Archive | September, 2007

The Buddhist Disneyland- Bodhgaya

30 Sep

I’m serious, in a totally reverent way, the place is like Disneyland. The place is absolutely gorrrrgeous (as Mattias would say.) As you enter the city there is even a billboard that says “Welcome to the Land of Buddha.” Each Buddhist country in the world has constructed their own monastery and temple here. It is incredibly odd to look out over the Indian countryside and see traditional architecture from China, Japan, Tibet, and Thailand intermingled with the concrete bunkers that the Indian people live in.

The energy of the town is very sweet, and people are truly happy to be here. Most of them are Buddhist monks from all over Asia making their pilgrimage to this holy site, the place where the Buddha gained his enlightenment. The compassion of Buddhism is so palpable here and the town is really quite peaceful. Even the hawkers and taxi drivers don’t seem to bother me as much here.

The most beautiful place in Bodhgaya is the Mahabodhi Temple- constructed on the grounds where Gautama Buddha meditated for seven weeks before gaining enlightenment. The temple grounds are wonderful and Astrid and I spent two days here exploring the gardens and the shrines and just soaking up the ambience of the place.

Back at the hotel, we met two fellow travellers from the UK named Charlie and Linda who had been travelling throughout Northern India for about eight weeks before arriving in Bodhgaya. We struck up a conversation on the terrace and ended up going to a restaurant to watch the finals of the T20 Cricket Tournament in South Africa- India vs. Pakistan. Charlie used to play cricket in school and taught me and Astrid the intracacies of the game. While it wasn’t an all day match, it was great to learn the game and watch India beat Pakistan for the championship. The whole restaurant was going crazy as well as the entire town.

Well, we are hot and exhausted and are taking the train to Siliguri in West Bengal, a jumping off point for Darjeeling to spend some time in the hills and cool down a bit.

See you there.

Enjoy this picture of the Mahabodhi Temple…

Trying to get to Bodhgaya

26 Sep

We made it to Bodhgaya after a few issues with the Indian Railway system, you see one of my many “friends” who worked on the train decided to play a little prank on the silly Americans.

He told us that the train we were on was no longer going to Gaya, but to Patna 120 km away. Another woman on the train corroborated his story. So we believed him… He told us that we had to hurry to catch our train that he pointed to on another platform. We rushed to get our gear and ran to the train only to find out that we WERE supposed to be on the train that we just left. We could get on this other train that was going to Gaya as well- however, to make it worse, the train employees tried to get us to pay another 100 rupees each to switch out our ticket and then get on the shitty sleeper class car- all we had to do was run back to the main office, wait in line, get our tickets stamped, and get back to the train before it left in three minutes- NO FUCKING WAY.

I told the agents that we would not go to the office, that we would not pay 100 rupees and we WOULD be getting on the car that we paid for. We took off and marched straight for the 3AC car- explained our dilemma and were seated right away. No issues. The man that tried to get us to pay the extra 100 rupees was even on the train and didn’t say anything- we just took what we wanted and no one said anything. It was fucking great!

Anyway we arrived in Bodhgaya finally, just a few hours late. I will post more later, it is beautiful here.

Varanasi

24 Sep

Hey, just catching up on my postings here. I haven’t been able to download my camera until today.

Varanasi was an incredibly holy place, however any spirituality was shattered by people trying to scam you or sell you things. I was disappointed in so many ways, and at the same time there were moments when everything was right in the universe and I felt totally content there.

The highlights were the bookshops, the boat ride on the river Ganga (a pain to set up, but worth it,) and the evening ritual at Assi , which we attended twice.

Varanasi is the place people want to die in India, it is believed that people who die here acheive moksha or liberation from life on Earth. Out of reverence for the families of the dead, we did not spend much time at the cremation ghats, but seeing it from the boat ride, it was not the somber event that death is the western world. Quite beautiful actually.

Next stop, Bodhgaya! See you soon.

Here is a photo of Assi Ghat from the water:

And a view of our boatsman at night:

What I say versus what I want to say:

24 Sep

Over the past couple of weeks I have come to realize there are things that I say to hawkers, autorickshaw drivers and touts when I really want to say something else…

Here is a short list, just for fun: 🙂
Random guy: “Hello my friend, come see my shop/ factory/ restaurant/ massage table/ stall/ you name it.”

What I say: “No thank you.”
What I want to say: “I’m not your friend, get away from me.”

Hotel owner that cheated us in Varanasi: “Did you enjoy your stay in my hotel?”

What I say: “Yes, it was great.”
What I want to say: “Hell no, I’m getting on every travel site as soon as I can and making sure that people are armed with the knowledge that you are cheats and liars.”
(BTW don’t stay at Hotel Haifa in Varanasi…)

Auto/ cycle rickshaw driver: “Hello friend (I have so many friends all of a sudden) come, I’ll take you to **insert ancient monument here**.

What I say: “No thank you.”
What I want to say: “If I wanted an autorickshaw, I would find you, now get fucked.”

There are so many more, but you get the flavor.

Exploring Varanasi

22 Sep

Just when you let your guard down for a second and think- hey I don’t have to worry about people hawking things or trying to get me to use their rickshaw…well think again.

Although the rickshaw wallahs in Varanasi will actually listen to you if you say you don’t want a rickshaw, no one else will. Who knew there were so many things that I could buy if I wanted to. Jewelery, silk saris, rides on a boat, and the list goes on and on.

The easiest way that I have found to get rid of hawkers and touts is to say “Maybe tomorrow.” They seem to understand this more than saying “no,” and actually back off.

Astrid and I were at the Manikarnika Ghat yesterday, just getting pounced on by “friends” that had many wonderful things to sell us, and consequently getting very frustrated- you see even if you want a nice quiet time alone with your wife, you can’t have it- because six people are following you trying to talk you out of your money. Well, this one hawker seeing how frustrated we were came out of his stall and said:

Hawker: Come take a look at my shit, I have monkey shit, elephant shit, many kinds of shit.

 Me: (Not totally hearing him) No thank you.

 Hawker: What you don’t want to look at my shit? You don’t need my shit?

 Me:(Finally understanding the conversation) **busts out laughing** No I don’t want to see your shit!

It was totally unexpected and made me realize that everyone needs a good laugh now and again while in India.

Cheers

Some photos from Agra

18 Sep

Hey all, here are some of the better photos from our visit to Agra. It is a crazy touristy place with lots of touts, sellers, beggars, etc. , but we handled it for 2.5 days. More than likely a day and a half too long. 🙂

First a view of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort, yet another 15th century fort in India which looks much like the Red Fort in Delhi. The Fort and the Taj are located on the banks of the Yamuna River which served as a natural air conditioner for both sites.

Here is a photo of some inlaid stone, cork and marble from the “Baby Taj” I thought that this would make a great desktop background.

And finally, yet another view of the Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh. You can see a video in the last post, but this picture was so beautiful, I couldn’t pass up posting it.

Much love to everyone, we’re in Varanasi now and both have a little cold- we’ll begin exploring in the next day or so..

Agra, Uttar Pradesh

14 Sep

Astrid and I took the three hour train from Delhi to Agra at 7:15 this morning and it was fantastic. It was my first train ride in India and it was definitely an experience. The views went from dirty city tenements to lush sprawling fields. It started pouring rain on the ride and the freshness was a relief to both of us.

We arrived in Agra at 10:30 a.m. and went to our hotel. We are staying at the Tourist’s Rest House just southwest of the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. The staff have been very helpful and courteous. I recommend the hotel if you can get an AC room, otherwise the mosquitoes are awful.

We visited Agra Fort, Baby Taj, and the Taj Majal. The Taj is most impressive and I will post more photos later. I took this footage of the Taj Mahal from the Methab Bagh area near the Yamuna River on the backside of the Taj at sunset.