Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Train wrecked...

I had to make a quick run to Chandigarh from Benares on the train. My itinerary was to leave Benares and to arrive Chandigarh 20 hours later. Not a big deal but I only had the day in Chandigarh to get everything done. Then back on the train at midnight only to come back 20 hours to Benares. Approximately three days of hectic travel.

That was the plan. Plans don't always follow their set courses ;)

I got to the train station with plenty of time to spare. I checked in with a railway attendant to find out what platform I was on. I showed him my ticket, looked at the board and I was to board on Platform 4. Scored a slick spot to wait (since everyone camps out there) and sipped on my chai. In some of these chai wallas they use plastic cups, some paper cups and the most interesting of them all, little clay cups. When you're finished with them you smash them in the ground. They are very weak and if you leave the tea in them long enough they turn into mush. I watched an elderly lady that was roaming around the train platform barely squeaking out a call for aid. Everyone would ignore this frail and tender old woman. She's someone's grandmother, mother and sister. In this land where mother is so dear, how is it possible that I witnessed sadness in the most angelic sight.

As I was waiting for the train I initiated conversation with some stylish little Indians. They told me they were heading to Amritsar. I asked them if it stopped at Ambala Cantt (my stop) to which they responded yes. Everything was everything. I jumped on the sleeper class car with bags in hand. Found someone in my spot and kicked them out. Chained together my baggage and locked it up to something solid and metal. Then just sat back and was stared at. You kind of get used to it after a while. The kids I don't mind because I make funny faces and act a fool - I generally get good responses from kids. ;)

About four hours into the journey the TTE (ticket guy) comes around to check on tickets. I handed him my ticket with confidence airing on arrogance. He told me that I was on the wrong train. My reaction was muted and I simply asked him "Where am I going then?" Same destinations, just the wrong train. He told me to get out and go back to Benares and get a new ticket. Hell no, I won't go...

I managed to find an English speaking engineering student who could properly translate the situation. They gave me the green light to stow away up until Lucknow. The other train would be parked and I would have ample time to switch over. Ample time is what occurs in India in every thing one does, driving a train included. We were running an hour and a half late. This meant my big window was turned into a 5-7 minute gap to switch trains. Lucknow comes and my train goes. I'm stuck in Lucknow and I hail down some police and train people. They tell me to get back on the train I was on. I went back to the people I was sitting with before but this time around with no seat. My new friends shared theirs with me. After a few stops a sleeper was available so I caught some winks. Every time the TTE would come around the local yokels would warn me and I would hide in the bathroom until he was gone. I was an actual stow away sneaking a ride on an Indian railway.

The TTE finally discovered me while in slumber in that sleeper and kicked me out of it. All the local yokels I had become friends with made space for me... on the floor. I'm not sure if you know the condition of a cross country railway line - good thing I had that sleeping bag.

Got to Ambala and caught a bus into Chandigarh. Had a nap, had some toast and ventured out. Got all the little things done and managed to get a hold of sketch books to draw in finally.

I then had to go all the way back to Ambala Cantt for my midnight train. The trip back was a bit smoother with the exception of being 8 hours late and taking 27 hours to complete.

Funny story. Happy ending.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Some thoughts by...

How deep? Deeper than Atlantis.

Benares has a definite affect upon whomever trudges through the twists and turns of the old city, spinning you into a whirling dervish amongst the myriad sounds and smells. It felt like I was going deeper into an ancient city and the further along I went I thought to myself an ancient civilization.

I have only taken in but a few things Benares has to offer. I have been fortunate enough to see the sunrise on the Ganga as people are offering their puja, bathing themselves or burning off the dead. Yes that's right, dead. Benares is well famous for it's cremation ghats. The Harish Chandra Ghat and for the deluxe version you have the Mani Karnika Ghat.

I spent the entire afternoon with the owner (undertaker) of the Harish Chandra Ghat. We watched as bodies were taken into the Ganga for their last bath, he explained the rituals behind each of the faiths and showed me the eternal flame. The eternal flame was surrounded by tridents and there is no record of when the fire was started. It is the flame that starts all other flames. I watched as the charred bodies were prodded and poked to get the ultimate burn. I sat with complete peace with nothing going on in my mind. I was witnessing numerous bodies being burned and sent out to their resting place in the Ganga. The remains of what isn't burnt (which is quite a bit I might add) is taken into the middle of the Ganga and weighted down and given to the inhabitants of the water to complete the circle of life. Hanging out in the smashan was revealing to say the least.

After the lecture on cremation processes and life in general we began roaming the streets together. I was rolling in the hood with the undertaker - the man who makes sure you burn when you die. We enjoyed some paan, chai and viewing of some famous Varanasi silk.

So my deep thoughts lie with this concept:
We can enjoy each other's commonalities but we can't enjoy our differences. The differences are what should be cherished, loved and accepted.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy accidents...

Well... not all accidents are happy ones, but I managed to get in my first and come out unscathed, untattered and unharmed - along with the Enfield. I was pretty much stuck in Pokhara waiting for someone to join on a bike tour. I found Ran who was going to Kathmandu and then Itay who left his bike in Kathmandu and wanted to head to Benares. This was my plan. The night before I was to leave I met up with Itzak whom I've seen in city after city. He was heading to Benares, so I joined him, Sagah and Yani. We ventured off in a trinity. Unfortunately, the first day I was going around a corner in the mountains down from Pokhara and hit a patch of diesel on the road. My back end (heavily weighted down) came out from under me. I thought my leg would be crushed and I'd be in a cast - not so said the universe. I managed to pull out of the skid and headed straight for a cliff. I slid off the cliff (pictures are up on flickr site) - all 16 inches of it. Managed to get the bike out without a scratch, definitely the strangest accident I've ever been in.

The next day my throttle cable snapped and was stuck in a village surrounded by all of it. Trying to work on a bike in the scorching sun surrounded by people who won't speak with you and only stare can run thin on the nerves. I managed to flag down a man with an Enfield and asked him where I would be able to find a Bullet mechanic. There was one 3km in either direction. The options were looking slim. It was either load up the bike on a Tata truck (you'd have to flag one down and convince them to load up the bike), tow the bike with another bike or just jump on the back of the gentleman's bike and head for the mechanic. I chose the latter. This man was well shaven with a clean moustache and a stench of alcohol. We arrived at the mechanic and I looked at the front plate on his bike - he was a police officer. He made sure the mechanic's would try and pull the wool over my eyes and flagged down a bus for me and the mechanic's assistant to head back to the bike with parts in hand.

Upon arriving, Itzak had fixed my bike and his own which he had messed up upon trying to learn how the throttle cable goes into my bike. What a happy day. So we were delayed and therefore had to do a stint of night driving in dust and off roading through it all. Called it a night in Ghaizapur a mere 71 km from Benares.

Once we arrived in Benares chaos reared it's head to our dismay. I managed to hit 2 bicycles, a bicycle rickshaw, auto rickshaw, get my leg sandwiched between my exhaust pipe and someone else's and my favorite... smoking a pedestrian. I never stopped for any of these minor events.

The day was filled with rest and some train business. Itzak and Sagah were headed for Pushkar with his Enfield sent on the train and I to Chandigarh and back in 72 hours. The following morning we went on a sunrise cruise of the Ganga and all the Ghats. Saw dead babies, goats, cows, ashes and billions of particles of bacteria. We went by two of the cremation Ghats where were not allowed to take pictures (I 'accidentally' did). The small streets of the old city that run parallel to the Ganga are the most amazing to experience - so much culture and life going on about you. I managed to see the evening puja at the main Ghat. Everyone does their pujas differently but Varanasi has to be the most flamboyant.

Happy Diwali and Eid Mubarak

To all the people that celebrate these days...

For more information in regards to these days/festivals please see the following links: Eid ul-Fitr and Diwali

I had the opportunity to experience Nepali Diwali (pictures are on the flickr page, the end of Diwali in Ghaizapur and Eid in Benares (Varanasi). It was an amazing week of festivals and culture.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Where the buffalo roam...

Once upon a time this morning I awoke at the usual seven thirty. I felt quite rested and famished. I jumped on the old Enfield and ventured down to the bakery for the freshest of fresh. Along the way I caught a glimpse of the mountains and completely forgot about the hunger. I continued on roads I've never been down just following the mountains in the picture perfect clarity. I ended up going up a road that just kept on going up. It was very difficult to pay attention to the roads with the white caps constrasting so grandly against the #4 Laurentian color of Aqua-Marine Blue. I have thoroughly enjoyed Nepal and some of the people. New friends have been found and journies continue. The moments that you share with these individuals last timelessly. And to some they don't even know how greatly they have affected me or if I have impacted them on any levels.

The assortment of global life that exists in Nepal has been refreshing after India. Although I am quite happy to be returning to India finally. I am off to Kathmandu for a brief bungy jump off of a 160 meter bridge or some such thing, then off to Varanasi or good old Benares as it has been referred to in past years. The Dilawi festival has begun and I can't wait to be at a cremation Ghat in Varanasi. Some have said the sight of partial body parts, burned bodies, dead animals rotting away in the Ganga have made them sick. I for some reason am looking forward to the smashan and it's wonderment. I have no concept of what I will be witnessing but I want to take it all in.

I miss my other life quite a great deal these days, my mother especially. I haven't been able to call from Nepal so if any of you reading this can pass on some love to my mother for me - it would be greatly appreciated. And let her know that I'll call when I get back to India. Thanks to whomever carries the message. I miss my friends and only wish to be able to share these experiences with you. This blog and what my eye captures with a lense will have to do. I am just beginning this journey and am looking forward to what flows my way. The verse rewards those that go with the flow as I am finally realizing, again ;)

The image entitled Water Buffalo belongs to Kevin Kelly

Monday, October 16, 2006

Theory of Everything...

I am currently existing in the future. The date is September 30th, 2063. In crossing the border from India to Nepal you transcend time and space. My time travel came without any explanation. Here you can see the Nepali calendar -> HERE

Here's an explanation to the Nepali calender.

I'm convinced there is no past and there is no future. Time does not exist. As I currently fill this form now, here, in the future it looks a lot like the past. Nepal must not have grown much in the past 50 years. I can't wait to get back to India and see what the future is like there... hope it's a sunny 34 degrees with clear skies, relative humidity 63%, northwesterly winds of 12km/h and a barrometric pressure of around 101.80 kPa. And back to you Phil with an update of today's lottery numbers...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The rising son in Annapurna...

There are no words to express the magnificent power that these mountain ranges have. I have made it back to the phenomenal chill lakeside city of Pokhara once again. The lakeside streets filled with people of the world maneuvering in a shanti-shanti-like manner. No worries here, just store after store selling you the latest trekking, rafting, bungy jumping, paragliding, rock climbing, boat cruising... I think you get the picture. There is a bike 'gang' here called Hearts and Tears, a Enfield motorcycle club. I have arrived back with open arms and great big smiles. There's a cast of them from all around the world. Some visiting, some living, some escaping, you name it you'll find it. Some of the older chaps hand out their road wisdoms while sipping on a beer and smoking swilly cigars while the rest of us hunch forward with big ears and eyes. The exchanges are of life experiences, some of which are absolutely dazzling and remind you to live now.

I failed to mention anything about Kathmandu. I failed because the city was the least of my favorite on this little expedition. I stayed in an area called Thamel, the expensive-rip-you-off-touristy-kinda place. I travelled with me mate Vince 'The Jeweller' and we shared a quaint little guesthouse right at Thamel Chowk (intersection) and a bird's eye view of the goings-ons. There is a great supply of eateries and dance bars. The gents and I were curious about these dance clubs, so in Pokhara we ventured in. There's a stage and mirrors and when we arrived a couple up on the stage reinacting a Bollywood video. From our limited understanding of the whole situation what one does in one of this joints is you have to order your food and dance before your meal is done. Novel concept that was right up my alley not to mention seeing three English guys try to dance. Well, I decided to try in Kathmandu. Vince and I met up with three Nepali guys, one of them lives in Tokyo and runs a Nepali restaurant. It was nice to be with some people that spoke Nepali because no one seemed to speak English there. After sitting for about five minutes something seemed very seedy about this whole scenario. There were lots of pretty young girls hopping from table to table and the dancing became less family orientated. This was a place where one goes and shops for companions. It was one of the most bizzare situations I have been in and the looks on the bar keepers faces signalled me to get out of there as soon as possible. An experience that I've never had and that I don't think I'll be jumping at in the future. The seediness of Kathmandu constantly slaps you in the face.

If anyone ever goes to Kathmandu there are a couple things I recommend: the Durbar Square, the 24-hour sandwich shop around the corner from Full Moon, the most amazing bookstore I've been to with full garden restaurant and low down chai area - Pilgrim's Bookstore (just down the street from Thamel Chowk and the sandwich joint) and the villages/towns of Nagarkot, Bhaktapur and Patan.

Kathmandu doesn't seem to sleep and neither did I. With horns blowing, people yelling, drunkards wandering the streets and the rest of the chaos... I kind of had a good time. Only because of the company I kept was it enjoyable. In India there is a concentration of travellers from a certain country that will remain nameless as opposed to Nepal where it is filled with mainly Europeans. There were some amazing sights and wish I had more time to have taken them in but alas, the saga continues.

On the bus ride back from Kathmandu I noticed a girl sitting a couple seats in front of me. The thoughts of her being Canadian, from Vancouver and that her name was Stephanie popped into my head. So at the first stop I asked, "Are you Canadian" and her response was yes. Then my second question, "Vancouver?" again a yes was the answer. Now the third, "Is your name Stephanie?". Well, two out of three isn't bad now is it?! ;) Her name turned out to be Fleury and was travelling with a young Japanese girl whom she had just met, Yuki. We arrived to Pokhara and after nourishing ourselves ventured up to Sarangkot. From Sarangkot you can view the entire Annapurna range. Our trip up was fine until the angry fat rain came tumbling down, the lightning storm while maneuvering up the stairs in the mountainside, and the fact that all the power was out and we couldn't see a guesthouse or end to the stairs in sight. We arrived soaking wet and we greeted by the sweetest little Austrian couple. We sat and enjoyed a meal together and discussed the possibilities that dawn possessed. Five o'clock the bells rang and we woke to climb more stairs to the peak. Absolutely breathtaking - we were lucky, there were no strong clouds impairing our view of the magnificent peaks. My camera was filled with at least fifty pictures of this range being lit up by the red sun on the horizon. The pictures of the area and visuals are absolutely stupend.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Come the rewind...

So I will now go back into the recesses of my memory to try and regurgitate some of the tales of what has transpired in the past week of my existence. I probably have made one of the stupidest decisions in a spur of the moment purchase of a vintage 1980 Royal Enfield motorcycle. It's the Hardly Davidson to the Indians. I was in Rishikesh when I ventured off with a friend of mine to look at the bike he was going to buy when all of a sudden there she was, Purple Reign (she was named on the way without me even knowing). I had to spend many an hour down at the mechanic's shop and you will see the shop amongst the pictures. One day I spent thirteen hours in the scorching sun with a mild cold making sure that the work was being done as well as learning a few things. This Royal Enfield family once you belong to it is absolutely magnificent. People from all over the world gather and sip on chai's and trade road/travel experiences with you. The most intriguing conversations have been in these shops where you have no choice but to spend time. The English-Brothers-Two, Grant and Graham, with sidekick of a Vince to make the three bikes sport four.

We set out on our journey with smiles on our faces and tightness on our bottoms. The first day we left Rishikesh very late and only had three or four hours on the road. We stopped in Dhampur where we were greeted like royalty. The people ushered us in to their dhubba (low end restaurant/cooking joint) and without asking was brought dish after dish. We even had someone guarding our bikes for us. They went to extremes and even made us a private room for us to enjoy our experience. The bill came and came with the tag of a five star restaurant. They milked us for all that they could. One of the gentlemen said that he would take us to his friend's guesthouse. Upon arrival, it was full. Looking further the worst of the worst cost the best of the best - they were trying to take us. At this point we told them what we thought of them and carried on. We made it only ten kilometres from Dhampur when we decided to stop at a lorry stop (truck stop) that was open 24 hours. We ended up staying there with our bikes in the back and string cots set up beside them. The generator roared through the night and with the lights on the mosquitos found us quite easily. If the mosquitos weren't finding us, the bed bugs sure were. Any exposed skin (and some unexposed) was covered in red bumps.

We would stop every couple of hours to rest our bottoms and bikes. The group of us would be surrounded within minutes of stopping with people just staring - some offerred up conversation. It was like they were at the aquarium and peering on to the endangered species of the world. The Indians would stop and always make sure that everything was all right in case we needed help. We are guests in this country and the the concept of 'mehman' or guest is hugely practiced in India.


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

We came to the border at Banbasa and spent a couple of hours going through all the neccessaries. One thing that was immediately different were the people whom we crossed paths with. All the children would wave with ear to ear grins and even run from their homes to the road just to wave to us. It was a magnificent change of perspective - we were welcomed instead of stared at. After finishing at the border it was dark out and we chose not to travel in the late hours and made it to the wonderful world of Mahendranagar. Small little place about eight kilometres from the border. We got a nice place and freshly showered off all the travel dirt and we were off at around nine in the morning for another day of sore asses and bugs smashing into you. We ended up in some place, the name I forget, and then left. The day began with the rooster waking us at five in the morning and us on the road at six. We put in a full day to get to Pokhara. Only a mere 34 kilometres outside of Pokhara we had a delay of game due to rain. The hills are alive with the sound of music but when they are wet, it's dark and you have bus driver's hopped up on whatever they're hopped up on... it's deadly. We took about an hour and half to travel the 34 klicks and it poured the whole way. The rain was fat and stingful.

Pokhara was a refreshing change from the roadside dhabba food and it was warmly welcomed as was the posh warm shower facilities in the guesthouse. In the journey I managed to blow a seal on my oil line, just to name on of the many things that wore down over the course of the trip. The bike sits in Pokhara with Raju's Bullet Surgery and I will return to Pokhara in the coming days to mount up and ride up to the mountain tops.

I have more to say but time I do not have much of at this particular moment. Till then...

I've seen Mount Everest...

I woke up this morning on the side of a mountain top in Nagarkot, Nepal. It is approximately two hours out of Kathmandu. Miles away, the clouds blocked my view of the Himalayan range with the exception of the highest place in the world breaking through to receive it's nourishing rays of sunlight. There is much to be told of my journey from Rishikesh to Nepal, but I will not go into detail just yet. I am exhausted after trekking and looking forward to going back to Pokhara where life is a little bit more relaxed and easy going.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Purple Reign's maiden voyage...

Wanting to capture the feeling of riding in Nepal I decided to one handedly take the camera and in the other the bike. The result are the following wind infected video shorts that will take you to the mountains of the Himalayas with me ;)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Holy cow!

Rishikesh can really grow on you. Many a person is found to have come to Rishikesh for a few days only to stay weeks to months. There is a marvellous feeling permeating through the spiritually energized air. The Durga festival is coming to an end and the festivities only beginning. People swarm the streets from all over India in long processions in every which direction. The two bridges, only supporting pedestrians, motorcycles and the 'cart' people are flowing with colors as long as the sun is shining. The Ganga wind flows down the valley and picks up as soon as the sun decides to go to sleep. The cool strong breeze coming from the glaciers of Gangotri, the closest point to the source of the Ganga, rips through to such a delightful star filled evening. There are rarely any clouds and if there are any it's quite difficult to daydream long enough to start making shapes in the clouds... poof... they're gone giving way to blue skies and scorching sun.

I have met amazing/worldy/gifted/devoted/obnoxious/crazy people and it's been absolutely refreshing. I have breakfast at the same place every morning and all the various countries of citizenship join in cross room discussions and sharing in the most amazing morning one could wake to.

Of these fantastic people are two blokes from the UK. Garnet and Graham, brothers two, they purchased motorcycles in Manali and have maneuvered through India and are on their way to Nepal.

The only constant in this existence is change - so there is a change in plans and I head to Nepal?! ;)

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