A Travellerspoint blog

On the road again!!! - to Varanasi

sunny 37 °C

Wooo! Feels great to be back on the road again.

We had a great 2 week rest at my cousin's place in Pune, Really enjoyed our time there and it was a time to recover for me. Recover physically as I was pretty sick, but also to charge the ol' proverbial batteries.

So, we are in Varanasi now and we are ready to roll!

Varanasi is a pretty epic place. It might be the oldest city in the world, with earliest guesses suggesting there was a city here as early as 1800 BC. Almost 4000 years ago. Pretty incredible thought. On top of that, the ganjes river is the holiest of rivers in the Hindu religion. It's also believed that the Buddha himself sat alongside the river and came up with the Buddhist religion. Even one of the founders of the Sikh religion spent time here for inspiration. So, Varanasi is a tremendously old, and very spiritual hub in Northern India. If you're into vibrations and energy and positive feelings and all that, you would love Varanasi. There's celebrations and ceremonies and people meditating and chanting all over the place.

We haven't explored too much just yet, although we did walk through a death ceremony at one of the cremation ghats. A ghat is a place you can access the river -- so there are bathing ghats, laundry ghats, cremation ghats, etc. It's believed that if you are cremated after being dunked in the ganjes, you will get complete salvation in the afterlife. It's like being released directly into heaven. They wouldn't let us take pictures (actually they would, if we paid a fee. It just felt kind of gross paying someone to take pictures of someone else's funeral. The whole middleman aspect of it just felt kind of disrespectful and I figured we could go without pictures/ video.) But we saw some human bodies that were being cremated with wood. Pretty intense. They explain all about the caste system and how different castes have different cremation spots. We even saw one body that was maybe half an hour from being cremated. The body was lying on some wood, wrapped in a sheet. His eyes were open. It was probably a sight I will never forget. This is exactly why I need to take breaks after travelling for sometime. If it weren't for those two weeks resting in Pune, and we came right to Varanasi from Jaisalmer, I don't know how I would react to seeing a dead body that was about to be lit on fire.

So that's all for now. There will be more to come on Varanasi soon.

Oh! We've also booked our flight from India. To Frankfurt on the 10th! Germany here we come!

Seeya soon.

Posted by JetlagWarriors 23:32 Archived in India Tagged india varanasi ghats cremation Comments (0)

30 hrs on trains and in train stations

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We've made it to Pune!

We decided to take trains from Jaisalmer to Pune. First a 6 hour ride to Jodhpur, then a 23 hour ride to Pune, with a 5 hour layover in the middle. The layover was from midnight until 5 am. Spending the night in a train station was interesting! This way we could avoid taking a plane.

We did the first 6 hour ride on the second lowest class, and the longer 23 hour ride on a first class train! Our idea was to make a video showing the lowest class vs the first class, but the lowest class tickets were sold out. I think we still got a pretty good video out of it. The first class train was pretty great, other than the bathroom. We didn't complain.

But alas we arrived in Pune! We are really understanding the importance of breaking up our travel with vacation bits. We are staying at my cousins place... air conditioning, filtered water, living room with couches, the while shabango! Really great. We arrived at 4:10AM and the picked us up from the train station. Pretty great of them, and I can't say enough how great it has been having this break after 5 weeks of roughing it in cheap hostels. I quite enjoy the experience of cheap hostels and 'budget travel', but eventually I get physically and mentally drained. India is a tough place to travel, especially in the touristy spots -- where every time you reach for your wallet you feel like you are getting robbed in some way. Add that to the heat and overall uncomfort of budget travel, and eventually you just want to crash at your cousins place and make dinner for yourselves. It's really great to travel with Ivana, too. She really missed cooking so she has been making us some great meals. I think someone who enjoys cooking is a pretty darn good house guest.

What else to say? Pune is a great place. It's a less traditional, suburb type city. I've seen more than 10 young couples sitting in parks and flirting etc! This is something you don't see too much of in India. There's less chaos, people seem to take no for an answer when the approach you in the street, there's a super market next door where we have been buying groceries. There's even an Osho ashram next door. Osho was a controversial Indian guru and spiritual teacher. An ashram is a place where people live and pray together and follow his teachings. We looked through the grounds of it and the place looks amazingly landscaped. Everyone inside wears a certain maroon robe. My north American upbringing immediately says, 'this place is a cult.' But who am I to judge. You can look up Osho's talks and ideas on youtube and see the guy was certainly smart, thoughtful... profound even, He was also one of the only gurus who was okay with sex and drugs. I would imagine a lot of his followers are in it for the sex and drugs... maybe I am too cynical.

But Pune is great! We are staying in an apartment in a pretty wealthy area, so there are a bunch of quiet streets lined with mansions around. Quiet and peaceful and at times it doesn't feel like India. Also really great to stay with my cousins boyfriend Sandip who has given us lots of good ideas on where to head next in India. We are still changing our plan based on the timeframe and his suggestions. We should have an itinerary soon.

Oh! Another of my cousins is headed to Finland to live with his girlfriend, who just got accepted into a masters program there. So Ivana and I will try to weasel some nights with them. He says they are in a tiny town up north from Helsinki. Funny that's just the part of Finland I was looking to explore ... ! !

I guess that's it for now. We haven't been really roughing it or travelling much these last few days, so nothing too exciting to share. Just relaxing and preparing for the next leg of our trip. 3 more weeks in India, and then off to Nepal.

Seeya guys in the next blog!

Posted by JetlagWarriors 20:09 Archived in India Tagged relaxing pune osho Comments (3)

First impressions matter + something else I've noticed

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Ivana and I were talking about our first memories of each place we’ve been. We realized our first memories of most places really seem to match our overall impressions of them. First impressions matter!

We arrived in Vietnam after three flights, starting from Toronto. We were pretty tired and jetlagged and out of it. Luckily for us, right out front of our hostel was an old lady selling bahn bao – steamed buns. A warm, delicious and cheap snack. We must’ve eaten 4 or 5 of them each day for the first few days. I would joke with her ‘seeya tomorrow!’ and she would laugh. She was there from around 4:30 AM each day, doing her tai-chi like exercise, and then sold her bahn bao until after dark. She could've easily cranked up the price because she knew I had no idea how much things costed in this new country. She didn’t. I really have this fond memory of buying bahn baos from her, telling her how I’m all out of whack after 20+ hours of flying. I remember she said ‘ooooh… Canada cold!’ when I told her where I was from.

After a few days of rest we explored Vietnam and absolutely fell in love with it. We found the place to be clean and the people to be friendly. We were amazed how many people were exercising every morning. People playing sports in the streets, people doing chin ups from tree branches, elderly people doing that same tai-chi type exercise as her. Also, not a single homeless person. Vietnamese people seem to be honest, hard-working, proud of Vietnam, and are definitely helpful. Vietnam is our favourite country we’ve been to so far.

After Vietnam, we went to the Philippines. Our first memory from the Philippines was seeing some homeless children. Right off the bat, our first day there. My first time seeing homeless children. Oof. That hit me pretty hard. Their dad was sleeping, on his back snoring, with a bottle of alcohol sitting in his armpit, and they were holding their hands up to whoever walked past.

We had a hard time shaking this image from my head. We noticed a lot of things about Philippines that were very different from Vietnam. Homeless people, alcohol abuse, plastic water bottles and fast food containers everywhere, even a sort of macho feel from the men that seemed very North American. This isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy our time in the Philippines – my favourite memory from the entire trip so far is probably swimming with whale sharks in Oslob. Something I will never forget. It’s more accurate to say we were looking at the Philippines through a certain lens. So, we were noticing a lot of negative things, rather than the positive ones we were noticing in Vietnam.

The list goes on. In Taiwan, our first memory was this feeling that we were back in Japan. We are quite fond of Japan, so naturally we really enjoyed Taiwan. Technologically advanced with mother nature sort of integrated throughout the big cities, friendly people and ‘cute’ things for sale all over the place.

In India, our first memory was the chaos, and the scammers in Delhi. Dishonest people approaching you every 5 minutes as you walk down the street. Other travelers warning us about scams they’ve fallen for or nearly fallen for. A far cry from Vietnam! And again, we’ve had a hard time looking at India any other way. It’s beautiful, it’s loud, it’s a total culture shock (we quite enjoy the feeling of culture shock, and often search for it!), but the inability to trust the price of anything is always sort of looming over our heads. I am positive we’ve turned down potentially great experiences because we were un-trusting. In Jodhpur, we met a nice guy who was wandering with us through the forts, he offered to walk with us through the city and explain the caste system to us. He even explicitly said he wouldn’t want any money, he just knew it was interesting to other people and he could explain how it works. He wanted us to hop on the back of his motorcycle, and we declined. Ah! Potentially an incredible experience, but we were too nervous. What if he takes us somewhere else, what if he meets up with his friends, heck what if he just begs us for money at the end of it all.

So, first impressions matter. This is not to say first impressions cannot be overcome, they certainly can. Our opinion of India has changed a lot since the first few days. But it can be tough. Maybe now that we are aware of how hard it can be, we can try to not form such strong first impressions. Or maybe they will be easier to overcome now altogether. Who knows. We will see when we arrive in our next country – which looks to be Nepal.

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One more thing I wanted to write about in this blog is a strange thing I’ve realized about people who are living in poverty. When you see poverty in underdeveloped or undeveloped countries, the people are usually skinny and dirty. That’s what poor people look like. They look underfed, and like they haven’t showered. Maybe they don’t have shoes. Compare that to ‘poor’ people in North America. I heard recently that you are more likely to be obese in North America, if you are under the poverty line. What? I know from experience that ‘poor’ people where I grew up, often had expensive sneakers and sunglasses. No kidding. $200 shoes on people who are collecting government assistance. I’ve also heard that people below the poverty line spend exorbitant amounts on lottery tickets, in North America. Literally flushing their money down the toilet.

What to make of this? I suppose there is some socio-economical thesis I could write about the reality of giving people unearned money. Some sort of condemnation of welfare programs in general. I am not going there. I just think it’s interesting how relative the term poor is. If you are just under the poverty line in North America, you would be pretty rich in other countries. And yet the people poorer than you might be much more hard working, honest and determined than you. Right? You could be lazy and dishonest, and just under the poverty line in North America, living a far better life than someone who is honest and hard working in an undeveloped country. How virtuous you are might not be as important as the location you were born, relative to your earnings. It’s a bizarre perspective to have… looking at poor people in first world countries as lucky. How to bring that perspective back home?

I guess we would all want a world where all it took to have a decent life is to be honest and hard working. Not smart or ingenious or athletic or something else that to some extent you have to be born with. But honest and hard working. We can control how honest and hard working we are, and if we make a commitment to be these things, we should be able to make our lives better. It does seem like the world is set up that way. It seems like, for the vast majority of the world, if you were honest and hard working your life would get better, even if very slowly. I suppose there’s some hope in that. You can get pretty pessimistic, seeing pretty extreme poverty in poor countries. You can get the feeling these people have no chance. Despite their best efforts, they were given an unfair start. You can get the same type of hopelessness, looking at an obese person with $200 sneakers, buying lottery tickets and complaining the welfare program isn’t giving them enough.

I’ve got to hope these people are in the minority, and the majority of us are honest and hard working people that are going to make their lives better. There’s evidence to support that. Lots of countries are pulling themselves out of poverty. People in India are coming out of poverty faster than ever before. It sort of comes back to the lens thing. If you look at the world through the lens of hopelessness, you’re going to see a whole bunch of hopelessness. But we can choose to look for different things.

Oof. I think I went all self-help there at the end. Don’t know why. Just figured I’d write a blog today because, now that I am feeling healthy and better, Ivana is SICK! So, I will be editing vlogs and working on the computer all day. Hanging around our hostel and taking care of her.

Anyway, thanks for reading and seeya soon.

Posted by JetlagWarriors 01:50 Archived in India Comments (2)

Pushkar, India with pictures

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Pushkar!

Certainly the first place in India I felt relaxed, and able to enjoy myself. I think spending a few days in Delhi, as my first India experience, might have been a bad idea. Sort of got me off on the wrong foot. First impressions matter. But after 5 or 6 cities, a whole bunch of memorable things (Taj Mahal, 500 year old forts, cooking class, etc) and lots of bus and train rides later I can say India is a great place to travel.

Pushkar is a tiny town, with a holy lake. It's surrounded by big, rocky hills, that can be climbed to view the desert landscape. In April, it's smoking hot here! Almost 40 degrees, and it's just the beginning of summer.

There's a strong backpackers community in Pushkar. Lots of 'hippies', travelers, backpackers, and tourists alike. Not sure what the difference is between all those terms or where I fit really. But everyone's here, relaxing. There's less tourist attractions here than other cities... no city palace or fort or anything. And yet everyone comes here! It's a hangout spot because it has great weather, friendly locals... it's cheap and spiritual. Lots of foreigners with heena tattos, red dots between their eyebrows and head jewelry. It's a cool place. We stayed for 4 days, which would put us more toward fast traveling, rather than slow travelling. We met some people who stayed for 2 days, we met some people who stayed for months.

Right off the top we went to see sunrise at Pushkar Lake. People chanting, people praying, people dunking themselves in the holy lake water to cleanse their sins and karma. With the sun coming over the surrounding hills it was a pretty beautiful sight. We captured a great timelapse for our vlog. (Please check out our youtube channel ! ! ! ! !) I tried to meditate for 2 hours as the timelapse ran... meditation is not exactly my thing. At least I sat relatively still for a couple hours.

Here's some pictures of the sunrise and the lake:

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A bunch of people praying and chanting as the sun comes over the lake and birds fly across the sky. Pretty great way to start a day.

Wandering the streets of Pushkar is pretty great. The bigger the city in India, the more people are going to hassle you as you walk around. Pushkar is tiny, but still has lots of action. All the sights and sounds of India are there, just at a pace that I could manage a lot better. Cows (clean cows!) meandering the streets, traditional dressed women, delicious food being prepared, colourful homemade goods for sale. Wow! The beautiful chaos is still present, but it's a more organized chaos. Really great.

There's something comforting about being near animals, especially big animals. I've been around elephants twice now -- always extremely memorable. There's no elephants in Pushkar, but some of the cows are clean and really majestic looking. Monkeys climb the trees and along the rooftops. We even saw some camels, being used for camel rides. We didn't ride them because they didn't look to be the best treated camels in the world, but man I didn't realize how big a camel was. I thought it was comparable to a horse for some reason. Definitely not. Maybe moreso comparable to a giraffe. Massive neck, two joints in it's poweful back leg, and an incredible gutteral noise that comes out of it's mouth and throat. Really awesome. Here are some of my favourite animal pictures. I really had to pick and choose here-- I have dozens of pictures and videos of cows. There's something about being near big animals!

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We got a really great slow-motion video of one of the camels chewing. Pretty funny.

I was nervous about the food in Pushkar. The whole town is vegetarian. Hindus are vegetarian and Pushkar really is a holy city. There's some pretty yummy vegetarian dishes though. We found one we really liked called Thali. To be fair, we had Thali many times before Pushkar, but we found it to be more delicious in Pushkar. It's a bunch of small bowls of food served with rice and bread. Inside the bowls could be curries, gravies, fruits, yoghurt, anything really. Every restaurant does Thali their own way. It looks like this:

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You rip the bread with your hands, into a small, mouthful sized piece. Then load up whatever you want on top and let er rip. It's a fun way to eat, good for sharing and talking. Yum.

Another great thing we did in Pushkar was to climb one of the hills to see Savitri Temple at sunset. The temple isn't anything too special, but the sunset was just great. We met a bunch of travelers up there, one guy was playing guitar. We all joked around and watch the sun come down. We captured another timelapse. It was a great time and really one of the highlights of Pushkar. Behind us, you could see all over Pushkar, a bunch of concrete and brick buildings with no open windows (no glass), scattered around the lake. And in front of us, a sprawling desert landscape with some small hills and valleys as the sun went down behind the horizon. Awesome.

Here's a picture overlooking Pushkar, from the hike on the way up:

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And here's that fabulous sunset:

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Thanks for reading everyone! Luckily we found a restaurant with good internet for us to upload pictures. Who knows when we will find good internet again! Also, for some reason we still can't REALLY upload photos. We can only upload stills from our videos. I think maybe our photos are too large a file size. Anyway, we made it work. Hopefully we'll be back with more pictures soon!!

Posted by JetlagWarriors 05:33 Archived in India Comments (3)

Cried like a baby

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We decided to take a train that is a much lower class than we usually do. We wanted to experience it! Crowded, loud, hot... all to be expected. We were travelling from Pushkar to Udaipur, India. A 6 hour train ride. Let's see what it's like on a train full of locals.

There's 4 benches facing each other, with an aisle down the middle. Each bench seats 3 people. So 12 of us in our little section. Against one window there's 4 teenage boys. Against the other window is Ivana and I, with another couple. In the middle section is 3 families -- 6 adults and 5 children total. Do the math. None of the kids have a ticket-- and there isn't enough room. On our bench designed for 3, we have 4 adults and a little girl, maybe 6 years old. No sweat. This is what we expected.

The families decide to get a bunch of snacks to help quiet down their kids. A bag of popcorn, peanuts, and milk for each. The parents got some snacks for themselves too. Every single plastic bag went right out the train window. The parents even gave their empty bags to the kids and pointed them towards the window. Oof. Ok, that bothers me. But I'm certainly not here to police the world, and I just sit there and do nothing. No sweat. Maybe 2 or 3 hours into the ride the families get off, and it seems like no one else will be sitting in their seats! Ivana and I are grateful for our luck, we've got the 3 seater bench to ourselves, leg room, space to get our bags off our laps, the whole bit. Woo! Lucky us.

That's when I see a man, maybe 35, crawling up the aisle. His head is down, but I can see his bare back as he is not wearing a shirt. The dirtiest back I have ever seen. The level of grime across his entire back is something that must take a long time to acquire. He's been sleeping outside and hasn't showered in... months? I realize he is sweeping the floor everyone's feet and begging for money. I'm just totally transfixed and sort of paralyzed looking at him. He's wearing pants, held up by a shoelace. The pants aren't too long for him, but the waist is much too big. He has lost a lot of weight since he has been homeless. He's got no shoes, and his feet are just as filthy.

At this point he looks up and we make eye contact. I'm telling you I have never seen a human being so dirty in my entire life. I don't think you could clean his face in one go. You would need a hard bristle brush and the level of scrubbing it would take would hurt his skin. His face is completely covered in black grime, right up around his eyes. We stare at each other for what could have been 45 minutes. He goes back to sweeping the floor beneath peoples feet, slowly working his way towards me.

At this point most of the people around me are getting up to leave their seats. Line up at the bathroom, simply walk to another cabin... something to avoid having to interact with this man. This is a really sorry sight. His pile of garbage is getting pretty big now. Popcorn, peanuts, ticket stubs, and water bottles. The water bottles are especially hard to corral. But he manages.

He gets to my section and keeps his head down. He make a motion with his green rag for me to lift my feet and he sweeps the area beneath me. I realize his rag is his shirt. It should also be mentioned that the floor of this bus is absolutely filthy. The floor hasn't been cleaned with water in... ever?

He finishes cleaning my section and looks at me. We lock eyes again for what felt like another couple hours. He does this strange sort of shrug, like he knows what I am thinking. He doesn't know how he ended up here either, and I'm sure he can sense my pity. He says to me 'One rupee?' and puts his hand out. I gave him some money. He smiles at me -- HE SMILES at me -- and keeps moving his way up the aisle.

I didn't give him enough money. I feel ashamed of not helping him more. As a defense mechanism, I think to myself maybe it's his own fault he ended up cleaning trains with his shirt. Uninvited, unpaid, begging. Maybe he is some sort of criminal. Then, I feel a big wave of shame for even thinking such a thing. How quickly I resolved my self of any responsibility. I gave him a few dollars, that's more than enough.

At this point I'm sort of stuck. Ivana and I have been travelling for 3.5 months now. We have certainly seen some sad things. They're all coming back to me. People hurting animals, pollution and litter galore, scammers and liars, begging amputees, homeless children. I feel like an ungrateful fool. I don't think, even if I tried, I could end up sneaking on to a train to sweep the floor with my shirt and beg. And that's not because of what I have accomplished, or any of my virtuous actions or traits. The family I have, the country I was born into, the opportunities presented to me... What a head start I was given.

I managed to keep it together for the next 3 or 4 hours of train ride, a 20 minute bus ride, and a 15 minute conversation with our hostel owner, although I probably said 6 words. We got up to our room and I started crying. Ivana hugged me but I didn't show her my face because I'm a tough guy.

The guy was skinny, but had a good build on him. He looked strong, because he was almost 0% body fat and his muscles bulged out of his frame. He didn't look like he had some sort of mental issue, he certainly seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. I just can't get past his filthy dirty face looking at me, when he shrugged and asked for one rupee. One rupee is 2 cents Canadian.

So that was yesterday. Today I've asked Ivana to take a day off with me, so we can stay in our hostel, maybe do some work, and really just avoid any more unexpected sadness. It's really embarrassing to think that all of this will fall into the 'out of sight, out of mind' bitter reality that is so true. Eventually I'll forget all about that guy, or the begging amputees, or the homeless children with their hands out next to their drunk, passed out father who's snoring in the sun at 3pm. People will ask me how my trip was, and I'll say it was great. Fantastic. The trip of a lifetime.

What can I really do? I could talk to that guy, try to ascertain if he is sincere and capable of improving his life. Then I could sponsor him and help him get back on his feet. It's not impossible. But then what? Do that to every down on their luck person I see? I certainly don't have enough money to help the entire world.

I guess that's what makes me so sad really. It's the helplessness. Life is just horribly unfair and that's that. Maybe there is some afterlife, some sort of reward system that really make things right after we're all finished up here. Wouldn't that be great. But, I have my doubts. I heard a song lyric once -- "I can't change the world and make things fair..... The best that I can do, is care." I felt like is was a really passive approach to helping people. I suppose I was naive of just how bad things can get for some people. I care. I really do. But if caring results in exactly 0 people helped, do I really care?

Out of sight, out of mind. So, I'll waste a day or two watching youtube videos and trying to forget about all the sadness I can't fix. Maybe I'll even complain about the wi-fi. Maybe I'll order some food and not finish my plate, throwing the rest of the food in the garbage. Maybe I'll have a shower and let the hot water run, long after I'm clean -- because it feels nice!

So much luxury in my life. So little liberty in other's lives.

I'm a coward.

Posted by JetlagWarriors 20:54 Archived in India Comments (2)

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