Photos from India

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nepali Paradise

It was a hell of a rough journey by I am glad to be out of the slummy cities of Agra and Varanassi. After a cramped and crowded night train followed by a two hour jeep ride, I walked across the border to Nepal where I then bordered by far the bumpiest and bounciest bus I have ever ridden on in my life. It felt like riding on a combination of plywood and steel over a rocky landslide stricken road on my way to Pokhara, Nepal. Eight hours later, feeling as if I had been stuck in a washing machine for the last eight hours, I was tired and soar but happy to be in a friendlier and cleaner country.

The rapid change upon entering Nepal was astounding! In India, people were constantly pissing and shitting everywhere you looked. In the early morning light, looking out the window of my train I witnessed every person that lived near the train tracks squatting down and shitting in their back yards. Why after living there for year after year, it never has occurred to them to dig a pit, I will never know. Riding in cars and buses throughout India, around every corner is someone else pissing out in the open. It is impossible not to notice, it is everywhere you turn your head. I have never seen so many penises in my entire life, nor do I care to ever again! Combine all of that with the constant filth of trash, shit and cows on the streets and everywhere I visited in India outside of the Himalayas was like one giant slum! I am not kidding. Trash everywhere! Massive amounts of it of all sorts. There was not one single rubbish container anywhere in the country and no one ever cleaned up what was laying around!

Riding along in my bumpy bus up a winding mountain road I immediately noticed the change. No one using the toilet along the road, no trash along the way and everyone was ten times as friendly to us. When I finally arrived in Pokhara, I couldn't believe how clean the streets were. Not a bit of trash to be seen. The hotels looked like royal honey moon sweets compared to those in India and the white table clothed restaurants that lined the streets were a welcome change to the dirty places I found myself eating throughout the low lands of India.

Now I have awoken after a good nights rest, finished a pot of coffee as I sit on my balcony watching the mist clear from the nearby tree covered hills. The sun is still low in the sky and the steep snowy peaks of the Annapurna range are glowing in the sun. With a lake that is deep blue and surrounded by lush green rice paddies, the stark contrast of the white snow on the peaks and the blue sky overhead is a breathtaking sight to behold. I am already regretting now coming to Nepal sooner and find that I may be hard pressed to ever leave.


I had heard that Varanassi was the epitome of an India experience and was a must see town on the travelers route heading towards Nepal. It was said to be all at once beautiful and disgusting. If you wanted a taste of the real India, this was the place to go. Be prepared however people warned, it is overwhelming. Not just the sights, but the smells, the touts, and everyone in the town!

Coming in on a 12 hour train ride that was delayed a further five hours, I fought my way through the hotel touts and moto rickshaw drivers and managed to get to a point where I could walk down the maze of narrow alley ways toward my hotel. Fortunately a man on the street began talking to me and leading the way. At first I was reluctant as this type of person is usually after a commission from bringing you to the hotel you want to stay at. Without him however, I would still be out wandering the streets.

I arrived at a dirty hotel, as dirty as any I have ever been in but the roof top restaurant that overlooked the city made up for it and most likely I would only be here for a couple of days anyway so that didn't really matter to me, at least not to much. After recharging my body on a ridiculous amount of food at the restaurant, I decided to take a sunset stroll along the riverside ghats (bathing and washing areas). I could see smoke coming from the closest ghat to my hotel and I assumed that this was the ghat I had heard they burned bodies at. A few turns through the alley and there I was, immersed in the middle of a giant outdoor crematorium. People from all over India were burning the bodies of their loved ones while others were still waiting for their turn in the hospice building that overlooked the ghat. A man began explaining to me the different processes the families went through with the bodies and how much money it costs to burn each body with the special wood while all the conversation, ash from the burning corpses rained down upon my head.

After being persuaded to make a small donation to the hospice to help pay for funeral wood, I found myself in the middle of some kind of a religious procession marching down a narrow alley way. Along the way there were stones that people touched, shrines that were kissed and bells that were rung. I never determined where it was going as I turned back toward the river at the first chance I had. Alongside the river again I found myself immersed in a crowd of people bathing, swimming and washing in the Ganges river. Keep in mind now that this river has over 30 sewer systems flowing into it just upstream from the city. It is supposed to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world yet people from all over India come to bathe, wash, drink and sink the bodies of their loved ones into it.

I was enjoying all of the activities of the historic ghats of this holy city but since I was feeling tired, I sat down on some steps overlooking the river to take a break. As I looked out at the river, an old woman dressed in a beautiful purple sari walked down to the edge of the stairs on the riverside. She turned around to face me and then squatted over the water. As there is urine covering almost every inch of ground in the city as well as enough cow shit to make you feel like you are walking through an obstacle course, I figured she was just being polite and urinating in the river. The fact that people nearby were scooping water out with their hands and drinking it didn't seem to matter to anyone and she continued squatting. After a minute, it occurred to me she had been squatting a bit too long to be just urinating. A few more minutes passed and she finally stood up and walked off. Left in her place was exactly what you would you would expect, an armada of little chocolate boats! As they floated toward the people who were drinking the water and swimming, I couldn't bear to watch so I began the confusing journey through the twisting maze of alley ways that lead in the direction of my hotel.

The Taj Mahal

I spent the morning watching sunrise over the Taj Mahal. It is every bit as magnificent as you could imagine. The rest of the town in which it sits however is quite the opposite. Dirty hotels and although the restaurants were on the rooftops and had views of the Taj, the service and the food was some of the worst I have seen in India!

Trapped in Manali

I am trapped in Manali! Not sure when the roads are going to be clear but I was just about to board a bus heading towards Delhi and I was informed that it has been canceled do to landslides along the road. It has been raining for three days straight since I returned from my last trek so the landslides are quite understandable. The sky this afternoon however has finally cleared and hopefully tomorrow the roads will be as well and I can venture out of the Himalayas for a bit before heading off to Nepal.