A Travellerspoint blog

The black plague and flower moonshine

India - Day #12 - Khajuraho

sunny 32 °C

Last night while we were writing up our blogs at the Zen hotel we noticed a few bugs crawling around. Then some more. And more. Then they were deep in my hair, burrowing into my scalp, exploring my armpits and claiming my navel in the name of their beetle lord. A plague had descended.

Someone had mentioned a few smelly bugs might be coming to dinner after the sun went down, but we had no idea of the scale of this nightly biblical event. They blanketed the ground and almost every surface. They waltzed into the the internet cafe, braving certain death from a mouse wielding Deano. Some of their buddies attacked the face, my face. Some foolishly went for the legs and became putrid gravy. They are like Australian stink bugs in their formidable scent (when crushed) but look like black lady beetles. But their sheer numbers and persistence drove me into a frenzy trying to keep them at bay.

We chilled (the bug beating faded into subconscious reflex action after a while) the rest of the night at the Zen restaurant and had some pretty nasty pizza. Side note here. I think we have learned that the best food in India is the local food, hands down. We almost always stick to it, but every now and then cave to Western urges and usually regret it.

The next day we took it easy and thought we'd just leg it into town and walk around the Eastern temples. We only walked a few hundred meters down the road, after dodging a disgruntled wallowing water buffalo, before a car offered us a lift, for money of course. We palmed off the usual offers for guides and trips.

You honestly can't just walk somewhere and not gather a toute. We did just that as we entered the old town. For some reason we let this guy, Shiva, and his friend's son show us around the place. I guess he was pretty relaxed so we felt comfortable. The eastern templates are spread further apart, but we enjoyed Shiva's shortcuts between them. Often passing goats, pigs, dried lakes and wells. There are mountains in the backdrop so its quite picturesque.

Shiva took us into a primary school, were all the kids jumped up in unison and yelled out a well rehearsed "Namaste!" to me. They give you tour and you donate something. After all of that we stopped at an out of the way cafe called Fat Albert. We had a drink or two there with Shiva and the kid. Shiva was giving us the lowdown on some of the intricacies of their culture and gods. It was quite enlightening though when we got onto Muslims it started to get a bit biased.

Shiva was about the most relaxed dude we had met. He was pointing to this tree with white flowers (called Muhgwa) and telling us he made Muhgwa wine from them. Then he invited us to dinner that night. You always want a real local experience but its very difficult to trust people (in touristy areas anyway) here. But we gave him the benefit of the doubt and agreed to dinner at his house.

The kid outright asked for some money, fair enough, so we gave him some. Then later down the road he tried it on again - cheeky bugger. As we neared Shiva's place, Shiva stopped at a bunch of chickens walking across the road and asked us to pick one. We were a bit stumped and let him decide. After showing where his house was we gave him 200 rupees to cover getting the main squawking ingredient.

About beetle plague time, once the sun disappeared, we set sail across the smelly sea of crunchy beetles for the indigenous dance show. The costumes and intoxicating beautifully decorated girls were quite mesmerizing. One guy balanced on various objects like plates and spikes while balancing three metal vases on his head the entire time. The dance troop did dances from most regions of India and the music was played live. The whole show was highly talented and well worth the crunchy walk the entrance fee.

We bought a few beers and walked through dark streets to Shiva's place for dinner. It was about 9pm and he wasn't there yet. His relatives let us in. In a few minutes a slightly lightheaded Shiva (from a bit of home wine quality control) rocked up all smiles. His house was like a scaled down Sydney terrace house, made from brick and cement, but with a big area without a roof. We sat down there cross legged on the concrete and he pulled out a water bottle with some murky translucent liquid, his famous Muhgwa wine. It was more like a distilled spirit, a bit like Oozo or Raki, but with a floral taste (Jasmin like perhaps). It was actually really nice and very drinkable. We had about half a glass to every 2 glasses Shiva had.

The dinner was finally served on metal trays (military style), with Chicken curry, rice and Japarti's (I think?). It was all very tasty. He said his wife was at her Father's house, so he could "party" with us. We had a good laugh and it was then getting late, so we had some slurred negotiations trying to get a ride back to our hotel 4 kms away. A friend of theirs secured a autorickshaw and hit us for a hefty fee to get home, but we figured they'd split it among them as a tip for the night, so it was cool.

We spluttered off into the BMZ (Beetle Military Zone) with a firefly for front light. Its pretty much just luck we didn't hit something like a buffalo or cow, since they love just splaying themselves across the middle of main roads on a whim. The ride home was very bumpy and Shiva was very happy and seemed to enjoy the night as much as we did. We got his address and promised to send him a postcard or something from Australia.

It seemed our punt on a local fellow had panned out and everything was cool. The hotel staff had their nickers in a twist that we were late back (it was only about 11pm), because a local travel agent was trying to contact us about our car pickup the next morning to drive 4 hours to Jhansi to catch a train to Delhi. We eventually sorted it, but were a bit perplexed why they couldn't just take a message.

Posted by dinofile 01:18 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Not the kind of virus I was expecting

India - Day #12 - Khajuraho

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Well I haven't uploaded any photos, cause I had a little drama at the Internet cafes. A lot seem to be crawling with viruses. I think my camera SD card got infected at one cafe and caused me to lauch it at another, where the guy was too lazy to install an anti-virus program. Otherwise that would have saved me. Instead at attempts to access my pictures I have deleted 2GB worth of photos. I wasn't a happy chappie with the numbnuts there, who still wanted their money for the time I spent trying to salvage my files. If I'm lucky I should be able to recover all the photos when I get home. Fingers crossed.

Well got a few good stories, but will have to leave it to next entry.

Access to photos and maps are via the Author's link. So click on "dinofile" in the AUTHORS section in the right column.

Then look under the PHOTOGRAPHY column for photos.
To view the travel map, which also can show you photos by location, click on the "TravellersPoint Profile" in the right column then click on "India" in the Trips section in the right column.

Using the travelers map is a very handy way of seeing the travel stops plus the photos from each town.

Posted by dinofile 08:19 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Indian eroticia

India - Day #11 - Khajuraho

sunny 33 °C
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Well though the last blog entry was rather long, I had to end abruptly as we had to bolt back through the alleyways of the old city in the relative pitch black, due to black outs, and get a tuk tuk 4 km's back to the hotel, nosh up and get to the train station all in an hour. It was the alleyway's that worried me, but we made it out with a little help.

We actually had McDonalds as an easy way out for a quick dinner. Our driver was not impressed. Naturally there is no beef only chicken burgers. They were good. My favourite was the Chicken Maharaja Mac.

Finding our train cabin was tough and we almost had a few kittens when we thought we'd stuffed up. We made it on ok and settled in for another glorious 6 hour overnighter to Satna. Arriving early in the morning, we were picked up then it was a cruisey 2 hour ride to Khajuraho which is famous for its ancient 1000 year old temples of suggestive and erotic art.
We passed through some really nice country side. Looked like mountainous rainforest in places. I was so tired I was in and out of consciousness anyway.

Our hotel, the Greenwood, is nice but 4 km's out of town, which is a bit ridiculous. Anyway we know the tricks now :) We freshened up and watched the Australia vs India one dayer for the first innings. India did well, and went on to win the match by 8 runs - not long after I heard about Australia being outed from the Rugby World Cup by England. Tis a sad day my friends.

Anyway we dodged all the pre-paid tour nonsense and got into town. Its very small, which is quite a relief really. We then went and saw the Western Temples which are the best. The gardens are immaculate which really made the whole setting look amazing. There a lots of great looking arty photographs to be had. Naturally there are naughty pictures of women, men and other err beings in lewd positions and all kinds of combinations. There was a lot of giggling going on around the temples. Then we just retired to a restaurant overlooking the views and entered the chill zone.

Thats about it for now. More later. We have 2 more days here, then back to Delhi. Then not too sure what the plan is.

Will try and get some more photos up.

Posted by dinofile 05:44 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Water of life or death - you decide !

India - Day #10 - Varanassi

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I think we just experienced a bit of India time dilation, as our train got delayed a few times. I think it was only an hour delayed when we got on it. By the time we arrived in Varanasi we had lost another 2 and half hours. For some reason I can't seem to sleep on these overnighters. I am not sure why, Scotto seems to manage.

Amazingly our taxi pickup was chirpily awaiting us with a vintage white bubble car with sheets on the seats. Not too sure what state he expected us in or if he was actually a professional hitman ready to hide the evidence but we slid over the white seats and settled into our ride.

Our ride didn't go directly to the station, but rather straight to some tourist agency. I guess they were the arranged middleman in our pre-booked deal. They basically translated our tickets for Ganges boat ride into a ticket that is recognised by the boat people. Strange but necessary. Also it was an opportunity for them to offer us further guided tours. We just stuck to our simple plan.

Our hotel was quite near the train station, which is usually a sure fire sign you are miles from anywhere happening. This proved to be accurate. We were quite a few kilometers from the old town and the Ganges river. When ushered to our room we were confronted with a double bed. I think I heard psycho music play at that moment. We protested and a frenetic whirlpool of bell boys made calls and whisked us off to another room with a twin. Two Norwegian girls we keep running into copped the dreaded double bed, but accepted it without fuss. Lets just leave it at - its different for girls.

Since I had basically no sleep, we chilled in the hotel for a bit then finally ventured out into the furnace. We were hit by a wave of rickshaw drivers, like the trades floor buyers and sellers at stock exchange, all yelling their best price at us. We made a point of neglecting rides organised by the hotel cause they add a hefty commission. I guess we picked the one speaking English the best again. Its a double edged sword that approach, cause the more you can communicate with them, the more they will try and talk you into something. Anyway we got into town near the Ganges where all the Ghats (bathing areas) are for 100 rupees. There's a pretty crazy market on the main road as usual.

We were trying to aim at one of the northern Ghats, the Manikarnika Ghat where they cremate people, and figured we'd walk down along the river to the main Ghat, the Daaswasmedh Ghat where most of the boat rides leave from and nightly festivals occur. Our esteemed rickshaw driver took it upon himself to pile into some alleyways even further south of our destination Ghat. Its was all good, cause the walk along the Ganges is pretty amazing. If you read the info in the guide, you don't so much as want to breath in any vapours from that river, but its spectacular none the less.

We managed to leg it up to where the cremations take place. Its a very surreal and humbling place. There are a handful of funnel pyres all in various stages of burning process. You can see thoughtfully wrapped bodies gently laid on piles of wood, half burned bodies or remnants of a charred human form being caringly coaxed with long sticks to complete the fiery journey. I must admit, I found it much more peaceful and less confronting than I had expected. Possibly because of the dignity and ceremony involved. People don't cry there as it is believed (so I was told) to ruin the spirits travel.

There is a hospis for dying people just above the area, where people are cared for till the end. People are brought from all over to be cremated here as it is believe that if cremated here they end the cycle and won't be reincarnated. The cost of the cremation, paid by the family, is based on the amount of wood required to finish the task. The average is apparently 200kg. They have wood barges and scales that measure out the wood by weight. I noticed that if one pyre completes the task with wood remaining, they will often transfer excess wood to other pyres using two large bamboo sticks like chopsticks.

Not anyone can be cremated here. There are some rules. Some are that you must be over 60, can't be pregnant, or have leprosy. Instead they will often toss those in the river upstream a bit. We met two tourists who in the last 2 days have both seen bodies in the river. The same river they bath, wash, drink and swim in.

We had to scanter back to the southern Ghat to make our boat ride, which turned out to be a test of trust and patience as we only had a scrap of paper with a seemingly meaningless letterhead on it. We were being hit from all sides with offers of boat rides, for cash, but none seemed to know anything about how we transform scrap of paper into boat ride reality. Then some Japanese guy was handing out flyers to his new Japanese restaurant (I hope for his sake he wasn't relying on fresh Ganges fish as a selling point). I asked him if he knew anything about our ticket and he asked some people, who asked some people and before you know it, it worked itself out.

The boat ride is a very nice experience. A guy will row the boat with paddles, easy for the downstream bit, but pretty tough coming back up against the current. There were kids squatting on the other unused boats lathering up in suds for their daily wash. We drifted down past the cremation Ghat again and could see people dumping the ashes of the cremated into the Ganges. Others we fishing almost at the same spot. It was sunset and cool so it was very pleasant despite what in words may sound like a rather bizarre or even grisly scene.

We made it back to our departure Ghat, but not before some rogue boat pulls along side and insists we set afloat one of his little flower beds with a candle in center, for good luck. Scotto reluctantly accepts and naturally we are hit for some baksheesh after we watch our luck drift off into the distance.

Though we had the pre-paid ticket, our fit middle aged rower insists that this is "his job" and that the ticket only pays for the agency and not him. Its almost pointless arguing with him. We give him a modest tip and try to ignore his unimpressed face. I really think hotel and primary travel are the only things you should ever pre-book in this country.

We staggered around the markets for a bit then back into the catacombs near the Ghats trying to find a decent restaurant. You can easily get lost in the alleyways, especially at night with all the electricity black outs. We chanced upon a place called Ganga Fuji, which is not much to look at but its normally quite popular. Its kind of split level, no views, but has live local music playing after 7:30. We actually were almost were put off by no clientèle apart from a rather elderly couple seemingly sipping cups of tea (not that there's anything wrong with that). We were kinda over the quest for a place to nosh up, so we settled in and asked for some beer. He said no problem and scuttled off, returning a few minutes later with a teapot and some china cups. We kinda just rolled with it and as we picked up the cups they were cold, which was a bit odd. Then as we sipped out tea, the miracle or all miracles occurred, the tea had turned into beer. Yes that is they way he served beer in this place. Perhaps for the benefit of Muslin patrons who might be put off by the sight of beer bottles on tables. Lets just say we drank a lot of tea that night.

We met a cool Swiss girl who was on her 4th visit to India. I guess India really gets into some people's veins. Also two dutch guys from Utrecht (not so far from where I lived in Belgium many years ago) who seemed to like very remote and adventurous locations like Uganda. Incidentally those people were the ones who had seen the bodies floating the Ganges recently. It was good to meet some fellow travelers cause it seems to be a bit harder in this country than most for some reason, well maybe its just us, or just Scott (only kidding maaaate).

Next day, we slept in, barely made our complimentary breakfast and begged for a later checkout time. Harry Potter was on TV and it was like gold dust to us in our Western deprived state of mind. We hit the wall of rickshaw drivers again outside the hotel and our driver from the previous day managed to swoop in and snatch our business, to the loud protests of the others. Like I said, double edged sword. He took us near the old city again, but as we drew near was trying to convince us it was Ramidan and that the shops were closed. Instead strongly suggesting we should go to the Moghal city area, where they are, you guessed it, other special markets. We held our ground and he eventually just pulled up and refused to go any further saying rickshaws couldn't go any further. We forced what we owed on him and started in towards the crowd. He made an unusually hasty U-turn and left the scene. We realised seconds later as the market was a hive of activity. Nothing was closed at all really. He had just committed to the lie and we had called his bluff.

We really just wanted to find an internet cafe to do a bit of blogging and generally just perch above the city and the Ganges, letting it wash over us (figuratively I assure you !). At some swirling roundabout, we managed to step on a toute and couldn't shake him off. He was our ... toute for a day. He was helpful, trying to land us an internet cafe, not that we asked mind you. There are frequent blackouts, all over India it seems, and many places were running on battery since there was just one. So even if they had 2 PC's they could only really run one until the mains power came back on. So it was difficult finding decent internet access. We eventually ran into the Swiss girl we met the previous night she was up for hanging for a drink with us for a while so she and our toute-for-a-day suggested the highest rooftop cafe in Varanasi. This is where I am typing this from right now. After she toddled off, Scotto and pulled up some chairs on the edge of the balcony, ordered some brews and just watch the sites.

As dusk approaches the monkeys near the river bank scamper across the rooftops below us. They tend to migrate in curious trails following each other. Baby monkeys tripping over each other and scrapping without a thought of falling. They flow through people's dwellings, laundry and possession. Tampering or outright nicking whatever takes their fancy. Its great fun just to watch their antics.

Kite flying seems to have taken off in a big way all over India, well at least the parts we've seen. They have competitions and all. Here high above the Ganges (thank you Mr Attenborough) we can see scores of little square kites fluttering in the hazy thermals above. Below our cafe we can see kids tugging at lines guiding kites ever higher or on suicide missions into telephone lines or other buildings. Across the Ganges, which is comparably very low compared to the recent Monsoon months, are sprawling sand banks where locals are coming out to in droves to fly their kites or just enjoy the atmosphere. Looking back over the city more kites shoot upward as dusk finally arrives.

Posted by dinofile 07:20 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Bring on the Taj

India - Day #9 - Agra

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We were up at 5:15am to get the train to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is. The hotel was well meaning with a full breakfast in our room, but were just a little too late for us to eat it. The train was reasonably on time. We met some English guy from Lester who was of Indian decent and spoke Punjabi, so he a mild advantage over us, except Hindi is spoken around here. He had been doing a similar itinerary to us for 3 weeks and was pretty much at the end of his tether. He was off to Nepal for a few days, but was really gagging to get home.

We were supposed to get off at Agra central station, but as we pulled in to Agra Fort (the station before) I sleepily turned towards the window to see some local's face squashed up against the glass staring at me. After recoiling from that I noticed a few guys bouncing up and down pointing to the ground with their fingers. Frankly I just thought they were nutters. After a few minutes, a sign with Scotto's misspelled name suddenly sprung into view. We just lept into action and piled out onto the platform with our gear where our hotel greeting party casually told us he just thought he'd rock up at this station for the hell of it. Karma was good to us that day my friend.

The hotel was pretty nice. A pattern we finally noticed is that just about every hotel is literally being built around us. Often the hallways won't have carpet or down the hall you can see workmen fitting doors or wallpaper. Drill work and jack hammers are not unknown to us now. I think we are in the midst of India's development period, at least with the midrange hotel areas anyway. Often there will be uninsulated wires just hanging out of the walls (even in the bathroom) or a clothes closet with no rod to hang coat hangers on. Its more an amusement than an inconvenience.

Anyway, we hit the Taj Mahal. It is mega toutesville as per usual, but perhaps a little more aggressive than usual. The garden in front of the Taj itself probably adds to its grandiose appeal. Inside the monument itself is not much chop, but its the overall majesty of its external vista that captivates you. They give out little white sockies, when you stow your shoes. This creates a very surreal look as most people are walking around like they are about to perform surgery. We got a little lost finding our way out. We were supposed to go back to the "West" entrance, but ended up walking a lot further to the "WestERN" entrance. The toutes assured us this difference was crucial, as indeed it turned out to be. It was hot so we caught a peddle rickshaw back to the other entrance. We had a major argument with the rickshaw driver after paying him. He wanted double and all his mates came out of the woodwork to support him. An abrupt and menacing, "you weren't even there, so go away" seemed to stop his support troops advance.

Our driver from the hotel then took us past the Agra Fort, which quite frankly I couldn't be arsed going into, then on the Baby Taj (or mini-Taj to Austin Powers fans :). To get to Baby Taj we had to get through the old town and cross over an old British made iron bridge (made by actual Indian hands no doubt). The bridge itself was quite a sight. Its almost condemned and only wide enough for a average sized lorry really, but somehow countless bikes, cars, rickhsaws, ox pulled carts and pedestrians pile across it, in both directions !! It looks gridlocked and often is for minutes at a time, but always seems to untangle itself and keep flowing. The views from the bridge are of a somewhat dry river and another more modern bridge in the distance. The other bridge can handle larger vehicles but gets even more gridlocked than our rickety old rust crossing.

The Baby Taj was actually very atmospheric at dusk and great for photos. Lots of monkeys and nice red sun, tree and temple shots. Apart from that, not much to see there. They closed up and kicked us out, then it was back over the bridge again. This time is was 10 times worse, almost unimaginable. Some people were attempting U-turns at the congested entry point, just causing more chaos than an imploding sun.

On the way back we were naturally accosted by our driver to a marble emporium. As usual they show you the process of inlaying precious and semi-precious stones into marble, using very primitive tools, just as were used for the Taj Mahal itself (apparently). Its quite fascinating as different colours are different stones from different parts of the world. I won't bore you with the exact pairing of stones to countries, but some countries were Belgium, Africa, Australia and India itself. Then the rocks are held in the marble by all natural glue, made from things like flour, honey, egg shells and other things you'd probably find in your average pantry. This would apparently set as hard as cement after a few hours. I guess they didn't use that in my bracelet then O_o. After all the razamataz, comes the product display and sales pitch. Its all very tight, well rehearsed and extremely enticing, but marble is heavy and expensive, full stop. One thing funny was that they kept insisting that you could only buy while you were there and they were not, repeat, not an exporter. But if you look on their sign out front, in big, I repeat, big bold letters it proudly states "importer and exporter". Again, a country of stark contradictions.

We had dinner at the same place we were driven to for lunch. The Maya hotel, very near the Taj Mahal actually. Nice food and a few tourists to wave at. Upstairs is very atmospheric (well in a completely abandoned way) and thought the view is of a buzzing, dusty main thoroughfare, the large tree and fairy lights (plus a beer or two) makes it all ok. Friendly staff too.

Next day we decided to just attempt one site, the Ghost City about 40 kms out of town. Off the top of my head I think it was to be a capital city in the area, but a great misjudgment of water supplies led to its abandonment. So we negotiated about 600 rupees for a non-AC car to take us there and back. About three quarters of the way there, roadworks started to spring up and as we passed through this village cars and lorries started doing crazy U-turns and swerves ahead of us. We evaded most of it persevering through only to have ute pull across the road ahead and men dragging large barrels and anything else at hand across the road blocking our way. After a bit of shouting our driver told us the road was blocked and we couldn't get through. We insisted he find another way, so we backtracked and found another road through town only to be greeted with the same result. Junk flying across the road till it was impassible. This time is was game over. He told us there was no way through and that police would arrive shortly to start negotiations but ultimately it would be hours before we could get through. Even if we managed it, we might be stuck getting back and we only had a few hours till we had to jump another loverly overnighter to Varanasi.

We had to accept defeat and instead went to watch the sunset over the Taj Mahal crossing our favourite rusty pipeline bridge another two times. The Taj did look majestic at dusk, but it hardly changed colour like Ayres Rock ;) We had our final meal back at the trusty Maya then prepared ourselves for our overnight train to Varanasi.

Posted by dinofile 04:55 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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