Its the end of 181 days of travelling. The original plan was to make it to the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe however my friend Trung and I have run out of time and it's time to return to Canada.
The last few months have been beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating, funny and generally the time of my life. A man once said that time slows down while you travel. That has been true of my time on the road. It feels like years ago I was packing and saying goodbye to my friends in Ottawa, Canada.
After seeing such a small part of the Earth and her cultures and religions I've come to a few general realizations. First and foremost is that despite our differences, the human race is largely the same. People are shockingly similar around the world and share the same hopes and dreams. Its a shame that we've been shown and taught otherwise. Secondly, people are good at heart. Our religious and cultural traditions are what make us unique and in my opinion that is what makes this small planet more interesting. Ultimately we are all different, yet the same core values of peace and neighborliness remain a constant everywhere I've been. We need to celebrate our differences rather than fear them.
I have heard so many times the warnings of fellow travelers or people back home about what to fear and what to 'watch out' for in upcoming regions of my travels. Each and every time the mantra "You'll get kidnapped, your shoes will be stolen and you'll be left in the jungle with no kidneys!!" has not come true. It has never been as bad as people have warned about. The contents of my backpack: computer, hard drive, camera, wallet, often more than a year's salary for most, and a continuing source of curiosity for my countless hosts, has remained safe and sound during this entire trip.
I fear my own prejudice of certain people and cultures has often left me with my guard up. I regret missing out on some opportunities to get to know the people I've come in contact with. These travels have made me aware that I have this limitation and thankfully I have learned to stop my own learned prejudice and to open my horizons further than I thought they could go.
I return to Canada grateful for the opportunities I've had in my life, including the ability to travel freely. So many people in today's world are still living with almost nothing and may never have the same opportunities I've had in my life and yet the happy smiles and conversations I've shared with people living satisfied lives with such a small amount never ceased to amaze me. I have learned a new way of living, far from my Western life, yet somehow infinitely more fulfilling.
I'll continue the experiment now, returning to Canada to my amazing friends and family to finish out a half-complete master's degree. What is to come, I do not know, but I will carry with me the vivid memory of my travels and the beautiful people I've met on the way.
I hope the musings in this blog will purvey some sense of my travels and show you just how small the world really is.
July 17th 2011
Varanasi > Delhi The riciulous scene where we last left our intrepid travellers is worth revisiting: The streets of Varanasi. Trung and Andy are just finished enjoying their lunch at the Mona Lisa cafe, and have ventured out to an internet cafe to update themselves on the schedule of the upcoming train ride. Its a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the train isn't until Monday. Ok that's where my third person narrative comes to a stop. I suddenly realize that the date on the ticket matches today's date! CRAP! Our train is in about an hour and a half. Now, if you remember, it took about 45 minutes by tuk tuk to get to our hotel, which is a 30 minute walk away (ONLY IF we get the streets right on the way back). Trung has some ... read more
July 16th 2011
Varanasi Our next stop, Varanasi is quite a city. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and perhaps the holiest. It is regarded as one of the seven pilgrimage sites for Hindus. It was the birthplace of Bhuddism, where the Buddha gave his first sermon. Sikhism can also find its roots here in the city. There is also a large Roman Catholic, Jewish, Moslem, and several dozen tribal religions here. The city was founded almost 5000 years ago and people have been travelling here for worship and learning throughout the millenia. The city is located 1/2 way between two rivers that flow into the Ganges. Hindus complete an 8km round trip from one river to the other as part of the pilgrimage rite. The belief is that bathing in the Ganges river can ... read more
July 13th 2011
Jaipur to Agra After a couple of days of exploring Jaipur, the time has come to catch the train to Agra and the Taj Mahal! Everyone says the Taj is the most beautiful of all Indian monuments, our guide book says 'nobody comes away disspointed from the Taj Mahal'. So I'm pretty pumped! Our train again is pretty uneventful, running in the daytime from Jaipur to Agra. This is our first time in a seated cabin on an Indian train and again its extremely comfortable. Its a huge train car, seating 7 people across in comfortable leather chairs in an A/C car (the class is 2nd class seated, if you're interested). I've decided to use the guidebook for our next hotel stay because I've heard horror stories about the city of Agra and its lack of ... read more
July 10th 2011
Jaisalmer to Jaipur Our train arrives in Jaipur at 5am after travelling overnight through the desert. The morning twilight gives us just enough cover that we can escape the train station relatively un-harrassed by the scrum of tuk tuk drivers outside. Our guidebook has a long list of hotels relatively near to the train station, so we're just going to walk rather than haggle with a tuk tuk driver bringing us to his 'cousins' hotel. We end up wandering for only 1/2 hour before we find a great little hotel on a quiet side street. Its clean with a nice marble bathroom and has wireless internet! Score! After a resting period to get the thoughts of the roving night-time train mouse out of my mind, we decide to go out for some light exploration. Jaipur is ... read more
July 7th 2011
Udaipur to Jaisalmer The bus to Jaisalmer is... interesting. Its a 12 hour journey through mountains overnight. There are no A/C buses, but we're on a sleeper at least. The sleeper bus has sliding windows on both the inside and outside of our +1 bunks. You can close them both and be in a coffin of tinted windows, or you can open the exterior and have only a small bar to hold you from falling out onto the road. Its too hot to have the window closed, so all night I'm paranoid of my backpack falling out the open window. The window is literally level with the bunk and there is only a small bar to hold you in! At about dawn, the bus stops in Jodhpur, about 2/3 of the way to Jaisalmer. The driver ... read more
July 3rd 2011
Indore to Udaipur Our train from Indore departs at 7:30am and we're running a bit behind, so after a light jog from our tuk tuk into the station, we're scouring the train station looking for the right platform for our train to Udaipur. Turns out the train is late so we're left sweaty and waiting with the rest of the billions of flies on the platform. The train station is really well organized, but the ground is covered in bright red betel nut spit from the gross old men and other random food things, causing a plethora of flies. The list of passengers is posted on a billboard on the platform, Trung and I are #48 and 51 on the list! As the train pulls into the station the REAL flies come out to play. I'm ... read more
June 29th 2011
Aurangabad to Mandu In order to get to scenic, relaxing Mandu, we first have to take a bus from Aurangabad to Indore, a 14 hour overnight journey. Once in Indore, we have to find the local bus to Dhar, a city near Mandu, then transfer once again to Mandu. Dhar is only 90km from Indore, so it shouldn't be too bad, right? The bus to Indore is your standard 2+1 sleeper bus. Trung and I once again each get our own bunk on the +1 side of the bus. After a fitful night's sleep, we're driving into Indore, which is described as a dirty industrial town in our guidebook. Indore Transfer We're not let down by the guide. The bus lets people off at several stops on the way into town which appears to be simply ... read more
June 26th 2011
Mumbai to Aurangabad Our next stop is Aarungabad, a city North-West of Mumbai in the central area of Maharashtra. Its close to the Ellora and Adjanta caves, a world heritage site. I realize during the afternoon the day we're leaving that I actually booked the bus tickets to Ahmenebad instead of Aurungabad. My bad! There goes $20 hard-earned dollars right down the drain! Its easy to re-book the tickets however, and we're off again on another night-time express! This time on the bus we're on a 2+1 sleeper arrangement. Trung is on the bottom level and I'm on the top, and we each have our own bed. Its actually quite roomy, but 1" too short for me. My feet touch the wall ahead and the top of my head presses against the wall behind. No matter, ... read more
June 23rd 2011
Mumbai Bus When we enter the suburbs of Mumbai at dawn, Trung is still off in la la land with his earplugs in, so I'm left watching the increasingly dense city go by, complete with tons of shacks, tarp lean-tos and dozens of people pooping in the open fields between these 'subdivisions'. It makes sense that people do their morning business in the open areas, as the streets are really small with poor drainage, so why clutter them up, just go in the field! Trung eventually wakes up just as the bus guy says that we should get off. Mumbai is on a very long point of land with the main city on an island at the end. The bus doesn't go all the way down where we want to go, so we get off where ... read more
June 18th 2011
Mysore to Goa Our night bus to Goa starts, luckliy enough just down the street from our hotel, so it's a quick walk instead of another confusing ride in a Tuk Tuk. The bus is our first sleeper bus experience in India, which I'm looking forward to. I feel like if I can lie down flat, perhaps I can sleep a bit while we're on the bus. Most buses only run at night in India to avoid the traffic, so I better get used to it quick, we have many many more rides ahead of us! The bus, at first impression, is a bit creepy. Its twilight, dark on the bus, and each bunk has curtains to the tight central hallway. There are only about 6 people on the bus when we leave Mysore. I've got ... read more