To quit or to continue on ...

I don't consider myself much of a quitter. I'd like to think that I'm more of a go-getter. I usually don't let much stand in my way of obtaining desires.

India has been a dream of mine since the age of twenty or so. It's been my main goal for the past year. I worked hard to get where I am today and to much disappointment, I'm about ready to throw in the towel.

Last night, just after 10pm, I was in bed with the lights out and the TV on. I heard a funny noise outside the balcony of my window and it was moments later that the window opened and in came a pair of hands moving the curtain out of the way. I hopped out of bed and loudly said excuse me. The hands disappeared and I heard a loud thud as someone jumped over the balcony and ran down the hallway. I was going to open the door and peer out to see who it was but I decided not to play the hero.

I packed all of my valuables in my bag and marched down to the reception. I told the guy at the desk what had happened and he didn't seem surprised nor was he apologetic. I told him that they better find me a new room immediately or give me my money back and make arrangements to situate me at a new hotel.

He gave me a real nice room for the same price so I suppose a bit of good has come from the bad. I had trouble sleeping last night despite the bars on the windows. It gave me a number of hours to ponder my trip here in India.

I arrived exactly four weeks ago today and I've given India a very fair chance. I see that I have had to change the person I am. I walk with my head down, sunglasses on at all times. I avoid eye contact and shaking hands. I trust no one and don't speak to anyone unless I'm doing business with them. It's draining and I am starting to feel like a bit of a bitch.

I'm not sure if I really want to spend anymore of my hard earned money in this shit hole of a country. My return ticket to Thailand is becoming more and more tempting with each passing day. I've not traveled through the northern part of Thailand as of yet and I'd easily be able to cross over into Laos. If time permits, I wouldn't be opposed to going back into Cambodia to spend a few more days at the temples.

I've booked an early morning train on Thurday to Hampi as I hear it's worth checking out. It's a seven hour journey and it may just be my deciding factor.

One day at a time is all I can do for now. I feel much more relaxed than I was this morning but perhaps now is not my time for India. I look around me and see all these other travelers that have been here for months and seem to be having the time of their life. I wonder why it is that I am not ...

Long Journeys ...

It was sad to leave Jaisalmer behind and perhaps I should have stayed another few days. It's an easy place to navigate as it isn't huge. One thing I liked most was that the street animals didn't seem to be starving. Each family is required to make at least two Chapatis for the cows and the dogs. I'm not sure how they monitor that each animal gets its fair share. Either way, it's nice to see this being done! The animals in the other cities were quite shocking for me.

My overnight bus was scheduled to leave the bus station at 5:15pm. It didn't arrive until after 6pm. The bus was overcrowded, as usual, but the working men on the bus gave me the sleeper I had paid for without any unpleasantness in return!

I was able to fade in and out of sleep for most of the ten hour trip. I arrived in Ahmedabad at 4am. As one could imagine, there wasn't much open so I hired a rickshaw to take me to the airport.

Funny story. The driver didn't want to agree on a price before I got in which seems to be the standard. He was quite adamant about using the meter (as far as I know they don't have meters) and then having me pay 1.5 for the rate as it was early am. I agreed and was curious as to what he'd come up with. He told me the airport was 22kms and I made a note to somewhat keep track.

He asked me if I liked India and I said it was OK. He asked, only OK? I responded with a yes, it's only OK. I was tired. About 10kms later we arrived at the domestic terminal. He quickly looks at the "meter" and says 460Rs. I didn't know what else to do but laugh.

I then asked him if he thought I was stupid. He told me that it was the nightly rate. I told him I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it was about 15kms. I held out a paper and my pen and said for him to show me the math. If he could work 15kms out times his nightly rate and come up with 460 I'd have no problem whatsoever paying that fare.

He didn't dare take the pen or the paper. I've become aware that most people here don't seem to have basic mathematics skills. When ordering in restaurants if you point to something on the menu and ask what is this, they will ask you to read it as they don't have the ability to read or write either.

One time, I ordered a coffee at 20Rs and an omelet at 30Rs. The guy, who seemed to be about 20 years old, got out a calculator to do the math. I then handed him a 100Rs note and he again pulled out the calculator to figure out the change. It seems that most of the time I was there, if he wasn't serving he was staring into space. I wonder why a guy his age wouldn't take the time to teach himself basic math skills knowing he needs to use it every day. Weird.

Anyway, back to the rickshaw driver. After I insisted on him showing the math, he started pleading with me and I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him. I told him that I had been in India long enough to know that I can rent a rickshaw for the whole day (8 hours) for 500Rs. He continued to plead. I gave him 100Rs as I thought the ride was worth that. I then told him that this is the reason that India is only OK ... because of people like him who always try to scam people like me. I handed him another 100Rs and told him that it was for his nightly rate and his tip for being an ass, then walked away.

I had about seven hours to kill at the airport at which time I buried my head into the book Slumdog Millionaire. Great book so far, I'm almost finished! I am quite interested to see the movie.

I had a quick hour and a half flight to Goa and I now find myself on a beach called Colva. It's not too bad. I'll hang my hat here for another few days before I head off.

Jaisalmer, India ...

A fascinating place, indeed! Being approximately 100km away from the Pakistan border has been interesting. Jet planes cruise overhead every couple of hours. There is a huge fort here that sits high on a hill. Lots of people reside in this fort. It's my last night here and I find myself in one of the guest houses within the sandstone walls.

I just returned from a camel safari and it was excellent! I finally feel as though I'm in holiday mode. Camels are such interesting creatures ... very prehistoric. Sleeping under the abundance of stars was amazing. Although I wasn't able to get much sleep, staring at the sky to burn the hours away didn't hurt my feelings any!

I am scheduled to leave on another overnight bus tomorrow ... oh no! This one leaves at 5pm rather than 1am, so my fingers are crossed for a better journey. I get to the other end at 4:30am which isn't going to be too fun. I am heading to the airport in Gujarat. It will be there that I'll catch a direct flight down to Goa. Finally, the ocean!

It's hard to believe I've been here almost four weeks. I've been real up and down as to whether or not I like India, but the last few days in the desert has really changed my mind. I got to spend some time talking with the camel guys and their stories are great. It's an amazing life they lead and by no means an easy one.

We were able to visit some desert villages along with some empty villages. When questioned as to why they were empty, the response was that the villages were bombed by Pakistan. The people died or fled. It really put things into perspective.

One thing I will say about India is that it continues to fascinate me. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Either way, it opens my mind to different ways of thought.

I am exhausted. Food first and then rest to follow. I have a long travel weekend ahead of me.

Sunday February 15th, 2009

I now find myself at a guest house in Jodhpur with plans of leaving tomorrow. Jodhpur is a fair sized city and has an impressive fort called the Mehrangarh Fort.

The bus ride from Udaipur to Jodhpur was crazy. I had my own seat, number one, but it seemed to be shared for most of the seven hour journey. We stopped in many small villages along the way to pick people up and drop people off. The arm of my chair and the small space at my feet was occupied for the whole trip. I'm sure three hundred people were on and off that bus.

The bus left early and I bought a small bag of plain almonds for 100Rs before leaving Udaipur. I had trouble opening the bag and when it finally ripped open, about 1/4 of the almonds dropped to the floor. The bus was quite old and very dirty so I wasn't about to pick them up.

Five hours in, a group of young girls got on with a few tots. They sat on the floor of the bus and started picking up the almonds to eat ... even the pieces that had been trampled over by hundreds of dirty shoes.

This places amazes me. I'm not sure I like it here so much. Some of the sights are spectacular but the streets are shocking. The sounds are fantastic ... prayer calls four to five times a day, the constant hum of traffic and horns and birds ... so many of them! The aromas from the food stalls on the streets make my mouth water only to then turn a corner and be smacked in the face with the smell of urine.

I met a couple from Montreal in Udaipur and they came to meet up with me here in Jodhpur. The three of us will hop a morning bus to Jaisalmer and spend a few days there. After that, I plan to head to down south. This time next week, if all works out, I'll be laying on a beach with my thoughts.

I have many things to consider these days. I am currently reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I'm going to spend the afternoon on the balcony of the guest house which is situated just below the fort.

Almost three weeks into my trip with many more to go. I miss the warmth and love from my cats, especially come the nights. I miss hot showers and clean fluffy towels. I also miss raw vegetables and being able to brush my teeth with running tap water. Simple things which are so easily taken for granted.

Udaipur, India ...

Udaipur is a cool city with lots of character. I am staying in a hotel called Udai Niwas. The room is great and it has a TV which has been a nice treat. The rooftop offers some beautiful views of the city and the surrounding mountains and lakes. I've been here four nights and will finally be leaving in the morning. It's been quite relaxing.

Last night I went for the best dinner I've had in India so far. I will go back to the restaurant this afternoon as the chef will give me some cooking lessons ... for free. I, of course, will give him a donation for his time and his obvious talent! Very looking forward to lunch!

I am on an early bus to Jodhpur tomorrow, no more night buses for the moment. It's only a six hour journey. Jodhpur is, apparently, a large city and I imagine I'll only stay for the weekend.

So, with that, I'm off to the roof of my hotel to enjoy the heat of the sun and the rest of my book!

Pushkar, India ...

Pushkar was very different from the rest of the places I've seen so far ... very chill. I spent the last two days hanging around the rooftop patio of my hotel, Hotel Everest, on a hammock. I'm currently reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. It was nice to be out of the chaos that surrounds one as soon as you decide to step outside the door of a hotel.

My room in Pushkar was only 250Rs a night. It made for cheap living over the past few days. I now find myself, after a horrible overnight bus journey, in Udaipur. The bus left Pushkar at 1:00am and arrived in Udaipur at 8:00am. The roads were so bumpy that it was impossible to get any sleep. I'm feeling very disoriented at the moment.

The guy working on the bus this morning tried to grope me ... I mean, how professional is that? Unbelievable. Instead of a handful, he got a foot to the chest. I was going to log an official complaint at the bus station in Udaipur, but there isn't a station here. Only a small stand on the street full of rickshaw drivers and none of them are going to care. They'd probably find it humorous.

I've been reading the newspaper in the mornings and I find most of it incomprehensible. Police officers beating young kids for stealing 10Rs. Someone leaving their three year old kid in the streets of Delhi for the police to find. The child isn't sure where she came from and they are supposing the parents don't want to care for her anymore. This is only two of many others.

Coming in on the bus at 6am was an eye opener. The bus was blasting loud music and with all the bumping there wasn't much else to do but stare out the window. There are so many numbers of people and families living on the streets. Yesterday, I saw a little boy that couldn't have been more than two. He was playing in a pile of garbage on the side of the road wearing only a shirt, no pants. He was covered in flies and looked as though he hasn't been given a bath since the day he was born.

I found myself wondering on this bus trek if I'm going to be strong enough to make it through the next two and a half months. It seems that my planned trip to the Maldives won't work out after all. I contacted the people that I made the reservations with and they are no longer operating which means, no reservation. I thought it was a bit fishy since they didn't ask me for any form of a payment or a deposit. I will look to see if there are any last minute package deals when I get down South.

In reading the papers, it seems that Sri Lanka may be out as well. Lots of fighting and deaths going on in the main city of Colombo. I guess that means I can visit the islands to the East and to the West of India.

Ah, India. What a crazy place. I feel as though you constantly need to be on guard. Every person who approaches you has some form of ulterior motive ... mostly to do with them getting your money. It seems very few can be trusted. And I'm not even going to get into what I think of the men. I have a few choice words which aren't appropriate language for this here blog of mine!

All that being said, Udaipur looks like a great city. I am in a fantastic hotel with a great room. I've not ventured outside yet today and I'm not sure I will. Maybe another day of rest before I face the reality this place offers.

Jaipur, India ...

The bus ride to Jaipur was quick ... perhaps a bit too quick. The bus drove in the oncoming traffic lane for most of the drive. My stomach was in knots by the time we reached the bus station. I was very thankful to get off the bus ... in one piece!

I stayed at a hotel called Sunder Palace. It was the best room I've stayed in so far at 500Rs per night. My hotel was about 2kms away from the Pink City and I spent my first day wandering the streets for hours. I'm sure I walked over 10kms that day.

Late afternoon, I made my way over to Tiger Fort and decided to walk up the hill. From far away it didn't look like much of a trek. About ten minutes up, I realized it was going to take a lot longer than I'd thought. I was low on water and in the heat of the day.

Thankfully two boys on a motorbike stopped and pointed to the small space behind them. I wasn't sure how the three of us would fair out on this small bike up the steep winding rocky roads. We did make it though and they let me out at the top. It seemed to me that I was then in the middle of nowhere.

I started my way up a road where I saw a tourist taxi pulled off to the side with two foreigners and a driver standing nearby. I'm sure they wondered where it was that I was coming from on foot.

Ends up that they were both from British Columbia. I told them how I got up to the fort and that I wasn't sure about how to get down. They kindly offered me a ride down. The three of us spent some time wandering the fort together and I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and early evening with them. It was great!

The following day, I rented a rickshaw with a driver for the day. He took me to a place called Amber and it was fabulous. There was a palace and another huge fort. I spent a few hours wandering around the grounds in amazement.

I got a bit of harassment from some men in Jaipur. It wasn't overly pleasant, but nothing that I couldn't handle.

The people at my hotel were very nice. There was a beautiful rooftop garden restaurant and a veranda. I spent one day taking in the sun and the silence. I would be on a bus to Pushkar the following afternoon. Another quick jaunt of 3 hours. Hopefully it wouldn't be 3 hours facing oncoming traffic.

Fingers are crossed for a safe journey ...

Agra, India ...

Agra was quite a step up from Delhi. I stayed at a place called The Tourist Rest House. The room was in good condition and it had a garden restaurant. I wasn't in town more than an hour before I ran into Ian, a well-traveled guy from Oxford. His room was across the way from mine, so we spent two days touring around together. He gave me lots of great advice as it's his fifth trip to India.

I rented a car for the day with a driver for 500Rs. He picked Ian and I up at 6:45am ... first stop, Taj Mahal. I'm not sure I can pick one word to describe it. It took my breath away. It was massive in size and so powerful. Truly a sight to see! I've been trying to upload some photos but it's terribly slow!

After the Taj, I went to see Agra Fort which was another favorite. The driver took us to a few more places and we ended up across the river to watch the sun go down with a view of the Taj.

Day two, Ian and I hopped on a public bus for the hour journey to Fatehpur Sikri for 22Rs. I thought it was going to be a small place with some ruins and not a lot of people. It was quite the opposite. There was a fair sized bazaar and the number of flies may have equaled the number of people. The fort and the temple were massive structures.

We spent the afternoon wandering around and caught a 5:00 bus back to Agra. I was scheduled to leave on an early morning bus heading to Jaipur which is where I am now. I'm actually leaving in a few hours, heading for Pushkar.

It's been hard to keep up on my blog here. I've not been spending too much time in front of a computer. I'm about a week and a half in and it's been a great experience so far. Some days I come home feeling amazed by the day's offerings and on others I feel drained of all my energy.

India has been an eye opener and I'm sure there's much more to come ...

Delhi, India ...

It's hard to know where to start on this one. Delhi was an interesting place. I'm not sure I got any great photos as it was hard to capture the actual happenings. I was trying to comprehend it myself never mind through the eye of a camera. Considering my hotel room was a bit of a dump, I slept great the first night. In the morning, I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of what was waiting outside the doors of the hotel.

The lobby had a tourist office, so I went there first to inquire about a city tour. He told me that a bus would leave in twenty minutes. I thought this would be a good way to meet some others, so I decided to join. It was only 200Rs.

I had to wait for about an hour in which time I picked up the Indian News. One thing of interest was the section that contained faces of badly injured or deceased people. It stated where the accidents had occurred and estimates of ages. They had no idea who these people were and wanted someone to identify them. Wow. Empty eyes staring at you is hardly a way to start the day.

A guy on a motorbike picked me up to take me to the first destination. I had a half hour to look around and was then asked to return to the bus. The bus was about thirty years old and it seated eighteen. Seventeen of those seats were occupied by men ... all from different parts of India.

The tour was pretty cool. It took me to places I would've have gone had I been on my own. The following day, I went back to two of the places I wanted to spend more time at. I also did a bit of shopping. The hassling became pretty tiresome.

The city streets were dirty with huge piles of garbage everywhere. I did venture out a few times on the public metro system. It was cheap and a great way to see different parts of the city. One thing I did notice about Delhi was the security. For each person that got on the Metro, they were frisked and all bags were checked.

Armed guards were everywhere. The streets were cleared on two separate occasions due to the president coming and going. His car was accompanied by seventeen others. One minute was loud honking and the hum of traffic followed by whistles and sirens and men with big guns yelling. When the locals started running, I followed as I had no idea what was happening. All traffic was stopped and all the people in the streets were put on the side streets behind armed barricades. Besides the distant sirens and whistles came the sounds of the birds. We were waiting over a half hour each time.

I spent three days in Delhi which was more than enough for me. The food was probably the best part! Next stop ... Agra. I booked a morning train which was to take three hours. It took six. I am beginning to learn that waiting is key here in India.

Other things of note ... the streets of Delhi seem to be dominated by men. It certainly strikes me as a man's world. During the bus tour I saw a big billboard. One third was a big picture of some guy, his name was under the photo. It looked as though he was running for mayor. The other two thirds of the sign, in big bold red letters read, 'I hate working women'. That about says it all.