Pizza, Bollywood, Monkeys and more
Sept 08, 2002
Varanasi (week 2)
In the last journal entry, I described the Ganges as an unattractive river. In the two weeks that I've been in Varanasi it has become a completely different river. The water level went up 15 feet and a small river with a sandy shore become a huge raging river that was coming dangerously close to our hotel door. Adjectives that would better describe it now could be impressive or possibly even intimidating.
Varanasi now takes the record for the largest bug that I have ever seen - also the record for the largest bug that has ever landed on my table during dinner. The massive water bug landed next to a pack of cigarettes. It was a bit bigger than the pack (20 cigarettes, 2" x 1.5" x .5"?). We've all seen the Discovery special where ants lift objects 50 times there size and weight. I figure this guy could have taken my arm if he wanted. No one freaked out, but that's not surprising. In a town known for it's dead bodies the tourists are going to be a bit more unsqueamish than average. There were a bunch of "Wows" and then the sound of chairs being pushed about as people from every table rushed off to get their cameras. I couldn't be bothered to rush up and then back down 3 flights of stairs for a photo of a bug - However, here is a previously unpublished photo of me eating a Water Bug on Khao San Road, Thailand.
I decided that I had no need to see a dead body while in Varanasi. I visited the Cremation Ghat (temple) but kept a respectful distance. Crashing weddings is all right (all the single women are desperately shopping around), but crashing funerals just isn't my style.
I was sitting in the guesthouse and someone yells "Dead Body". Well, I could help but get up and look. The body had been floating down river, but was now caught in some plants in front of our hostel so we all got good long look. Westerners are happy with dead bodies in a sleeping position, as if they were peacefully sleeping through eternity. This body did not look peaceful at all. Floating, frozen arms reaching grotesquely up out of the water.
I watched the Internationally famous Indian movie Devdas. It is the first time that I've watched an entire movie in a language I don't understand (no subtitles). Many of the details were a bit hard to understand, but the moral of the story seemed pretty clear - "Life sucks in India (even if you're rich)" Based on traveling India for 4 months that moral seems to hold pretty true.
I've decided that I'm going to become an actor! No, seriously, but just a temporary gig. I'm looking for a boat that will take me from Bombay (aka Bollywood) to Tanzania. I haven't found any info on the internet for hitching rides on ships. It looks like I may just have to hang out of the docks of Bombay until I find a ship willing to take me. I was worried spending time in Bombay, because Bombay is expensive and I'm trying to live cheaply. I found out recently that Bollywood nicely solves this problem. Apparently, the Indian movie studios are desperate for white people to be in their movies. They'll yank you out of your bed at the Salvation Army and pay you 500 rupees (US$10) for a couple of hours as an extra and up to 6000 rupees (US$120) for speaking roles (though the girl that got the $120 was rather chesty). I don't plan to make a lot of money, but it should cover most of my costs while staying in Bombay and it's a fun thing to have on a resume.
In SE Asia at times you feel like a movie star. You get off the beaten track and everyone is thrilled to see a tourist. They are all smiling and waving and shouting "Hello!" Not in India - In India you feel more like a science experiment. Twenty or thirty Indians will crowd around you, giving no more than two feet of personal space. One, maybe two, will talk to you. The rest will just STARE. It is not fun. At best it is exhausting; at worst infuriating.
I haven't hit an Indian yet, but it's looking like someday it will happen. I came close the other day - the beggar woman and her son kept blocking my path and grabbing onto my arm. I generally feel pity for the beggars and sometimes give to the handicapped or old, but these two seemed to enjoy, actually having fun, hassling me.
Keoladeo National Park / Bird Reserve
It used to be a hunting reserve for royalty, now it's a National park. I cannot see myself ever taking up bird watching as a hobby, but I can survive a couple of hours of it. The peacocks and pink flamingos were beautiful birds, but my favorite were the King Vultures; a couple of bad assed, gangster lookin' fellas dressed in black with a white crest on their chest.
Akbar the Great
My new hero! As a Mongul king, he conquered most of Northern India. He built a great city (Fatehpur Sikri) as his capital and as a home for intellectuals. He loved debate and preached tolerance for all religions. He also had 5000 girls in his Harem and played chess using slave girls as pieces. Not exactly politically correct, but pretty cool.
Not my hero. I try to keep my liberal or contrarian politics out of this travelogue, but sometimes I can't control myself.
"The president made it very clear that he believes that Sadam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace"
Ari Fletcher - White House Spokesperson
Did he really just say "Let's go to War for Peace"? The other reason that has been given for going to war is just as absurd. I'm paraphrasing here, "Sadam Hussein is guilty of the crime of trying to build weapons of mass destruction [yet we get to have them]" This sort of logic not only hurts my brain, but to some extent puts my life in danger. I'm planning on traveling through a fair number of conservative Muslim countries. On average, the residents are far less violent than your average Texan. However, if they're given enough legitimate reasons to be pissed off, it's unlikely, but possible that they might take out their anger on the nearest American backpacker. Thanks George.
One of my favorite things so far in India. It's looks like a collection of modern art sculpture or at times an Escher painting, but it's actually a 300 year old observatory. Each "sculpture" is actually a precision instrument for measuring the exact position of the sun, moon, constellations or even predicting eclipses.
A guru best known for his free sex communes and fleet of Rolls Royces - seems like an Indian Jerry Falwell. He passed away in 1990, but his followers are still going strong. I picked up the "Osho Times" on a whim and was tremendously surprised that I actually agreed with much of what was written within. Excerpt from the first article:
What does it mean to be young?
"The old mind believes that whatever exists is right because it is not courageous enough to question. The young mind doubts, explores, inquires, questions constantly."
"One is young only when one is capable of taking risks. The old mind needs security; it clings to the known. A young consciousness lives dangerously and embraces the unknown."
I might go visit this commune in Pune, but don't expect me anytime soon at your local airport chanting "Hare, hare".
Why not follow Osho with Pizza Hut so that you know that I haven't completely lost my sanity (or am still insane depending on your perspective).
Pizza Hut is one of the nicest restaurants in India. There is always a line in front of the Pizza Hut in central Delhi. I assumed that everyone went simply because of the desire to be American. I was wrong. The pizza, and service, is really good. It's still fast food, but it's fast food with only the best, freshest ingredients.
It is possible that after one year away from western pizza my standards have dropped, but I'd swear that Pizza Hut India makes one heck of a Pizza!
Camels, Parakeets and Monkeys
I was only 15 minutes into the desert state of Rajasthan when I saw my first camel of this trip. I don't have a tape measure, but this camel was elephant sized - 15 feet tall! They're used as pack animals here. Even in the fairly modern state capital you see them pulling heavily loaded carts, sharing the road with the masses of buses, trucks, taxis and bicycles.
Parakeets are all over the place in Eastern Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh. They can be a bit loud, but a few parakeets flying around really help liven up a 300 year old abandoned palace.
In Indonesia I learned that the first rule of dealing with monkeys is "Never show fear". I suppose that they second rule might be "Always remember they are faster than you and devious". I was having lunch in a rooftop restaurant when a large monkey climbs up and joins us. He starts eyeing my table, so I stand up and try to chase him away with my chair. I might not be scared of him, but he certainly wasn't scared of me. He dodges around me and in one smooth motion leaps onto my table, grabs my coke in his right hand, leaps off the table and then disappears over the railing. The bastard stole my coke! Surprisingly, while the monkey apparently has picked up a taste for coke, he hasn't learned to drink from the bottle. We caught a look at him on the next roof over. The monkey poured the coke on the roof and then licked it up.
i especially liked the bits about the monkey. sound bites. little interesting bits. and encouraging that you did manage to work while on the road.
ANNE BERGEM - May 16, 2007
I HAVE ALL THE TIME, AND FEEL STILL AS IF I AM RIPPED OFF EVERY MONTH...BUT YOU SEND A VIVID
AND FUN BLOG FROM YOUR TRIP.
ACTUALLY...I HAVE NOT REALLY WANTED THIS, BUT DID WISH TO SEND OFF MY TOTALL GLEE AT THE DEATH OF THE DEVLISH FALWELL...HE CREEPED ME OUT FOR YEARS,
I AM HOPING THAT GOD WILL EXPLAIN WHAT THE WORDS
" STATE AND RELIGION" MEAN.
LET THE SON OF A NASTY BASTARD FRY IN DANTE'S INFERNO,
RELIGION USED TO BE A FINE THING IN THE US...BUT NO, JUST RE-THINK ! IT'S MORE LIKE A CROW-BAR.