Saturday, December 31, 2005

Chris's Law of Auto-Rickshaw drivers

On the way to the train station this afternoon, I figured out what had happened this morning.

I was charged a tiny 10 rupees for the ride from the train station to the hotel.

However, when I tried to go back to the train station this afternoon, no auto driver would give me the time of day for less than 15rs. So, what happened?

The answer is that the auto-rickshaw driver received a 20 rupee kickback, or backsheesh as its known here, for taking me to the hotel. Heell, he probably would have driven me there for free.

I was pretty pissed when I found this out, as I pride myself in not being taken for a ride... pretty soon, I figured out a way to get my revenge on rickshaw drivers everywhere:

Fact: Auto drivers are happy to take you to a hotel, as they will receive a kickback.
Fact: Auto drivers will take you to the hotel for less than a normal fare as a result.
Fact: Auto drivers have no way of knowing if you are alreay a guest at the hotel.

So.. I figured out of that I can keep travelling to my guesthouse from either the train/bus station for a amazingly cheap price, as long as I look like I just got off the bus (i.e. clueless)

I tried this on the way back after buying my train ticket... worked like a charm.

and, continuing this line of thinking, I now present:

Chris's Laws of Rickshaw Travel

1. Do not use the rickshaws that are waiting in line outside a station/famous place. They are waiting in line, and so the person in the front will not give up his place for anything less than a full priced fare. He has probably been waiting there for hours, and is not going to be happy to take you somewhere for 10rs.

2. The more recently an auto driver has had a customer, the more willing he is to haggle with you. Flag them down while they are driving for best results.

3. Auto drivers will not haggle in front of their friends. This is due to a combination of pride, and price fixing cartel style rules enforced by peer pressure.

4. The older the driver, the slower he will drive.

5. Young guys spend all their money on their auto, and will quite possibly have a very nice sound system. Ask them if they can play some music.

6. If the journey you are taking involves any kind of entrance or toll road fee, the rickshaw driver will never ever mention this when you are haggling for the price before you depart.

7. If he takes you to a hotel or shop, expect to pay more as it will for sure include a kickback to the auto driver.

8. If you are drunk or carrying heavy bags, you lose bargaining power. Have a sober friend do it for you, or leave your bags inside the hotel while you go out and hail the auto.

9. Never agree to go anywhere for a quick stop. If he doesn't want to take you exactly where you want to go, and directly, you don't pay.

Alas, Alang

Money Money Money. I'm spending it like it's going out of style.

I went to a 5 star hotel for lunch today, and had gourd/pumpkin dumplings - wow. Easily the best food i've had in India so far. Mmmmm

Went to the train station and picked up my ticket for onward travel. I take an overnight train tomorrow (1st of Jan), dumping me 3 hours from Diu at 6AM. I suppose I can take a bus or something to get there... The only thing available was 2AC class, at 20 bucks....

I picked up a SIM card for my mobile phone. My number is +91 99 25 287 950

I'll have this as long as i'm in this state.

While Diu seems like it will be very cool, I really really want to head to Alang, a few hours away on the coast.. It's the largest shipbreaking site in the world - and a place that would be perfect for photos... Imagine 5km of beaches, lined up with ship after ship (supertankers, battleships, cruseliners, etc) each with a team of 300 people tearing it down to the smallest piece of scrap metal.

Alas, it seems that the Indian government is not so happy about tourists coming to see this - they would rather we visit the Taj in Agra (an equally dirty place). I've googled quite a bit, and it seems that most tourists who go there get turned away (if they're lucky), or get given a very costly runaround, after being charged hundreds of dollars for a visiting permit.

So. The plan for now:

Go to a film tonight, maybe head to the 5 star place again for a coffee in the late evening.

Tomorrow, do a bit of shopping for clothes, etc... before taking the night train to Diu.

New Year's Eve

Arrived in Ahamadabad this morning at 5AM.

It seems that with every previous night train that I've taken in India - I've been lucky enough that the train terminating station happened to be my stop.

Not so in this case, and so it was lucky that I asked the people around me.. or I would have woken up in some other city. Still, this meant that I arrived at 5AM to a cold and dark city.

Backtracking slightly - I decided to scale down my travel in the name of saving money. I had previously been travelling 2 tier AC (2 beds on each side), but a night train at this class costs me around 20 bucks. By dropping down one level to 3 tier AC (3 beds), I'm saving about 8 dollars per ticket. Sweet!

It's still an expensive enough ticket that you get middle class Indians on the train with you - and so I spent some of the journey talking to a lawyer who is the project manager for an "Eden Project" style nature park opening outside Bombay next year.

I also learned an important lesson about the top bunk... in addition to heat rising, methane gas seems to rise.... and with 4 beds undernaeth mine (2 on each side), I had a very unpleasant time before I finally dozed off.

In any case... arrived at 5AM, was met by a hustler at the train station who wanted to take me to a rickshaw driver... The warning lights in my head were going off already - his english was good, and it was too early to trust anyone.

However, in the end, he took me to an auto driver, got me a cheaper price than the driver himself wanted to charge (10 rupees) - which, after the kickback he earned, I can't imagine there was much left for the auto driver...

Today's goals are:

1. Buy phone GSM card... I have 3 internship interviews in the next few days, inshalla, and so I need a way to be reached.

2. I never did find the textbooks I wanted in Mumbai. I want to get some here.

3. Clothes. It's damn cold here. No more lungi wearing. I need something warm.

4. Figure out when and how i'm leaving. I want to head to Diu, but it's about 10 hours from here, and I just can't deal with a night bus again.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Monetary Museum/Lockpicks

It took me about an hour to find the Monetary Museum.. I stopped every 2-3 minutes to ask directions (no one knew the name, but they knew the street). Everyone assured me that it was very close, maybe 5-7 minutes away. Hah

In the end, the review in Time Out Mumbai was spot on: A great museum, yet completely empty. There were maybe 3 other people in there with me. Quite a shame, really.

With my daily quota of education met, I decided to go on a shopping mission: Where to buy lockpicks in Mumbai.

A bookseller wrote down the address of a street full of lock-smiths, and so I took a taxi there. Wow..... An amazing part of town, with small alleys dedicated to seemingly obscure items... An entire street dedicated to the sale of ball bearings.

It was a blast to walk through all the back lanes, enjoying the strange looks from Indians (who I doubt were used to seeing foreigners in these parts of town). Alas, after two hours, I gave up the search. Explaining the concept of a lock pick is a difficult thing - when the simpler solution in India is to break the lock, and buy a new one.....

Only one man claimed to be able to procure a set - but he said they were only made in England, would be shipped in from the UAE, and would set me back about 200 USD. No way I said.

I wanted the lockpick set, so I'd have something to play with on the long plane/train/bus rides.... but it seems if I really want one, i'll have to get it sent from the US.

Leaving Mumbai this evening. One day, i'll come back, as this really is a great place.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chello Pakistan

Finding the Pakistani Consulate in Mumbai is not an easy task.

Asking an Indian where the Pakistani Consulate is located, is something akin to asking a red blooded American where the Russian Embassy is, during the red scare.

The standard answer is either "Why would I know?", or a laugh...

It doesn't help that one of the standard insults (at least amongst poor-hindi-speaking travllers) is: "Chello Pakistan", or, "go to pakistan".

Eventually, I found out (by asking at the British Consulate) that there is no Pakistani consulate here in Mumbai. I also found out that Iranian visas take 2-4 weeks, which I'm not so willing to wait.. so perhaps that plan will have to wait till later.

Plus, if I go to Iran, I'm going to want to go to Turkey and Armenia next door.... and then if i'm in Turkey, I might as well go west and visit my family in Western Europe... see how it works? Better to stick to the asia travel thing, and ignore Asia Minor, for now.

Oh. My 4 months travelling without food poisoning is now properly over. I thought I had gotten a 24 hour bug the day before xmas eve, but it appears that it's come back. Oh well. It was a good run while it lasted.

Thoughts on Mumbai

I love Mumbai/Bombay.

Whereas I hated Bangalore, Mumbai is oh so nice. To those that have travelled, there is a backpacker area here that is just like khao-san-road in Bangkok (not itself a great thing).

The city is warm, the people smile, the street food (especially the bhelpoori) is mind blowing... It's just so damn fun to walk around here, and the lack of rickshaws actually makes it a bit safer to walk around....

I took a walk today for a few hours and tried to find some textbooks for myself.. there is an entire area of town dedicated to on-street booksellers - most of whom sell used/pirated books. I was lost for words at one point - so many textbooks, on so many subjects....

Down another street, and I wandered into an area that seemed to specialize in stalls selling pirated CDs and electrical things (flashlights, alarm clocks, and most surprisingly, vibrators).

I managed to kill two birds with one stone, and got a henna-hair-dyed stall-owner to stand next to his stall - with a vibrator right behind his ear in the photo (I promise to upload it soon). Once I asked him if he knew what it was, all his friends realized why I had wanted the photo, and all burst into toothy grins. Pretty much every stall for 3 blocks seemed to sell these, so it seems that they are a big seller here.

The lungi will have to go away soon. Sure, it's comfy, and stops you from getting sweaty.. but I didn't see a single other person wearing one today. Merchants would call out "Coming from Kerala?" to me, trying to guess where I had bought it....

I suppose I'll buy a pair of pants or something once I get to a new city the day after tomorrow.

I've spent 2 hours in an internet cafe making voice calls to all my credit card companies. Phew, It's all sorted out.

The plan now is to see a movie at the Regal (a fantastic old cinema nearby) tonight - in English. There is a lebanonese restaurant nearby, so with any luck, i'll be able to get some fatoush too... mmm

Tomorrow, i'll head to the currency museum (which is supposed to be world class), maybe buy a few things, and then head to the train station for my 8PM-ish train.

For those of your concerned for my health, I am on train 9005 on 30-12-2005.

The Henry Ford of Hair Dye

I'll try and snap a photo of this soon.. however, I see it often enough (and laugh as a result) that it is certainly worth mentioning here.

Indians seem to be following the Henry Ford model for Hair Dyes. i.e. If your hair is going grey, we can fix it, as long as you don't mind us dying it orange when we fix it.

You see very properly dressed men, with mostly black hair walking down the street - and then it catches your eye: half of their head is a semi-bright orange color.

Still. It's not as bad as some of the comb-overs that i've seen here..

More to come.


I knew I would leave the beach when I was ready....

Well, yesterday, I knew I was ready. It took a while to finally say goodbye, exchange email addresses, and do everything (swim in the ocean/hug people/etc) one last time.. but eventually, I left.

I took the following:

30 min boat from Paradise beach to Gokarna Beach.
5 min auto rickshaw from Beach to Bus Stand.
30 min bus from Gokarna to Ankola.
3 hour bus from Ankola to Margao (Goa)
12 hour bus from Margao to Bombay/Mumbai
10 min ripoff cab from bus stop to backpacker-ghetto.


I stayed a total of about 15 minutes in Goa. After chilling out on my perfect ideal beach, I had no desire to visit the costa-del-sol like ambience that Goa has reportedly turned into. Loud techno parties and chemical-drugs are not my cup of tea, and so I was quite happy to move to Bombay as fast as possible.

Alas, it's xmas/new years, and so the trains between Goa and Bombay were solidly booked... Thus, I had to fork out 850 rupees (20 bucks) for a VIP A/C night-bus.. which had a booming DVD soundsystem, and an A/C system that made it far too cold, even with wool blankets, to sleep properly. Bloody VIP conveniences.

Anyhow. The plan now is to stay in Mumbai for a night, enjoy a few of the niceties (like fast internet, and cinemas), and then head out to Alahamabad tomorrow. I went to the train station first thing this morning, and booked a ticket using the tourist quota system (they reserve the last spots on all trains for foreigners).

Thus, i'm uploading pics as I type this... and then will head out for a bit of shopping (with a hopeful eye to sending the stuff off to the US tomorrow, inshalla).

My mind has been wandering a bit recently, and i'm semi-tempted to cross the Pakistani border (with the intent of heading to Iran). It's only a mild flirtation at the moment, and a trip to the various embassies later this afternoon will at least clear things up for me... more on this as it develops.

Oh, and Mumbai is expensive. There are no auto rickshaws - only taxis, and my cheap tiny room is costing me 400 rupees a night.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Xmas came and went.

An xmas party was organized - a reggae christmas dance party. The idea was to have a celebration for the folks on paradise beach (maybe 40 people). However, word spread to the other beaches, and so we ended up having about 200 people show up.

It was the first time i'd ever DJ's something that big... but it went well, with lots of people dancing, singing along with a few popular songs - leading to much back patting the next day.

I woke up on Xmas day, went into the ocean for a swim, walked back to the chai-shop, where I received a bag of raisins from the british-style santa-filled stockings hung up there...

Udo, a german friend, decided to give me a loin-cloth for xmas... It's new, thankfully - but i'm still not so sure what to make of it. It's one thing to go naked, but a loincloth looks very strange.

I think i'll be heading out of here soon. It's been a month now, and I feel like it's time to move on. I'll be heading to Diu next, I think. Once i've sorted out my travel plans, i'll update things here.

Happy new years.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More reports from Paradise

Given how rarely I update this now, my writing style will have to change..... It's just not possible to write what I want, as I always forget it as it happens, and 5 days later, can't recall all the juicy details.

So, we'll have to make do with fragments.

I've now been at the beach for 2 weeks.

Bikers arrived on monday - well off foreigners who pay $1500 to do a 2 week motor bike tour of this part of India. They come here (different groups) every 2 weeks, like clockwork.. The good part is, they bring fireworks - approx 3000 rupees, or around 80 dollars... Wow. Such amazing pyrotechnics.

I can't wait for them to come back again.

Sunburnt my ass on Saturday. Ouch.

I've now settled on the idea of staying here for a few more weeks. The question is, when will I leave. Right now, the question is; will I stay for new years?

My plans change every time I think about them, and so, I've locked my loney planet away so that it doesn't tempt me.

People come and go on the beach. It's good for me though, as it forces you to be a social person - interact with others before they leave, etc...

As always, the dominant group is Israelis, but they're younger, and more foolish.. or at least younger.

There is a chap here, an American guy, who claims his mother is the Caroline of Radio Caroline (pirate radio days, off the coast of the UK). Interesting enough guy, with some funny stories.

Renewed my health insurance online. Someone in california seems to have stolen one of my credit card #'s, and charged $300 to it. Doh.

My reading list isn't moving very fast. For some reason, frisbee, chess, and conversation are just a lot more interesting.

Oh, and I tire of the food. If only I could get decent Indian food in Paradise.

I highly doubt if I'll be back for xmas, so.. enjoy yourselves..

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Still here

My first two days in Paradise beach were spent in a bamboo hut, with a sand floor and a straw mat on top. This was fine to begin with, but on the 3rd night, it rained, and so, I got wet.

At first, the rain just drenched my sheets and mosquito net - yet half of the hut was still dry. Thus, I moved the matt over to the other side of the hut, and went to sleep. Hours later, it rained again, this time drenching the whole of the hut.. And so, I opened up my umbrella, balanced it above my head, and as I drifted off to sleep, I vowed that I would for sure change rooms the next day.

The next day, I switched to a concrete cell, with a solid metal roof. However, after 2 days of sleeping on a hard-as-hell floor, within earshot of a very romantic couple next door, I decided that a slim chance of rain was better than a sure chance of backache...


Nudity is not something that everyone embraces equally on Paradise beach. For some reason, it seems to be that the more male, or crazy you are, the more likely you are to run around stark naked.

Sophie probably fell into the second category. Or, to be more exact, given her habit for running laughing into the sea naked at sunset, it was pretty obvious that she was not from the former.

In any case, Sophie offered to pass her shack on to me.. The key selling point, being that she had been hoarding the matresses of people as they left, and had amassed a stockpile of 6. And thus, I now find myself with a beach-front shack, with more than enough mattresses, and just the sound of the tide to sing me to sleep.

I'm making some progress on my books, frisbee seems to happen at least once a day, and I'm actually stimulating my brain through regular chess matches, which I am now starting to win, on occasion.

Sure enough, the vast majority of the people on the beach could at best, be described as "free spirits" - and so while I do tire of the same old conversations of, "Where are you from, where are you going, where have you been. What is it like in your country, etc". With the hippies here, I'm also tiring of hearing poor bob marley covers played around a campfire, and people talking about enlightenment, shiva, and other things they've found on holiday...

However, even with that, I still love it here. It's just so amazingly relaxing, and a few of the people i've met have proved to be great.

One girl who is staying near me - her head is firmly in the clouds, and so I have to take everything she says with a steady dose of salt. She told me the most romantic thing the other day, which I want to write here..

She carries a notebook with her, wrapped in felt. Every time she meets someone from a new country, she asks them to write down the phrase "I love you" in their own language into her book. The purpose, she told me, is so that on her wedding night - she can speak "I love you" in hundreds of ways to her lover.

How romantic, eh?

I think i'll be here for at least another 2-3 weeks... I think.

My bills are all paid, and so I don't really need to use the internet again for at least another 2 weeks. So don't expect too much contact.

If I don't come back (to gokarn, for email) before the 25th... Happy xmas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Paradise Beach

I don't really know how to go about describing my new home.

I'm staying on Paradise Beach, which is the most remote of the beaches near Gokarna.

The journey, was, awful - and long. I took a morning rickshaw 10km out of the city - was dropped off at the end of a dirt path - with full luggage, and told "walk that way". This turned out to be about 30 minutes, up-hill, in the heat... No the best weather for flip flops, a lungi (skirt), or a huge backpack.

However, I finally arrived - to paradise...

It's a small-ish beach. There are bamboo huts on the rocks on both sides of the sand - one of which, I'm renting for 40 rupees (90 US cents) per night. The beach is clothing optional - which was initially somewhat of a shock. Now, it's fine... and I save on laundry this way (which is a pain in the ass without running water).

I've spent my time hanging out, playing frisbee, reading, listening to music (and even practising a bit of the guitar)...

I met an Indian yogi who lives on the beach - and who has an amazing knowledge of Dub Reggae - who I might take a few sunset yoga classes from later.

In the evenings, most of the people on the beach (15-20) get together for a campfire - some singing, etc....

It doesn't get any more relaxing than this.

Civilization is a 30 minute walk away - over pretty steep rocks, and so this keeps the riff raff (the police, and most non rugged travellers) away....

I'm just checking in now - but highly doubt if I'll venture out of Paradise again for at least another week.

I also suspect that I'll spend at least 3-4 weeks here.. it's too nice not to, and so my plans might have to adjusted somewhat to compensate for this.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Middle of Nowhere

No direct bus to Gokarna after 4pm from Hampi, so I find out.

Thus, I now find myself in Ankola (or something that sounds like that), waiting for another bus which will take me the final 22km south to Gokarna.

I should be on the road again in 20 mins - but this little stop has given me the chance to check my mail, and pick up some alcohol before I step into the holy city limits of Gokarna - where, no doubt, I'll be able to find black market booze at most unholy prices.

The bus journey here was quite fun - for the first time ever, my co-passengers respected my anti-social headphone wearing, and didn't continue to ask me questions when I had them on.. and so, I had a 3 hour bus trip with not a single conversation - a pleasant change...

Pics uploaded

It's been a while since I uploaded photos - and after a friend of mine lost 40+ photos to a camera problem yesterday, I was starting to get a bit antsy.

Hubli has internet, but for 'broadband', it's surprisingly slow..

I've spent the last 3 hours uploading all my most recent photos - including pics from the tibetian buddhist town, and Hampi.

As soon as this is done, I'll grab some lunch, and catch a bus to Gokarna.

As i'll be arriving in the early evening (in darkness), i'll probably spend the first night in Gokarna proper - before heading to the beach the following morning.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

On the Road Again

Finally left Hampi.

In the morning, I played one last game of cards with my Israeli friends, posed for photos together, exchanged emails, and then left...

Gokarna, my next destination, is prety far away.. about 8 hours by bus - and frankly, I don't like waking up early, I don't like night busses, and I don't like arriving in a small town late at night - meaning my only option is to split up the trip.

Thus, I now find myself in Hubli.

It was an amazingly beautiful bus ride, with fields of sunflowers as far as the eye can see. It was also a reminder that i'm in India - which, after 2 weeks of spending all my time around foreigners - is something that needed to be refreshed within my mind.

I tried to give the peanut selling kid on the bus an 8 rupee tip (on a 2 rupee purchase), and the 3-4 rows of people behind me on the bus took this as an invitation to start arguing amongst themselves about if I was allowed to give a tip or not.. in the end, they forced the kid to give me back the money. Quite strange.

My plan is to stock up on goods here - booze (as gokarna is a holy city), mosquito coils, soap, and most importantly - more money, as there is no ATM where i'm going.

With any luck, i'll be on the road by noon tomorow, putting me in Gokarna by early afternoon tomorrow.

The israelis told me that Paradise Beach, the spot i'm heading to is very remote. it's 1 hour by foot from gokarna town, has no electricity except for one bar, and no internet except for a 30 min walk away.

So don't expect too many updates.

I'll see if i can find internet again tomorow morning, and find somewhere to upload my pics....

Friday, November 25, 2005

Last Man Down


I've been managing to get some stuff done.

A few days ago, I went bouldering along the river, eventually ending up at a waterfall (I think I described this in an earlier post).

Yesterday, two Israelis and I crossed the river, and went for a walk around a few temples and rocks - now, i'm not such a huge temple geek, so I didn't really feel the need to pay to go inside - simply walking around was enough for me.

Today, I hope to see the monkey temple on this side of the river, and a clean-water (by Indian standards) lake.

My hebrew is progressing amazingly well - but such is to be expected when I am around Israelis non stop all day long. I can already put together basic sentences, and I know most of the bad words that seem to spice their conversations.

I've met a few people who have been giving me great travel advice - and so I feel a lot more confident about my post India travel plans... I'm pretty sure that whenever I do leave India, be it Jan-Feb-March, I will head to Burma, hang out there for a while, and then make my way on to SW china via Laos. If time permits, I'll try and go to a bit of Indonesia...

Anyhow, as the title suggests - a game is in play now.

The guesthouse i'm at is very nice. It's cheap, the view is breathtaking, and the staff have an evil sense of humor.

Alas, it seems that something is awry in the kitchen, as my Israeli and British peers appear to be dropping like flies to food poisoning. I've been eating the same as them (although my appetite has been dropping slightly) - but, knock on wood, up until now.. i've been fine.

Right now, I appear to be the last one to not have food poisoning, and so, I cross my fingers, and hope that i'll last until I leave (which in theory, will be tomorrow).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A bit more activity

Spent about three hours yesterday, searching for a waterfall. A british couple I had met a few days ago told me about a waterfall about an hour away - "dead easy" to find, and how they had a great time finding it.

Thus, my tennant (see previous message) and I headed out to find it... which consisted of 2 hours of climbing over boulders upstream along the path of the river.

This was actually really enjoyable - and gave me a chance to test out my rock climbing skills. Flip flops are clearly not the best footwear for this kind of activity, much less a lungi - and at times, I wished I had prepared slightly better.

However, we ended up reaching the waterfall - at around the same time our water ran out, and the heat of the day was really kicking in....and so we wandered off to a nearby village to find water, and food....

After being in a tourist spot (almost like a resort) for so long, it was nice to have real, cheap Indian food again... mmmm

I'm thinking about moving on.....

I'm not sure that i'm ready to leave Hampi yet - but I think i'm ready to leave this side of the river. There isn't too much to do here, and somehow, just being here inspires an extreme form of laziness - such that even simple tasks become a great chore.

Plus - this place is chock a block with Israelis. I have nothing against them, but the majority of them lack significant english skills - and so in large groups, the conversation tends to stick to Hebrew... hardly inviting for non hebrew speakers.

I'm hoping to head across the river tomorrow, where hopefully, the tide of activity will grab me, and force me to do a few more things here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

State of Laziness

I spent my birthday doing the following:

Walked down the road to the german bakery, and bought 2 birthday chocolate croissants (well, actually, date-paste croissants) and a birthday candle. Promptly forgot my candle at the shop.

Wandered back to my room. Played "Guess the country/language" on the shortwave radio band with a few other people - hardly an activity favored by those with lots to do.

Spent the rest of the day playing cards, eating, and dozing...

I'm even sub-letting my hammock out to an American guy (one of the first i've met) for 25 rupees per day. In all honesty, i'm doing it mostly due to the fact that it gives me a great story to tell...

I've decided that i'll set my alarm clock tomorrow, as I can't continue being this lazy.. i'm not getting anything done at all, other than a bit of reading.... Tomorrow, I hope to explore.

I think I'll be here at least another week now... and if I head to Gokarn at the end of this month, it'll put me there soon enough to avoid the xmas rush.

After that - who knows.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Across The River

Just a quickie -

Internet is so slow here. It's a completely different Hampi across the river. The tourist area is just a dirt road, with a few guest-houses. No fruit-sellers, no beggars, no cows.

I have a view of rice paddies, baby goats, farmers, a river, and boulders in the distance - all from my room, and the hammock/bed thingie outside...

I've got 9 books unread, my birthday is tomorrow, and I'm at a very quiet, relaxing place... so why leave? I'll be here for at least a few days. I doubt i'll even start exploring the town for at least a few more.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Slowly in Paradise

Life is so slow here.

I'm moving out of my guest-house today.. I'm moving across the river, to a quieter, more isolated part of town - mostly filled with Israelis, or so I hear...

I intended to move yesterday, but alas, couldn't wake up in time for the 10:30 checkout.... Life really is slow here.

Thus far, i've managed to read about 300 pages of my latest book (Map of Love, an excellent read), and other than that - not much else.

I met a french couple - and i've been able to pick up a surprising amount of French in just a few days. Maybe my mom was right when she said it is all in the back of my head...

They shouted at me for breakfast this morning, and out of nowhere, the words "J'arrive" came out of my mouth.. who knew it was in there?

With my birthday approaching - in 2 days - I see no reason to change from this course... I'm being thoroughly lazy, and enjoying every bit of it.

Perhaps in a few days, i'll be motivated enough to actually explore the town, and the surrounding ruins.. but for now, I'm quite content to sit back, enjoy the view, and relax.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monopoly Pricing

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. - Adam Smith.

For some reason, in all the truly amazing places I've been to thus far in India - the locals quickly realize that tourism is big business, and do their best to make as much money off it as possible. Any restaurant catering solely to Indian (local) people is quickly run out of town, the taxi drivers and internet shops all form a loose union to set minimum prices - and the tourists are kept in a semi vegetative state of fed, interneted and alcoholed bliss.. 5-6km away from the nearest Indian town, so that they must live off the unreal teat that the Indians create for them..

Perhaps i'm over-reacting slightly.. but it seems that way at least. And more important to me, than the price of the internet, is the quality of the food. We are a captive audience, of uncultured foreigners, many of whom eat with both hands (a big big no no), wanton women who have bare arms and often much of their upper chest showing - and so they treat us like culinary idiots. The indian food is watered down, or at least, in no way spicy, so as to not offend the western palate. Schnitzel appears on the menu, as does banana pancakes (which can be found in backpacker spots the world over), and as Hampi is a town of many israelis, falafel and hummus appear too. In short, the food sucks.

But, luckily, the scenery and vibe are so breathtaking that it is worth it.

I've already slowed down my (admittedly already relaxed) pace of life to that of Hampi.

Yesterday, I woke, did laundry, walked 400m to the "Mango Tree", a restaurant by the river, with an amazing view of the boulder structures... which included a good 5min walk through banana plantations on the way - quite a fun little walk.

Alas, i've turned into a space cadet in the last few days - I left my international power converter in mysore the other day, and left my latest book (Map of Love - an amazing book that is making me drool to visit egypt) at the Mango tree yesterday.

So, I now find myself in Hospet, the Indian town 10km away, purchasing a power adapter, and making full use of their cheap Internet.

After my time in Hampi, I will head west to the beach - I just need to leave before xmas season kicks in, to make sure i can find a decent room at pre-peak prices, but that gives me at least 10 days, i'd imagine.

I could always spend xmas here too ;)

Monday, November 14, 2005


10 hour train, slept all the way...

half hour rickshaw, successfully bargained down from 160 to 20. Go me.. Taxi driver asked me if I was Israeli once we arrived in Hampi.

I've got a nice room at the hotel shanti (peace in hindi), my clothes are hung up to dry, and so i'm just about to go and explore town.

I have a feeling i'll be here for a while. It's very pretty here, with huge piles of boulders just sorta sitting around in the distance, temples, palm trees..and a river.

Alas, Internet is very expensive here. They have a monopolistic price fixing thing going on, with the "Hampi Internet Association" setting a fixed price of 60 rupees (1.5 dollars) per hour, and no one being willing to budge. So I won't be online as much here as I have been thus far. Expect daily updates, but brief ones, no essays, alas.

No phone service here either....which the phone company assured me there would be, when they sold me the sim card last week. Grrr.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Other Tibetian experiences

Before I forget them. I want to write down a few other things that happened to me when visiting the Tibetian community.

On the way to the Golden temple, the german girl and I met a monk - eager to learn english. I was intially rather irked by the fact he joined us, as it meant an end to my hopeless attempts at flirting with the young lady accompanying me. However, all was not lost, as I had now made a tibetian friend.

Clearly, he wanted to practice his english - and I wanted to learn a bit about his community - and so for the 3/4km walk to the temple, we chatted... I quizzed him on the english words for body parts/vegetables for sale at stalls on the way/and random nature-ish things that we could see - sort of like an I Spy with my little eye, only used as an English lesson.

In return, he sort of explained a bit about his life there.

However, at one point, a cow that had until then, been happily chewing a random plant at the side of the road, decided to jump forward at us quite rapidly... we all reacted, jumped back, to which, our new monk friend shouted out "Shit, Cow!"

I suppose I'm used to the idea of catholic priests swearing (and drinking, and who knows what else) but for some reason, hearing a buddhist monk swear was sort of similar to hearing your grandparents swear... it's just something you never expected to hear.


The Internet in town was oh so slow.. at times, 10-15 computers all sharing one dial up modem. However, it did give me the chance to make friends with another monk... This one spoke english with an American accent, called me "Man", and as the manager of the Monestary controlled internet cafe, controlled the mp3 playlist (Eminem and the Backstreet Boys being high on his list). He had learned english by watching movies at his friend's house, and given that his language skills were quite good, he was able to explain one of the stranger sights I saw....

On my last evening in the town, on my way back to my guesthouse, I walked by one of the main Monestary the huge courtyard, were a good 100-200 monks. It was night time, and so there were streetlights illuminating the action.

Individual monks were sitting down on blankets (which were on top of the cobblestones), while one or two other monks stood above them, shouting, and then every so often, would run forward, swing their right hand (as if to slap them), only to withdraw their hand, and slap their own left hand instead.

It was quite a sight... a hundred monks being shouted at, and clearly threatened with violence, over, and over, by older monks - quite a strange thing for a group of people that are supposed to be pacificts.

However, my American accented friend later told me that this was an exam.. each student was being asked questions, and the shouting and fake slapping was an attempt to put them under stress. If the students could keep calm, and answer correctly under such a situation, then they would pass.

Without his translation, I never would have guessed...

Bangalore Sucks

Perhaps thats the wrong way to phrase it.

Bangalore is a big city, and it's expensive. Oh so expensive. I'm paying 380 a night for a room, the most i've spent since I got here. Now, admittedly, it's in a decent area (Yahoo and HP are across the street) - but it's way expensive.

I wanted to see a film - and so, i went out in search of an english-language cinema. They're all in shopping malls. Thats right, this city has shopping malls. Just like in the US, only louder, with more people.

The Indians of bangalore, at least the ones in the malls, have money, are pretty/handsome, and drop money like it's going out of style (as demonstrated by the number of shopping bags they're carrying). The first cinema I went to was sold out (30 mins before the film).. A first for me in India.

Thus, I took a rickshaw to another mall across town, and bought a ticket 2 hours early for the 10pm show. It seems that saturday/sunday are more expensive - but sheesh, 150 rupees (3 dollars) for a movie!! Even in Chennai, it was only 80 rupees.

Outside the mall, some kind of shampoo were giving out free samples and washing people's hair to show off the wonderful power of their products... but, alas, only for women. When I untied my hair to prove that I had long/silky hair in need of herbal hair therapy, they laughed, and told me that women couldn't touch a man's head... Seems pretty fishy to me...

This left me time to eat and surf the net...

Now, while I'm more than happy to eat food at a side-of-the-road shack, cooked by a man in nothing but a loincloth - but for some reason, I just can't bring myself to eat mall food. Even if the McDonalds here have a veggie allo tikka burger.. I don't want to touch it.

I leave tomorrow on the 10pm train to Hampi, a hopefully, much cheaper and quieter town.. this place is just crazy, and the sooner I leave, the better.


Mysore doesn't really strike me as a huge druggie town.

However, I've been offered drugs here more here in the last two days, than in the entire total of the last two months.

I get offered various drugs at least 4-5 times per day here.

It's quite strange... Even on the beaches of Varkala where people were smoking joints
left right and center, no one offered me drugs. I assume they figured if someone wanted some, they would seek it out.

However, there are touts here hanging out outside the major backpacker hotels, and at a few of the tourist sites who seek out foreigners, start talking to you about something relatively innocent, and then suddenly ask you if you'd like a bhang lassi (marijuana milkshake).

Silly men - can't they see I'm just here to eat the food?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Mysore day 2

After yesterday's craziness at the palace, I decided I needed some peace and quiet.

I headed to the "Government House" - a former Raj era building - now used by the governmement for something or other. It was a beautiful building, albeit slightly showing its age, with high ceilings, and a massive grounds area - planted with all kinds of beautiful flowers, and worked on by a team of sweaty Indians in lungis.

One of the chaps there decided to give me a tour, which was great, although, he didn't speak much english... once he took me to the rooftop, I managed to convince him to go and wait downstairs for his tip, and enjoyed the fact that I was the only tourist in the whole place, had the rooftop (and a view of the city) to myself.

And thus - I sat down, and finally finished my postcards. Eventually, the call to prayer echoed out from a nearby mosque (it really is a beautiful thing, with the setting sun in the background, etc), and I decided to head down.

A change of plans -

I just don't think I can do an 8 hour bus ride, not yet.. and so I'm diverting myself. Tomorrow morning, i'll head east to Bangalore (3 hours), check the place out, see an english movie or two. The next day, I've booked a ticket 2nd class/AC on the night train to Hampi.

Admittedly, the night train is expensive - or at least, it is in that I travel the next best thing from 1st class @ 800 rupees. Ok, so I get room included in this, which is maybe 200 rupees.. However, the benefit of arriving in the city in the early morning, not having to pee out of the window of a bus (as per my last 10 hour bus trip in Laos), and being able to stretch my legs a bit when I need to more than makes up for this. In addition, I can't help but feel that spending the entire day on a bus is a complete waste of time. I'd much rather move while I'm sleeping (and thus kill two birds with one stone).

Plus, at the end of the day, 800 rupees is something like 18-19 bucks.


I've been here for a couple days now.. it's a nice enough town.. but nothing really breathtaking.

I went to the Maharaja's palace yesterday, walked around (it was quite nice), and found a spot on the marble floor upstairs to chill out, and enjoy the view... I pulled out my newly purchased postcards, and began to write.... only, this was not to be.

First, a group of 4-5 kids walked up, and said hi. I shook each hand, asked them their names, their ages, and then they left.. but oh no, they came back, this time, with their friends. Now, I had another 4-5 hands to shake and names to ask... Finally, they left, and I returned to my cards..

Not two minutes later, a crowd started to gather. First, it was just a couple guys looking over my shoulder, reading what I was writing - one even reached down and picked up the pile of already-written cards, and began flipping through them.

However, soon enough, more joined them, until, there were about 20 people, all looking down on me.. Now, for a moment, step back, and imagine the scene. I'm in the maharaja's palace, wearing my newly purchased orange skirt/lungi, a foreigner, with long hair and a beard- and the only person in the room sitting down - addmittedly, perhaps, an interesting sight.

Eventually, I turn around, and see the mass of people around me, stand up, and ask, with a smile: "So, is this a zoo?" A few get the joke, and chuckle.. the rest just sort of stand there, with the now, oh so common look of, "tell us something about yourself.. speak!"

And so - I engaged the crowd, asked about who was whom, who was married, where they worked, shook hands - told them I liked India, and the food, etc... However, once I mentioned I was a vegetarian, the crowd started to cheer, and random hands started to pat me on the back. Clearly, they think that foreigners eat meat non stop, and so they were very happy to find out that I eat only veggies.

After all of this, I had to leave - I just wanted to write my postcards in peace, and clearly, peace was not to be had here.

Later in the day, I took a bus up to one of the holiest hills in all of southern India (about 30 mins away), saw some nice views, and entered my first Hindu temple... it wasn't particularly spectacular, and once inside, a priest snuck up on me and dabbed a bit of yellow paint on my forehead before I could run away - and then promptly asked me to donate some money. Sneaky man. I coughed up 5 rupees, smiled toothily, and left...

I don't think i'm going to go to Bangalore... it's a big city, and I have no need of big cities right now. I want to head to Hampi, which is about 8 hours north of here... the only problem is, I hate night busses - because you can never sleep. And the only day bus is at 7:30AM. I was unable to wake up for it this morning. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to do it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Smile Promiscuity

Indians smile at the drop of a hat.

When i'm on a bus, I just have to smile and waggle my head a little bit, and a group of 5-10 people on the side of the road will all beam at me, shaking their heads as hard as possible.

I got rather used to this, and so i'm experiencing smile withdrawl, if you can believe it...

Tibetians don't smile as easily. I have to target each individual person (i.e. eye contact), nod my head, and make a huge smile... and then maybe one out of 4 people will smile back at me.

Admittedly, there is a pretty significant language barrier, as only a few of the monks speak english... but they are also a lot more reserved than Indians..

They're also a lot bigger - I haven't seen too many skinny monks here- so it appears that they're being fed well.

In any case - it's time to get going. I don't like the paranoia I feel here - constantly keeping my eyes open for the police, and well, given that that it is pretty much only monks here, there isn't a whole lot to do if you're not into the studying buddhism and chanting thing.

Thus, I think i'll be moving on tomorrow... I'll head to Mysore, which is a couple hours east of here.

Oh - and I found a -huge- insect in my room this evening. It looked a bit like a grasshopper, only it was at least 4-5 inches long. And after the lecture I received yesterday on the negative karma I get from killing the mosquitoes that are sucking my blood, I had to shoo it out of the room trying as hard as possible not to do it any damage - all while it lept in the air, semi-flapping its wings, trying to get back to the comfy spot above my bed. Ick Ick Ick.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

In Tibet

Holy Smokes.

I met up with a very cute (yet, alas, with a boyfriend) Iranian/German girl in Madikeri, and we both set off yesterday for Byakuppe - a Tibetian town an hour away.

The culture shock was amazing. The town has 20,000 people, 5,000 of them monks - and very few Indians.. I've seen less than 15 in the last 24 hours. Bald men with red robes walk everywhere around town.

The other thing is, technically, I'm breaking the law by being here. For whatever reasons, the Indian government makes it very hard for foreigners.. We can visit for the day, but to stay the night requires a permit (free, but requiring 4 months notice). And so, I had to find a slightly out of the way shady guesthouse that didn't mind too much about my lack of paperwork. If I get caught, in theory, it could be a big problem with the police, and so after dark, i head back to the hotel...

The german girl and I walked around the town, and hearing singing coming from one building, we noseily popped our heads in - it turned out to be a production line of about 40 monks making flat-breads.. Took lots of photos (and a few videos) of the monks there.

We then walked the 3km to the Golden Temple, and on the way, befriended a monk who wanted to practice his english. He told us quite a bit about how things work....

It's almost like a military state here.. The Lama police have rules for everything. No cricket/football playing, no eating meat, no going outside your camp area without a special permit.

The monk we befriended had only been to the golden temple (which was amazing) 3 times in 11 years... Crazy!

In the evening, the german girl headed back to her boyfriend in Madikeri, and I went in search of Internet... well, there are a few cafes that the monestary runs, and it being a tuesday (the monk holiday), the place was packed to the rafters with younger monks surfing the web.. Quite a surreal site, to see them using Yahoo chat and browsing the latest cricket results.

I'm going to try and stay here a few days at least... it's such a pleasant change from being in India that I want to soak it in a bit.

Plus, one of these days, I need to wake up for the 6AM chanting.. which I didn't manage to do this morning.

Monday, November 07, 2005

More on the Tokyo thing.

The guys on flyertalk are reporting success with the Tokyo Hilton deal. It seems that Hilton is getting paid by Expedia at a pre-arranged rate, and Expedia is honoring the price-mistake. The only caveat is that you cannot change the reservation at all, or the price reverts to the normal much more expensive price.

I called United Reservations, and arranged to use my free permitted stopover. Thus, at the end of my travels around Asia, i'll have 10 days in Tokyo (May 1-10th).

My friend Austin from my undergrad days is currently teaching English in Kyoto - and so the current (but flexible) plan is to arrive in Tokyo, stay a few days, go visit Austin for just under a week, and then head back to Tokyo for a night or two before I depart.

My Executive room includes free breakfast, free wireless, and free evening cocktails - all for the lovely price of $3 per night.

Plus, since i've booked 10 days, it means I can leave my (what will by then be) huge heavy bags in the hotel room, thus avoiding the problem of paying for bag storage - which would no doubt cost an arm and a leg in Tokyo.

What a nice way to end 9 months of travel...


Took a rickshaw to a less than remarkable waterfalls about 6km out of town.

Got into a pretty major argument with a few guys outside the entrance to the falls - who wanted to charge me 5 rupees (11 cents) admission. They didn't have any kind of ID, and claimed to be from the government. I refused to purchase a ticket unless they could prove that they had the authorization to collect money.

In the end, I ignored them - but I have a feeling they got my rickshaw driver to pay it - judging by the silence from him on the way home.

Met a german chick at the falls - we've got a breakfast date tomorrow, and then will be heading off to the Tibetian town nearby together.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Alcohol Advertising Loopholes

Think back a few years, to the days before malted "alcopop" drinks like Bacardi Breezer.

Now, while in hindsight, it was a great idea to launch such a product - they sell very well amongst the young and female drinking audiences. However, the point of these products wasn't to reach a untapped market segment.. it was to get around TV advertising rules.

Simply put: In the US, you cannot advertise hard liquor on TV. However, you can advertise a beer-like malted sweet beverage that happens to share its brand name with a major Liquor. And thus, Bacardi Breezer, and all of the other copycat products were born. Intially, they were loss-leaders, solely there to allow their parent companies to advertise their brands on TV.

Now - fast forward to India.

Here, it is illegal to advertise liquors on TV & it is also illegal to advertise beers (or so I would guess by the lack of commercials for both).

However, at least 5-6 times per night, I'm forced to watch commercials touting the latest music CDs produced under the Bacardi Breezer brandname. Now, it might be that this is a killer mix-CD... but given that they don't even mention any of the music on it - and combined with the fact that I haven't seen another commercial for any non-alcohol related music CD - I am inclined to guess that this is yet another attempt by the alcohol companies to get around TV advertising regulations.

They get to show a few cute people dancing in a night club, kissing, holding drinks, and have their brand logos everywhere on the screen, and then briefly, at the end, they mention the CD they are selling. Smart.

This is all speculation of course... but, I'm probably right.

No peace, handshakes, and hugs

Last night, the couple I sat with at dinner paid for my dinner (in Hindi) when I wasn't paying attention. It took quite a bit of pleading before they let me pay for my food - and we ended up reaching an arrangement where they paid for my coffee, and I got the food.

Today, walking around the Raja's Seat (a garden/view spot in town), a Bangalore couple bought me the snacks from the vendor while I was pulling my money out... On one hand, as a cheap student, it's nice to have people buying me things - but I feel pretty bad, given that I'm rich compared to most people here. Fair enough, the people buying me stuff are big city tourists, but it still feels strange.

I sat down on a bench in the garden, with my mp3 player and book, and tried to chill out and get some reading done. This was clearly not meant to be. From the moment I sat down, an endless stream of people casually dropped by to talk to me, shake my hand, ask me the usual questions... no sooner would one group leave, but the next group in the queue would pull up, and ask the same questions. This lasted for a good hour and a half.

Even with my headphones on and the book open, people would still come and talk to me. With a few of the folks, it as ok, because we had interesting conversations - but by and large, most of the conversations are the same ol thing.

After a while, I gave up on my book, wandered off, and found a clearing with some older boys playing cricket - where, away from the tourists and wandering locals, I was able to get a bit of peace without the constant hello/where are you from good sir/etc.

I'm also starting to get my head around the Indian Handshake.

While the western handshake is quite common here, an Indian variety exists. Simply put, you will begin to shake hands with someone when you meet them, and they will continue to hold on to your hand as long as the conversation goes on. No matter how much you gently tug, as long as words are being exchanged, they will hang on for dear life.

I suppose it fits into the general theme of physical closeness that men have here. The young men especially are very touchy-feely with each other (not with me though, beyond the handshake). Friends will hold hands when they walk, wrap their arms around each other when sitting (sort of like an upper body only version of spooning). It's interesting to see. Society here dictates that they can't touch women.. yet the homophobic standards of the west don't exist here, and so men can be a lot more physical than they would be in the US.

Photos Uploaded

Put up some photos today... including one of me in the previously mentioned skirt (that photo available here: )

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Celeb Status

Checked out the town today.

At two different times, groups of Indian tourists asked me to pose in photos with them. I'm not sure if it's because I'm a foreigner, or because i'm wearing a lungi (the skirt that the working men wear in the south).

It's the weekend here, and so the town is filled with tourists from Bangalore (7 hours away). I sat with one couple for dinner, and talked with them for a while. They had a love marriage (as opposed to the much more common arranged marriage) - it was quite a cute story, and they had to involve a marriage broker so that her mother thought it was arranged (and thus honorable). The husband worked for a big IT company in Banglore, and told me a bit about the working conditions there. Pretty much every firm requires a minimum 12 hour working day. That's crazy! I will certainly have a new-found sense of respect to the Indian call-center workers I talk to in the future.

I was the only foreigner in the restaurant (with the love marriage couple), and pretty much everyone else there was an Indian tourist. All the families at the nearby 3 tables were craning their necks to try and listen to our conversation. And at one point, even laughed at the jokes we made. The lack of privacy here certainly takes a bit of getting used to.

I found a killer deal on (a complete mistake on's part), and booked a 9 day stay at the Tokyo Hilton for $3 per night. If Expedia honors it, I'll call United and arrange to spend a week or so there on my way back to the US in May 2006. For $3 bucks a day, how can I say no? Plus, my friend Austin is teaching english somewhere in Japan, and this'll give me a way to visit him.

Medical Problems

It seems that the antibioics I took last month didn't work.

I'm in Madikeri, a town of about 60k people in SW Karnakata. The 5 hour ride here by bumpy slow bus went through some amazing lanscape - rivers, lush green vegetation, vast palm tree covered canopy with mist covering the hill-tops.

However, from here, I'm going to go to a few remote spots, and so I thought I'd go to the hospital in town, and have them check out the mild sore throat i've had for the last week or so...

It turns out that my ear infection never went away, and is bad enough now that mere oral antibiotics won't suffice. Thus, I had my first (of 6) dates today with an IV.

I found out earlier this year that I seem to suffer from mild panic attacks when needles are involved (sometimes to the point of passing out). And thus, as soon as the doctor told me I'd need to walk around for the next 3 days with an IV receptor hanging out of my hand, I started feeling quite dizzy, and broke out into cold sweats. The nurse nearby giggled....

So, I'll be hanging out here a day extra. I was planning on leaving Monday morning. Now, I'll leave Tuesday morning. In the mean time, I'll hang out, read a few books, and try to not think about the fact that I have a needle hanging from my left hand (don't worry, it's sterile and everything. In fact, I have to go to the pharmacy 2x per day and purchase a one time sterile needle for that session).

I'll update you all on my onward travel plans once i'm sure the infection has cleared up.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ze Germans

I'm in Mangalore, in the state of Karnakata.

Wandering around yesterday, I met two german girls - fresh out of high school and travelling for a year before they go off to uni. We decided to spend the day together.

This town doesn't have too much going for it (for us, it's mainly a place to rest between 16 hour bus/train journeys).. however, we tried to hit all the spots.

In the morning, we walked up a hill to the Catholic school, and checked out the painted chapel ceiling - I know I should be used to this by now, but it's really really strange to see a bunch of white people worshipped in India. It just doesn't seem right.

Afterwards, we went shopping... Mangalore is the cashew nut export capital of India - and can be purchased for around 3 dollars per pound.. I never used to like them, but I thought i'd give them another chance, and found that I actually liked them!

The german girls were in rough shape - They're in India because it's cheap, and spiritual..blah blah blah. However, they don't really like Indian food. They spent the better part of 10 minutes trying to get a waiter to bring them steamed veggies with white rice - no sauce, etc... not an easy thing here.

I love Indian food so much, that I completely forgot about the fact that a lot of visitors probably aren't too crazy about it - the strong flavors, the intense heat and spice of dishes.. mmmm.

After that, we took a rickshaw (my first ever rickshaw that used the meter!) to the Sultan's Battery, a mini-castle, and the last bit of colonial era stuff in town. We arrived perfectly in time for sunset, and so got to watch the sun go down over the water, while sitting on top of the ramparts.. Quite romantic (but alas, they both have boyfriends).

We spotted a fair-ground on the way to the Battery, and so we got the rickshaw driver to let us off there on the way back.. So much fun. We rode on a few very dangerous looking rides, ate a bunch of carnival food (which is much better here), and were almost celebrities. All the Indian guys wanted to talk to me, shake my hand, sit next to me..etc. For the girls, it was a change, because they are usually leered at (and sometimes flashed) by the Indian men. However, now that they were with a foriegn man, they were 100% ignored by the massive crowds of young Indian men... no one talked to them, no bottoms were pinched, and so they were actually able to enjoy themselves - all while I happily wagged my head (see earlier message on Indian head nods), smiled, said hello to everyone, and shook hands with more people than I could count.

Clearly, the experience for Men and Women here is completely different. For the girls, they have to worry about people hitting on them pretty much non stop. However, I can walk around by myself, and know that most of the time, people are just interested in why a foreigner has come to their town. Unlike Thailand or other places, people know english because they learn it in school (whereas in other countries, the people who know english are the ones who want your money).

We had asked a waiter earlier on about the existence of an english-language cinema - and he happily gave us a name and directions. Thus, after the fair-ground experience, we hopped in a rickshaw, and headed to the cinema... Once we arrived, we found that 1. the last show was at 7PM (long gone), and more importantly, 2. This cinema could best be described as for bachelors only (thus explaining the huge grin on the rickshaw driver's face as we told him where we wanted to go). It probably would have been an experience to see a porno movie in India, but one I can quite happily go without.

While the girls were buying fruit, I started chatting with a chap on the street, who (in addition to giving me free sweets) told me about a mini-theatre 1k away that showed English films... Thus, we headed off in search of it.

It turned out to be just that. On the 3rd floor of an office building, someone had installed about 6 rows of crappy cinema seats, and hooked up a projector to a DVD player - where freshly pirated films were shown. And so, for 30 rupees each, we got to see American Pie 4 (awful, oh so awful), in a black market illegal cinema. How cool!

Today, I'm off, by bus.. not sure where yet, but I think i'm going SW-ish towards the Coffee Growing areas of Karnakata.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Great Train Robbery

I'm a paranoid person. It's partially who I am, but then massively compounded by the fact that I work and study in the security field... It's my job to think of the things that can go wrong (and then exploit them).

Thus, my money/passports/credit cards are in a money belt around my waist. I have emergency 20 dollar bills hidden amongst my various possessions, in case my money belt is stolen, and I have photocopies of my passport on me (and in pdf format online) in case they go missing.

The places you're most likely to have stuff taken are when you don't have your bits on you (like at the beach, when you're wearing a bathing suit), or when you're asleep in a public place... which is why, after 2 months on the road, the thing I miss the most about "home" is being able to safely fall asleep on a bus.

So, last night, on my 16 hour 2nd class A/C (nearly 1st class, oh so nice) train ride, I had locked everything possible. My huge backpack had locks on every zipper, and my daypack (think a school backpack) has all the expensive stuff (ipod/camera/shortwave radio), and it is padlocked shut, and then using a bike-lock, locked to the bunk where i'm sleeping. No one can walk away with my expensive things without the help of some pretty decent sized tools.

However, the one thing that isn't locked - is my shoes. Thats right, the pair of 1 dollar flip-flops that I bought in Sri Lanka 6 weeks ago. That I have worn every day, through unknown amounts of human waste.. they were sitting under the bunk, on the floor... and so, when I woke up, fresh, rested and ready to go at the Mangalore train station - one of my bloody flip flops was missing.

Luckily, I had planned for this event, at least somewhat, and had an emergency pair of new flip-flops (waiting to be broken in) in my daypack, ready to be grabbed.

However, it is still really strange to have one of your shoes stolen.

And this, is the first time I've ever had anything stolen from me during my travels. I hope it'll be the last time, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Leaving Varkala

After 5 (or is it 6?) days here, it's time to leave.

It's been nice, certainly. My time has been spent relaxing, playing frisbee on the beach, dodging the jellyfish in the water, reading my books, and being waited on hand-and-foot by the many waiters/restaurant staff.

In the evenings, there have been fireworks, movies (some good, some awful), and late night drunken conversations with other backpackers. I even met a Rhodes scholar last night over dinner.. my first one so far.

However, it's time to leave.. I can only laze at the beach for so long.

Tonight, I take a 16 hour night train to Mangalore, which is at the southern end of the next state up. I'll stay there for a day or two, perhaps, before moving on.

I'll be getting a new cellphone number shortly too. look out for that.

More photos to be uploaded once I find cheap broadband.

Monday, October 31, 2005

A Lesson in Economics

I'm an academic at heart, and so it's time to conduct a lesson in Economics. Today's topic is: Price Fixing

I'm staying in a semi-resort. Or at least, no one lives here but the tourists. There are no restaurants where the locals eat, no shops that the locals purchase from. We (the foreigners), are a captive market.

Given the high prices that the local businesses are paying for a beach-front location, they need to make a pretty steep profit. To do this, they appear to have all gotten together, and planned things out - to their benefit, and not that of the consumer.

There is no competition here, at least on price. Vendors agree on prices, and then agree to compete on everything but price - food quality, music, and other value added services.

However, in all cases of price-fixing, there is a very big incentive for one of the group to cheat - because if they drop their price just a little bit, and can attract more customers, then they win bigtime.

And that, is exactly what happens here on the beach.

Internet is 40 rupees everywhere, however, once, in the confines of their shop, it is often possible to haggle them down.

Likewise, a bottle of water can be haggled down to 22 rupees from 25.

However, in all cases, they tell you to keep it a secret (making the sssh noise, and putting their finger over their lips), pledging you to secrecy.

The thing is, it's not that they don't want you to tell other customers. It's that they don't want their competitors to hear - or the outcome would certainly be either violence, or a price-war...

It's interesting to note that the one place where the price-fixing works (and is completely haggle proof), is when trying to get a rickshaw or cab back to town. As the taxi drivers all hang out at one spot, it is impossible to make a private below-standard-rate deal with one of them without their peers hearing.. And thus the threat of group backlash is enough to keep everyone in line.

That's it for today's lesson.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

I'm alive (again)

I'm nowhere near Delhi. And the train derailing was one state away from me.

Fear not. I'm alive, and happy.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ah, the beach.

So Varkala is a tourist trap. For sure. However, it is a nice tourist trap.

The layout of the place is as follows. All of the backpacker guest-houses are on a cliff, 4km from town. There are a few beaches below the long cliff. Your time is spent hanging out on the beach, or relaxing in a cliff-side restaurant, or walking past the shops interspersed amongst the restaurants and guest-houses.

You are, effectively, a captive audience... the prices for everything are higher up here... a meal costs 60 rupees (1.5 dollars), as opposed to the 20 rupees in town. However, for this minor increase in cost, it does mean you get to see the beach from your room, and smell the surf..

I've been firing off bottle rockets every evening - much fun, hanging out listening to music, drinking a bit, and making the most of the fact that there are other foreigners here.

Admittedly, it does get a little bit lonely travelling by yourself in small towns after a while, surrounded by only Indians, and so it is nice to go somewhere with a few other native english speakers...

I've spent the last day and a bit with a very cool Lebanonese woman, and we may decide to travel north together (to another beach). We'll see - the great thing about travelling alone is that if someone pisses you off, you can just leave, and never see them again. But for now, we get along just fine - although our conversations are making me miss Lebanonese food.. Mmm. Fatoush.

Friday, October 28, 2005


I'm finally here.

Took one bus for about 30km. The front of the bus was full, but there were a few open benches at the back, so I plopped myself down. Suddenly, people start smiling, and gesturing.. Eventually, I look around, and figure out that i'm in the women's section of the bus.

Now, it's not that women are oppressed.. it's not some kind of Rosa Parks era situation - more a way of protecting women from the ass-grabbing nature of men. I understand that some people claim the same thing when defending the Burqa in Muslim countries - but this is 100% honest. Women have their own train carriages, their own waiting rooms, etc. That doesn't mean they can't use the rest of the train - but when you're surrounded by mustached men leering at you, why would you want to?

Back to the point at hand - I was in the women's section.. and I'm not a woman. All the male seats were taken, and I wasn't about to stand up due to my gender.. so I just sort of shrugged, grinned widely, and they forgave me for my genitalia, and let me stay where I was.

I had to get one one more bus for the last 6k.. and shorly after getting on it, we pulled up to a school - and our commuter bus suddenly became a schoolbus - full of little kids. These guys were really really excited about seeing me. The boys talking to me non stop. The girls smiling, and then quickly looking away when they saw me smiling back. An older man wanted to sit down next to me, but the kid sitting near me started arguing with him, and hung on to my arm - it seems that he was happy to make space to his left, but he didn't want to give up the prized seat next to the foreigner.

Eventually, I made it to Varkala... and then up to the tourist ghetto. The main town is a normal dirty indian road with a bus stop, a few restaurants, etc... the Tourist ghetto is on a cliff above a beach, with fancy tourist restaurants serving pasta and fish, kashmiri clothing shops, and a few places even showing movies...

It's just before tourist season starts, and so I was able to get my own bungalow (a private hut, with a bathroom inside, fan, electricity, etc) for 150 rupees (after much haggling). This would cost about 600 rupees in 3 weeks. Score!

While this place is rather touristy, and the restaurants are a bit more expensive than those in town.. I'll probably stay for a while. It's a nice place to relax, The beach is pretty, and unpolluted, and there is a constant stream of pretty western women walking by - and after a few weeks of mainly non-touristy places - I'm quite happy to enjoy eye candy, and someone to talk to..

Slight Change of Plans

It seems that Indian busses, and British airways have the same people designing their seat configurations. No matter how I positioned myself, I still found that my knees weer somewhere near my chin.

I took a 2.5 hour bus ride south from Alappuzha, arriving in Kollam at about 7-ish. After figuring out that it was another -two- busses to get to Varkala (the nice beach town, and my intended destintion for the evening), I decided to stay here... Arriving in a big city at night isn't too bad, but arriving in a tiny town is a pain in the ass.

I took a rickshaw the 3km north of town to the "Government Guest House" (owned and ran by the Kerala state tourism board). Wow. What a place.

It was straight from the Raj (the British run India period), and was the mansion that the Viceroy lived in. My room had absolutely massive ceilings, probably close to 15ft high, and the bathroom was larger than some of the crappy bedrooms I've had here. Thats not to say it was 5 star, because it wasn't. My window had a huge hole in the shutter (filled with a pair of my boxer shorts), the hot water heater was broken, and the walls were less than clean.. However, for 6 bucks a night, it was a steal. Oh, how I loved those high ceilings.

I bought a Mosquito net a few days back, but had yet to use it, because it had been too cold (and high up) everywhere. However, the little bastards were out en force here, and so using carefully tied string, I pitched the net above my bed. In the end, it looks more like the tents that little kids setup in their living rooms (made of a blanket and a few chairs). However, it did the job, and so I had a wonderful night bug free.

In the morning (or well, afternoon), I took a speed-boat across the river to the bus-stand, and from there, onwards to Varkala!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kottayam & the Backwater Boat

Took a "high speed" government bus from Mullay to Kottayam - a town that my guidebook said wasn't worth visiting. What this meant, was that I was the only foreign face I saw in town. I got a number of strange looks that I've yet to get here thus far... and so a pleasant change.

Rickshaw drivers here did away with the meter - which is usually present, but broken in other towns, and refused to haggle at all on prices. Every driver I went to offered the same price, and so I can only guess they're all in cahootz.

I finally solved my fruit problem. I've been eating bananas as my daily fruit intake, and this has been getting rather boring. I've seen other interesting fruits here, but they're usually cut up and served by the piece... and I don't trust the streetside fruit sellers here - the stuff sits on their table for hours before being sold. Solution: Buy an entire tasty pineapple for 15 cents, cut it up with my pocket knife, eat as much as possible, and then hand the rest to some street kid. Problem solved!

Ate dinner on the street again - Parata (a tasty flaky bread) with a plate of Channa (spicy chick peas). Mmm. 20 cents for a filling dinner.

The next day (today), I took a 2 hour government boat from Kottayam to Alappuzha. While most of the tourists take an 8 hour backwater cruise from Alappuzha north (at a cost of 300 rupees), I opted for the government boat trip, for 10 rupees.

After a 2 day boat trip in Laos this xmas, I understand how after a while, even the most beautiful boat trip gets boring. 2 hours today was more than enough. We rode along a beautiful canal, through lakes, with palm trees and rice paddies all around - naked children, old men and women bathing clothes in the water, and the odd goat standing by the side. Again, Kerala is amazingly beautiful.

I passed the time with a bottle of whiskey and my mp3 player - all while enjoying the great view, smiling and waving at people I passed, and taking photos (to be uploaded soon).

I'm going to head south later today (as soon as i'm done in this internet cafe), and I think, I'll head to Varkala, a beach-side town.

My clothes didn't dry properly last night, and so i'm quite anxious to find a town warm enough where they can dry properly. Munnar was just too damn cold, and so my towel would be wet and moldy in the morning. Not good.


Indian Advertising is a funny thing.

First off. Shops:

Any store that claims to sell "fancy" goods will stock a wide variety of buckets, sponges, and other kitchen crap. Hardly fancy.

Any restaurant that promises a "high class VIP dining experience" will have a half-naked (waist up) barefoot guy in the kitchen stirring a big pot of food, the waiters will be shoeless, toothless, and will probably cough on your food before they bring it to you.

Equally, any bus that claims to be "high speed" will stop, whenever the bus-driver feels like it, so he can have a cup of tea and a beedie (a cheap nice smelling cigarette) on the side of the road.

TV advertising is rather strange too, but I think I've finally figured it out.

Bras, women's underwear, or any other kind of potentially adult product that requires a large quantity of skin to be shown - will have western models. Indians are quite happy to show women prancing around in their underwear on TV - with Hindi voiceovers explaining the benefits of the new 24 hour comfort bra system or somesuch - as long as the scantily clad women are Western.

In the films i've seen at Cinemas, there were often brief bits of nudity during love scenes - much to the enjoyment and humor of the audience - not a problem. However, Indian films won't show couples kissing, let alone doing the horizontal mambo.

It's quite an interesting status quo they have. They get to maintain their strict cultural standards, yet enjoy the scantily clad benefits of western culture - all while looking down their noses (albeit excitedly) at those loose western women and their hedonistic ways.

Holy Huge Jesus Statue Batman!

A few details I forgot about the bus trip from Munnar.

At multiple points along the way, we passed gigantic Christian statues and shrines.

After a few years of travel, I've seen huge Buddhas, and massive Mosques, but I've never in my life seen a gigantic (25-30ft) Jesus.

However, in the space of about 20 minutes, I saw a huge white jesus (with some other dude on his knees in front of him), and a huge mary, with a young child (Jesus?) in her lap...

The thing is, Indians are serious about religion.

Later on the trip, as it got dark, I passed a Hindu temple, with a large precession of people (40-50) walking up to it, singing, dancing, with a decorated elephant leading the group. Flowers, music, incense..etc

Just down the road, a gigantic christian church/outdoor tent thingie was there, with a massive nubmer of people singing and praying to our exported white god.

Perhaps there aren't many churches and so people come from miles around, or perhaps the Indians just take religion really seriously.. but there are -loads- of people praying here. It's quite a shock coming from the sinful ways of the West.

Plus, who doesn't like a Gigantic Jesus?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A full day of (cold) fun

Woke up early - thanks to my guest-house owner knocking on my door - askign for payment for that night. Quite annoying. However, it did mean that I got up early enough to actually enjoy the day. Also, given that it is mostly wet, and cold here (my towel is never dry in the morning for a shower), I'm quite happy to leave - as soon as I've "done" the touristy things....

Pretty much every rickshaw driver in town does a few set tours - they even have a menu that they show you, listing the places they take you. The most expensive being a trip to the "Top Station" - one of the highest points in the area, and the border with the adjoining state of Tamil Nadu.

Most of the rickshaw drivers wanted between 350 and 400 rupees for this trip...depending on how stupid they thought I was. However, after about 10 minutes of haggling, I managed to get one guy down to 250. I don't think he was used to this kind of business, as he kept complaining that his profit for the 4 hour sightseeing trip would be just a dollar.

However, at multiple points along the trip - he took the time to tell anyone within listening distance about how much I'd haggled him down, and how I was only paying 250.. after a while, it seemed, it had turned into something to be proud of.

The trip was amazing - through hilly tea plantations, an artificial lake/dam - with an "echo point" where you could shout and hear your voice bouncing around the nearby hills.

I saw women picking tea - at the lower altitudes, they chopped the leaves off the bushes with tools (crappy cheap tea), and at the higher altitudes, they picked the young leaves by hand. My rickshaw driver told me that the tea pickers make 70 rupees per day (about $1.75). This includes free rent, free hospital access, and rice at 50% cost (5 rupees per kg instead of the 10 that people pay in town). Still, for 10 hours a day of back-breaking labor, this sucks.

At the echo point, we stopped for cardamon chai (amazing), and deep fried battered peppers (slightly spicy, but more like bell peppers than chilis). Amazing.

On the way up, we passed through a national park checkpoint, and somehow, again to my driver's amazement, I managed to talk my way out of the 20 rupee "park entrance fee" (i.e. a bribe to the head guy at the checkpoint). This entertained my driver to a considerable degree - and he kept chuckling about it for a good 20 minutes after. "Good business man. No backsheesh. Hah!"

At the top of the hill, which we reached after about 45 minutes of driving, it felt like you were in the clouds. A thick layer of mist covered the area - stopping the view that is supposed to be quite breathtaking. However, the view of mountain tops covered in white cotton wool like mist was itself quite beautiful.

While it's nice to be taking hot showers (as cold ones would kill me), I think it's time to move on. I'm not happy about being cold (and of course, wet). I'll be heading downhill tomorrow, either south or west.. but i any case, it will be towards warmth - away from the hilltop tea plantations, and back towards the tropical coconut trees.

I have to say though, Kerala is the closest to Eden that i've seen. Everything is lush here, the food is tasty. Amazing spices are grown locally - enough to supply many parts of India with Cardamon, Black Pepper, and a few others.

Police Violence

I almost forgot.

So last night, while the taxi drivers were acting like little boys, and leaping for joy as they blew things up with my firecrackers, a man approached me.

He introduced himself as a police officer, and told me that I was breaking the law by setting off fireworks. Now, this was very suspect, because, he wasn't dressed like a cop, he smelled like booze, and he was missing one arm... It was an obvious scam.

However, before I could begin to tell him to go away, the taxi drivers grabbed him, pushed him away from me, and then started repeatedly slapping him and hitting him. It's the first bit of violence i've seen here since I got to India.

Now, i'm not completely sure why the guys did it... if they felt a duty to protect all tourists from scams, or if they felt a particular duty in this case, as I was sharing my fireworks.. but for a few minutes, they continued to slap the guy and shout at him, and eventually, he backed away from the group and shouted a few (probably) rude words...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Improved Plan, and Food Pricing Revealed

Problem. Fireworks work best at night.

Children do not wander the streets, alone, at night. Well, they do, but not too many, at least not here in Munnar, up in the hills.

Plus, I was starting to feel a bit of nagging guilt about the possibility of maiming a child for life.

A much better solution hit me: Drunken rickshaw drivers. These guys hang out on the steets, waiting for customers all night long. There are usually large groups of them, and lets face it, if you're bored all day, fireworks are going to improve your life, assuming you keep your kinds.

So, I walked up to a few, took out my fireworks, and asked if we could use them here... their eyes lit up, and soon enough, so did the fireworks. I rationed them out, one at a time. 10 bottle rockets, and about 60 fire-crackers... Much fun, mostly watching the drunken guys nearly get blown up... Once i saw how short, and unreliable the fuses were, I was oh so glad I didn't decide to light any myself.

Much fun was had.

Have finally figured out the food pricing here. It goes as follows: You buy your bread, and whatever veggies you want, come free. Thus, I'll buy two whole-wheat chapati for 10 rupees, and then get an unless supply of spicy potatos, chick peas (channa), and various sauces... at some point, i'll want something to scoop them up with, and order more bread.

It works out well, and when i'm feeling cheap, I can do a whole meal with one piece of bread.

I'm going to try and wake up early tomorrow, and explore the tea plantations. We'll see if it happens.

In Munnar

I leave Cochin at around 1PM ish. By the time i've taken a rickshaw, a ferry to the mainland, and then another rickshaw to the bus station, it's 2PM - and although I showered before departing, my shirt is now completely saturated in sweat from the one hour journey to the bus station.

I manage to find the bus to Munnar, find myself a nice seat in the back with leg-room, and settle down for the long journey ahead. However, it appears the ticket-collector likes that seat too, and decides to share it with me. This minor inconvenience is more than worth it considering the lack of leg-room in the other seat.. However, I do feel significant pity for him at one point, once I realize quite how bad I smell... I've yet to adjust to the weather here, and deodorant is a losing battle - soon enough, you end up smelling. Oh well. Perhaps he'll think twice about sitting next to a dirty foreigner next time.

3 or 4 hours in to the journey, as we begin to hug steep hill roads, with lush tropical cover on both sides, the sky opens - and it starts to rain. This continues for the last 2 hours of the journey, so that when we arrive - it is both dark, and very wet. Lovely.

The lawyer I met in Cochin gave me some advice on a place to stay, and so I hop off the bus, and into a waiting rickshaw. I give him the rough directions i have to the place, negotiate a price (10 rupees), only to find out that its is a 3 minute drive, maybe less.. I feel somewhat like a sucker, but well, it's wet, and I don't even want to walk those 3 minutes in the rain.

The first place I check-out is awful.. he wants 300 a night, the rooms look gross, and have cold water. Which is fine in most places, but we're cold enough here that the beds all have blankets, and hot water is a must.

Sligtly down the road (with the rickshaw still following me, trying to get a kickback from the hotel), I find a guest-house with available rooms. I end up getting a room with 4 beds, cable tv, and a hot shower, all to myself, for 200 rupees (under 5 bucks). Sweet! My first time in India with cable TV, and so I spend much of the evening watching western movies, and western tv shows...

I woke up today at 1PM..slightly oversleeping, but after the 5 hour bumpy ass bus journey yesterday, I think I deserve it. There's not much to the town - although the views of the tea-growing in the hills around is pretty cool. I'll explore tomorrow, and hopefully wake up early enough to avoid the rain...

I wander round the market, and find a firework shop, walk past it, until the little boy in me revolts, and drags me back. Now, i'm not completely stupid. I know that fireworks are dangerous, and India is not the best place in the world to have your hand shot off.

So - I buy 10 bottle rockets, and a pack of 50 firecrackers - all things that are illegal in Virginia, with the express plan to pay some small kid to light them for me later. He'll have a good time, and I won't face any risk. Perfect solution eh? (until his hands are blown off).

Total cost for fireworks: 2 dollars. Sweeeet!

Internet is expensive here, and slow.. my first modem experience in India.. so don't expect too much internet access while i'm here.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is in 8 days, so I need to figure out at some point, where I'll be for that. I want to be in a large enough place so that I can see people celebrating in style.

More later.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Cochin, adios

It's time to move on.

Cochin is a tourist spot. Especially in the fort area where I was staying, it's a classic tourist ghetto. Restaurants charge upwards of 100 rupees per meal. On the north end of the island, there are a bunch of chinese fishing nets (the main tourist attraction, which are quite nice). In the evening, there is a fish auction, and you can buy fresh fish there, and then take it to a beachfront restaurant which will then cook it for you.

I, instead, went into the muslim part of town, and found a nice restaurant that served an all-you-can-eat-meal for 12 rupees... and possibly the hottest sauce i've had so far. After complaining for the past few weeks about lack of spice, it was very pleasant to finally sweat, and then get the hiccups from chili power.. Awesome.

As always, the restaurant owners, and other diners were rather shocked to find me eating with them. They even went to the trouble to bring me a knife and fork, which I quickly tossed aside, and using my freshly washed right hand, began to scoop up rice like a local.

I developed an evening ritual here with the British lawyer that I met - we'd get a taxi to a government owned alcohol store, pick up a few bottles of beer each (wrapped in newspaper for discretionay purposes), and then headed to one of the beachside restaurants.. where we sat for a while, chatted, avoided buying anything, and then eventually had to run from the seemingly clockwork-like evening rain. At 9, or abouts, a massive quantity of water began to drop, forcing us to flee, he for his guesthouse, and me for an Internet cafe.

In the main village green, youths gather to play cricket.. and they take it very seriously. However, yesterday, I took my frisbee (which i'd yet to use on my travels), and threw it around. Pretty soon, about 5 kids ditched their cricket match, and started playing with me.

Another american guy showed up, seeing my bright orange frisbee - and together, managed to keep the kids entertained for over an hour, as they chased it across the green, eager to be the one to attempt to throw it back to us.

Today, i'm catching a 3pm bus eastwards (5 hours) up to the hill country, to one of the highest tea growing areas of India. It should be a bit colder up there, which might mean that I can escape the bastard mosquitoes for a few days.

Until tomorrow.

5 Star

Perhaps i'm a Primadonna. I think I was perfectly reasonable.

Last night, when i came back to my hotel, I found a cockroach sitting on my toothbrush in the bathroom. Naturally, I freaked out, and chased it out of the bathroom into the hallway, and threw the toothbrush into the hallway after it. I sure as hell wasn't going to use it again.

The sad thing was, i'd just started using that toothbrush last week.

This morning, I found a cockroach (a different one or the same, unknown) in my room, upside down, wiggling it's legs and trying to right itself. I freaked out even more, and made a scene.

1st off, I demanded 20 rupees from the hotel manager (off my bill) to pay for a new toothbrush. I tried to get some more cash off the price of the room, but he wouldn't budge - stating that this was the 1st time in 9 years that a guest had tried to get a discount due to cockroaches. I think i'm perfectly reasonable, and sure as hell don't want to spend any time in a hotel with nasty cockroaches, but I suppose they are everywhere.

I remember back at Johns Hopkins, my office and the hallway outside were often frequented by those little buggers - the worst part would be when they were on the ceiling - constantly threatening to drop on your head as you walked by. Ick Ick Ick.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


I apologize in advance to my readers (all 2 of you) for the subject of this post. However, soemthing must be said on this subject.

I go to Internet cafes practically every day here. With nearly $90k of debt over my head (see my post last week), I need to check my credit cards quite often.. just to make sure things are kosher.

I'm also, well, a computer geek, and so I like being online. I read the news, I geek out, and chat with friends/family.

And while there are a few other tourists in the internet cafes slowly pecking away emails, letter by letter, with one finger, the vast majority of customers are Indian guys.

And what do they do all day online? Look for women.

I have no shame, so I don't mind peering at someone else's screen to see what they're typing.

Some, the well brought up ones, are surfing to marriage personals - trying to find a nice woman to marry through the wonders of the Internet.

However, the vast majority are either:

1. Chatting online, trying to find some young lass (or lad) to talk dirty with.

2. Covertly looking at porn (as it's against the rules in most cafes). This mostly involves quickly switching windows when the owner of the cafe walks by.

In a shop of 10 computers, guaranteed, 5 or 6 will be used for yahoo chat, in chatrooms named "Chennai Dating", "Chennai Hot XXX", "Tamil Love", etc....

One or two, used by brave individuals, will be covertly used to look at porn.

One poor chap will be looking for a wife (that is assuming that one cannot find a wife in the "Chennai Hot XXX" chat-room).

And then, I'm there... on the last computer - reading up on the latest political scandal in the US.

At least i'm keeping my nose clean, eh?

Owning Up

Ok, it's time to face the music.

I have a confession to make. I have an addiction, which is costing me money, and affecting my quality of life. It's time to confont it.

Hello, my name is Christopher, and I am addicted to books.

My backpack currently contains 11 books. Some, I read very fast and then trade.

However, in an effort to (1, not be made upset when I have to discard them, and 2, get good value for weight, in terms of reading time), I have bought along a few "classics". These are great, in that they're cheap, and take ages to read.

However, they are also the worst. Don Quixote has been in my backpack since I started the trip - the same for Crime and Punishment. Both I bought this xmas in Thailand, and never got around to reading. They're both heavy, and are weighing down my backpack.. and every time I open the bag, they taunt me, crying out "why won't you read me? Aren't you man enough?"

The truth is, every time I try to read one of them, after a few pages, my eyes refuse to read anymore. However, they're "classic books", and so I know that I must read them.... but until then, I carry them around like a cross.

Yesterday, I traded one book, and bought 3 more. I'll probably pick up another one today. In part, this is because most cities have such a crap selection of books (Grisham, Dan Brown, Harry Potter, Romance novels) that whenever I find a few decent books - I gourge myself... but it's also because well, I have nothing else to do, and reading is fun.

It does cost money. I spent more on books yesterday than my rent and food costs for the day (admittedly, only 5 dollars).

Will it stop? Doubtful. But eventually, i'm going to crack, and get rid of that bloody Don Quixote.. in the mean time, I'll keep hauling it around, and feel a twang of guilt every time I open my backpack, and find it staring me in the face.

The train west

Night train.

I spend about 20 mins talking to the woman in the bunk below me - typical indian chit chat: her kids, the weather, my work, etc... after a while, some random strangers walk up and ask her for her autograph. I'm quite puzzled.

Eventually, one of the strangers tells me that the woman is a TV/Movie star in the Tamil (south/eastern) industry. At this point, I lose my tongue, not really knowing what to say. It seems rather stupid to talk to her about her kids when she's a famous star. Random people keep walking up and ask for her autograph.

Eventually, I fall asleep upstairs... and wake up in Cochin.

I take a taxi to the ferry stop, catch a ferry across to the island of Cochin Fort, and pick out my guesthouse.

There are loads of kids in the green outside my hotel, playing cricket, football (soccer), and surprisingly, baseball/softball - quite a shock.

I take a rickshaw into the main town, to go and see the old jewtown, and the synagogue there (which is closed, due to the sabbath). I meet a brit there, and we hang out for the rest of the day...we trade books (Kafaka for a crappy Grisham book.. a great trade). He's a lawyer, and has been working for the last 5 years investigating money laundering, and so we chat for a while. I'm interested in some laundering-ish techniques for my PhD, and so we have a pleasant chat as he tells me all my ideas are thoroughly illegal. Still, it's nice. I learn the term "smurfing", which describes what bigshot criminals do, when they have each of their underlings setup bank accounts with under $10k each, which they transfer around. It seems that under 10k, the IRS/UK Govt doesn't care, and this term, smurfing, describes the act of sneaking money under their radar in small chunks.

Nifty. I can use the word in a paper somewhere :)

We nip off to a beer shop, pick up a few drinks, and head to the beach, where the famous "chinese nets" (see picture later) are setup. We sit at the beach, chatting for a while.. until, yes. more bloody rain. Eventually, a french girl shows up, who is not particularly beautiful, but being female, my friend beings to hit on her. Eventually, I tire of this, as she, as most french people, has god awful english, and I mourn the loss of interesting high level conversation. He and I will meet again for breakfast - perhaps giving me the opportunity to learn a bit more about the world of money laundering, and the awful hours that lawyers seem to work (note: Do I really want to work in this field.. 60 hours a week, hrm?)

I head back to my hotel, and begin to enjoy the Kafka book. Good riddens to that awful Grisham.