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Published: June 26th 2009
It's official. On June 23 at roughly noon o'clock Fiona and I fled India, tails between our legs, but big grins on our faces and got our Civilization ON BABY! We are in Hizzity Hong Kong! and I can finally suckle at the sweet teat of Modernity's bosom, which lies just north of the curvaceous booty of Convenience and even farther north of the well-oiled tootsies of Transportation. Give it to me baby. I can't get enough of your sweet looooooooovin.
It's been awhile since the last entry and, without being a slave to chronology I'll quickly fill you in on the nitty gritty. Fi and I have gone on a camel “safari”, seen the Taj Mahal, been robbed, seen the Golden Temple, toured the world's most impressive homage to garbage, and witnessed the border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan. Actually that turned out to be pretty chronological, so forget what I said earlier.
The beautiful beaches of world famous Goa didn't make the list of notables above because as it turns out the beaches and little towns in Goa are awful. It was really a big disappointment. We kind of rushed up to Goa because Fi had
a hankerin' for beach bumming, and Goa just didn't have the goods to deliver. We saw pretty much the whole state on scooter-back, visited nearly every beach and they were uniformly shitty. So next time you see one of those “Go Goa!” advertisements, you can smirk knowingly; I know I will. If you think I'm exaggerating check out the photo with the tanker and the crows. That tanker is permanently stranded on a sand bar there. It's been there for the last few years, as you see it. That was pretty much the nicest beach in Goa. So much for that.
Mumbai came up inevitably after Goa. As soon as you get near any of the major Indian cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata) a sort of gravity-well, all-roads-lead-to-Rome sort of thing takes over and fighting the flow of traffic just isn't worth it so you end up in the city. Mumbai lived up to it's reputation as the most beautiful city in India mostly by virtue of the still standing British colleges and museums and markets. It also had the virtue of containing the navel of the world. That's right, the navel. The belly-button of the globe. You can
see it pictured in that photo with the green pool surrounded by colorful buildings. There's actually a big wooden pole (not pictured) sticking out of the middle of that pool that is the remains of an arrow fired by Vishnu into the Earth at this very spot millenia ago. This arrow marks the center of the world. A quick stroll around Vishnu's arrow and Fi and I officially completed our round-the-world trip in around five minutes. It would have been faster except I kept stopping to take pictures. For you! I might add.
One of Mumbai's other big claims to fame is that it's also the most expensive city in India by a wide margin so we didn't stick around too long and boogied on out to the desert state of Rajasthan lickity split. It turned out to be a really terrific part of the trip, so the Karmic will of the universe maintained balance by making Fiona and I tremendously sick for the first four or five days there. But as a measure of how much I liked the place immediately despite this inauspicious start I will admit that I was so impressed by our first stop, Udaipur,
that I wrote a poem about it. It was to be included in this blog-entry, but sadly, I have just reread the poem and it turns out not to be fit for human consumption. You really dodged a bullet let me tell you. Major psychic damage could have occurred had the Internet been exposed to that sort of drivel.
The first day Fi and I managed to drag ourselves from our sweat soaked beds turned out to be the day of a big festival. It had something to do with fertility and handing out grain to beggars as far as I could tell. I've never seen so many beggars. There were literally miles of them lining the roads with saris opened up on the road for your grain deposit. I do not have a picture of this because beggars have their pride and they absolutely will not have their image used without their consent. They are sticklers for copyright law and must have compensation for any potential profit I might derive from any images of their drooping gobs. So fuck 'em. I take pictures of the more accommodating homed-people (opposite of homeless people). That picture with the lady in
front of the painting of the messianic preaching figure comes from the festival that day.
Udaipur's big draw is a palace that appears to be floating in the middle of the lake. The monsoon hasn't been to Udaipur in three years though, so the lake is empty and there's just a palace on a little hill in the middle of a big field. It's slightly less impressive this way. Thanks again, Global Warming. The lack of rain had not made a hugely noticeable (to my eyes) impact on the enormous desert that makes up most of Rajasthan, so desert activities like visiting desert fortress towns and camel riding were good to go. And, as luck would have it, we were in Rajasthan at the peak of the Summer heat (Highs of 43-45C daily with zero humidity) so girly-man and lady-boy travelers were nowhere to be seen and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The desert fortress town I'm talking about, Jaisalmer is pictured in the photo with the tuk-tuk next to a pile of rubble in front of some sand-colored buildings. It's the most photogenic place I've ever been and so for some reason I've only included
one photo of it here.
The camel “safari” around Jaisalmer was really just Fi, our guide Nora, and me wandering around in the desert for three days. Safari is too grand a word for that I think, although we did see some wildlife. There were, if I remember my Discovery Channel correctly, Thompson gazelles around. They're those tiny deer things with the big black stripes on the side that you normally see dangling from the mouth of a cheetah. We also glimpsed some very strange desert horse creature. I'd call it a horse, but it's shoulders were much higher than its hindquarters, like an American buffalo or a giraffe. It was grey and had two weird dangly things hanging from about half down the bottom of it's neck. Oh and I think it had horns. Weird. Other than birds and some lizards that had the widest range of color changing I've ever seen, we were mostly inundated by hordes of goats. Goats are so damn hardy it was pretty much them and the camels that were the last domesticated survivors of the three year drought.
I don't know about you, but when I think of the desert I
think of the night sky. I was psyched to see some real stars. The sunsets were gorgeous. The first stars started to pop out and it began to become obvious that it was going to be really truly dark and that there were no towns around. You could just see the occasional blinking light from the hundreds of huge wind turbines dotting the desert. It was pretty much the perfect setting for looking at the stars. Unfortunately we were in town at the wrong time of the month. Just when things start to get really great in terms of stars the moon comes up like a god-damned used-car dealership spot light. I mean it was a great view of the moon, but the light was casting really strong shadows, it was so bright. You don't get to see stars that way. It was so strong you couldn't sleep facing it.
In any case the camel ride was awesome. The camels themselves were really gentle and sweet, by any standard, not just camel standards. The scenery was incredible and hanging out with Nora was great as he taught us a lot about the area's history.
Agra is just as
shitty as everyone says it is and the Taj Mahal is better than it can be described or captured in a photograph, but the two don't balance each other out. The Taj puts the whole place on its back and just runs away with the show. It's great. Go see it. Bring traveler's checks.
Fi and I got robbed in Agra by a little boy working at our guest house. While our bags were in the luggage room of the hotel for a mere two hours he broke into them and stole some things. He did a really shitty job of hiding it. It was immediately obvious that someone had been through our bags when we got back and I raised hell and flagged down a passing police officer and presto-chango **POOF** appears our stolen toiletries bag. This kid was probably 13 or 14. I don't know what he wanted with our toilet bag, but whatever, we needed it. So the police officer asks if we got everything back, we say yes, no harm, no foul, goodbye Agra. Except as I was sitting on the bus out of Agra hours later I got to thinking. What else had been
near the toilet bag? Didn't I have a Swiss Army knife right next to it? Wouldn't a 14 year old thief just love a Swiss Army knife? YES HE WOULD! The little bastard still has it! So I abandoned Fi to tackle Delhi all by herself with all our bags while I caught a bus back to Agra, did the whole raise hell routine again, got my knife back (and some batteries I didn't know had been stolen) and got back to Delhi as fast as possible to find Fi. Phew...that's the short version. You can get the gory one when you see us if you're interested.
Delhi is a terrible city. Actually it's not the city. It's the people. That's right people of Delhi. Here me now. I hate you.
We went out to see this huge park built by a hermit in the woods out of garbage to escape Delhi for our last week in India. It was neat. It's the second most popular tourist attraction in India after the Taj Mahal believe it or not.
Then we saw Sikhism's holiest sight, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, just 30km from the Pakistan border. It is
gilded in 650kg of pure gold and is suitably impressive, situated as it is in the middle of an artificial lake. It's gorgeous inside and out.
Then we took a short trip to the Pakistan border to see the closing of the border ceremony. It's a little bit surreal as the border isn't really open to anyone anyway.
That was it for India. Sorry if you didn't like the new longer format. I wanted to write some more because I had so many photos I wanted to include and I didn't want just a huge page full of photos and 15 words of text. Hope you enjoyed this entry. Wish us luck in China.
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