Tuesday, June 1, 2010

All good things must come to an end.

My last day here has arrived. I can't say I want to leave- but at the same time I do miss my family, friends, and beautiful homeland. And Canadian beer. I know that if I had the oppurtunity to, however, I could spend years of my life exploring this vast nation and all of its wonders. I've met people who do this in fact- people who are many years older than myself and have done very little else than travel the world and have a good time, which is a big part of why I want to come home. A debate I commonly had with myself on this adventure was "is travelling a good use of time". Now, at the end of my trip, I can say that I believe it is, when done in moderation. I think it is more important- particularily at my point in life- to be more focussed on developing skills and making yourself useful than it is to be galavanting around the globe. I think that coming here taught me many things, that will help me later in life- and I also had an amazing experience. I will give an example of one of these lessons. In India, the vast, vast majority of people are not well off (this may shock you), and they have to work hard to survive. Many of them (most of them, really) rely on their skills and work ethic to survive, not to get rich or impress anyone. For example; carpenters here make 200 RS per day (5 Dollars). Now, going home to a very comfortable, prosperous nation, I recongnize more than ever that there are people who float through life working mindless jobs or living listless lifestyles (ie travelling all the time), which lulls them into a false sense of security. If anything were to ever jeopardize their current situation, say economic collapse or something along these lines, they would be in a very tough predicament. People here know that their livelihoods are always at risk, and work very hard to do their best at them and make themselves useful. This is a lesson I am very grateful for. Also, I learned that everyone I know back home is rich. Absolutely filthy rich. Kids working summer jobs at a grovery store could make an average family's monthly income in a single shift. It is still something I cannot fully grasp- all I can gather from it is that I, and I should think everyone reading this, is extremely fortunate to be as properous as they are. Life is very, very hard for some, I would say most, people. An idea I had before coming here was to, as I worked my way through carpentry schooling and beyond that, gain experience and help people out by volunteering my skills to NPO's building shelters in less developed nations, and I think that this is something I will do. Aside from the obvious humanitarian side of it, it would (more selfishly) give me a chance to see the world, while not "wasting time". That's about all I have, and I guess I'll draw this blog to a close now. In a couple days, once I'm back on Canadian soil, I will upload my pictures to an online gallery, and post the link here. A little visual aid never hurt. Thank you for reading,


Monday, May 31, 2010

Coimbatore Express

My last day in Mumbai was uneventful. I read a book and walked around admiring the architecture of the city- it really is quite impressive around where I was, but you can tell that it's a showcase city. No rickshaws allowed downtown and all the streets are very clean- not quite the India I've grown accustomed to! I kind of missed the din and chaos to be honest- it's a whole lot more interesting than Western brand name stores and clubs. My train to Bangalore left at 1030 at night, and I got to the station I needed via local metro. That was crowded, to say the least, and everyone laughed as I struggled to shove through the crowd with my big bag. All those metal mosh pits were good practice for that trip, actually. For this journey (Mumbai-Bangalore), I was forced to book an upper class berth, as no sleeper was available (I did this about a month ago). I got into my berth of 4 seats, and was the only one there. I decided to lock the door, as every 30 seconds I was disturbed by some sort of vendor. I was very tired, and unintenionally fell asleep, which would be the cause of much stress an hour later. Apparently, another passenger of my berth got on, and I didn't hear the knocking. The crew had to unlock my window with a screwdriver to get in, and I awoke to 4 random Indian guys yelling at me. When I say random, I mean that they didn't work for the railways, and they weren't even in the same compartment as me. They were from a different berth, and came to yell at me for the purpose of winning the respect of the rich guy who I had so barbarically barricaded out of his bunk of oppulence. These guys were all in my face, yelling at me that I was now disturbing everyone on board (they were the one's shouting, not me), and after a while I started yelling back and was preparing for the worst. I explained that I had never taken this class before and would apologize to the gnetleman I'd locked out, and also told them that they could piss off because it was none of their business, they were just kissing ass. Then the guy I had locked out came in- I apologized to him immediately, but he continued to guilt trip me. He was a senior citizen, quite well off, and because of my selfish actions had to sit in an air conditioned booth that wasn't his own for 10 minutes. I decided enough of this; told the guys at the door to chello (get lost), and told the old guy that I had apologized already and that I was done talking to him. Bit akward from that point on, but the funny thing was the train people didn't say a thing about it! Anyways, that was a stressful start to an otherwise easy journey. Now I have a day and a half to kill in Bangalore- a very Westernized city- and I really don't know what to do. They have a decent bar scene here so I guess I'll go for a beer tonight and talk to some locals and foreigners- whoever's around. That's all for now, folks.


Saturday, May 29, 2010


The train ride to Mumbai, although about 28 hours, was actually quite comfortable as I had my own bunk, and it flew by in no time whatsoever. I arrived at abut 4AM, and killed a couple hours just sitting in Colaba, waiting for the city to wake up so I could find a place to stay. Colaba is a really trendy neighbourhood- Western style bars and retail stores line the quaint streets. It's actually quite boring. I decided to use the day to see Dharvadi, the massive slum made famous by that movie; Slumdog Millionaire. I failed in my first attempt to find it, but I happened to meet a local who does unnoficial tours of the town, and we headed out there. It's pretty amazing to see the way these people live- several million folks like in these narrow alleyways, with a few thousand sharing every toilet. The remarkable thing about this neighbourhood is that it generates 700 million dollars of revenue annually- virtually all from the recycling industry. People reuse cloth and fabric, rework leather, and collect tonnes and tonnes of all sorts of garbage and plastic to earn their living. It was an impressive sight for sure- I wish I had more time to understand their way of life a little more. After the slums I took the metro to marine drive and just watched life go by on the cities' scenic drive. It would have been really nice if the sea didn't have such a wretched smell, but all that sewage has to go somewhere. After returning to the hotel, I met some folks going out to a local bar, Leopold's (sight of a bomb blast in 2008). The bar was really expensive, so a few people went to find another one while me and a couple guys got a road beer and headed home. The rest of the night, a few hours actually, were spent in a bull session. I'm staying in the dorm, and somehow was on the wrong end of a deal that I had no say in really (being the last one in), which left me on a bunk with no matress. Steel bars and some plastic mesh were my only comfort. In summary, all I really did yesterday was take it easy and try to get a taste for what life is like in this city. I think I succeeded in this, but it really is a big city, so I don't even know. I had a good time at least. I really wasn't feeling writing today because of my lack of good sleep, but I felt compelled to try. Train tonight to Bangalore...ashort 24 hour jaunt. Now, I have to find some chai. I promise my next post will be better, please forgive my ineptitude this time around.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Mighty Ganga...

...is absolutely filthy. That said, I just swam across it with a bunch of people from my guesthouse. More on that in a bit. Last night I drank a beer, met some folks, and generally took'er easy. No street brawls. This morning I met a Dutch guy, and we seem to be on the same page so I showed him some cool spots, and we explored a part of town that is new to me. Upon returning to the base (our guesthouse), a group of people, some who I chatted with last night, brazenly announced "We're swimming across the Ganges, whos with us?!?!". Being a 19 year old male, I jumped at the oppurtunity. With us went 2 boats of spectators- about 8 swam. Upon reaching the far bank, we found corpses and bones. A perfect, sunbaked skull had watched us approach. Swimming back was really beatutiful though- temples and ghats of this ancient city as far as the eye could see as we swam through the sacred river. Great experience. Upon completing our mission, everyone rushed for the showers...understandably. I really am not putting too much effort into this post as my mind really isn't into it now- maybe I'll elaborate later. Let's see...it's about 3pm here, my train to Mumbai is at 11, and it's a 30 hour behemoth. Thankfully I have a comfortable sleeper class seat booked, and am doing a book swap, so I'll have some good entertainment. 7 days left!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Varanasi again

I'll start this post by saying that I really like Varanasi. I've met a few people around town (vendors, shopkeepers) who are actually really funny people that I can share a chai and BS with, and it's a ridiculously interesting place. When I crossed the bridge and saw all the ghats and the life swarming them, all the temples and traditions unfolding before my eyes, it occured to me that this place has remained unchanged for thousands of years. Sure, there are mobile phones and internet cafes, but the way of life for the average Veranasian has remained the same. The industries (silk, brass) have been going strong for millenia, and this is the absolute epicnetre of a damn near timeless religion. Looking out over the cremations today (story about that too!), I tryed to comprehend how many people had been reduced slowly to ash and then thrown into the Ganga's currents- countless. This place bends time, or so it seems. Took a tabla lesson yesterday (tabla is an Indian hand drum set), and then another one today. I'll be having one tomorrow as well- and once I return to Canada and have established myself on the job front, I'll be ordering a custom set from these guys. It will cost me a fraction of the cost of one in Canada, and I know it will be of good quality. The shop where I study is very relaxed- I even went there just to hang out and have a tea tonight. My next story takes place at the burning ghat. Photos of the cremation are thoroughly dissaproved of, but I decided to be sneaky and just pop the camera out of the side of my pocket and grab a snap. I wasn't sneaky enough, and a man saw me. He claimed to be a worker at the ghat. Anyhow, he started telling me that "I have made a mistake, but I make donation; no problem". I asked him what would happen if I didn't make a donation, and he replied "Big trouble, I tell everybody", and motions to a bunch of dudes standing below. He was trying to threaten me into giving him money, and I didn't really want to play that game. I told him I wouldn't pay, and he repeated big trouble...blah blah blah. I had a feeling he was bluffing, but not wanting any bullshit I pulled the old "let me go get my wallet from my hotel" routing. The schmuck totally fell for it and I walked away, with photo, no ruppees, no problem. I talked to a few locals about the incident, and they informed me of a few things. First, all these touts want is money for some drug habit (whatever their choice may be), and little money, if any, goes to the hospices. Secondly, I found out that if I paid "the boss" about 300 RS, then I would be able to take a picture. (The boss, I presume, is Shiva). Anyways, long story short, I got a photo of the cremations, and saved 300 ruppees. Spent the rest of the day shopping for my friends back home and playing Tabla. It's so hot during the day here (45 C), that my proposed photo project never came to fruition, but I think the one that I did get should make up for it. Tomorrow I am back on the train (A quick 30 hour jaunt to Mumbai) in the evening, and I'm thinking about heading to Sarnath again, as Budha's birthday celebration is taking place.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Patience is a virtue

So, some bigshot dude got assassinated in Darjeeling, and there was a strike. By bigshot dude, I mean a leader of the Gorkahland movement (seperatist movement in North West Bengal). It was in full public view at an assembly, and the city was in shock. NOTHING was open, except for a few hotels (my favourite included), and some street vendors. I spent the day just wandering the ghost town, drinking tea and hoping I'd be able to get a jeep to Siliguri the next day. Success! I got my jeep, and thus began the most trying 24-ish hours of my trip (to this point). I had no train booked to get from Siliguri to Varanasi- the strike made that impossible. Not willing to let so trivial an affair hinder my plans, I simply strolled on into NJP Station and got me a 143 Ruppee(3.50 CAD) Second class ticket for the 730 km journey. Now, before I go on I would like to say that I am very happy that I roughed it like this- it gave me an appreciation for what long journey's for the average Indian folk are like. At the same time, it was a trying experience. I didn't have a seat the whole time- all 18 hours- and I got about 4 hours sleep. I was wearing Darjeeling clothes- so jeans and a T, but the jeans became the bane of my existence as the sun rose this morning. A man shared some food with me, and in return I gave him a sip of wine...only to go to the bathroom and have him pound half the bottle. I was thoroughly pissed, for lack of better words, but there wasn't much I could do other than condemn him to existence as a street goat in the next life. I didn't get the chance to buy water often- and when I did I didn't buy enough. It was great, really. The Indian people really do have a very high tolerance level for this kind of thing- uncomfortable settings, and being in them for extended periods of time. Anyways, upon arriving I caught a Rickshaw into town, got semi lost, found my hotel, and had what was definitely one of the three most refreshing showers of my life. Got a couple days to kill here before heading to Mumbai- and I have a project I'm tackling tomorrow that involves photographs- which will all be posted online. That's all I got for now, as I am thouroughly fried.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Got a jeep into Yoksum (West Sikkimese Village) on the 18th- it wasn't a very long journey in terms of distance(80) , but timewise it took me about 8 hours- such is the nature of the roads in these parts. I was sweating, because I had very little cash on me, and all 3 ATM's were broken in Jorethang, the town where I changed jeeps. Jorethang is a lot bigger than Yoksum, so I was somewhat convicned that my stay would be shortened to one night, just because of the unavailability of cash. To my immense relief, there is one place in Yoksum that does change travellers cheques, and I have been able to enjoy what is a truly amazing place. The first night I arrived here I met 2 Canadians (From Surrey, as a matter of fact), and one New Yorker who were all buddies. They became my running mates for the last few days. They were in high spirits evidently, and kept ordering rounds of whiskey. Not wanting to be left behind, I matched them every shot. I was the only one not hung over the next morning, but that's neither here nor there. Looks like I've inherited my mother's drinking ability. The next day (once everyone had recovered), we took off for a swim in the river, about 45 mins. walk down a trail. It was pouring rain, but nobody complained... After our very cold swim, we departed on an hour and a half walk back up to town. It was dark by the time we arrived, and thus ends the first day. The next day the two Canadians took off, and it was just me, the New Yorker, and a British couple left from our original group. The following day, we all decided to hike up to the oldest monastery in Sikkim (45 mins. uphill). Now, my shoes were absolutely soaked from the day before, so I resolved not to wear them. Turns out there are lots of tiny leeches on these local trails, for whom my feet make excellent targets. I must have picked up 25 of the little bastards on our trip. After the monastery (bit of a let down), we decided to continue on the trail, and found ourselves in a tiny village names Song (I think). In Song, we found a local woman who ran a homestay, and she made lunch for us. Lunch consisted of fresh-out-the-garden boiled new potatoes, with a sauce made from some local herb (similar to Cilantro), ground up chili peppers, and garlic. Absolutely decadent. From the village we trekked home. I resolved to buy flipflops the next day. After an uneventful dinner and evening, I simply went to bed, thinking I would leave the next morning. Upon waking, however, I decided that I didn't want to spend much time travelling; the landscape wouldn't be changing too much from place to place in my range, and I resolved to stay.This was a good decision, I think. I spent this day hiking about with the New Yorker (named Cullen, for future reference) , no destination in particular. We really are in the jungle here- just walking around the paths is incredible. We resolved to do the Kechapori (spell check) Lake trek the next day. The next day (aka today), we tackled the trek, leaving about 7:30 in the morning. We had a one hour break at the lake, and arrived back at Yoksum about 4:30 PM. It was many kilometres, up and down, and was a really great experience. This is the absolute greenest place I have ever been in my life. On the way back, two dogs followed us all the way from the lake to Yoksum. They received biscuits as a reward. The lake itself was a letdown- it was chock full of ignorant Indian tourists, and was congested and loud. Nothing compared to the serenity of the hike. Tomorrow I am bound for (hopefully) Darjeeling. However, some political leader was assasinated there yesterday, so the city is a bit of a mess at the moment. I have to pick up a train ticket there, so hopefully jeeps run there. If not, I'll figure out my transport somehow- this is an adventure in itself. Yes, I will be careful. I think thats all- I'm really tired right now after a long day of trekking and a 6:30 rise- tomorrow will be 5:30. Awesome...