Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Riding on a chair car on the way back to delhi. Planes trains and automobiles.   

Car, baby jet, big jet, cab, van, tuk tuk, bus, subway, sleeper train second class ac 3 tier, sleeper train first class ac 2 tier, horse, bicycle dump truck, jeep knockoff pickup (stand-up), foot hiking, ac chair car train.  And anything else.   We've tried it all.  

Headed into the foothills of the himilayas.   Palampur.   Went to local pottery place.   They teach disadvantaged to make pottery on a very basic level..   We bought more than was reasonable to carry.  We've already filled an extra suitcase with muck (excuse me, treasures).   It's getting interesting to board a train without porters.   We lug it all ourselves.   Porters are disappointed.   

Palampur is full of tea gardens (tea plantations).  We went through a factory and found it very interesting.   Processing,grading, packaging, all was very cool and fairly low tech.  

I was out on the road taking pics of the guest house.  Nice new car drives up.  Hello.   
What country are you from.  My name is Batel.  I own all of the tea gardens here.    Are you alone.  You have 11 with you?   Bring them all to my house for tea.   I apologized.  We don't have the time.   Would have loved to.   

Out of every person we meet well over 50 percent have at least communicable English skills.   They are all anxious to try them also.   

Our guest house is run by a navy man.   Sparse, tight ship.   Incredible view.    Valley, mountains.  

Finally took off on hike up into himilayas.  Started with long drive up mountains on dirt roads clinging to the mountain.   I don't know where these other vehicles are coming from.   Bad pass and we all die.  We just keep going up.  Austin's decided to embrace the Hindi belief that if it's your time it's your time.   He's climbed on top of the jeep in the luggage rack with the other porter.  They're swaying out over the abyss as much as we are, it just looks that much more dangerous.   We're doing all the things we didn't get to do as kids.   "no" you can't ride in the back of the truck.  

We arrive and disembark.     Loose rocks and steep grade.   I'm thinking this is going to be too much for the kids(or me).   All the kids are like Billy goats.  Rhododendron trees in bloom.   Valley green with wheat far below.   We're hiking to as close to the source of the stream as we can.   No houses or cows above.   Sweet pure water.    Porters/guides hiking with us.   They start picking rhododendron flowers.   Intense red.  3 hour hike we arrive at this wonderful pool with waterfalls up and down.   We cool our heels in the pools and nap as they unpack and cook our lunch.    Huge pot of rice on the fire with lentils (Dahl marsala?) in another huge pot.   Funny how I didn't even notice the size of their packs.   They had to be huge to carry these pots.   Fresh garlic and spices.  It's a photo op if there ever was one so we play and shoot photos.  Guides mash the rhododendrons into a spicy chutney.  It's bright red and spicy hot.   Food is the best in the world.   We pack up and march back.    After 1 1/2 hours We end up in a high mountain meadow with a temple and the valley spread below.   I think what a nice place to rest for a few.     They start a fire and make us tea.   I took a nap.   We're cooked, tired and done.    We're expecting jeeps to pick us up.  Come to find out our guest house navy man has decided we're still feeling good enough to hike to the mud hut village.  It's been great but enough is enough.  

We hike another several km and as it nears sunset we hear drums.   The village is talking and gathering.  Little kids on the trail welcome us and Johanna recognizes some of them and they smile with anticipation.   Amelia and Caroline run and play with kids their age while the big kids shoot pics.   I finally get it.    Our guide/porters belong to the village we're visiting.   Their kids climb into the arms of their dads.   They've pulled all the rugs out of the house for us to sit on.   They're proud we're here.   Harmit is here.   He's choreographed it all.   The drums all start again and probably 100 people gather.  Dinner is served then we all formally introduce ourselves.   All 100.   They ceremonially present us with hats resembling  the local headgear.  Each of us take turns presenting them with high tech durable headlamps.   This celebration is lit by one 60 watt bulb.   Power is spotty (like everywhere in India).   One headlamp to each of 20 family groups.    When it's all done the drums start up again.  Wild dancing commenses.  We dance and shout until we're sweaty.   We're served sweet rice pudding.   We're trashed.   Shouting goodbyes we hike out  to land rovers with our own head lamps for the ride down.   We were glad it was dark.   We couldn't see the abyss.  

Next day we take off on a marathon drive in the bus.   Heading to the Pakistani border.   Great ceremony to see.  Ride all day long.   No air conditioning.  Truck fumes.   No decent restaurant.  Surviving on chips and pop.  

Our driver has stopped 10 times for directions.   We're late and can't make the flag lowering ceremony at dusk at the border.     

A good dinner and bed.   Amelia and Caroline are bushed.   I'm being a man and not admitting I'm tired.   Big kids, Joanne, and Elizabeth went to golden temple.   Sikh  religion birthplace?  We see it the next day.   Shopping too.  Back into the crush of humanity.   Rose ann and I need coffee.   Finally find it after days.   Nescafe is what they have been trying to serve us.   This is real 100 test cappuccino.   Caffeine is bad but boy is it good.  We haul more purchases.  

Back to the train.   As it's come to be known in the past 2 hours as the eating train.   Snack, soup, roll, water, then full dinner then ice cream.   All spaced 15 minutes apart.  We've been eating for hours.   

Little 8 year old ahead of us in the seat is playing angry birds as Caroline and Amelia play angry birds.  Small world.   Caroline is reading a story about buffalo jones for school on the iPhone.  Amelia is reading and listening to taylor swift on the iPad.    

We get into Delhi around midnight to rest and shop tomorrow.   Jump a plane next day.   

This was more of a learning experience than vacation.   Wouldn't trade it for anything.   About killed us.  

World cup cricket between Pakistan and India tomorrow.   Don't offend either side or we'll have nuclear confrontation.   

You know how you get when every one on the trip is done.   We're done.    I'm looking forward to the more than 24 hours of travel home.   

Epilogue to follow.   Points scored and tallied.   Extra credit for successful transition thru jet lag.   


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Friday, March 25, 2011

Into the foothills of the himilayas

Morning after boarding the train.   Riding one of their late trains.   They're all late.   Got to station at 8pm. Train was to arrive at 9.  We finally pulled out around 12:30am.   We were all very tired at that point.   Kind of the center of attraction.   One kid started taking photos with his camera of each and every one of the women.   I shooed him away.   He kept coming back.   Rats and roaches big enough to roast for a family of four.   

Austin and Sabrina are in second class sleeper.  Rest of us in 1st class.   Not enough tickets left as the group expanded during planning.  They like the adventure.   All the kids are absorbing like sponges.  

Slept through dawn.   Rose Ann and Amelia and Caroline in the bunks asleep.  India passing by. Looks like Kansas except the land is divided by random dikes.   Think it's for rice to grow after the monsoons start.

We boated on the ganges to watch funeral pyres.   Our guide gave us a running commentary of the ceremonies as they proceeded.  Very moving.  They had 6-8 funeral pyres going simultaneously.  I didn't know they cut out parts of the bodies and threw them in the river as part of the thing.  Hip for women and I couldn't tell what it was for a man.  It was very beautiful and somber.  

We darted through the narrow allys of varinasi.  Too skinny to put a motorcycle through yet they did.  Tiny shops everywhere.   Met with a Baba.  (as in the big Baba G).   Our guide Harmit cut a deal with him to tell fortunes the next morning.  It was to be after a dawn boat ride on the Ganges.  Austin,Sabrina,Audrey,Johanna,Elizabeth,jackie went.   Dawn was exceptional.  I saw pictures of it.   JoAnne came down with Delhi belly.  Late morning we headed to sarna.  This is the birthplace of buddism.  Budda gave his first sermon here.  I don't know who came up with this Archaeologist guide that took us through but he was impeccable and his presentation and depth of knowledge was impressive.  Joanne slept through the whole thing.  Audrey now has bigtime upset stomach.  Think it was the chai tea with the baba.  
We're taking a train back to Delhi to take a train to palampur.  800 km first leg.  I don't know how far the second.  Should be there tomorrow.   I think the village thing is tomorrow night.  

We've been trying to buy an extra bag for purchases and sunglasses for Rose Ann.  Can't seem to get it done.  Hopefully in Delhi.  We had stayed at a very nice hotel.  Kept the bags there and went back to ready for departure.   Your personal space expands as you go through the guarded gate.  They check for bombs under your car and x ray your luggage. Metal detector and you are in.  Quiet, peaceful acreage in a cesspool of humanity.  Rose Ann and I walked the street looking for the sunglasses and bag.  We had an hour.  We were back in 15 minutes.   Sensory overload.  couldn't take the crowd and traffic.  Dark, and a massive amount of pedestrians. 

We've been talking and don't think there's any way to describe fully this experience.  Imagery and smells waft by and we will retain only bits of it.   The food has been all over the board.  Clean in western terms is pretty non existent.  We settle for clean in India terms.  Harmit has taken us to a wide range of edibles.  My favorite was a Taj (brand) Hotel for lunch.  Catering to western needs.  I just craved a salad.   Can't do that on the street.  

Typing on an iPad is hunt and peck.  No key feel and writing any volume is tedious.  Only way to really work though.  Ipad2 is great for photos.  All cameras have been downloading to the iPad daily and we review them.  Kids are voluminous with the shots.  The different perspectives from all the photos are great.  Carolines camera has shot craps.  Screen is toast.  She's trading with me off and on.   She's our resident cow,rat,dog photographer.  

Train was late by hours.  Got back to delhi in time to have lunch/dinner and rode the train all night to chakki banks.  Then drove another 3 hours into the foothills of the himalayas.  Fantastic hotel with Tibetan architecture.  Saw Dali lama's house and monastery.   Almost like an alpine village.   Shops all around.   Kind of like trying to shop in Aspen.   Snooty vendors selling wares at inflated prices. They're very very experienced with tourists.   After saying that we reassess in relative terms exactly how much in dollars we were bargaining for.   Came back in peaceful surroundings of the hotel.   We crave ice.   Can't drink it because of Delhi belly.    

I was wrong.   We actually drive tomorrow to see the village in the mountains.  Palampur.    We're going to hike into the village.  I'm not sure if that's by choice or not.   I'm excited about this.  

Found out the couple who hosted our chai tea during the crazy drive to Jaipur were royalty.   They own over 200,000 acres and are doing quite well.   Lovely people.  

We're all starting to miss home.   Heading to bed for an early drive tomorrow.   

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Varanasi night train

I think I last left us after the first holy color experience.   Holy moly is more like it.    Woke up after an interesting dinner and night of food and drink.   Headed out to play Holi with the crowds.    All of us went right into the center of the action and we were all promptly covered in this luminescent powder that was being thrown on everything.  See photo if it uploads.   We enjoyed ourselves until we were surrounded by a crowd that by the minute got larger and ominous.    Foreigners attract much attention and locals get a little too familiar.   Our tuk tuk drivers helped defend and watched our back as we exited.   Great family guys.   Cops came with big sticks and started beating them.  They don't want tourists harmed.   Changed the mood and we were more careful.    Headed to water palace.      Beautiful palace built in middle of the lake.   Shot lots of photos to share (warning over 1500 so far between us).  We'll try and pare it down or you can just avoid us until we forget the trip.  Amber fort was huge and impressive.    We drove in taxis leisurely (still dodging all of the above post) but not crowded and not too fast in the daylight.   Wow what a difference from before.   Taj mahal is now off the life list for us.   50 million rupees.   Long time ago.     He just wouldn't stop building.   Son decides he's going to break the bank so puts his dad in prison for the rest of his life.   Stopped that.   (mom I love you, but it could happen).    We can see why it's one of the wonders of the world.   We all freaked a little at the train station at night.     Looked like a Hollywood movie set.   Rats and all.  Night train to Varanasi.  Going to Steps to the Ganges river.  Slept well in the bunks.   Woke up around 3:30 and watched Amelia and Caroline sleep.    Can't imagine how this will affect them.   Sunrise was incredible..   Smells were too.   Power just went out in this ritzy (nicest we'll be in) hotel.  Been going off and on since we've been here.    Ladies shopping.  I just want a shower.   Off to Ganges to see funeral pyres and candles on the river.   Mud hut dinner with whole village of guides family tomorrow.  Just for us.   20 families are putting on the dog for us(maybe literally) they are incredibly gracious and I want to say we are grateful for their hospitality.   We're donating 20 high tech head lamps to them ( no power).   

Like I said.   Spotty Internet and rocketship schedule  I may get back or not.   We're having quite an adventure.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Best Laid Plans

The best laid plans of mice and men.    I’m not sure how that all applies but after our first two full days of travel in India, everybody who know to look at the blog have seen nothing.  
7:00 am India time.  3rd day   13 ½ hours before central time and an amazing amount has transpired.
  Normal travel muck of scheduling flights because of economics and spending an extra 7 hours in layover in Chicago contributed to the trip to forever syndrome.    Met up with most everyone in Chicago and exhilaration was tempered by time.  
We were  met at Indira Ghandi airport by Johnanna Kinsler (treasured  neice and the excuse for the trip) and Harmit Singh (travel agent).  First impressions are that the airport is quiet and clean.   Heat blasts you as you exit the airport doors and we piled into vans for the ride to the hotel located closely.   As it comes out, so close that our decompression time we spent drinking our first cup of tea in the nice garden was punctuated by jets at 400 feet every two minutes as they landed.  Can anyone say flightpath????
Next morning all twelve of us piled into cars and went to the local park to play soccer.   Harmits friends and accomplices and the family played soccer, talked, walked, and were suddenly immersed in the dichotomy of India.   Rose Ann, Joanne, Amelia and I (Don) walked down the newly constructed street in a half constructed condo subdivision (come to find out, all of India is half constructed)  and took in sights as we dodged dog poop and steet vendors.   The soccer game went for two hours and we returned to order breakfast in the rooms and depart near nine.   Nice family hotel (friends of Johanna).   Clean and attentive. 
Jet lag and Elizabeth coming down with something before we left is tempering our judgement about how much and how fast we want to do everything.    Lizzie has a fever and is nauseous.   Threw up in the car.   We stepped back and started looking at what we had to give her.   She’s rallied and we headed back to the airport to catch their version of the subway(new,clean,fast) to downtown Delhi.  
Went to Mahatma Ghandi’s place of martyrdom.   He was an amazing man and his peaceful protests have shown the world much.    Our first encounter with that was the strike and sit in on the tracks that started to cancel the trains early yesterday morning.    Our train to Jaipur was cancelled as we shopped in the large bazaar/market that’s half done like the rest of India.   Food at a clean local restaurant there.   Great and cheap.   $1 each for lunch.   Water is what we’re craving and can’t buy enough of.   

Whole family is learning that no and meaning it is a very desired trait.   Hawkers and salesmen sensory overload the market.  

We quickly jumped the cabs provided and headed to pick up Sabrina (Austins friend who came with us).  She was visiting her uncles in Delhi and it was best to meet her on the way out of town.   Because our train was cancelled we were going to drive to Jaipur for the first real leg of the trip.   Jaipur was 4 to 5 hours by train.   Jaipur was 8 to 9 hours by wild cab.   Because trains weren’t running, the roads were gridlocked.  Every bus was filled and overflowed with passengers on top.  Trucks with goats and passengers anxious to go to Jaipur at what seemed almost any expense.  Our cabbie didn’t talk much because he was following the other cabbie in a race through the night.   Rose Ann and I were laughing in fear the whole way.   My right leg hurt because of pushing down on the brake that wasn’t there all night.  We’ve decided to call that leg Harmit’s Tour of Terror.    The cabbie in front was on a mission even acknowledged by Harmit as aggressive.   Our Cabbie seemed to just have to keep up.   A 9 hour cab ride in full blown traffic at speeds ranging from 0 to 120km dodging in and out of giant trucks, other cabs, busses and any other mode of transportation imaginable.  I guess I could never  conceive of this type of a ride.   Random Lane changes puntucated by horns, inches of room in every decision between life and death.   Traffice was completely stopped heading  the way headed back to Delhi.  This necessitated the ones headed to Delhi to sometimes try and cheat the traffic by trying to go against our oncoming traffic to accomplish any real progress for themselves.   This also caused intense fear for us to be avoiding them randomly.   The half built highway to Jaipur has completely inadequate signage for lane endings and they do go from 3 to 2 lanes regularly, but it didn’t seem to bother the cabbies as merging seems to be an artform practice continually along the way.  The big problem is that you really couldn’t see the lane ending because of the traffic.   You were really just dumped into it.   Lots of instant split decisions by the cabbies.  
Our cab has decided to market a new video game called “Night Ride to Jaipur”   Object is to drive your cab to Jaipur.  Points off for dead passengers, dents in the car, dead cows or pedestrians who pop up unexpectedly wearing dark clothes in the dark and running across fast traffic.  Fastest person to make the drive wins.   Hazards include random lane endings, massive dust clouds, immoveable objects randomly scattered, other aggressive cabbies and drivers, holy cows, and anything else you can imagine.
The next morning started with breakfast at the amazing hotel.  Built in 1882 by a Maharaja for his courtiers, it’s pretty cool.  Rooms are spacious and definitely not the common hotel.   Courtyards everywhere.  Fresh picked Flowers in bowls are placed everywhere for a wonderful scent.  
Harmit has hired 3 tuk tuk drivers to spend the day with us for $1000 rupies each.  (about $25 each).   Exchange rate is around 43 rupies to the dollar.   We went shopping in the pink city market.   Bought buckets of muck to haul with us for the rest of the trip.  Everyone has learned the word no pretty well.  The crush of humanity is amazing to behold.   The contrast of wealth and poverty is pretty crazy too. 
Oh, during Harmit’s tour of terror ride, we were invited to tea by (I’m not sure exactly who).  12 of us invaded this familys beautiful home on an acre or two that was gated and enclosed.  Gracious family and social values that are amazing.   Spent 1 hour there having Chai tea on their immaculately manicured lawn and gardens.   Contrasts and dichotomy.   Unexpected detour and totally delightful. 

Our tuk tuk drivers are fun.  We played tag darting among traffic as we go through Jaipur.    They are 3 family guys just trying to make a living.   We’re headed to the elephant festival on the polo grounds.   Just not the polo grounds we arrived at.   8-10 kilometers away we got there but on the way Audrey and Harmit buzzed up on a Royal Enfield motorcycle and started Holi with us.  This is a paint powder war among participants and gets totally crazy.   Dashing through Jaipur throwing colored powder at each others tuk tuk.   Crazy ride to begin with in a tuk tuk but add playing Holi to it makes it insane.   Holi was to start our 3rd day, not now.   Amelia was in her new dress and the rest of us had bought white shirts for nothing at the market so that we could just throw them away (or frame them) after the celebration.   The white shirts were still in the bags and our clothing is a total casualty. Austin smacked me with a whole handful of blue holi dust in the eye.   The war was on and before it was done, everyone was covered in wildly colored dust.  I nailed one of our tuk tuk drivers.   He’s fastidiously clean and was annoyed.   He nailed me back on the ride home with probably a quart of magic dust.  Purple, green, blue, yellow, orange, almost electric colors and a lots of fun .   The elephant festival was beautiful and both Amelia and Caroline got to ride fantastically decorated horses.   Pagentry to the max.  We got home and cleaned up and headed to dinner at this rooftop restaurant.   Posh and upscale but incredible food and view.   $14,000 rupies ( for dinner for 12) later I rode the Royal Enfield with Harmit back to the hotel.  We’ve concluded we may be packing too much in but the immersion into the culture is wonderful.   Amelia and Caroline were just about trashed when they started to fall asleep at the restaurant.    We may be pushing them too hard.   They’re holding up well though.  Photos to come.   Internet is random and hard to find.   All photos are being downloaded to our Ipad.  We’ll try and upload some to all as we can.   At this point, don’t know how. 
Holi starts this AM.   A new meaning to the phrase “magic dust”.    Catch back up later.