June 16, 2007

Day 126 - Delhi

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The journey from Kathmandu to Delhi takes only 120 minutes by air. Almost all travelers take this option, because the alternative involves a taxi, bus, rickshaw, jeep and train, and it takes over forty hours. However, in our [probably foolish] zeal to see the world from the ground, we chose the long option. Just a few hours after I wrote a post about feeling safe in Nepal, we started our journey towards the best place on earth to be a cow. You'll never believe what happened.

The ten hour bus ride to the Indian border started at 7pm on a barely working local bus. Over the first 120 minutes (the same amount of time it takes to get to Delhi by air), we managed three miles. What they don't tell you when you book your ticket is that, when the bus isn't full, it drives in circles in the Kathmandu traffic picking up extra people. By the time we finally left Kathmandu, the exhaust from the stop-and-go traffic left both of us coughing and desperately trying to hold down our dinner.

And then it happened.

A rock hit the back of our bus, breaking the back window. Our teenage bus driver hits the breaks and four other teenagers jump out of the bus and chase down a couple of guys - who they start beating relentlessly. And then, as Kari and I watch helplessly from the two front seats, the crew bring the culprits and the fight onto the bus. It was an all out, face punching, drop kicking brawl, in which I took several accidental blows. One of the culprits even went after the driver, who was speeding around huge mountains curves, putting the entire bus in serious danger. Finally, after a few minutes, we pulled over at a checkpoint where we sat for an hour while some army officials interrogated all parties involved. By 11 pm we had only traveled twenty miles. I asked Kari if this night could get any worse. It did.


Within a few hours of the fight, and in the middle of the night, we hit a mountain traffic jam. We groaned as the driver turned off the bus and went to sleep. And then we sat, for over an hour, until finally the bus began inching forward. After another thirty minutes we saw and then carefully drove over the problem. A huge mudslide had bulldozed over the road. This time, Kari looked at me and asked if the night could get any worse. I confidently told her that there was nothing worse that could happen to us. Wrong again.

The rain started slowly but steadily built up to a downpour that wouldn't seem to stop. It was after Kari had finally fell asleep that the rain started coming into the bus. A leak in the window had broken wide open and rain started pouring into our seats, drenching Kari and our backpacks that sat on our laps. And so, for the next eleven hours (yes, the trip ended up taking 17 hours instead of 10) we sat in the wet, re-thinking our commitment to land travel.

It was a night that we'll never forget and one that we hope to never experience again. Twenty-seven hours after we got off that bus, we arrived in Delhi where it's 112 degrees. Things are looking better.

June 14, 2007

Day 132 - Manali

This place looks just like Northern California.

Away from India's hot arid plains and over populated cities are the great Himalayas, outfitted with all the elements that make a visit to the mountains so irresistible. Raging white water rivers, Christmas tree perfect pines and snow capped peaks in every direction. If Yosemite had a sister National Park, it would be right here in Northern India.

And it's among this backdrop, seventeen hours by bus from Delhi, that the town of Manali sits. The once peaceful hideaway was first discovered by hipster backpackers in the 1960's who were looking for a quiet place to get high. To the Hindu Indians, it is a much more sacred place, as this is the spot where Manu, Hinduism's Noah, alighted his boat in order to re-create life after a great flood destroyed the earth. Today, Manali is a bonafide resort town, luring Indian's away the rush of the city and backpackers away from the smells and beeping horns of the city. But while this place looks like Northern California, it feels just like Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

It's really quite odd when you think about how two towns, on opposite sides of the world, could resemble each other so closely. Both tourist traps embrace endless (and grossly overpriced) souvenir shops, numerous junk food stalls, on the spot cultural shows and other symbols of bad taste. What's even more bizarre is that two separate groups of tourist, with completely different backgrounds, could both enjoy buying tacky trinkets like wooden boats that read "Manu was here." It's like there's an unwritten rule between cultures to find the most beautiful mountain valley around and then build the cheesiest town possible right next door. (I guess if we're afraid to actually go 'into the woods' we have to somehow occupy ourselves while we look at them.) And yet, I have to admit, for all it's circus like atmosphere, it still manages to hold some charm.

And so this is where we've been spending our days. When we're not roaming the countryside, we're fighting off the urge to buy cotton candy and walking through crowds of happy tourists who are proudly filming their kids buying wooden boats. Really, the only thing this town is missing is a Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

Day 136 - Mcleod Ganj

[I have to be honest with you. Sharing the sidewalk with cows never gets old. Not only are they unattended and left to themselves, they seem to have adopted all the walking habits of a human. They browse at certain stores and stop to eat some trash at various bins. They simply go where they please and I think we're all better off for it.]

India seems to have many faces. First we found ourselves in Manali, India's version of Gatlinburg. Now we are passing our days in Mcleod Ganj, India's Tibet.

Not long after China decided to "liberate" Tibet by wiping out 1.2 million of it's people, the Dalai Lama and a small entourage fled in search of a safer place to set up shop. After walking over the seemingly unconquerable mountain ranges that seperate Tibet from India, they landed here in McLeod Ganj, nestled in Northern India's Himalayas, just a few miles East of Pakistan. Tibetan refugees have been following this arduous trail ever since.

And so once again, in our attempt to become aquainted with India, we are instead being greeted by Tibet.

June 12, 2007

Day 140 - Mcleod Ganj

You never get used to the prices in the developing world. Country after country, mango after mango, it's always a pleasant surprise to find, for example, a Coke priced at .23 cents.

If you've ever contemplated how two people, under thirty, who live in LA could afford a trip like this, the answer lies in the places we're going. The truth is that money goes a lot farther when you're traveling in countries where the locals can barely afford to travel themselves. Ten months in the developing world is a summer in Western Europe. An eight bed hostel in Tokyo is three nights with a private room in SE Asia. A full American breakfast in Nepal might buy you toast and tea in Australia.

We have now spent almost five months traveling through most of Asia and have both lived easily on $50 a day, which includes everything from meals to bus tickets to books. And as we're about to trade in restaurants for supermarkets, we thought you might enjoy reading about what costs what in the developing world...

*A private room with Cable television, hot shower, AC and a double bed: $9
*A basic Indian curry with Naan and Basmati Rice: $2.50
*Ice cold bottle of Coke in a restaurant: .25 cents
*American breakfast w/ 2 fried eggs, hash browns, toast and coffee: .90 cents
*A bus ride from Thailand to Cambodia: $6
*An open bus ticket in Vietnam from North to South w/ 5 stops: $20
*An hour-long massage including tip: $10

June 11, 2007

Day 142 - Delhi

We managed to take a few photos in and around Mcleod Ganj. Enjoy.

A few more can be seen here.

June 10, 2007

Day 143 - Delhi

We managed to take a few photos during our three days in Delhi - quite a different story than the beauty and serenity of Mcleod Ganj.

Side street in Old Delhi:

Main Bazaar in Paharganj:

Alleyway In Paharganj:

City Park Near New Delhi Train Staion:

A Few Families Lıved Here:

A few more can be seen here.

June 9, 2007

Day 146 - Istanbul

"This is the road we're talking about. Strange new friends. Adventures every ten minutes. Waking up each morning feeling like a wild animal. No crappy rules or smothering obligations." Douglas Coupland, Miss Wyoming

This is all true of course. Every last sentence of it. The road is as magical and unforgettable as a boy seeing his first naked woman. It sucks you in with magnetic like pull and almost always leave you wanting more. That is, unless you stay on the road so long that THE road turns into A road.

An endless, mundane and repetitive path that goes round and round, making the same stops but disguising them with different names. Pokhara. Yangshua. Manali. Chiang Mai. Before long, as in two or five or seven months, the magical idea of the road begins to loose it's ability to enchant.

For example(s):

When do strange friends become the countless people you exchange email adresses with only to throw them away two weeks later? Friendships that always start with the same boring conversation:

"So, where are you from?"
"The States."
"How long have you been traveling for?"
"Almost five months."
"Where have you been?"
"China. Southeast Asia. Blah. Blah. India. So where are you from?"
"England. Israel. France. Australia. Norway."

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It's like being a freshman in college again.

How long can one cope with an "adventure every ten minutes" when it involves pissing on yourself in the dark, going from sickness to sickness and enduring ten days straight of monsoon rains? The adventures begin to get old, running into each other with near perfect duplicity. Another temple. Another mountain. Another bus. Another beggar with no feet.

When does the 'wild animal' that is supposed to be as free as a lion begin to feel as lathargic as a turtle?

How long does it take for the traveler to actually long for "crappy rules" like traffic lanes, pollution regulations and transportation efficiency? Or when do "obligations" like going to work, buyıng grocieries or driving a car go from smothering to life giving?

After five months on the magical road, we have hit our first breaking point, and surely not our last. The final one will eventually send us home. This first one will just send us to Turkey, where for us, East will give way to West.

It's about time.

This is where we ventured in Indıa - our maın concern was avoiding the Monsoon rains, which is why we primarily stayed up North at the Hill Stations.