We haven't had time to edit our photos, so you're getting ALL of our pics- good, bad and ugly.

If you'd like to download any of our photos, you should be able to get them from flickr.com You'll have to create an account though, if you don't have one already. (Let us know if that link does not take you directly to our photos)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gay Thailand

We decided to splurge on a hotel in Phuket. We felt like we needed a vacation from our vacation after three weeks in India so we started looking for a place. We ended up booking a room at CC Bloom's in Karon which is right next to Phuket. It's absolutely beautiful and we love it!

What we didn't realize when we booked is that it's a hotel that caters primarily to the gay community! We really should have realized this after looking at their website but for some reason it just didn't click.

It actually turned out to be the best place for us! After the leers in India, we're very happy to be in a place where I could walk ad naked if I wanted to and no one would care. Not only that but it's everything that India is not- clean, quiet and we can eat all the fruit and dairy we want without fear of explosive diarrhea!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Escape from India

We are standing on the Train platform in Gaya India at 1:00 in the morning, our train was supposed to leave at 11:15. It is dark, there are about 50 Indian men standing around us staring. The entire place smells like urine and feces, because in an Indian train station you just let your bladder go right there on the tracks.

Our guidebook and the people we have talked to said that the train takes 8 hours to get from Gaya to Calcutta and our plane leaves at noon. We had a buffer of about 5 hours from the time the train was supposed to arrive in Calcutta, 7am, and the time our plane left, noon. That time has evaporated.

The train arrives at 2 am, and leaves at 2:15, three hours late. Our book also states that it takes between 1 and 2 hours to cross Calcutta to get to the airport. We have resigned ourselves that we are going to miss our flight. Which brings another problem, we have already paid for a connecting flight in Bangkok to Phuket at 9pm. So we think we are going to have to pay for another Bangkok flight, and hope that we still make our next flight.

After a sleepless night on the train we pull into the Calcutta station at exactly 10:30 am, 3 hours and 15 minutes late. We run through the station and find a taxi driver on the other side and ask him how much to the airport, he states 350 rupees, about 3 times the rate, I state, "Fine, but hurry we are late for our flight." He quickly runs us to his car, and takes off as fast as his old, clunky Ambassador taxi can take us. We fly across town, almost running over three people, two cows, a herd of goats, and a near head on collision with a bus. We arrive at the airport at 11:20. I hand the driver a 500 rupee note and ask for change, as a true Indian, he states, holding the note, "tip for fast driving" with a big grin. Whatever!

We dash through the airport, the airline manager quickly prints out our ticket. They waive us through to the front of the line for Immigration, and the customs Inspector shows us the escalator to our departure gate, with out even glancing at our bags. After a half-assed security check we are standing at our gate at 11:35, just before pre-boarding, wondering how in the hell we made it...

Good Bye India! Hello Thailand!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holy Shit!...and Cities

For our last stops in India we went to two very different holy cities. The first was Varanassi, the holy city of the Ganges. Hindus are expected to make a pilgrimage here at least once in their lives as to them the river is a living god. The other city was Bodhgaya. The MOST important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Here is where the prince Siddhartha found enlightenment under the bodhi tree and became the Buddha (or the enlightened one).

Varanassi was very beautiful, but absolutely disgusting at the same time. As soon as you leave the train you are assaulted by taxi wallahs, and rickshaw drivers to go with them to a "good hotel" "very cheap". The setting of the town along the Ganges lined with 80 ghats, or spiritual temples along the river. However, under the surface are two big problems, pollution and the never ending Indian torture of listening to touts hound you every step with:





One Ruppee


Smoke, Smoke, Hash

Take a look

Nice Price for you

Want to see temple

Just to name a few...

We did go on a very nice boat ride down the Ganges at sunrise. We did not see any of the body burning ghats, or any dead people in the water. We did see plenty of Indians and a few westerners swimming in the toxic cesspool...I mean water of the river.

The highlight was meeting a fantastic Spanish couple, Milena and Danny. We really enjoyed their company, and we were able to keep a conversation in Spanish, so I guess we aren't as rusty as we thought.

Bodhgaya is very nice and much smaller city. It is very interesting because this is the homeland of Buddha and it is crawling with Buddhists from other countries. In fact, if you want to see what Buddhism looks like in other countries, you can do a tour of all the temples here, pretty cool. We stayed in the monastery of Butan. It was wonderfully quiet, devoid of touts and very simple. We just had two plain beds in our minimalistic room but it was still lovely. Especially after the hoopla of Varanassi.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Was I In A Porno?

I think that I must have been in a porno and every guy in India has seen it. I don't remember ever being a porn star though...

It's amazing how many guys will stare at me (and every other Western girl around). This isn't the curious stare of women and children or even the hard stare of the Chinese, this is a lustful, mouth half open kind of stare. It's disgusting! They form large groups to stare which isn't to say that they won't stare when they're alone- they do that too. We had a group of about 35 of them staring at us in the train station the other day. It seems to start from about the age of 12 and gets worse from there.

At least I haven't been groped. We met a Spanish girl who was traveling alone and she had already been groped three times! She slapped each of them and screamed at them but they still didn't seem to think that there was anything wrong with grabbing her. According to our driver, Anil, the majority of Indian men believe that Western women are either prostitutes or will sleep with anyone just for the heck of it. And that's how they treat us.

It's given me a bit of an inferiority complex because I really can't raise my eyes from the ground. An Indian woman will not hold the gaze of a man unless she is a prostitute- that's how the men tell the difference. Well, of course Western women don't automatically look away and often hold their gaze to mean "stop looking at me!". This is another reason that Western women are thought of as prostitutes. Anyway, I've missed quite a few interesting things now because I have to keep looking down (I guess I would have to anyway though since the streets are covered in cow shit). Sean keeps asking me if I noticed something and I never do because I was looking down!

The other odd thing is how affectionate the men are with one another. Sean and I think that this is because they can't show any affection towards women in public (or anywhere else for that matter). There are no girlfriends- a woman is either your sister or your wife. They literally hang all over one another, hold hands, hang on to one another's butts when on motorcycles, etc. Everything that a guy would normally do with his girlfriend, they do with one another. Except kiss- they don't do that. Very different from the Western world.

As terrible as the Indian men are the Indian women are totally the opposite. Every single one that we've met has been very helpful, nice and immaculately clean (something they should really teach the men how to do). It amazes me that they can keep their beautiful saris clean in all of the dust and grime but they do. Plus their hair and makeup are always perfect and they nearly all wear beautiful jewelry. It's a pretty stark contrast.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Roadways of India

So, we just spent the last 11 days driving around India and we've noticed a few things along the way...

The Driving
I think that Indians might be some of the most insane drivers that I've ever come across. Now, this could be skewed because we normally travel be train or bus rather than car so maybe I haven't taken proper notice before. Here's basically how it works: You can drive on any part of the road that you can fit in. That could be the shoulder, your lane, the lane of oncoming traffic or right down the center line. It really doesn't matter as long as you LAY on your horn for at least a full 30 seconds whenever someone else is in the road. I say someone else rather than another car because this could be anything- anything.
There is also a hierarchy here, on the bottom are pedestrians, they just need to beware. Next bycicles and rickshaws, who just try and weave thru traffic. Next motorcycles and auto-rickshaws, who weave in and out of traffic. Then cars, drivers drive with one hand on the horn and the other up their nose. Finally, the trucks and buses, just drive all over the rode and stop for one thing and one thing only...cows, who rule the road.

The Motorcycles
There are three types of groups that you might find on motorcycles here:
Just the man- this isn't really notable except that they all seem to have a death wish so are constantly swerving in from of cars with out signaling or anything.
The man and woman- this is kind of odd because the men always wear helmets and the women never do. Our driver, Anil says that this is because the men are required by law to wear helmets and the women are not. They tried to make the women wear helmets too, but they protested because it would mess up their hair and makeup so now only the men wear helmets. Weird huh?

The entire family- this one is hilarious if somewhat frightening. There can be up to 6 people on a motorcycle, kids included. I'm still not quite sure how they all fit... but they manage to pull it off somehow.

The Roadblocks
These are sponsored by the local mafia and supported by the local police. We would come to one every once in a while and they would say that it was some kind of tourist fee. Our driver would have to pay because the mafia gives half of their profits to the local police so you won't get anywhere by refusing. Ah, India!

The Wrecks
Despite the horrific driving, we saw relatively few wrecks- only about 20 or so. We would see all kinds of things wrecked on the side of the road- cars, trucks, tractors, cars, you name it! We did pass by one really bad one though. A lorry (large truck) carrying something that smelled like paint thinner, had overturned on the side of the road and fluids were running everywhere. It totally scorched my nose and we had to drive right by it, through the highly flammable liquids! Good thing none of us smoked. We stopped to tell the local police about it (the driver had run away long ago) any they said that they had already set up a barricade. Apparently, the police guarding the spill were worried about it blowing up too so they just took off!

Traffic Crossings
I must admit, the traffic crossings here are hilarious! I guess not traffic crossings really, just whatever wanders into the road. Cows, carts, camels, monkeys, motorcycles, grain trucks, trucks full of cow shit, you name it!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rajasthan Safari

As Sarah said in the last post we decided to book an 11 day tour thru India's northwest state of Rajasthan. The state is really diverse with the northern part being plains, west part desert, and southern part jungle. We started our tour in the capital city of Jaipur, also called the Pink City because all the buildings in the old city are painted pink, the Indian color for welcoming. As all city's in this state, it has a Palace, a fort, and some mosques. One cool thing was we got to ride an Elephant up to fort. However, I do not think these elephants were that well taken care of--they had some sores and rub marks.

After Jaipur, we drove to Jodhpur. This is the blue city, and it has a palace and city fort...but this fort was really cool, and the entrance ticket came with a very good audio guide. One thing about all the cities in Rajasthan was that they didn't really put up a fight...here is the story of every city: they are fierce people living in a fierce land, they fought the invading Mohguls (Muslims) in the 16th century but eventually made an agreement with them. The when the British came in the 18th century, they didn't fight just signed a "peace promise".

After Jodhpur, our driver insisted that we change our plans and go to a small little town called Ranakpur. It was a little relaxing town. Our driver says that he wants to someday build a hotel in this area. It is very green with a pretty lake and lots of monkeys hanging around. It also has a really cool temple, with crazy intricate designs carved all over it. It has something like 1,444 columns and no two of them is carved alike.

After Ranakpur we went to the romantic city of Udaipur. Voted to be one of the most romantic cities in India. This city has a palace in the center of the lake, which was actually used in the James Bond movie Octopussy. We ended our stay at a very nice restaurant, having a candle-lite dinner overlooking the palace and the lake.
From Udaipur we went to the dusty little town of Pushkar. This town also has a lake in the middle but it is said to be holy. The god Brama is said to have charmed his second wife there, dropping a lotus flower to earth, which became the lake. Brama's first wife Pavarti became angry and declared that Pushkar would be the only place where he would be worshipped and there is a beautiful temple there dedicated to him. Other than temples and holy places this town is also full of touts selling everything to scammers trying to get you to book camel safari tours. They did have a cheap Bazaar where Sarah bought some stuff. After Pushkar we went back to Jaipur where Sarah and I bought another hand made carpet for ourselves as well as one for Jeff and Debbie.

Last stop on our tour was Agra and the Taj Mahal. Agra is very dirty and the people are not so nice. This is such a stark contrast because the Taj Mahal is so beautiful, but the city it is in is soooo ugly. The Taj was absolutely one of the highlights--it was so much better than any photograph. The symmetry is so detailed that if you look at a block of marble on one side the block is the same size on the other three...I think it may be the closest thing to perfection that I have ever seen. In contrast, after the Taj, we went to the Agra Fort and it was a disaster. Half the fort was closed, and there were these roving gangs of teenage boys aggressively hounding and leering at Sarah for a picture of her. At one point a group of boys surrounded us, all yelling at us for a photo, I seriously thought we were going to be assaulted. I put Sarah behind me and started yelling at them, "Back the fuck off! No fucking photo!" Of course no security personnel came to our rescue and I thought I was going to have to bust out the old Army moves. Thankfully I think I scared them with my hulking frame : ) Too bad I've lost 25 lbs or I could have threatened to sit on them ;)
Tonight we say goodbye to Anil, our trusty driver and board the night bus to Varanasi. Hopefully we have better luck on our way to Calcutta.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Week in Kashmir

We booked a trip to Kashmir at the last minute without really realizing the controversy that has been going on there. Turns out that it's been a hotbed of political unrest for the past 50 years or so. We found this out later that evening and began to question our decision to visit the region.

But we went. The airport was a full on military zone and we had to go through several security checks and fill out several forms to gain entry. Well Sean had to fill out several forms, I was just his +1. Turns out that women don't count for much there so I didn't have to fill out anything and none of the men would talk to me or really acknowledge my presence while Sean was around. If I was alone they would talk to me only grudgingly.

We went from the airport to a beautiful houseboat where we were to stay. The guy who ran the boat immediately tried to gouge us on tour prices (treks, boat rides, etc) so we said that we'd think about it. Turns out that it didn't matter though because we both immediately got sick and couldn't leave the boat. We think it was probably that nasty street in Delhi. Anyway, I got better and after a course of antibiotics, Sean got better too. It was a nice place to be sick too, clean, beautiful and we had an endless supply of tea. Unfortunately, we made a terrible discovery after all that flushing... it was going straight into the lake!

Our final day in Kashmir, we were well enough to ride around the lake on a boat and buy a Kashmir rug. The next morning we boarded a plane back to Delhi.

One thing--we met a guy from New Zealand who was also staying on our houseboat. He went on a four day three night trek in the Himalayas. On the last night one of his group's pony-horses was killed and eaten by a Snow Leopard!!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Welcome to India

So we made it into India. We touched down in Calcutta for about an hour before securing a flight to Delhi. That was the quickest flight that I've ever purchased! We walked over to the domestic terminal (they're separate) and went around trying to figure out which airline was leaving in the next couple of hours. We found one that was leaving in about 30 minutes so we said ok and hauled ass through the airport. Of course, in typical India style, the girl at the airline counter ripped me off for about 400 rupees ($10). Anyway, we made it to the flight about 20 minutes after it was to have taken off... it didn't actually leave for another 30 minutes or so though so we were ok.

Once we got to Delhi we caught a cab (which tried to drop us off at his preferred hotel) and walked over to the backpacker area of town- Main Bazaar. Turns out that this is the armpit of Delhi. Disgusting! There were a ton of people shoving for space in the street along with quite a few cows which meant that you had to be especially careful where you stepped. The sights, sounds and smells were total overload.

We were quickly rounded up by a friendly tout who took us to his hotel, all the while lying about the prices. When we said we would stay, he doubled the price! We left. We ended up in one of the worst hotels I've ever stayed in...

That evening, we ran across a tour operator who actually seemed pretty decent. We decided to take his tour around Delhi to try him out and go from there. Our driver and the car were both fantastic! We had a good time checking out the city and decided to book the next leg of our trip with him. When we went back to book Western India, he somehow talked us into booking a tour to Kashmir...