A Travellerspoint blog

Beers with a true traveller

Delhi (11/10/2007)

sunny 35 °C

Thursday: It's our first full day in Delhi since returning from our tour of Rajasthan and Madya Pradesh, and we're taking it pretty easy. I spent 6 hours in an internet cafe near our hotel updating my blog, creating a travel map, answering e-mails and backing up my photos. Pretty soon it's evening, and we decide to drop by at "de Gem", a bar recommended by the Lonely Planet guide, along the Main Bazaar, the main drag of Paharganj, the backpacker region of Delhi.

It's here that we meet Graham, a 59 year old India-phile from the Channel Islands, and over the next four hours he would tell us his amazing story. A painter/decorator by trade, Graham has been visiting India since the early seventies.
In 1978 he simply started walking from village to village for a total of 8 years, accepting free food and accommodation from friendly locals! These days he limits himself to six month blocks spent mainly in Rishikesh, his favourite place on Earth. A self confessed hater of the west, he works just long enough to save for a plane fare plus several months spending money, and then he's off! With long gray hair, beard and weather-beaten face, you could say he was the archetypal hippie, a true "long-hair" who didn't sell out and go all "corporate" once the sixties were over. Further proof of his new age "credentials" were offered when he mentioned spending time in Byron Bay, Australia!

(The Byron Bay of the seventies, mind - not the newly gentrified, property-developed Byron Bay of today!)

I don't have much else to report as I'm not currently in tourist mode. Dean and I are at a crossroads in our trip - do we explore Srinigar and Kashmir in the north-west, head down south to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa, fly directly to Nepal and spend some time there, or take Graham's advice and chill out in Rishikesh, just like John, Paul, George and Ringo in 1968?

Probably none of the above - the easy-going charm of Thailand's southern beaches is starting to look more and more tempting. In the next blog we may have decided...

Stay tuned!

Posted by scottness 02:34 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Khajuraho and dinner with the locals

Khajuraho (9-10/10/2007)

sunny 35 °C
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It's our second day in Khajuraho and because we're here for two nights there's no need to rush - after a leisurely sleep-in (we miss breakfast) we get down to business and ... turn on the TV!

OK, its 13:00 and we're finally off to the eastern set of temples. These temples are more spread out and dilapidated than the western set from yesterday, but they're impressive nonetheless. Our self-appointed guide is Shiva, a local from the village nearby, and before too long we've built a solid rapport.

So strong in fact that after inspecting our umpteenth erotic frieze, we all decide to call it a day and visit a nearby cafe called "Fat Albert's" and order a few brews. That's right - Fat Albert, the African-American cartoon series from the seventies - the hand painted picture of Albert himself quite out of place in this rustic scene of temples, cows, goats and ladies pumping water from underground bores!

Several beers later and thanks to Shiva we're fully versed in subjects as diverse as the genealogy of all the major Hindu deities along with the state of Hindu/Muslim relations in India today. I also try chewing tobacco for the first time and it is completely different to what I expected - instead of tasting like tobacco it's sweet, spicy and crunchy and leaves the mouth feeling totally refreshed. As the sun goes down, Shiva suggests we dine at his place (he asks me to choose one of the roosters wandering around for the main course!) and since we have no other pressing plans, we humbly accept.

Dinner won't be till 9:00 pm so in the meantime we decide to check out the nightly folk dance presentation at the local theater in town. This is a colorful showcase of dance, music and song from all over India. Particularly impressive was the young man who proceeded to juggle silver plates whilst standing on a bed of nails, all the while balancing a tower of metal pots on his head!

9:00 pm rolls around and it's time for our dinner date. We're a little apprehensive as we approach Shiva's block along an unpaved, unlit street, but after locating the correct address we knock on the door and Shiva welcomes us in. From the outside you wouldn't guess it, but "chez Shiva" is quite a spread. You enter the front door into a central white-washed open-air courtyard. From one of the rooms adjoining the courtyard comes the aroma of food being prepared and from another, Shiva's daughter watching TV. A staircase leads upstairs to Shiva's brother-in-law's place. Shiva's wife is away at her parents house, which probably explains how this little "soiree" could even be contemplated in the first place. He pours us each a glass of home-made liquor - distilled from the flowers of the Mughwa tree - and we all drink to our health. We have a lot of catching up to do as Shiva is already quite inebriated, but after my third glass I'm starting to feel pretty merry. Even the liquor, which at first seems indistinguishable from methylated spirits (not that I'm an expert, mind!), starts to taste more acceptable.

But then comes the food. The chicken is a little tough but it's served in a delicious sauce with rice and chapati, and there's plenty of it. It's been a fantastic night, and I rummage in my bag for some kind of gift for our kind host. And then I find it - in exchange for a delicious home-cooked meal under a starry sky in a foreign land I will give...an Aussie fridge magnet calendar hastily purchased at Sydney Airport!

"It's a beautiful gift", Shiva lies, as he passes the curio around for his relatives to look at. He accompanies us on the tuk-tuk back to hotel and we all bid farewell.

The morning rolls around and it's time for the three hour car trip to Jhansi followed by a seven hour train ride to Delhi. The day is fairly uneventful except for Deano's continuing run of bad luck as he realizes he's misplaced his camera! It's a mad rush to all the places we visited the night before, but to no avail - the camera can't be found. But I'm sure he can tell you more about that at his blog (http://dinofile.travellerspoint.com/).

Wednesday night and we're back in Delhi, our Indian tour complete!

Posted by scottness 04:04 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Erotica, plague and viruses!

Khajuraho (8/10/2007)

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It's 7:00 am Monday morning and the overnight train pulls into Satna, the stop-off station for Khajuraho, a small town famous for its thousand year old temples. Departure was a bit of a nail-biter as inadequate signage meant that we weren't sure if we were in the right carriage, let alone the right train. The trip was fairly uneventful except for the fact that I finally took a test drive of the on-board squat-style toilet - I was apprehensive at first, but the strategically placed handrails made the task easier!

If you've been following this blog, then you should know the drill upon arrival in a new town - we're met at the station and driven to our hotel that's usually on the outskirts of town and is usually in the final stages of construction. The fact that the hotel is far from the center of things is my only (minor) gripe with the whole package. Apart from this, everything has gone remarkably smoothly.

After a 2 hour drive through beautiful countryside we arrive at Khajuraho, check-in, then head straight to the temples. The temples are divided into two groups - the western and the eastern - and it's at the more impressive western group that we begin to explore.

As usual, touts patrol the approaches to the main entrance. I'm not sure if he's mentioned it in his blog (http://dinofile.travellerspoint.com/) but Dean and I often amuse ourselves by narrating an imaginary late-night television marketing program called "The Toutmaster 2000". This is a magical device, packaged in spray-can format, that (marketing voice) ..."ELIMINATES ALL TOUTS IN A 1000 YARD RADIUS!!! RENDERS TOUTS IMMOBILE!!". At times like this we wished we possessed such a product!

Anyway, we're through the gates, and we wander around. The lawns are beautifully manicured, and the temples rise above the ground like alien spaceships. All of this would be impressive enough were it not for the carvings on the temples themselves - beautifully sculpted figures depicting all aspects of work, sex and play. It is the erotic aspect of the carvings that make the temples infamous (see photos below. Warning - some images may offend!).

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After grabbing a bite we find an internet cafe and start to update our blogs. Just after nightfall, I begin to notice something crawling down my neck. Its a small black beetle, but no problem, I brush it away and continue typing. Pretty soon, I'm covered with beetles and other assorted insects, and looking down on the floor, I notice thousands of them! As it turns out, due to three straight years of low rainfall, Khajuraho is plagued by these things, and they all seem to wanna party as soon as the sun sets!

Beetles are the last of Dean's problems as his computer is infected by a virus. He made the fatal mistake of clicking on a suspicious looking file on his camera's storage card and pretty soon his computer screen is a patchwork quilt of windows displaying warnings, errors, international symbols of radioactive waste and bio-hazards, and the like. Staring at the screen and typing madly, he's trying to reverse the damage, beetles crawling all over his face! It's not a pretty sight.

In the confusion he accidentally deletes all his photos. Two weeks-worth of "kodak moments" down the toilet, just like that! (They may be salvageable, but the recovery process will have to wait till Sydney) Trying hard to remain civil, he politely suggests to the technician/shop-owner that they purchase and install the latest software security suite. Now, given the language difficulties we've experienced so far on this trip, I somehow doubt that Dean's recommendations will be taken on board and actioned at the next board meeting. My hunch is verified, as after smiling and nodding politely, the owner simply says: "200 rupees, please".

As you can imagine, Dean doesn't leave in the best of moods, and pretty soon we're accosted by a tout who saunters up to us and confidently asks: "You want taxi? Tuk-Tuk? Yes? Now listen to me...You want tuk-tuk...?".

Dean simply looks at him, lays a hand on his shoulder, pulls a recently purchased lighter/torch out of his pocket, and proceeds to switch the torch on and off in the touts face, in time to the words...."NO... WE... DON'T... WANT... A... TAXI... OK?" (said in a high-pitched alien-like voice)

We normally get a lot more resistance as we wander off, but all we get from this guy is a lost, bewildered look!

Dinner was a lack-lustre pizza at the Hotel Zen. Back at the hotel I fall asleep while watching Al-Jazeera on cable. Some people say that this is the voice of the Arab world, but it looks just like CNN to me!

(As an aside, we were approached by a lady at breakfast the next morning who noticed Dean playing with his new lighter/torch. She said "I thought you should know, but I bought a lighter just like that and it exploded in my face! Be careful!" The Gods don't seem to be smiling upon Dean - more bad luck is to follow...stay tuned!)

Posted by scottness 00:45 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Sailing down the Ganges

Varanasi (6-7/10/2007)

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Our train pulls into Varanasi station roughly 3 hours late and sure enough, there's our contact waiting to take us to the "Hotel India", a half-finished hotel situated on the outskirts of town.

At the hotel we bump into a couple of Norwegian girls we met on the overnighter (and who I remember from Agra). In fact, for the two days we're in Varanasi we will meet more travellers than in the previous 2 weeks combined! Maybe its due to Varanasi being part of the well-worn Delhi-Agra-Varanasi tourist circuit as opposed to the hardier Rajasthani route. In any case, its refreshing to converse with someone new for a change! At a restaurant called the Ganga Fuji, over a few beers served from a teapot (don't ask - it's got something to do with concealing the beers from the Hindi chapter of the "wowser" brigade) we met Miriam who's on her 4th India trip, two Dutch guys who rave about their West African adventure, an Italian girl with a backpack heavier than herself, full of silver and trinkets to be smuggled out of the country, and other assorted French, Brits, Yanks, with the odd Aussie or two.

Varanasi is famous for its 60 or so Ghats - areas by the left bank of the river Ganges used for bathing and other rituals - and pretty soon we've arrived there by auto-rickshaw (or "tuk-tuk", to use the local parlance). The Ghats are a hive of activity, and it's from the main Dasaswamedh Ghat that we embark on our pre-paid boat trip down the Ganges (see photos below).

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The Manikarnika Ghat is the main burning Ghat, and when we passed earlier there were two cremations taking place. A self-appointed guide explains that cremations take place around the clock, with each requiring roughly 200 kilograms of fuel to complete the task, the ash and remains being dumped straight into the river. It's not uncommon to see bodies floating by!

It's this last factoid that makes me extra cautious about accidentally going overboard. The Lonely Planet Guide states that the water contains something like 500 trillion coliform bacteria per millilitre (the acceptable level is 500 apparently) and I wonder to myself if the kids dive-bombing into it from the river's edge would have such a big smile on their faces if they had an inkling of this!

Dinner was at the Ganga Fuji (mentioned above) and then it was straight to bed.

The next day was spent chilling out at a rooftop cafe called the Puja, drinking beers, enjoying the commanding city views, watching a tribe of monkeys torment the locals, and updating our blogs. Hardcore explorers may scoff at our laziness, saying "How can you waste a whole day of sightseeing time?"

All I can say to them is this: After two weeks and 7 cities travelling on buses and trains, in 35+ degree heat, battling psycho-touts (plus a disagreeable bowel) at every turn, it was nice to finally have a bit of R&R. Besides, there was more fun and games awaiting us at Khajuraho. Stay tuned...!

Posted by scottness 05:39 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Missing the sites of Agra

Agra - Varanasi (5/10/2007)

sunny 35 °C

I awake on Friday morning with the intention of visiting Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned fortified town roughly 40 kilometres from Agra. We missed out on the Agra Fort the previous day due to time constraints and today we hope to make amends. In order to escape the midday heat, which has been relentless throughout the entire trip (35+ degrees C and clear every day), we book an afternoon taxi.

We pass the time by updating our blogs at a local internet cafe. Internet access in India is quite cheap (access rates range from $AU0.60 to $AU3.00 per hour at the good hotels) but the service is unreliable - power outages occur several times per day and the PCs are usually swarming with nasties such as viruses and spyware. Almost every keystroke is interrupted by Microsoft's warnings of impending doom if we don't update our anti-virus software.

Back at the hotel and our driver has arrived. As with everyone we meet in India the introductions go something like this:

"Hello - where are you from?"
"Australia"
"Ahhh...Australia, great country - great cricketers, no?"
"That's right..."

...followed by the obligatory querying of age, marital status and profession. Cricket is an automatic conversation starter and it pays to have a favourite player just like everyone we meet. (Even Dean, a hard-core soccer fan who, prior to the trip, would scoff at the idea of following the game, has converted - today he was hounding the security guard at Khajuraho for the latest match results!)

Minutes later, we're off - weaving through village markets, dodging oncoming traffic and swerving to avoid docile cows snoozing in the middle of the road. But pretty soon we've come to a dead halt - roadworks up ahead! The traffic is banked up for miles and pretty soon we turn and head back to Agra. There'll be no fortified ghost towns fleecing US for money today! I content myself with our driver's backup plan - a sunset shot of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna river. (HE doesn't care, he gets his 600 rupees regardless of the state of the roads...)

We drown our sorrows with a couple of Kingfishers (the local brew), grab a bite, and once night falls, head to the station to catch the 21:15 overnighter to Varanasi. I contort myself into the upper bunk, throwing a scratchy blanket over myself to protect myself from the arctic blast of the air conditioner, and try to doze off...

Posted by scottness 08:43 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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