May 1 - Tirupathi to Delhi on the Tamil Nadu Express - Today,
we went to Venkateshwara. We took a 15km walk up to Tirumala, where the
temple is. At the start of the walk, there was a big, white, double arch,
with a big statue of Garuda in front. I was very excited that there was
a statue of one of my favorite gods. I didn't know that people still built
giant statues. The walk to Tirumala was really cool. The whole way was
paved and most of it had a roof for shade. All along the way were stairs.
I mention the stairs, because they were one of the most interesting things
on the walk. On the front of each stair there were blotches of orange
watery stuff that you put on your forehead and red, less watery stuff,
stuck on the orange blotch. The blotches were in straight lines, because
people would put them on as they walked up the stairs. As we were walking
along, we heard the person in front of us chanting aloud prayers that
were written on the square pillars holding up the roof. All of the prayers
that he read started with "om" which has an importance that
I do not know about. Along the walk there were small temples.
The special walk eventually ended, and we arrived in Tirumala.
We looked around for a certain place where we could get our time for entry
to view Venkateshwara to be changed. After asking various people we found
the place. After going through one gate with a guard, a person told us
to get in line. After we got someone's attention, Dad went through another
gate with a guard, and after waiting and writing a special appeal, Dad
got a ticket to get in early. Then we went downstairs and had to fill
out another form. It asked where we were from, and we had to fill in a
form that said: "I _______(name)_______(address)______belong to _____(religion).
However I have faith in Lord _________(name of the presiding deity) and
to His/Her worship." We filled in "Lord Venkateshwara."
(That's the god, an incarnation of Vishnu, that the temple is devoted
to.) We all had to sign. Then, we went through waiting rooms and over
a bridge until we came to a line of people. We followed that line along
a wall, around a corner, along another wall, and through a doorway.
After about an hour and a half waiting in a line with metal screens separating
us from other screened lines and the outside, we walked through a doorway.
There were two golden things, one with what looks like it is supposed
to be a lotus flower and the other was a tall pole. We went past some
drummers sitting under a flat roof held up by pillars (all of it was stone).
We walked behind the building with the gold things, then we walked through
a silver doorway. In front of us was a relatively low building. It was
amazing. There were even two-foot gold statues on the roof. We went inside
the building. It had stone pillars and a golden altar with a mirror above
it showing a golden doorway with a beard. The people around us said, "look,
look!" I looked in the mirror but did not know the importance until
later. When we reached the doorway opposite the mirror, someone thrust
me forward over the threshold. Then another person pushed me forward.
Then I realized that they worked there, and were trying to hurry everyone
along. When we reached the end of the passage, I saw the same statue that
was reflected in the mirror. I pulled a short bow before the people whisked
me back out. Then we followed the pilgrims forward to a man who gave me
holy water. It was not regular water. Someone gave us tickets for a free
lunch. Then we had prasaad (consecrated food.) The food was not good.
We washed our hands and went out. It was one of my favorite days on the
trip. -- Tote
This may have been the most interesting place we have visited on the
entire trip. -- Mark
May 2 - On the Tamil Nadu Express - For the first time, we're traveling
First Class this trip. One of the things we learned about traveling on Indian
trains is that with five people we must book trips long in advance. We booked
this trip before we realized how much we enjoyed traveling Second Class.
In First, there's more space and more privacy. Just like Second, it's tolerably
dirty. Unfortunately, the privacy of First Class means it's a bit lonely.
We've spent large parts of the last few weeks chatting with people (or posing
for their photos), so the relative isolation is striking. First Class passengers
are also not "bothered" by the food and tea vendors. This means
that if we want snacks or tea, we need to wait for the train to stop. Then
we run to the station - this is a long train and the stations are relatively
small - buy things and then either run back to our car or, if the train
is already moving, hop into the nearest car and work our way back through
the other carriages. -- Mark
Venkateshwara temple is my favorite temple so far in India. It had a certain
feel to it, which was very calm, even though it was very big and there
were lots of people. It was fun. We walked up about 10 miles of steps
to get there. A lot of other Hindu people were walking up with us. They
were very friendly, and I talked to many people. They wanted to know my
name, how old I am, what standard (grade) I am in school, and where I
come from. -- Maggie
Duncan is now 14 years old. We celebrated with individual pieces of cake
(butterscotch, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and pistachio) on the first
night of our 2-night Tamil Nadu Express train from Chennai (we went back
there from Tirupathi) to Delhi. -- Monica
May 3 - New Delhi - We took an auto rickshaw from one end of Delhi
to the other. The guy first suggested a price of 1300 rupees for the ride,
then he brought it down to 300 in one leap. After we insisted, we ended
up using the meter. When we got to the hotel Dad gave the driver 200 rupees
and walked away without his 80 rupees change. (The driver asked us for
another 20 rupees.) I think Dad was just exasperated, because normally
he doesn't let himself be cheated by 8 rupees, let alone 80. In the morning,
right after we got off the train, as usual, we wouldn't go with any driver
who asked us. In the train station, there was some sort of taxi annoyance
league or something. One guy asks 50 times, then goes back to the crowd,
and after a chat, the next guy comes. I enjoy getting between the drivers
and Dad, creating a human wall. You can subtly make them walk into a trash
can or get cut off by a wall. To the blockers its a game, but it bugs
Dad. -- Duncan
We are holed away in a fancy hotel - not really in a "neighborhood." We
look out from the fifth floor over a sports complex...I'm not sure what
that is, for what I see is a walled woods-like-park. I see dirt paths
between the trees, but no people in there. The only other characteristics
of this area are the blue cinema complex in the distance, and the fruit
market lining one street. We've stayed in several "fancy hotels" in India.
At this point in the trip it has been very welcome to be pampered a bit;
it is always pleasant to return to air-conditioned, clean, quiet rooms
after walking in furnance-hot, polluted air with continuously over stimulating
sights, smells, and sounds (even when it's interesting, fun, and usually
The problem is that we could be anywhere. The world of first
class hotels is uniform, whether you're in the US, Europe, or in India.
So here we are in this most amazing country, and when we enter this hotel
world, we also enter a standard, global world lacking in the very aspects
that make India unique. Another problem is all the other parts of daily
life which increase immensely in cost because we are doing them through
the hotel: eating, laundry, phone calls, (in this particular case, transportation
costs and time getting into town), etc. When we stay in a different level
of a hotel and accomplish these tasks on the street, it is significantly
On the way to find a more centrally-located and cheaper hotel, while in
an auto-rickshaw, a rather severe dust storm (squall) kicked up. The sky
darkened, at 1:00, and to the accompaniment of a few, fat, scattered raindrops,
sand and grit were hurled from all directions as the wind blew hard. It
didn't last long, but tree branches, twigs, and leaves were scattered
about along with the ubiquitous flow of litter. -- Monica
We are halfway around the world from Denver. -- Mark
May 4 - New Delhi - More people have cell phones here and smoke
than in any other city in India. -- Maggie
We went to a government-sponsored bazaar to eat dinner, because we had
heard that most of India's States run food booths there. There were indeed
booths from Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and lots of other places. Unfortunately,
most of them were serving Chinese food (which includes "American
chow mein.") -- Mark
May 5 - New Delhi - We moved from the WelcomHotel in south New
Delhi to the YMCA nearer the center of New Delhi, and consequently closer
to Old Delhi. After settling in, we browsed around in the furnace-like
heat buying Mefloquine, drinks, biscuits, and checking out bookstalls.
In the evening we went back to the India International Center, this time
for a lecture by Jody Williams, recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, because
of her work with the campaign to ban landmines. I found her kind of interesting
. . . more her manner than what she had to say. The children listened
attentively. Later they said it was not that interesting, and Tote thought
Ms. Williams was "too positive" . . . both in manner and in
her conviction that the campaign will ultimately be a success. -- Monica
We are now staying in New Delhi (as opposed to "Old" Delhi,
the original city.) The British finished New Delhi in 1931. That makes
New Delhi the newest city we have been in since we visited Highlands Ranch,
a suburban wasteland outside Denver. New Delhi suffers from the same problem
as new cities everywhere: it was laid out with the automobile in mind.
As one whizzes through New Delhi in a cab, one sees lovely tree-lined
boulevards, tall buildings, and clean streets. On foot, the tree-lined
boulevards are endless and boring; the tall buildings dull and unreachable,
and many streets strikingly empty of people. New Delhi is unwalkable,
unbelievably sterile, and incredibly dull. We assume that Lutyens, the
British city planner, like the designers of American suburbs, intended
to eliminate the human riff raff. In the process, he created the dullest
and most inconvenient place we have visited. -- Mark
May 6 - New Delhi - Today we went to the Red Fort. It's called
the Red Fort for a perfectly good reason: it's red, and it's a fort. The
entrance is very impressive. There is a long hallway with onion arches,
that slowly fade from white (their color) to black (because of the shadows.)
After you pass through the gate there is a path leading to a second gate.
Here there was a line, because they were checking tickets. A guard came
up to us and led us past the line so we could get in. I really disliked
that, because I do not think we should just skip the line like that. I
think we should have had to wait in line. Inside that gate was the Arms
museum. This museum was really cool. There were kukhris, katars (punching
daggers), something that was a knife with a long handle, a nanganita (a
stick with a long blade on it), and double-bladed, serrated swords. Those
were only some of the weird ones. Past the gate were many buildings that
were all relatively rectangular with onion vaults on all four sides. They
were usually open to the air or partially closed with drapes. They were
placed symmetrically with a fountain between two of the ones in the middle
of the park. Dad pointed out that the place was not decorated with scenes
of battles but simply decorated with flowers. Maybe this was a laid back
place in the center of India. -- Tote
The Red Fort was built by Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, between
1638 and 1648. I thoroughly enjoyed the calm of the this Islamic architecture
made of red sandstone and white marble. Instead of decorative Arabic verses
from the Koran and elaborate geometric designs like we saw at the mosques,
forts, and palaces in Morocco, Spain, and Egypt, here the decorations
were simpler. The arches contained elongated and indented triangles, and
the walls were often decorated in floral patterns. The opulent flourishes
of gemstones have disappeared over the centuries. There were many canals
and waterways, remains of fountains, pools, and a moat. All the waterways
were empty, and it was very hot and still, but the remaining trees with
their variety of singing birds helped me imagine what it must have been
like. -- Monica
Early explorers battled savage animals, disease-ridden jungles, and raging
rivers. We battle the auto rickshaw drivers. To get to the Red Fort, requires
a cab or an auto rickshaw. The fellows stationed in front of the hotel
follow a three-tier pricing system. If it's the first time they have seen
you, any ride is 1300 rupees. If you argue, they will take you anywhere
for 100. If you are persistent, they will agree, cheerfully, to drive
you for 50. But, no matter how long you argue, they will not agree to
use the meter. They figure there will always be another pigeon along.
(Auto rickshaws, and taxis too, have meters. One reads the meter and multiplies
by 2.5, 3, or 6 depending on what sort of vehicle it is. Then you add
various surcharges, if appropriate, or multiply the total by another number
if it's night or a holiday. To make this somewhat easier, some drivers
have conversion charts. One side shows the conversion for daytime rides
and the other side the conversion for nighttime trips. Of course, since
the nighttime rates are higher, it is not unknown for a driver to show
a passenger the nighttime chart at noon.) So we walked about a block and
hailed another auto rickshaw. The driver asked us for 60 rupees. We declined
and said we would use the meter. The driver, who didn't speak English,
called over another driver who listened to us and said something to the
original driver in Hindi. The first driver looked offended and buzzed
away. The second driver then offered to take us to the Red Fort for 150
rupees. We declined and kept walking. Like the drivers outside the hotel,
we know that there will always be another cab along. (We also learned
in Cairo that the ones we stop are more reasonable than the ones that
stop us.) The 150 rupee speaker pulled up again, and said, "Okay.
We can use the meter." Great. We're finally on our way! We piled
in and drove about 100 yards before the driver pulled over. "The
Red Fort is closed today. I could take your money and drop you there,
but it's closed. For 20 rupees, I can take you to a very nice temple where
you can walk around. Very, very nice." At first we were puzzled.
We were pretty sure the Red Fort was open. "There's a gold shop there,
maybe you could buy something nice." Ahhh, yes. Out of the rickshaw
again. The next rickshaw took us to the Fort, which was open, for 24 rupees.
Maggie: Dad, Dad, we should look for a hotel here!
Mark: In Old Delhi?
Maggie: Yes. It's friendlier here.
We have three blue top water bottles, four white water bottles, and some
mineral water bottles. The blue top water bottles are a sickly orange
color, because Dad has purified the water with iodine. It tastes like
chlorine. I try to just drink mineral water but sometimes I drink from
white water bottles. -- Maggie
May 7 - New Delhi - We walked around in Old Delhi. It had a bunch
of people selling stuff. They sold pretty much everything. They had fruit
sellers, cloth sellers, clothes makers, clothes sellers, shoe sellers,
juice makers, food shops, fresh water guys, coconut milk guys, chappati
bread makers, dhabas, sweet makers, candy shops, and birds. Every once
in a while an autorickshaw would come by, but there was never a shortage
of bicycle riders pulling their cart with passengers. This is a bicycle
rickshaw. -- Maggie
Duncan woke up feeling sick . . . dizzy, pain behind his eyes - especially
when he moved. His temperature was 100 degrees all day. At night, his
temperature went up to 103 and then dropped slightly. Duncan stayed in
bed. Maggie went with us but seemed to be coming down with something.
By evening she had a fever of 103 and puffy eyes.
We spent the afternoon at the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India,
and walking around Old Delhi. We climbed the mosque's south minaret -
the breezes were delightful. Maggie and I washed our feet in the big ablution
pool in the middle of the courtyard. There were a few Indian and Western
tourists, the Westerners quick stepping on the hot red sandstone. After
lunch we spent a couple hours strolling around the neighborhood. I'd say
it was the market I have enjoyed the most on the Big Trip. I didn't see
any other Westerners, and the market folk were not hawking their items
and services. It was not a souvenir kind of place. I saw auto parts; some
carpentry; lots of cloth and tailors; fruit stands; bakeries and sweet
shops; spices, coffee, rice pudding, curd, parathas and chapattis; new
Western clothes; shoes and sandals; flower garlands and temple offerings;
beauty parlors; barbershops; a place where two men sat typing and writing
correspondence for people unable or unwilling to do it themselves; books
in Arabic; brass, copper, aluminum and stainless steel pots, pitchers,
plates, cups, and trays; pharmacies called "Medicals"; dark
shops with huge bags of rice; and jewelry shops and bangle stalls. Some
of the streets were a bit wider than usual, but what with the motorcycles,
bicycles, carts, and bicycle rickshaws and the few cows, bulls, horse
carts, donkeys, and goats, we had to stay toward the edges. -- Monica
The mosque was surrounded by red walls (the same kind of stone as the
Red Fort was made out of.) Leading up to the three gates were massive
sets of stairs. Inside was big, hot, quiet courtyard. We bought tickets
to go up into one of the minarets. On the path to the minaret, there was
a thin cloth because the pavement was so hot in some places. The stairs
going up the minaret were dark with tiny windows separated by long, very
dark intervals. At the top we looked out onto the long walls of the Red
Fort, the most colorful city so far - Delhi, the three onion domes of
the mosque, the green square pond in the courtyard, and the other minaret.
It was really cool. -- Tote
We have walked through Old Delhi a couple times. Monica says it is the
"nicest" market area we have been to - I think that's because it is not
geared to tourists. I cannot do justice to the "richness" of what one
sees, smells, and hears (and breathes - gack!) Easily my favorite activity
on the trip is walking through these places and just looking around. People
are LIVING here, and you see them. People are not tucked away in houses
surrounded by neat lawns or walls. Beautiful, tan stacks of bread and
noodles in one shop; skinned goat heads in the next; kids at a pump; the
urine smell; hot cookshops; beautiful fabrics. It's just one big jumble
of the dazzling and the repulsive. -- Mark
May 8 - New Delhi - We're here in New Delhi, staying in two rooms
at the YMCA Tourist Hostel. It's early evening; I've got our air-conditioner
off and the balcony door open and the fan awhirlin'. It's street noisy
but pleasant. It is furnace-hot here at this time of year, especially
in the sun. We're truly enjoying India. This afternoon Tote, Mark and
I slowly walked around our "neighborhood" Connaught Place (concentric
circles, center of downtown, full of shops, stalls, and businesses) browsing
and chatting with people. New Delhi is very modern. Duncan and Maggie
stayed home being quiet, napping, reading, and writing emails because
they have had fluctuating fevers yesterday and today. I'm not sure what
kind of virus it is, because they still have their appetites and they're
in good spirits, but they have a fever, sometimes chills, and sometimes
need to lie down. We've been extraordinarily healthy over the course of
this trip -- Monica
We went to a sitar performance. (one fo the cool things about New Delhi
is that there are free cultural events nearly every night.) A sitar seems
to have nearly as many strings as a piano. (It doesn't really but it seems
like it. I think the player only "plays" five or six of them.) And it
has moveable frets. If I had one of these babies, instead of a piano,
I could spend hours tuning it and entirely avoid the frustration of playing.
The performance itself was different that what one might see in western
music. A drummer and the sitar player sat on a low stage with microphones.
There were no song introductions. The sitar player started each "piece"
-- using the term here to mean "section or block of playing" rather than
a particular composition -- very slowly and without much rhythm. Sort
of making slow sounds on the strings. Then the pace picked up, the drummer
joined in, and it became more like a jazz concert but without recognizable
(to me) themes or recurring patterns. The sitar player might do one sort
of thing, for example plucking one string repeatedly while playing something
like a melody line over it, several times but didn't seem to return to
any of the patterns. Apparently an artist is judged on how well he creates
his own music within wide bounds set by the composer and by the general
practice of Indian music, not on whether he (in this case, she) reproduces
a composition. Of course, I may have the description of what happened
all wrong because I am not discerning enough to know what was really going
on. One piece of evidence that I am all wet came at the end of each of
her pieces. It was obvious that the audience knew when she was finished
with a piece, because everyone started clapping. Monica and I just looked
at each other and whispered, "How did they know she was done?" She played
perhaps 4 pieces in an hour and a half. The time passed unbelievably quickly.
I literally could not believe that my watch was correct. -- Mark
May 9 - New Delhi - We saw a guy driving a CNG rickshaw that wasn't
put together yet. It was new. CNG means compressed natural gas. It doesn't
let out any pollution. The roof and the wheel protectors were still in
their boxes. I think there were some of his friends who were going to
help him put it together. They were sitting in back with the boxes on
their laps. -- Maggie
We took Duncan and Maggie to a doctor recommended by Anil's sister-in-law,
who is from Delhi. No waiting and the doctor was efficient, knowledgeable,
and listened to us. I felt we were in good hands. He told us to call him
at home tonight to get the results of the blood test. With a blood test,
the visit cost $9.60. (When I went to the "emergency room" in
Kodai, it cost - complete with medicine - $7.70.) -- Mark
May 10 - New Delhi - Dehli is like Cairo - dusty, dry, polluted
and hot. The main difference is: in Cairo, no trees. Here? Lots. There's
also the tout difference. Here it's "Where are you going? Rickshaw,
right here!" There it's more "Taxi? Taxi? Taxi?" In Cairo
there's always another tourist to come along - constant business. Here
the only business is the few people who can breathe Delhi's opaque air.
For all I know we could be inside of a white plaster dome. The sky is
always white and sometimes has a brownish hue. Cairo's air wasn't clean,
but it at least got blue at times. In Cairo the oases in the city, like
the American University, seemed to have cleaner air. Here it's just thick
air and hard breathing. Still with the cool architectural sites, Delhi
is a good place to visit . . . in a gas mask. -- Duncan
Duncan and Maggie are back to their healthy selves again. One of the advantages
of Delhi is the opportunity to attend evening cultural events at two relatively
close venues (Delhi is very spread out.) We have seen traditional Kuchipudi
dance and music, a lecture by Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Jodi Williams,
concerning her involvement with the global campaign to ban landmines,
and spent this evening at a sitar recital. -- Monica
Okay. Maybe it's the hostage syndrome kicking in, but I am starting to
take a liking to the auto rickshaw drivers. They cannot make much money
and many of them sleep in their rickshaws. (People sleep on sidewalks,
median strips, and on ledges inside underpasses where any tossing or turning
would land them in a dark traffic lane.) Today, I let one of them take
me to a tourist shop, just so he could get a kickback - a coupon that,
if he collects about ten more, he can trade in for a t-shirt. In exchange,
he took me for free to a shop that sells cold beer. I think we're starting
to understand each other. -- Mark
May 11 - New Delhi - We went to a Hindu Temple, and I got some
ankle dancing bells. The bells are tied onto a pillow-like red and purple
cushion with string. I like to dance around the halls in the hotel. --
I think we're all getting a little antsy; it must be time to move on.
The temperature (105 degrees F today) and the pollution make us long to
hike in some mountains, but we still want to check out some places in
northern India before going to Nepal. Mark is frustrated about the lack
of progress on his brief, since we planned a longer stay in Delhi and
are staying at a nicer than normal hotel just so he could get it done.
Mark picked up our visas for China today, so aside from getting the Nepal
visas at the border, and the special permit for Tibet (if US relations
with China don't deteriorate further) in Kathmandu, we won't need any
more visas. -- Monica
May 12 - New Delhi - Today, when another group of Indian tourists
spontaneously directed us to pose for their pictures, my smile was a bit
forced. Monica and I had just passed on paying 50 times the Indian rate
to visit two archeological sites. (The prices were hiked to $10 apiece
in October.) The only bottled water available was selling at twice the
"maximum" price printed on the bottle. Our prepaid "tour
guide" was unexpectedly sketchy on the historical background of the
sites - "Built a long time ago. Very old." And we were getting
weary wading through guys selling the same postcards, carved stone elephants,
and miniature chess sets. Yet, as I stood there watching the head of the
Indian family moving Maggie to front row center, I just had to laugh and
think how lucky we are to be here to experience such things. I know it
sounds trite (or maybe I am getting softheaded in the sun), but it is
genuinely fun. -- Mark
We took a very disappointing tour of the sites in Delhi. We took a tour
from an agency, because the total price was less than the government tour
would be for all of us. (It was just us.) The first place we went was
India Gate. The driver stopped and asked us if we wanted to get out. He
wasn't a tour guide. It turned out all we were paying for was the ride.
India Gate was cool. It is a memorial for Indians who died in World War
I. Inscribed in the arch are their names. Behind the arch is a very beautiful
pavilion-like thing. It is a domish roof held up by four thin pillars.
When you look through the arch you see it. The next place we saw was a
tomb. The Taj Mahal was modeled after it. The tomb was a big red building
with a giant onion dome. It was really cool because the grave inside the
tomb was so solitary. Off to one side was my favorite thing - a gray stone
tomb. It did not have that classic Taj look; it looked older. The next
stop was the Baha'i Temple (the Lotus Temple.) It was smaller than I thought.
The temple had water around it so it looked even more like a lotus. The
inside was really bad: it looked like a modern church. The next place
was a big tower tomb. Next to it was a base of another tower. It was supposed
to be two times as high as the standing tower, but the person died before
the tower was complete, and they stopped building it. Between the two
was a ruined mosque. It was totally detailed. It was amazing. The next
place was the President's House. It looked like Dinotopia. There were
two identical buildings flanking the road to the giant black-domed building.
We went to go see if we could get some drums, but nobody would go down
in price. I wish we got drums. I would have said 50 dollars. -- Maggie
May 13 - New Delhi - Shopping at Dilli Haat was hot and touristy.
There was a certain style of clothing that I called the "tourist
style" because the clothes were made of different cloth with different
patterns and colors than the clothes I see Indians wearing. And the stuff
the stores were selling was the same stuff again and again. It was so
hot that it was sort of dream-like. I was tired and "out of it"
and disgusted with the shops, but I didn't want to complain. When we got
back I felt pretty good, and when we got in the pool I felt even better.
I bought a cool tunic with a long piece of cloth that's red with white
and black dots. It comes with pants. Mom took some pictures of me wearing
it. -- Maggie
May 14 - New Delhi - I need to confess that I am an idiot. When
I thought about India before this trip, I conjured up images colored in
the pale brown of sun-parched fields, the black of ancient and ongoing
filth, and the faded pastels of old clothing worn by a sea of poor people
moving through streets shoulder to shoulder. The thing that has surprised
me the most about India is the large middle class. Generally, the Indian
tourists we meet are middle class. They own cars and houses and computers.
They can compare beer brands and ISPs, attend recitals, and send their
children to expensive private schools. They communicate by e-mail and
cell phone. They wear Nikes and jeans. They idolize movie stars, watch
toothpaste ads featuring cutesy housewives, and follow the NBA. They are
well-educated, articulate, and smart. They travel widely. Having confessed
such an incredible and stupid misconception, I don't trust myself to describe
the truth. Yet, I would say with confidence, that most things anyone would
want are available in New Delhi and probably, many, many other places
in India. -- Mark
Duncan: The package looked kinda bizarre when it was ready to get mailed.
It had this white muslin cover sewn on. Along the seams, about two or
three inches apart were blobs of red wax. A kid put the blobs on by melting
sealing wax with a candle and then pushing it down with a bolt.
Maggie: This time not even the sealers checked what was in your package.
Duncan: Yeah, I thought it was weird that they didn't look in there. Everywhere
else they just about unpack everything.
Tote: Do they ask you to unpack everything at home?
Duncan: First, I thought that the guy was trying to be helpful and was
going to then ask for a tip.
Maggie: People did really go with him. That's because he was the only
sewer of the boxes.
Monica: He was in the courtyard of the Post Office.
Duncan: When he said, "you just go get the slips, it will be all
done when you get back," I thought that the stuff might not be there
when we got back. So, I stood there ready to sprint after someone if they
took off with the boxes.
Monica: People haven't been like that in India.
Duncan: . . . Then he asked for us to pay for the glue.
Monica: He's just trying to make as much money as he can from us. Sewing
up postal parcels is his business.
Duncan: 125 rupees for two boxes though?
Monica: Honey, he started at 300 apiece, so when we got him down to 125
for both, I thought we were doing pretty well.
Duncan: They used these big three-inch needles to sew on the cover. The
other thing is that they drew them way back and just jammed them in there.
Even when Duncan is an idiot, I still like him. -- Maggie
May 15 - New Delhi to Agra - We saw the Taj Mahal. It was all white,
and it looked like a postcard. We went inside. It was much smaller and
compact than I thought it would be. Two people are buried there. There
are 2 mosques on both sides of the Taj Mahal. My mom and I washed our
feet in the pool outside of the mosque. It felt good, because we had to
be barefooted and the stone was so hot. -- Maggie
We took an auto rickshaw to Lucky's, a restaurant. We could see the Taj
Mahal from the terrace. Before and after we ate, Mom read us a short story.
When we finished, we went to the Taj. When you go through the entrance,
you come to an antechamber with trees. Surrounding this area were walls.
After you walk a bit, when you turn to your left you see a big gate. The
gate hides the Taj Mahal itself, but when I got halfway through I could
suddenly see the whole thing. The dome was bigger than I thought, and
the entrance was way bigger. In all the pictures I had seen, there were
no people to give it perspective! We walked down the line of fountains
to the Taj. Around the doorway is Arabic writing and decorating other
parts are inlaid stone flowers. We went onto the raised platform that
it was standing on, and I noticed the Taj was the same all the way around.
The inside was small but around the two graves was a high stone screen.
The screen was not solid; it was made of flowers carved in stone. On both
sides of the Taj Mahal there are identical buildings. One was a mosque,
but the other was a pilgrimage place, because it didn't face east. The
Taj Mahal was truly amazing. -- Tote
Mark: Duncan, don't the outer towers lean outwards?
Duncan: Dad, this isn't Pisa and those are minarets.
Mark: No, I mean don't they look like they lean outwards?
Duncan: Yeah. Yeah, I guess so.
Mark: Am I losing it?
Duncan: No. They do look like they lean away. . . The Greeks would have
The Taj Mahal exceeded all my expectations. It is awe-inspiring, beautiful,
and peaceful, and - to give it the highest praise an American tourist
can bestow - it looked just like the pictures. -- Mark
May 16 - Agra to Kajuraho - I like India. I like how comfortable
it is. People are friendly, nice, ....helpful. On the bus Dad and I read
Harry Potter together. I think the men sitting in front of us listened,
too. -- Maggie
After awaking in Agra (Taj Mahal city) at 6 am and taking a 3 hour train
to Jhansi, we then took a 7 hour local bus ride to this small town. From
the hot, sweaty, crowded local bus we got into an auto rickshaw in the
dark and rain and were taken into town. While Mark and Tote wandered around
checking out hotels by flashlight (the power had gone out), Duncan, Maggie
and I sat in the lobby of a hotel and dozed. -- Monica
Sharing our spot on the rail platform are huge burlap sacks covered with
flies and filled with cow horns. Some of the horns are brightly painted.
The aroma is intriguing. -- Mark
May 17 - Kajuraho - We woke slowly. We wrote and did math, read,
ate a lot, and napped. Late in the afternoon, we walked out the gate at
the back of the garden and into the broad field which had become the weekly
Thursday market. We strolled around chatting with people as the sun set
and the air cooled a bit. -- Monica
We had the most extraordinary breakfast discussion about theoretical physics.
One of my children doesn't buy relativity. Another doesn't believe Newton.
What was exciting was that they defended their views with thoughtful arguments,
detail, and insight. A Briton who sat through the discussion at the next
table unnoticed buttonholed me as we were leaving and said, "That
was really an amazing thing. Do your children always talk like that?"
I pretended it happens all the time. -- Mark
We have small rooms but outside you would be soaked if you sat in the
sun for 5 minutes, because it is so hot...about 108 degrees. So right
now I am inside coloring the picture on my math book. The picture is of
two Hindu people. One is teaching the Hindu girl math.
May 18 - Khajuraho - Today, we walked through a quiet little part
of Khajuraho, down a pale tan, peaceful, dirt path, to the Eastern Temples.
Often, big green trees cast shade on the road. We were approached only
by children who wanted to invite our kids to play cricket. The kids examined
the temples carefully and then embarked on a long discussion about temple
architecture. They talked about the old temples and the new temples which
was just fine. They listened to each other and responded with relevant
points. But when they dragged in the domes in Florence and Gaudi's cathedral
in Barcelona, the discussion became sublime. The kids dragged us back
to look at one thing or another. We walked around pointing out parts of
the temples - no gauntlet of peacock feather or chess set salesment --
and we were relieved of the duty to stop repeatedly to chat with well-meaning
Indian tourists. When we walked over to one of the Southern Group temples,
it was very quiet and green. From the steps, we watched kids swimming
in the river. -- Mark
There are three things you need to know about visiting these second and
third world places. First, it's cool because it's way back in history
- they're not so modern, which I like. And there aren't as many rules,
and it's not as busy. Second, trash is everywhere. Lots of trash. Third,
touts and people trying to get money from us are all over. Everyone needs
money. -- Tote
We went to a puja at the Shiva temple. The people touched lots of stuff
and ate prasaad. This prasaad was blessed, yummy, dried rice. ("Prasaad"
means it's blessed yummy stuff.) There was also coconut in the rice. I
heard lots of people banging the gong when they came in, and people were
ringing bells and clanging gongs the whole time. Other people were chanting
and clapping. People touched everything that was in there. They put their
ears, their cheeks, their foreheads, and their hands to the big stone
that was in the middle of the temple. They touched the thing that looked
like a water spigot coming from the big rock. They touched a big statue
of Ganesh. They bowed to a lot of stuff, too. Everybody had their hands
together around the big rock. When they were going around the big stone
touching everything, they got to the guy who was giving out the prasaad,
he gave them stuff to make a red dot on their forehead with. I liked it,
because it was interesting. -- Maggie
Today we ate thali at a little dhaba (cook house) near the temples. Thali
is a tray of bread, rice, and whatever sauces they have in the kitchen.
Thali is more costly than most dishes at 30 rupees (about 60 cents), but
they keep refilling your plate, like a buffet. -- Duncan
May 19 - Kajuraho - Our hotel here costs 600 rupees for both rooms.
I wondered why they wouldn't go bankrupt, but then I found out they didn't
have a power generator. -- Tote
Many Indian tourists always want to take my picture. I am in, at the least,
40 pictures with Indian tourists. They usually say, "One photo, please?"
and then stand next to me. Usually they want our whole family with them.
So sometimes there are about 15 people in the picture. I think it is sort
of funny, because we don't know each other. But after the picture we kind
of get to know each other. We hardly see any Western tourists here in
India, but we see a lot of Indian tourists. My mom says that is partly
because it is summer vacation from school right now. -- Maggie
Everybody focuses on the statues and leaves the architecture. The architecture
is an added bonus. The art's evolution can be traced, but the main transition
is archtectural. The ancient temples tend to have towers with curve-sided
squares as their cross sections. Secondary spires surround the main top,
giving it a more pyramidal/templish look. The entire upper section is
usually carved with a flowery pattern. As the architects and workmen became
more careless, the temple style evolved to a more rounded top. Rarely
are there secondary spires, but those temples with them have only four
detached mini-spires. -- Duncan
For the past three mornings, I have gotten private yoga instruction in
the garden, to the accompaniment of many birdsongs, in the relative coolness
of 7a.m. When I arrive, a man about my age is just finishing and the two
elderly gentlemen who have been my teachers are silently meditating. I
take over the abandoned mat, and relax and meditate for a few minutes
before each of them "OMMMMMMs" and lays back and stretches. Then we begin
the postures. It has been wonderful. I would really benefit from doing
yoga every morning. One fellow is in his early seventies. He is retired,
but has started a new career as a tax accountant. He receives a pension
from the government, because he used to do something with the Ministry
of Agriculture, but his main career was thirty years practicing as a doctor
in Bhopal...a doctor of homeopathy, herbs, and yoga. The older, smaller,
very spry and agile man with a shock of white hair is silent...he can
do some incredible contortions.
I really enjoyed our 2 days examining the ancient temples of
Khajuraho. First, we went to the Eastern Group which included Jain temples,
built later which were less elaborate . . . didn't have all the carved
statues lining the outside walls. The Hindu temples, resplendent with
carved statues depicting religious stories and daily life include a woman
removing a thorn from her sole, elephants and warriors going to battle,
women inspecting themselves with mirrors (putting on makeup?), musicians
and dancers, and the famous erotic sculptures. After two days of inspecting
and photographing this art/architecture, it became apparent that many
of the statues, even the erotic ones, are copies - the same poses over
and over. I had a great time. I felt lighthearted and gay meandering amidst
sunlit erotic art and dark, cool inner temples. -- Monica
May 20 - Kajuraho to Varanasi (Benares) - In the evening,
about an hour before we left Kajuraho, Maggie suddenly started vomiting.
All the arrangements had been made, so we decided to go anyway and hope
for the best. We were taking a jeep to the train station in Mahoba, so we
knew we could stop if we needed to. Maggie only threw up the two times we
stopped to fix the flat tire. (Part of the route was single lane pavement
and part was just rutted dirt.) When we arrived at the station, the power
was out. We stacked the backpacks on the platform, and Maggie used them
like a bed. At one point, as she lay on her back, without moving, she started
vomiting an extraordinary amount of watery liquid. That really scared us,
because she didn't attempt to move or clear her airway. Mark and I immediately
got her on her side and then over to the edge of the platform. Tote cleaned
up the mess. Duncan stood there worrying for all of us and trying to keep
his own stomach under control. Of course a crowd instantly gathered around
us. People offered medicine and told us where to go for first aid. -- Monica
May 21 - Varanasi - When we climbed into our first class
train cabin (really fourth class, since there are three air conditioned
classes - but none on this train), we kicked out the squatters, pulled
out our sheet sacks, and everyone fell asleep to the roar of four overhead
fans and the rattle of the train. The boys slept soundly, but the pain
in Maggie's tummy made her restless and uncomfortable. I was aware of
this because I lay beside her, waking each time she moved. We seemed to
stop at every station. The windows were open, so the smells were intense:
train exhaust; urine; fruits and foliage; pakora, cutlets, and samosas
for sale. -- Monica
May 22 - Varanasi - We are in Varanasi now. I do not know anything
about it yet, because we are having a rest day. -- Maggie
At our hotel's restaurant, I discovered one of my favorite foods: momos.
The name is comical, but the food is delicious. They're Tibetan dumplings
- like soft wontons but more flavorful. They're stuffed with meat and
vegetables. The inside reminds me of Mongolian Barbecue. They're served
with a hot, tasteless pepper sauce. I don't like the northern Indian food
as much as the southern, because the north has less variety, but now,
those momos sure are something good. -- Duncan
We've checked into two air-conditioned rooms. We all want to work at feeling
healthy and strong before going trekking in Nepal. We're eating breakfast
in the garden. The sunlight has been creeping toward us, and the temperature
has started soaring upward. The silent gardener clips the grass along
the edge of the lawn by hand - he grabs a clump and cuts it off with a
knife, the lizards mate and scurry around, Duncan delights over a "fun"
math problem, the birds sing, Mark pays the breakfast bill - looking preoccupied.
When I came down here earlier to do yoga, Mark had already done laundry,
gone for a short run, and was sitting here quietly drinking tea and writing
out math lessons. -- Monica
I have not been out of the hotel, because I've been sick. So I can't say
what Varanasi looks like. Mom said that people claim it is the oldest
living city in the world, but I don't know how anything could be older
than Cairo or Alexandria. -- Tote
May 23 - Varanasi - Today we went to the River Ganges. It was
very hot. The sun was very hot. I liked seeing the people in their underwear
or bathing suits jumping into the water. There were a lot of pictures
painted on the walls of the elephant god (Ganesh), the monkey god (Hanuman),
and other gods who looked the same. -- Maggie
May 24 - Varanasi - We saw a cow in the middle of the road who
looked half dalmatian, because it had black spots. Cows are sacred in
India. No one eats beef or kills cows. They let cows roam around the streets,
eating trash and food from the street stalls when nobody's looking. They're
usually brown or black or white. Some cows' horns look like they're touching
each other. Some cows have a big hump on their back. Some cows sit in
the middle of the road. The bicycle riders and the rickshaw drivers and
the cars and buses go around the cows. I think nobody minds. -- Maggie
We went to the Ganges River at night. The first thing we saw was a red
glow coming from a doorway. Mom and I looked in. There were two people
performing a ritual. The glow was candlelight carried by incense smoke.
May 25 - Varanasi - Monica and the kids went off to a nearby pool
for a few hours, so I could work on some Earthlaw things. We've been constant
companions for nearly ten months, so I was surprised when I found myself
missing them. I love being with the kids and Monica. That is by far the
best thing about the trip for me. I am genuinely joyful, when they do
something cool or something hard. And they do cool and hard stuff pretty
often. Maggie runs off down the dusty street here, past rickshaw drivers
with betel-red lips, men sitting outside cook shops, and lumbering cows
munching on garbage piles to buy water and biscuits. She likes the whole
scene. The crew loves Indian buses though they are often so hot that sweat
curls the pages of our books and stains our clothing. They spent a night
in a horrible ferry terminal and didn't complain when their dad stuffed
them on two more buses before they could sleep. They walked through Tangiers
and fended off hustlers shouting that we would all be killed by robbers
and didn't panic when a guy attacked our taxi driver with a tire iron
during Ramadan. They smile and answer politely the same questions again
and again and again and pose cheerfully when someone wants one picture
and then another and another. I also enjoy it when they are delighted
by something. Most often, the things they really, really like are not
the things you would think. A kid doesn't really have the cultural background
to appreciate some of the "great" art we've seen, unless they like it,
or the historical sites, unless there are some graphic descriptions of
horrible bloodshed. So they point out things that I wouldn't look at otherwise.
They enjoy finding the correct path on the metro and explaining to their
mother that we've been in this spot before. They humor (and like) the
grumpy lady who runs our hotel in Athens. They like making riddles in
art museums and showing us their favorite pieces - typically things that
the museum has apparently included merely to fill space. They think it's
fun to buy weird stuff in the market and taste it. -- Mark
May 26 - Varanasi - We are in Varanasi. Yesterday we saw people
burning dead bodies at the ghats by the Ganges River. We also saw people
on a boat who had a dead body which they dropped in the river. It had
gold cloth wrapped around it. Hindus burn the dead bodies or drop them
in the water if they have smallpox, snakebite, leprosy, or if they are
under 7 years old, or if they are sadhus (very holy men with no possessions.)
They drop sadhus in the water instead of burning them because they are
"second gods" and people don't burn gods. I had a lemon sugar pancake
for breakfast at a restaurant near the river. -- Maggie
May 27 - Varanasi - We're still here in Varanasi, awaiting a package
from Grandma Hughes containing new filters for our water bottles. We'll
definitely want them on our Nepal trek. We hope they'll arrive tomorrow.
In the meantime we are about a week longer than planned for India, so
we'll probably have to cut our China time. I've loved India....just hanging
out here has been fine. I wish I could say, "I'm in no hurry....", but
this trip has sped by so quickly and time feels like it is going even
quicker now as we approach the second to last month on the road. -- Monica
Monica: When I told the people at the pool that this was the most difficult
place for us to connect the computer - and that was unexpected - they
all said, "Why?" I just thought that a country that exports
so many computer people would have the ability to . . . .
Mark: Ability, yes. But the problem here isn't ability. . .
Monica: I thought they would demand better . . .
Mark: But the problem isn't . . . .
Monica: Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. . .
Mark: The problem is the phone system. They still use pulse dialing here.
That's what? twenty years old? But it's not . . .
Monica: But you'd think that with all the computer people they export
. . . .
Mark: The difference is that places like Morocco just redid their whole
system. Things here are run by the State governments. . .
Monica: We haven't even gone to the less developed States . . . .
Mark: Yeah. But we've been other places where connecting was great. That
hotel in Chennai had the best internet connection I have seen in any hotel,
anywhere. Tamil Nadu had . . .
Monica: Well, Kerala . . .
Mark: It's just that you think that in these second and third world places
that the central government runs everything. At least I do . . . .
Monica: They don't run everything . . .
Mark: I mean, if there's an education system, it's the central government
that pays the teachers. If there are roads or bad roads, it's the central
Monica: But they don't do anything!
Mark: But it's still the central government that is doing it badly. Here
maybe it's the States. Maybe that's why the phones were good in the south
and lousy here.
. . . .
Mark: The guy at the desk says the phones are run by the central government.
Mark: But he wasn't too sure about some things. . . He says the phones
are bad here, because it's a small town and I should see Bihar. When I
told him Madurai was better, he just repeated "it's the big cities."
Maybe India is so big, nobody knows what other people are getting. . .
We spent most of the day at the pool at Clark's Hotel. When we were there,
we met a kid Maggie's age who lives here. We played all our games with
him, too. -- Duncan
May 28 - Varanasi - Alot of people get burned along the Ganga.
There are two buring ghats. (Ghats are steps and temple areas on the side
of the river.) The main one is my favorite. There is little ritual involved
when people are cremated. The one that is the most interesting is when
a priest takes some hay and lights the end. He walks around the pyre five
times, every time he puts the fire to the dead person's feed to let out
the five elements. He starts out slow but speeds up because the fire is
getting close to his hand. -- Tote
In the old part of Varanasi, the main danger to pedestrians is that of
being decked by a corpse. Chanting men trot through the narrow streets
bearing litters on their shoulders. On each litter is a corpse wrapped
in glittering cloth. The men are carrying the bodies down to the "buring
ghat" for cremation. The ghat and the roads to the ghat are lined
with the cremation industry: men who sell wood, apparently by weight,
shops that sell glittering funeral cloth and incense, people who build
and tend the pyres, and those who light them. There's nothing very solemn
about a cremation, and the ceremony is minimal. Tourists are welcome to
gape as the bearers dip the litters in the Ganges, young men plop logs
down on ground blackened by many other fires, and people remove the bright
cloths and place the shrouded bodies atop a thigh-high stack of thick
logs (sometimes pillowing the corpse's head with a log.) The pyres are
topped off with about another foot of sticks.The pyres are shorter than
the bodies. (It was a bit of a shock to see shrouded feet sticking out
of the piles.) The heads stick out of the top. A priest carrying burning
grass, circles the pyre five times before lighting it. The pyres didn't
exactly burst into flame - the logs at the bottom were pretty substantial
- 8 or 10 inches in diameter. Since it takes about three hours per cremation,
there were perhaps four or five fires burning while we were there, and
a queue of wrapped up bodies, already dipped, waited their turn -- some
on a great stack of ashes, one sat with its feet resting in the Ganges.
Usually, the smoke smelled just like burning wood. -- Mark
Mark: How much is this Harry Potter?
Bookstore guy: 225 rupees.
Mark: I think its a knock off, isn't it? Look at how these pages are centered.
Bookstore guy: Maybe I can give you a discount if it's like that. . .
[consults some sheets pulled from beneath the desk] . . . how about 150
Mark: Who prints these things? Where do you get these things?
Bookstore guy: Usually small presses that do normal books and then they
do a few of these too. Things are complicated these days. You order 100.
. . you might get 20 of this kind in an order of 100. They slip a few
Mark: It's amazing how close to the original it is. I mean, you can tell
because of the quality, but not at first glance. We saw them in Delhi
for . . what . . 70 rupees.
Bookstore guy: They've started to do art books, too. I saw them in Delhi.
Not very many yet but some. There are some editions that only come out
Mark: Like the last Harry Potter. I don't think you can find that anywhere
else in paperback.
Bookstore guy: Hmm. Well I think this thing is more common in India -
in Southeast Asia. My brother brought back CDs from Malaysia of movies
in Hindi. They were absolutely perfect. And of course computer software.
Mark: Where do you buy computer software?
Bookstore guy: Who knows. No one buys it. An Indian family cannot afford
10,000 rupees for Windows. It's ridiculous.
Mark: You mean there's knock offs of Windows and things like that?
Bookstore guy: Well mainly people pass it around. I think that it's fair.
I mean if they sold it for some reasonable price here, it might make sense,
but no one can afford it. I think it's okay when they charge that much.
I mean who can buy it if it's that much? If I just sold originals, I'd
have to close up. No one would buy things here. I need to close the door
because everyone sells them. There are books that aren't available here
except in those editions.
. . .
Monica: Mark, do you think they can refill these water bottles?
Mark: You mean put seals on them, so they look like pure water?
Mark: Well, I suppose if they can print fake books they can come up with
fake mineral water.
Ghat shopowner: Varanasi is dirty.
Mark: Dirty! I think it's pretty clean. . . compared to Mumbai or . .
Ghat shopowner: No. It's dirty. People just spit everywhere.
Mark: That's true. You're right.
Ghat shopowner: And they just . . . cigarettes . . . spit, on the ground.
They buy something . . . on the ground.
Mark: Yeah. But over all it's a pretty clean place. Especially around
Monica: Relatively speaking. You can't call anyplace in India clean.
Ghat shopowner: I have a friend from Japan. He says when you buy something
you put the [mimes someone removing packaging]. . . in a bag and then
you put the bag in a box.
Mark: A garbage can.
Ghat shopowner: A box. They have boxes everywhere and people wait and
put things in the box.
Mark: We have those in the United States - America - too.
Ghat shopowner: Really? No. In Japan they have boxes on the street and
in the shops. People don't throw things . . .
Mark: Monica, here's the guy you want for your Indian cleanup project.
Monica: Well maybe a supporter.
Monica is a natural Hindu. Monica has never let a difference of opinion
between herself and The Church's doctrine stand in the way of her enjoyment
of the ritual - the smell of the incense, the priest, the scent of the
altar flowers. (In fact, in cases of disagreement, Monica has faith that
the Catholic church will one day come around and see things her way.)
She also loves holidays, and Catholicism gives her plenty of opportunity
for special celebrations and special rituals. Yet, Catholicism's rituals
and celebrations are soggy cornflakes and weak tea compared to Hinduism's
eggs, bacon and black coffee - or maybe I should say idlis and spicy sambal.
Hindus do rituals in a big way - fire, smoke, food offerings, incense,
annointing statues with spices, chanting, parades with statues clothed
in beautiful garments, clapping, phallic symbols, fertility symbols, kissing,
bowing, chanting, and bellringing. And that's every day and nearly everywhere.
Holidays and celebrations are even a bigger deal. Hinduism is also a natural
fit to Monica's relaxed view of religious doctrine. There are innumerable
gods and avatars and incarnations, and generally, there's room for everyone
to worship one of these things or another in a way they find comfortable
and useful. -- Mark
May 29 - Varanasi - We are waiting for a package of water filters,
before we head to Nepal. We are all anxious to get on the road to Nepal
and go hiking again. We spent the day on travel arrangements and a couple
post-trip errands - mailing Duncan's high school registration packet was
one of them. I think we all sense the end of the Big Trip is just around
the corner. We've spent nearly two months in India, and we have only two
months left for Nepal, Tibet, and China. We are all anxious to get moving
again. -- Mark
May 30 - Varanasi - Just discovered that our long-awaited package
is lost. The culprit is the U.S. Postal Service. This is a bit amusing
since we've successfully sent packages home from most of the countries
we have visited. Reliable places like England and France; less reliable
spots like Spain and Greece; and postal services that our guidebooks have
said to avoid, those in Italy and Morocco. So far, everything we've committed
to the care of a foreign post office has arrived safely. A trace on the
package my Mom sent from the U.S. Postal Service Office in DeKalb shows
that it was lost almost instantly -- somewhere between the counter and
the airport. The clerk's best guess is that it was lost before it left
the building. -- Mark
May 31 - Varanasi to Pokhara, Nepal - Nepal looks like a third-world
country as produced by Hollywood. It's excitingly clean, beautifully green,
and has loads of completely ridiculous police gates manned by officers
who are unwilling to explain why you owe them money. Leaving aside the
visa process to get the five of us into Nepal (the Nepal visa office will
not accept Nepalese money or Indian money -- only U.S. dollars and that
must be cash, not traveller's checks. But we knew this ahead of time),
driving our hired Indian car into Nepal required two separate permits
(three lines) at the border and another at an office 10 or 20 km later.
For the third one, we needed to produce photocopies of the forms from
the first and second stops which required finding a photocopy shop. (We
had to pay for all the car permits in Nepalese rupees which required a
trip to one of the extortionate money changers. Everyone else accepts
Indian rupees.) No one except our driver, who ordinarily drives a bus
along this route, would have been able to find the third place, and I
never would have seen the first two. The most entertaining thing about
these stops is that the offices have piles and piles of the completed
forms, covered with dust, lining the walls and flowing onto the floor.
At each police checkpoint, policemen scrutinized all our vehicle documents
carefully - not one ever looked at our visas. (Our driver firmly believes
all the hassle is because he is Indian, though he was unfailingly polite
to all of the guards. At one stop, in the dark, he had to read the VIN
off the engine block while Nepalese cars zipped past.) Despite all our
driver's efforts, we were "fined" twice anyway. I suspect it's
faster and probably cheaper just to negotiate a "fine" at each
checkpoint. -- Mark
After crossing the border I felt like we had indeed come to another country.
The landscape became greener and lusher. And conspicuously absent was
LITTER. Nepal is amazingly clean compared to India. I was very sleepy,
and Tote and Maggie leaned on me quietly asleep. The air rushing in our
windows was humid but cooler than the Indian heat, a welcome change.
Our driver, Anand, was a nice guy . . . quiet, respectful,
good driver. He complained a little bit about Nepal and Nepali people,
with a sense of Indian pride. But now I understand where he is coming
from: he's an Indian driver in Nepal, so he's hassled and overcharged
(though less that us "foreigners.") At one checkpoint I got
out and ordered us 6 glasses of tea. I was surprised at the price so I
asked Anand what the "regular" price is. He said Nepalis pay
Rs 3, Indians pay Rs 5, and foreigners pay Rs 6. -- Monica
June 1 - Pokhara -
Tourist to Maggie: I'll bet you miss home. What do you miss?
Maggie: I miss Greece.
I bought a curved knife. People use it for gardening. It looks like a
hook with a wooden handle. I asked a man if he had . . . I showed him
the shape with my finger. He showed me all the sizes and I asked him how
much for the small one. He said 35 rupees. I said we might come back.
We looked around but didn't find any other ones. When we went back, a
lady weighed the medium one, they sell them by weight, and she said 44
rupees. I said, "How about 40?" and she said "OK."
After 6 weeks of travelling around India with Indian tourists, it was
a bit disconcerting to see so many foreign tourists in Varanasi. But if
we thought that was touristy, Pokhara (and it's off-season here) is a
foreign tourist haven. At least here in Lakeside. When Tote, Maggie, and
I took the bus up to the bazaar area in the northern end of the city,
we didn't see one foreigner the whole afternoon. I've noticed that although
there are areas of cities where tourists converge, the tourists don't
seem to want to interact. Either they wish to give others privacy and
"space," or they simply ignore each other. It's kind of weird.
Every once in awhile I meet someone who wants to chat. That can be entertaining
and fun (and sometimes informative). Other times it's just plain goofy
. . . listening to someone complain about food, people, accommodations.
This area of Pokhara has that sort of odd, strained feeling of Benidorm
- that weird British tourist and karaoke destination in southern Spain
in which we inadvertently spent the night. The main streets are lined
entirely with places catering to tourists, including bars advertising
happy hours and listing the movie video showing tonight ("Dinner
and a Movie".) The people are nice; the streets are clean; the shops
are filled with cameras and video walkmen; there's an ATM machine; virtually
no traffic; the signs are new; even the mud - unmixed with garbage - looks
clean. As Duncan said, if there were a Disneyland India, it would look
like this. -- Mark
Nepal is really different from India. It is cooler in temperature, and
the people are more oriental. And the kids seem happier towards each other.
In India we didn't really see the kids smile and laugh with each other.
Pokhara is the most touristy place on the trip. Well, not all of Pokhara,
just Lakeside (a part of Pokhara.) Pokhara has everything; anything you
want is here. This is probably from all of the tourists. I found a kukri
in a wooden sheath on one of the shelves of a bookstore. The shopowner
took it out and put a deep scratch in some metal with it. He said, "This
is not a tourist kukri. This is a real one." I believe him. -- Tote
June 2 - Pokhara - We just heard that nearly all the Nepal royal
family was murdered last night. This could be interesting. -- Mark
Today, Tote and I kept trying to get him a kukuri. It's a cool kukuri
with a wooden sheath. Duncan got a kukuri with a leather sheath and throwing
knife. Hopefully we will go trekking in couple of days, even if there
will be leeches. I think it will be fun to go. I tried cutting grass at
the hotel with my sickle. -- Maggie
June 3 - Pokhara - Today I bought a kukuri. A kukuri is a traditional
Nepalese knife used by the Nepalese Army and by Nepalis on the farm and
in the kitchen. It looks like a thick, heavy, one-sided dagger but bent.
Every day I went to the bookstore and tried to trade all our books for
the kukuri. When the value of the books reached the value of the kukuri,
they still didn't accept the trade, and they asked for more. I tried several
times to convince them, but when they didn't agree, I took the books to
other shops and sold them. I sold some of them for 450 rupees. But the
other four books were only worth 250, and I couldn't get any other store
to buy them. The shop with the kukuri took the four books and the 450
rupees for the kukuri. After I bought the kukuri, I told the people what
I had done. They laughed, because they never thought I would go sell my
other books to other stores. -- Tote
Tonight we ate at a restaurant along Pokhara's main street, at least the
main street through the "Lakeside" area. As it was getting late,
we decided to just bite the bullet and got to an overpriced place. The
place was pretty full, which Mom thought was a good sign. After a half
hour, Tote went downstairs and got some menus. After deciding on our orders,
Mom wrote them out on a sheet of paper. After another half hour, the server
came and copied the orders into his booklet and went away. About an hour
later, Mom, Dad, and Dooz got their food. In the course of the next half
hour they ate and complained about the food's tastelessness. After another
half hour, we finally left to go home and eat biscuits. We never did get
our food. This all seems very funny, and I'm convinced it will seem more
so looking back. -- Duncan
Inspired by Tote's success selling our books, Maggie traipsed around town
for several hours trying to sell her spare pair of pants. She finally
accepted Rs 50 which she then spent on a hat. -- Mark
June 4 - Pokhara to Galeswor - We walked for an hour after being
on the bus for five hours. The bus ride was scary and interesting. The
scary part was being 4 or 5 feet away from a cliff with no room for a
car to pass you. The interesting part was having a goat on the bus with
its owner right in the doorway. We've walked across two suspension bridges.
One of the suspension bridges was metal. I think that one was the scarier
bridge. My dad thinks that the wood suspension bridge is scarier, but
I think the wood one is more fun. The coolest part about it is the rock
that covers up the hole in the bridge. These bridges move so much I don't
like to stand in the middle. -- Maggie
Today, Reuters reported that the King's brother (make that the former
King's brother) has declared that the shooting was an accident. Twelve
people were killed accidently? No one here believes it. The Nepali constitution
requires that the King's son succeed the King, though initial reports
said the son had done the shooting and then shot himself. Reportedly only
a respirator keeps the son alive. Perhaps the King's brother doesn't wish
to speak ill of the almost dead. -- Mark
June 5 - Galeswor to Tatopani - We walked 5 or 6 hours down a
rocky pathway. Me and Duncan played "obstacle trek challenge."
We went through "Slippery Stone Stairway,""Cliff Creek
Crossing," and "Wrath of Slippery Stones." After that we
went through "Mud Bath,""One Wrong Move," "Mucky
Mire,""Spike Rock Peak," and "Slideaway Ledge."
We beat the other teams, but we don't know who will come in first. --
The hike was beautiful. The birdsongs were varied, the pink and purple
flowers were plentiful, many colorful butterflies, tiny red beetles, little
quiet villages, lots of bright green cornfields and rice paddies, mule
trains jangling and clanging as they plod along. We had heard and read
to expect lots of leeches, but have encountered none. The trekking path
is a genuine conduit, a passage for goods and people going from village
to village. For lunch we ate dal bhat at a little tea house. It was delicious
. . . so was the milky, sweet tea. -- Monica
Monica has now taken over 7000 photos. About half are on this website.
If we were using film, instead of a digital camera, that would be nearly
200, 36 exposure, rolls. -- Mark June 6 - Tatopani - Everyone has
"news" or a rumor to relate about the royal massacre. We hear
there are riots in Kathmandu, a curfew, and some sort of fighting in Pokhara.
A goofy American lady who has worked in Nepal for a few years says civil
war is inevitable. She says the country is simply too divided ethnically
and that, given the opportunity, some groups will seek revenge on others.
Another fellow claims that 300 people were killed at the palace. -- Mark
To celebrate my birthday, we got a chocolate cake. My presents were a
bracelet, a tiny metal pot to mix potions in, a sweat cloth, and gum from
Mommy, Daddy, Duncan, and Tote. Kris and Veerle, some friends that we
met on the trek, got me chocolate, fruity candy, gum, and caramel for
a snack bag refill. -- Maggie
We had a most fine couple of hours in the late afternoon down by the Kali
Gandaki riverside. There's a hot spring, and people have built three pools,
but the water was much too hot. The children were immediately busy: Tote
collected and sorted rocks by color and arranged them neatly on a boulder
while Duncan built a tower beside Tote's art. Meanwhile Maggie found treasures
and created a fishing line with a handle and a float. -- Monica
June 7 - Tatopani to Ghasa - Today is Maggie's birthday. Just
like Duncan's, which was in Venkateshwara, it was a good day. We walked
through the Kali Gandaki gorge until we came to a waterfall. To cross
the water coming off the waterfall we had to go on an old bridge. One
side of the bridge had broken. Some friends told us that there was a place
near the waterfall that you could swim in. Of course we went. Duncan and
I built small dams. Later in the day we went through an area where a bridge
had fallen out, and we had to take an older bridge. Later we met some
Nepali students whose friend had fallen off the older bridge and drowned.
So far the trek is Coooool!!! -- Tote
The landscape has changed. Pine trees and thin bamboo are replacing the
subtropical plants, banana trees and thick bamboo. I brushed up against
nettles at one rest break. I gasped and looked up, wondering what to do
as the sting immediately began to burn. A Nepali fellow sitting up the
path a bit mimed to take snot from my nose and rub it on the stinging
area of my leg. Well, I did it, and the sting did quickly subside. It
just tingled for the rest of the day. -- Monica
I don't think Maggie could have had a more spectacular birthday. The kids
swim in a giant waterfall that, when we look back on it, plunges in a
smooth, white arc to the middle of the deep, green gorge. We glimpse Nilgiri
and Annapurna, white and black and sharp and clear as can be. We walk
along a trail carved high on one side of the gorge. We can hear and sometimes
-- careful not to lean too far out -- see, the river, tearing along the
bottom, grey, frothy, and frightening. Across the gorge we can see parts
of the old trail. The cliff sheared off again and again, taking the trail
with it and defying all attempts to keep it open. Near where a new suspension
bridge recently tumbled into the gorge, the victim of wind or a rockslide,
our trail narrows to the width of my backpack. The path inches across
places where the cliff face has sheered off on this side. The kids know
to pay attention without me telling them, and I'm genuinely surprised
at how certain I am that they know how to do this stuff. I cross first
and when I look back, I can see how the "trail" is just a narrow
crease in the face of the cliff. Below the crease I can see the sheer
gray wall dropping away vertically and the river that from here seems
so far away. As Monica and the kids cross, I cannot stop myself from mentally
measuring the centimeters that separate the edges of their shoes from
the brink. In the evening we share the guesthouse with a group of Nepali
students searching for the body of a friend who fell into the gorge. --
June 8 - Ghasa to Kalopani - I find myself looking high up in
the sky, where there couldn't possibly be a mountain, to look for mountains,
and sometimes I see one. Here, there is an incredible peak outside every
single window. Tonight, we drank yeasty, local rice "beer" with
Kris and Veerle, two wonderful Belgians nearing the end of their yearlong
cycling trip. (Veerle says they don't mind us, because we are "travellers"
and not tourists.) We taught Kris and Veerle to play Hearts, and they
immediately trounced us. At the next table, some Nepali teachers urged
us to try the local distilled beverage which they were drinking hot. It
wasn't bad stuff but not very good either. -- Mark
As we go north, up the river, the people are changing too. People here
look more Tibetan than lower down. I sure wish I could speak Nepali. I
would love to converse and learn. Instead, I smile and say "namaste."
June 9 - Kalopani to Marpha - After asking a mule train guy which
way to go, we went down a path into the riverbed, which looked like a
lake bed at this point. We walked along the path but eventually had to
wade across the stream. Later, in the center of the path, there were strings
of prayer wheels. (You spin them clockwise.) Marpha is a town that looks
like stone heaps taken right from the mountains. -- Tote
As our year winds down, I am realizing just how short a year is. -- Mark
We went to a monastery. The monastery was very colorful. I like all the
pictures, but I like the prayer wheels better. I spun every single prayer
wheel. It gets tiring for your hands. I like spinning the prayer wheels
any way, because they are fun to do. I even spun the giant one that was
red and gold. -- Maggie
Massive, snow-clad, sharply-jagged peaks ring Kalopani. We're in the guest
house dining room drinking our morning "milk tea" and exclaiming
over the peaks we're getting glimpses of as the layers of clouds shift.
Every once in awhile we run outside to the flagstone path that winds through
the village to get a better view. Local folks get a kick out of us, because
they live amdst this spectacular beauty. Peaks jut up in every direction
you look. Maggie is eating popcorn for breakfast. Tote has ordered Tibetan
bread. I hear roosters crowing, and the young girl wiping down the planked,
wooden floor, Sita, is humming a tune. -- Monica
June 10 - Marpha to Kagbeni - Marpha reminds me of a pueblo. Tons
of stone buildings tossed onto each other. Roofs rimmed with wood for
fires. Prayer flags along tall poles snap and crack in the wind that sweeps
endlessly down this arid canyon pulling dust in its wake. In the monastery
perched atop the town, prayer wheels are spun. Their rattling and sometimes
squeaking scattered on the breeze along with the prayers sealed inside.
Intricately painted and carved Buddha statues meditate behind images of
the royal family. The cliffs and bluffs surrounding Marpha on three sides
protect the town from the airborne dust. The river, steely gray, still
rushes in its rocky bed beyond apple orchards and mule caravan paths.
Bathed in dust and hulls from threshed grain, the path winds on past tablets
in Tibetan calligraphy and low, bland-colored brush. -- Duncan
Can there be anything better than this? The big river rocks, sun, wind,
and sand made hiking difficult in places. I tell Maggie stories to keep
her interested, but when I hear her singing happily to herself I realize
she is doing just fine without me. Without batting an eye, the kids ordered
and ate yak momos and Tibetan bread for lunch. They hike, not only without
complaining, but actually marveling at the landscape. They point out peaks
and notice the visual drama of a slender bridge strung across a windy
gorge and the contrast between the dark cliffs and the bright light reflected
from the tangled channels of the braided river. -- Mark
June 11 - Kagbeni - Typical trekkers, we've been staying at "guest
houses" along the way. The rooms are simple but very cheap - last
night, for a double and a triple room, we paid $1.60. Tonight we will
pay about $2.10. Though the rooms are cheap, you are expected to eat in
the guesthouse. The innkeeper really makes money on the meals. In general,
all the guest houses in a town charge the same prices for lodging and
for food. Often the menu is produced by some local tourist committee and
is exactly the same in every guest house. The idea is that innkeepers
will compete by increasing quality rather than decreasing prices, though
I am not sure that all the innkeepers realize this. So, the game is to
find the cleanest, nicest rooms, inspect the common toilets and bath,
and then guess about whether the food will be good or not. Generally,
a good innkeeper has both tidy rooms and good food. The innkeepers encourage
us to order dinner and to choose a time we'd like to eat as soon as we
set down our backpacks. It's rather elegant to begin dinner at the appointed
time, though the different dishes arrive in fits and starts. The innkeeper
keeps a list of everything ordered in a book, and at the end of the stay,
the innkeeper and I sit down with the calculator and the list and add
everything up. It's been extraordinarily convenient and hassle-free. --
Kagbeni's historic role was as an important city along the salt trade
route. It was a walled village and some of its walls are still here. Inside
are lots of dark paths and alleyways with various levels of living spaces
for animals and people. Ancient-looking doorways and windows with shrines,
chortens, carved stone tablets and prayer wheels add to the medieval quality.
I really enjoyed exploring the pathways, smiling at people I met, trying
to ask questions with hand gestures. The monastery is named Kag Chode
Thupten Samphel Ling. It was founded in 1429. Duncan and Tote particularly
enjoyed analyzing the wheel of life painting. The monk who showed us around
blew the conch, sprinkled holy water, poured each of us a handful of holy
water to drink (we didn't), and with which to annoint heads, ears, eyes,
etc. (we did.) He tried to understand and answer our English questions,
and he led us up to the roof to appreciate the awesome scenery.
Accomodation here is cheap, but food is expensive. A 650 ml
bottle of beer costs half again as much as our rooms (of course the bottle
of beer had to come by mule train!), so Mark and I (and Kris and Veerle)
have now sampled cider (hard), chhyang from rice, chhyang from wheat,
and roxie (distilled chhyang?) My favorite has been the apple cider which
tastes like Liberian palm wine. -- Monica
June 12 - Kagbeni to Muktinath - Overlooking Muktinath, a heap
of temples, chortens, creeks, and prayer flags, is a Scottish-style hill
on which we found blue and yellow mini-prayer flags, as well as printed
prayers on small pieces of paper and a long white prayer flag. From the
hill, amongst the kelly green leaved trees and thick webs of all kinds
of prayer flags can be seen the golden top of a pagoda-style temple ringed
with all sizes of hanging bells and a semi-circle of metal bulls' heads
spitting forth streams of holy water that cascade down beneath the prayer
flags and join into a stream that once turned a water-propelled prayer
wheel, no longer spinning since it lost its paddles. -- Duncan
Today we went on a hike to Muktinath. Muktinath has a couple monasteries
and a long, long line of prayer wheels. The couple of last ones were made
out of powdered milk cans. We found lots of prayer flags and spider web-types
of things tied to trees. Most of the temples weren't that interesting
but I liked to ding the bells, if I could reach them. The bells were very
decorated. Some of the bells had little metal statues on the top, and
some of them were plain. On the way back from Muktinath, I saw some people
wearing scarves. I decided I want to get a loom when I get back home.
I thought it was cool, and I could make blankets and a scarf. -- Maggie
As the sun sets, it's twilight, and we're upstairs in the dining hall
looking out the windows at village life and the stunning snowcapped peaks
in every direction. The clouds are continuously shifting and evolving;
exposing, hiding, revealing, then masking again. I suspect that during
trekking season maybe there are cloudless blue skies, with spectacular
peaks clearly visible at all times. I'm sure it would be beautiful and
awesome, but I cannot help but appreciate the continuously shifting quality
of the the panorama we've been seeing. It's magical and mysterious. You
never know what is about to loom out or when a stunning peak is obscured
and a peak to its left or right is revealed. After visiting the temples
today, I slowly ascended the hill and found a rock to sit upon near Maggie
and Mark. A saddhu joins us; his companions go on . . . two of them running
and laughing together. Our friend smiles . . . beaming . . . then he runs.
. . Mark runs after him, comes back breathing hard. I'm drawn back to
the temples and shrines. I want to ring bells and place flowers picked
on the hillside beside images and statues. -- Monica
We have visited many poor and dirty places but, I cannot recall seeing
dirtier people than those in Muktinath. In Bombay, women picking through
trash heaps wore clean, brightly colored saris. The towns in the Kali
Gandaki valley were neat and tidy. Here, middle-aged women running prosperous
hotels wear soiled dresses and prepare our food with grimy hands. Faces
and hands are filthy. Though there's plenty of clean, running water, the
children look as though they have never been bathed, had their noses wiped,
or changed clothes. There is enough dung in the kitchen to make it look
and smell like a corral, and the adults watch kids poop on the doorstep.
It doesn't help that an open sewer runs through a ditch down the middle
of the main path through town or that a drizzle has turned the place into
a mud slick. -- Mark
June 13 - Muktinath to Jomsom - The kids amaze me almost every
day. Today, Maggie didn't just accompany me on my search for a place to
stay. While I checked one place, she insisted on checking out other places
on her own. She just walked in by herself and asked to look at the rooms.
Then she examined the toilets and bathrooms, priced dal bhat on the menu,
and gave me a full report. I cannot imagine what the innkeepers thought,
but they showed her everything she wanted to see. (Among the things she
noticed was that one room had a "reading light that Mom would like.")
June 14 - Jomsom to Pokhara - Our plane flight from Jomson to
Pokhara was my favorite flight ever. To take off, we drove along the runway
really fast; the runway is elevated, so when it ends you are airborne.
The flight seemed to be level once we took off. Sometimes things were
far below us; sometimes we came really close to mountains and ridges.
I thought I had a great view because the wing was right above me, and
I could just see the wheel at the edge of my vision. The wing and the
wheel gave me great perspective. They stayed in one place while everything
else was moving. -- Duncan
Our plane was the smallest plane I've ever flown in. I liked that I could
see the pilot. I like how he flew right down the canyon. At one point
the sides were really close. It was really cool. When we took off, the
plane went really fast right away - not like a jet. -- Tote
The streets of Pokhara are empty tonight. Over the squish (and occasionally
the splash) of my sandals as I thread my way up the wet street, I can
hear the telecast which has just announced the official version of who
killed the royal family - first in Nepali and then, curiously, in English.
(I suppose English really is the latest lingua franca.) We listened to
most of the telecast in a restaurant. The report describes, minute by
minute, how the crown prince drank whiskey, smoked hashish, telephoned
a young woman, dressed himself in combat fatigues, and strolled through
the palace shooting his family with an automatic weapon. As an American,
though the setting is a palace and not a post office or a playground,
the story is familiar. Nonetheless, not one of the Nepalis I talked to
believes the crown prince killed his family. To demonstrate how impossible
the official version is, one fellow spread out a wrinkled newspaper photo
of a happy prince holding a child - a child he eventually shot.
Everyone predicts trouble in Kathmandu. As if on cue, shortly
after the telecast ends, the power goes out in Pokhara. Delayed paying
the bill, I stumble up the rocky street to our hotel alone. The hotel
is absolutely silent. There's not a single member of the staff around.
I feel my way to the kids' room where Monica has found a flashlight and
is putting the children to bed by its weak light. I wonder whether it
wouldn't be wiser to all sleep in the same room tonight. I go out to buy
candles, and the shopkeeper talks in murmers. After I light two candles
for the kids, the power comes back on. Maggie is already asleep, but the
rest of us are relieved. -- Mark
June 15 - Pokhara - Yesterday, Maggie walked around town by herself
shopping for a Nepali jacket. Many places started at Rs 650; she bargained
them down to Rs 400. Last evening she found a used one for Rs 300, but
when she took her brothers to look at it, they discovered several holes
and torn seams. Today, she finally talked one shop down to Rs 300 for
a new one. She stopped at the shop about every hour all day long to check
on the progress. Finally, tonight she turned up wearing it. She is, needless
to say, very happy. -- Monica
The owner of our hotel has just returned from Kathmandu. He says no one
believes that the crown prince did the shooting. Everyone believes it
is a conspiracy. He showed us a picture he just purchased of the royal
family. In Pokhara, the police driving around town packed 7 or 8 in an
SUV, apparently a show of force. Passing knots of men chatting, one can
hear the names of the deceased king and of the new king. There's no trouble,
and no one seems particularly concerned about violence. -- Mark
June 16 - Pokhara - I finally found a place to connect our computer
to the internet, and at a comparatively reasonable rate. Unfortunately
the connection was so slow, Duncan and I calculated it would take nearly
16 hours to post all the new photos. -- Mark
Here's my idea of how the king was killed. First, the prime minister tells
his bodyguard to open fire. Two, the royal family is (mostly) killed.
Three, the prime minister tells the current king (the king's brother)
to burn the bodies without an autopsy. Four, the king complies, and the
top snobs think up some cock and bull story to tell the population. Here
are my reasons. First, one or two days before the "massacre"
the prime minister was being protested. This crisis took people's minds
off that. Second, certainly mysteriously, the new king and the
prime minister are of the same political party. Hmmm . . . suspicious?
Nobody believes what the top snobs said: the crown prince, drunk,
got into combat fatigues (that happened to be in his closet) and picked
up a rifle that shoots 15 rounds per second (that's from his closet, too)
and went down to the billiard hall and started shooting people and then
himself. -- Duncan
June 17 - Pokhara to Kathmandu - We left Pokhara early. We arrived
in Kathmandu after only a couple delays and a couple scheduled stops:
breakfast and a flat tire and then the stop where we were all lined up
on both sides of the giant crane which had arrived an hour or so before
we did to hoist a truck out of the river. The truck had plunged off the
cliff two days before, killing two people and two are missing. After an
hour of milling around trading rumors, the crane withdrew. The truck remained
embedded in the riverbank. Our final stop was for lunch: 5 dal bhat. --
We've grown so accustomed to having people strike up conversations with
us, that the "tourist bus" is a bit of a shock. We invariably
meet someone interesting on our bus rides. On this bus very few people
talked with one another. Nearly everyone was a "westerner,"
and westerners don't typically talk to strangers -- or maybe they just
don't find one another very interesting. Of course, they didn't talk to
the Nepalese, either. -- Mark
June 18 - Kathmandu - Kathmandu is terribly touristy. The streets
are lined with ugly gold-decorated kukuris and superexpensive prayer wheels.
The stench of incense fills the air, along with the incessant honking,
chatter, and the "Yes . . . ?", "Look sir?", "You
like this?", "Your shoes are broken. I fix?", and, as always,
"rickshaw?" We're back in a city and, like math, even if you
don't do it for a while, you get sick of it just as fast. -- Duncan
Construction methods in Nepal are different than those in the States.
Gravel is often created on the spot from large rocks. Men and women use
hammers to break big rocks into small ones. It actually goes pretty fast.
Along the Kali Gandaki most buildings were made of stone blocks, also
created on the spot by fellows with hammers. Today, across the street,
a large crew is filling forms with cement. It takes lots of people. A
group hauls gravel and sand from offsite in baskets to a spot near a cement
mixer. At the cement mixer, a fellow with a shovel fills shallow baskets
with cement. A line of men, like a bucket brigade, passes the baskets
along, and the final guy dumps the cement in the form. -- Mark
I have just been reading comic books about the Hindu gods. They are really
cool. They have lots of wars. It's like the real world except the gods
intervene a lot. When people ask the gods to give them boons, the gods
always give them to them. I really like the clothes. -- Tote
June 19 - Kathmandu - Maggie discovered that the woman selling
tea across the street will fill the glasses from our room for Rs 7, so
this morning, I went over to get a couple glasses. While I was waiting,
I chatted with a taxi driver and played with a little boy and his dog.
Just when I I was thinking how wonderful the world was, the little boy
began trying to jam a key into the dog's eye. -- Mark
So far Kathmandu has always been rainy. It gives Kathmandu a good feeling.
I am surprised at how modern Kathmandu is. -- Tote
June 20 - Kathmandu - Monica: "Nobody can appreciate that
the mother, who was trying to circumambulate, was rammed by a big black
Today, for 10 rupees and for 10 minutes, Dad hijacked some guy's "Nepalese
helicopter" (rickshaw). Tote and I hopped in, and he started pedaling.
The owner was banging on the back trying to slow us down, thinking we
would run off with it. Meanwhile, Dad was driving at children and swerving
off at the last minute. He periodically let loose a bout of rattly bell
ringing. The owner hopped on the back, stuck his head in, and let loose
a demonic laugh. This was quite startling. Dad turned a corner. Then (since
he couldn't turn) he drove onto a dirt alley, almost crashed, hopped off,
stopped the machine, and turned it around. We started offering people
rickshaw rides, mimicking and poking fun at the rickshaw drivers' endless
"rickshaw?" -- Duncan
Today we went to a plaza with a lot of temples in it. They were all closed,
so we just walked around. Dad rented a bicycle rickshaw for 10 rs. Dad
drove the rickshaw faster than any other rickshaw and probably faster
than the cars. The rickshaw was highly unmaneuverable and with the worst
driver in the world at the handlebars, you can imagine how many instances
we were inches from hitting people. One time we got stuck in a dirt alley,
and we had to push it back into the plaza. My favorite part of the plaza
was a little courtyard with vines growing over a beautiful statue. It
was so peaceful. -- Tote
Mark [After driving the boys around the Durbar Square area in a rickshaw]:
"People here try not to stare, but sometimes they just can't help
It's not just in the U.S. SUVs seem to have the same negative impact on
a driver's brain power in Nepal as they do in Denver. The streets around
here are narrow and crowded. The streets don't have sidewalks, but they
do have rickshaws, people, children, vendors, and - despite the city's
cow-free streets campaign - cows. Most drivers thread their way slowly
through this mixture. SUVs roar through as if they have just dropped off
the kid at daycare and are on the way to a double latté at Starbucks.
Speaking of extravagant luxury, if you want to spend your money making
yourself feel superior, I have an idea. I had a shave at a Nepalese barbershop
today. I am convinced that if all world leaders had a shave by a Nepalese
barber, war (or even raised voices) would be impossible. First you get
the hot towel, then water, shaving cream, the razor, more water, another
hot towel, more shaving cream, the razor again, a cold thing that felt
like a stone but I think was some sort of astringent thing, a couple kinds
of bracing liquid, a face massage, a scalp massage, a neck massage, a
chiropractic adjustment, and then (to repair the damage caused by the
scalp massage), the barber combed my hair and charged me about 30 cents.
All day long I smiled at my reflection in store windows. (Just describing
it relaxes me.) -- Mark
June 21 - Kathmandu - We walked a few kilometers through Kathmandu
neighborhoods to see the great white dome at Swayambhunath, watch for
monkeys that supposedly slide down bannisters, ring bells, spin prayer
wheels, look out at Kathmandu, and gaze on big gold statues. We also heard
garnet-robed monks chanting, playing cards and throwing garbage out the
monastery's windows. Despite a wrong turn that landed us on muddy paths
and roads threaded between rice paddies, we made it back in time to go
to the orientation meeting for our Tibet tour. (The only way to go to
Tibet is with an overpriced, government-sponsored tour. We have never
been on a tour, so everything about it is a bit disorienting.)
That all made for a great day, but what was even better was
my purchase of a tape containing Bob Seger singing "K, K, K, K, Kathmandu!"
For the last few days, I have done my best to embarrass the children by
singing this song on crowded K, K, K, K, K, Kathmandu streets. It is amazing
how the dulcet sound of my singing infallibly draws an admiring crowd.
The children and Monica (who was perhaps misled by my unique interpretation
of the song) thought I had made it up. So, everywhere we went last night,
I put on the tape for their edification. (It also contains a rendition
of "Cotton Eye Joe." The music store fellow believes the line
"Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?" is "Where did
you come from? Kathmandu!") -- Mark
June 22 - Kathmandu - I am behind on the photo captions but ahead
on selecting my new career - rickshaw driver, singer, or monk - hmmm.
While the crew went off to Bhaktipur, I spent the day working on a brief
and doing errands to get ready for our Tibet trip. While I'm working in
the hotel room, I hear newsboys hawking papers. I find it amusing that
Kathmandu has many more newspapers than any U.S. city. -- Mark
June 23 - Kathmandu to Nyalam, Tibet - We drove through part of
Nepal to the border. After doing Nepal immigrations we crossed a bridge.
On the exact middle of the bridge there was a red line. On one side it
said China; on the other side was written Nepal. We could not get through,
because the original permit was supposed to be brought by the Tibetan
tour guide, but he was late. So, we waited for hours. When we finally
got past, we rode a truck to the Chinese customs where we filled out a
couple little sheets and some police checked our bags. I must tell you
(Marco Polo-style) about the truck ride. First we got in and put our bags
in the center, but to add to the confusion of getting situated and making
sure everything is on (including people), Chinese and Tibetan moneychangers
got on. Then someone said that three people had to get off. As soon as
three got off, Tibetans started to get on. When we arrived at customs,
we found out that a person from out group had gotten out of the truck,
was left behind, and had to take a taxi to customs. -- Tote
After crossing the border into Tibet and waiting for our guide to come,
we hopped in the back of truck and found ourselves in a scene that resembled
something from a refugee movie. The truck lurched up perilous switchbacks
on a "road" covered in wet rocks, mud, and small creeks, thanks
to the pounding rain. If we had had seats, we would have been on the edge
of them (we were on the edge of our packs) all the way to the Chinese
customs post. After going through a contraband check, which consisted
of a search for books, we hopped back on board some more trucks to ride
to our busses at the top of the mountain. That ride was worse. Our group
was in hysterics. One guy was taking pulls of whiskey and avoiding looking
outside. People whoaaaaed when we hit bumps and curled up among the luggage.
We squeaked past abysmal drops and actually drove beneath two good-sized
waterfalls. -- Duncan
The Chinese customs official massaged my bag and then asked only one question
in his search for contraband: "Do you have books?" When I admitted
I had some, I had to open my bag. I hauled one out and waited while the
young fellow, eyes inches from the page, examined the print on twenty
pages of my Trollope. I confess I did not reveal that I was also carrying
We spent the first day of the tour trying to get accustomed
to being part of a tour. Other than surrendering all planning and nearly
all decision-making to our guides, the biggest adjustment is to the other
members of our group -- a Belgian who endures our cliffside trip in the
bed of a wildly pitching truck with the aid of sips of whiskey from a
hip flask and innumerable cigarettes; a Dutch girl whose high-pitched
squeaks and squeals seem designed to emphasize her helplessness; and the
Australian woman who shouts at the Tibetan guide, because she doesn't
have a room with an attached bath and shower, though it's nearly midnight
and nothing of the sort exists within 100 kilometers. The kids have no
problem washing up in a metal basin using hot water from a thermos. At
this stage, most of us are known by nationalities. This started, because
neither the guides nor the border guards can cope with all the Western
names, so they look for people by saying their nationality. (Image an
unsmiling, uniformed Chinese border guard who has just kept 45 people
waiting in the rain and sun and briefly in the middle of a small stream
trying to say "Venezuela.") We are an exception; we're known
as "the family." -- Mark
June 24 - Nyalam to Latse - Today we stopped for lunch in a tiny
town. All the restaurants were very expensive, so we decided to stop in
a small place and order some local food which we thought would be less
expensive. We ordered momos, and Maggie remembered that in Tibet people
ate something called tsampa, so we ordered some. The lady didn't understand
English that well so it took a little time to communicate. When we were
done ordering, we heard the squelch of a Tibetan tea maker. After about
five minutes she brought in the Tibetan tea, and Mom instantly poured
some into her glass. Tibetan tea is a buttery, salty broth that for some
reason is called tea. I first thought that a salty, buttery tea was the
worst drink in the world, but it was actually pretty good - until it gets
cold. Then the lady came in with a hide bag. She reached over to our table
and took the thermos of Tibetan tea. I had no idea what she was going
to do, and when she poured it into the leather bag, I was ready to see
it run out onto the floor. I was even more surprised when she started
squeezing the bag like she was mixing something. Soon she reached into
the bag and grabbed a handful of greyish dough. This was the tsampa. Dad
was the first to taste it. He picked at it, but the lady instantly pulled
another clump from the bag and showed Dad how to eat it by taking a big
bite out of the clump. Tsampa is very good when it's warm, and surprisingly,
does not taste like the buttered tea. After eating a lot of the tsampa,
you couldn't eat another bit of it for at least two days afterwards. --
The Tibetans have evolved for life here. Their eyes are sunken; their
mask-like faces closing over and under their sharp eyes. This is to keep
out the harsh sunlight. It could also be to keep out as much of the gritty
dust as possible. -- Duncan
June 25 - Latse to Xigatse - We went to a monastery called Tashilhunpo.
I liked seeing the first chapel because it had a giant staute of Buddha,
and it was full of prayer flags. There are also pillars with nails hammered
into them, where people left necklaces, rings, bracelets, and watches.
I don't know why they left that stuff. I also liked seeing the monks chant,
and I thought I would like to make robes like theirs, so I could wear
it for Halloween and for fun. When they were chanting, more monks came
in with huge pitchers of yak butter tea. They poured them into clay bowls
for the monks, when they were chanting. There was one monk that held some
giant sticks of incense all together. They burned the whole time the monks
were chanting. It smelled like tsampa. Tsampa is barley flour, sugar,
and hot water mixed together in a leather bag made out of yak. Tibetan
people eat it every day. I've tried tsampa but did not like it at all.
The monks were wearing dark, red, long skirts and dark red vests. They
also had a dark red cloth hanging over one shoulder. When they were chanting,
they wore yellow-brown poncho-robes. When they walked in, they had on
their hats. They were yellowish-brown and looked like the Tibetan hats
that the yellow hat sect wears. The monks were any age boys and men. They
sat while they chanted. Sometimes they rocked back and forth, and sometimes
they looked behind them and saw us. -- Maggie
Our tour of Tahsilhunpo Monastery was wonderful. It was founded in 1447
and is the seat of the Panchen Lamas. Like the Dalai Lamas, the Panchen
Lamas are a line of reincarnated spirtual leaders. We toured only a fraction
of this well-preserved, walled monastery housing 820 monks. My favorite
part was observing the evening chanting of about 50 monks in the dimly
lit assembly hall. A big guy who sternly walked the aisle waving a thick,
smoking incense stick, carrying himself like a sergeant at arms, smiled
everytime he passed Maggie. -- Monica
This is day three of our barren bus ride to Lhasa. We travel by dune-like
hills/mountains and on cliffside roads. As we hit bumps, everyone is catapulted
into the air. Small rivers have carved collapsing, weathered cliff faces.
Dry pink mud and some wisps of clinging, greenish grass spot splotches
of tannish, grey gravel. Most vegetation is in the form of compact, velvety
clumps of scrub close to the ground. At passes, prayer flags hang and
cling in a wild nest of weather-bleached color. -- Duncan
We are on a tour to Tibet. The tour is a bad way, but it is the only way.
I confess that by noon I had just about reached the end of my rope with
this tour and with the Chinese. I feel like a prisoner. Only two restaurants
in this town are approved for tourists; the others are supposedly off
limits. Though the guides are willing to stop the bus when asked, we must
cover a set distance every day, so there's no room for improvising. Very
few people complain, though I think most everyone is frustrated. Many
have motion or altitude sickness or both. Shortly after we arrived in
Shigatse, Tote and I set off to change some money. Shigatse has a Tibetan
and a Chinese part of town. The bank is in the Chinese part. The streets
are wide, dusty, and lined with buildings covered with white tile. Though
I tried to shake the thought, the white tile and dust remind me of a dirty
restroom in an old service station.
Fortunately, we get to spend the afternoon in the Tashilumpo
Monastery. It's my first exposure to Tibetan Buddhism, and I love it.
I am also fascinated by the juxtaposition at Tashilumpo of Tibetan Buddhism
and Chinese efforts to pervert it. The giant and unmistakably serene statue
of "the present Buddha" makes me want to just sit quietly for
six or seven years. (Our guide explains, softly, that what distinguishes
Tibetan Buddhism from other strains is Tibetan Buddhism's emphasis on
"the compassionate Buddha.") The enormous and unmistakably arrogant
efforts of the Chinese to subvert the whole thing make me want to strangle
June 27 - Gyantse to Lhasa - My children just amaze me. Today was
Maggie's turn. She shamed me into going swimming in a frigid lake in the
Himalayas. When she heard me joking about taking a dip, she ran back to
the bus, pulled her suit out of her backpack, and headed down to the lake.
Once I realized she was going to call my bluff, I had to go too. Talk about
cold. . . -- Mark
I can understand, in principle, that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation
of the compassionate Buddha and that the Panchen Lama - the head of
this monastery - is a reincarnation of "the Buddha of Divine Light."
What I cannot understand is how the Chinese can be so arrogant as to
screw around with the whole thing. Up until the 1950's, when the Chinese
invaded, the Dalai Lama was the religious and political leader of Tibet,
and the Panchen Lama was, more or less, second in spiritual command.
In 1952 under communist military escort, the Chinese brought their own
Panchen Lama to Tibet and enthroned him as head abbot of Tashilunpo.
(In 1949, this 11 year-old Panchen Lama had supposedly written to Mao,
asking him to "liberate" Tibet.) Though initially a Chinese
puppet, this Panchen Lama ultimately presented Mao with a list of atrocities
that China had commited on Tibet and a plea for increased freedoms.
This landed the Panchen Lama in jail for 14 years and led to a campaign
to "Smash the Panchen Reactionary Clique." In 1995, after
the Panchne Lama died, the Dalai Lama identified Gedhun Choekyl Nyima
as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. (The Dalai Lama had fled to
India in 1959 after receiving a summons to attend a "cultural event"
at a Chinese military base and being told to come without bodyguards
and without telling anyone.) Within a month, the Chinese had moved six-year-old
Gedhun to a government compound in Beijing (he has been dubbed "the
youngest political prisoner") and ordered the senior lamas of Tashilumpo
to come up with a Chinese-approved choice. (The abbot of Tashilumpo
was tossed in the slammer for consulting with the Dalai Lama about the
original choice.) The lamas eventually came up with Gyancain Norbu,
the son of Communist Party members. The monks at Tashilumpo, apparently
having learned their lesson, display Gyancain's picture.
Whenever anyone in our group starts to explain that there are two Panchen
Lamas, our guides tell us to be quiet. I read about an American couple
who handed a Dalai Lama tape to a monk at Tashilumpo found themselves
being tailed by Chinese police. When they were stopped at a checkpoint,
a fellow they recognized as a "monk" at Tashilumpo fingered
them, and after a few days detention, they ended up being deported.
According to a travel agent in Kathmandu, all of the Indian-educated
guides had their guide permits pulled, after a Tashilumpo "monk"
reported that a guide had mentioned "the true Panchen Lama."
June 26 - Xigatse to Gyantse - Since we arrived at midday, we
had time to eat lunch, then spend the long afternoon and early evening
touring, painting, drawing, and learning some Tibetan. From the giant
chorten known as the Gyantse Kumbum we could see the old, walled fort
atop a neighboring hill. -- Monica
Today we painted on top of a big stupa, a huge stupa, with more
chapels than I wanted to visit. I painted two pictures of a fortress perched
atop a colossal rock hill. Some people from our group painted, too. After
it started raining, we packed up the art stuff, and discovered, in the
pitch darkness inside the stupa, a whole bunch of wall murals that were
in perfect condition, because people didn't go back there and no light
gets in. -- Duncan
Standing atop the Gyantse Kumbum the view of the Old Fort is unbelievable.
I kept saying to myself, "This is real. You are really standing here.
That building is really over there on that mountain. This is not a movie
set." I still can barely believe that I have seen such a place. --
June 28 - Lhasa - Me and Tote got a monk robe that I'm going to
wear for Halloween. My brothers are looking for a ghost dagger. A ghost
dagger is to pin down bad spirits and to pin down bad weather. In Tibetan
a ghost dagger is called a pudaba. -- Maggie
Being part of tour group is a real adjustment for us, but it did include
a few advantages. For one thing, it is the only way to get to Tibet from
Nepal. Advantages: not having to look around for a hotel; breakfasts included;
knowledgeable guide; meeting some interesting, fun people - the other
people, all foreigners, on the trip. Disadvantages: No free time . . .
no "down" time . . . a different pace than we're used to; touring
sites as a group; being around so many foreigners all the time inhibits
contact with locals; each day cost more than we would have spent traveling
independently - nearly as much as we spent in Paris. -- Monica
We are now about halfway around the world from DeKalb. -- Mark
June 29 - Lhasa - Today was the last day of our organized tour.
We went to a big monastery, Drepung, in the morning, and the Summer Palace
(of the Dalai Lama) in the afternoon. Yesterday we went to the Potala
(Winter palace) and the Jokhang Temple, a pilgrimage site that Tote and
I circumambulated while waiting for our dinner tonight. The Potala was
run-down. It seemed like any old monastery with more burial stupas. The
Summer Palace was a palace, not just a religious center. It was open,
airy, and light. The Potala was dim, cramped, and blackened. I liked the
Potala's exterior architecture best but not inside. I like how the Summer
Palace was made up of smaller buildings inside of a big park. I really
liked two pavilions built on a rectangular pond. -- Duncan
Mark: Do you think that this Dalai Lama will be the last? He says he won't
be reincarnated in Tibet . . .
Tibetan Student: I think so. And then the book will be closed.
Mark: The book?
Tibetan Student: The book of Tibet. And once the book is closed, who will
want to read it?
Mark: I think maybe lots of people.
Tibetan Student: No. Even in Tibet young people aren't that interested.
Once it is closed it is over.
I was startled hearing "La Macarena" in Nepali coming from a
Kathmandu bar. Today, I was even more startled to hear it in Chinese coming
from a kitchen at Drepung Monastery. I didn't peek. I prefer to imagine
there were four or five garnet-robed monks back there doing La Marcarena
in unison. It's entirely possible. I was lost briefly and came on two
monks in the midst of a water fight. They offered me a hose so I could
join in. -- Mark
My favorite place at Drepung is the Main Assembly Hall. The large, dark
hall is filled with long low benches. Hundreds of monks, clad in their
garnet and gold robes were studying, chanting, and praying. The hum and
buzz of their chants were discordant yet compelling. At first glance one
might expect this immense hall of chanting monks to be a very solemn,
reverent place, but I noticed the monks chatting, smiling, eating, reading,
and chanting in a comfortable, informal manner. Several monks smiled and
greeted me. I responded with the Tibetan greeting. At lunchtime, several
monks appeared with large steaming pots, ladling out vegetables and broth
into each monk's wooden bowl. The servers walked up and down the aisles,
taking care not to spill on the scriptures situated on the laps of many
monks. (I wished I could have found a secluded spot to sit, watch, and
mainly listen, but unfortunately I had to run to catch up with our tour
group.) -- Monica
History of Buddhism and Tibet: In the area of present-day Tibet, there
was a cave. In this cave, there was a monkey. The monkey married an ogress
in the shape of a beautiful lady. They had six children. The money taught
them what a monkey eats, so the ancient Tibetans ate that. Soon they found
that it was not enough, so the monkey taught them that the seeds of plants,
when you planted them, would create another plant. So, the Tibetans planted
barley in fields. Now they could make tsampa. (Tsampa is roasted barley
that has been ground into powder. When water is added it makes a food.
When you have yak butter tea and add it, the tsampa tastes much better.)
After the Tibetans had gotten the hang of the food and clothes, they started
to scout. One day a group of Tibetans found someone on a hill. They asked
him where he had come from. The person did not know the Tibetan language,
so he pointed south toward India. But the Tibetans thought the man had
pointed to the sky, so they thought he was a god, so they made him a throne,
and made him the first king of Tibet.
The king taught them about religion, and the Tibetans made a
religion about nature and elements. Tibet went on until the 28th king's
time when a group of Indians came and tried to convert them to be Buddhist.
The Indians gave them lots of holy books and after a while they left unsuccessfully.
When the 38th king, Susungampo, discovered the books, he sent 21 men to
India to learn Sanskrit - the books were written in Sanskrit. Twenty of
the 21 died on the way. After a while one came back with all the Indian
masters and translated the holy books into the newly invented Tibetan
script. Then the masters used magic to prove that Buddhism is great and
converted them all. -- Tote
June 30 - Lhasa - It's fun when you go to a pilgrim site to do
what the pilgrims do. Tonight, we went the Jokhang Temple to see the evening
festivities. When we went inside, we went pretty directly to the Shakyamuni
statue brought from Nepal by the Nepalese princess that married King Songtsen
Gampo. Just when we started to circumambulate it, a guy gave Tote a whole
handful of money and me a small handful of money. I gave Doozer some of
it. We threw the money on the altar, bowed, and touched our heads to the
dais. Then we walked around to behind the statue, and following some monks'
leads, Tote and I touched our heads to the feet of a big statue behind
the Shakyamuni. When we came around the right side of the statue, the
same guy gave Maggie a white scarf to throw on the altar. Then we walked
around to the front, bowed again, and walked out of the little chapel.
We also watched some monks chanting. The monks were not serious.
They had bags of candy, nuts, and tsampa. One monk walked up, prayed,
walked out. A monk walked up, prayed, and walked out. Another monk walked
up, prayed, but prayed too long, so another monk rolled up a ball of tsampa
and threw it at him. Some monk finishes eating. He crumples up his bag,
looks around, pulls up his cushion and puts it under. Maggie saw a monk
put a nut on the back of his hand. He smacked the back of his hand and
caught the nut in his mouth. -- Duncan
Tibet is stunningly beautiful; learning about Tibetan Buddism is fascinating;
trying to speak Tibetan is challenging and rewarding; the weather has
been lovely - mostly sunny with that "dry, high mountains, summertime"
cool; and Tibetans have been friendly. -- Monica
Is it really possible for the Tibetan version of "How much does it
cost?" to baffle someone who runs a market stall in Tibet, even someone
whose first language is Chinese? -- Mark