Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trapped in Pushkar

This seems to happen every once in a while.

I'm trapped, or at least, I can't leave.

I've been chilling out in Pushkar for the past few days, and really haven't seen much (i.e. any of the "to do" items in the guide-book). I've spent my time wandering through the market, relaxing by the side of the lake, and slowly taking it all in.

The problem lies here: I'm lazy. I've promised certain people that I'll buy clothes for them in India. Pushkar is a great place to do this, due to all of the hippies who come through/settle here (the tailors know exactly what kind of clothes to make for us). However, I really really hate clothes shopping, with a passion, and so I keep putting it off.

I know that I have to see the main temples in town, do all the guidebook things, go shopping and then send a bunch of clothes back to the US - however, until I actually do it, I can't leave Pushkar.


With any luck, i'll find the willpower in a day or two. The clock is a tickin, and
so at some point, I need to move on.

But it really is nice here... so why rush?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Joy of Socks

Bought a couple pairs of wool socks this evening. Wow. What a difference.

It's been so long since my feet weren't bare or in flip flops that I'd totally forgotten how it feels.

I hereby withdraw all my previous whining about the cold. I'll be fine now.

mmmm. Socks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Not the best morning

It's damn cold outside.

I woke up with a lovely case of food poisoning - and so I'm kicking myself last night for bragging to a few other travellers about how few times i've gotten sick on this trip. Sod's Law at work, for sure.

Perhaps it's just the crankyness of being forced out of bed at such an early (9AM) hour, but I'm actively contemplating cutting the India part of my trip short.

I just don't know if I want to deal with weather colder than this.

My next destination after a few more cities in this state, was up to Punjab, to see Amritsar, and the closing of the border with Pakistan. After that, I was going to head to the Paravatti Valley - where, i'm told, you can chill out in hot springs (with snow around).

For years, i've seen nature shows with monkeys lounging in snow-peaked destinations, while they stew in a hot spring for hours at a time. It seems fun.

However, I just don't know if I can deal with this cold. While hot showers in the morning are nice, the period right after when you're soaking wet and rapidly freezing your ass off is never a pleasant start to the morning.

We'll see how I feel in a few days, once my stomach has calmed down...

For sure, I will head to Varanassi and then to Orissa (on the east coast) before I depart from Calcutta.. but the question for now, is when that'll be, and where i'll go along the way.

How not to act

Witnessed earlier today at a ghat.....

An Israeli armed with a mega-huge-camera scans the ghat at sunset. A finely dressed gypsy girl and a musician wander over to try and earn a couple rupees.

The musician plays, the girl sways and sings to the music... The photographer happily snaps a bunch of photos, manuvering himself so that he can get the best shots with them in the foreground, and the holy lake and bathers behind them in the distance.

Eventually, he puts his camera away, the musician stops playing, and asks for a donation.

The Israeli rudely tells them to go away.


Now, what is wrong with this scenario?

There is an implicit contract between the Indians and the Israeli here.
They pose for photos, he takes them, and they get paid.

It's the sole reason they're hanging out at the ghats at sunset, dressed in clothes they would never wear when sitting at home.

In general, it's a really bad idea to take someone's photo without asking. In this case, it wasn't too bad - but i've seen people's cameras smashed before on other trips...

By the same token, don't get in a taxi, say your destination, and then get surprised when you're asked to pay 1000 dollars upon arrival. You ask about everything before-hand here. It's just how it works.

A day at the ghats

A lazy day today.

Woke up, wandered down to the ghat to go and talk to my new sadhu friend. A bunch of other similarly dressed sadhus were there (and equally lacking in teeth). Not so fun this afternoon, so I promptly left.

Wandered through the market, and went on a shopping spree. I'm now the proud owner of a nice pair of handmade leather shoes, and a very decent red/orange wool hooded pullover. If i'm still cold tonight, I'll buy some thicker trousers.

Then, after wandering through the streets sampling whatever street food I could find, I headed back to the ghats for the sunset.

I normally warn western women against shaking hands with Indian guys. Sure, a few are being friendly, but the fact is, that it's quite a titillating experience for the men, and it can lead to bad things...

It's much easier for women to press their hands together in a semi prayer sign, and say namaste. It's polute, you respond to the person's request to shake your hand, and don't have to touch him.

However, for the first time, I've had to actually resort to doing this myself.

You see - the tourist hotspots (such as the sunset ghat) seem to be frequented by what the sadhu called Gypsy Girls. They're very very pretty, a few of whom are rather young, outfitted in traditional indian clothes, makeup, jewellery, etc, and are quite anxious to shake hands with any western man who doesn't run from them. I watched this from a distance......

First a handshake, then a palm-reading, then a bit of subtle hand massage while 2-3 friends appear from nowhere, requests for a photograph, etc... The Sadhu said that the girls will do "everything" with the foreigners - quite interesting in itself, given that the red-light industry I've witnessed elsewhere in India seems to cater mostly to the domestic market. I've (thankfully) not been offered this kind of thing more than once or twice during the whole trip.

But in any case, it was quite fun to watch hapless westerners being smoothtalked by these ladies, only to end up giving them money in a highly frustrated attempt to be free of them.

So whats the big deal about Pushkar?

The tourists I met in Udaipur told me that Pushkar would be like running the gauntlet, non stop hassles and touts trying to sell me things.

I can honestly say that, at least for me, it's very chilled out and pressure free.

I arrived yesterday at 5:30AM, and given that this town is rickshaw free, I decided to just wait for the sun to rise. There are a few chai shops at the bus station, with open fires/chairs where customers can wait for their busses. I sat down, and chilled out for an hour and a bit.

Eventually, the sun rose, and so I walked through the streets in search of my lonely planet approved hotel. It's not -amazing-, but I really just wanted to find my room, and pass out.

I woke a while later, and walked around the town. Sure enough, there are shops selling everything a tourist would want (hippy clothes, instruments, internet, incense, etc). But by and large, everyone leaves me alone.

To be fair, I do see a lot of tourists getting hassled - but well, they look fresh off the boat. I think it's my clothes - the lungi, flip flops, and a shawl wrapped around my upper body that make it clear that i've been here a while. People seem to look me up and down, I say "ram ram" (a form of hello that is far less well known amongst the tourists than "namaste"), they smile, and rarely even point to the goods they're selling.

It's worth noting that my style of dress - while common in the south (the lungi at least) is only worn here by sadhus... And so, with my beard, and long hair, I look enough like a holy man (or at least, a foreigner trying to look like a holy man). Sadhu's give up all of their possessions (they carry around a cup, some water, and a blanket or two), and so perhaps the merchants assume I'm equally poor. I don't know. But the outfit is comfy, I like how it looks, and it stops people trying to sell me stupid crap.

This town is full of sadhu's, or holy men - or, at least, people dressed like holy men. I don't blame the bogus sadhus really - it's a way to escape the caste system, a way to get money from people, they can ride the trains for free, and in a country which gives surprisingly harsh jail sentences to its populace for marijuana related crimes, the sadhu is free of legal problems.

I sat down with one (who I think was legit) yesterday, who seemed to be a very nice guy, sitting by the ghats (the steps overlooking the central holy lake). He'd given up his fancy life (and all possessions) to wander as a holy man. Quite inspiring, although, I think that even the holy pure people should still use toothpaste... but thats just my opinion

It was quite fun to chat with him, and look at all the tourists gathering on a ghat nearby. Brahmins (one of the highest castes, the original priests) mill around the tourist ghats, collecting fines from tourists who wander down to the holy water withou taking their shoes off. It's quite a smart scam, and much more pleasant than their usual 50 rupees for a puja (prayer).

It's cold as hell here. I keep saying i'll get some warm clothes soon, but I really mean it now.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Off to Pushkar/ South Koreans

I've got a bus ticket booked for this evening. In theory, I have a sleeper ticket reserved and paid for. However, every other travel agent in town is claiming that the only busses to Pushkar are regular ones with seats (as opposed to a bed). I'm either very lucky, or have been swindled, in which case, i'll be spending a most unpleasant evening en route to Pushkar.

One thing worth mentioning, is the ethnic makeup of the tourists here.

It's a strange thing really. In different parts of the country, you seem to find pockets of people from one country. I suppose it's based on the compounding effect of word-of-mouth, and guidebooks - but certain places, like Hampi - were full to the brim with french rock climbers, or stoned israelis...

Udaipur seems to be dominated by South Koreans. I saw a group in Mt Abu before I came here, and now, there seem to be groups everywhere. All smoking cigarettes, dressed in the most touristy clothes possible (not indian touristy clothes, but the ones you buy at home, before your journey), drinking beer and speaking loudly in their own language....

I'm fully expecting Pushkar to be a little Tel Aviv (based on its reputation for drugs and hippies). It'll be interesting to see if it lives up to it.

Ordering a cup of tea / or discriminatory pricing

It is in the best interest of merchants to treat their regular customers like kings, and to exploit their one-time, pass through customers as much as possible.

The only thing that can counter this shameless ripping off of single-visit customers is reputation networks (witness the fact that Israelis seem to all flock to the same places, as per friend's recommendations), and to a lesser extent, guide-books. Busineses are very hesitant to ruin the goldmine that is a positive review in the Lonely Planet, and so will generally treat people very well, lest they write off a nasty email to the guidebook's publishers.

One clear example of this is in the supermarket loyalty cards used in the US. The card is simple to get (taking all of 2 minutes), however, without one, a customer will often pay 2-3x for a gallon of milk, etc. The supermarket's goal is to shamelessly rip off walk-in customers who have no prior relationship with the store.

And so, the same thing, albeit to a lesser extent, happens in India.

Aloo Ghobi (potato and cauliflower) is one of the most popular dishes amongst tourists in India. The ingredients are dirt cheap, and it appears often enough on "Indian" restaurant menus at home that tourists feel comfortable ordering it - as they know ahead of time what they'll be getting.

In several restaurants here, I've seen Aloo Ghobi for 60-100 rupees (up to 2 dollars), which is easily 3 times the cost of any other vegetable dish. How can one explain this staggering difference?

My guess is that there are a fair number of customers who walk into a restaurant, sit down, and order an aloo ghobi without even looking at the menu (this being the only dish they know the name of). This happens often enough that the restaurant owner realizes he can charge an obscene price for this item, knowing that the majority of the people ordering it will be doing so blindly.

And so, bringing this back to the topic at hand: A cup of tea.

Chai shops are everywhere here, on practically every street corner - with a decent sized crowd of old indian men huddling over a cup of chai to keep them warm.

However, one thing you quickly realize, is that Indians never seem to order full cups of chai. They always order a half chai, which not surprisingly, is half the price of a full glass. Quite often, this will be poured into a saucer (cooling it down faster), which is then sipped/slurped on.

I'm not sure if it's because they're poor, or because half a glass satisfies one's urge for tea.. For me, it is the latter for sure.

However, there are a few strange quirks to consider. Any foreign tourist who walks up to a chai stall will order "chai", and thus pay twice as much as a local (admittedly, getting twice as much chai). And thus, we have something akin to the supermarket example above, where the regular clients know exactly what to order, whereas the foreigner off the street pays a penalty for his ignorance.

There is one important take-home lesson this week: Always order half a chai, even if you want a full chai.

For sure, as a foreigner, the Indian selling you the chai will go out of his way to be nice to you. Even moreso, the more remote/out of the tourist-zone his chai shop is. The fact is that he'll be pretty shocked by the fact that you're having a cup of chai at his shop, it'll be providing a fair amount of amusement for his regular customers (as they get to stare, laugh, and ask you questions), and so he will reward you with kindness.

When you order half a chai, you leave half of the cup available to charity/goodwill. More often than not, they will give you 3/4 or more of a cup, simply because they're being nice.

However, when you pay for the full cup, there is no way for them to help you out. The cup is filled to the top with paid-chai, and if they try to show your kindness by giving you more, will scald your poor fingers as the glass overflows.

Thus, order the half-cup.

Friday, January 20, 2006

News on the job front

I don't want to jinx anything, so the details will remain fuzzy for now.

I've gotten some very good news on the summer employment front. Once the dust settles (and more importantly, the contracts have been signed), I'll reveal more info.

Needless to say, i'm very happy today.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


It seems that this entire state is one big tourist trap.

While Mt. Abu was geared towards Indian tourists, this place is geared towards foreign tourists. The town's recent claim to fame is that the Bond film Octopussy was filmed here, and so nearly every low budget hotel in town shows it every night at 7PM.

Walking through the streets here is one long "rickshaw sir", "beautiful clothes, sir?" after another.

However, the flipside is - it's beautiful - with an amazing lake that reminds me of Zurich. I plan to stay here another day or two. Long enough to relax a bit before I descend into the -real- tourist trap/Amsterdam of Rajastan that is Pushkar.

The trip to Udaipur

A bit of confusion as I attempted to leave Mt Abu. My hotel promised a private bus at 8:30, but past experiences have taught me that it is best to see the private bus before you pay - government busses are universally crap, whereas VIP busses range in quality.

However, when i headed down to the bus station, I found out that there weren't enough people for the private bus that day, and so I had to find another way out of town. Thus, a shared jeep ride down hill, followed by a 6 hour government bus to Udaipur followed.

It was a really enjoyable ride - amazing mountain scenery in this part of the country, and the english skills of most government bus passengers are poor enough that after finding out your country, they're content to leave you alone.

However, towards the end of the trip (once the bus was half empty), a young indian lady got on the bus, and actually chose to sit down next to me (a very strange thing, given that there were seats available that wouldn't require her to sit next to a man). She then picked up my newspaper sitting next to me, and began to read it - in English.

This was too much, and so I asked her what she did. It turns out she was an AIDS/HIV councillor - and thus educated. She works in the rural villages, and takes the crappy busses out to visit the people.

It was very interesting, although, very upsetting to talk to her. She had tested 70 people that day, with 10% of them testing positive. Alas, drugs are only available in the largest cities, and so the rural people get very little to no treatment. The reason for this, is of course, cost.

I'm fairly confident that the drug companies here make local copies of the major HIV drugs - they make local copies of Viagara, so it's pretty clear that they don't care about international patents. However, even with these low cost indian copies, they're still not low cost enough and so the people suffer.

Last of Mt. Abu

Went on a 5 hour tour of Mt Abu. I really should have known better, as organized tours are usually crap.

It was me, and a bus-load of Indians (tourists from other cities) checking out the big sights in Mt Abu. Most were pretty lame, although, the Jain temple we went to was quite interesting, with beautiful carvings.

Mt Abu is the home of a religious university, whose members, er, one could possibly call a cult. It's probably too harsh a term, as they seem to be very nice people. I met 3 (americans and canadians) at the jain temple, and they kindly explained the history of the temple to me, as I couldn't follow the hindi tour.

Afterwards, we headed to a temple on the highest hill in the area - which I was told was part of the oldest mountain range in the world.

Mt. Abu is a strange place. Not so far from the hilltop temple was a government listening station (i.e. a spy station). Down the hill is the Internal Security College - a training place for the country's elite anti-terrorism special forces group.

Yes, a peace-loving religious group and an elite anti-terrorism force, all training in the same lovely mountain area.

The next day, I went on a 4 hour hike of the surrounding hills with a group from my hotel. Really really pleasant, and great views - although, for sure, now I need to ditch my flip flops. 4 hours of hiking is not nice on the feet, and they're still giving me pain.

Mt Abu was a nice place. The center was a complete tourist trap (including a lake in the center with paddle boats you can rent), ice-cream being solid everywhere, and Mt. Abu t-shirts and hats being sold in most shops. The interesting thing though, is that the tourists are mainly Indians - honeymooners and the like, and so it's interesting to see how the place develops accordingly. Indian and foreign tourists want completely different things, and so the town really morphs to support one, but not both of the groups.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mt Abu

Did a cooking course here at my hotel last night. 100 rupees (2 dollars), I got to cook 4-5 dishes (fenugreek leaves + potato, mung beans, cauliflower and tomato, fried rice and peas, and chapati) - and then eat them with the family. It was lots of fun, and I'm pretty sure i'll do it again tonight.

I went wandering around town - which, alas, is bit of a tourist trap for Indians (you can rent a boat and paddle around the lake, eat an ice-cream on any street corner, etc). I wandered up to a temple on the hill to read a book and take a nap - Eventually, a group of little street kids showed up - torn clothes and all. One of them, surprisingly enough, went to an english-speaking school - and had a great command of English.

I asked her about the day before - a huge kite festival, and she said that she didn't get to fly one, because she couldn't afford it... This was too much for me, and so I walked her down to the market to buy a kite. By the time we arrived, a few of her friends had latched on, and I ended up buying 4 kites (one for me too)... I never could get mine into the air - but the look in their eyes was great.

Later in the evening, I met 10 americans (the most i've seen on this trip) on a one month trip to India. 1800 bucks so that they could get very drunk (as they were under 21), flirt with each other, and get college credit the whole time.

Oh, how glad I am I never did something like this. What a waste of good money. Plus, most of them hated indian food, and were constantly fretting over Indian toilets (or the lack, thereof).

Silly Americans.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Bus to Mount Abu

Beware of overnight VIP luxary buses that only charge 150 rupees (3 dollars), as they are probably crappy, and in no way worthy of the name VIP.

Alas, There isn't much demand for direct travel from Bhuj to Mount Abu (or anywhere near it), so I had to deal with what was available: a choice between a government bus (no frills, no way jose) or a private bus.

In a western country, on a semi-empty bus, people would follow the urinal rule (i.e. two men in a toilet will stand as far as physically possible from each other). You would imagine that on a large bus with 2-3 people on it, that each would take their own part of the bus, and stretch out.

Not so in India. The other passengers took turns sitting next to me, so they could look over my shoulder and fail to understand my book, smoke bidis (crappy cigarettes) within wafting distance, and worse, unveil their foul unwashed sock-covered feet. Ok, they were hocking loogies too, but after any time in India, everyone starts to do this - so I can't begrudge them of this.

I didn't want to say anything, as I know they were only being nice - they wanted to sit next to me, and hopefully chat. So I did the next best thing. I moved to another seat.

Eventually, the guys driving the bus took pity on me, and offered me refuge in the cab at the front of the bus. And so, while the rest of the passengers were attempting to sleep in seats only slightly less comfortable than Pan Am economy class, I was stretched out (or rather, curled up in a fetal position), lying horizontal, in a bed-ish padded surface usually occupied by one of the bus-staff. Nice guys, eh?


It's worth taking an aside here to discuss a few things.

There are 3 kinds of busses one can take:

Government busses - no frills, shaky, no suspension whatsoever, mechanical noises, no legroom, seats rigid (with little in the way of padding), no reserved seating, and rarely room for luggage. Ok for day journeys, but after 5-6 hours, it becomes pretty rough.

Half-VIP busses - like the ones I took last night. Has -some- level of suspension, thus protecting you from some of the bumps in the road. Seats will also go back a bit.

Full VIP bus (expect to pay 600-800 rupees for a night journey). A/C, DVD player showing a movie, amazing soft suspension, and noise-padding, so you don't hear the driver's horn nearly so loudly.

What I really want is a Half-VIP bus - as it's usually cold enough on a night journey that A/C is worse than useless. However, even on the half-VIP bus, somehow, they have the money for a sound-system, and so the driver will boom out hindu music at least half of the night (if he is kind), or all night long (in normal cases).

The suspension is worth paying a bit extra for..

Now, for rest stops.

The more you pay for your bus, the more expensive the food will be at the rest area you stop at. A government bus will stop at a chai stall in the middle of the road with no toilet facilities, and a VIP bus will stop somewere with toilets, and expensive chai and food.

You see loads of rest areas, so I could never quite figure out how our driver was choosing which one to go to. Clearly, there was some kind of kickback/backsheesh involved - but I wasn't sure if the driver got it, or the bus company.

Last night, after stopping for 15 minutes at a 2AM rest stop, our drive came back into the cab with a big grin on his face, and started muttering about indian women.
Clearly, in addition to selling chai and food, this upmarket VIP rest-area had some kind of make-shift brothel which was used to encourage the drivers to stop there...



Eventually, at 5AM, we pulled up to Palanpur, to a cold, dark city. The nice bus driver walked me first to the government bus stand, and later to the train station - so that I could catch an onward train to Abu Road...

I then took a 2 hour train (50km) to Abu Road, and then caught a shared jeep (lovely suspension, but absolutely no leg room at all) up to Mount Abu - where I've been for the last couple hours.

I don't actually remember sleeping last night - just tossing and turning, in between freezing my ass off, and so I'll be taking it easy today.

I really do need to buy some warm clothes today, as it's freezing cold here, and I only have a shawl to keep me warm

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A few things from Bhuj

There is just one internet cafe in town with broadband access. Alas, it's 2km from my hotel, and when it shuts (11PM), I never seen to be able to find an auto-rickshaw to take me home.

Luckily, this is Bhuj, where everyone is friendly. And so, the last couple of days, when i've left the cafe in darkness, I haven't had to walk more than 2-3 minutes down the road before someone offers me a ride on their motorbike - and then refuses payment once I get home. Amazing.

I went to a doctor in Diu - as I felt a cough coming along. I went to a government hospital, which was free (free doctor, free drugs) - but totally gross. Used needles on the floor, etc. I wasn't a happy camper there.

So, I went to a doc here 2 days ago - just to make sure that the drugs I had been administering (I wasn't going to trust the doctors in Diu) to myself were working. Wow. What a difference.

The doctor spoke perfect english, had a very clean office. His colleague - the ear/throat specialist who I'd see was out for an hour, so I was invited to sit down, drink tea, eat food, and chat while I waited. Patients were sitting out in the hall waiting, but this guy was so happy to speak English (to someone British, no less) that he spent 1 hr with me while we waited for his colleague.

Eventually, I did nip out to the internet cafe - because I felt too guilty about the patients sitting in the hallway. The doc assured me that they didn't need immediate attention, but I just didn't feel right.

Today is a big festival - big may be a relative term. Everyone seems to be flying kites from rooftops. Alas, it means that pretty much everything is shut...

I've booked myself a ticket on a VIP night-bus tonight to the next state up; Rajastan. My first destination will be the hill-town of Mount Abu.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Google Interview

I got back to my hotel -just- in time for the interview. The phone literally started ringing as I had the key in the door.

What a way to begin the interview:

Me: Would you say you have a sense of humor?
Him: I'd hope so.
Me: Well, i'm about 70km from the Pakistan border right now. With everything that i've been reading in the last few weeks, especially once I say the words "Bomb", "Jihad" and "Osama", it's almost dead certain that the NSA is monitoring this call. Is there anything you'd like to say to them?
Him: We're Hiring.

I'd read about Google's interviews.. they're supposed to be god-awful brain-draining interviews, where they have you essentially program things, verbally, over the phone. I was never very good at this kind of thing (sorting algorithms, etc), even when in front of a computer, and so I had already prepared a speech "If you're not going to ask me security-related questions, I think we're both wasting our time". However, given that I had just spent an hour and a half in a windy, cold taxi to interview with them.. I wanted this to work out well.

And I was in luck. Not one question that was un-related to security. In most cases, I gave stellar answers, even-moreso when you consider the fact that I've been out of school since the spring, and haven't done any proper computer work since August. Even moreso, after the interview was over, I realized how well my classes at Johns Hopkins had prepared me for this stuff. An hour flew by, and eventually, we wrapped it up.

I have to wait a couple weeks, but my initial gut feeling is that it went very well. Perhaps the night spent relaxing at the monestary paid off.

Even better, there exists a high chance that if they offer the job, I can choose which site (i.e. if I want to work in Dublin or Zurich, instead of Silicon Valley, California, it's ok).

Fingers crossed....

Up the hill

The short walk proved to be a 3km hike up several hills, mainly on slippery rocks. Not the best thing to be doing in a lungi and flip-flops.

Eventually we reached the Yogi Temple - this time with some of the most breathaking views i've ever seen. Below us, lay the Great Ramm (a salt plains desert), and then 70km away, Pakistan.

Through fragments of awful english, I learned that a great holy man meditated here for 12 years, while standing on his head. When he finished, the first thing he looked at was made barren by the gods - and so, the salt plains were born.

Clearly, this is an important place - proof at least, by the fact that there are 4 holy men here. Going all the way from a very old saddhu with white dreadlocks, to a nappy-haired 15 year old... and like those down the hill, these guys love to smoke.

When I arrived, there was a large group of Indian College Students. 18 year old ladies, and their professors (at least 40-50 students). They were quite anxious to speak to me, and seemed to fight amongst themselves over who got to be the one to speak to me. There was much giggling, and at times, applause, when I announced that the people in Kutch were the nicest i'd met in all of India. Honestly, I wasn't playing to the crowd. These really are the nicest people I've met...

I hung out with the saddhus for a while, exploring the top of the hill. They cooked me an amazing lunch (curried eggplant and fresh peas), and most strange of all, they invited me to come and watch TV with them.

You see, electricity works on this mountain top.... and somehow, they have a large color TV, and a satellite dish. Now, I'm used to having to do things to avoid causing offence (eating strange food, dancing, etc), but never watching TV. This is the last thing I want to do on top of a holy mountain, but to be polite, I sat and watched it with them. Eventually, they fliped through a few channels, and settled on the Fashion Channel (the Indian soft-porn channel), which funnily enough, had a reggae song on in the background as the models strutted their stuff.

To take attention away from the fact that I was watching soft-porn with 3 monks, I got up, dragged up the chap who brought me there, and started to dance... strange looks and laughter followed, but it still felt better than having to actually watch TV.

Here is where things get somewhat complex.

I had an interview scheduled with Google for 9:30PM. Not thinking, I had left everything but my camera back at the Than monestary, and only after speaking to the college ladies, did I learn that there was cell-coverage on this hill.

I decided that we'd hike back to Than, get my bag, come back to the top of the hill, and I'd do my Google interview from the top of a mountain monestary - where better to be in a zen state.

However, by the time I got down to Than, I was so exhausted (heat, rocky walk) that I couldn't bear to walk another 3km uphill.....

That left me with a choice. Stay another night at Than, or head back to Bhuj to speak to Google. This was made even easier, by the fact that the last bus to Bhuj had left a few hours earlier.

In the end, I decided to walk 1km to the main road near Than, catch a passing bus back to Narona, and charter a private taxi the 40km back to Bhuj.

You see, while I won't walk 3km for an interview with Google, I'll happily pay 20 times the normal bus fare (7 dollars, instead of 35 cents) to get back.

And so, I waved goodbye, left a donation to say thank you for the hospitality, and headed off to civilization (bottled water, internet, mobile phone service) to speak to Google.

Than was amazing though. I felt at total peace there, be it wandering around the grounds - trying to get close enough to the peakcocks to photograph them, giving a back massage to one of the babas, trying to express myself to people solely through sign language and miming, and just staring off at the distance...

These guys have a tough life. It's cold at night, they have no creature comforts, and if they get sick, they're in trouble. At breakfast, while my chai was being made, the Chapati captain pulled out his wallet to get something out to show one of the others. Inside his wallet, was his bank-balance book, and I forced myself not to look - out of a fear of guilt, knowing how little would be written there.

There is no social safety net for these guys.... yet, they take care of each other, and others who visit - and, i'm not sure if they know it or not, but they're lucky enough to live in one of the most peaceful places on earth.

One day, I'll go back....

The Monestary at Than

Such a quiet place.

I arrived at the Monestary, was met by an old man (who I later learned was the Chapati Captain), and given chai.

The monestary site is very old, and at some point, must have had many more people than it does now (6-7). While power lines follow the road to the monestary, something has happened (which I couldn't figure out), and so electricity no longer works here. The TV they have upstairs lies in a dusty corner (thankfully) unused.
Light is provided by ghee lamps (made from clarified butter).

There are two babas/saddhu's (holy men) living here. One is 65, with a large grey beard, and the other 28, much younger, and who appears to have taken over the majority of the religious tasks. This being a temple dedicated to the God Shiva, both of the holy men seem to spend a lot of their time smoking marijuana, out of a long clay pipe called a Chillum. This would probably at least partially explain the fact that they were both quite 'out there'....

In addition to the two holy men, there are a number of other guys living there. The Chappati Captain, the Water Captain, the Cow Captain, and another younger guy who seemed to help out with misc. tasks.

I don't think these guys spoke more than 3-4 words of english, but even so, their hospitality and kindness were amazing.

I joined them for the evening prayers, which consisted of rhythmic chanting (Boom Shiva Shankar), drumming, bell ringing and gong hitting. One of the drums was in a tiny Shiva shrine (low ceiling, not enough room to swing a cat), and so when the massive drum was played, the sound boomed throughout the room. Quite powerful.

In the evening, they shared their dinner with me (Chappatis, sabjee (vegetables), and katcheri (rice and mung beans))... afterwards, the younger saddhu and I went up onto the roof - where we attempted a Kutchi/English lesson using the moon and stars, and then I sang a few songs for him... He seemed to like them.

Before we went to bed, I pulled out my mp3 player, put on some salsa, and attempted to teach one of the chaps how to dance... He couldn't quite get the steps, but everyone else had a good laugh at us....


The morning came, and I was woken by the sounds of 5 guys coughing their lungs out. While the Saddhus are the only ones who smoke marijuana, the others seem to smoke bidis (crappy indian handrolled cigarettes) like its going out of style, and clearly, these take their toll. Everyone (apart from the guests) sleeps in one room, for heat, I suppose, as wellas security... However, the sound of them coughing was more than enough to carry upstairs, and so I woke too.

I went outside, and watched the cow captain milk a cow - a new experience for me, and then I went to attempt to befriend the baby-deer that they kept chained up outside their living/eating/sleeping room.

After a cup of hot chai, the younger chap took me for a walk to another temple.... Little did I know what was ahead of me.

The trip to Than

I knew I was heading to a remote place, but not this remote.

Backtracking slightly - I stopped drinking bottled water a few days ago. I decided that it was just too wasteful - both financially, at 30 cents per liter, but also in terms of the plastic wastage. So I switched to the clean water sold in sealed plastic 250ml bags - at 2 cents per bag. This seemed like a much better solution.

The first bus trip took me to a small village, the fair city of Narona (sorry, bad joke). However, I started to worry somewhat, when I learned that it was absoltely impossible to buy my beloved bag water, as well as normal bottled water, in this town.. Coke and Sprite were available, as well as tea... but no factory sealed water.

I waited an hour, and eventually, a luxuary bus (much touted by the guys at the chai-stall) showed up. I'm not sure if something was lost in the translation, but this was no VIP bus. Fair enough, it was a private bus (i.e. not government), but it was more along the lines of the short-schoolbus I rode a few days back in Veraval.

This tiny bus was jam-packed with people.. and not wanting to join this sweaty mob, I looked up, spotted a few people on the roof, and climbed up to join them.

And so, 5 minutes later, I found myself clinging to the roof-rack of the bus, with about 15 other guys, ducking power cables, and enjoying the view.

English is severely limited here. People speak Kutchi, the regional language, and some don't even speak Gujurati (the language of the state we're in). Conversation, I knew, would be difficult from this point on. Luckily, with a large enough crowd on the bus, we soon developed a form of communication. 3-4 guys would discuss things, until eventually, through pooling their brainpower, they would come up with an english word - like, Village, or Batsman.

Thats right, no matter how little English someone speaks here.. for sure, they will understand everything to do with Cricket. If, once you've told them you're British, they start shouting out english sounding names.. there is a 99% chance that these are the names of guys on the British cricket squad. However, I'm clueless in this area, and have to suffice with "India good, pakistan bad" cricket cheers.

Eventually, the bus dropped me off at a dirt-road-fork, and I was pointed in one direction, and told to walk 2km.... at the end of this road was Than.


It's difficult being a Christopher in India. Mainly because people just can't say it properly. I've always had problems with people pronouncing my last name, but here, people can't even say my Good Name.. which means they usually forget it straight away too.

So after a few weeks of failed Christophers and Chris's, I switched to "Christian" - thinking that since it was a huge religion with a solid base in India, people would naturally be able to say it. Not so.

And so, when I got to Bhuj, I switched to yet another name: Krishna. It's close enough to Chris to sound the same to my ears (which is important when I need to recognize someone shouting my name), yet familiar to Indians. Plus, the fact that a foreigner is named after one of their gods is strange/funny enough that no one has a problem remembering my name.

And after all, is this so diffrent than Chinese/Indian grad students calling themselves "Michael", or "Sophie" - after repeatedly hearing Americans mangle their beautiful names?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fresh from Than

Before coming on this trip, I had a few doubts. I was putting a lot on the line to come here. Potentially huge damage to my career (both academic and professional), I'd be completely out of the groove when I get back (having forgotten most of what was in my head after 2 years of grad school), and breaking up the best relationship I've ever had... and for what? The chance to trapse around the 3rd world, sit on the beach, and have people cook for me?

I can now confidently say that in spite of everything I put on the line to come here. I now know it was worth it. In fact, the last 24 hours were worth it alone.

I have just returned from Than, a town 60km away from here. It was an amazing place, and so bear in mind, as it'll take me longer than usual to describe it. However, it was easily the best place i've been to - ever.

I've just rushed back, including a 40km private rickshaw ride, so I could get back to civilization in time for my 9:30PM phone interview with Google.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Woke up late, headed to the "foreigners and NRI (not resident Indian) registration office", waited about 20 minutes, and finally left with a stamped permit, allowing me to visit a few restricted areas - in particular, lakphat.

Got a seat in a jeep (21 people in 1 jeep, lovely) and travelled to Mandvi, arriving around 2PM. What a cool town. As we drove over the main bridge, I could see about 5-6 wooden ships, in various stages of construction, surrounded by wooden scaffolding and a number of Indian guys hammering away at each. I took a few photos of these, which I'm looking forward to uploading.

I've never seen ships being built before, much less wooden ships being built in old fashioned ways. Just for that glimpse alone, the trip to Mandvi was worth it... however, it gets better.

An auto-rickshaw ride took me 9km out of town to the Mandvi Palace Beach Resort.. where I was alone at the beach. Thats right, for as far as I could see, literally a couple km in each direction, I was alone. White sand, crystal clear water (a first for me in India) that looked blue not so far away.

Alas, the water was a wee bit nippy, given how far northwest we are, it makes sense... However, I put my loincloth on (to avoid scaring the indian guys working at the resort - 2 guys making chai - and ran into the water.

After a few hours of playing around, it was time to leave. My auto-rickshaw driver had been waiting the whole time (bless him), but before we departed, I was able to find out that the resort charge 5000 rupees (over 100 USD) per night for an air-conditioned tent... I honestly can't imagine who pays that kind of money.. but the view really was amazing.

I met an Irish chap last night, who gave me a few pointers on his trip so far. I'll be taking his advice, and heading NW to a monestary tomorrow morning - and with any luck, spending the night there. I should be back on Wednesday evening. Hopefully.

Oh yes, it's also worth noting that the people are absolutely amazing here. So friendly, so kind.. Loads of women smile at me, and say hello, which is a very nice change. I've also seen at least a couple near car/bike accidents as people take their eyes off the road to stare at me.. Hah

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sex and the Western Woman

When meeting fellow female travellers, it is just a matter of time before the topic of sex and Indian men comes up. Or to be more exact, the sexual desires of Indian Men, and the desire of foreign women to be left alone.

I'm not a woman, and I rarely travel with them for more than the briefest of peroids, so I'm not going to even attempt to talk about this from their perspective - other than to mention that they really are constantly being pestered, mentally undresed, fondled, touched, grabbed, exposed to obscene gestures, words and on occasion, acts.

As a male, I can at least try and see it from the Indian male's perspective... and really, I feel quite sympthetic.

You see, while the state of affairs in India no doubt keeps women in chains, it keeps the sexual desires of both genders locked away.

On more occasions than I can remember, I've had the following conversation:

Him: Married?
Me: No.
Him: Girlfriend?
Me: Yes.
Him: Have you?
Me: What?
Him: (somewhat embarassed yet eager look). Have you, you know...?

The fact is that (not including prostitution), sex is off limits to the Indian male. India is one large population of frustrated virgins (it's like a computer science department, only with more people, and is far less clean).

The western woman, as portrayed on TV, is some kind of cross between a sex goddess and a slut. Indian women (those on TV) don't even kiss, let alone do anything more, yet western women regularly run around naked, do all kinds of sordid acts, and much worse, do them with people they're not married to.

Thus, if you're an Indian guy, and you have the good fortune to meet a western woman (on the bus, on the train, in the street), the first thing you're going to do is try and talk her into having sex with you... You'd be an idiot not to. It would be like meeting Aladin's Genie, and not asking him for a wish.

Alas, western women are not really super sex goddess sluts, and so those who travel here are given the tough job of trying to dispel this myth.. or at least do their travelling in a country where everyone believes this myth.

So, every time an Indian male asks to take a photograph, to shake a hand, or asks if they have a boyfriend - western women must be on guard.

However, when the same thing happens to me, I don't have to worry about someone trying to get into my pants.. it really is just typical Indian friendlyness. I can smile, pose for a photo, and shake hands, without worrying what acts people will do with said photo later.

And so, by not travelling with women - I find that I have a much more pleasant time. I don't have to worry about my travelling partners getting felt up, I don't have to worry about alterior motives, and I can take a moment to smile and shake hands.

Strange how it all works out, isn't it?


Arrived in Bhuj just fine.

So i'm now in the far NW of india. I'm about as west as you can get in India, I think... or technically, will be soon.

I need to wake up early tomorrow, and head to the police station in town to get a special permit to visit remote areas. I'll probably head for Mandavi after that, a town 60km away from here, where they still build wooden boats by hand, and supposedly have very nice quiet beaches.

The next day, i head to lakhpat, the most westerly/northern town in India, and close enough to Pakistan to see it in the distance. An australian guy I met a few days ago was there, and told me the views were mind blowing....

Bhuj seems nice enough. I've got a room with a TV again - i know, i know, i'm pampering myself, and so i'm hoping to be in my room early enough tonight to catch a film.

Wakeup Call

The lonely planet didn't mention that busses would be going past my hotel all night long, beeping their horns. Surprisingly, it wasn't the noise that woke me up at 4AM, but the fact that I was being eaten alive by mozzies.

I figured that I was far enough north now that I didn't need my mozzie net. I thought wrong. There is nothing worse than the high pitched whine they make as they divebomb your body in the dark.

Got out of bed, hastily arranged the net, and got back into bed.

8:30 comes by, and I hear a repeated knocking at the door... eventually, I realize that it's for me, stagger out of bed, to be greeted by - tea and biscuits. Thats right, in my 175 rupee (3 dollar) hovel of a hotel room, for the first time in my life, of any hotel, I had free breakfast brought to my room. I felt like royalty.

Promptly ignored the breakfast, and went back to bed.

I'm on a 12 noon bus to Bhuj. Had a delightful breakfast of Idli (heaven, really) at a street-side stall. About to jet off to the bus stand now.

With any luck, Bhuj will have internet too.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The plan this morning was to catch the 6AM bus to Rajkot, and then that afternoon, catch a bus to Bhuj from Rajkot.

The plan started falling apart when I got out of bed, walked across the room, turned the alarm clock off, and got back into bed. From there, it continued to go downhill.

The next bus was at 12:45, in theory. However, it showed up an hour and a half late. Then, after being in it for about 45 minutes, it promptly broke down at the next stop, and we had to wait half an hour for another bus to show up. Yikes.

Eventually, at 9PM, we arrived in Rajkot.. but it was a long, hard, but mainly long journey. This is clearly a part of the country where tourists don't venture... most of the gujirati people don't speak more than a word or two of english... usually enough to ask me if I speak their language. Even more than anywhere else so far, I stick out like a sore thumb. At a chai/rest/toilet stop along the way, about 20 people gathered around me just to look - as none of them could speak enough english to ask anything. Eventually, I ventured the answer to their standard question (where are you from)... Once i said the magic word London, the crowd became abuzz...

The journey along the way was beautiful... Gujirat has some amazing animals. We passed a pretty dry forest area for about an hour, which was packed to the brim with peacocks and white-spotted deer. Eventually, the trees gave way to cactii, and it continued to get drier the more we drove north.

On the way -in- to Diu a few days back, I spotted the largest Goat i've ever seen in my life. I kid you not, it was some kind of half horse/goat mutation, and in prior years, could easily have been kitted out with armour and used as some kind of calvery beast. Alas, I didn't see it on my way out....

Bhuj is supposed to be about 6 hours away from here. There is a night bus at 12:30, but I just don't have it in me to travel another 6 hours today, especially since the only bus going is peasant class. Thus, i'm checked into a pretty ghetto hotel - 175 for a room, but it has a TV, so as soon as I finish this, i'll retire to my room, watch the simpsons, and doze off.

With any luck, I'll get up for the 7AM bus.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Moving On

Ok. It's time to shake a leg. I'm running out of time, by the day, and I have so much more to see.

Had two phone interviews this week (not an easy thing here, where there is never a quiet spot to yourself). Google will be calling me on Wednesday, which gives me 4 days to see the salt plains/desert areas, before I need to be in a city big enough to have cellphone service.

Tomorrow, I'll wake up at a god-awful hour, and be there for a 6AM bus.. Destination: Buj. It should take about 10 hours, on a bog standard government no frills bus.

Calendar Time

The clock is a ticking.

I need to be in Indiana 2 weeks before the start of classes (Aug 28), which means I need to be there by August 14th.

Assuming that I work 10 weeks at my summer internship (where, I still don't know), and leaving a few days to move from Virginia->Indiana, that has me starting my job on June 5. It'll take at least 3-4 days to get used to wherever i'm working, so that means I need to arrive for my internship on June 1.

I figure i'll need at least 3-4 days in Bloomington at the beginning of the summer to arrange for a flat, which means I need to be back in the US at least by the 3rd week of May, if not much sooner. So many things to sort out..etc

Also up in the air, is where I work...

If I find a job in europe, then I'll have the great benefit of being able to see my family this summer. If I find work in the US, then I'll either have to put up with not seeing my family till xmas, or I'll need to come back from Asia early (not a nice choice), so that I can nip off to europe for a few weeks.

Clearly, a European job is preferable.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I've been here for 3 days now.

Diu is a pretty little town, and in some places, it really does feel like you're in a small town in Portugal, wandering amonst deserted winding streets.

The thing is, this is a tourist town. Mainly, Indians. On the weekends, the streets are reportedly packed with Indians eager to get as drunk as they possibly can. It's sort of an Indian equivilant of Amsterdam/Prague/Dublin for fly-in weekend British tourists.

I arrived here on the second, and so it was already calming down. However, the people I've met told me that the streets were absolutely jam packed with indians between xmas and new years.

Right now, i'm staying on the roof of a church in town - with an amazing view. Somehow, it feels a bit wrong to be drinking beer on the roof of a church, but, well, when in rome. I've spent 3 nights on the roof so far, but I don't think I can do it anymore. It's just too damn windy, and I woke up with the most god awful neck-ache this morning. To cut down on wind, I've resorted to sandwiching myself between two crappy matresses - and while this cuts down on wind, it doesn't make for the most comfy of sleeping arangements.

I've been hanging out here, because Diu is a big enough town (big enough to have an ATM machine, and good mobile phone service). Also, for India, it is pretty damn quiet (especially when sitting on the roof of the church), and so I've been trying to sort out my summer internship interviews.

Apple called last night, British Telecom is supposed to call today, and i'm hoping that Google will hurry up and call, so I can vamoose outta town...

The plan right now, is to head northwest, to the salt-plains of western Gujurat. It's supposed to be a magical sight, and it places you close enough to Pakistan to see it in the distance.

After that, i'll hightail it up to Rajhastan.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Journey from Hell

It seems that this state is a bit dodgier than the ones I've been to in the south.. or at least that is the vibe I get from the police/army presence here. It's difficult to tell the difference between the two, as the police here wear very military-esque uniforms, carry rifles slung over their shoulders, and seem to be posted everywhere.

The train was absolutly packed with them, at least 30 or so... and a good 4-5 in the rich-people's A/C cabin. Once the chap sleeping in the bunk below me got off, at some point, a policeman replaced him, and I woke up at 6AM to the sight of a police officer sleeping with one eye open, gun-in-hand...

They're here for my protection, which I suppose is a good thing.. but it means no funny business on my part.


I took the night train, arrived to Veraval at around 6AMish. It was cold, and dark.

The rickshaw drivers put up a pretty united front, all demanding 20 rupees, but pretty soon, as always, the cracks in their aliance began to show, and one guy caved... pretty soon, they were falling over themselves to stab eachother in the back, and particate in a financial race to the bottom. Suckers...

Got a rickshaw ride to the bus station, which turned out to be a petrol station.. Boarded a bus to Una (85km, 3 hours), which looked like a short-schoolbus, only a bit smaller, and not yellow (or filled with special children). Impossible to sleep due to seating/masses of people/loud music/bumpy road. Struggling at this point due to lack of sleep.

Arrive eventually to Una, and transfer to a 'shared' auto rickshaw. This consisted of a motorbike, attached to a medium sized trailer... Perhaps 1.5x the size of the inside of a london taxi (not very large). Inside, were seats.. I counted 14 other adults, plus 5 small children. Very comfy.

However, we finally got to Diu. And yeah, it's worth it. It's pretty, totally un-Indian, with a beautiful view, and clear streets...

I'm staying in what used to be a church. A guest-house has taken over the upper floors, and i'm sleeping on a matress on the roof, for 100 rupees a night. A bit pricey for what I get, but the view is absolutely mind blowing...

The plan is to stay here for at least a week, if not more. With such an awfully long journey to get here, I'm not about to rush away. Cellphone service is good here, and it's quiet (at least during the week, before the weekend Indian alcohol tourists arrive), and so it's probably a good place to conduct all my phone interviews for summer jobs.

This evening though, I'll be sleeping very very early.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Economics of Fruit Buying

After calculating the odds, I've come up with a semi-formal way of thinking about the fruit buying process in India.

Consider a few facts first:

1. Most of the fruits i'm eating, I've never had before in my life, or have had so rarely, that I don't know how to pick them.

2. I do not live here, and do not stay in one place (most of the time) to build a relationship with any fruit vendor. Thus, he has no incentive to give me quality goods, and instead sees me as an outlet in which to dump crappy fruit.

3. I'm a foreigner, and thus, seen to be rich, and crazy and not business-smart by many Indians.

With that out of the way, let us calculate my chance of getting good fruit.

A. If I allow the fruit-man to pick out my fruit for me, I will almost always receive 100% bad fruit, as he is actively picking the worst ones for me.

B. If I pick randomly from his pile of fruit, depending on the ratio of good/bad fruit amongst his stock, at the least, I will do better than in case A (unless 100% of his stock is bad fruit). However, then I have to blame myself for the bad fruit that I pick out, and am robbed of the ability to blame the bastard fruitman for slipping me crappy fruit.

Oh, and in either case, I will certainly pay more than a local.. but this goes without saying.

New Years

New Years wasn't quite a gala event.

With a semi-dodgy stomach, I couldn't justify blowing 8 dollars on a 15 course meal at the awesome 5-star hotel I had lunch at yesterday. I really wanted to, but I knew that I just wouldn't be able to appreciate the food.

Thus, instead, I headed to their rooftop balcony, ordered a hookah, and whiled away the evening people watching...

The thing is, I feel really uncomfortable around rich Indians...

I've sort of gotten used to the fact that I'm usually the richest person on any bus I take. If I see a monk, a sadhu (hindu holy man), a priest, or just a really really old guy, I'll usually buy their bus ticket before they can get a chance to. Sure, it's rather patronising, but it makes me feel good, and no one has ever objected to it...

At the hotel last night, I saw Indian families walk in to dinner all kitted out in western clothes. When I wagged my head at them to say hi, they looked very strangely at me, and then the father of the family would proceed to whip out a fat fold of rupee notes, and pull off one 500-rupee note (10 dollars) after another.

The rich kids are spoilt and poorly behaved, and they don't smile like the poor people.

Contrast it to a normal day walking down the street - especially in a town like this one, where not many tourists venture... Heads turn as I walk down the street, and as soon as people establish eye contact, I wag my head, smile, and am immediately greeted with a beaming smile and a fastly wagging head.

People in the street last night were wishing me happy new year - and earlier in the day, a first for me, 2 ladies, university students I think, even flirted with me when I was at the same restaurant as them. They both smiled at me, said hello, waved to me during my meal, and kept sneaking looks at me for the entire time I was there.

Rich people are so much more boring....

The other strange thing about the hotel, was that the sea of waitstaff (there had to be at least 15 waiters, and another 10 cooks) all refused to waggle their head, smile or say namaste back to me when I said hi to them. Instead, they did something very similar to the "wai" you see people do in Thailand (both hands raised together, in a prayer sign, with the fignertips at a nose-ish level). The only time I've seen this up until now was with very very small children in a rural area.

Clearly, the point of this is to show respect... but after months of receiving smiles, it's very strange (and rather unpleasant) to have someone show respect in this way.. It feels so unnatural, as they are in effect, demonstrating how far below me they are in the social ladder.

In the end, I celebrated the coming of new years in a much cheaper restaurant down the road, where the waiters smiled at me, came back to the hotel, and fell asleep.

Foreigners and Freedom Fighters

I mentioned before that a special 'tourist quota' exists for the trains. Essentially, I can show up the day of departure, and in many cases, get a ticket on a train that would otherwise be sold out to an Indian person.

Even better, I don't have to queue with the plebs at the station...

You see, there isn't really such a thing as a queue in India. It's more a state of chaos/madness with the ever threatening scent of a stampede on its way. The poor train station workers sit behind very thick glass, and watch, as people squash themselves silly in an attempt to get to the front of the pack, and pass their ticket-booking form to the oft-amused clerk.

Given the extreme amount of pushing and shoving involved, it's also worth mentioning that any woman who decended into this semi-moshpit would be felt up and molested to the point of almost-pregnancy.

Thus, the Indian Train Authorities have women-only lines, women-only waiting rooms, etc....

As I was saying, I'm spared the nastiness of an ugly queue... and all without the need to acquire ovaries. All one needs is a foreign passport, and a tourist visa.

There is a special queue at most train stations for Senior Citizens, Freedom Fighters, and Tourists...

What the hell a Freedom Fighter is, i'm not sure - as one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.

In any case. The line is usually occupied by a bunch of very old men with white hair, who still have a surprising amount of energy with which to try and push in front of me. Yet, you're stuck in line long enough that you get to hear them mumbling and telling stories about the old days...