Thursday, April 24, 2008

Darn it.

I noticed that my horizontal pictures tend to get cut off. So lest you think I have terrible framing problems, click on the picture to see it in all its glory or go to for the original. Grrrr.

Out of India... and on to Nepal.

Bus was at 8:30 a.m but it was recommended to be there by 6:30 a.m., I have no idea why. I decided getting there at 7:45 was good enough. As is my habit, I like to ask hotel managers how much rickshaws should cost to where I need to go -- since the drivers almost always see a white face and double or triple the going rate. "Bicycle rickshaw no more than twenty rupees" I was told. Okay, I headed out, found a bicycle rickshaw and got on precariously -- I have a lot of stuff. The man told me it was 40 rupees (of course). I told him the hotel said it was 20. He grumbled okay. He biked me for about 20 minutes and I felt bad because he was an older guy and it was fairly warm out, so I gave him 30 rupees total as a tip. "Ten more," he says. "No, we agreed on 20." "Ten more." That's not what we agreed on, I said and he made a face at my money - grimacing and sticking his tongue out. Forget it, I'm never tipping again. I'm just a walking ATM anyway.

The bus was going to be pretty crowded and it was due to be a long slog. I climbed on board and settled in for a snooze. I was in a little trouble because I didn't have any money left. It didn't make sense to get more Indian rupees out and pay 5 dollars for the transaction (at least) for just a few more bucks. I could make do on the last remaining Cliff bar I had as breakfast and some roadside dosas or samosas for lunch and worry about dinner after I get Nepalese money. But the roadside cafe we stopped at for lunch was pretty pricey but Indian standards so I didn't eat. I wandered about taking pictures of Indian trucks. I love them!
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We stopped again later in the afternoon, and I bought a bag of chips -- determined to hold out. I had 30 dollars in American money in my pocket specifically for my Nepalese visa (they only take dollars, isn't that strange? I had to buy 10 dollars, but I had a twenty in my wallet since leaving NYC. While at the roadside cafe, I noticed a large group of Israelis standing off on the side of the cafe, snickering and taking pictures at the bushes. I wandered over to find out what could be so interesting. Well, it turns out the "bushes" were marijuana plants. LOTS of them. HUGE.

Got back on the bus for the final couple of hours to Sounali and the Nepal border. We were instructed to get off the bus and walk 100 meters to immigration out of India. Then across the border where we would get our Nepalese visa. It was kind of anti-climatic. Just a big sign we walked under saying Thank you for visiting India. Huh. I guess that's that.

Nepal had no electricity. This was a running problem throughout India as well -- power constantly goes out. Sometimes it's scheduled, sometimes not. We trooped over to fill out forms by candlelight. Then we had to produce our 2x2 inch photos (some didn't have them -- amateurs!) and our 30 dollars. The jerky little man took a look at my 20 dollar bill, held it to the light, noticed a small tear (REALLY small tear) in the border of an otherwise crisp, new 20 dollar bill and refused it. He handed it back to me, gruffly, "No good." I'm sorry, what?!? India and Nepalese money is in appalling shape, and I did often have money turned down because of a tear or a hole -- or faces made when they see the shape of it or the size of the denomination). But flatly turning down American money for a small tear??? MY MONEY? I was SO upset. "But it's MY money!" I said, waving my American passport in his face. "It's FROM America!!!" Just then an Austrian guy I had spoken to briefly at the last stop came over and whispered for me to let it go and come with him, we'd fix the problem. The Nepalese immigration people had told me to go to the money changers. I couldn't believe it. We walked up the street where the money changers merely taped the tear. Idiots. I went back with my taped money and again, that jerky guy through it back in my face, "No good! Bank won't take!" I turned to who I thought his supervisor was and showed him the money. "No good," he sneered. "But it's fine! It's brand new!" "Not my problem," he grumbled, not looking at me. Suddenly I VEHEMENTLY HATED NEPAL. In India, the national saying is, "No problem!" Anything could happen, "No problem." Apparently Nepal's theme is "Not my problem"? Again, the Austrian, Markus, took my arm. "Ask if anyone has an extra 20." Why would anyone have an extra 20? I was the only American there. But I asked, and sure enough, a French guy near me had an extra. Thank goodness. I tossed it at the nasty little man and he inspected it and pushed it through. Then I had to wait outside until it was processed in about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Markus explained to me that he'd heard a girl get upset about something to do with the process and the petty little men had gotten all Soup Nazi on her and denied her a visa altogether. "NO NEPAL FOR YOU!" She tried again the next day -- turned down again. Eventually she had to go to another border. They called me back inside, all smiles and "Welcome to Nepal!" Oh shut. up.

Now I had the minor issue of no money for a hotel. My plan had been to stay the night and then move on to Chitwan Nat'l park the next morning. Most people were either moving on to Pokhara or Kathmandu next. Markus said he was going to Pokhara. I asked a man if there was an ATM nearby and he laughed. "No ATM here. No banks open for 3 days. Election!" Oh boy. I went to exchange travelers checks. But, when I had received them, the bank never told me to sign them immediately. I had no idea. So I pull them out, and there's no signature already on it, so the Money changer guy won't take it. Frankly, all I had to do was turn around and sign it and they'd never know I didn't sign it the day I got them. But I was screwed. So I asked, can I take money out using a visa (my bank card has the logo). No no no they say. But I did that all through India, I said (it was a great way to use my atm like a visa card and avoid the usual 7 dollar transaction fee because they'd only add 3% generally, and I only take 100 out at a time). Suddenly they realize what I'm saying. Oh yes, that will work -- but not until 9 a.m. tomorrow. But my bus leaves at 6:30 a.m. Meanwhile, I have no cash for dinner or the hotel. This was not bright on my part, I admit -- but I hadn't had any problems getting money out in darkest India -- but I hadn't counted on this election deal.

The hotel guy told me there were many buses to Chitwan, not just at 6:30 and that I could pay for the hotel and dinner in the a.m. That was a relief. But then I ran into Markus and was looking at the map of Nepal and realized that it made no sense for me to go to Chitwan first and then Pokhara and THEN Kathmandu. I should go to Pokhara first. Markus very thoughtfully lends me 1000 rupees (about 15 bucks) and I decided to trail him to Pokhara. Which is a good thing I did because we timed it so that we were on a trek on the day of and before Election -- when all buses were shut down. Dinner of chow mein and sat with Markus and a French Canadian guy and a silent Israeli guy talking (except for the Israeli) before bed.

Up at crack of dawn for breakfast and bus to Pokhara. 6 hours they said. Ha. It was a local bus and we made 3 stops within 1 km it felt like. Or we'd sit for 10 minutes somewhere. M and I were going crazy. Plus he's about 7 feet tall so he was miserably cramped in the tiny seats.
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(this is my "going crazy" look + fish-eyed lens = hot)
The bus took 12 hours, careening along sheer cliffs, snow-capped peaks in the distance. The country was beautiful. All the farmers have built these amazing terraced fields down the sides of the mountains for their rice paddies. I must say I was pretty nervous for most of the ride.

(this is a picture of one of the guys who worked on the bus - they clambered like monkeys up onto the roof to secure luggage even while the bus was speeding along. Lots of passengers rode up on the roof as well. I considered it but didn't head up there.)
At one point we hit a bump and luggage came crashing down on M's head. In his Ah-nold accent, he loudly exclaimed, "Luggage fall on my head - NO PROBLEM!" and the bus exploded in laughter and clapping and the locals repeating, "No problem! No problem!"

Sometime after that, a gas can on the roof tipped over, dousing me and everyone around me in gasoline. The bus pulled over and everyone got out for a bit. I decided to find a bathroom -- or rather a private bush somewhere. I must say, that was the most scenic ladies room ever.

We reached Pokhara and a taxi was waiting for us. It was all so green and lovely and clean. Our hotel was great. I think we may have been the only ones there.

Since my time in Nepal was short, I decided to sit right down and figure out a 2 day trek up at the base of the Annapurnas immediately. Markus decided to come with me since he thought maybe he should start light before trying a 10 day trek. The hotel arranged the trek with a guide and we were to leave at 8:30 a.m. In the meantime, M and I retreated to our various rooms for a little clean up and then walked to get dinner in the town. We heard Pokhara had good steak houses and we could not WAIT. The first two places we tried were out of steak and tried to tell us no one had it. But the third place had steak and while I wouldn't exactly qualify what I hate as a steak -- more like some strips of well-done beef -- it was still exciting to eat cow again after 5 weeks. It was a pretty darn good meal actually -- and Markus is good company. Went back and repacked my stuff so I could store all the unnecessary stuff and prepare for the next morning. I think I meant to watch a little HBO before sleep but I don't remember much after I crawled into bed. I was liking Nepal more and more. Perhaps it is "No Problem" after all.

Up early again, stow my stuff in the office and a quick bite in the restaurant with M. We have to catch a bus and it's hit-or-miss due to the election. We head for the stop and wait a bit. I spotted a young man in a Britney Spears t-shirt. I had been seeing a lot of these t-shirts which I found amusing so I asked to take his picture. M. told me I probably made his day.
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The bus arrived and shuttled us up into the foothills. We put our packs on and followed our guide up a trail that left me a bit breathless very shortly. Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?

We walked past a couple of farms, children came out and trailed us for a bit -- same old thing - "Chocolate? Pens? Rupees?" The view was amazing but I was a little disappointed that the snow-capped mountains weren't terribly visible. Just a couple faint edges of some minor Annapurnas. Still, it was difficult to believe how huge they are. We were pretty high up ourselves, but they still towered in the distance. We at last came to rest at a hilltop temple of some sort that was empty. I was absolutely dripping. Staggered out of my pack and wandered about for a bit before it was time to head onwards.

In a bit we headed downwards again to a small village for lunch. As we waited for food, we found ourselves inundated by small boys. I got out my iPod and speakers and started a dance party, which then turned into the boys showing me various kung fu moves.
Dance Party!

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They could not get enough of the music and speakers but clearly preferred Michael Jackson to Stevie Ray and Johnny Cash. They did, however, like saying, "Johnny Cash!" Oh well, what do they know.

After the dance party (which was probably not a wise decision on my part as now I was exhausted but I did get to take a break while Markus swung them all by turns into the air) we started onwards because clouds were gathering behind us. Menacing clouds.
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felt the spritzing start soon and a farmer invited us to take cover under his porch so we didn't get drenched. And thank goodness, because I stuck my hand out into the fat and heavy drops and it was the coldest rain I've ever felt in my life. Instantly, the air went from upper 80s to 60s at least. We loitered with the farmer for awhile until the storm passed. Talked about the election and all the parties that were going on. The farmer told us that many of the villagers would race down the hills after voting to vote again in town where they had another home (after scrubbing off the mark on their thumbs with chemicals).
We didn't much farther to go after the rain petered out so we continued on.
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We were staying at a guesthouse at the end of the foothills with an amazing view. Upon arrival, we settled in for coffee and a beautiful sunset. M. and I sat there most of the night, watching the lights of Pokhara far, far below.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I'm a mess.

Just back from 3 days in the jungle in Northern Thailand and I am covered in mosquito bites and some sort of hive situation. Prickly heat? I have no idea. It's terribly itchy.

But the real issue is that my tummy is still bad after 1 month and before I left Bangkok I popped onto a scale in a pharmacy but as I don't know the kilogram to pound ratio, I didn't bother worrying about it. However, I found the jungle trek extremely taxing and after only a few steep hills I was wiped out, my legs were shaking. By the end of the second day, I took one step onto a wooden log over a stream, my leg wobbled under my weight and in I went. Saved my camera at the expense of my elbow, but what I was more worried about was why I had so little energy. Why was I shaking? Where was my balance -- all that ballet for naught?

At dinner, I asked if anyone knew the ratio of pounds to kilograms. One of the boys pulled out some sort of guide. 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. Which means I've lost somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to ten pounds since leaving the US. I remember weighing about 120 before I left but I might have weighed a little less before leaving because I was having a hard time eating due to nerves that last week or so.

I think I've been eating a lot... but now I'm wondering if it's not getting processed correctly. Or I'm sweating it out. Or I'm not eating as much as I think I am. But it certainly explains why I am so tired. So I guess it's off to the doctor either here in Chiang Mai or when I get back to Bangkok on Friday - for the tummy -- hopefully this skin thing will clear up shortly. In the meantime, will probably try to take it easy and eat well tonight.

Nepal posts coming soon...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Beneath my bunk were two middle-aged men and who appeared to be with their father. The father was not well. He mostly lay there with his arms over his head, occasionally rising slightly to watch the passing countryside when the sun came up. I had a feeling that Varanasi, as for many other Indians, was literally his last stop.
Many Indians travel to Varanasi to die. If you die in Varanasi, you receive instant nirvana (not sure if this is the right phrase). Many others go to bathe in the Ganges river for karma and cleansing... although the Ganges is one of the filthiest river on the planet. The guide books suggest that you dont' even stick a toe in it, yet there are all the Indians bathing, playing, dunking themselves, drinking and washing clothes in it.

I caught a rickshaw to my hotel and then went out for a walk. I really liked Varanasi immediately -- the narrow streets and the energy, the history and the people. I stopped to play with some puppies and realize an American couple had done the same. We started talking and then decided to get dinner together. I wandered around a bit more after that, taking pictures but decided to go to bed early.
Next day I stopped at an internet cafe first to transfer more photos. I quickly go through my memory cards. As I was paying, a turbaned man stopped in the doorway. I smiled at him and he smiled back. He was holding a small covered basket. As I watched, he lifted the lid on the basket -- and a huge black COBRA popped up. A very REAL Cobra. It was like a nightmare jack-in-a-box! I jumped back and he gestured that it was okay, the cobra had no fangs. Still. I waited for him to leave. ::shudder::
I spent the day just wandering about. I walked down the ghats taking pictures.




At one point, I stopped to take a picture of a wonderfully huge water buffalo and a man came over to me to let me know I'd have to put my camera away if I continued walking in the direction I was going. I hadn't noticed I'd reached the crematory ghats. I really had no plans to visit them. I couldn't really see anything, for which I was grateful -- just piles of wood burning. Only one shrouded figure was visible in one of them. I made my exit swiftly.
I stopped at a local chai stand with some older Indian men and then proceeded to get completely lost. Eventually I found myself in front of a women's salon and decided to get my scary eyebrows taken care of. "Threading" is very cheap -- about 50 cents or less. And again, surprisingly painful. Afterwards, the ladies asked if I'd like to get my hair washed. I looked in the mirror. It had been a long time since my hair had seen a hair dryer. I agreed. I felt like a million rupees when I left that place, clean hair, slightly curled, bouncing on my shoulders. I headed for the ghats again to watch the evening ceremonies. On my way there, a couple of young boys accosted me -- tried to show me a good place to sit, etc.


At one point during the ceremony (which was interesting... for the first ten minutes) they reappeared with a baby monkey on a leash. Afterwards, they invited me to their father's shop for chai. Why not? I went with them. On the way, they asked me where I was from, etc. When I told them I was American, they asked, "Do you like Goldie Hawn?" Um, okay. Weird. Of all the American movie stars... "Sure, she's okay." "Goldie Hawn is our friend! She visits many times!" When we arrive at the shop, photo albums are brought out. Letters also - ranging from 1998-2006. The photos show Goldie and family in the shop, in a restaurant, etc over many years with the family of the shop. I remembered later that Oliver Hudson and my friend Anson were in a short-lived WB tv show a few years ago "The Mountain" in which they played brothers. I later had to write Anson and tell him that India keeps throwing him in my face.
The boys and their father and Uncle were very sweet and the chai was delicious. The older boy offered to show me around the next day if I wanted. I said I would do that, maybe around 4:30 p.m. He said he'd meet me at my hotel.
I woke up at 6 a.m. to watch the sun come up over the Ganges then headed for a rooftop cafe where I wrote postcards and listened to music well into the afternoon by myself. Well, except for one point when monkeys appeared behind me and scared the stuffing out of me. They were about to go through my stuff but I smacked them with a guide book and off they scampered, throwing deeply insulted, "ooh ooh ooohs" back at me. I took to wander after that -- and yet again became incredibly lost.


In fact I had to get out my compass to figure out what direction I was headed. I was too late to meet the boy at my hotel. In fact, when I finally got my bearings, I was near the shop and the other boys found me and led me to their home. More chai, then up to the rooftop for kite-flying. Apparently Sunday is when you fly kites.

I looked around and sure enough from every rooftop there were boys and girls flying kites. It was amazing really.


They let me have a go at it, but the kites don't have tails so they're a little out of control.

I had more fun taking pictures.


Two of the boys demanded my iPod as soon as I had arrived. I had shown them the iPod the night before and they preferred watching "the visuals" over listening to music. So I put on Layer Cake and they shared the headphones. Again, they were watching Layercake and when I said it was time to go, I realized they were in the same spot as last time they had been watching, when Daniel Craig is in a bathrobe up on a roof with his mouth duct-taped. We went downstairs and more chai was brought out, so again, they demanded the iPod. After a bit I said I really had to leave and they reluctantly handed it over. It was again on the same scene. Now, this scene is about 37 minutes in, and I know they'd only had it for 10 minutes so they were clearly fast-forwarding to this scene. Then I realized...
There's a love scene just before the rooftop scene. Albeit a very tame one where there's no nudity... nor really any "love"-- just kissing and then Sienna Miller putting on lingerie in the bathroom. But those cheeky boys were watching and rewinding the same scene over and over again!! They were very upset to part with the iPod.


The older boys accompanied me back towards my hotel. I decided to stop and some food and they came in with me. Their "uncle" worked there. I don't know if it was an actual uncle or if he was a family friend they called "uncle" as is done here. It was an interesting meal -- very quiet.

Then we continued on and as we got close to the hotel, the older boy (who I thought was 14 and is actually 19), asked me, "What are you going to give me?" I said, "we never discussed any money." "No, that's not what I meant." "Well, then I guess you get the pleasure of my company." "How about a kiss?" "How about a handshake?" Boys. Same in every country.

Some internetting and packing before bed -- early bus to Nepal in the a.m....

I can't believe India is over. And I'm scared I won't like Southeast Asia as much.

[But I am in Bangkok now and I just had a double bacon cheeseburger at Burger King so I guess it can't be all bad. Oh Bacon, my lover. How I have missed you.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jaipur (Again) and Agra

Jaipur -- again, March 31st
Next morning, finally feeling a little better but the only thing I wanted was... oddly enough.. white bread and bologna -- or something like that. No curry, no grease, nothing fried, no rice, no toast. Then I remembered -- SUBWAY. It was ten in the morning but I walked down the street and was elated to find that I was very close. I ordered my sandwich and couldn't wait to eat it. Brought it back to the hotel and chowed down in my room. It was perfect. A semi-cold coke to go with it and I felt great! However it was later when I noticed the "No non-veg allowed in hotel" sign at the desk. Oops.

Next, I contacted Amit again -- our guy in Jaipur who I worked with doing invoices at MTV. I had a tshirt to give him and wanted to meet the guy who really put up with a lot we threw at him. He said he'd meet me in 45 minutes at the hotel so I decided it was a good time to run to the post office.
However, I didn't' realize the headache involved with sending a package. My rickshaw driver offered to go in with me and help me navigate the process. On the way there, he told me the first thing I had to do was ask "how much" when they're preparing my package. When we got there, I had to first go and get my package sewn up in muslin and waxed shut. As the man pondered my package, the rickshaw driver pressed his foot down on my foot. Oh yes! "how much?" I asked -- I didn't realize this was when I was supposed to ask. 80 rupees. I looked at the driver and he shrugged, so I had no idea if this was right. The man who had looked at my package was seated at the desk. He put the package down and nodded at the man standing by the desk who then started measuring my box and started sewing up a pillow-case like covering while the man at the desk read and picked his nose deeply. There's really a rush to get things done in this country. ::sigh::
Finally, that part was done and now I had to go stand in line and get the package out. Suddenly, a young man appeared next to me and said my name. I was startled but he introduced himself as Amit! I guess my hotel had told him where I'd gone. He offered to help me the rest of the way (I released the rickshaw driver) which involved basically butting in front of a huge line of men (which is okay for a woman to do). Next we attempted to go to the train station (with my stomach, I'm afraid of night buses for long distances and trains have bathrooms) but the trains were full and then we went to lunch.
Amit is about to be a father and is very excited. We chatted a bit. He's also going to Miami soon and I hope he's not away when his child is born. He took me to the bus stop and we only had a moment to take his picture with the tshirt before I had to jump on a bus.

Agra - April 1st
Bus ride wasn't too bad. There was some sort of festival going on so the roads were crazy with young people walking down the side of the road -- hundreds of them. Carrying red glittering flags and backpacks, etc. My hotel in Agra was quite the backpacker scene. I was grateful for a very comfortable bed, a hot shower and a TV! I had a small bite to eat and tuned out. As in Udaipur, there were really only 2 stations in english. Well, three including a business channel -- but watching the market plummet is depressing so I stuck to the movie channels. On one channel, "Black Hawk Down" was playing. About a year ago, I got to know a very talented musician and all around good guy, Keni Thomas when I was on the Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise (he was also there performing with his band). We've stayed in touch since then and this was the second time I've seen BHD but the 1st time I've seen it since meeting someone who was actually there -- and is even portrayed by an actor in the movie. I found it difficult to watch after awhile and changed the channel. The other movie channel was showing "Urban Legend: Final Cut" and suddenly I found myself watching another friend, Anson Mount, on the screen! Very strange to be in India and the only two English channels are showing films that I have connections to.
The next morning, I prepared for the Taj. On the way there, we passed through an intersection that was incredibly busy and everyone was swerving around a very large cow/bull that was idly sitting in the middle, chewing its cud. This, I realized, was the Gramercy (my huge fat cat) of cows. Finds the highest trafficked area and sits there. Yes, you WILL go around me.

The Taj was incredible -- obviously. Tons of people were there and I could have spent hours wandering around. And I did.
At the back of the Taj, there is a river -- I'm sure it was once beautiful, but like much of India, was strewn with garbage. Very sad. As I stood there and watched, a man next to me finished his water bottle and heaved it, quarterback style, out into the river. I just glared at him and shook my head. He noticed. "What's your problem," he asked in English. "Show some respect for your country," I growled and walked away. Disgusting.
When I rounded the front of the Taj, a young father approached me with his infant daughter, like many infant daughters, dressed in a terrible, flouncy, tulle dress. He wanted to take a picture. I was confused and thought he meant he wanted me to take his picture. No, he wanted his picture taken with me. Okay.
Next thing I knew, I was inundated by people, mostly young men, who all wanted their picture with me. I was like a celebrity. I'd finally get away, only for it to happen again. They'd line up. Then they'd start to get cheeky -- maybe putting an arm on my shoulder.. then one around my waist. One tried to give me a kiss and I firmly pushed him away and the photo session was over.
I was told later the young men like to take their picture with white girls and then show their friends as "their girlfriend."

After the Taj, I headed back to the hotel. There wasn't much I wanted to see in Agra. Mostly I wanted to catch a train out to Varanasi. Then I realized I had forgotten to book the train. By that time it was too late, the train was full. I could take a 14 hour bus, but I really didn't want to. I was stuck for another day in Agra. I decided to catch up on uploading photos and watching movies and relaxing. It was actually not too bad. My train was at 8 p.m. At 7, I caught a rickshaw and asked to be taken to the train station. At 8:05, I stood waiting for the train to come. I did notice that I didn't see any other white people around, which I thought was strange considering how full the train was supposed to be and what a touristy destination Varanasi is. An Indian gentleman took notice of me and came over to ask what train I was waiting for. I showed him my ticket and he grimaced. "You're at the wrong train station," he said. Oh NO! I thanked him and rushed out of the station. A fleet of young men surrounded me, "where do you want to go?" I told them and they all jostled to get my business. I didn't even try to haggle the price. "I don't care who takes me, they just have to be FAST!" I went with the guy whose rickshaw was closest and he was fantastic! He was very young but he drove like a madman -- like a getaway driver! I knew I was going to be stuck in Agra again because the Indian Railways are pretty darn efficient but I had a faint glimmer of hope since the other station was only 2 miles away. We bumped and careened there and I threw him a tip and raced onto the platform. THE TRAIN WAS LATE! Hurray!!!! I gasped for breath and dropped my stuff near a bunch of Israeli guys I recognized from my hotel. The train showed up 2 minutes later. I found my bunk and went to sleep pretty quickly.

Jodhpur and Jaisalmer

From Udaipur, I reached Jodhpur and jostled with the touts, finding one to take me to my hotel. You really have to argue and tell them you have a reservation otherwise they'll try to take you somewhere else to get a commission, or take you to your own hotel and tell the manager they brought you there. My hotel was really lovely, although the narrow street outside stank, giving my queasy stomach a test. I had a late dinner and collapsed, but not before glancing upwards as I headed through the courtyard to my room and being startled by the massive fort rising up over the hotel like a craz gothic Frankenstein-style castle.
Andy had been trying to reach me while I was sick and apparently his texts weren't getting through. He emailed me and before I left Udaipur, I crawled to the internet place to check in. He immediately was ready to come rescue me, and I was very grateful for that, but due to his own series of ridiculousness, he wasn't able to get there. We agreed to meet in Jodhpur -- he tried to catch a plane (which got cancelled) and then make a train (halfway to the station, the rickshaw driver pulled over and announced, "ten minute lunch break" -- seriously). He didn't arrive until 6 a.m.
The next day was sort of a loss for both of us. I was still exhausted from being sick and he was exhausted from hustling across Rajasthan on a night train. Eventually we roused ourselves for some lunch, some internet, and when the heat subsided - a trek to the fort. Andy was also coming down with a cold so I gave him an Advil Cold and Sinus. I neglected to tell him though that he'd probably dry out a little from the pill. Anti-histimine plus desert? Not a good idea. By the time we got up to the fort (which was closing), Andy was so thirsty he was out of his mind. He raced around trying to find somewhere with bottled water and by the time he did and came back, most of the bottle was gone. We relaxed outside of the fort (where a group of young men all wanted to have their picture taken with me) before heading back down again.

Meandered around the marketplace before ending up really haggling with a shop owner (in an MTV shirt) over some scarves. I think I did pretty well. At one point I even staged a mini-tantrum -- walking out of the shop, "Ugh. I don't even care. I don't even want them anymore," I said dramatically... and at last got them for the price I wanted.
The owner then took Andy and I took us to his father's spice shop (which was AMAZING) for some tea (and also to persuade Andy that he needed to buy some other tea that was apparently good for one' sexual prowess -- because he was under the impression that we were married. Yeah. Andy declined the tea.)
IMG_2864 (apparently didn't want Andy to take a picture of the shop?)


Dinner and early bedtime as we decided to head farther west the next morning to Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer - March 28, 29th
Early morning bus, tummy still unhappy - more immodium. It was a very hot trip.
IMG_2902 (boys trying to sell us goods through the window)

We reached the hotel which was running the camel trips and waited for them to get everything together before loading us into an a/c'd car (ahhhh) to head out into the desert. There were two other girls with us -- one from Amsterdam and the other from Norway. The Norwegian girl seemed to be dating one of the young guides with us and understood some hindi. The young men were in the back, laughing over a story when the Norwegian girl turned around and said something to them. They said, "You understand us?" She said yes, "You should probably not tell that story." "Why not." "It's just not a good story to tell right now." Of course now Andy and I were dying to know what story. So they told us. Apparently on the last trip out into the desert, the Norwegian girl had wandered about the campsite without shoes... and stepped on a scorpion. Only one cure for that, the guides had told her -- they held her down and stuck a burning stick on her foot and poured a bottle of whiskey down her throat. It worked. Only, the first time the stuck the glowing stick on her, they jammed it in the wrong area.
We arrived finally where camels were waiting for us. I was under the impression that we were going to be taking the camels to whatever camping site we were staying at, however we were just going to be lead around by two new guides for about an hour and a half while the others set up camp. Not bad, but I was a little disappointed. But then, the camel ride was so uncomfortable, more than 90 minutes is unnecessary.

My camel kept crying and my guide said it was because "he misses his friend" -- who had gone off with the Dutch girl. Sure enough, when we got back to the camp, my camel stopped the crying and went to hang out with his buddy.
Andy and I set up our blankets on a dune (after watching yet another half-sunset) and food was brought to us. I still felt terrible but Andy made me eat some rice. The sky was amazing and I saw one of the brightest meteors I've ever seen - almost looked like lightning.
Up at dawn and I was furious. I had maybe slept an hour, been awoken by my tummy and hadn't slept since. I was seriously grouchy. By this time, Andy has learned to keep his distance. We packed up and headed for the waiting car which took us first to a village home for chai and then we drove to another village so one of the guides could give a wedding present to a local couple. There were hundreds of people milling about. "Notice anything missing?" Andy said. Yes, women. Several goats were hanging upside down having their skin and innards removed. Ugh. Apparently they would be going through about 40 goats for this 3 day event. Yum.
We got back to the hotel and I was a wreck. Andy persuaded the hotel guys to let me sleep for awhile -- our bus wasn't until 2. I really needed it -- Andy is such a good husband. I tried calling Jess for her birthday -- I was getting lots of texts from everyone about what a great party it was and I was sad to miss it.
Bus back to Jodphur -- Andy watched Layer Cake on my iPod and I listened to Bill Hicks on his MP3 player. Back to the same hotel. A train the next day to Jaipur. Met another American on the train whom Andy had actually originally met up in Dehli a week earlier. He sat with us. I tried eating. Still terrible. We reached Jaipur and checked into the hotel. Well... I did, as Andy had a flight out to Mumbai that night. It was raining so we went to have a last drink together. I said goodbye to Andy as he sped off to the airport and flopped into bed (at about 9 p.m.). It was a sad divorce.


Udaipur - March 24th
Arrived at about 6 a.m. Bus trip was way too bumpy and swervy to sleep. I had constant thoughts of the bus tipping over. When I relayed these thoughts to Andrew (he escorted me to his friend's hotel), he told me that he actually knew someone who died on a night bus that tipped over about ten years ago. And in fact, the other girl traveling with us had received some sort of grant from the foundation the girl's parents set up in her name -- part of the provision was that she was to stay away from night buses. Well, she had tried to take the train and she had to get back to work -- what else to do? Take a camel?


The hotel Andrew led me to was very nice. It even had a pool! We went up to the roofttop deck, waiting for A's friend to arrive (who would give me a steep discount) and I had more luscious nutella/banana pancakes and gazed out over Udaipur. There's a lake in the center with a hotel that you aren't allowed to visit unless you pay for a very expensive lunch or dinner.
Also it seemed that every restaurant in town shows Octopussy at 7 or 7:30 p.m. due to it being set in Udaipur (or maybe just a big chase sequence? I don't know, I haven't seen it).

At last Yogi appeared and showed me to my room and then drove Andrew to work. I got an amazing HUGE room, soft bed and TRA LA LA cable tv! It was gorgeous.


I unpacked and headed out. I really liked Udaipur immediately. The narrow streets, the hills, the lake (despite being low on water).


I headed for the palace first. I wasn't terribly interested in it. Mostly it just showed lots of paintings of their former royalty going to battle, hacking enemies in half with their swords. Pretty graphic. I put on my iPod and hit shuffle to see if anything interesting would pop up. The opening to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade started. Seemed like good prowling around dimly lit narrow stairways and pretending I had to get past guards without them seeing me. Oh! And see that German couple over there? totally spies. I will stay away from them!

I was a bit bored.

From the palace I wandered a little around the city, always attracting the attention of shop keepers and little boys. The boys LOVE trying out their English on me. Standard phrases:
How are you?
What is your good name?
From what country are you?
America, very nice country.

[side note: I'm in Kathmandu at the moment and while I write this there is some serious jamming going on at the restaurant roof across the street - Bob Seger right now I think. I'm heading over there after this. Okay, I gave up on this post, went to the bar but it was too loud and smokey so I didn't stay. I went to the Yak Restaurant instead, and considering where this particular post is headed, that seemed appropriate.]
Eventually I realized I was pretty exhausted so I headed back for a nap. Had dinner in my room, watched a movie, tried to watch a second movie which got an hour in and then the cable went out. Ah well.
Next day, got up and checked out. Breakfast on the rooftop again. Today I decided on a photo trip to the local market, a boat trip around the lake, some interneting and then a sunset trip to the Monsoon Palace before my 9 p.m. night bus to Jodhpur. The marketplace was amazing. The food looked marvelous despite the copious amounts of flies.
Some kids let me hold a kid (goat). Pretty cute, except it tried to eat my hat.
The boat trip was all right... I started to feel a little weird, like I had no energy. The boat dumped us at an island cafe type place for about half an hour until the next boat came. I sat listless at a table, feeling a little lonely, missing Andy, and also concerned with the nauseousness I was feeling. Or maybe that was the thought of missing Andy (I kid. I know he's reading this. heh). Back on land, I dragged myself to an internet cafe and after about a half hour I started really sweating. And feeling dizzy. I was luckily only steps from my hotel so I held my breath and hurried back as fast as I could. Once there, I collapsed in a chair in the lobby. I felt green. An American guy sitting across from me said, "You don't look so good."
"I feel like crud," I moaned.
"Overdo it today?"
I didn't respond, I was racing to the restroom. And we'll leave the rest of the next three days to that. Let's just say I didn't make it to my Monsoon Palace trip, or the nightbus or anything really for a couple of days. It was horrible. I'm a baby when I'm sick by myself in New York. By myself, thousands of miles away? Ugh. But the hotel staff was great. They offered a doctor if I got much sicker. I mostly just hydrated and ate toast.
Finally I felt well enough to catch a bus. I decided on a day bus -- and hated the driver every mile of the way. He was going entirely too fast on swervy mountain roads with a top heavy bus and at one point we were airborne when he hit a bump. The entire bus screamed and he slowed down after that. I looked out the window at a rock wall along the road and we'd pass groups of monkeys sitting and watching the traffic going by. Just relaxing and watching. You could practically see their expressions, "Crazy humans."

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The plane made two stops on the way to Jaipur, turning what should have been an hour flight into four. I arrived in Jaipur at 11 and had not booked a hotel ahead of time. This was a mistake. I went to the pre-paid rickshaw booth and told my driver I needed a place for about 4-500 rupees (10-12.50 a night). He told me, "Not possible," and drove me to a hotel that was 2700 for the night. I argued with him, he told me there were NO other hotel rooms in the city due to it being the Elephant Festival and also "Holi" -- which I was worried about. Oh sure and it has nothing to do with the fact that you get a commission for bringing me here and that commission is passed on to me, right? I demanded another hotel so off we went about 500 yards (no other hotels, huh?) and this hotel wanted 2000 (fifty bucks). No, I stood firm. I tried to reason with them as well. It was now 1 a.m. If they had a room at 1 a.m. for 2000, surely they could let it go for 800 or not make any money at all on it, right? No. I demanded another hotel. Off we went. Maybe a half mile. This hotel was 1500. Still much more than I was willing to pay but at this point I was exhausted and at least this hotel manager showed me a card with the room rate. I guess after 2 weeks of rooms costing anywhere from 4 dollars to 10 dollars, I could splurge and pay 37 dollars for one night. It even had cable tv. With Jimmy Neutron!


I slept in and decided the first thing to do was find a train ticket to Udaipur for that evening. I was going to meet Andy in Jaipur on Thursday, so it didn't make much sense to stick around only to come back again. At the train station, there was a girl ahead of me who I asked where I could get the form she was holding. I was surprised to hear an american accent when she answered. She too was heading to Udaipur. A few minutes later, she came back to me and told me that the train was full and that she and her friend were heading to find bus tickets. I decided to tag along. She was from North Carolina and her friend Andrew (can't get away from them!) was from Massachussetts and they are working in Udaipur on different projects. He'd been there for 9 months and she for three and they and a bunch of other Americans and a couple of Brits had come up to Jaipur for the Elephant Festival and Holi. We got sleeper bus tickets and they invited me to continue tagging along up to the fort to meet their friends.

It was quite a hike to the top. At one point, I stopped to put sunscreen on and a young boy appeared beside me with his hand out, "Please madam?" I squeezed some into his hands and he swiped his cheeks, not rubbing the lotion in. Andrew explained that he probably thought it was whitening lotion.
The view was spectacular and afterwards we loaded 11 people into two rickshaws and made our way back down to the city. We were all starving and since there were so many of us, we ordered a huge spread and shared the dishes. Next was a little gem shopping (I just looked) followed by the Monkey Temple. I didn't see much of the temple because I was too entranced by the monkeys. Also called my family to wish them a happy Easter (although was sad to miss the mommy because I forgot about the time change and her singing at church).
Then it was dinner time and we headed to the restaurant everyone had been talking about nonstop all day. We were so excited!! Jaipur has...a Subway!

Okay, when you've pretty much been eating curry for 3 weeks straight morning noon and night, Subway sounds freaking AMAZING. And it was... despite the fact that my Italian BMT was made with lamb pepperoni and lamb salami. Interesting. Otherwise it tasted right.

I went back to the hotel and grabbed my stuff and we headed for the bus. Didn't get much sleep that night though -- that was one crazy, swervy bus ride.