Sunday, January 24, 2010

Journey to Goa (25 December 2009) Written 5 January 2010

Eventless flight to Mumbai, and then I met Vaibhav, a CS who stayed with Lisa in Tokyo. We met in Bandra and headed to Juhu Beach where it was such a joy to see the sea, even though it was a bit murky and extremely scorching. There we had pau bhaji and bhel puri, the typical Mumbai street snacks.

Pau Bhaji is a vegetable paste, principal ingredients potatoes and tomatoes, cooked on a huge round hot plate, adding oil or ghee then you get bread also cooked on that hot plate, usually with ghee thrown on as well. Delicious. Bhel puri is with puffed rice, diced onion and tomatoes, round fried flour crisps, and usually a green chutney. Yum.

The beach is pretty interesting in India, with all sorts of vendors, scouts asking you to an extra in a Bollywood film, and many many people who want to take your photo so you can purchase it from them. It was Christmas Day, so a holiday for locals, and it was nice to see the beach full of families (many of them going into the sea fully dressed, oh India ; )

And then I went to get my flight to Goa, and as I got off the plane I met Faye, this strikingly beautiful Goan girl and she took me in her taxi to Panjim, where AJ picked me up and brought me to Vernon’s home. Vernon was an incredible host – he had gotten me a Christmas present under his tree! Crazy – a beautiful shirt with an Indian print. The first night we went into downtown Panjim for dinner, where I had an awesome mushroom masala. Goan food is great – the Portuguese influence is strong, the spices kick in, and they use coconut. What more could I ask for? So delicious freshly baked bread abounds, including whole wheat, so I was happy. Their bhaji (vegetables) include a large variety of beans. The first morning we had black-eyed peas cooked in a spicy sauce with grated coconut – bliss. Then we also had buns, basically a sweet, yellow deep-fried chapatti, also with bhaji, this time chickpeas in a sauce with a bit of coconut as well.

My first day in Goa I took the bus to Morjim Beach where I met this Russian guy (there are SO many Russians in Rajasthan) and we spent a few hours talking about ashrams and impressions of India – he had been there for a year now, but pretty much just ashram hopping. He was lovely. I then walked to Arambol Beach, so a steady 2.5 hours on the beach, but it was nice to walk without obstacles, and barefoot. Then I jumped on a bus back to Panjim.

The next day I spent in and around Panjim. I got my hair cut at Neomi’s, a fancy little place in Miramar, then walked all the way from the main bus station back home (maybe 1.5 to 2 hours if you walk continuously). Panjim is nice, there are a few streets with old Portuguese architecture, the vibe is relaxed, and all along the river there is a walkway – I always enjoy these places where you can just walk – some of my favorites are the boardwalk in Santa Monica and Venice, and of course, Rio de Janeiro – how many times have I walked from Posto 12 to 2? Ahh.

That afternoon I had a vegetarian thali at Vihar – it was ok.

That evening we went to Dona Paula for dinner, and it was ok.

But in the morning I was sick. Well, I wasn’t sure. I woke up early, since I had this trip to the south planned, to Palolem, and I vomited. No idea why. As far as I knew I had been eating very clean food in Goa. I thought, hm, maybe my body just needed to get this out and now itll be fine. So I got on the buses and was exhausted and sleeping most of the time. I arrived in Palolem, feeling totally ill, and decided that before I did anything like look for a room, I would first go to the beach, find an umbrella, and rest a bit and drink water.

This overweight Israeli woman noticed me immediately, told me to lie down and went and got me water. I was shifting in and out of consciousness for the next half hour, and then she told me I should rest in her room and after I felt better, figure out my next move. So, I stayed in the room for 5 hours, drifting in and out of awareness, and most of the time I was conscious I was sitting on the toilet or vomiting in it. Wonderful. No, horrible horrendous nightmare. This will come up again later, but it’s amazing, I think children, elderly, the sick, and the handicapped are the ones that are in touch with their vulnerable nature and have less barriers and are able to express what they really want and need. So, that day, I just wanted someone to take care of me and tell me it was going to be ok. Travelling alone and getting horribly sick sucks. No way around it.

Anyway I weighed my options and decided to head back to Panjim to stay with Vernon that night. I had wanted to stay a night in Palolem and have some beach time but actually it was a much smarter decision to spend that money on a taxi, and get in bed and take some medicine because it was very much needed.

The next day I still felt horrible, but Tamara was arriving so I went with her to Candolim. It is always so nice to see her. We spent the whole afternoon and evening sitting on the beach. I stayed there for 2 nights, just relaxing and doing some healing work. On the 31st, diarrhea started again. I was supposed to take an overnight train to get to Kerala to start my Yoga Teacher Training Course. I was devastated. My stomach was cramping, I felt so ill, and I was supposed to take an overnight train. I decided I still felt like I had to go to Kerala, even though I was already completely unsure as to whether I wanted to do the full month of teacher training with this woman that I had registered with. I chose this ashram in Kerala for a few reasons. I was drawn to the fact that it was a woman running the ashram/teaching the course. The small class sizes, maximum 5, were appealing. The location, a small village 17km from the train station inland in Kerala sounded wonderful. But most importantly, I felt like I had to go. It was meant to happen.

So I somehow managed to survive the ride to the train station, the train was delayed 3 hours, and I arrived at 3am in Kochin.

Positive Female Energy...Rajasthan

I have to preface by saying that although I had just re-started writing here again, I was to in fact take a break again. I really had a major meltdown in Rajasthan – some major triggers went off and I stopped functioning. I thought many times about writing more but I felt strongly that I should wait until I was better, or at least improving, mentally, physically, and emotionally. So now I am in Kerala and I will recount what has happened over the past three weeks.

I left Jodhpur at 6:15am to catch the bus to Ranakpur. Ranakpur came to my attention because of Jelena, lovely Serbian-American girl whom I met in Rio, and became my forro partner in crime ; ) oh saudades menina! Anyway, Ranakpur is the site of a very important Jain temple, and there are 1444 columns, said to each be different, and it is a temple to the sun. it was incredible, as we neared the temple, the landscape of Rajasthan seemed to change. Much more green, and the air was pure. It seemed cleaner, somehow. At the temple, there is no admission fee, and you are allowed to leave your bags and pay by donation if you wish. The temple is nothing short of incredible. In fact (sorry if I offend people here) I felt this to be the most impressive thing I have seen in India thus far. The intricacies, the atmosphere, all the details – the first time since I have arrived in India that I felt this supreme unity and peace come over me. Sigh. Good sigh.

After a few hours of refuge and respite, I was ready to continue on to Udaipur, but dreading the bus journey (which I was told would be 3 hours, but they also told me it would be 3 hours from Jodhpur to Ranakpur, and in fact that was nearly 5 hours…so…) I got my things and went to the main gate, just as a bus headed towards Udaipur passed in front of me. Poop. The guards smiled and informed me that the next one would come in an hour. Or so. Hm. So I plopped down my stuff, feeling a bit defeated, since I had asked a few people inside if I could ride back with them (they come on daytrips from Udaipur in taxis) and it hadn’t worked out.

A guy approached me and offered me his taxi services, which I figured would be something like 1500 rupees (35 USD). But instead he explained that he had dropped clients off in Jodhpur and had to go back to Udaipur so he would take me for 200 rupees (5 USD)! I was thrilled and off we went. The next 2 hours flew by and I felt totally relaxed. Bliss.

Udaipur is, to me, completely different from the other places I visited in Rajasthan. At first glance, it has the same noise, dirt, crowds, and insistent shopkeepers. But somehow it is more at peace with itself, somehow it is more unified. I arrived at Hotel Ganguar Palace, and the staff were very friendly. I love the guy at the front desk, the first time I came back from going out and asked for my key, he stared so fixedly at me I didn’t know what was going on. I thought, umm has my room been broken into and he doesn’t know how to tell me? But it turns out he couldn’t remember which room I was in and was trying so hard to remember. So sweet.

Anyway, the first evening I met Shila, a half Indian half Danish girl travelling for 3 months alone in India. I suppose the hotel staff were trying to match us up, the two single girls, and I was more than happy to oblige. So off we went, for coffee, shopping, whatever. The people in Udaipur will recognize you after a day there since the main city center that people visit is extremely compact. Lake Pichola is a bit like the centerpoint of the city, and on one side of the lake you have the busy hustle and bustle, and on the other side it is much quieter, residential, and just feels more local. On my first walk in Udaipur I quickly realized I wanted to be on the quieter side. So I went hotel hunting. I first went to the Dream Heaven Hotel that sounded lovely in the guidebook, but it was completely full. A man next door approached me, dressed in a white tunic, an orange-dyed beard, edges of his eyes dabbed in blue eyeliner. He said, I am not in guidebook but please come to see the room, you will feel at home. And so it was. Hanuman Ghat Guest House, my home in Udaipur. I had a lovely room with a miniscule balcony where I could sit and see the lake, and it was great.

The next days were a lovely mélange of early morning walks followed by early morning yoga (Yoga at the Astang Ashram as written in LP, and on the roof of Nukkad with Prakash – I strongly preferred Prakash’s class), a visit to the Shilpgram craft fair, where I got to see lots of traditional Rajasthani song and dance (and beautiful dress), the Udaipur City Palace which is impressive, a long walk outside of the main touristed area of Udaipur, including the lovely Sammajid Gardens, and of course, gluttonous pursuits.

The Shilpgram craft fair happens annually in December for 10 days and merchants come from all over India to sell their wares, and demonstrations of traditional Rajasthani games, song, dance, etc are displayed. It’s a nice place to wander around. The Udaipur City Palace boasts extreme opulence (like most of India’s sights…and always leaves me wondering, if these treasures were ever to be sold – I know it wont happen – and the profits distributed evenly – where would the poverty level of this country be?)

My walk around the outside of Udaipur was great. Walking through areas where people sell things I really wouldn’t buy, like boilers and air conditioners and car parts, they didn’t try to sell me anything and I could walk undisturbed. In the Sammajid Gardens, I felt a complete refuge from the incessant honking and overstimulation taking place outside. Until the guy started following me. A pretty harmless looking one. But GOD, can’t I just enjoy one hour of feeling unnoticed? This is the thing in India (at least in Rajasthan) – they stare. With no tact. And without stopping. It’s so blatantly obvious that they’re watching you, but there’s no smiles or anything either, which leads me to be, um, uncomfortable. Anyway this guy started following me and after a few minutes I got sick of it so I stopped walking and took out my phone and started texting. In most cultures, the man would probably continue walking or turn around and go back to what he was doing. In this case, he literally stopped walking as well and, what did he do? He pulled out his mobile phone and started fiddling with it. Ha. Then I sat down on a bench. He sat on the next one over. Ack. So then I got up as a family was going past, following them, and he followed. Finally I turned around, looked him directly in the face and said, what do you want? Stop following me. He was so astounded by my audacity, stammered something, and went off. But it’s a bit like this in Rajasthan, you are a constant object of curiosity and the normal western concepts of privacy and personal space and discretion are completely inapplicable.

Now on to gluttonous pursuits. Udaipur has the lovely Café Edelweiss, with a lovely spinach mushroom quiche, cinnamon rolls, and other yummy cakes. The same owners have the Savage Garden, a lovely little blue courtyard restaurant with homemade pasta, divine mezze, and a really shanthi vibe. Shila and I also went to Ambrai, as recommended by Lonely Planet, and wow this is a spot. It’s attached to a hotel, and it is extremely luxurious. An outdoor courtyard type restaurant, directly next to the lake, directly looking at the Palace, which is lit up at night. Gorgeous. We had a Shahi Paneer (little pieces of paneer cooked in a non-spicy onion gravy), and I also had a tomato paneer which I wasn’t as impressed with. The Dal Tadka there was great, and our waiter was very sweet. And of course sweet lime water. The best is if they bring it all separately and you make it yourself. Either still water or soda water, then a tiny flask of pure lime juice, and another with liquid sweetener (like in Japan!) and then you make your perfect drink.

On my long walk outside of Udaipur, I was actually seeking out Bawarchi restaurant, recommended by Lonely Planet as being a local authentic place to have a thali (a complete meal with rice and chapattis, usually about 4-6 dishes, garnishes, and a dessert) – it’s a great way to have a sampling of local cuisines because in restaurants you have to order a dish and you get a heaping portion of just that one thing. Anyway, I found it without much trouble and it was awesome. One of the spicy tomato curries had little pieces of fried besan (chickpea flour), the channa masala (spiced chickpeas) was divine, and I really enjoyed the 2 sabzis. One was potato and mustard seed as the primary ingredients, and the other was cauliflower, tomato, and onion.

Udaipur is also where I found the sweetest tailor. I have a pair of white pants which I bought at H and M probably 6 years ago in Holland with Inge, and I wanted an exact copy made. Shila and I started looking for a local tailor and pretty quickly found V.S. Tailors, in Hanuman Ghat. This tailor was wonderful, came with me to buy fabric, didn’t try to rip me off at all (150 rupees – 3 USD) for the stitching of the pants. I had him make 2 pairs, and the next day after seeing them, and him fixing some of my stuff for extremely cheap prices, had him make 2 more. So I was totally happy about that, meeting his father, who works with him in their tiny shop about 2 meters by 6 meters. I guess there are the small things that are endearing about India.

I guess in Udaipur I just felt like I needed to be around positive female energy that I felt connected to, and after speaking with Shila and seeing that she also found it a great relief and pleasure to be in another female’s company, I picked up Darlene and Alicia. Darlene is an event planner in Toronto, and Alicia teaches science in Sydney. Found them both alone and the result was a Christmas dinner with the 4 single girls, and It was bliss. I was coined the pied piper of single women and I was more than happy to be given the title. So I am left thinking I will never return to Rajasthan but if I am ever to go back, it would be to Udaipur first.

Oh, by the way, if anyone reading this knows, please tell me because I would love to know – why are all the places in Rajasthan named with ‘pur’? Ranakpur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, etc…

Monday, January 11, 2010

Uh oh... (Written Dec 21 2009)

*I wrote this in a very unsettled upset state...things have changed a lot now but I also feel it's important to acknowledge how things were being processed at the time of experience*...

Something happened last night that hit me like a bulldozer. It’s been a long time since I’ve reacted so strongly to something.

Tamara, Dorian, Arving, Lakshya, and Nidhi went to this really beautiful, relaxed place that was like a mini-carnival/circus. It was attached to a fancy hotel. The place had various little stages with chairs in front, and you could sit and watch, and if you wanted, give some money to the performers afterwards. There was a place with traditional Rajasthani music and dance, a puppet area, tightrope walker…and there was a magician. I liked magicians a lot as a kid. I remember going to a few birthday parties, in particular one (funny, I cant remember whose it was) that was at the Old Georgetown Village building above the pool.

Anyway, the magician’s son was there on the side, his helper. When I first saw him, the emotion that ran through me was fear. It was like his eyes were filled with malice. They were like deep black pools, his eyes. Extremely intense. But intense because they were void. It was like falling into a black hole. As I watched, things shifted. There were maybe about 20 people watching the magician, who, by the way, was an excellent performer. Well-dressed middle class Indian kids with their families (mostly their dads). Big smiles. Best Sunday outfits. And the magician’s son with his sneakers full of holes. Watching the same trick for the millionth time. There was no joy or entertainment from his father’s tricks. No. this was work. And watching Dorian – so full of joy, so thoroughly entertained, amazed, laughing. The magician did a trick where he had one pigeon under a basket, and he turned it into 3 pigeons (I was amazed). The kids ran up to hold the pigeons – Dorian did too. And the boy took a pigeon and gave it to Dorian. He smiled a sad, resigned smile at Dorian. And watching these two children, universes apart, a European boy whose mother loves him so much and can provide for him, and sees the value in taking him to faraway lands from such a young age; next to the boy whose father’s job is to bring joy, yet most likely has no joy in his life. Who must come day after day to make people laugh, hundreds who don’t leave him anything, the boy who cannot go to school because there is no public education, because he must help his father. What happens to him? Does he become a magician too? The magician can bring magic to others but his reality has no magic in it whatsoever.

Watching this boy, and realizing that his eyes were not full of malice but instead of sadness, resignation, and defeat, I felt my heart break with an intensity that I have not felt since I was in Bangladesh. I struggled to keep my composure but it didn’t happen. I tried to walk away while the rest of our group was thoroughly engaged; the tears came – but few, and slowly. After, the magician finished his act and the crowd dispersed, but Dorian was mesmerized and he was the only person sitting, front row, captivated by the magician who was no longer performing. The magician asked Arvind if he should do a bit more, and we said yes. And so he did, and the scene was repeated. I was front and center, and tears kept coming. The boy was watching me, I don’t know what level of understanding passed between us but I felt something big happening. The magician finished his act and we moved on. Tamara and Arvind went to the bathroom, Dorian and Lakshya were running around, and I went back alone to the boy. I made him an origami crane, and he was mesmerized. When was the last time somebody did something for him purely for the sake of entertaining him or bringing him joy? I don’t know – it could have been earlier that day for all I know. But with those eyes…

And when I finished, there was a flash of a smile, and the eyes were full of gratitude. And he clasped his hands at his heart, with the crane between them, and said dhanyabad but with the heart of someone who means it. And his father did also, and I clasped my hands and bowed to them, and left, and then the sobbing really began and it pretty much hasn’t stopped since.

What is it that I see in these children that are the forgotten, abandoned ones? Why is it that I see myself so deeply reflected in them? I have two parents that have always cared for me in a million ways. I have never wanted for food, shelter, education, material goods. Am I still so scarred from Papa’s leaving? Am I still so scarred from Mama’s lack of tactile affection? It is unclear what is being triggered but it’s clearly a big issue.

The past 10 days in India I have of course seen astounding poverty, and been upset by it, but not to the point of devastation of yesterday. I have seen far worse destitution, whether it be the legless man on the ramp in Ajmer on the way to the Dargah, or the slum in Delhi adjacent to the Lotus Temple. At least this child has a father, who, although the income may vary tremendously, has a position working at a reputable hotel where there must be regular clients. A respectable job, by all means. But something struck me.

I am not enjoying being in India. People often say that you fluctuate between loving and hating India. One minute you are enamored, the next moment you loathe the country. Well, for me, the loving part hasn’t happened. Yes, there are moments that I have enjoyed – the fort in Jodhpur was breathtaking, and some of the scenery in Ranthambhore was really special. But nothing has made me think, Wow, India, this is where I want to be. On the other hand, many things have made me despise the country. The systems and culture are so far beyond my realm of acceptance that I have been constantly challenged.

In Anthropology, we are taught to try to be acutely aware of normalcy, cultural relativism, and essentially, to understand that things are the way they are because they serve some purpose by being that way. That may be true, but I have been constantly challenged in this aspect for the past few weeks and I am beginning to wonder if it is something I will get used to and begin to understand and accept, or if this is just a major cultural clash for me. I should have been better prepared, considering that I struggled overwhelmingly in Bangladesh. For example, the Couchsurfers in Jodhpur – Arvind and Ramni. I am sitting in Ramni’s house now, but I haven’t even met him yet. He is with Arvind and the 3 girls that Arvind is hosting. There was plenty of room in the car for all of us to do stuff together on Sunday, but Arvind left Lakshya and Nidhi at home and spent the entire day with Tamara, Dorian, and myself. He left Lakshya sobbing, and when I referred to the fact that Lakshya and Dorian would have gotten along marvelously and Lakshya would have had a great time with us, he said, I have tomorrow with Lakshya, and every day after. Except today the 3 Finnish girls arrived and he took them out the whole day. And Ramni is with them, leaving his wife and two girls at home, and I am with them. And that is ok, because to be honest I probably would have more fun and be relaxed at home in this setting, except…what about these women and children? Yes, I understand the beauty of CS, bringing other cultures to your home when perhaps you are unable to go to the other cultures, which is what would be the case in the majority of India. But there seems to be something majorly amiss here, and it is really upsetting me. But what right do I have to complain? I am the foreigner here, the guest, who has been incredibly well received, treated like a guest of honor, fed, given full use of every facility which I may need, and taken around and catered to. So I must not complain, I know. But it is for sure that I am deeply bothered by the things I have been surrounded by in India.

Chugging Along… (Sawai Madhopur to Pushkar via Jaipur, 16-17 December 2009) Written 18 December 2009

The train comes in on time, and I get on. It’s surprisingly uncrowded, and I am struck by the contrast yet again – I’ve fluctuated from general class to and from Agra, 3AC to Sawai Madhopur, and now I’m back in general. But this doesn’t even have seat numbers. And it’s night. Oh, wait, didn’t the guidebook say I shouldn’t travel at night alone as a woman? Hmm. I walk through several compartments, all the floors littered with peanut shells, plastic bags, and seeds of various fruits. I was looking to sit near a woman (not that a woman would be able to stop anything if anything actually were to occur, but I was reacting on my instinct). So I find a couple, happily crunching away on their peanuts, and they motion to me with the cutest head wobble that I should sit. So I sit next to them on a single seat – this way no unwanted man can sit next to me.

The train finally takes off and the windows that don’t quite close correctly are letting in freezing air (did I mention North India is WAY colder than I had expected? Why did I leave my jacket in New York? Sigh), and almost everyone lies down to sleep. And they’re obviously well informed, and have thick blankets and shawls.

We finally get to a town called Sanganer and the lovely couple who has also given me fruit and peanuts leaves. So does most of the train. Hmm all of a sudden I’m in a compartment with 3 men. And I have no idea where we are. I have my headphones in and am looking extremely interested in the Lonely Planet. They actually move to sit on all sides of me, kind of just staring. To be honest, I don’t think I had any reason to be scared of anything, but once again, I had to chuckle at myself and my idiocy. They just watched me (quite possibly they hadn’t ever seen a foreign woman on a local general passenger train at night) and it was all fine.

We got to Jaipur at 12:30am, and autorickshaws were asking me for 300 rupees, 200 rupees, all this ridiculous stuff. I had no idea how to get to my hotel but I was irritated and left the station on foot. Finally one came and got me, agreed to 50 rupees, and I arrived at Jwala Niketan and promptly passed out.

I hadn’t intended to visit Jaipur on this trip but I figured since I was passing through, I may as well have a look. So in the morning I headed out of the hotel, intending to walk to the Old City. Well, India doesn’t really do street signs. You use landmarks like banks and restaurants and petrol stations, which would be fine except…I don’t speak Hindi. Sigh. So I kept going around in circles and finally got in an autorickshaw to the Old City.

Jaipur’s Old City is known for being pink, and it certainly is. Noise, noise, noise. Unfortunately, I was there too early to see all the bazaars in action, but I still got a healthy dose of seeing street food being prepared, lots of chai all around, and a few merchants. I really love being out in the early hours of the morning, getting a peek at a city that not that many other tourists get to see. I had a spicy fried bun made from gram flour filled with spiced potatoes, of course topped with sweet tamarind chutney and mint and coriander green chutney – for a bargain at 6 rupees – that’s roughly 12 cents USD. Yum. I managed to walk back to the hotel and walked to the bus station and got on the next public bus to Ajmer.

The bus ride was pretty tame, a quick 2.5 hours and decent roads (but yes, incessant honking). The bus from Jaipur to Ajmer was 80 rupees – less than 2 USD. Once in Ajmer, I was able to catch a bus to Pushkar within a few minutes and half an hour later, there I was in this town that’s become such an engraved part of the hippie tourist trail (and also known for its heavy Israeli presence).

Pushkar is known for its holy lake, which has ghats – baths of holy water – going all around its edge, and the pilgrims that come to bathe there. This year, the monsoon was very weak/didn’t really happen (hello global warming) and there is no lake in Pushkar at the moment. Actually, I must admit that some sources are telling me that while others are saying that the lake is dry due to construction. I honestly don’t know who to believe. Anyway, the bottom line is there is no lake, and only a few of the ghats are being filled, which means the majority of the tourist draw here is currently nonexistent.

But no worries – I was meeting Tamara and her son Dorian! Meet Tamara, beautiful powerful strong drop-dead gorgeous woman from Croatia. We had met rather synchronicitously (I just made that word up) in Bali in July, at Jacopo’s house in Seminyak. We both felt an instant connection and felt we would meet again, whether I went to Croatia, or perhaps in Indonesia again, or whatever, but neither expected that it would be this soon. She knew I was headed to India this season and it turns out she planned a trip here too so we decided to meet up for a bit. And so I jumped on her Rajasthan planning bandwagon and we were going to stay at the same place in Pushkar.

Pushkar – Hotel Everest – nice rooms with a rooftop café (I think this is a universal institution in India). The town is very small, and notably quieter than the larger cities but quite noisy nonetheless. I guess maybe this also has to do with the fact that so much life takes place on the street (something I like). Vendors of everything are selling everything in the street, and people that have shops are often doing their work outside on the pavement as well, i.e. tailors have their sewing machines on a stool outside. The town has the feel of countless other hippie traveler haunts, like Durbar in Kathmandu, Kuta or Ubud in Bali, Antigua in Guatemala, San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico, I could make this list go on forever. Anyway, it’s a nice change from the crazy in your face India of the larger cities I’ve seen in the past week, but it’s also a place I would go crazy if I stayed longer than a few days. Too many dreadlocked people wearing baggy clothes. Sorry.

It’s a great place to just wander around and browse shops, hang out in great little cafes and just while away the days though. Which is precisely what we’ve done, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I went a bit overboard with the shopping, or so I thought. But then I calculated and I have gotten 2 pairs of Capri pants, one pair of long awesome yoga pants, 3 large purses/bags, a small coin purse, 2 really cute tops, and a silver ring for…less than 35 USD. I have a feeling I’m going to have to buy another suitcase before I leave India…We’ll move on to Jodhpur tomorrow, which I’m excited about as there are a few Couchsurfers there who I’m very much looking forward to meeting.

No big cats for me! Ranthambore National Park, Dec 15-16 (Written 17 December 2009)

Sawai Madhopur as a town really doesn’t have much going for it, but it is constantly crowded due to its proximity to Ranthambore National Park. This park which became a national park in 1973 is considered one of the best places in India, thus the world, to see tigers in the wild. A tiny little town with not much other than hotels and restaurants geared for tourists, my first night at Aditya Resort was uneventful.

I went to two safaris in the park – the morning one from 7-10:30am and the afternoon one from 2-5:30pm. On the first one, the early morning light was stunning. The scenery of the park itself is quite awe-inspiring, as you traverse giant banyan trees, low dense grasses, open fields, and hills with sambar deer roaming across them. On the morning safari we saw a sloth bear which is apparently even more rare than seeing a tiger, a black and brown mini-bear (which for sure is not mini compared to humans) and it was quietly roaming around and then ran off. The park is full of white spotted deer, sambar deer, black faced monkeys, plenty of birdlife including kingfishers and parakeets, and we managed to see an antelope, wild boar, and an Indian gazelle which was gorgeous. And lots of peacocks. Everywhere.

So although no tigers were spotted on my safaris, it was an enjoyable experience. In terms of food – the first evening I had a yellow dhal and chapatti, nothing exciting. The following morning I had a lovely chana masala (spiced chickpeas) which was cooked with turmeric, fresh and powdered coriander, green, red, and yellow chilies, tomato, and onion. In the evening I had a potato paratha (a layered pancake stuffed with potato and coriander) and a palak kadhi, a very “wet” dish (this is what Indians call what we would call a curry in the west) with spinach and other veggies.

I had been told by the hotel staff that there was a local passenger train to Jaipur at 7:30pm, with general seating only. I was warned against taking it, but I decided I wanted to move onwards towards Pushkar since there was really nothing else to stick around in Sawai Madhopur for. It was fairly dramatic; I ordered my food at 6:10pm, and at 6:40pm I started getting a bit nervous – the hotel was 10 minutes by autorickshaw from the station and I had no ticket. Finally the food came out at 6:55pm and I scarfed it down. The hotel staff were soooo relaxed about it all. Anyway, I get to the station at 7:20pm, running towards the ticket office, only to find out that the train arrives at 7:30pm but doesn’t leave until 8:30pm. Figures.