Rajasthan.

Anyway, I'm about to get kicked out of the internet access place. I really will write more tomorrow -- until then...


3 Jan 2001 - Benaulim

Waxing Nostalgic

Well, I basically flipped a coin and decided to head to Rajasthan the day after the wedding. I went into a local travel agent here and, after getting some flight info, made a reservation to fly from Mangalore to Bombay then catch a connecting flight Udaipur, where Josh, Jen and Sally flew two days ago. I'll catch up with them, yet.

Shared a taxi to the Anjuna Flea Market and wandered around there for a bit. Lots o' stuff to buy and packed with travelers and tourists. Anjuna itself seemed (at least from the taxi) a bit crowded and way too given over to the backpacker lifestyle. Maybe I'm just getting old.

While I was walking through the market, an Indian guy came up to me and poked a thin stick into my right ear. I pulled away from him and said something to the effect of "What are you doing?" He pointed to the end of the stick, upon which was a small globule of wax, which he then smeared on the back of his thumb. Fascinating, in a surreal sort of way. I tried to fend him off, but it's a little hard when someone has a sharp stick in your ear. He ended up "removing" what looked like an ounce of wax from my ear, all neatly smeared on the back of his thumb. As he made to poke the stick into my left ear, I tried to get away. He pulled out a small, laminated piece of paper which had typed on it: "This guy is certified to poke sharp sticks into tourists' ears." (Well, I don't remember the exact wording, but that was the gist of it.) He made another attempt with the stick, but I covered both my ears with my hands and exclaimed, "Leave my ears alone!" before running off into the crowd.

There were a bazillion carved elephants up for sale, but I couldn't decide which one to buy. Also, I didn't want to lug a bunch of elephants in my backpack for the next four weeks. There'll be plenty of time to buy a herd of carved elephants. (This paragraph's for Keith, by the way.)

I haven't yet taken a hat picture, but I'm keeping an eye out. I was thinking about taking one at the Gateway to India in Mumbai, but didn't. There's always the Taj Mahal, but it'd be nice to get at least two new hat pics, I think.


5 Jan 2001 - Benaulim

Beached

Well, it's my last night in Goa. Tomorrow I'll spend the day traveling to Mangalore. I was thinking about going out to some waterfalls, but ended up lying on the beach all day, instead.

I didn't expect to have much to write about tonight, but as I was sitting in a beachside cafe, the crew of one of the wooden, outrigger fishing boats strewn up and down the shoreline starting pushing it into the water. Two or three of them were grabbing the logs the boat was resting on as it slid forward and running them up to the front to keep the boat moving along into the water.

As the waves crashed into the boat, the front would shoot upwards, then down as the waves passed along the rest of the boat. The crew pushing on the rear outrigging would then get pulled up out of the water as the back went up, and then dunked as it evened out.

They got the boat past the waves, and everyone scrambled aboard. About eight or nine in the front, manning the four oars. Three standing on top of the large mound of netting in the middle to back of the boat. One or two in the back, steering. The boat turned and headed south, following the coastline.

It was a towards the end of the day, and the sun was an hour or two away from setting. The boat and crew were all in silhouette, and passed through the wedge of water reflecting the sunlight, their outlines all becoming shimmery with the light dancing off the rippling sea.

It was one of those moments that only seem to happen when you don't have your camera. Oh well. I don't think I'll forget that image, though, but maybe someday I'll be able to block out the Pepsi beach umbrella blocking part of my view from where I sat.


7 Jan 2001 - Mangalore

Vaibhav's Wedding

This'll be quick, unfortunately.

Morning started out with a rava masala dosa for breakfast, then I hung out with Narsi and watched Vaibhav get all dolled up for the ceremony. Took a bunch of pictures.

The ceremony itself was pretty interesting. Lots of tradition, mixed with a professional-looking video camera and lots of picture takers (me included) crowding the stage where the ceremony was taking place. Then came the lunch -- both veg and non-veg. A lot of food, basically, and then a bit of ice cream and fruit for dessert.

After the ceremony, Narsi and I hired a cab and went on a pretty cool tour of the area. Visited a local beach where a huge crowd of fisherman were hauling in their nets and sorting out the catch. Then off to a small zoo, with a pretty good collection of snakes, although the pit of vipers seemed a little too full for comfort: in a one meter by one meter area were at least a dozen hefty vipers. The oddest exhibit was the pigeon cage. I guess pigeons are exotic here in India. By this time, the Kadri temple was open, so we headed there. Pretty peaceful, with the bells and drums and beautifully done temple doorway and statue. In between we stopped for a coconut. After getting back to the hotel, we went on a walk, ending up at a really good ice cream parlor. In about an hour, the wedding party is supposed to start, where there'll be more food. Oy. I haven't been this stuffed since flying into Mumbai in World Business Class.


9 Jan 2001 - Udaipur

Easy Street

Well, I ended up spending six hours hanging out in the Mumbai domestic airport, but I made it to Udaipur yesterday. Plane touched down here at 8:00 pm (only 1.5 hours late), and it was really easy to get to the hotel (the Mughal Palace - very nice place) where Josh, Jen, and Sally were staying. The tourist police had a table set up in the airport selling Rs 75 taxi vouchers. No haggling, no commision-seeking. A little too easy, actually.

The flights were uneventful. The only interesting thing was the extreme security measures in place (understandable, what with recent hijackings and all).

Udaipur is an incredibly pretty place, and not humid at all. A big change climate-wise from the south. I haven't done anything in town yet, but I expect to be pretty busy over the next couple of days.

Okay, so this is a boring entry. Sorry about that.


10 Jan 2001 - Udaipur

Octopussy

It's sort of inevitable if you stay for any length of time in Udaipur to watch the James Bond flick Octopussy because a good portion of it was filmed here. Tonight was my night to see it, as it turned out. I hadn't seen it since it first came out, so it was a little trip down memory lane, I guess.

Saw the sunset at the monsoon palace, which was sort of featured prominently in the movie. There were several outside shots of it from a distance, but as it's mostly run down and falling apart, all the opulent inside shots were filmed somewhere else. Pretty funny. And all the street scenes seem completely ridiculous, especially since they now feel a bit familiar.

Anyway, Josh, Jen, and Sally all left a few hours back, headed to Pushkar. It was good to see them again. Won't meet up again until the flight out of Delhi, though.

Tomorrow's going to be a little crazy. I got it stuck in my head to visit the Jain temple at Ranakpur, but I also decided to leave tomorrow night for Jaisalmer. So, I'll get to pack tonight, leave early tomorrow morning for Ranakpur, then make my way back to Udaipur to catch the night bus to Jaisalmer. So, my next entry should be interesting...

There's been a drought here three years running, and so the lakes are extremely low. You can't quite walk to the Lake Palace Hotel (Octopussy's island headquarters in the Bond flick), yet, but it looks like it's just a matter of time. The lake just north is almost dry. It's already possible to walk to the island park in the middle.

Well, I should probably go pack. Later...


11 Jan 2001 - Udaipur

Auto Rickshaw

One of my favorite details here is the auto rickshaw (rick). Every time I ride in one I feel like I'm in a video game. You're in your three-wheeler, buzzing along narrow streets filled with people, cows, dogs, bicycles, motorbikes, cars, taxis, buses, and other ricks, not mention potholes. You get points by avoiding these obstacles, and the point values increase the faster you go.

The rick ride I had last night back from the monsoon palace was the highest scoring ride I've had so far -- it totally rocked. The one I just had coming back from the bus station was the lowest scoring ride I've had so far -- the driver was trying to be respectable, I guess, dressed up in slacks and a nice sweater vest and driving fairly slowly. Oh well.

The day trip to Ranakpur was fairly uneventful. The bus was late leaving this morning, of course, and it took about two hours to get there. It went pretty fast, actually -- whenever it hit a sizeable bump in the road, you got a nice bounce out of your seat.

The temple itself was pretty amazing. All hand-carved marble -- incredible detail on the columns and domes and walls. Only spent an hour or so wandering around it, however, and then caught a local bus back to Udaipur.

The countryside between Udaipur and Ranakpur was pretty dry -- I'm not sure if it's usually like that or if it's because of the three year drought. Green patches of farmland irrigated by wide deep wells. Water buffaloes on top walk in circles, turning a wheel with a line of pots on it that dips in to the well and dumps the water into the irrigation system. I wanted to get a picture of one of the wells, but the bus ride was just too bumpy.

Well, it's only three more hours until I get to sit on another bus for twelve or thirteen hours. Maybe I'll even get some sleep during the ride.


12 Jan 2001 - Jaisalmer

My Last Overnight Bus Ride

Well, after a long and trying night, I finally made it to Jaisalmer. There were two bus segments -- Udaipur to Jodhpur, then Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. The first was pretty hard travel, the second was very easy, but I've decided to take trains from now on. I won't go into details, but it ranks as one of the worst bus rides I've been on.

Jaisalmer is a very striking place. Everything's clustered around the old fort jutting up above the town -- very picturesque. I spent the day wandering around inside the fort (full of hotels and restaurants and temples and peoples' residences, as well as cows galore) and through the market areas in the town proper. Spent a little bit of time at Sunset Point, but left as soon as the tourists started showing up, who were in turn followed by a stream of kids asking for school pens and one rupee.

I signed up for a three day camel safari that's leaving tomorrow. It's the thing that everyone seems to do around here. Should be pretty cool, but I don't think there'll be too many internet connections to be found in the desert. I'll write another entry when I get back.


15 Jan 2001 - Jaisalmer

Camel Safari

I got back from the three day camel safari this afternoon, took a shower, and felt absolutely wonderful. Walked down the street with a big smile on my face.

It started out with sort of a whirlwind tour of Jaisalmer sightseeing spots -- the big cemetary kind of place and some kind of temple or palace. The guy running the hotel was the unofficial guide, and he took the "unofficial" part of it to heart. Walked around briefly on my own, basically, before heading out to where the camel safari started. I was a little slow that morning, so we were running about an hour late.

Hopped on a camel (named Papu), and the real guide led it and his camel about an hour away before we stopped for lunch. He whipped up a really good and spicy egg curry using pretty much just my Swiss Army knife. Seemed like a good start.

The next stop was a nearby village where he stocked up on camel food (I think Purina Camel Chow might have a good market here in Jaisalmer), and I got to swing children around and not give them school pens or rupees. Didn't take any pictures of them, either.

Ended the day on some small sand dunes, where the guide (his name is something like Uhlaf, but I'll just call him Olaf) cooked up another excellent meal. Slept under the stars -- it's amazing how bright the stars are when you're out in the desert away from anything resembling a big town. The blankets came in handy -- it gets pretty cold at night here this time of year (especially just before dawn).

In the morning, we stumbled across another camel safari, and, since the guides were buddies apparently, went together to the large sand dunes, via another village stop and a lunch/camel-watering stop. As we approached the village, I could hear the yells of the children. My guess as to what they were saying is: "Tourists are coming! School pens and rupees for everybody!"

One of the women in the other safari threw the kids for a loop, though, when she told them her name in Hindi. Then they all told her their names -- that was a nice turn of events. I'm sure she remembers all their names, too.

The large sand dunes were very cool. They just rise out of what I consider "regular" desert landscape (dry and rocky, with cactus-like plants sprinkled about as well as other tough-looking plants). There was even a conveniently placed cow skull towards the top of the dunes. Watched the sunset, which was by far the best sunset I've seen in India (the others have been surprisingly unimpressive), then had another fine meal.

By this time, I'd noticed that my guide was complimenting my pen and watch and jacket a bit too much. He obviously wanted me to give any or all of these items to him as a tip at the end of the safari. The other guide wasn't so subtle -- he pointed at his North Face fleece and said, "A Canadian woman gave me this and 500 rupees. Good tip!"

That night I came up with a new theory. Previously, I wasn't quite sure what to make of kids in small villages running up to tourists and demanding pens or money or candy. Did the kids consider it as a game, did it condition them to begging, or both? I don't know, but I now think that the kids who stick with it grow up to be local guides. Instead of "school pen" it becomes "jacket" or "watch."

Anyway, we headed back this morning, and during the last stretch, the guide got the camels moving at a pretty decent run, which was a welcome change from the usual plod-plod-plod of the camel.

Odd animals, those camels. I like the way they're able to keep walking in a straight line, even when they're not paying attention to the trail ahead and looking to the right or left. My camel had the added bonus of filling his tongue with air and dangling it out of his mouth and also trying to spread his scent around the entire Rajasthani desert, supposedly in a (fortunately for me) failed attempt at attracting a mate. The guides camel was much younger, and the way it looked and made whiny "Hey!" noises reminded me of Jar Jar Binks. I never asked what that camel's name was, actually, but to me he was always Jar Jar.

Well, enough. Tomorrow night I'll be catching the train to Jodhpur, and then another to Jaipur. Hard to believe that the trip is now a little more than half over.


16 Jan 2001 - Jaisalmer

In Between Time

Well, I'm leaving Jaisalmer tonight, and so today I wandered around town, checking out various havelis. Nice places, those havelis. I wouldn't mind living in one of them -- the rooftop views of the fort and surrounding town are absolutely wonderful. The rooftop view from my condo building isn't quite the same...

I've recently heard that the Taj Mahal is free on Fridays (instead of $20 on the other days), so I may try to get to Agra by Thursday night. That would only leave me with a day or so in Jaipur, though. Harumph. I guess I'll see how I feel tomorrow, after I arrive in Jaipur.

The train to Jodhpur will be leaving in five and a half hours. Should be enough time to watch the sunset, eat dinner, and pack. I'll be braving the masses of children asking for school pens at Sunset Point -- I suppose I could buy several handfuls of pens and throw them up in the air, watch the kids go nuts scrambling for them. Would make a nice picture, actually.


17 Jan 2001 - Jaipur

I Buried Paul

For a bit of a change, here's an attempt at a celebrity gossip column.

Even after all these years, it's still possible to go to India and meet the Beatles. At least one Beatle, that is. Paul McCartney and his lovely young girlfriend made a surprise appearance in Jaisalmer yesterday. They were spotted visiting the Jain Temples inside the old fort, and then again at the lake. She turned quite a few heads, sporting about town in a skimpy outfit and high heels -- quite a challenge what with the Jaisalmer streets consisting of uneven, worn-smooth stone. Two Isreali women actually got to meet Sir Paul and shook his hand. As they walked away, lots of other folks came up to shake their hands. The transitive property of meeting celebrities in action.

India is the hot place to be these days, and not just because of the weather! Brainy Stephen Hawking celebrated his birthday in Mumbai, and both Madonna and Richard Gere are attending the mega-blast Khumbh Mela, although I won't be joining them. Fifteen or twenty million are expected to show for the month and a half long party, but did I receive a single invitation? Let's just say Madonna and Richard can enjoy themselves without moi.

Okay, enough of that. I made it to Jaipur, and there's so much to do around here, so I won't leaving tomorrow for Agra -- I'll just have to fork over the $20 for the Taj.

I splurged and picked up Diamond class tickets to the Raj Mandir Cinema for tomorrow evening. The movie playing is Raju Cha Cha. Should be fun. I saw an Indian movie two years back in Nepal, and it was a pretty cool experience, except for the bed bugs in the theater seats. This theater is supposed to be pretty fancy, though, so I won't bother with the bug spray beforehand.

Oh, I found out Vinay got engaged. Guess that means I'll be coming back to India sooner than I expected, unless, of course, I'm not invited to the wedding...


19 Jan 2001 - Jaipur

Masala

Well, it's my last night in Jaipur, with just over a week left in India, and I've only spent about a third of the money I brought with me (not including what I spent on the flight from Mangalore to Udaipur). So, I decided to splurge on dinner tonight -- went to Swaad, located in the fashionable Ganpati Plaza, and threw down $6.00. I am so stuffed now.

Spent the day in a low-scoring auto rickshaw and saw a bunch of cool stuff around here: the Royal Gaitor, Amber Palace, Jaigarh, and a few jewelry and crafts shops you always seem to wind up in when you spend any length of time in a rickshaw.

Tomorrow I'll be taking the bus to Agra. As it turns out, the latest backpacker gossip is the "Free Friday" special for the Taj Mahal ended last Friday. So, it was a good thing I didn't rush through Jaipur. If I had, actually, I wouldn't have appeared on local television.

While roaming around yesterday, slowly making my way to the cinema, a happened upon a crowd of folks surrounding a video crew taping some guy in the back of a rickshaw. Standard question and answer stuff, but then the interviewee started singing that tradition Hindi music. The crowd seemed pretty appreciative -- clapped and cheered when he finished. As the crew packed up and started to leave, one of the two interviewers spotted me and said hello, shook my hand. The two of them were curious if I'd like to announce a video by Michael Jackson or Madonna, so I said sure. Video camera went on again, and they asked me a couple questions about where I was from and what I was doing in India, then what song I'd like to hear. On cue, I said Michael Jackson's "Black or White." I didn't think they'd appreciate it if I asked for, say, Yo La Tengo's "Sugarcube."

As I was going around today, however, nobody stopped me and asked if I was the tourist on tv last night. Oh well. So much for my 15 minutes of fame.


20 Jan 2001 - Agra

Mausoleum

Well, it's been an odd day. Spent most of it on a bus from Jaipur to Agra -- there was some road construction going on, so it took a little longer than expected, but I did manage to fall asleep for part of it and the bus only stopped once and the seats were comfortable and actually went back and nobody was sitting in the aisle and falling asleep in my lap, which makes it the best bus ride I've had so far.

I finally got settled in here in the Taj Ganj and went to check my email. Lo and behold, drugstore.com laid off about 20% of its workforce. It was, to say the least, a bit of a shock -- three weeks ago, things seemed to be going along just fine. Weird. I still have my job, though, so I guess that means I'll be heading back to Seattle as planned.

Tomorrow I'll be visiting that big ol' mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, which now seems a little too fitting. I don't know who all got laid off, though, which is a little frustrating. Sigh. I'm excited to check it out, however. I'll be taking a hat picture there, which will be a nice addition to that collection. I also got a hat picture in Udaipur, from the rooftop restaurant of the Mughal Palace Hotel with the Lake Palace Hotel/Octopussy HQ in the background.

Not sure what else to say.

Oh, Raju Chacha was pretty fun. Long, too. Not as many song and dance numbers as I expected, though, but a lot of borrowing from other films -- The Lion King, The Sound of Music, even Indiana Jones. I heard this afternoon from some guy hanging out at the Jaipur bus station that it cost something like 10 or 20 crore rupees to produce. It certainly looked expensive.


21 Jan 2001 - Agra

Boycott Agra

Okay, here's a rant. There's a bunch of things to see in and around Agra, and they're very popular. The current pricing scheme for foreigners is: You buy a punchcard for the five sites for 500 rupees. Then at each site you buy a separate ticket to get in -- 460 rupees for the Taj Mahal, 460 rupees for the Red Fort, 230 rupees for the "Baby Taj", and I didn't bother to find out the prices for the other two (somebody's tomb and the town of Fatehpur Sikri). So, if you manage to see all five sites in one day, it comes out to over 2000 rupees (about $50). If, on the other hand, you're Indian, the total price comes out to around 50 rupees (about $1). Also, the punchcard is only good for one day -- if you spread out the sites over several days, you'll need to buy a new 500 rupee punchcard each day.

This pricing scheme has really pissed me off, and I'll be leaving Agra earlier than I originally planned because I feel completely cheated. The worst part is the people who are hurt most by this, in my opinion, are the locals: the guides, shop and hotel owners. In my case, I can't bring myself to spend a single rupee more for things like souvenirs and guides because of the exorbitant prices I have to pay to get in to the sites.

At the Baby Taj, a government guide is an additional 30 rupees, but after spending almost 1200 rupees, there was no way I was going to fork over any more.

There used to be the saving grace of the free Fridays, but they've done away with that, even. If you're not Indian, you're screwed, basically. There's been a lot of complaints, and the pricing may change, but it'll take a while.

Anyway, the Taj Mahal was really beautiful. The white marble had something of a glow during the day, tinged with red during the sunset, and turned a ghostly gray at dusk. Alive during the day and dead at night. I took a bunch of pictures, including one with the hat.

Goodbye, Agra. I'll be leaving tomorrow for Delhi. I should've spent more time in Rajasthan -- oh well.


23 Jan 2001 - Delhi

Out of the Frying Pan...

...and into Paharganj.

The Taj Express pulled in to Nizamuddin train station around 10:00 p.m., and I was besieged with rick drivers as I walked out the exit. First driver started with 120 rupees to the backpacker ghetto, and I walked away. Bargained the second driver down to 60.

It was night, and so traffic was light, but I got the impression that this city is going to have a lot of high scoring auto rickshaw rides. Can't wait. I'll have to choose my drivers carefully -- watch for nervous tics, chain smoking, etc. -- to make sure I get some exciting rides.

Walked down the main street in Paharganj, passing groups of long-haired backpackers and fending off a couple of hotel touts, until I got to the Main Bazaar area where the Hotel Vishal is located. An American guy named Chad (he wasn't pregnant nor did he have dimples...) I met in Jaipur recommended the place. I looked at a couple rooms, but they were all the usual cheap backpacker style of room: dark. It was late, though, and I was hungry, so I took the one that had a window, hoping its small panes would let in a little bit of light in the morning. (It didn't.)

Went to the adjoining restaurant and ordered the vegetarian thali. As I waited for the food to arrive a drug addict prostitute walked in, sat at a nearby table, and offered me a full body massage. I turned her down, and she then offered me some smack. I turned her down again, and she then just asked me for some money. I turned her down yet again, and she got distracted by some other travelers who came in to the restaurant and by the tv.

This is the Asia I remember.

Anyway. This morning, I looked around at a couple other hotels and found the Hare Rama Guest House -- rooms with sunlight! I went back to Vishal, checked out, and checked in to Hare Rama. It's so much nicer not to stay in a cave-like room. I'm splurging and spending 230 rupees ($5) a night on this room, but it's worth every pais, and the hotel's keychain doubles as a bottle opener. Hare Rama seems to get a lot of Israeli patronage -- there's Hebrew everywhere, a "Chabad House" sign right next to my room, and Israeli food on the menu. I wonder if they accept shekels here.

I thought I was going to hate Delhi, but I'm pretty charged right now. There's a lot of energy in this city, and I can't wait to get out and stir things up...


23 Jan 2001 - Delhi

A Close Shave

Well, I wasn't paying attention, and accidentally ended up in a rickshaw being driven by a distinguished-looking older gentleman -- not the crazed speed demon I was planning on, but he did manage to get a pretty decent score, nonetheless.

Got to the Red Fort and discovered that it's closed until National Day, which is this Friday. So, I guess I'll plan on going to the Fort on Saturday. I wasn't the only disappointed tourist, though -- there was a sizeable crowd of people milling about in front of the entrance. I gravitated to a group of four travelers who looked like they were also staying in Paharganj. Two Americans (recently engaged) and two Aussies (recently in Sri Lanka).

Walked with them to Jama Masjid and poked around the mosque. The American guy is Jewish, works at a dot-com, and has a CS degree from Berkeley -- my long-lost twin. He unfortunately took a picture of some kids in the mosque, and they followed him around asking for photo money the rest of the time we were there. (That's one of my favorite names for a band, actually: The Photo Rupee Kids.)

On our way to Chandni Chowk, we ducked into a little alleyway, and zigzagged around through tiny shops whose purposes weren't exactly obvious. So much fun -- each door was a mystery. Reached one alleyway that specialized in decorations -- glass beads, embroidered ribbon, random stuff like that. Wonderful how just a block or so away from the main street you can walk by shops without the owners rushing out and pestering you to come in and buy.

Passed by a barber stall, and the American guy and I both decided to get a shave. We'd heard a lot about Indian shaves -- supposed to be very good and very close -- but neither of us were up for getting one by ourselves. Together, though, we sat down in two of the three chairs, and the barbers went to work.

First my barber lathered up my three-day old stubble with about three different lotions, then he pulled out a brand new razor and quickly and expertly gave me a good shave. Then the lather came out again -- a second shave to get it nice and close. After that came some sort of tonic which he rubbed in to my skin with a crystal about the size of a fist. Then a wash, some moisturizing cream, and aftershave. I declined the face and head massage (what is it with massages in this town?). Total came out to 20 rupees (about 50 cents). Wow. I felt so fresh and clean afterwards -- hope I don't get hepatitis...

Made our way back to the main street, and all the shop owners started hounding us. Escaped to the relative serenity of Mahatma Gandhi Park and then came back to Paharganj for dinner.

I like Delhi.


24 Jan 2001 - Delhi

Republic Daze

I tried going to the Red Fort yesterday, and it was closed until Republic Day (this Friday, the 26th). Today I walked from Connaught Place to India Gate, and most of Rajpath was fenced off in preparation for the Republic Day parade. India Gate itself was closed. Military is everywhere, in preparation for the million or so people expected to show up for the parade.

En route to Rajpath, I swung by Delhi's Jantar Mantar (astronomical park) and found out it had joined the "screw the tourist" craze that's sweeping the nation. Five rupees for Indians, 230 rupees for everyone else. Since I'd seen the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur (for 5 rupees), I decided to skip this one.

After taking a picture of India Gate from a distance, I auto-rickshawed to Humayum's Tomb and visited its neighbor, Isa Kahn's tomb, which was free. Humayum's Tomb was 460 rupees for non-Indians, so I bailed. Wandered pretty much aimlessly for about ten minutes and stumbled across a run-down but interesting temple or tomb or something -- made out of red sandstone, three or four stories tall, octagonal in shape. There were a couple people sitting on the grass around it, but otherwise it was empty. I headed to the gate, and found out the admission was 10 rupees for Indians, 460 rupees for everyone else. I laughed out loud, and the guy in the booth smiled and shrugged.

Eventually decided to go somewhere supposedly free -- Raj Ghat. It's where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and now it's a park. Had a pretty good rick ride to the park, where I found out it was closed until Republic Day.

At this point I gave up and headed back to Paharganj.

I think tomorrow I'll hang out on a rooftop restaurant and catch up on postcards. And do some laundry. Yeah, that's it. Laundry.


26 Jan 2001 - Delhi

Parade

I woke up early today to go to the Republic Day Parade down Rajpath. A kid from the hotel accompanied me there, fortunately. After paying the special Republic Day auto rickshaw price of 50 rupees, we stood in line for a while to get to the first security checkpoint, where I found out no cameras were allowed inside. Oops.

After a few indecisive moments, the kid said he'd take my stuff back to the hotel and leave me to fend for myself at the parade. Kept my sunglasses case and gave him everything else.

The sunglasses turned out to be a bad idea. Every cop between the first security checkpoint and the grounds thought I had some sort of terrorist device in it. Needless to say, I met a lot of Indian cops today. So, there was a total of three security checks -- pretty thorough -- I even had to take off my shoes at the third so they could search them. Should've worn my Tevas instead of my boots, I guess.

Anyway, made it to the viewing area feeling only slightly violated. Could've been worse, though. The third checkpoint guard for the line next to the one I was in was pulling up every guy's shirt and running his hands over their bare chests several times. (Women and children went through a separate line.)

The parade was pretty good, but it felt a little short. A bunch of military and marching bands, followed by mock-ups of military equipment. Then a series of floats representing each state of India. My favorite was the Goan float: A big frog playing the saxophone at the front, a band playing pseudo-Carribean music, and people lounging under giant (magic?) mushrooms at the back. There were also hundreds of smartly decorated camels, complete with camel riding band. Later was a procession of elephants, also all done up for the day.

The next part was a sampling of songs from around India played over the loudspeakers -- the street was empty. Musical part went on for 30 or 40 minutes, and I almost fell asleep, actually.

But then the motorcycle acrobats went by doing things like climbing up a ladder while the bike was moving or having up to a dozen people on one bike, which was entertaining but brief. To finish things up, various air force planes flew overhead in formation.

Then I walked back to my hotel. My cameras are in the safe in reception, but the guy behind the desk doesn't have the key, so I'll have to wait to get my stuff back. No problem -- I don't have any plans for the rest of the day, anyway.


27 Jan 2001 - Delhi

Earthquake

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I'm fine, and I actually didn't even feel the quake. I'll be making a few phone calls to see about the rest of the folks here.

The epicenter was in Bhuj, located in western Gujarat, about 600 miles from New Delhi. I met quite a few travelers while I was in Jaisalmer who were planning on spending a bunch of time there, and it's been long enough that they had probably reached it by the time the earthquake hit. I hope they're okay.

I came down with a case of Delhi belly last night, however, just in time for the flight back home. Lovely.


27 Jan 2001 - Delhi

Strange Last Day

Well, instead of going to the Red Fort, Raj Ghat and the Gandhi Memorial Museum, I spent most of the day in my bathroom, where I could clearly hear the Saturday services being held next door in the Chabad House room. In other parts of India, thousands died in a major earthquake, although I didn't even feel the tremors here in Delhi. I know people who have family in Ahmedabad, but I don't know how to get in contact with them.

My big excursion for the day was to the local chemist, where I told him my stomach woes, and he tossed on the counter a 10 tab packet of Tinaflox. Each tab contains 400mg of Norfloxacin and 600mg of Tinidazole. A one-two punch: You got stomach problems? We got the cure! The cost for the medication was 58 rupees (about $1.25). I don't think it'd be a good idea for drugstore.com to expand into India...

I've scheduled a taxi for 4:45 a.m. to get me to the airport about 2.5 hours before the flight. So, I'll be traveling for about 24 hours tomorrow before I arrive in Seattle. I'll be taking my first Tinaflox pretty soon.

Well, this will be my last entry from India. It's been an interesting trip. Thanks for reading.

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