April 7 - Bombay - The flight from Cairo to
Mumbai (the new name for Bombay) left at 2:00 AM. It went smoothly. We were
very fortunate to have met an Indian couple who live in Bombay (Anil and
Nita Gujral) and their son (Vidur). They want to help us in any way they
can. They told us the best way to get from the airport to downtown and had
all sorts of tips and suggestions for southern India. They must have really
thought we needed help when we joined the line to go through customs without
claiming our baggage. We took a taxi to the Fort area of Bombay - about
1 1/2 hours. The taxi stalled once in the midst of belching trucks, but
with help from some people from a nearby shop, he was able to get us going
again in about 10 minutes. Looking out the hotel window this afternoon,
I saw a busker make a little boy disappear from a basket with a lid. The
all-male audience looked in the basket and around the area, but no one appeared
able to find the child. -- Monica
Tonight I saw a scene which to me summed up the battle I've been fighting
for the last decade and a half and one which predicted the winner. In front
of the offices of the World Wildlife Federation I saw a family living on
the sidewalk. Two children were already asleep in a single bed. Beneath
a blue plastic awning, which sheltered all their possessions, save the bed,
the parents and two smaller children watched an enormous television set.
Duncan: I liked that there wasn't just one kind of tree. There were hundreds
of kinds of trees - the kind with yellow flowers, that looked like different
shades of green sheets draped over the branches. There were just so many
different kinds. My favorite thing was looking at them as we went by.
Monica: More poverty.
Duncan: It just shows more. In Egypt, I think it was there but it wasn't
Tote: I thought our luggage would come out of the back of the taxi. It wasn't
shut all the way, and he had to tie it.
Monica: Did you see the stretch along the road where everyone was washing
clothes and bathing? Maybe the water had just been turned on in that part
Tote: It looks sort of like Cairo until you get to those sections where
there were shanties packed together. We didn't see those sections in Cairo.
Monica: Mark, what did you think?
Mark: I know happiness doesn't depend on how much you have, and in Liberia
it was clear that people can be happy in conditions that look pretty bad
to someone just passing through. But I really wondered about the people
in the shanty towns. Did you see that section where a strip of places was
wedged between the road and the railroad tracks? I cannot imagine living
there. I also thought the sections we went through were interesting - big
truck section ("goods carrier trucks"), tour bus parking and washing
section. I liked the people we met at the airport very much.
Monica: I thought the women looked like flowers, very beautiful, brightly-colored
clothing, walking erect with such poise, even in the squalor.
Maggie: I saw cows with painted red horns walking down the street.
Mark: That reminded me of the flock of goats we saw being herded through
downtown Cairo last night.
April 8 - Bombay - We have seen very few usual tourists here (European,
Australian, American, etc.) When we were sitting next to the Gateway to
India arch, there were Indian tourists everywhere but no usual ones. All
over this part of Bombay there are trees: bright green ones. My favorites
are the ones with vines growing down from them, but some cool ones have
fern-like leaves. The food here is good. It is all hot peppery. My favorite
food is butter naan - pancake-like bread soaked in butter. It is sooo
good. I like dipping bread in all the sauces. -- Tote
We don't always know what we are ordering, but it is invariably delicious.
There's usually rice, some kinds of bread, various sauces - vegetarian,
chicken, mutton, or fish -- and many condiments. Afterwards we are always
given a little tray containing fennel seeds (good for digestion) and toothpicks.
There's always a sink in the back for washing up afterwards. -- Monica
It seems we are still a tourist attraction. Here it's a bit more abrupt
than in Egypt, perhaps because there's less English spoken. At the Gateway,
one fellow simply walked up to me, handed me a camera, and plopped himself
into the middle of the rest of the family. I snapped the photo, and, without
a word, he took the camera back and walked off. Nearly everybody else
at least said thanks. -- Mark
Man who works at a tiny combination laundry and telephone call store:
So, this is my plan to get to the United States. I want to marry an American
girl with some money, and she will pay for us to go there. Then, I will
work and pay this sum that we have spent . . . I will pay it back. Then
we can go our own way. That wouldn't be so bad, I think.
Man: You see, I can make lots more money there than here. Here, I work
10 or 12 hours, and I make 1000 rupees for a day. How much would I make
Mark: Well, you might make . . . 26 or 27 hundred rupees a day, and it's
expensive to live there, too. Here you can eat a good meal in a restaurant
for 30 rupees; there you might, might, be able to buy a tiny hamburger
and eat it on a park bench. And there's taxes.
Man: But that's for 8 hours, right?
Man: So, that's better.
Mark: Yes, but not that much better, and you'd need to pay for the divorce.
Man: Would that be necessary?
Mark: I suppose you could split it.
After a half hour in a line at the train reservation center, I had advanced
perhaps a foot. Although there may be fifty windows in the reservation
center, and one must carefully fill in every blank in the reservation
form before arriving at the window, the lines are long. They are also
deceptively short. For one thing, to improve efficiency, clerks ask customers
who need a moment to think or to search for change or to fill in a blank
on the reservation form to step to one side while they wait on the next
person in line. In theory this means a clerk is waiting on several people
simultaneously. It also avoids the very real punishment of banishing someone
to the end of the line to stand for another hour or two. For another,
it is apparently customary to say to the person behind you something like,
"I'm coming back" and disappear for a quarter of an hour or
so. This is obviously a necessity.
Since I only had an hour and a half to get our reservations,
I asked one of the fellows in front of me whether one could book tickets
through a travel agent or over the phone. He said there is no way to do
it over the phone and that, in his opinion, travel agents were dangerous:
"You pay your money, and they say 'come tomorrow,' but sometimes
they don't give." He did point out that there were two windows reserved
for credit card purchases and observed that the lines were much shorter.
(I would have known this if I had read the inch tall printing on the 6
foot high sign listing the function of every single window on the second
floor of the reservations center, instead I had read the five foot one
with two inch printing which described how to make a reservation. It urged
the customer to make a quick decision since the agent can only hold a
reservation for 20 seconds.)
The lines were much shorter at the credit card window. I reached the window
after only 30 minutes. Our tickets were booked and paid for about 90 seconds
later. (I had, as signs posted on the credit card window instructed, written
my card number and home address and phone number on my completed and signed
reservation form.) By this time I was rather disappointed to be leaving.
The credit card line was filled with English speakers, and we were in
the middle of a rousing discussion of whether India would have a better
government school system if there were less corruption. We had already
addressed the shortcomings of American elementary school education ("In
second form all they do is paint and draw. Paint and draw! Maybe they
sing a little bit."), the virtues of American universities, the problems
of India's government schools, and whether there was more corruption in
India's government or America's. As I was leaving, four people handed
me business cards - a pharmacist, door manufacturer, government official,
and popcorn machine distributor - and I handed out my e-mail address,
so perhaps I will eventually hear the end of the discussion. Ah, it's
great to be back in a democracy. -- Mark
April 9 - Bombay to Kanyakumari Express -
Air India Captain Anil Gujral: The first important thing is to enjoy your
holiday. The second important thing is not to get rooked.
Mark: Do you know what time we will get to Kochi?
Passenger: 6 o'clock.
Mark: So, tomorrow night?
Passenger: No. The next day.
Mark: Today is Monday. You mean Tuesday, right?
Passenger: No. Today is Monday. We sleep here tonight. Tomorrow, Tuesday,
we travel and sleep here again. We arrive in Kochi the next day, Wednesday,
at 6 AM.
April 10 - On the Kanyakumari Express -
Maggie: When do we get there?
Mark: Tomorrow morning.
Maggie: We sleep here again?
Mark: Yes. Remember, I told you that yesterday.
Maggie: I thought that was another of your stupid April Fools jokes.
On Sunday, when we went to Victoria Terminus to get tickets on the Netravati
Express to Kochi, it was totally booked -- it's school vacation time.
That's a 28-hour express train. Instead we got two tickets in a four-bed
air-conditioned berth, one wait list reservation, and two beds in a six-bed
non-air-conditioned berth on the Kanyakumari Express. We assumed it would
take a similar route in a similar amount of time. After a few hours on
the train, we learned we were taking a different route and that it will
take about 40 hours. But it's going marvelously. Mark managed to get Duncan
and himself switched to our compartment. It's quite comfortable and wonderfully
It's 3 PM and guys in red jackets are parading through selling
snacks they've cooked up in the very hot, open-sided pantry car. I checked
it out yesterday - big steaming pots over big fires while the car hurtles
down the tracks. We've bought samosas, which the boys are dipping in ketchup,
and Mark and I are drinking chai. We drink water from our 4 filter water
bottles . . . these we refill at drinking water taps at the station stops.
Mark is reading Zorba the Greek, Tote and Duncan are playing a game they've
made up, and Maggie is playing with her 3 stuffed animal friends - Tea
(a bear she was given by Grandma Avis to talk to along the trip - when
she needed "someone else" to talk to), Inch (a colorful worm
given to her at Christmas by Grandma Hughes), and Metro Bug (given to
her by the owner of the Metropolis Hotel in Athens.) -- Monica
Every place we go, kids are playing cricket. Wickets might be sticks
in a box, stones on a box, or stones on a big stone. I have yet to see
anyone playing any other sport - no basketball and no soccer. -- Mark
April 11 - Kanyakumari Express to Kochi - We left Bombay in the
afternoon two days ago. We spent that night and the whole next day and
night on the train. Kochi is so different It is hotter. It has a different
language. It is smaller. We are currently in a fancy hotel, because we
met a family on the plane from Cairo to Mumbai, and the dad, an Air India
pilot, knew people here and arranged it for us. This afternoon we went
on a boat tour. We stopped at three places: a palace, now a museum; a
church with cool manually-operated fans; and another palace, currently
a hotel. We also saw some Chinese fishing nets. The fishing nets were
made of four poles which held open a net to catch prawns. These poles
were connected to a dock-like thing. They had counterweights to pull it
up. -- Tote
Engineering student on tour boat: So, do you like Bush or Gore?
Mark: Well, neither very much but I would have preferred Gore.
Second student: What do you think of Vajpayee?
Second Student: Our Prime Minister.
Mark: I think he has a very difficult job. I read what he said in Iran,
and it sounded sensible. Do you like him?
Second Student: Yes.
Mark: I think he has a more difficult job than the U.S. President.
Second Student: Undoubtedly. He has 20 plus political parties in his coalition.
First Student: And so many regional parties. We have so many languages.
. . .
Second Student: . . . And religious parties. And you cannot change where
someone lives or their religion.
Third Student: It is very difficult to govern this country.
44-year old man: It is interesting to see these children.
Mark: You mean the way they play together?
Man: No, that you brought them with you. Americans think of children as
Man: I have a friend there. He is a pathologist and his wife is an American,
a doctor. He tells me she says that one child is enough and that she is
finished. They put the child in daycare because it is a nuisance. Here,
my wife and I both work, but we still care for the children. My brother-in-law
in the U.S. pays $33,000 for one kid and $33,000 for another kid there.
What kind of money must they make to do that?
Mark: I don't think that's the way most people in America think. Maybe
some professional couples at the upper end but not most people.
Man: And you don't care for your parents either. You just send them to
the old age home. Here, I care for my mother.
Mark: What are you talking about? How do you know what I do with my parents?
Man: I didn't mean "you." I meant Americans generally. Of course,
I have six sisters and an older brother, and they won't help either. I
had to hire a woman to help, and I pay the entire cost.
Monica: I don't think I've had a bad Indian meal yet.
Maggie: Did the captain tell us to go here?
Maggie: And he found the hotel for us, right?
Mark: Yes. He also suggested the boat tour.
Maggie: I think you should listen to him. What did he say we should do
Mark: He said you should go home to bed.
Maggie: No he didn't!
Upstairs the Mattancherry Palace contains intricate murals depicting scenes
from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranic legends. Downstairs in what
our guidebook calls the "ladies' bedchamber" are murals depicting
horny forest animals and a cheerful Krishna using his six hands and two
feet to engage in foreplay with eight women. Without the hint of a smile
our guide explained that the mural demonstrated that worship of Krishna
is not confined to any particular caste. -- Mark
April 12 - Kochi - We are in Kochi, a small city down in the Malabar
coast. I think the language here, Malayalam, is more loopy than Hindi.
It looks like someone scribbled and turned it into letters. It's odd.
I liked both restaurants we went to here. Last night we had tons of butter
naan - flat soft butter-flooded bread, chinese-style noodles, crunchy
vegetables, mini prawns, chicken, and lamb. This afternoon, I had mutton
with fried rice, peas, and vegetables. -- Duncan
Monica: These Indian dresses are so beautiful.
Mark: They really are beautiful. The styles really show off these nice
pieces of fabric. Remember how horrible we thought all the stylish young
Englishwoman looked? They seemed to accentuate all their bad features?
Monica: These woman all look so beautiful.
Mark: Yes. Even those who you know aren't.
Monica: The clothes seem to complement the women.
The boys have decided that this is the place for me. Around our hotel
are a dozen bookstores, half a dozen "lending libraries," and
four or five bike shops. I love the bookstores. The ones I visited are
filled with books on dauntingly serious subjects. (One had four different
volumes on graph theory.) But they also contain wonderfully odd little
treasures written by enthusiasts. "All along I have cherished a desire
to show those who think mathematics boring and dull just how beautiful
it can be" says Sakuntala Devi about her own book. The book contains
such gems as the "relationship between 7 and the number 142857"
and how to find the square roots of perfect squares up to 40000 in one's
head. A local physician's story of a sojourn in Africa, containing "excerpts
from the author's forthcoming bestselling autobiography." Several
books on how to eliminate errors in English. One advises that "May
I know our good name?" is incorrect and suggests "May I know
your good name?" as the preferred alternative. -- Mark
There are about 18 million christians in India today. About 3/4 of them
live in south India. St. Thomas the apostle supposedly came here in 52
AD, though scholars say Christianity probably arrived during the 4th Century
with about 400 families who later became the Syrian Orthodox Church. --
This is a country of signs. In the airport, there is a huge lighted sign
with instructions for the escalator - in three languages. It seems everything
is labelled. Ticket windows have lists and lunch hours painted on them.
If one had time to read them all, one might have find it very easy to
understand what is going on. Here's a sampling:
Chance takers are accident makers.
To avoid AIDS don't change beds.
Clean outside is clean inside.
Drunkards are forewarned.
Prevent AIDS - Love All.
Less luggage. More travel pleasure.
Left is right.
Don't save time by shaving your life. Drive carefully.
April 13 - Kochi - Today we went in a wood boat. I liked to stick
my hand in the water. My hand was like a grate. All the leaves got stuck
in my hand. We saw a lady making rope. She showed us a chain that she
made. It connected a razor blade, a pen, and a needle. The chains and
rope were made out of coconut fibers. The coconut husk was put in water
and then whacked with a stick. When they dried, the lady wove them into
rope. I liked watching the lady weave rope and pound coconut. -- Maggie
While touring the backwaters, we stopped our canoe for a drink of palm
wine! I haven't tasted it since the Peace Corps. Our palm wine came from
a tiny thatched hut along a canal. In keeping with the Indian passion
to organize everything, the hut bore a sign identifying it as a licensed
and numbered "Toddy Shop." -- Mark
In the evening we went to a demonstration performance of Kathakali, an
ancient dance and musical story-telling tradition here in Kerala. Director
Devan, in his dramatic colorfully rhythmic style of speech, explained
the significance of the elaborate make-up we watched the two dancers apply.
Then he introduced the few of us in the audience to the gestures of the
dancing - how emotions and animals and actions are conveyed through very
stylized movements of eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, mouth, head, hands, fingers,
body, and feet. The exquisitely costumed and made up actors danced a story
of hunting, life and death, of temptation, deceit, love, and hate to the
accompaniment of a drum, finger cymbals, and lyrics sung in Malayalam.
Afterwards, Devan shared his theories on Hindu stories, dance, and philosophy
of life. The evening was utterly delightful. -- Monica
April 14 - Kochi to Munnar - Today is an Indian holiday called
Vishu. We bought fireworks and celebrated Vishu and Easter. -- Maggie
The local bus ride all afternoon was harrowing, but fun as we barreled
along at top speed, engine roaring, horn blasting, wind rushing in the
windows with no glass. We made many stops, the bus crowded with people
getting on and off. About halfway up to Munnar, a hill station people
go to in order to get out of the heat of the plains, we bounced into a
changing landscape from towns with rice fields and banana trees, pineapples
and papaya, to forests of rubber trees, towering hardwood trees, waterfalls,
rows and rows of tea plants, and cool air. -- Monica
I am convinced that the best travel bargain is public transportation.
Today we toured Kerala State from the seaside to a mile high on a 4-hour
public bus trip that cost less than $5 for all of us. There are people
to look at and chat with, towns to examine (since the bus has no glass
in the windows, you really feel as if you are visiting), and a variety
of terrifying encounters with trucks, other buses, auto rickshaws, and
cliff edges. The spaces between villages grew and the trees grew more
plentiful as we climbed into the hills. Maggie and I picked out the new
plants we have learned - coconut palms, papaya, cassava, mango, rubber
trees, and finally, tea. We watched how men tie their dothis -- a skirt-like
wrap that is sometimes ankle-length and sometimes shortened to the length
of shorts with a couple quick folds and a tuck -- and watched the prints
change from plain to brightly colored. The boys commented on how efficiently
the conductor signalled the driver using a bell operated by pulling a
cord. One ring to stop, a couple rings to go, and a steady ringing in
tight spots to say "keep going." We learned how to put down
the folding screens that fill the windows when it is raining - and how
dark it is inside a bus careening through the rain on a winding, narrow
road. -- Mark
April 15 - Munnar - We arrived last night as it was turning dark.
In the pouring rain, we took a land rover the last 19 km further up from
Munnar into the cloud enshrouded hills covered with tea plants. This morning
as I look from this little balcony, the panorama is stunning. The sun
illuminates the many shades of green: undulating neatly groomed carpet
of tea plants interspersed with trees and large boulders; in the distance
are layers of mountains, clad in dark forests; a wide river slides quietly
through the valley lined with snaking dirt roads and paths. -- Monica
The area around Munnar is really cool. It is up high, and there are tea
fields around. I really like the tea fields because they are just green
bushes that slide over the hills in slightly uneven rows. -- Tote
April 16 - Munnar - We went in a jeep today up to a National Park,
and we saw Nilgiri Tahr, an endangered mountain goat with horns. -- Maggie
Today we went to Eravikulam National Park. I was disappointed, because
I expected better, but I had a good time. About 5 minutes before we got
there it started raining. This happened just before we stopped to see
some people who pick tea. When we got there we hopped out of the jeep
taxi and got going. We had to walk on the road, but there were few vehicles.
The hike was not miserable because the rain was relatively warm. We had
to walk on the road, which made me a little mad, but it was okay. On the
drive down, we saw people picking tea leaves. They had clear plastic over
their backs and heads, for rain. -- Tote
Both going and coming we saw a small group of women picking tea. On our
way up we stopped and greeted the women who were handing in their bundles
of leaves to the driver of a truck. I introduced myself to a few women
who wanted to greet me and tell me their names. On the way down we stopped
again to take some photos. As I emerged from the jeep, I heard "Hello
Monica!" shouted from up on the hillside. -- Monica
April 17 - Munnar to Thekkady - Another wonderful bus ride. Unfortunately,
we have ended up in an overpriced, run down, and government run hotel,
and it's too late to find another or even to find a ride out of the Wildlife
Sanctuary. The one good thing about the hotel is that monkeys try to get
in through the windows. -- Mark
Monica: Did I hear that?
Mark: Yeah, a monkey. That's cool.
Monica: It's a hoot.
April 18 - Thekkady - We took a boat farther into the Peryiyar
Tiger Reserve to see animals by water. We saw lots of boars, lots of birds
(my favorites were the cormorants and a really blue bird), four turtles,
and six elephants (one was a baby.) All the animals were wild.
We walked down to a temple in the Reserve because we heard something
going on. People were crowded around the really small, shrine-like temple.
People were putting dots on their foreheads and waving their hands over
fire and putting their hands to their eyes. Then drummers came. The drums
were so different from each other. They all made different sounds. Then
suddenly a guy fell back twitching, and people caught him. He was in a
trance. The people held him. Then the guy came out of the trance and danced
around waving leaves. Then another guy fell back twitching, but people
put a tall hat made of flowers on his head. People threw bananas at him.
The drummers led all the people away. We followed, and they walked down
the street and picked up a bunch of girls and women. Some had baskets
with white sprouts in layers - fatter, skinnier, skinnier. They had tissue
paper decorating it. The second group had white sprouts in the shape of
an ovoid dome. We had a break for dinner, because the procession was going
to come back.
After dinner, when we caught it, the front people had pyramids with cut
up palm leave on it. Everybody in the whole parade was dancing in a spinny,
swaying way except for the sprout girls. The next in line had colored,
small Christmas trees with a stand which they sometimes put on one shoulder
or both (behind their backs.) They had small tridents going through their
cheeks. Some people had things going through their eyebrows and into a
lemon on the trident. The next was a guy dressed up with a giant halo
made from palm leaves. He had a long paper tongue hanging out of his mouth.
I think he was demon. Then there was a different group of drummers, followed
by people with small Christmas trees. With them was a little kid. He had
the trident thing. Next came the drummers which we met at the temple and
then the guy with the white flower hat with the people still dancing around
him with the leaves, followed by the people with the sprouts. -- Tote
We saw a parade with a bunch of dancers in it. They all had funny hats.
The girls in the back had hats made out of sprouts with a small stick
at the top with a tissue paper flower on it. There were also two guys
ahead of them who were dancing alot with no shirts on, with warpaint on
their backs and all over their faces. -- Maggie
April 19 - Thekkady
- We went to a spice garden and saw cinnamon, "bubble plant,"
pineapple, nutmeg, cardamon, ginger, vanilla, cocoa, cat's tail, shrimp
flower, coffee beans, betel nut, giant lemons, bitter leaf, and tumeric
and tapioca and that henna plant. We also saw a tea plantation. It was real
big and some ladies came by, and we saw how their clipper tea things worked.
And then we went into the tea factory and saw how they made the tea.
I had a half of a seed pod and a whole seed pod that I used
as boats. I kicked them along the cement road of our hotel, and when it
rained I pushed them along in the puddles. The half seed pod was supposed
to show the big seed pod where it could dock and to give him a lift, to
tow him, and to be their emergency boat. -- Maggie
Dad found a really good hotel, Ambadi. Our room has a staircase leading
up to another floor where Mom and Dad's bed is. The floor ends a little
more than midway, so it's kind of like an elongated balcony. -- Tote
Our guide mentions "tribal people." Kerala is home to some of
India's most isolated tribes. -- Mark
April 20 - Thekkady - The kids spent a large part of today's hike
fighting off leeches - mostly successfully -- and a large part of the
rest of the day talking about them. -- Mark
This morning we got up early, because we were going on a jungle trek.
When we got to the starting point we looked at a 3D map while we waited
for the guide to come. After he arrived, we started hiking along the road.
After just a minute, a troupe of monkeys came onto the road. They played
in the trees and skittered around. The guide said they are white bonneted
macaques or white monkeys. After we passed the monkeys, we stopped to
put tobacco powder on our shoes to keep the leeches off. Then we started
down the trail. After a while, I saw a huge brown animal was in the path
ahead. On the boat ride I had seen wild elephants and all of them were
brown. For a split second, I thought the beast in front of us was an elephant,
but it was the wrong shape. After stating that lone boars could be dangerous,
our guide led us down a side path and picked up a walking staff. Later
we saw a whole bunch of boars. The guide clapped a few times and all but
one of them ran away. It took a few claps while advancing to frighten
him off. Then the guide led us through a field, across a stream with a
leap, and to our first encounter with the leeches. We stopped and our
guide whacked two leeches off of Tote's shoe with a stick. Then we hiked
to a stream where we smacked leeches off our shoes with our own sticks.
We added a new bunch of tobacco powder and set off. Then we came to cross
the stream and stopped to whack leeches off for a second. On the other
side we found some of yesterday's elephant footprints. We soon came to
a "night patrol road" where they watch for poachers. This track
gave us a break from the persistent leeches. Then we left the track and
hiked through some of the worst leaches yet to a rock where we removed
our shoes to check for intruders. Two were on my sock inside my shoe,
but they were paralyzed by the powder. Our guide found blood between his
toes and a bloated leech in his sock. The rest of us were clean. After
burning the leech with a bit of newspaper, we got hiking into undoubtedly
the worst leeches ever. By the time we stopped, at an enormous tree, leeches
were crowded onto the fabric sections of my sneakers. After scraping off
the horde, we hiked on. It was not until we came home in an auto rickshaw,
checked our shoes, and came inside that I found a leech bite on my ankle.
After I washed the blood off, I saw that only a small hole had been cut.
The leech must have gone in my shoe, bit me, and gone back out. Mom got
three bites, and Tote found some of the larger leeches (2 inches) in his
shoes but no bites. -- Duncan
My favorite part of the trek was listening to the rich and varied sounds
of the jungle. My least favorite part of the trek was having to stop so
often and remove the many leeches which had attached themselves to our
sneakers. -- Monica
Mom got three leeches on her, and Duncan got one. They were bleeding a
real lot. They got them on our trek in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary today.
The leeches looked like they dug a little hole in my shoes and socks.
We put tobacco powder on our shoes and socks and whacked them off with
our sticks. When mom got home, Tote put salt on the leech that came off
mom's leg to kill it. We saw wild boars. And we also saw deer. We didn't
see alot of birds, but we heard them. Our socks got all dirty, but that's
not unusual. We saw monkeys. They were gray. They were jumping around.
They were playing "Follow the Leader." I saw a little monkey
on its mommy's chest. I told mom that that was me on mommy's tummy. I
liked seeing the big tree with all the buttresses. -- Maggie
Mom felt very proud of her three leech bites. I have a good souvenir:
my leech stick. -- Tote
April 21 - Thekkady to Madurai - The main draw to Madurai is the
Sri Meenakshi Temple - a popular pilgrimage site. It's a huge complex
in the old city with many, many shrines. As many as 10,000 pilgrims come
here each day. We took our shoes off, stuffed them in our daypacks and
walked through the West entrance. Lots and lots of people, all ages, rich
to poor, almost all Indians. I walked around wide-eyed, trying hard to
observe as much as I could; trying hard to understand what was going on.
People were praying, standing, and kneeling before shrines, others sitting.
People were making offerings: flowers, food, money, incense, oils . .
. people were putting bindi and ashes on their foreheads. In front of
one shrine to Ganesh, there was a live elephant. You held out a coin,
the elephant took it with his trunk, he blessed your head with his trunk
and later gave the coins to his owner. There were stalls with people selling
postcards, junk, and all sorts of offertory things - flowers, foods, incense,
tiny terra-cotta oil-flame lamps, etc. -- Monica
Heat, hustlers, hotel hunting, and hindu temples. We ate lunch in a restaurant
from banana leaves instead of plates. We ate it with our hands. At the
temple, no one settles for lighting a candle, they buy food to anoint
the statues and occasionally pay an elephant to bestow a blessing. --
Tote: I like the mountains better than the valley. I like being higher
. . . it's cooler. It's mistier . . . lots of tea plantations.
Duncan: I saw big brick barns with large, pyramid of thatch roofs.
Tote: I hate flies. I hate leeches. I hate mosquitos. I love Mom. I like
the Hindu temples. I like the Christian and Hindu shrines. I hate headaches.
I hate sweat. I like thatch roofs. I like mud bricks. I like the brick-making
Duncan: I hate leeches. I hate this heat. I like the mountains. I hate
the flies. I want biscuits.
Monica: I like heat. I like the tropics . . . Did you know that we are
about 9 degrees above the equator here?
Duncan: My favorite part of the ride was the green of the mountains .
. . the beginning of the trip . . . the area before our driver stopped
at the shrine to Maria where he put the coins in the box and prayed.
Monica: There's a breeze coming into this station right now.
Duncan: It's ever so slight.
Monica: Look how the women here look like jewels walking so erect in their
beautiful, colorful saris.
Tote: Hers is brown, Mom.
Monica: Yes, but the decorations are lovely . . . look . . . the other
women right near us . . . purple, orange, blue, red, gold, yellow . .
. like jewels scattered in a train station.
My favorite part of the trip was the bullocks . . . ploughing fields or
more often pulling carts. Their horns were often painted blue or green,
but sometimes they were striped red, black, and white. One had horns painted
red with white spots. -- Monica
Maggie and I got blessed by an elephant in the temple. I stuck a coin
in the end of his trunk. The elephant accepted it. The elephant lifted
his trunk and put his trunk on my head and on Maggie's head. Like someone
would put their hands on your head. It was sort of soft but heavy. --
April 22 - Madurai - In the 1940s Madurai was the center of the
civil disobedience movement. Perhaps this is why the Ghandi Museum is
in Madurai. The sweltering museum contains Ghandi's blood stained cloak
and many panels of text, some of murky black and white photos, and some
of text and murky photos and murky paintings together. The panels relate
the story of Indian independence, downplaying the differences between
Hindus and Muslims, and the second half concentrates on Ghandi's life.
The presentation would be drier without the photographs. The grounds are
pleasant, being largely free of garbage and the nattering harangues of
rickshaw drivers. -- Mark
April 23 - Madurai to Kodaikanal - The auto rickshaws here have
non-electric horns with big blue rubber bulbs on the end. The streets
sound like a huge clown convention. And that may be the best thing about
this town. Munnar was a blot on a beautiful landscape; Madurai is simply
a blot. -- Mark
April 24 - Kodaikanal - Today we got a tour of Kodaikanal International
School. It was founded 100 years ago by Americans for the education of
missionary kids living in India. Today there are about 500 students -
about 50% christians; 50% girls; 50% boys. We had lunch at the only pizza
restaurant in Kodai . . . owned by quite a character. It was like stepping
into a hippie restaurant that could have been in any country. The owner/chef
(Indian, originally from Madras) could have been in that restaurant in
any country. He was colorful, entertaining, witty, and somewhat buzzed.
"Mr. Come-back" lived several years in Venice. I think his wife
it Italian. His two children remain there. He told us of the Deep Purple
concert he went to in Bangalore on April 1st. We told him of seeing Herbie
Hancock in Cairo. Before the electricity went out, we listened to an old
jazz CD. -- Monica
April 25 - Kodaikanal - Today we went on a 9-mile hike to see
the Rock Pillars. You could hardly see any of the Rock Pillars, because
of the clouds that were there all day. We saw a bunch of people and a
lot of monkeys. Once we got back, we ate lunch (I had cheese naan and
Chicken 65. After lunch our dessert was a bag full of homemade chocolate
for all 3 of us kids.) Earlier in the day, with my 12 rupees, I bought
12 candies. -- Maggie
We flew paper airplanes in Bryant Park. Bryant Park was like the botanical
gardens. The boys had planes with lots of tears in them to help them fly
better, but I just had two folds on each wing, and it flew just as good
as the boys'. Lots of people in the park wanted to take our picture. I
was in the most pictures. The last picture was by a family that was sort
of goofballish, like Dad. They played "Truth and Dare" and a
boy came over to ask whether he could spin one of us around, because he
was dared. -- Maggie
I think the park we went to today was fun to play in, but all in all it
was a pretty dirty park. On the edges, trash fires threw a whitish, putrid
haze over the park. Sections of flower garden were zoned off with barbed
wire. Despite these things, many families had gathered in the park. The
park was an improvement from the town, even though bits of trash rested
on the fringes of overtrodden paths. We've gotten used to all this. --
April 26 - Kodaikanal to Chennai - Before heading to the Kodai
Road train station to take the train Monica thought I should pay a visit
to the local hospital. Since I could only walk 6 feet before stopping
to gasp for breath, this seemed like a good idea. Though the hospital
was not particularly clean, it was well swept and the staff was friendly.
They gave me a shot that helped me breath, and I sat around for a couple
hours in the garden watching the mist move through the beautiful green
valleys and reading Ghandi's autobiography. I felt better when I left.
I could walk about twenty yards without gasping, and I had a bunch of
anti-asthma medicine stuffed in my pockets. This illness makes us all
incredibly vulnerable - and I am incredibly frustrated and angry with
myself. Duncan is carrying my pack as well as his own. -- Mark
I had a coconut milk. It was an actual coconut with the top cut off. Then
they cut the coconut up so you can eat the coconut meat. That was my second
one. It was good coconut, because I liked the coconut meat. When they
cut my coconut up, they cut part of it like a little paddle to dig out
the coconut meat. Then, I bet if people had a ropemaking machine at their
house they would take the coconuts they had eaten that day home to make
rope. Probably, if the rope gets worn out they would use it for something
else. There must be coconut fibers that have been around 1 million years.
This time getting on the train went like clockwork. I tucked in Duncan,
Tote, and Maggie and went to sleep. -- Monica
April 27 - Chennai - When we arrived, we quickly jumped in a taxi
and rode to a hotel that we thought we were going to stay in. It seemed
pretty expensive for what they had. So, Mom, Tote, and I went out to search
for a different place. We looked first at a big fancy suite in a big fancy
hotel, and it was more than the other hotel, so we couldn't do it. We
left and searched for another hotel, but all we could find in our price
range were dirty, damp places. We finally went back to where Dad and Maggie
were waiting by walking and auto rickshaw. We intended to get rooms in
the first hotel, but the price was higher than we thought they told us
the first time, so we decided to try the fancy suite for a night. Unfortunately,
when we got back to the fancy hotel, the suite we looked at wasn't available.
They said that it had never been available, but that isn't what they told
Mom and us. We were all tired and frustrated and sat down in the lobby,
while Dad spent a long time arguing with the hotel people and trying to
figure things out. We finally ended up with a pair of nice rooms - one
with a computer and internet connection - and free breakfasts and a free
extra bed. Dad and I watched kids playing cricket on top of a five-storey
building, in an area smaller than out backyard. Tonight, we're going to
watch Episode I on television. -- Duncan
Sunlight is very, very sweet after a night spent gasping for breath, in
a coffin-sized, individual berth on an Indian train. In the middle of
the night, I shuffled down to the middle of the car where Monica and the
kids are sleeping. Pushing the curtains aside, I can see them sleeping
peacefully. It is reassuring but brings tears to my eyes. -- Mark
April 28 - Chennai - The zoological section of the Government
Museum looks like a necromancer's lair. It's filled with stuffed rotting
carcasses of animals, formaldehyde filled jars containing sickly bleached
snakes and salamanders, and skeletons of various animals, including humans.
The crew is in a nice safe place. The antibiotics are working, and I am
on the mend. We're even catching up on stuff. Cool. -- Mark
April 29 - Chennai - We got to Sri Thiagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath
Samajam temple around noon; our rickshaw driver stopped and asked directions
five times. This is a festival to commemorate the birthday of Thiagaraja
(which is May 1). Thiagaraja (1767 - 1847) was one of three famous composers
of kirtanas and ragas in Telugu, the state language of the next state
over - Andhra Pradesh. Many of them are in praise of Rama, an incarnation
of Vishnu. He (and his devotees) believe you can reach salvation through
devotional music. He is not a god or a deity or a "saint", but this temple
is dedicated to him, and his image was in at least three places that I
saw, so it seemed to me he was treated like a "saint" by his devotees.
We stayed for about 3 hours listening to many different performers, all
members of the community of this temple and school of music. Hardly anyone
was there but the three people on stage: the singer, the drummer, and
the violin player (playing the Indian way.) They also had an electric
drone going in the background. Each devotee was allowed to perform only
two pieces (so everyone would get a chance), and they were all versions
of compositions by Thiagaraja. We were the only "outsiders", but as the
afternoon progressed, more and more people came. It was very relaxing
and meditative to sit there comfortably listening to this traditional
carnatic Indian music in the shade of a giant roofed structure that covered
the stage, the area for the audience, the temple, and various other out-buildings.
Duncan: We just had the worst rickshaw drive in the world. We went 40
rupees distance - and it was really that far -- in two minutes. And he
hit a guy!
Monica: Not very hard. I just saw a flash of white.
Duncan: Just a glancing blow.
April 30 - Chennai to Tirupathi - Located at the foot of a sacred
hill with Venkateshwara Temple complex at the top, Tirupathi is the "service
town" down below. The town at the top is Tirumala, a mix of devotional
sites (aside from the temple complex), souvenir sellers, food stalls,
barbers (many devotees get their heads shaved), and a constant milling
about of cheerful, patient devotees. Our guidebook claims that the number
of pilgrims visiting Tirumala (up to 60,000 per day) is greater than those
visiting Jerusalem, Mecca, or the Vatican. -- Monica
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