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.