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Two months in Limbo

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Last thoughts

Mumbai, India

When we flew into Mumbai one of the airhostesses we started talking to told us we were in for a roller coaster ride. As the roller coaster docks returns to the dock, and I have survived a full circuit of India, I have come to reflect on my time in this world of its own.

My last day on the beach an older woman approaches me, outraged and ranting about the constant hassle to buy things. She said that this was her holiday, and that she resented being asked every 3 minutes if she wanted to jewellery, stickers, magnets, posters, drums, everything imaginable. She was so upset that she got angry at me when I tried to calm her and remind her where she was. If she'd let me get a word in, I would have asked her to remember that these people have just 2 months to make a year's living for their families. If she wanted a private place she could retreat to, there were big fancy (and expensive) private resorts down the coast. But you cannot come into a culture of necessity and demand privacy!

An hour or two later, I realised just how far I've come on this trip. When leaving NZ, I raised my few doubts about the trip with my Dad - I am a person who need independence and personal space, both physically and emotionally. I knew that this trip would be a challenge to that aspect of my personality in a country where there is no direct translation for the notion of 'privacy' (no, really. I've heard there's no word for it in Hindi). These people are born, live, and die in public. They spend their lives constantly surrounded by their family and friend, and don't even sleep alone at any point in their lives. While I've relished the past week's solitude in travelling alone, this woman's inability to accept this intrusion into her comfort zone made me realised just how tolerant I've become.

Having said that, I'm seriously looking forward to sleeping in my big double bed again, and quiet mornings spend lying in with my book and my cats.

The next morning, as I was leaving for Mumbai, I started talking to an Australian woman who had come to India to step out of her comfort zone. Like me an eternal ornganiser, she wanted to come to a country where she didn't know how things worked, and see if she could cope. After some unfortunate circumstances, and an accident which left her face bruised and swollen, she found herself far out of her comfort zone, and having to deal with it when she felt like a monster. Again, I could give her basic advice, and because we found we were such alike people, I could tell her how my (much milder) experience had challenged myself, and encouraged her to wait it out a little longer. I really think there'll be a turnaround period for her, and the success of learning to cope would perhaps be the best thing that had happened for her.

So stepping back into the Mumbai madness, I can walk down the street with an air such that hawkers do not constantly follow me. While I do not think that anyone can truely master Mumbai, I feel that for me, I have conquered the challenges India has presented to me.

And now it's time to go home and have a REALLY long bath!

permalink written by  Capto on February 25, 2010 from Mumbai, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Beached as!

Goa, India

Sorry about the lack of posting lately, but there's not much I can write about lying on the beach, drinking beer, and generally being lazy. So I thought it'd be best to wait a while and collate my stories.

On my last day in Hampi I was sitting with a morning coffee when Ingrid, one of the girls at the guesthouse sat down in tears with a friend of hers. Turns out she'd been for an early morning walk to the Monkey Temple, and had been sexually attacked by a local man. He got so far as to climb on top of her before her defence instincts kicked in, and by gouging at his eyes she managed to get away. Lucky girl.

This was bad timing for me - on the day Glen and I separate to travel alone, I'm confronted with new questions about my safety. Yes, it was silly of her to go walking on her own. But all along this trip, I've laughed off male attention as being a sign of the incredible sexual immaturity here, but harmless. With someone I know being attacked, this view is hard to hold on to. I still feel safe in the tourist centres and while walking with friends. But some of my favourite times are those when I am alone, such as my early morning beach walks. I'm not sure how safe I feel about those anymore.

Ingrid was sadly in the first 3 weeks of a 4 month solo trip, and decided that while she wants to come back some day, she cannot continue with this trip, because she just doesn't feel safe. Fair enough. We were heading out of Hampi to Palolem that night, and I invited her to come along for the trip - she has some friends still in Palolem, and from there she could arrange a flight back to Mumbai, and home. Between the Swiss folk, Ingrid, Olivia (an English girl we met and invited to travel with us too) and me, we started to have quite an impressive sized group!

Once on the bus, I arranged to switch seats with a man to keep Ingrid company. But the poor girl just didn't have luck on her side, and got sick on the bus. I negotiated with the bus drivers to stop the bus for her to be sick (not an easy task), and by her request accompanied her upstairs in a tiny local restaurant to use the family's toilet. Once back on the bus I gifted her the last of my anti-naus which I take on particularly threatening bus rides. She managed to keep it down, and was ok for the rest of the trip. Poor girl.

We arrived in Palolem very early in the morning, and set up camp in a restaurant/bar which was still raging from the night before. We got coffee and breakfast, and waited it out for a few hours until a decent time to go asking about accommodation. While waiting, we got news that there were bombings in Pune, the main city in Goa. The bombings were aimed at tourists, being at the popular German Bakery. 10 people were killed, and there were suspicions of further attacks across Goa. Within 24 hours so much changed! Crazy. Still, we weren't too worried, and nothing seems to have come of it in the meantime.

I spent 5 days on the beach in Palolem, which is stunningly beautiful. It's beautiful white sand, fringed with coconut trees and blue water. The beach itself is quieter than I'd expected, but still shoulder to shoulder lined with restaurants, guesthouses, and shops. Women with armloads of jewellery patrol the beach during the day trying to convince you that you need just ONE more anklet, and make you feel guilty when you say that you really don't need anything. I made friends with one of the women, Shanti (yes Jaz, like Shanti on Shortland St), who promised to bring my puri baji for breakfast, and at the end of the trip I bought a few simple pieces from her, and gifted her some clothes I no longer need on the trip.

We found good, cheap accommodation, and most importantly, the beer is cheap! A 600ml bottle of Kingfisher is 80Rps at most restaurants($2.60), and 50Rps at our guesthouse ($1.60). Awesome! A German man who is taking over our guesthouse next year owns a Thai restaurant behind the place, so we went for dinner one night - real Thai food, cooked by his Thai wife. It was amazing! The best Thai food I've ever had! They made sure it was nice and spicy, and that we had lots of beer. Real thai food is quite unlike anything you can get back in NZ. They can get many of the ingredients in India, and what they cannot get they fly in from Thailand.

One of the guys who works at the guesthouse declared his love for Olivia. You could see from day 1 the way his eyes widened when he first talked to her. Perhaps going too far though, he found her name from the hotel register, and looked her up on facebook! A little creepy...

After 5 days in Palolem, I headed to Anjuna for a few days, mainly to go to the local markets in Mapusa on Fridays. Anjuna beach was dirtier and less pristine, but had surf like down in Varkala. A nice change, but I wasn't going to stick around on a dirty beach. So after getting to the markets (and failing to pick up most of what I was looking for), I headed up the coast once more to Arambol. The beach here is marginally prettier, with the same surf, but feels cleaner. So I have one more real beach day before I finally head to Mumbai, then home. The fact that it's so close is really starting to sink in.

I'll be seeing you all very soon!


permalink written by  Capto on February 22, 2010 from Goa, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Rocks, rice and religion

Hampi, India

We survived the bus trip to Hampi without much trouble. We were delayed by 5 hours due to traffic jams, but considering we were afraid for our lives, we were relatively impressed with the trip. On the way we met a Michael and Andrea; Swiss tourists, who are travelling in the same direction and have a similar time frame as us. When we arrived in Hampi we found a guesthouse with two huts, and bargained ourselves a better price for two huts and four nights. They've turned out to be great travel companions, with a similar attitude to us - very relaxed, not needing to see everything possible, and enjoying the quieter back areas. Most importantly, they felt the same urge as us to grab a beer to escape the heat of the day, as soon as we'd found a room. Perfect!

Hampi is different from anything we'd imagined; when we caught our first glimpses in the morning we felt like we'd arrived in Bedrock from the Flintstones. The place is littered with mountain upon mountain of boulders between 3m and 50m high. Moko and Spooner, you'd both be in bouldering heaven. If you imagine you're an ant, they feel like piles of gravel. But more surprisingly, the land is fertile, with rice paddies, banana plantations, and the greenest grass we've seen nestled into the low lands. It's a place of such contrast it really catches you off guard. Yet again, India has completely changed. It's a small city, mostly based around the ruined temples which litter the landscape - the Jordan of the South. We stay on the far side of the river, accessed by a small ferry (a dinghy, which some entrepreneurial Indian has set up, costing 50c a pop to cross - very pricey by Indian standards). That side has a single line of guesthouses and restaurants along the river sitting right beside the rice paddies. It is so quiet, with very few cars and hustle. At night the frogs sing deafeningly in the rice paddies.

On our first full day we went on a walking tour of the temples, which took most of the day. We hiked up to a temple on the highest hill, which gave us a view of the entire area. We realised for the first time how these mountains just keep going on forever. I swear, there are more rocks here than in the rest of the world combined. At the main temple (which unlike the others, still stands and is in good use) we went to see Lakshmi the temple elephant. Unlike most of the other elephants we've seen in places like this, she looked healthy and pretty happy all considering. She was trained to take money which people held out for her, and swiftly put it in her master's bowl, and tapped the giver on the head with her trunk in blessing, all in one surprisingly quick and fluid motion. Many people brought her bananas too, which she ate in one bite. I wish I had a video of it. It was very impressive.

That night we went to a restaurant which an Australian guy we'd met had recommended to us for the chicken kebabs. Glen and I have been vegetarian except for fish on the coast, but have been getting increasingly adventurous with our choices. We decided that as the Australian was still standing, we'd take our chances. Very glad we did. Those kebabs were better than anything I've tasted in NZ.

The next day we hired bikes and did a tour of our side of the river. We biked through a little village to the lake which is supposed to be safe for swimming (despite the sign which warns us of crocodiles. Apparently there are only crocodiles in the river, or so the locals comforted us). We jumped in the small rapids caused by the reservoir dam, and sat by the lake to dry off, constantly berated by locals trying to sell us cold beer, chips, cookies and chai. Entertainment came in the form of a few locals who tried to copy us, but whose swimming skills are particularly lacking. They struggled back to the nearby lake shore, and we realised how important those swimming classes we had in school were.

We biked to the monkey temple, and climbed to the top - some 800 steps in the blinding heat of the day. On the way up we followed a couple of Russian guys who were stupidly taunting the monkeys with bananas. They'd give them half a banana out of their bag of 20, and try and keep the rest. These monkeys are pretty aggressive however, and know that bananas come to them in plastic bags. The Russians found themselves overwhelmed by monkeys grabbing at them, and so utilised a stick to scare them off. This didn't work for long

The ferry between the town and our side of the river only goes until 6pm. This means that we have very little to do in the evenings except eat at a nearby restaurant, most of which show movies. Our favourite has a good supply of beer, better chai, and a projector screen. We haven't tried the pizza yet, but I think pizza, beer and movies might be the plan tonight. Tomorrow night Michael, Andrea and I head to Goa. Glen still has a month in India (compared to my 2 weeks and Michael and Andrea's 3 weeks), so will spend a little more time in Hampi. So it's tomorrow that we part our ways as I prepare to head home.

permalink written by  Capto on February 12, 2010 from Hampi, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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We're in Paradise. Literally

Gokarn, India

We took a train up to Gokarn, and arrived safely after a day's travel. After battling touts who wanted to charge us 400 rupees to get to the beach, we landed in the sand with our heavy backpacks, and set out to find a place to stay. Backpacking on a beach in barefeet... in the dark. Only in India. Well, possibly not ONLY in India, but it was an experience none the less.

We got a beach hut at a little place called Dolphin right on the middle point of Om Beach. Om beach is so named because it looks like the Om symbol - kind of like the number 3. They set us up in a hut with a sand floor, walls made of woven palm leaves, and a bamboo skeleton. It had a fan, light and powerpoint, so everything we needed. They rebuild these huts every year after the monsoon. Not very soundproof, but they're right on the beach, and I woke up to the sound of the surf every day.

Gokarn is still a pretty undeveloped place. It's got about 7 restaurants along the whole beach, and each one has a selection of these coco huts. Other than that, there are no shops or anything, and there's only (recent) road access to one end of the beach. I doubt it'll last this way for long though. Apparently Varkala was like that 10 years ago, and now look at it! We've spent our days on the beach, reading and swimming. Despite piling on layers of sunscreen and keeping to the shade except to dry off from swimming, I've managed to get burnt almost every day we've been here. Sigh. But I'm looking scarily brown for me! My fair dutch skin is slowly looking a normal shade of tan. Who would have thought!

Glen and I went for a walk south along the hills and beaches, and ended up in a place called Paradise Beach. And man, it really is paradise down there. There's no road, so you can only get there by the small track (which requires you to rock hop a good distance) or by getting one of the local fishermen who sit around Om Beach to drop you down there. There are two restaurants which rent huts or hammocks for people to sleep in. It's only a tiny beach, about 20m across, and bordered by boulders. But it's beautiful. The pictures I have just don't do it justice. The atmosphere there was amazing too - some people seem to stay the entire tourist season, and know the locals well. Wish we'd found the place earlier, and spent a few nights there. Sadly, time was running out on us, so it wasn't worth the effort of getting our packs down there. Still, we passed on the word to people arriving in Om Beach.

The food here is awesome too. We heard on our first night that the place to eat was called Dragon, situated at the far south of the beach. They had fresh fish brought in that afternoon, cold Kingfisher beer, and an old charcoal bbq. We got grilled tiger prawns, and kingfish tikka. Amazing. Soooo good. And you could never replicate it back home, because half the flavour came from that bbq.

Today we head inland to Hampi on an overnight bus which we've repeatedly heard is death. People have told us that it's like travelling 13hrs down a very unkempt dirt road. They've told us that their bus has crashed on the journey (and that this seems to be unnervingly common). They've told us to take the train at all costs. Still, the trains were booked out, and everyone says that Hampi is worth it. So we're getting the overnight bus tonight. Needless to say, we don't expect to sleep.

See ya'll on the other side!

permalink written by  Capto on February 8, 2010 from Gokarn, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Cold beer and hot beaches (hehe)

Varkkallai, India

Varkala is a small town which is located close to a cliff top. The town itself isn't the main attraction here - most tourists come to stay at Varkala Cliff, 6km away, where a string of resorts, beach huts, and restaurants has popped up to meet demand. It is a touristy feeling place, only really being there to accommodate beach seeking tourists, but has popped up for a reason: this place is stunningly
beautiful. The beach is a mixture of black and golden sand set beneath cliffs of stunning red sandstone, lined wtih palm trees and coconut trees. It's a surf beach, perfect for body surfing and boogie boarding (and of course there are making use of this by hiring out boogie boards down on the beach). It's one of India's most dangerous beaches though, with a stong undertow, so you have to be careful. The police kick everyone out of the water at sunset. If you walk to the north, the cliffs subside and there are small semi private beaches you can find. However, it's suggested that you dress conservatively on these beaches, as there's a mosque nearby - the area is a holy one. This didn't stop people stripping down when I went walking up there though.

We arrived without a place to stay, but quickly found a cute little place with basic bamboo and concrete huts. Luckily, unlike many places along the cliff front, it was a budget place which didn't charge an arm and a leg. So we dropped our bags and went out for a beer. The beer was served to us in a covert bottle, wrapped in newspaper, which we had to hide under the table. Many places here avoid paying tax on the beers, and pay off the police who patrol the cliff front. So long as they keep the beer discrete, everyone's happy, especially us! Though it does make me feel a little like I'm 16 again. So we sipped on our cold beer in glasses wrapped in napkins, and started chatting to an older couple who were visiting from Sweeden. The woman was fascinating, being a curator in a museum. She was a strong headed and wise woman with a spark about her, who strongly remined me of my Grandma. So strange how no matter how far from home you are, there's always something which takes you back instantly.

The next day we deemed a beach day, and I'm sorry to say that both Glen and I got burnt, despite wearing lots of sunscreen and reapplying. Ah well, I guess it was bound to happen given how fair I am and how strong the Indain sun is. So we spent the next few days in and out of the sun, putting on more sunscreen (too) regularly.

I'm afraid there's not much more to say in this blog; there's only so much I can write about lying in the sand, reading, and body surfing. Glen started and finished a book in a day - a first ever for him. I got some battle scars from body surfing and getting dumped in the strong undertow. The surf threatened my handstiched bikini, but the addition of some elastic I'd been carrying with me worked a charm. I avoided any unnecessary nudity thankfully.

Tonight we catch a train back up the coast to a little, relatively undeveloped beach called Gokarna - Gabes' favourite while he was here in India. From there we're heading to Goa via the inland ruins of Hampi. So we've got about 3 more weeks of beaches and temples, with a half week diversion inland. I dare say that if I avoid getting burnt again, I might even come back with a tan! Now THAT's a shocking prospect for me, with my fair, dutch skin.



permalink written by  Capto on February 3, 2010 from Varkkallai, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Cochin, India

Before I start on Kochi, I forgot to tell you guys about our taxi ride to the airport in the last blog.

We gave ourselves an hour to get to the airport in Kolkata. Turns out this was a little tight. Luckily, taxi drivers (well, all drivers really) in India are fearless. We asked him to go fast, and fast he did. He drove on the kerb, the sidewalk, and when he saw a 1km traffic jam on the 3 lane motorway ahead (officially two lanes, but nobody pays attention to road markings here), he crossed onto the wrong side of the road and drove down the far shoulder of the road... at high speed. Very cool! Kids, don't try this at home! It's something that only works in India.

Now, onto Kochi

We took an overnight bus from Madurai to Kochi, which dropped us off at 5.30am. Glen finds it hard to sleep on the bus unless he's lying right down. I can't sleep lying down on the bus or I end up with my head out the window. But I usually manage to doze in and out and get a reasonable amount of sleep all in all. We dumped our bags at the hotel, and went for a dawn walk along the waterfront. Rows of fishermen were already hard at work with these massive nets that dip in and out of the water on a wooden crane. They waved at us and invited us over to watch, but we declined. Experience has taught us that when every person along a street is inviting you to watch them work, they'll probably end up extracting money out of you. We were too tired to deal with this, and watching quietly from the rocks was a far more appealing idea.

We found breakfast once things started opening, and headed to explore the town for the day. There were a few bazaars and a mosque on the far side of town, which was a nice 3km walk away, so we headed that way. Kochi is a pretty touristy place, but clean, nice, and scenic. Heading back I headed into the backstreets and saw a bit more of the local area, which wasn't so clean, but equally scenic and a fantastic walk.

That night I took a cooking class with a group of others, and feasted on the proceeds. I made sure I got all the recipes, including an amazing recipe for garam masala which is miles better than anything you get in NZ. I'm, thinking another Indian feast is in order once I get back to NZ. Any takers?!

I came to India with good intentions for dressing conservatively. But those of you who know me well, know I don't deal with heat well. I die in anything which nears 30 degrees. Today it was 36 degrees, and right now (at 9pm) it's 29. That's sweltering for me. After two days of heat I gave in and bought myself a couple of summer dresses here, as do many tourists by the looks of things. So much better to get a bit of air flow going on. And the people here really don't mind. The women smile wholeheartedly when I smile at them, and the men don't pay much more attention to me than they already do. I still wear a dupatta/shawl across my chest and shoulders whenever I head away from the tourist centres. I'm ok with that decision, and I think the locals are too.

The next day we decided to head out to a beach an hour's trip north of Kochi. We ferried over to the northern island, and took a local bus from there, through tropical villiages and townships. The beach was then a short rickshaw drive away. Cherai beach is a largely undeveloped beach, with a few restaurants and things along the beachfront to grab that all important Kingfisher beer in the sun (Oh, the Kingfishers here are 600ml bottles. We've decided that two NZ beers is the perfect one!). We sat around on the beach for a few hours, and chatted to an aussie guy and two sweedish girls I'd met at the cooking class. We headed back after a swim in the bath-warm water.

That night we had a fish curry for dinner. We've decided that as long as we are on the coast and are eating at a nice place, we can trust the seafood. Oh my god, it was amazing! If we weren't convinced before we had the meal, after we had locked ourselves into this deal. South India will be seafood heaven for us! I'm particularly excited to try fish Moli, which is a curry made with coconut milk, ginger, coriander and the like. Light and delicious. Afterward, we played the tourist and went to a Katakali show - A Keralan dance-theatre performance which tells a story. Ours was about a demon who disguised herself as a beautiful woman to seduce a hero but - predicatably - fails. It culminates in his threatening to cut off her breasts. Hmmm...

The next day we headed in to the backwaters to take a cruise. I'll let the pictures of this do the talking!

Glen spent our last (half) day relaxing on the balcony of our hotel, reading, while I attempted to head into the city to try and find something to swim in. In preparation for our day at Cherai Beach, I realised I'd forgotten to bring a bikini - a fatal flaw when travelling the beaches of South India. While I managed to swim in my dress, this wasn't at all practical. Trouble is, finding a bikini in India isn't easy. My attempt failed, so I bought a couple of t-shirts from a street vendor and hand sewed one. Yep, I am now the proud owner of a Superman bikini, which says "Man of Steel" across the crotch. I think it's awesome!

We then took a local bus down to Varkarla, 4hrs south. We're spending a few days just hanging out in this very touristy, old hippy beach town, drinking beer and lying in the sun.

Thinking of all you suckers who are now (or are shortly) heading back to work. I'll have a beer for you all


permalink written by  Capto on February 1, 2010 from Cochin, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Madurai, India

Ok, this is going to have to be the speediest blog writing ever. Here goes!

Madurai is a small city, with a massive temple, which people here think of as the Taj Mahal of the south. The city itself is pretty cool. Not too many tourists, and definately doesn't depend on westerners for its lifeblood. This meant we could wander the streets without being barrated for things left right and centre. The exception to this is that there are tailors everywhere, who try and sell you stuff on the street. So yes, there was a little hassle in Madurai, but far less than we are used to.

The first day we arrived in from an overnight bus, sleep deprived and hungry. We dumped our stuff at the hotel and headed around the corner to find some breakfast. We had spotted a little place that was packed full of locals, and decided this was our best bet. Man were we right! They didn't even have menus, so we asked them to bring us whatever was good for breakfast, plus a coffee each (south Indian coffee is supposed to be amazing!). We got a dosa masala (rice pancake stuffed with potatoes and spices) and idly (little steamed rice patties with chutneys) and both were some of the best food we've had so far. Gonna like the south I think!

We went and visited the temple, the dark gloomy halls of which were brightly painted. Very cool. We'd managed to arrive on the Indian Republic Day, so there were lots of local visitors. Unfortunately we couldnt climb the south temple and see the view as you used to, because someone had jumped out recently. Ah well, we enjoyed the view from the ground.

The temples here seem to be much more colourful and intricately carved than in the north. Up there it's all sandstone and forts. Down here it's all imported stone, careful details of deities, and bright painting.

That is all for now. We're in Kochi by the beach, spending our days relaxing in the sun. We're on our way now to do a cruise through the backwaters, so I've got to run.

Oh, and the coffee here IS good!!



permalink written by  Capto on January 29, 2010 from Madurai, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Slum dogs, slum kids, slum houses

Kolkata, India

Because of the date of our flight down south, we've ended up with 5 days in Kolkata - the longest time we've spent anywhere. This was a little perplexing when at breakfast the first day, we started talking to some people, who told us there's not much to see in Kolkata! What would we do for 5 days!?

Those same people were volunteers at Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity. I asked if it would be possible to go down and help out for a few days. When we first started planning the trip, I'd hoped to spend a few weeks helping here, but it just wasn't going to work out time wise.

So we headed down to the induction afternoon, where they described what they do at each of the 7 houses around the city. They suggested that as we're only here for a few days, we'd get the most out of helping at one of the houses for the destitute and dying. It's a more intense experience, but that's what we were after. We're here to learn about the country and the culture, and this is an important aspect.

So we went down for a couple of afternoons. Within 3 mins of arriving, I was helping a very old (and sick) woman go to the bathroom. Within 3 mins of arriving, Glen was helping put a very old (and sick) man in a coffin. Glen wins!

The afternoons were spent mostly talking and sitting with the patients. Many of the women didn't have much English at all, but they still liked to talk. I think many of them just needed an ear and a smiling face. Many of the women were metally infirm also. But the sisters showed us ways each liked to interact, and most just liked to smile at me and play with my jewellery. My favourite patient loved to be tickeled, and every time I even looked at her she would digress into fits of laughter.

When we weren't loving on them all we were feeding them, combing their hair, changing beds (for those who didn't make it to the bathroom), or helping them put on and take off clothes. Not exactly glamourous work, but very humbling.

This house (Prem Dan) was a 15min bus ride out of the city, in an area with slums all around. This was amazing too. As soon as I took out my camera we were inundated by hordes of kids who kept following us wanting pictures, handshakes and chocolate. One cheeky kid kept asking me "chocolate? Biscuit? Rupees? Camera?". Cheeky sausage. No way was I giving her my camera! They followed us all the way to the bus stop, trying everything they could to stop us going and trying to convince us to buy them treats. One kid launched herself onto Glen's back and refused to get off. There are pictures of Glen carrying her around, and it looks like he's being all nice to the kid. Actually, he's trying to pry her off himself!

The people out there were lovely. They weren't at all negative towards us, and didn't beg or ask for anything. It was a refreshing experience, after all the begging in the city, where people make you feel awful for not helping them. Those people are however, professional beggars, who are brought into the city in the morning by slum lords, and taken home at night. They are very good at what they do, and know all the tricks.

Most of all, it seemed (though we only got to see one side of their lives) that they were happy. The kids were running around playing and laughing as only kids can. The adults were smily and gracious to us. It's amazing.

The rest of our time in Kolkata has been spend trawling the street markets (sensing the theme here?!), eating Dominoes in bed with cable and giant bottles of Kingfisher beer (yes, I'll admit it), and going to the first Indian supermarket we've seen. PS. you can buy giant boxes of Ghee here!

Last night we had our first bad meal in India. After 3 1/2 weeks of travel we've only had one bad meal. Very cool. At least the bad meal was stupidly cheap (about $1 each). We made ourselves feel better by going to the supermarket and buying chocolate, icecream, biscuits etc and feasting at home.

Tonight we fly down to Chennai, and hop straight on a bus to Madurai, right down the south end of India (that is, if our flight isn't delayed and we don't miss the bus!)


Mags (frozen product)

permalink written by  Capto on January 24, 2010 from Kolkata, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
tagged Kolkata, Slum and MotherTheresa

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A word about train rides...

Kolkata, India

I think I should give you all an idea about train rides here in India.

Glen and I have been travelling on sleeper trains. They have six beds to each berth (one upper, one middle, one lower). These are long (semi hard but not unbearable) seats which are suspended from the compartment. During the day they fold down to form a long seat (three on each side, facing each other), and at night you hook them up to form you bed. Thus, you can sleep at night, and watch the world go by out the window during the day. This way of travelling is super cheap (it cost us 500 Rps for both of us to go from Varanasi to Kolkata - about NZ$8 each for 700kms), but very basic. They don't give you blankets or pillows, and because the windows don't seal completely, it can get pretty cold up north during the winter nights.

This class of travelling is popular with families and middle class folks. We've made a few friends on these rides, though it seems that many only speak very halting English. We always seem to draw audiences for simple things like playing a game of cards, or just because we're different. Men here aren't afraid to stare, though it's generally innocent. Still, when you're tired or trying to sleep, it can be unnerving when some 30yr old man keeps watching you.

At the bigger stops, there's a mad rush as travellers, chai wallas, and every other walla (loosely translated as sales person) climb on board. They walk up an down the aisles, chanting their now familiar call, tempting us with their amazing chai(Indian tea) which as likely been simmering all day, infusing with spices. Other people sell roasted peanuts in their shells, fresh fruit, dodgy looking street food, water, locks and chains, toys, basically everything you can imagine. There were even shoe polishers on our last train.

The trains take us through farmland and the backs of towns. In the early morning we see farmers rising, walking to the train tracks to do their morning business (many people don't have indoor toilets, and the side of the train tracks serve this function nicely, or so they would have us believe). In the evenings we see teeming bazaars, with people selling fruit and vegetables late into the night. Once the sun has gone down, we see very little! There are very few houses, and those which are out there have few lights.

At the smaller stops, the train doesn't even stop, it just slows. You have to jump off when it's still moving (a feat we have not yet had to master). The Indian people have this down though. Women in saris with a child in one arm and a bag in the other seem to glide off the train (which is a good half metre above the station platform) without effort. Chai wallas or men with armfuls of fruit do the same. I don't think I could bring quite so much grace.

For the most part, I love this travelling. There's something about the fresh air which rushes in through the window, and the endless fields and farms which is so India. I don't mind the long period of reading or just watching, but this is largely due to my sailing upbringing, when I would spend long hours reading or sleeping or doing very little. Glen on the other hand gets a bit more easily bored, and finds the rides tedious.

Unfortunately - as we are starting to learn - the Indian rail system is far from efficient, and delays are common. OUr last train was delayed by 6 hours at the time we were supposed to board, was delayed a further 4 hours before we even got on the train (which was evenutally at 3 am), and then delayed another 5 while we were on the train. We ended up spending 30 hours in transit for what should have been a 14hr train ride.

Oh yeah, one last note. Here there are no bins on the train. Everything goes out the window when you're done with it (Miyuke, you would cry. You really would). Water bottles, plastic bags, fruit skins, broken clothing. Everything goes out the window. Glen and I collect our rubbish in a plastic bag and leave it for the cleaners who come through, but I have sneaking suspicion that this ends up on the tracks anyway.

We are in Kolkata now, here for 4 more days, then flying to where it's stinking hot. It's hot here already! Ugh. Still, it's good for Glen, who's getting over a cold (probably induced by cold train rides).



permalink written by  Capto on January 21, 2010 from Kolkata, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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Varanasi = very nasty?

Varanasi, India

So we jumped on a train to Varanasi, which is thought to be the holiest Hindu city. We woke up the next morning expecting to be just an hour away, but found that we were only about half way. The train had been delayed by 4 hours (though we had to try and ask other travelers this in very bad hindi, because they don't come around and tell you). 4 hours delay turned into 8, and we got off the train at 8pm, instead of 12, after about 19hrs travel. Despite, we were relieved to get off the train, which was pretty cold. The weather in these parts is abnormally cold at the moment. 5 people died yesterday from exposure including a 23yr old, though it only gets down to about 7 degrees at night, and 15ish during the day. I guess they just aren't prepared for that kind of cold.

We spent our time wandering the very narrow bazaar streets of the old city, dodging cows (who seem to know they have right of way, and take up the whole street) and cows' (ahem...) "blessings". Very cool back streets here, full of cheap jewelery and bead work. Glen and I are looking pretty hippy traveller at the moment, with bead necklaces. Glen bought a very warm woolen jersey with a hood like a wizard jacket. So cliche, but cool in its own way. It's been pretty useful for him to ward off the cold. Because the houses are built to keep out the heat in summer, they get pretty cold at night. We also bought a couple of duvet/comforters, which are SO cute! I'm determined to take mine home, despite its size.

The best find in Varanasi however, was a little restaurant which is popular with the locals. We tried their paneer chilli, and fell in love! Went back every night for dinner, it's just that good. Spicy too, but not overwhelming. Thanks family for bringing me up on spicy food. We've been eating local spicy and loving it, though we're gonna do something non spicy tonight. THough I love all the spice, my tummy does not. Three nights of paneer chilli has left me feeling a tiny bit iffy, and in the interests of avoiding the dreaded delhi belly (especially before a long train trip), we're gonna go for pizza tonight. Apparently everyone gets sick in Varanasi, and we hope not to have the same memories.

We've also started (nervously) trying street food from places which we know are busy. From our upstairs balcony seat we could see a local samosa walla working, and decided he was popular enough and clean enough to try. Oh god, the samosas here are soo tasty!

Anywho, I've gotta get going. We're about to grab pizza (which I've heard are amazing, thin and crispy base, of the woodfired variety) and run to catch our train. Heading to Kolkata tonight for 5 days, then flying down to Chennai. Hope you guys are following us on the blog's map.



permalink written by  Capto on January 19, 2010 from Varanasi, India
from the travel blog: Two months in Limbo
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