FOLLOWING ARE BLOG-ISODES 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 OF OUR INDIA / SE ASIA TRIP. IF YOU HAVE READ EPISODES 1, 2, 3, and 4 ALREADY, SCROLL DOWN TO PART 5 WHICH HAS THE LINK TO THE PHOTS THAT ARE BLOG 5
I would like to first lay out a summary for you of what geography we have covered so far starting with Delhi: the hot, dirty, polluted, lovely capital of India. From Delhi, we took a long weekend trip south to Agra to see the legendary Taj Mahal and also visited Bharatpur which hosts a very nice wild life preserve. After returning to Delhi, we made a B line for the north to escape the 110+ degree weather.
Anyway, from Chandigargh, we headed to Haridwar, our first taste of the Ganga or Ganges as we know it in the west. Life around the Ganga is special for the Holiness of the river consumes the local culture as seen in the bathing and rituals which take place daily on its banks.
After 4 adventurous days in Varanasi, we headed further east across Northern India back into the cool hills of Darjeeling famous of course for its tea. And readers, it is from Darjeeling where I write this final bit of posting as I sip black tea in Glenary's on Darjeeling's main cloud strewn street.
First of all:
If you aren't a member of google's free email service gmail, you should consider joining as a way to keep in touch. Free Voicemail? Are you kidding?
Our screen name is the same as Jay's gmail email account: 'Sinrod' (email@example.com)
In case you are wondering how the whole packing process is going -we are packed. For those of you who haven't seen it first hand, you have to know that our bags are literally three quarters medicine:
- Tylenol PM
- band aids,
- night time cold medicine,
- day time cold medicine,
- sleep aids,
- hand sanitizer gel
- hand sanitizer wipes
- anti-itch cream,
- alcohol pads,
- toilet paper,
- eye drops,
- nasal spray,
- throat lozenges,
- dental floss,
- Malarone for Malaria
- Doxycycline for Malaria
Should our plane never land, let us forever fly in the summer sky's of childhood
The Taj Mahal was built as a shrine by emperor Shah Jahan to his fallen wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child. We had seen the building many times in photos and cheap trinketed replications but nothing prepares you for what the building looks like in person. The Taj is simply beautiful.
As a side note, we have taken our first few trips on the India rail system. It is truly it's own thing. The stations are filled with Indians from all walks of life, from all over the country. Like in bigger cities throughout the rest of the country, it is common to see sites like a banker on his cell phone, surrounded by brightly clad women laying on the platform floor eating lunch, beset by sadu holy men in loin cloths smoking hashish. All of whom, but mostly us, being begged at by scores of crippled, homeless, filthy, children (only slightly exaggerated).
Just to add to the ambiance: The toilets on the trains are holes and there is evidence of bathroom usage on the tracks at the station. Meanwhile tons of cargo is being carried by hand here and there and loaded I guess on to each train. Add to this mix, dirty dogs and monkeys running all about and you may have the picture of what its like at an India rail station.
The trains themselves are actually very comfortable so far and on each trip we have taken, we have been served food which has been reasonably good and tasty. More later, hopefully including pictures.
One of our first stops in India was the the National Museum in Delhi. There is quiet a lot of Indian history to cover as the Indus valley civilization rivals Mesopotamia and Egypt in its age and early sophistication.
The museum is filled with amazing treasures like these pictured below. Some of the sculpture and artwork was from 2000+ BC and was very sophisticated.
Very early on, I decided to really grow a beard while on this trip, lets see how it goes.
Up into the mountains:
Very soon after arriving in Delhi, we headed up north to Himachal Pradesh to avoid the last oppressive bit of monsoon rain and heat. In the tall, cool mountains, we traveled first to the British hill station of Shimla (cute, clean, quaint) and then around the "inner line" up and round the steep mountain border which India and Tibet share.
(below) We took this self portrait in our hotel room in Shimla. Shimla is a popular destination for Indian
honeymooners and our hotel room was pimped out with psychedelic mirrors, tinted green glass windows, and red velvet walls-it was very 70's!
The inner line area of Himachal Pradesh (HP) in northern India is characterised by it's insane mountain roads, small villages, old monasteries, deep beautiful Vally's and of course it's mighty, massive, mountains. Although we wont be making it to Kashmir on this trip, I understand the Sangla, Spitti, and kulu Vally's give one a taste of Kashmir's shangrila.
As we began our journey around HP, we found a lovely tent camp nestled in the stunning Sangla Valley. The camp and the tents were posh, decked out with electricity, connected bathroom with hot water, comfy beds and quilts, and with the nice touch of a hot water bottle under your pillow at the end of a long day of frolicking. The best part though was simply the natural beauty of the place:
This photo (below) was taken of us towards the end of a pretty intense 19 km hike in the mountains. We were told that the trek was on level ground, very easy, etc. It was actually a steep uphill climb in the mountains in thin mountain air-over 3000 meters above sea level with sporadic thunder storms throughout the day.
We sought shelter in a sort of cave and waited for the showers to pass. We walked along a fast moving river, through a pine forest, crossed two streams, and ate lunch (which our porter / guide carried for us) on a rock in a clearing.
A bit wet, sweaty, muddy, and out of breath, we emerged near the end overlooking the mountain peaks and a field full of vibrant orange yellow and red flowers like we had never seen before, and a tiny mountain tribal village. It was all worth it for that view!
Here we are (below) back at our tent on completion of the hike, we were pretty filthy-it is hard to tell the extent of it from this photo. Towards the end and to avoid having to wind back and forth down the paved road our guide took us on a "short cut" which pretty much involved sliding on our butts down a steep muddy, rocky, cliff side!
Below: After some hiking and playing, Lucy enjoys some of the amenities of the camp:
Below: Here is us in our comfy bed in our tent-heaven!
Next to the tent camp was a small village which was having it's annual Flower Festival during which, rare high altitude flowers are collected and brought back to the village - the flowers are known as the Brahma lotus.
A big part of the ceremony is communal dancing by the women and elder men. I would describe it as a sort of silly line dance where the women stand shoulder to shoulder grasping arms and slowly shuffling side ways (see below).
The best part of everything (as far as I'm concerned) was this:
The ritual sacrifice by decapitation of a goat. The head of which was left in the middle of the parade ground (or whatever) while the festivities continued. Then, I kid you not, the boiled, grey, chopped up goat, yes the whole thing innards and all, was cooked in a giant head hunter pot and plunked by spoon into each man, woman, and child's, cupped hands and...they ate it.
Needless to say lots of alcohol was involved.
A village "waiter" kept coming around with a kettle of home brew which he poured into each person's cupped hands. At least one village man was inebriated to the point of needing to be restrained by several men as he drunkenly tried to swing on another villager.
WE WERE THE ONLY NON VILLAGERS THERE!!!!!! Which was great.
Luckily I was able to blast off many portraits of the villagers here as well as throughout Tabo, Nako, Kaza, kibber, etc, etc :
Here is kool and the gang:
A village man checks out the polaroid I shot of him:
My favorite dirt bomb and the polaroid I gave her:
This photo is in the small not very touristy town of Nako which is very close to the Indo-Tibetan border. We entertained a whole village of children by taking their portraits. Here is Jay surrounded by some of the kids.
We also pulled out the old school Polaroid camera in a few villages and took individual shots and gave them to the kids (above and below). It caused quite as stir as more and more townspeople came out to get their photo taken. We took at least 100. Jay took these great shots of the kids holding up their pictures. They were so excited!
Grandmother and proud granddaughter:
After we left the Banjara Camp in Sangla, we continued by jeep on insane, impossible roads from village to village. To enter the 'inner line' one must obtain a special permit because of the close proximity to China / Tibet. This nice gental man provided all the necessary documents:
Also along the way, we stopped some very impressive Buddhist monasteries including the world heritage site Tabo Monastery which housed amazing Buddhist artwork and sculptures from 996AD and was built by the great translator Ringchen Zangpo. It was cool.
A kid on his bike on the streets outside Tabo Monastery (below)
Some sights from the buddhist temples in the north and around the inner line:
A temple on a hill:
A young monk (in training) floats down the steps of the 13,503 ft high Ki gumpa.
A shy mini-monk checking us out (below)
This particular monestary (below) was in a small dusty mountain village called Sarahan. We stayed at the guest house / hotel with in the 8OO year old Bhimakali monestery complex .
Here I am relaxing after some Dal and chapati in the canteen at the monastery. My favorite food: the only thing on the menu (for the last 8OO years).
Below, the full moon rises over the Kinnar Kailesh mountain, one of the tallest peaks in India. The village of Kalpa can be seen in the foreground ( a bit of photoshop is needed).
Almost everwhere we've been so far in the Himalayas, We've met packs of Israeli kids who smoke a lot of pot and pick the sticky, skunky, weed from the sides of the road. The cows eat the weed, the holy men smoke it, and we have even seen 7 or 8 year olds rubbing their hands back and forth over the plants in the fields - making hash or Charis. The strong skunky smell of marajuana is everywhere in the Himalayas because of road side weeds like this. A Weed indeed:
Some of you would be psyched!!!
A hard days work can really build up an appetite. Kids hard at work making hash:
When they say that Himalayan roads are the most harrowing mountain roads in the world, I kid you not. I climbed Pikes peak (and Machu Picchu for that matter) , and it aint shit compared:
Some times the roads are world class engineered, sometimes you dont know if you are on a road.
Below are pictures taken while we waited for the military to dynamite the road. You basically survey the steep mountain side of the road for potencial avalanche risk, then park your vehicle and squat in the shade . The echo is quite impressive.
But waiting or driving with views like these, it's not too bad. Below is by far the most defined, brightest rainbow Lucy and I have ever seen:
Here we are where the Sutlej meets the Spitti river:
Below, a crew of roadside dwelling repairmen fix an avalanche that covered the road ahead of us. If we traveled by jeep for 30 hours, easily 3 hours were spent snug up against the rock face waiting for the army to dynamite the road (for maintenance) or waiting for huge rocks and debree to be cleared from a recent avalanche.
It was scary!
... and more avalanche clearing. Makes you wonder when your number will be up:
After 2 weeks traveling around the inner line we landed softly in Manali, the gateway city to the other end of the inner line where we enjoyed AC, CNN, R&R, M&M's, and LA (laying around). We charged up our batteries, discovered Momos, and generally relaxed after a great first leg of our journey. 1 month down, 6 to go!
PART 2 - DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE HOLY CITY
After 1 month in the mountains we headed back down to the plains which were still heavy with monsoon heat. We headed south from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Chandigarh, Haridwar, and Varanasi. Below you will find a summary in pictures and a few words of how we spent the 2nd month of our 7 month trip. Enjoy.
Above: Dressed in cold weather mountain gear before heading down to the plains.
Above: Tabo monastery set high on a hill. One last Buddhist monastery before heading into Hindu country.
Above: The bus station in Manali. I think we'll skip public buses and take a private jeep... which we did.
Below: Some sights from around Manali in Himachal Pradesh.
Above: Alley scene behind the bus station in Manali
Above: This pock-mark faced man had is wearing a device on his head which enables people to carry heavy payloads on their heads. Listen up PA's!!!
Above: Tre chic, say Sikh, freak out.
Above: A particularly well run fruit and veggie stand.
Above: Lucy working it in the hallway of our Manali hotel. Work it girl.
Chandigharh - Down From The Mountains.
After 5 days of rest in Manali we drove in an SUV down from the mountains on a 10 hour journey to Chandigarh with an Irishman who we first met in Shimla and then again in Manali. On the ride, we twisted and turned our way further and further down the cool mountain roads into the plains which still held their monsoon heat and clingy humidity. We were skeptical but interested in Chandigarh which we had heard was "the best city in India" and "the cleanest and most organized city in India".
Most of the city was designed by the French architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s and the city is full of concrete structures which look dated and generally unappealing. As far as the master planning and organization of the city goes, OK, great you have traffic lights and 2 lane streets.... Great!
Below: While I was in Chandigarh, I decided to peep one of the shanty towns. I will tell you this: They were poor, the conditions were shitty, but they were some of the happiest children and they LOVED to get their pictures taken and to be treated kindly by me. No one asked for a dime, which is more then I can say for the folks in the nicer areas. Here, a girl catches some lens as she attends to her chores.
Above and Below: Wide shots of the shanty town I spent more than an hour photographing.
Above: The kids of the Chandigarh shanty town say farewell with class.
HARIDWAR: Life On The Ganga
The river was wider than the Hudson at Manhattan, and in the city, its banks were lined on a side mostly by Ghats, which are river front religious bathing areas. At one point, a man made diversion was built beside the river to create a manageable bathing section, a bit safer then the main body of river. It was here that we walked amongst the diverse Hindu folks, watching them bathe, pray, and go about their daily lives
Their dress is very modest, a wrapped sheet and sandals is most common and they are often quite dirty. It has been explained that their are "good" Sadus and "bad" Sadus, meaning some are more truly religious than others. But the whole Sadu scene is interesting as they are given free food, beg for money, and smoke tons of hash apparently to "get closer to god".
Varanasi is a special city within a special country and If India is a dream, Varnasi is the wildest dream.
Cited as the oldest consecutively inhabited city in the history of the world, around 5000 years, a contemporary with with Sumer, Varanasi is considered by Hindus as the most important city of pilgrimige and one of India's holiest. Set on the banks of the Ganges River, It is believed by Hindus that bathing in the river Ganga results in remission of sins and that dying in the holy city circumvents rebirth, breaking the continuous (and apparently negative) cycle.
Above: A man with one arm bathes in the healing waters of the Ganga.
Above: Another man dries his clothing in the wind along the river.
Above: Dawn occurs and already, religious ceremonies begin. This was on our way to the boat for a dawn boat ride.
Every so often, a new body would be carried on a strecher by 8 men or so to the Ganga into which they were completely and momentarily submerged. The body are then placed on the ground with the family shooing away the dogs, black crows, and goats. I remember vividly watching Several family members wailing with sorrow at one body. I remember most sharply the cries of one woman of my age crying again and again, "Papa, Papa". The body was soon placed on coffin sized funeral pire and burned into ashes before our eyes.
TEA, TIGERS, REBELS, AND BRITISH RUINS
When we last caught up together, we had just departed the holy city of Varnasi, having learned a bit about Hindu culture and life on the great river Ganga. Well, onward we went from Varanasi via another 22hr sleeper train, to the cute hill station of Darjeeling famous of course for its fine teas.
During the British occupation of India, Darjeeling's cool climate led to its development as a hill station for British residents to escape the insane heat of the plains during the broiling Indian summers. Taken by the British East India Company in the mid 1800's, It became the home to many tea plantations for which it is famous today.
Above: The view behind us in our 2 hr share jeep ride from the Silguri Train station in to the cool hills of Darjeeling- we had our Sikh cabin mate sort us out much coveted front seats in the jeep! The woman behind us wasn't so lucky or happy - she ended up vomiting on the twisty ride up and we gave her a bottle of water.
Below: School girls on the windy road up to the hill station.
Above: A Fat Cat at the Darjeeling zoo.
Above: Lucy enjoying a hot cup of Darjeeling tea
Above: school yard full of boys wave at Jay as he takes their picture
Above: They have "Jay" brand tea in Darjeeling-mm mmm good!
Below: We woke up at 4am one morning and took a jeep ride to watch the sunrise from "Tiger Hill." You can see Kangchenjunga five pictures below(tallest mountain in India and 3rd largest in the world) and also a glimpse of the peak of Everest in the distance. Watch as the sun rises.
Below: Girls dressed up for the Durga Puja, It is the most important festival in Bengal, and Bengalis celebrate with new clothes and other gifts, which are worn on the evenings when the family goes out to see the pandals (temporary structures set up to venerate the goddess). These flimsy temporary bamboo buildings are seen in every city, town, and village, as the festival arrives. Some are actually quite elaborate.
Above: Street scene in Darjeeling
Above and below: Jigga who?
Below: pics from our hotel room-very nice!
Below: little girls in the town square try on Jay's shades
Below: Now and then: We met the greatest old couple in Darjeeling. The 80 year old husband was showing us a portrait of himself when he was a young military officer fighting in WW2 - his name is Captain Swaminathan. He was rightly proud to have commanded British troops against the Nazi's in WW2. He was a very sharp fellow.
Above: It's hard out here for a Monk
Above: 1st Runner up in the "Miss Darjeeling" Pageant. One of the best smiles on our trip - and not camera shy either!
Above: Revelers in the Durga Puja parade
PORTERS IN DARJEELING:
The upper side of Darjeeling is an all pedestrian area with no vehicles allowed. At the bottom of the hill there are porters waiting with their head straps-these men and women are so strong it is ridiculous. They can be seen carrying everything from everyday luggage to a kitchen sink.
Below: here is one carrying a metal cabinet. These guys put us struggling with our little rolley bags to shame!
Below: Fog shrouds a Darjeeling pathway.
Above: Getting hit by the tail end of the Monsoon.
Above: Fresh Meaty Goodness-they still have some to learn about the whole refrigeration process here in India.
Above: A rare item indeed! A real copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead - One of 2 existing in the world, a monk let us see it on the DL - for a few extra rupees......
Above: Wall painting inside the "Busty Gompa" Tibetan Monastery-honestly that is the name.
Above and below: These boys in broken English called us over to show us the sight below. The man may had had too much fun celebrating the puja the night before and had passed out off the side of the mountain. I assured them he wasn't dead.
Below: Birds flutter away from the Tibetan refugee self help center.
Above: Jay playing cricket for the first time with kids at the Tibetan refugee center. He hit the ball way over every one's head twice (in fact I crushed it!), I mean they were only 9 but...........still impressive.
Above: One of the endless tea plantations in and around Darjeeling.
Below: Scenes from the train ride From Darjeeling to Guwahati in the North East State of Assam. Note the complete change of landscape in the train sequence ahead.
Below: Our train rounds a curve on our way into the north east state of Assam. Jay would spend hours hanging out the open door watching the landscape go by and taking pictures. Good way to break up the 22 hour ride.
ASSAM - THE NORTH EASTERN STATES:
Assam is a fascinating region which borders Bhutan and Bangladesh with Myanmar and Tibet a stones throw away. It is much less frequently visited by tourists than other regions in India, partially because it is geographically hard to get to and partially because there is a violent separatist movement in the region and fighting has been known to break out frequently.
While we were there many insurgent incidents occurred including one shockingly bloody and violent incident in which separatist militia members ambushed a group of railway workers with machine guns and grenades killing 8. The gruesome front page below showed the details.
In fact, since we have left there was a major bombing in the neighborhood in which we stayed, blocks from our hotel, which killed 13 people in a market. Sheesh!
We actually felt quite safe while we were there and went to places of exquisite natural beauty- no separatists crossed our path - that we were aware of although we were stopped and searched by machine gun toting Indian army men the day of the above highlighted attack. They stopped our car, made us get out, looked in the trunk, asked for our passports, but mostly wanted a better look at Lucy I am sure.
One of the highlights of our visit to Assam was "Kaziranga National Park" where we stayed in a great resort called Wild Grass - as per Miss Leigh Crandall's recommendation. At Kaziranga we rode around in a jeep safari and saw wild rhinos (the only 1 horned variety in the world) as well as elephants and many interesting bird species.
After Kaziranga we traveled another few hours into Assam to an incredible island called Majuli - one of the world's largest river islands situated in the Brahmaputra. We had to take our rental car on a rickety old ferry over packed with people, cows, motorcycles, etc. We kept imagining those stories you hear of sinking boats with millions of people piled on them - fortunately we weren't in Bangladesh and Lucy didn't have to put her life guard training to the test this time.
One group of tribal people on Majuli and throughout the region of Assam are called "Missing" people. No relation to being lost we were assured. They have a distinctly more Asian look than mainland Indians, and practice some sort of non Hindu Animal worship.
The Missing people live in traditional bamboo style huts on stilts. We actually wound up staying in a "Missing" hut ourselves that was made from traditional building materials, mostly bamboo, although it was designed for the villagers by a French architect! The sleeping experience was pretty similar though with no electricity, bamboo bed frames with bug nets, and a squat toilet.
The best part of Majuli was that there were no tourists besides us except for one 6+ foot blond Brit ex-pat who we became friendly with. Majuli didn't even have tourist amenities - no hotels, no restaurants, no whities but us 3! We ate all of our meals at the neighboring Missing family's home - fish and rice, no utensils-we had a great "native" experience!
Below: The tropical scenery of the North Eastern States
Below: Animals at Kaziranga National Park
Below: One horned rhino, yeh baby.
Below: The next few images are from us visiting a Missing village outside of Kaziranga
Below: Suckling Pigs!
Above: Nice tush!
Above: My sort of beard.
Above: View out the car window on the road to Kaziranga - We would do some elephant riding ourselves later on. Real men ride the head - What??
Above: A few dudes who cooked our lunch at a rest stop.
Above: A native dance performance by the local children at Wild Grass resort
Below: more wildlife at Kaziranga - A King Fisher.
Above: Indian army personel who were all over the place in the North East due to the separtist movement. Always Namaste dudes with machine guns.
Above: You can see these little huts on every plot of farm land around Kaziranga with men lounging on raised platforms. Their job is to keep vigil 24hrs a day to prevent wild elephants from wandering out of the park and feasting on their crops. We asked what they do if elephants come and our guide said they bang drums and light fires-interesting job.
Below: Inside a traditonal Missing home-plus some nice family portraits
Above: Chick on a cows ear. Oh farm life (sigh)!
Above: Traditional Missing house
Above: This woman was very interested in touching Lucy to apparently see what white skin felt like.
Below: Some shots of the kids in a local Missing village near Kaziranga. The first one is our fav!
Below: The cool girl click. Yes, a tribal cool girl click in the middle of Assam. Go figure.
Below: All the kids from the whole village.
Below: Missing man fishing
Below: Jay on the ferry to Majuli - wearing a traditional scarf in an untraditional way.
Below: Lucy watching our car get loaded off the ferry on the Island of Majuli
Above and Below: our Missing neighbors on Majuli who we ate our meals with - this little guy is Babalou - we were ready to pack him up and bring him back to NY with us! Instead we gave him a polaroid and some sidewalk chalk and said 'peace out little dude.'
Below: The family with whom we dined, gave us a last cup of tea outside their home before we hit the road.
Below: More portraits of Missing people on Majuli:
Below: These women were all praying at a "Satra" which are temples of this different sect of Hindus that also live on Majuli. These Hindus only worship one god, they are different ethnically from the Missings. Supposedly these folks sometimes look down on the Missings for drinking alcohol and eating meat. We were down with the Missings.
Jay took a photo of one woman and unleashed a barrage of middle aged women wanting to pose for portraits, to be fair he wound up taking individual and group shots of about 50 of them, below are just a few. Afterwards they all wanted to cook us diner.
Below: Here is the hut we stayed in on Majuli. Designed by a French architect to be very hut-ish
Below: Shrine at a Satra
Below: Some kind of community celebration in which we became guests of honor, taken for tea with the village elders.
Below: Skinny old man
Below: A man emerges from the bog with harvested plants of an unknown kind.
Below: Some roads and crossings flood periodically on Majuli and in order to cross flooded areas people load their bikes and motorcycles onto these rickety "canoes" and eak their way back and forth for 5 Rupees. We took one over to a village at sunset and had to ride back in the dark with 20 or so people, bikes, and motorcycles. There was about a foot of swampy water in the bottom of the boat- we hear they tip over all the time but we made it across safely with only a few bugbites.
Below: Lucy's new obsession: new born baby goats, we are considering bringing one home for our niece Emily - Brad / Lauren is that cool with you?
Below and next few: More great Missing kids on Majuli Island
Below: It's great fun corralling 30 kids of different ages into posing how you want them to when you don't speak the same language. It's surprisingly easy: One, two, three, jump!
Next two: A full moon stroll back to our village on Majuli. Moonlight lit the way and can be seen reflecting in the water.
Below: Mosquito coils didnt stop the bum rush of mossies.
Below: More "street" scenes from Majuli
Above: Ahh got to love the red white and blue.
Majuli Island was a fantasy island getaway with slow island charm. Because few tourists reach the island, the people's warmth is "unspoiled" by hoards of tourists and as a guest you can melt right into the rich minutiae of people's lives.
Despite each getting dozens of mosquito bites, we left Majuli Island feeling refreshed, our world a bit bigger, having gotten to experience the culture of the Missing people and the charm and uniqueness of some of Assam's people and places.
Unfortunately as nature giveth, nature taketh away. Majuli is being reclaimed by the Brahmaputra River which at one time flowing one way, created the Island out of deposited sediment, but now having mildly changed course, the river is rapidly eating the island away literally before your eyes. The people say when the time comes, they will move to a nearby island.
Off to Calcutta we headed next via Sibsagar and Guwahati.
Above: Holy man in Sibsagar- our stopover point between Majuli and Guwahati
Above: In the car ride back to Guwahati, A very typical street scene from India; cows, garbage, miscellaneous animals, dirt, fire, and of course general insanity!
Above: Sunset in Sibsagar's man made lake
Below: Scenes from the train Guwahati to Calcutta:
Below: Jay in the isle of our sleeper train car.
Calcutta or Kolkata as it is being called once again, is a city of over 14 million people. Although in the west we usually only have the perception of Calcutta as a huge urban slum, Indians refer to it as the "Cultural Capital of India", and the "City of Joy" and its perception as a slum are becoming unfounded.
It is definitely a little of both the western perception as well as an impressive booming metropolis, with gorgeous crumbling British era buildings overgrown with vines giving it a kind of romantic, stately beauty. There is a vibrant life in Calcutta with all of the contrasts of beauty and dilapidation, wealth and poverty you have in any great city.
These extremes hit you everywhere when traveling around India but here it hits harder as the extremes are more exaggerated in the concentrated melee of the city. It is easy to walk down the main ritzy boulevard in Calcutta - Park Street and see a 5 star hotel, espresso bar, dolce and gabbana, western magazines, teens in designer jeans on their cell phones alongside naked filthy children no more than 3 years old wandering by themselves begging for money, women with their babies sleeping on cardboard, and man powered rickshaws which are basically a horse drawn 2 seater carriage but with a man running to power it instead of a horse.
There were also times when we were sitting in a yellow cab in the middle of a traffic jam that was at such a standstill as to be a parking lot - with every car honking although there somewhere to go, that we were struck with a familiar humor of modern urban life and felt we may as well be back in our own beloved New York.
We spent 10 days in Calcutta and would say it was wonderful, it was challenging, it was fascinating, and best of all it made for some wonderful photographs!
Below: The next 2 images are from our first day in Calcutta. The Monsoon was still flaring up in this area - the streets got completely flooded-like rivers with who knows what floating in them! We managed to avoid walking through the sludge because a little kid flagged us down a yellow cab-we took him along for a ride with us.
Below: Street Scenes in Calcutta:
Below: A great British era building abandoned and overrun with vines
Below: Men toiling in a small factory
Below: Black and white - two muslim women ride a manshaw through town.
Below: You can find the most bizarre relics of British times left over in the antique shops in Calcutta - very interesting.
Below: " I used to run this country, look at me now"
Above: Full term human fetus in a display jar at the Indian museum - this was one of the many completely bizarro curiosities on display at the National Museum.
Below: More Calcutta street scenes
Below: A "man"shaw in all it's glory. We couldnt bring ourselves to use one. Talk about insulting human dignity, this is low.
Below: Mother and child asleep on a piece of cardboard on the street.
Below: A boy and dog napping on a Calcutta sidewalk.
Below: Some have it worse then others. This person in the gutter with soiled pants had mental illness, addiction, disease, something horrible way beyond poverty.
Below: Young dude surveys the road.
Below: Taxi driver taking a break in the heat of the midday sun.
Below: Women and boy fighting in a trash pile
Below: "girl, talk to the hand". I understand that phrase in any laungage. Transvestites in Saris - you know, just your average day shit here in Calcutta.
Below: Some other Fruit
Above: Our personal favorite place to buy our meat, "A1 Meat Corner"
Above: The pet monkey outside our hotel. He was nice.
Above: Hey, you are taking a picture of me!
I chose to shoot a disproportionate amount of poverty because it captivated me more than the many other facets of Calcuttan life. There is a huge amount of development and prosperity in Calcutta. The "very poor" or "street people" made up less thn 5% of the population by my estimate. I found Calcutta quite sofisticated. - jay
SUNDERBANS TIGER RESERVE:
From Calcutta we embarked on a very pleasant 2 night trip South to the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve - a UNESCO world heritage site. We took a bus to a boat and traveled for several hours in the boat along the salt water estuary where several of North Indias major rivers dump into the Bay of Bengal. This merging of rivers is what makes the Sunderbans special.
We stayed in a very pleasant little cabin and spent a few days tooling around the river on a boat with some other nice visitors who we got to know quite well. The motley crew consisted of: A U.S. Navy nuclear submarine engineer and his wife from Portland, a hip Chilean couple our age (the dude got a 104 fever), an Indian-American couple from SoCal with real estate money, and a family of left winger home schooled Persian-Candians from a North Western Canadian Island. Needless to say, the politcal conversations were a hoot.
The Sunderbans reserve is all mangrove forest-which is densely packed with foliage and although there is a large tiger population, sighting are still rare. Our closest encounter to an actual tiger was seeing fresh paw prints in the mud, we knew from the tide cycle they were less than hours old - which was thrilling none the less.
If you ever wondered why a Tiger has it's coloration - you are about to find out from the pictures below. When we saw the colors of the Mangrove - we immediately got it.
Below are all from the Sunderbans Reserve and Local Villages:
Below: Tiger prints in the mud. Check the tiger colors in the brush - you could see how a Bengali tiger would be hard to spot here.
Below: The beard, looking... good!!!?
Below: Flora from the reserve.
Below: We ditched the group one afternoon and headed for a local village outside the isolated park. Below are some village pics.
Above and below: Lucy in baby goat heaven! They are all over the place!
Above: We went over to the house of one of the guys who worked at the camp. This is his son. In their bamboo hut they had a dvd player and he was very excited to pull out his Green Day video to show us, it was a very surreal moment.
Above: A play that the local villagers put on at our campsite. It had very high production value as you can see from the costumes despite its provincal surroundings. Jay optioned the script and cast for a 2 year exclusive and may bring the show to NYC.
Below: A local fishing boat as seen on our return trip from the Sunderbans.
Above: The cremation of the body of an old women on the banks of a Sunderbans tributary.
Below: After the Boat back from the Sunderbans the townspeople checked us out as we loaded up the bus back to Calcutta. Great opportunity for some snaps.
Below: The following series was all shot hanging out the door of our moving bus on the way back to Calcutta.
Below: The Ghost.
Below are scenes as we were getting back into Calcutta:
Below: We got back the evening of Diwali (Think Hindu Christmas) so there were many candles, xmas lights, and fireworks lighting up the city.
Below: Horses grazing on the lawn in front of the Victoria Memorial on our last night in Calcutta.
We left Calcutta with a literal bang to the sounds and lights of Diwali which brought us full circle to our last trip to India 2 years ago when we danced in the streets of Mumbai during Diwali the first night we arrived. This departure also marked the remarkable "completion" of our swing through the north of India.
The North was filled with many unforgettable highlights from the Taj at sunset, jeeping through the Himalayas, the timeless Ganga cities of Haridwar and Varanasi, the rich culture of the Assamese people, and finally the noble city of Calcutta with its British ruins, daily life struggles, and the dichotomy of its impoverished past and rising star.
So goodbye to Nothern India, It is time once again to pack up our trusty, dusty bags and move on.
Destination: The wonderous South East Asian paradise of Thailand for some much needed vacation from our vacation. India is tough.
Below: In the cab on the way to the airport heading to our 1 month "vacation" in Bangkok.
Below: A genuine look of happiness and contentment on the way to vacation.
Stay tuned for Episode 4: Vacation from Vacation.
Highlights from Northern Thailand include
- Backstage and ringside at a Thai Boxing match
- Elephant rides
- Exotic tribal people
- A trip to Myanmar
- Street scenes from Bangkok & Chang Mai
- Catching up with Denzel Washington on the set of American Gangster
- and much much more!!!!
Thanks for reading our blog. As usual you can click on any photo to be brought to the photo gallery. This concludes your vicarious journey through Episode 3. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.
Jay and Lucy
BOXING, LONG NECKS, AND JUNGLE TREATS
Bangkok is a very cosmopolitan westernized city. We found it positively cushy in comparison to India. Our first 24 hours we were in an ecstatic frenzy of eating, drinking starbucks, shopping, high speed internet browsing, getting thai massages, etc. It was just what we needed to recharge our batteries. Despite the Coup which had occured 1 week before our trip, all was quiet on the eastern front.
Other big news from Thailand: Jays first grey hair. Thanks India!!
Above: Khao San Road the tourist Mecca of Bangkok. Had we come only to Thailand, This cluttered, westernized tourist trap would have been hell to us but coming from India.....
Below: Lucy sporting her new thai style
Above: Gold statues at the foot of a giant Buddha in a Thai Watt.
Above: The sun hits part of a beautifully ornate temple door. It's the little things, isnt it?
Above and below: Scenes around some of Bangkok's many Watts
Above: two different buildings catch some rays through the afternoon clouds as seen from the river in Bangkok .
Above: Jay right before shaving and getting a haircut-Halleluiah! (says Lucy)
Below: Behind the scenes at a Muay Thai Boxing match. The fighters were small but certainly tough.
Above and below: Dudes was pretty bad ass (To put it in street terms)
Above: this is the guy from The Deer Hunter, right?
Above: dude gets his clock cleaned by a round house and has to be removed by stretcher. Below: dude celebrates his KO with a little showtime.
Above: no matter where you are, sitting ringside is fabulous, no?
Above: Even at a kick boxing match Lucy manages to find a baby to cuddle with. Note: His dad will later that evening steal the championship belt from the champion in a gory victory.
Above: The crowd reacts to the damage inflicted below.
Above: Money changing hands.
Above: The New Champ, Lucy cuddled his baby.
Above: man checking out some fried crickets at a stand on Khao San- ok so some things are still a little different here.
Above: Maxin' and Relaxin' Thai Style
Below: Our Sleeper Car from Bangkok to Chiang Mai- we were in heaven on this train- it was again cushy compared to India. We had a private compartment with a door that locked and they brought us fresh squeezed oj-we love Thailand.
Above: Jay on our rental scooter in Chiang Mai
Above: A monk steps into the light which also fills the monastery with a warm afternoon glow.
Above: kids eat dinner on the steps near one of the wonderful night markets popular through out Thailand.
ROADTRIP IN NORTHERN THAILAND:
We rented a 4 wheel drive jeep and headed up into Northern Thailand for a 10 day roadtrip.
Below: (next few) Images from the waterfall at Doi Ithanon National Park
Above and below: The powerful, refreshing spray shooting off the waterfall, made you feel like doing this:
Above: we are sad to be missing our favorite season of Fall - here Lucy was happy to find a red leaf- a little reminder.
Above: Our Jeep
Below: More Images from inside Doi Ithanon - this part reminded us of "Sunken Forest" in Fire Island.
Below: "The Highest Spot In Thailand...."
Below: ....and the two most sober people!
Below: Signs pointing to the "Long Neck" Karen tribal village.
LONG NECK VILLAGE IN MAI HONG SAN:
There are several "Long Neck" tourist attraction villages around this area of Northern Thailand near the Burmese border. These women are actually Burmese (Myanmar) refugees. The "long neck" tradition was an old tribal custom that was dying out but has been brought back basically because it is a tourist attraction.
It is definitely a freak show and made us slightly uncomfortable, but we went none the less - and it is fascinating. We read in our guide that at least the women are making some money and it is better than the manual labor they were doing in Myanmar. We tried to buy a bunch of chatchkies to put some money in their pockets (so don't be surprised when you see long neck women refridgerator magnets in our new apt!)
Below: Long Neck Munchkin played her guitar for us and sang. She was stunning.
Below: Woman weaving
Below: So what? So her neck is really long but that didn't prevent us from having many yuk yuks together.
Yes I look like a major dork in this photo, I know - Jay made me do it! Those coils that they wear are f**kin heavy-I was shocked!
Below: Karen Village children at school:
Below: Lucy Asking for directions
Below: One tourist attraction we passed on our swing though the north was a mountain which housed a unique population of fish which lived exclusively in the mountains underwater streams. Visible here through a hole in the mountain side. Cool.
Above: Lucy catching some zzzzzz's
Above: Jay emerges from an awesome coral cave. Below: A spider the size of Jay's hand sitting on the cave wall.
Below: Us with our guide who took us through the cave.
Above: Our great bungalow camp in Northern Thailand
Below: Jay chillin in the hammock
Below: Pictures from our cave kayak adventure.
This series: Peep the caves yo and the little yellow dot person at the bottom of the screen above. Shits was massive.
Above: Many thousands year old cave painting deep in the cave. Can you make out the dark horse shape?
Above and below: The bat show! tens of thousands of bats exit the cave at dusk
Below: Bare-Back Elephant Riding in Pai:
Above: Yes we rode this massive elephant into the river and she blew water from her trunk onto us and then flipped us off her back and into the water. The fun went on and on. She was nice.
Above: can you say "classic picture?"
Above and below: drenched by the Elephant who sprayed us and then flipped us off his back if you can believe it.
Above and below: How does one conquer Thailand? On the back of Elephants!
Above: Flight of the Navigator
BELOW: Pics from the "GOLDEN TRIANGLE" Where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet.
Above and below: Giant Buddha on the river which divides Thailand and Laos, two portions of the "Golden Triangle".
Above and below: Cultural exchange: I taught these boys 'the snap' which I co-invented in or around 1990.
ONE DAY IN MYANMAR:
With much luck and some effort we were able to venture into Myanmar for one afternoon and evening. It was spectacular. Besides getting the stamp in our passports, we were able to roam around by ourselves and meet some folks, see some sights, and take some pictures. Our short time there left us wanting to return. Below are some pics from that day.
Above and below: the friendship bridge between Thailand and Burma and border boy.
Above and below: Boy at gas station and sad girl on swing.
Below: Various People of Burma
Below: scapes of Burma border town.
Above: insane in the hot afternoon sun as seen in the rear view mirror of our rickshaw.
Above and below: I have 15 shots of these kids. Each picture captures better and better perfect group poses. These kids could pose like nobodie's business.
Below: A woman takes a moment for prayer. What does she pray for?
Above and below: girl watches hot air baloon rise to freedom.
Below: Various Street scenes:
Back On the Road In Thailand:
Above: Night Market in Chiang Mai
Below: Series of Field Workers in Northeastern Thailand
Below: Scapes of Northern Thailand.
Above and Below: We met this nice family in the middle of the sticks-they helped us maneuver our jeep out of a ditch and then brought us to this cool cave.
Below: Upon returning to our car from caving we discovered our keys were locked in the car. It was getting late, dark and as we were getting munched by mosquitos and considering ways to smash our car window, one of the kids (who used to be a cabbie in Bangkok) came up with brilliant plan and helped us break into our car.
Below: great Lucy series:
Below: Denzel on the set of " American Gangster" - we weren't kidding!
There were about 100 extras, 2 lighting and grip trucks that I could see (5 tonners at least), 1 big Art dept truck with props, paint and such, 10 trailors plus holding obviously, 2 nation of Islam security dudes, 30+ Grip and Electrics, and yes, Ridley Scott was there. The Producer was very grouchy and didn't even talk to me for 2 seconds. Denzel on the other hand gave me a nice smile and a "good to see ya". I could have easily produced that shit in my sleep.
Below: Mmmmm mmmmm mmmm
Above: Thats a wrap on American Gangster....
Below: Train station in Chang mai:
Below: My reflection on the really cushy train from Chang Mai back to Bangkok. Followed by other train pics.
Below series: carnival on Khao San Road
KO CHANG: ISLAND PARADISE
Below: This was how we got around. I had the worst motor vehicle accident of my life when I dropped my bike on a very steep curve. My helmut covered head bounced on the pavement a few times quite hard and I bruised my arm. Could have been worse.
Behind the scenes at a Drag Show on Ko Chang. Guess which one is my favorite:
Below: Where we ate many meals.
Below: Massage on the beach?
Above and below: Life on Ko Chang was really nice despite little adventure.
Below: King of Khao San Road
IN SUMMARY OF OUR MONTH IN THAILAND:
Thailand is certainly a vacationer's paradise. We enjoyed it thoroughly in spite of the fact that we always turned up our noses at the idea of going to Thailand as it is the road more travelled and it is true you see more white folks with hawaiian t-shirts than you do natives on certain streets in Bangkok.
However after being in India for months, many things were such a pleasure in Thailand in contrast. Just to name a few: The people are warm, friendly and geniune-absolutely the most polite people we have ever come across. The food is amazing-ranging from sushi at a 5 star hotel to stall food on the street. The roads are paved and well labeled with signs in English. The scenery is exquisite ranging from beautiful mountains and streams in the North to crystal clear ocean and white sandy beaches in the South, and everything was so clean and well maintained!
Jay came up with the perfect analogy between Thailand and India which is this: Thailand is like a well presented jewelery store where everything is sparkly, pretty, and nicely packaged, India on the other hand is more like a mine where you need to fight through hard rock, dirt, grime, and unsafe working conditions but when you get through it you may come upon a diamond in the rough which is the most beautiful and unique gem you have ever laid eyes on. One that could never be found in a store.
So, bellies full, toes manicured, cleanly shaven and well rested we push onward to mine for treasure in India!! We will of course continue to keep you posted on our journey.
'So what' that we are in Paris drinking espresso, eating smelly cheese, cold gourmet meats, and avocado on baguettes with mustard, In blog land we are still deep in India, toiling through the mad adventures that is the specialty of that corner of the developing world. Even if walking through the cobbled streets of Le Marais to the Lourve is in stark contrast to the first part of our trip, we must channel back to India now to complete the journey for cyber space.
Lets recap where we are now on the India trip, not in Paris, but....... After 3 months exploring Northern India and then a much needed 1 month 'vacation from our vacation' in Thailand with a short dash across the border to Myanmar, we returned to India through Delhi picked up my Mom and headed south to the Jungley Kerala. That's where this blog, or really these photos I should say, pick up.
Southern India is really different from the North: different languages, different climate, different history, etc. The south is more laid back, more rural, more tropical, and generally runs at a slower pace. After Southern India: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madya Pradesh, We were full circle back North to Gujarat, and Rajastan.
Some of the highlights of this part of the trip where:
- Boating on the back waters of Kerala
- Exploring the Southern tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea meet before your eyes
- The stunning temples of Tamil Nadu
- The world heritage caves of Ellora and Ajanta
- The Afghani ruins of Mandu, Madya Pradesh
- The beaches and Portuguese and Dutch ruins of Goa
- The vast ruin of Hampi at Karnataka
- The desert tribal culture in Bhuj, Gujarat
- The desert kingdom of Jaisalmer
- The palaces and forts of Rajastan, the land of kings
LINK TO BLOG 5 PHOTOS BEST VIEWED IN SLIDE SHOW MODE: