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Posts from the ‘India’ Category

hampi — land of rocks and ruins

new friends

I have spent the past three days wandering the ruins of Hampi, which was in its heyday in the 1500s. But now, there is just the bizarre — where people live on the side of the road in old ruins, painted bright colors with their children running around and goats and dogs and chickens mixing in with the walkers and tuk-tuks. The ruins are pretty amazing — the stonework itself is great and it is fun to imagine what it would have been like back in the day. For instance, I stopped by the Queen’s Bath – aq large building that was rather boring from the outside – but inside you could just imagine it as a bathhouse for the queen — it was huge and it would be more of a pool than anything else — but on a hot day – it would have been delightful! Or the Elephant’s stable — yes, you read the right — the stable for the elephants. I loved imagining all the stables being full with the royal elephants and having them come out for the king and queen. It is a pretty awesome mental image!

While walking from site to site, I traveled though banana plantations lined with coconut trees. I know that people must die from coconuts falling on their heads — so I am wary will walking down the street with trees lining either side. I mean, I am sure there isn’t a huge likelihood of it happening…but still. Twice, I have climbed to the top of the highest hill around, scrambling up the rocks to the temple ruins up there, to watch the sunset. It is great to be up high above the banana and coconut trees and away from the hustle and bustle – which, compared to other places I have been — isn’t that much.

This is definitely off the beaten track (for instance, I tried to go for a run but the dogs are obviously not use to runners – so they thought I was playing and they wanted to run/play with me) — though there are lots of tourists here – both western and indian. Some of my most fun times in the past few days have been when the Indian families, perplexed with me, stop and talk — or they want to take my picture. This family wanted lots of pictures with me — here are a few. And after they took pictures with me, we walked together for awhile — which allowed me to get some more candid shots of the kids.

the main temple


rocks of hampi

sunrise over the ruins

one other travelers….

I find that it is hard to make actual friends with other tourists – unless they are on their own. But, it is very easy to strike up conversation at lunch or dinner — since many times we all frequent the same places (though since I have been going the local places for lunch and breakfast, there are not a lot of other tourists there). The last few days have been a little lonely after Varkala — where i only had dinner by myself once – either with Rob or the Nepali friend I made (we had fun reminescing about all that we like about Nepal – I got to learn more about Nepal and he got to be proud of his country when I told him everything I liekd about it). But here, it is kind of quiet. Which is fine, just have to get used to it again.

Otherwise, the other travelers….they all (ok, probably not all….) smoke like it was going out of style. at restaurants especially — you know, when you are eating. They (euros) make fun of americans for liking the big coffees and liking really sweet tea – but that seems inocuous compared to smoking at the table next to me when i am trying to eat.

my new friends in hampi

And – (ok, bare with me and my venting this morning – you all are my captive audience — as I don’t have anyone else to tell!) it kind of drives me crazy to hear them complain — It is ridiculous to me to hear some of the tourists (Euros mostly) argue over 20 or 30 rupees. I mean, really? i get that if one tourist gets cheated then it drives up the pri ce for all the other tourists but……. and then when they complain about the food — all i can think is…. why are you ordering lasagna in India – from someone who probably has never had a good lasagna before?! I mean, I like my comfort food as much as the next person – and I have ordered pizza here and there (though i weaned myself from the every day occurence that happened after the trekking!) — but, i mean, it is Southern Indian food — how can you go wrong?!

My breakfast this morning was 30 rupees and consisted of idlys (which is rice pressed into a patty), two deep fried chili peppers, sambar – a dal mix with veggies – which is slightly spicy, and then a coconut sauce thing — i don’t know the name of any of it — but so good! you dip the idly into the sauce and scoop into your mouth – amazing! I think that they were surprised that i liked the chilis – as most people ask for food that is not spicy.

I wish i could go to the road side stand every day for breakfast but I dont think that they will be open when i leave tomorrow morning at 6 to catch a bus to Hospet in order to catch another bus to Hubli in order to catch an overnight train to Mumbai. Makes me tired just to think about it…. and kind of sad…. I wish that I could stay in S. India for another month…. I was worried that this would happen — that by purchasing all my tickets up front that I would not allow myself the freedom to stay in a place I like. And here, it has happened. I would love to stay in these parts – wandering around, head all the way south, more time on the coast. But I fly out in less than 2 weeks and so I need to head north. But, the south has enticed me, teasing me with her food, her people, her views…..Oh India…..

i told her i should sit for the photo so i did not look like a giant….

a boy praying in front of a temple ruin

Kindness of Strangers

I am in Hampi now — after two overnight trains — one from Varkala to Bengalore and then one from Bengalore to Hospet (where I got a bus to Hampi).  Hampi is an amazing spiritual landscape of ruins and huge boulders — seriously, a bouldering dream come true!  Makes me want to climb!

I will have some awesome pictures to share with you all.  I am totally exhausted though — I was really tired leaving Varkala as it was and then two overnight trains — suffice it to say that I did not get a whole lot of sleep.  So today is not going to involve a ton of walking around in the sun (though hot, at least it is not as humid here!) — but I had a great lunch at a restaurant that I had to walk through a banana plantation to get to — and then sat on the ground overlooking the river.  And I had to stop myself from ordering everything on the menu….

Anyway — as I mentioned – I had a really good time meeting strangers in Varkala – Rob and Norman in particular (though there was another good find there too! ;).

So — yesterday, when I arrived in Bengalore at 7 in the morning – I did not have a plan for the day other than catching my train at 10 at night.  I read in my trusty lonely planet that there were two touristy areas — so I picked one and had the tuk-tuk driver drop me off.  Of course nothing was open — not even coffee shops — and I had no clue where I was going.  As I was walking down the street, I saw a foreigner and thought I would ask him if he knew where I was (all I needed was a point of reference and then I could work from there!).  I asked him if he spoke English – and he replied – oh, a little.  Just kidding, I am english!

Unfortunately, he was not able to give me a point of reference – as he was in Bengalore for work all of two weeks and he mostly had a driver to get to and from work….  So, while that was not helpful – we went and had a cup of coffee and talked for a bit (as foreigners are apt to do when they meet up traveling – the whole ‘what’s your name, where you from, where are you going’ thing).  It turned out that he did not really have plans for the day – and neither did I — so he invited me back to his hotel to sit by the pool.

Now — disclaimer — I know how sketchy that sounds.  I know that even more sketchy is I took a rinse off in his bathroom (overnight train — which by the way — somehow I ended up in AC!  how cool is that?  well…  literally cool, i suppose!)

But – yes, I know it sounds super sketchy.  And I had to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether I trusted the situation or not (which, is pretty much what I do on a daily basis with just about everyone/everything).  Andy seemed fairly harmless (and andy, when you read this – i hope you get a good laugh out of this!) — and it did sound nice to sit poolside….

So, along I went — to a super nice hotel (i have a picture of poolside) and we sat in the sun and had delicious sandwiches and g-and-t’s.  I did not swim as I had checked my bags at the train station — but it was nice to just hang out.  and, i’ll be honest, nice to be pampered a little in a super nice hotel.  We hung out for the day and then andy treated me to a super nice dinner before I headed to the train station.  Thanks again Andy!

Funny enough — this story is dedicated to another Andy.  I co-instructed a course this summer with the very fun and funny Andy Clair.  And his feedback to me after the course (among other things — one of which was to pack lighter…. wish I had heeded his advice there!) – but he told me that I should be better at accepting (and asking) for help.  And though I was not necessarily looking to be rescued yesterday by Andy (English andy), it was nice to accept his offer and trust/believe that it was all going to work out.  Whereas, I could have said no, no — I am fine, I will do it on my own — and my day would have been very different (and would not have included a hot shower — first in weeks, g-and-t’s poolside and a super fancy dinner!).

So — here is to accepting help and opening oneself up to the kindness of strangers!

more from me soon — with pictures hopefully!

lots of love — aurora

Varkala – aka a time warp

Varkala….  kind of like hotel california — you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave….  here i am – headed out of town finally — several days after I planned on!  Somehow, 3 days turned into 5 or 6….  seems that is how Varkala rolls.  For one thing, it is actually hard to get out of here — not a ton of buses and trains leave from this area – you have to go to a bigger city to get connections and the tourist area is located on the coast – whereas the real town is further away and most tourists have no reason to go down there.

Finally, the other day, I realized I needed to take some action or I would be stuck here for awhile – so I visited one of the many travel agents in town.  What I thought would be a simple plan turned into several hours of frustrating news.  Basically, all trains are booked.  Turns out December is a tough time to get a train around here (I just happen to be on the pathway of most-visited-Indian spots in the winter — Kerala, Karnataka, Goa) — even with the tourist quota, there are not a lot of spots available.  And then, after that whole planning time with the travel agent, I left with nothing becuase I need to go down to the station to try to get tourist quota tickets.

So, train station lady and I spent a while talking and I walked away with a whole slew of tickets — Varkala to Bengalore, Bengalore to Hampi, Hampi to Mumbai, Mumbai to Ajmer.  I am set for the next few weeks (though I still need to get one more ticket to Delhi!) – though, I have to say, none of these trips are super convenient.  For one thing, I am in sleeper class for all of them (remember that dirty, dusty, crowded train ride I took a while back?  Remember when I said I would only take 3AC or 2AC after that first experience?  Yeah — now I am signed up for a whole bunch of those) and for another thing — I have long waits in between.  For instance — tomorrow, I leave for bengalore at 1:30 in the afternoon — i arrive at 7 in the morning (desperate for a shower) and then take a train that evening at 8 that gets in at 7:45 (really really desperate for a shower).  Yes, that is two days after I leave here….  In mumbai, I have a similar situation (though, lucky for me, even a few hours longer of a wait between two trains!)

Not sure how I will manage that time — find a place to stow my luggage?  Get a rickshaw for the day?  A hotel room?  hang out in the train station and stare at people?  Not sure — I guess it is all part of building the epic…. or something.

But — big picture — I have 17 more days in country — I will visit Hampi, which everyone raves about, for a few days and then head up to Rajasthan for a few days (not sure where I will visit — but definitely Pushkar and Jaipur).  It is going to be quick and lots of transportation time — but hopefully worth it.

But — back to Varkala….

As I have said, it is a strip of souvenir stores, restaurants, and travel agents — all up on a cliff side.  I have walked the strip more times than I would like to think (mostly because it is the only place to walk — especially when it gets dark).  Once you get past the strip — there is great beach to the north.  I spent some good time over there watching the most amazing sunset — probably one of my top 5 ever (see pictures below).

This is the first place I have really met a bunch of tourists — though two stand out:  Rob and Norman.  Rob and I met because we were both walking the strip back and forth one night and laughed about it – and from there decided to pick a spot and drink a beer, which turned into a few and then dinner.  Rob is probably in his late 50s/mid-60s and from Australia.  He is retired and spends most of his time driving his camper van up and down the Australian coast, camping and surfing.  (Oh, that sounds terrible).  We had a great time talking about life and travel and love and making lists and spirituality.  We both are traveling alone (he is here for just 5 weeks this time, but once he was here in India traveling for 16 months!) – so we had fun talking about that as well.  It was a great evening and he totally inspired me to add ‘buy van and pimp it out to live out of’ to my life list.

And then there is Norman.  He and I met when we both were stopped to admire a sunset.  I am not sure how old Norman is — but his oldest son is 40 – and he seems like he could be in his 70s.  But — i am not good at guessing ages!  Norman is also traveling alone and has been coming to India for about 13 years.  He always comes to the south and spends a month or so here.  He invited me along for a day on the backwaters (which, Lonely Planet says that floating in a houseboat on the Keralan backwaters is one of the iconic life list things to do).  He told me to think about it and told me where his hotel was if I wanted to go – to just leave a message for him there.  I thought about it and realized that, even though, I did want to leave Varkala —   this was too good an opportunity to pass up (he offered to treat me for the day – but not in a sketchy way – instead he said — ‘i am already paying for all of this, why not have someone come along with me’).  So – Norman and I went to the backwaters.

Long story short, our day was a bit messed up – though it all worked out.  We went to a very beautiful beach in the morning and then floated in a canoe some of the backwaters in the afternoon.  And, true to the hype, it is pretty spectacular.  Our guide was a 23 year old who definitely had a schtick – but was knowledgable, friendly and fun.  We saw a few birds, a water snake, floated past villages, learned about how they make coconut oil and coconut rope (which I have a sample that we made to bring home).  Without seeing a larger map to understand how it all lays out, i have a hard time picturing where we were — but these villages seem to do their travel and life using these small canals.  And, I even got a chance to pole our canoe along.  And norman and I had fun talking about life and his family and travel in India (and elsewhere as he does one or two trips a year and seems to have been all over the place!)

All in all, it was a good adventure in Varkala.  I definitely would not recommend it to someone looking for a quiet, off the beaten track kind of place.  One night, a restaurant down the way, partied late into the night, keeping me up (which, bad on me, I should have moved guest houses — but repacking and moving my backpack is SO unappearling).  Also – the men seem to be over the top forward and aggressive here.  I have walked out of my room to be confronted with staring men who check me out head to toe.  And you cannot walk the strip or near the beach late at night without some new male friends (who do not make me feel very friendly) who do not get the hint that i am not going to go off with them.  But – that is counter-balanced with meeting fun travelers, pick up soccer games at 7 in the morning on the beach with the locals, running on the beach with the locals in the early morning (and even though that is all men too — their staring just seems a lot less aggressive!) and amazing sunsets.

Varkala – where the livin’ is easy

Upon arriving, I got assaulted with requests to stay in various hotels and so it was pretty easy to find a place to stay.  I could have probably even gotten a better deal, but the room is nice enough.  And then I went to walk the strip — basically a long path of restaurants all with their fish out on display.  basically — you can pick out what you want cooked.  There were the usual assortment of crabs, prawns, fish of varying sizes.  One place had a butter fish that was probably 3 feet long and huge!

I tried to find some southern indian food (as I figure I don’t need to have pizza here, since the pizza I can get at home is really good and I can’t get southern indian food at home!) — but I could not find a place that had any.  All of the places have very touristy menus — food from home (Russian, Swedish, Continental, etc.) — which was kind of a bummer for me.  I am going to have to go search out a place — though town (the real town, not the tourist central) is a few km away.

this morning, i got up early and went down to the beach for a run.  There were a few other men running, some swimming and bathing and then some folks playing soccer.  I did my workout (sprints on the beach, barefoot — pretty awesome!) and got schooled by an old guy out there running — he was running back and forth on the short section of beach — and wanted me to join him — i tried to tell him I was doing sprints and then when i sprinted by him, he started to sprint too — and totally kicked my ass.  But, he invited me to come running with him tomorrow morning.  Then I got invited to join in on a pick-up game of soccer — a little 3 on 3.  It was super fun though I actually have no idea how to play soccer…  and i have no aim.  But, I decided that if I can start each day with 45-60 minutes of exercise and playing (preferably on the beach) every day followed by coffee overlooking the ocean….  that would work for me.

Funny enough — when I went for breakfast — the couple next to me asked if I had been trekking up in the everest base camp area.  Turns out Katherine and I spoke to them up there (though, honestly, i have no memory of meeting them!) — but it was fun to talk about our adventures since then.

I went for a walk , got yelled at for taking a picture in a temple (there were no signs and the last temple I was at, I could take pictures!   eek!), and then walked back on the beach — all the euros are wearing super tight and SMALL bathing suits…  including the two girls jogging on the beach in their bikinis….  i guess the whole advice thing to be culturally appropriate in dress doesn’t apply to the euros in their bathing wear….  (though….  i sort of wish it did with some of them! 🙂

My good friend was here for two months and I can see how people would get ‘stuck’ here — the living is easy…  I am sitting at a juice bar,  there is good coffee, i had fresh fruit salad, there is wifi.  All I could think this morning was…. it is a monday morning (sorry to all of you teacher friends — i am not trying to rub it in!)

Ok — i am off — maybe to eat some more, maybe to read, we shall see.

here are a few pictures from kochi (the weather hasn’t been good for photos — lots of rain the past few days!)

coming across on the ferry to Kochi
my watermelon drink!

sunset from Kochi

coming across on the ferry to Kochi

a few random thoughts and observations

1.  I read a newspaper article about a man yesterday who claims he has the smallest coconut ever (seriously, that is what the article said).   He is trying to get in the guiness book of world records.  The article went on to say that he collects miniature items.  and that he is single. the unintentional (or intentional?!) comedy factor killed me.

2.  Indian men touch – a lot.  They hold hands.  they put their arms around each other (and not just around their shoulders, but around their waists and chests).  But indian men and women?  nope, barely touch.  sometimes they hold hands, if they are feeling really frisky.  still interesting to watch – especially coming from the US culture of touching (which is pretty much the opposite).

3.  i tried to go to the festival today.  I took a few buses – it took an hour + to get there…. and then, I discovered that it will not really start until night time.  but they were putting out the oil lamps on the temple — which will look amazing.  There were suppose to be elephants – 20 of them all dressed up – but I did not see them.  🙁  I decided that I did not want to risk the bus at night, even if I tried to get help.  It seemed too confusing or maybe I am just feeling weary from all the staring and questions about where I am from and if I am traveling alone.

4.  I get stared at a lot.  And by a lot, I mean constantly.  All the time.  Indian seems to have 18x more men than women.  And they all stare, all the time.  And it seems that me being alone is particularly interesting.  And I dress way more conservatively then some of the other tourists.  The last two days it has gotten old.  Oh, and they love to ask me if I am traveling alone.  which just feels sketch to me.  sure, maybe they are just being friendly but….  i have had a few interactions that have felt less than savory (one was from a 15 year old boy – made me want to bring some of my favorite students here to have a little conversation with him).

5.  Indians with their children are pretty much adorable.  The kids tend to be very dressed up (kohl around the eyes and eyebrows is fairly common) and fancy dresses are de rigeur.  They are so cute.  And they seem to be very well taken care of and adored by their parents.  I love watching the little kids – which gets me lots of appreciative looks from adoring parents (which is a nice alternative to the staring!)

6.  I love southern indian food.  I have gone to the same place for lunch the last 3 days – i have gotten a thali which is just a lunch dish with a potpourri of samples.  With a chai, it costs me 85 rupees — that is a little less than a $1.50.  And the place I have gone for dinner — I get a masala dosa and the guy says all sorts of things to me and i just say yes and get pleasantly surprised when a chai shows up or some fried banana thing.  And that dinner?  it costs me less than a dollar.  love it.  I have yet to go to a tourist place for dinner (where I would pay 6x as much – and the food would not be as good).  My breakfast costs a whole lot more (more than lunch and dinner combined!) – but I love the fresh fruit assortment and the press coffee.

7.  tomorrow i will either head inland to mysore or south to allepey.  I cannot decide.  Kerala is a place where I could spend a LOT of time.  I see why people come just here.  In fact, I already know I want to come back and splurge on getting a houseboat in the backwaters — which definitely does not fit my 30$/day budget, but would be pretty amazing to do some day.

8.  Today it rained again.  which only made the temperature and the humidity pretty much insane.  I went for a run this morning and I think i spent the next 3 hours dripping sweat trying to cool off.  Oh, and I cannot remember the last time I had hot water for a shower.  Which is fine – given these temps.  but i just don’t get how come other people don’t sweat in this heat.

9.  i am staying in a homestay – basically a house that is a restaurant/hotel/home.  I am downstairs so i am pretty much in with the famly.  And I cannot figure out the family dynamics (i.e. who is married to whom and who’s kids is who’s….) – but last night i had an interesting conservation with the woman who is probably a few years younger than me.  We talked about arranged marriage (India) versus marrying for love (western).  She told me that by the time a woman is 22-24, if she hasn’t found anyone (meaning, a love relationship) then her parents will step in and arrange something (with her ok, of course).  I said that it was different in the US and told her that many of my friends are not married into their 30s, even late 30s.  But she remarked that there is a higher divorce rate here.  It was interesting to talk about the differences in culture.

10.  cricket is very popular here.  I cannot figure it out.  but then again, i have not stayed to watch much of a game (and there are playing fields everywhere — i see men out playing when I go running early in the morning) – as… well, see #4.  I think that would only encourage more staring.  you should see when i run by.  the game just about stops.  Seriously.  I cannot imagine what it would be like if I was blond.

Ok — that is enough from me tonight.  I am headed out tomorrow – not sure where I will end up.  Maybe I will just see where the next bus is headed to!  I just got a recommendation to head to Varkala so maybe that will be it.  Who knows….  I just know that southern india is definitely pretty amazing.  I maybe setting myself up for one hell of a train ride north, but it seems worth it….

take care, keep emailing and posting comments.

much love — aurora

Rainy days

Every once in awhile, I have a crisis of faith, of wondering what am I doing, being on permanent vacation (is that really what I am doing — being on vacation for 9 months?!)?  What am I doing – but going from coffee shop to restaurant to reading my books to eating food?  To not having a purpose?  To just sight-seeing day after day?

Today is one of those days…

It is raining today.  which makes it harder to figure out what to do.  Do I sit in my room and read?  Do I try and go to a festival that is at a temple somewhere near-ish?  Do I just keep eating and spending money as I wander from place to place?

I like having purpose (for evidence, see the past five years of my life) — and sometimes I just am not sure what my purpose is right now…  as you might imagine, I am not one of those people who are really good at just sitting on the beach!  So, maybe that is my purpose – to learn to just sit.  To be here, without a purpose and wait for that purpose to come to me.  Or for me to find it.  Or to figure out that purpose can mean lots of different things — that it is not all about goals and checkpoints.

But, please, don’t get me wrong — in the grand scheme of things – i feel tremendously blessed and lucky to be here — to witness the world and expand my horizons.  But, sometimes when I get caught up in the details of every day life and miss the comfort of home and friends – it is those moments that i wonder what i am doing out here.

Or maybe it was just all the pictures and stories of turkey and thanksgiving food all over facebook that did me in….

I am trying to figure out if I should head out of Kochi, or if I should stay another day and go to the festival, or if I should go elsewhere in Kerala, or if I should go to Hampi, or if I should….  you see the problem?  There are so many options… how do I pick the best one?  or to not be paralyzed by the multitude of options and just do nothing?

I guess I will go drink a cup of chai and try and figure it all out.  or maybe just read my book.

be well friends.  thanks for being part of my pupose — to be able to share my thoughts and observations with you all.

hope you can avoid black friday!  🙂  i am doing my part and just shopping locally.

Thanksgiving on the Arabian Coast

I took an overnight train from Chennai to Kochi two days ago — the train ride itself was fairly uneventful – although I made myself laugh.  When I bought the ticket, I asked for the lower berth so I could see out the window – forgetting that it was a NIGHT time train – so obviously I could not see anything.

Once I arrived here on the west coast, I had to take a ferry over to Fort Kochi – which was pretty cool.  A 7am ferry across the bay to the peninsula tip.  I could see at the southern end, there were massive tankers and tugboats, but Fort Kochi itself is way mellow!  Besides being harrassed by two super friendly men who wanted me to stay at their homestay (and they were really friendly, just annoying), everyone said hi, good morning and lots of smiles.  It was almost eery how friendlyand laidback everyone was!

Kochi is beautiful — buildings are all painted different colors, men are selling their catch on the waterfront, the iconic Chinese fishing nets are on display.  It is very chill and very beautiful.  It is definitely set up for tourists – of which there are two types – the westerners (the euros, the israelis, and then the assorted american, kiwis, etc.) and then the Indian tourists – of which there are plenty.  We all walk along the boardwalk at sunset and take pictures.  There are also great cafes in town with good coffee – you almost forget where you are (seriously, this morning I could have been in Northampton, the cafe was so hip and cool and the coffee so good – though the difference might be in the fresh fruit platter!)

It is thanksgiving, so though I am not celebrating it with anyone (though I met a couple of American girls this morning who are from Martha’s Vineyard who invited me to dinner tonight!), I am doing my part to overeat and overindulge!  🙂  I won’t embarrass myself going into detail on all I have had today – but suffice it to say, I am joining all of you in gluttony today!  🙂

houses in Kochi

fish stands

baby hammerhead

Chinese fishing nets

sunset over the Arabian Sea

Kerala, the state Kochi is in, is pretty different from the rest of India.  For one thing, as many people have proudly told me, there is a 95-99% literacy rate and it is a democratic-socialist state.  People are proud that they speak english so well (and as someone told me, even the government schools teach english!) and that it is a well-educated place.  Teachers here are revered (and they seem to be in most places I have been, so I can only imagine how much more so here!).

It is fairly diverse — having had Portuguese, Dutch, and Jewish ‘residents’  over the years.  I have seen a number of people with green eyes (as opposed to the traditional black hair and dark eyes of much of the rest of the country).  There is a Jewish community here in Kochi with a synagogue.

besides making me laugh, this sign denotes where jew town is in Kochi

In any case — happy thanksgiving to you all!

I am so thankful that you all are part of my world and ‘with’ me on this journey.

much love — aurora


Bay of Bengal

I arrived in Pondicherry yesterday – which is a totally different scene than Mamallapuram.  For one thing, it is French.  Well, it was once a french colony, and I am staying in the french area, so the streets are wide, the signs are in French (Rue de…) and the houses are all very beautiful and quaint.  But – on the streets are auto-rickshaws, multiple lanes, motos, street-carts — in other words, it is still India! Another difference is there are no ruins here.  In fact, there might be more churches than Hindu temples.  Also, it is the location of a very well known ashram, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram – so people come from all over.  In fact, the guest house i am staying at is run by the ashram, which is wonderful — set close to the rocky beach, a beautiful garden, clean and simple rooms.

The ‘beach’ side is a walkway set over a rocky coast.  Last night it was amazing to walk up anddown it — it seems as if all of Pondicherry is out walking, eating, talking, flirting, visiting.  It was GREAT!  I loved just people watching (and people love watching me!)  I had two little girls in beautiful dresses come up to me and shyly ask me my name.  They were followed by two little boys who giggled over my name and then they all wanted to shake my hand goodbye.

Then, this morning, the rising sun woke me – so I went to walk out by the water — where, again, people were jogging, doing yoga, walking and getting all sorts of exercise.  I cannot wait to go for a run tomorrow morning!

In any case, i found wifi — so here are some pictures from my travels — starting with Kolkata!

awesome self-portrait

flower ghat, Kolkata


huge strands of marigolds

And here are pictures from Mamallapuram:

beachside rock carvings

sunrise over the Bay of Bengal

shiva, in front of a temple

all my new friends

ruins, 8th-6th century AD

shore temple

rock carvings

sign in Mamallapuram

And a few from Pondicherry — mostly from the Ashram guesthouse:

view from my room in Pondicherry

sign at the Ashram guest house! love it….

Spent a while this morning, sitting at a cafe eating a delicious chocolate croissant and drinking great coffee (in the french quarter of town) — planning out the rest of my trip.  I have less than a month to go in India and there are so many places I want to go — but do not want to spend all my time (and money) on trains and buses — so trying to be strategic about where I am going…..

But tomorrow afternoon, I will head back to Chennai by bus (3.5 hours) and then take an overnight train to Kochi – which is on the other side of the country — the west coast.  It will be good to spend a couple of days over there — and then…. we shall see.  Hampi?  Goa?  Mumbai?  I don’t know yet….  My only goal is to get to Delhi on the 14th or 15th to visit a schoolthere  that is affiliated with Expeditionary Learning before I fly out on the 18th.  We shall see…..

I am guessing that I will have internet over in Kochi, but if not — have an amazing thanksgiving!  I know i have much to be grateful for — but mostly the support and love of my friends and family who are very much in my heart and mind while I travel!  much love to you all!

Varanasi, part deux

good morning mother ganga

It has been a great couple of days in Varanasi.  My favorite parts (and pretty alI did) was walking along the ghats, people watching and going to the festival in the evening.  But, I did take a morning boat ride on the Ghanges.  Here are some pictures from that:

morning boat ride

morning boat ride

For those of you who have never been to India, it is hard to describe.  But I made a some observations that capture a little of what India, or Varanasi, is. Varanasi is…..

  • Straight razor shaves on the street
  • Boys flying kites
  • Dips in the ghanges
  • Shared fear (and laughter) of being trampled by a cow
  • Holiness everywhere
  • Marigold strands
  • Boys diving into the river
  • Women smiling back at me (after I catch them staring – and return the stare with a smile)
  • Cobras in baskets (oh hell no!  how do you know it won’t come towards me???)
  • Grinning sadhus in orange
  • The stench of piss and cow shit
  • Skinny little dogs everywhere
  • Shrines and little temples tucked into every street
  • People, strangers, who genuinely look out for me in crowds
  • Beautiful, bedazzling, colorful saris
  • Pollution and trash everywhere
  • People sleeping just about anywhere

The last night I was there was the big festival.  There were 24 Brahmins (priests) performing the puja on the water front – though every ghat had their own ceremony.  During the afternoon each ghat was preparing with laying out the oil lamps and mandelas on the pavement.

oil lamps for the festival

even though the river is polluted….

pouring oil in to prepare

I found a spot in front of the main stage but that was definitely one of the most crowded areas.  It was so busy and crazy!  Thousands of people started to fill the ghats two hours before anything even started.

The area I was started to fill up quickly, but fortunately the people around me were looking out for me- from the sassy teenage girl tapping people on the shoulder who stood in front of us and elbowed me in the side reminding me to pray to the group of twenty-something men who simultaneously made fun of me and offered for me to stand in front of them so I could see (and who immediately stopped their laughter and jokes once the puja started) to the policeman who wad basically hitting people with his baton to get them out of the walkway but exchanged smiles with me and made sure I could see!

and this is before it got crowded!

the masses

Following the ceremony, I attempted to walk down the ghats to see some of the oil lamps but the crowd was intense and I was immediately being knocked around by the crowd.  I heard a voice next to me saying ‘just stay with me, follow me’.  Not wanting to be trampled by the crowd, I put my trust in this guy and he safely pulled us to the side out of the crowd of thousands trying to go in either direction.

This guy introduced himself as babu, but that is the word for little boy [which cracks me up every time I hear someone shout ‘hey, babu!’] so I didn’t really believe him but he invited me to a small Shiva ceremony that he and some friends were going to have soon.

Though it sounded sketch, I thought I would check it out.  The shrine turned out to be right on the ghats but hidden away – I passed it a dozen times but never noticed it before.  When I got there three men were preparing for the ceremony – putting flower strands on all the ‘statues’ [my bad in advance for not knowing the correct terminology].  Babu had me help light oil lamps which lined the shrine and sprinkle marigold petals in the main area.  A family came in at one point and made an offering of rice and prayed.  But Babu and his buddies were waiting for the Brahmin to show up to perform the ceremony and since it was late I bide my farewells (it was about 10 at that point and I felt strange being in the shrine with a bunch of dudes, holy as it might be).  But I wish I had pictures of the shrine to show you as it was so beautiful.

And that my friends was my adventures in Varanasi!

family that befriended me

i’m going to be famous!

hello — greetings from southern india!

After my 26 hour train ride — in which I was the only foreigner and one of a handful of women in my compartment, I reached Chennai.  The train ride was actually fine – and everyone was really friendly and helpful.  And it was super fun to stand at the end of the compartment and lean out the door to see India speeding by!

I arrived in Chennai and was overwhelmed by being in a city again (and the awful case of bedbugs from the Kolkata hotel) – so I hightailed it out of there to head down to Mamallapuram – which is south of Chennai on the coast – on the Bay of Bengal.  Mamallapuram is known for the rock carvings – old ruins from the 8th-6th century AD.  pretty amazing!  It is a very touristy town — but right on the beach — so that is pretty awesome.  and now that I have confidence, I have headed into town for actual indian food — which is way cheaper.  And Katherine – thank goodness we learned how to eat with our hands – as most meals are eaten that way!

But besides a beautiful beach and amazing rock carving ruins….  i was in a photo shoot!

Ok — here is the story — it is a good one!

The first night I was here, the owner of the hotel asked me if I would join a group of tourists to be in a movie – we would get paid for the day and go to Chennai.  And it turned out that the guy arranging it had been on my bus from Chennai down here – so I said sure!  The next morning, our group met – we were:

  • Polish
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Cameroon
  • Kenyan
  • Jamaican
  • Irish
  • English
  • Swiss
  • French
  • and me – the one American!

We arrived at the building where the sets were and were given our costumes — we were all FBI agents – and some of the men were dressed up as FBI SWAT team members (or whatever you would call it with all that gear on).  And then we had breakfast on the rooftop of the building (theme of the day was us sitting around a lot).  We tried to get some information about the movie — turns out that a famous Tamil actor is the main actor, director and producer and it is about terrorists and apparently, the FBI.  There were people running around all over the place – which totally kept me amused since I could not understand them (they were speaking tamil) but it was fun to imagine what they were saying.

Eventually we were called in for our photo shoot (we later learned that we were just there for the advertisements for the movie — so we will not be in it – but on the movie posters…. or something).  They took all sorts of various pictures of us posing — the only picture I was in was a group shot while wearing an FBI jacked and pointing a gun at the camera. oh yes, there was a make-up man.  and a hair man (can you believe it?!  he BRUSHED my hair and then teased it out.  Um, hello?!  what part of curly hair don’t you understand?!).  It was very glamorous (in a very non-glamorous way….)

After all that hard work, we had lunch.  And then sat around a whole bunch.  and then had tea.  Well….  let me correct that — we had chai, milk coffee and lemon tea just about every half hour.  It was awesome!  And for this day of ‘work’?  yep — we got paid!  800 rupees for the day (which works out to be about 16$ or so).  Supposedly the actor and actress, who we saw a few times, are quite famous.  And there were a couple of americans working on some of the props — they were from LA.  I was very curious about how they ended up there, but they had no time to talk while they were painting body parts to look like they had been shredded…..

All is all, it was a pretty amusing day – and fun to talk to the other folks from all over.  The Kenyan lectured me on American politics.  The italian was all fired up over politics in her own country.  The french woman might travel with me this upcoming week.  We all had a beer together afterwards (and for the record, indian beer is just as bad as nepali!).    all in all — it was a pretty fun day and evening!

In other news….  here are some highlights:

  • a large group of 11th grade girls descended on the ruin i was at this morning and swarmed me saying hello (and hello over and over since that was about the extent of their english) – though a few got out that i was a teacher.  lots of smiles — i have a great picture of them all!
  • fun to walk along the beach – dip my toes in the water — though Tamil is fairly conservative so it is frowned upon to wear a bathing suit or wear minimal clothes
  • southern indian food is SO good!  one of my favorite parts is that we eat off of a big coconut leaf (or banana leaf?)
  • bedbugs f’ing suck and they itch like hell….  and they sure don’t look that good either….  hoping i am done with that and not carrying them with me….  but there aren’t really power washers around here…..

hard to believe that i have just a month left in india….  it is such an amazing country….  there are times i hate it and want it just to be easy (um, that would be when my arms are covered in bites and people are honking and staring and trying to rip me off and …..) and then there are times that I just love this place – for the craziness, for the kindness of strangers, for the smiles.  Tomorrow, I will head south to Pondicherry – an old french colony.  I will stay there for a few days and then head back to Chennai for an overnight train to Kochi – on the other side of the country!  I am not going to the absolute south, but I figure I will get enough beach time between here and the west coast.

hope everyone is well.  I of course have tons of great pictures that I look forward to sharing at some point….

much love — aurora