Saturday, November 20, 2010

Varanasi

Well, hello again. I have decided to get on here and get up to date while I have time. We are currently just filling in time before we catch an overnight train to Agra which should be an interesting experience.

Yesterday I got up early at 5.00 and with the rest of the group headed off to the ganges river to see the early morning happenings of the locals. It was quite chilly but what struck me was the sheer number of people who were sleeping in the streets and then those who had probably spent the night on the street that had woken up and were now begging for food and money. There was also alot of people out begging who had twisted bodies and bodies with open sores.

Down at the rivers edge we jumped on a oar boat and went for a cruise upstream and then drifted downstream to the ghats (cremation site). There were thousands of people having their baths, floating in the river, washing their clothes, playing cricket, meditating/praying to the river. It was just one site after another.

We were on the river for about three hours and then went through the old town with its little alleyways which is about two people wide but a bit tricky when faced with a cow or bullock which have ultimate rule of the road and alleyways.

We came back to the hotel for breakfast and then off again to see silk being woven and the muslim quater of Varanasi. It was also a day of sacrificing animals and as we were making our way around all the little silk making houses we passed and heard numerous goats being killed in to such a humane way (and on reflection I cant believe I had goat curry last night). It is amazing the work that goes into making genuine hand woven silk fabric with it intricate gold patterns. By this stage it was getting quite warm and the smells of the little alleyways was quite powerful.

In the afternoon we had some r and r time and then left again for the Ganges at about 4.30pm to see evening prayers and other pagan rituals at the river. It is in its core river worship. It appears you can trash what you worship in this country as the river is very polluted and putting the ashes of 300 people per day (just here at Varanashi) is probably not helping. We watched the sun set over the Ganges and then floated down the Ganges to the Ghats (cremation place) for our second installment for the day. What was really disturbing was that you could see the feet on someone who was being cremated and they were definately feet perched on a log. It horrified all of us on the boat (except the guide). We then floated upstream again and watched the Bhraman performing the evening prayers to the river. I am guessing these guys are not the ones sleeping on the street, in fact I think these rather nobel looking men are quite rich. While we were sitting there in our boat surrounded by thousands also sitting in their boats I turned around and found that we had a boat on Indian men right beside me and I had about 20 cameras pointing at me and hearing "come on lady smile". It was quite intense and a bit too much but our guide told them to back off so that was nice.

We sat in the boat for about 2 hours and then climbed out, very careful not to fall into the sewer that is the ganges and we headed off to a roof top restaurant for dinner. 160 steps later and we were on the roof top overlooking the ganges and listened to bad Indian music. All the menus here have about 100 options and by the time you read through it all you really have no idea what you want so last night I had mutton curry. Now mutton is not sheep, it is goat and last night it was rather chewy goat. For the most part I have gone vegetarian but have thought that I probably need some protein and that looked the "safest" as far as safe goes here. We got back at about 10pm and then off to bed and the first sleep in that I have had on this trip.

It appears that my card reader is not working today so I am having some trouble with downloading photos but somewhere along the line I will get some up.

Have a great day and thanks for reading

Bron

Friday, November 19, 2010

From Nepal to India by taking one step over an unseen line...but it could have been under the rubbish

Firstly, I have added a photo to my last post of the elephant ride.

Now, onto todays post. Our last day in Nepal consisted of a bike ride around to Buddist temples. I am not really sure why I went because a) I dont particularly care for biking and neither does my bottom and b) I dont particularly care about buddist monestries but alas I went for a bit of exercise. I should have known and learnt from my experiences in China that bikes in these countries are not built for anyone over 160cm tall so I felt like I was riding a kids bike. It was also really hot and very sunny. We had been biking for about 90 min when I decided that seeing budda birthplace (a tree) was not really worth the pain so turned around and waited under the shade of a tree for the rest of the group. I dont know what was the better decision a) to stay with the group and die or b) sit under the tree and get chatted up by three Nepalese guys. In the end (30min), it got a bit much so I got back on my bike again and headed off into the dust leaving three very keen men in my wake (why is it not that easy in Australia!).

I arrived back at the budda garden hotel (which neither had a budda or a garden) and sorted myself out with a couple of liters of water. I think I was in bed at about 9.30pm absolutely exhausted and perhaps suffering a bit of heat stroke.

Nepal, turned out to be a country of contrasts with the busyness of Kathmandu and the very simple, third world life of the rural people. The people in Nepal were really friendly and very willing to help. I wasn't bugged by beggars and felt really safe whereever I went even after dark. It is very much a third world country. THere is virtually no signs of development though I did see a road being sealed. Most people live with marginal to no power in their houses and life is very basic. If they ever have an earthquake I fear for them as many houses are made of brick and mortar made from marginal materials. They love New Zealanders and that has definately helped. The usual conversation on the street was

Them: Mam, where you from?
Me: Have a guess
THem: America?
Me: No
Them: British?
Me: No
Them: Canada?
Me: No
Them: Oh, you are tricky, Australia?
Me: I am from New Zealand
Them: Oh, New Zealand very beautiful country. You live Wellington, No?
Me: No

It is easier when I am overseas to say that I am from NZ rather than a NZ'er living in Australia because it just gets weird and confusing when I say I am from Australia and then pull out a NZ passport.

The next day (yesterday) was to be the biggest travel day. Initially advertised as being 8 hours on a bus, it ended up being 14 hours and 14 hours of sitting on a bus after having a big uncomfortable bike ride the day before does not make for a pleasant ride. We made it to the boarder about 8.30am and took about an hour to negotiate all the immigation hurdles. In my head I was having the following conversation:

"Great...boarder crossing....shouldn't take a photo...oh, what the heck, I'm going to take a photo...oh, look man with machine gun....perhaps shouldn't take photo....well, I will get the camera out of the bag and wait for man with machine gun to look away...man looking away...take photo...eww, whats that stuck to my shoe...ew, its brown and now things are sticking to it....is it poo?...probably...need to get plastic bag and poo off shoe...why is man with machine gun laughing?....man its hot....and stinky...ah, made it to India...what a dump...something else is on my shoe...what is it?...it is brown...wheres the immigration office...oh there it is..."

You know that you are going to have no problems when you are standing at a wooden desk and a partially collapsed building waiting for your passport to be stamped when the immigration guy looks at your passport photo and says "oh, very pretty" and merrily stamps it. I have never had that happen before.

The first perhaps 30kms into India was like driving through a rubbish tip with garbage everywhere and with smells wafting through the bus that are best left on the outside of the bus. The temperature was probably 30 degrees and the bus didn't have air conditioning but some nice puny little fans which didn't work after about the first 30 minutes. The trip was about 320km long and took us 12 hours to complete. We had one food stop and two toilet stops. The road was rutted and pot holed from the monsoon season and  meant that we couldn't really travel fast. It was a bone rattling day and very hot. We got to Varanasi about 9.30pm starving, hot and I had a ripper headache. Dinner was about 10.30pm and I couldn't really eat because I was really nauseated from the trip.

First impressions of India. Initially the amount of rubbish everywhere was amazing. There was rubbish everywhere. For all that the western world is doing to save the environment there is a need to help india clean up its act, at least in this part of the country. As we got closer to Varanasi the amount seemed to decline but there was still alot of mess and filth. Another noticable thing is the amount of children and adults begging for food and money and it is constant. As soon as you step into India world there are kids there saying..."mam, money, rupee". Also it seems that there is always somewhere for indians to go. There are people everywhere. I know there is a billion people here but there seems to be people two or three deep even in country areas, in the cities it is just people everywhere. Also, the women are either walking or are in rickshaws only the men seem to be riding bikes or motorbikes.

This is a pic of the group that I am travelling with. Aussies, Swiss, South African and Me

Road side living in Nepal. Very basic and very similar to Africa (except the buffalo perhaps)
Farewell Nepal. Note the clean, uncluttered road but look what awaits!!



This is looking back towards Nepal (standing on the India side). Let the filth and dust begin

This actually belongs to the previous post but this is the reason why I am having trouble with internet. It is a bit prehistoric and todays would make you laugh as well


Walking to the bus on the india side. Not the clean sides of the road
I will come back later and do todays details.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I didn't spew!

and for any of you that know me well, will know that I do not have a great stomach from car/bus travel. Yesterday we left Kathmandu for Chitwan National Park. The trip took six hours and was a combination of the Gillies highway (near Cairns) x 150km and the Kewarau Gorge (in NZ) x 200km. Overall it took us 5 hours to travel 150kms! It was horrendously windy and up hill then down hill to get out of the Kathmandu valley in an old bus that I feared may have dubious breaks. If it wasn't so smokey it would have been a good view of the mountain range. The road was potholed and rutted but not as bad as some I have been on.

We arrived at Chitwan about lunch time, had lunch of vegetable momo (dumplings) and then later in the afternoon headed off to the elephant breeding program and saw this cute elephant twins which sounds like a nightmare 24 month pregnancy. To get there we had to take a jeep ride and I can say that long legs and this mode of transport dont work well, especially when everyone else is as tall or taller than I.

Today, I went on an elephant ride which is a bit more 'economy'  class than the Thailand rides that I have been on. We went in search of the asian tiger and rhino but found 8 deer, 3 birds and a couple of goats. Not exactly the jungle experience I was imagining. Four of us were jammed into a basket on top of the elephant which after 2 1/2 hours led to some very dead legs.

Elephant riding in Chitwan National Park. A painful 2 1/2 hours
This afternoon I have sat by a river and watch people heading off into the jungle on their search of rhino and tiger. I am starting to think it is a tourist ploy and in fact these animals are not even in this area but later some of our group did see a rhino on a canoe ride.

Tonight I am having a Nepali dinner of vegetable curry and then a cultural show which if as noisey as one across the road last night sounds like it should be a heap of fun.

Hopefully I will be able to load some photos soon. Unfortunately the USBs on this computer do not work.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What lost looks like

I have been out wondering and again I have managed to get myself lost again so thought I would show you what lost looks like. I have no idea where I was, even now when I look at a map. The streets are like a rabbit warren and impossible to navigate. There are lots of little alley ways and minimal sign posts. I often rely on the sun for working out which way to go but it is tricky in these little roads.  I was obviously off the beaten track somewhat going by the number of looks that I got (more than usual...and thats a lot!).
Lost AGAIN somewhere west of Dunbar Square and south of Thamel

The streets are really this narrow and feels somewhat clostrophobic and the thought that this is on an earthquake fault line does not reassure me any.

You start to know you are getting close to somewhere when you start seeing more westerners and the tiger balm salesmen start popping out of nooks and cranies.

If this works the video below will give you an idea of what some of the roads are like here. This is an inner city street. This is not the back blocks. In the background you may hear my guide Jack explaining the current political state of Kathmandu where there is a caretaker government in at the moment and an another election (and the final chance the UN is giving them) in January. As Jack said "it is good that you travel now miss Bronnie...January who know".
video
This next video is of the street traffic in outer Kathmandu. It was probably around rush hour but it seems this chaotic and crazy all the time. Crossing the street is quite easy...you just J walk. Vehicles will usually stop or narrowly go around you and always honk their horn to let you know that you are in the way.

video

Till next time

Friday, November 12, 2010

Should have read the guidebook...if I had one

I have had a quiet couple of days in Kathmandu. Despite what I have read and heard I dont particularly mind they busy city of four million. On Wednesday I went to another Stupha (i.e. a block of round concrete) which people walk around in a clockwise motion in the hope that someone will see and help them get a better afterlife. Buddism seems to be a lot of rituals in the hope of something that is not guaranteed. Quite empty really. I also went for a peek into a monestry. Not sure if I was allowed there but I didn't get thrown out so took a quick snap.
Boudhanth Stoupa
Trainee monks at a monestry near Boudhanth Stoupa
Yesterday was a deliberate "temple free" day so I splashed out on a 1 hour foot massage for $10.00. Probably got ripped off but in the big scheme of things does it really matter when the massage is so good. It was more of a bone massage than a muscle massage and I have some soreness today but that will subside.

Today after a walk where I got well and truly lost and then found I ventured out into the big Kathmandu world and headed off to Pashupatinath temple. The half hour taxi ride cost me $3.00 (petrol is 85 cents a litre).
Quality taxis. I tried to work out what it was but it appears it is a plain pack car. It definately needs some new rear wheel bearings


If I had a guidebook, I would have been forewarned about what was to come. Seems that today is a good day to visit if you are into cremations. I wasn't aware that this is what happens at this temple. To get there you have to go past the old peoples home (so convenient!), enter the gates and right there is the ghats where the bodies are cremated. Apparently a female takes 5 hours and a man takes 4 hours to be reduced to ashes. The ashes are then put into the river that eventually winds its way to the ganges in India.
The lead up

And so it starts
A busy day at the ghats

Note the monkey in the foreground
I also have another photo but figured you didn't want to see the dead persons hand and head.

Very similar to the camp fires that you sit around, no matter where you walk the smoke follows and now I have a very yucky taste in my mouth despite having a salami pizza on the way home. Also at this temple are some very cunning and probably rich "holy men" who pose to have their photo taken. I counted one getting his photo taken 17 times at $1.14/photo so figure they are probably some of the richer people in Kathmandu.

I almost got away with it until I realised he was following me...!!!
I actually paid for this one. Probably the richest man in Kathmandu
Right behind where the cremations were happening is the cornea excision centre. A bit of a worry!!
 The sights and sounds during the day never cease to amaze but at night it is silence. Not a horn sounding, no roosters, no dogs just silence and it is almost too quiet when you consider the hussle and bussle of the day.

The weather has been perfect everyday so far with sunny skies and the temperature in the mid 20's. Night time is a bit chilly at about 10 degrees.

I have also had some fun with internet cafe's and if you feel a bit tired and need to look at the keyboard from time to time it can be a bit confusing. 

A few added extras that make you look twice
While completely lost I found a local butcher shop. Autopsy revealed goat. There is a pork one near my "hotel"
 
A nice sign to see

 I would also like to  mention that Mr Google maps needs to come to Kathmandu because the maps do not resemble anything that is actually here. After some days I have managed to find the Garden of dreams which is this garden (see below) that is an escape from the noisey outside world and a nice place to stop for a while. It is not very big but a nice change from Kathmandu.

The "Garden of Dreams" in central Kathmandu
 So, that is it for a while. I appear to be getting a cold at the moment which is not pleasing to me. Figured the stress of work has gone and so comes the coughs and colds. Time for me to head back to the  "hotel" which is a left turn at the knife stand and then a right at the bong shop...easy even when the power is off.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Photos that were meant to go in the last post - technical hitch - the power went off again

The view from the plane coming into Kathmandu airport. Not sure what this mountain is called. They were not as spectacular as I expected. Suppose it is tough to beat flying into Christchurch.

Restaurant for the first night. Had a spicy nepalese dish that blew my tongue off. Mild is not an option.

Prayer wheels at the monkey temple. Christianity seems so easy compared to all the bits and pieces that go into Buddism.

The view from the monkey temple and yes I did walk up here and I was marginally fitter than my guide (he asked me to stop twice for breath and said I walk too fast!)

Another view from the monkey temple. I think to the west.

Dunbar Sqaure with its pesky pooping pidgeons. I got hit twice with poop! How can emaciated cows be sacred?

For the dentists out there. This is a place where you can offer a sacrifice to end your tooth ache! Sort of looks like a bad tooth

My guide Jack. I always said I like a man in a tie. On the plate at the front are mo-mos (aka dumpling). Not particularly exciting to eat! On his plate (which I had over to the left of picture) had rice, daal, vegetable curry and some leafy/spinich dish

The hussle and bussle of Kathmandu

I have finally arrived in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu.  After 24 hours of airports, airplanes and snoring seat companions I made it to Kathmandu airport. It was not quite what I expected. Nepal, at least in my imagination is a touristy place that has had lots of UN involvement so I was imagining something more than a third world airport. Not a computer in sight and back to a rubber stamp society. I had prearranged my visa before coming which turned out to be a very wise move as I later meet up with someone on my flight you had not and she told me it took two and a half hours and when she made it to the baggage claim "area" her bags had been thrown in a heap in the corner.

The journey into Kathmandu reminded me of Indonesia and Congo. Busy and with road rules that no westerner could ever comprehend and while the cars are a bit knocked about I have not seen a crash. There is lots of rubbish on the streets and most are either cobbled stoned or with numerous potholes in the sparse bitumen. Again I am in the land on tooting horns and motorbikes. For those who think it sounds like Thailand, it is a bit more primitive than that. It reminds me of Congo because we have had three power blackouts which apparently is the norm in dry season as the hydro dams get low and the turn off the power stations to conserve power.

The people are nice as are most in Buddist countries. The philosophical basis of not doing any wrong to living things is definitely a plus when you are sharing roads with cars and motorbikes. Also petty crime to seems fairly non existent so it is safe to travel around on my own.

Yesterday I hired a guide and visited a monkey temple and while to mere fact that they had managed to lumber all stone up to the top of a hill is fairly amazing the view was even better. Thankfully the Nepalese are not as cunning as their Indonesian counterparts who have trained their monkeys to steal from tourist so that the tourist has to pay to get their possessions back.

The town seem littered with three storey buildings that look ready to fall down in the next earthquake. I also got told by a guide that they are due for their one in a hundred year earthquake which was not that reassuring. In Dunbar square many of the buildings were destroyed in the last earthquake but have been restored.

Lunch was with my guide and was very spicy which burnt a bit on the inside. 20 hours later I have had no ill effects so here's hoping it was ok.

Today is a relaxing day and sorting through some of the shops and maybe heading out of the valley to see what is out there.